NFL: The 5 Best Rookie Seasons By a Linebacker

Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images

Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images

Since the advent of the game of football, the linebacker position has always held the stigma for being the toughest position on the field. On top of being considered “the quarterback of the defense,” linebackers are also the types of guys you don’t want to cross paths with in the middle of the night in a dark alley.

At the center of practically every dominant defense in NFL history is a stellar group of linebackers. The 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers had Jack Ham and Jack Lambert, the 1985 Chicago Bears had Mike Singletary, the 2000 Baltimore Ravens had Ray Lewis, and currently, the Seattle Seahawks have Bobby Wagner and Bruce Irvin. We could go on and on, but our point is clear – it’s nearly impossible to have an elite defense without strong linebackers.

Throughout league history, some of the best rookie seasons in league history have come from linebackers. In narrowing down this list, we had to leave off a couple of players that went on to become a couple of all-time NFL greats. We feel obligated to mention both Dick Butkus and Tommy Nobis, as both had exceptional rookie seasons. We don’t have official statistics on his total number of tackles, but Butkus did have five interceptions and seven fumble recoveries in his first professional season. Nobis, on the other hand, registered 294 tackles in 14 games in his rookie season according to his team, the Atlanta Falcons. Leaving both players off of this list wasn’t easy, but we believe the five linebackers we chose were more worthy of inclusion. Without further ado, here is a look at the top five rookie seasons by a linebacker in NFL history.

1.  Lawrence Taylor, New York Giants — 1981

Al Bello/Getty Images

Al Bello/Getty Images

Stats:

  • 9.5 sacks
  • 1 interception
  • 1 fumble recovery

The Giants selected Taylor out of North Carolina with the second overall pick in the 1981 NFL Draft, and the 6-foot-3, 237-pound linebacker was a dominant NFL linebacker as soon as he stepped onto the field. He racked up 9.5 sacks as a rookie, and was one of the main reasons that the Giants went from being a bottom-feeder in 1980 to being a playoff team in 1981. Taylor went on to win the 1981 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award in addition to the 1981 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, and remains the only player in league history to win both awards in the same season.

2.  Derrick Thomas, Kansas City Chiefs — 1989

Stats:

  • 75 tackles
  • 10 sacks
  • 3 forced fumbles
  • 1 fumble recovery

The Chiefs selected Thomas out of Alabama with the No. 4 pick in the 1989 NFL Draft. He would go on to play his entire 11-year, Hall of Fame career in Kansas City. As a rookie, he quickly showed the league that he was going to be a dominant player in the league for the next decade. Thomas took home the 1989 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award along with being named to the 1989 Pro Bowl roster.

3.  Von Miller, Denver Broncos — 2011

Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Stats:

  • 64 total tackles
  • 11.5 sacks
  • 3 forced fumbles
  • 4 pass deflections

The Broncos shocked the NFL world during the 2011 NFL Draft by selecting Miller over defensive tackle Marcell Dareus with the No. 2 overall pick in the Draft, and it didn’t take long for the former Texas A&M star to make a significant impact at the NFL level. He totaled 11.5 sacks in 15 games and would go on to make the 2011 Pro Bowl and win the 2011 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

4.  Luke Kuechly, linebacker, Carolina Panthers — 2012

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Stats:

  • 165 total tackles
  • 1 sack
  • 3 fumble recoveries
  • 2 interceptions
  • 8 pass deflections

When the Panthers selected Kuechly out of Boston College with the ninth overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, it wasn’t the sexy pick, but it has undoubtedly turned out to be a great move. As a rookie, Kuechly totaled a whopping 165 total tackles, came in at No. 79 on the NFL Network’s 2012 Top 100 list, and won the 2012 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award. He currently remains one of the most dominant linebackers in the NFL.

5.  Brian Urlacher, linebacker, Chicago Bears — 2000

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Stats:

  • 125 total tackles
  • 8 sacks
  • 2 interceptions
  • 1 fumble recovery

The Bears selected Urlacher out of New Mexico with the ninth overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft. Urlacher began his professional career at outside linebacker, where he struggled, before making the full-time switch to middle linebacker. The position change paid huge dividends for both Urlacher and the Bears. The 6-foot-4 linebacker would go on to earn a trip to the 2000 Pro Bowl and won the 2000 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award after racking up 125 tackles, eight sacks, and two interceptions.

All statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.

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