This is the seventh in our series of position-by-position rankings. It is a little different this season because we’re ranking the players before free agency starts and before rosters are set. We will adjust accordingly as we go along. On to a solid group of linebackers:
1. Tamba Hali, Kansas City: Hali is a special player and a big reason why the Chiefs have had a resurgence.
2. Derrick Johnson, Kansas City: Johnson had a terrific bounce-back season in 2010. He is a playmaker.
3. D.J. Williams, Denver: Williams is an underrated player and a bright spot on a poor defense.
4. Shaun Phillips, San Diego: Phillips is a solid pass-rusher who brings energy to the NFL’s top-ranked defense.
5. Rolando McClain, Oakland: McClain is a hard-nosed player, and it looks as though he has a bright future.
6. Von Miller, Denver: This is just the starting spot for the No. 2 overall pick in 2011. He should zoom up this list quickly.
7. Kamerion Wimbley, Oakland: Not a complete player, but he has made an impact as a pass-rusher.
8. Stephen Cooper, San Diego: Solid player, but he may leave as a free agent.
9. Kevin Burnett, San Diego: The same goes for Burnett.
10. Brandon Siler, San Diego: The same goes for Siler.
11. Quentin Groves, Oakland: He’s a high-energy player. He’s decent, not great.
12. Larry English, San Diego: It is time for the No. 16 pick of the 2009 to show his worth.
13. Jovan Belcher, Kansas City: He’s an under-the-radar player who made a lot of plays for the Chiefs.
14. Justin Houston, Kansas City: Kansas City has high hopes for this third-round pick. Expect him to play right away.
15. Mike Vrabel, Kansas City: The Chiefs want to bring back this 35-year-old veteran for one more season in a reduced role.
16. Nate Irving, Denver: The third-round pick is expected to start right away at middle linebacker.
17. Jonas Mouton, San Diego: The Chargers are very high on this second-round pick.
18. Travis Goethel, Oakland: A special teams standout, Goethel has big potential.