Not all linebackers created equal

April, 12, 2011
4/12/11
1:00
PM ET
This was a futile endeavor.

The latest edition of ESPN.com's positional Power Rankings took a look at linebackers.

Sam, will, mike, jack, bandit, outside, 3-4, 4-3, Tampa 2, whatever ... All were thrown into a hopper to be sorted out. Much to my affliction.

All linebackers don't play the same position just because that's how they're listed on their football cards.

Take an outside linebacker such as Miami Dolphins pass-rusher Cameron Wake and plug him into a 4-3 defense, and all of a sudden you don't have a linebacker anymore. You have a hand-on-the-ground defensive end. That's what the Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts had in mind when they tried to sign Wake.

The concept of ranking inside linebackers and outside linebackers is tantamount to comparing a cover cornerback to a strong safety because they're both defensive backs.

But I had to come up with something. So here's my list with an explanation to follow:
  1. Patrick Willis, San Francisco 49ers
  2. Brian Urlacher, Chicago Bears
  3. Jerod Mayo, New England Patriots
  4. Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens
  5. James Harrison, Pittsburgh Steelers
  6. Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers
  7. David Harris, New York Jets
  8. Jon Beason, Carolina Panthers
  9. DeMarcus Ware, Dallas Cowboys
  10. Cameron Wake, Miami Dolphins

At the top of the order I went with players who would be elite linebackers in any system. I favored linebackers with all-around impact, especially since we already ranked pass-rushers.

At some point I felt compelled to give credit for awesome quarterback-chasing skills -- even if the "linebacker" might not be adept in coverage or provide as much value on first downs or what have you.

I ranked Ware first in our pass-rusher Power Rankings, but ninth here. That was much lower than any of the other panelists.

I very easily could be wrong. But would Ware be a linebacker for the Tennessee Titans, Minnesota Vikings or Bears? Maybe so. Maybe a defensive end.

Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs plays in a 3-4 scheme, but Scouts Inc. analyst Matt Williamson considers him more like a defensive end.

So go ahead and throw your list together.

Feel free to mix in a few fullbacks.

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