Our weekly power rankings turn their focus from head coaches to linebackers next week.
Among the challenges:
Differentiating for scheme. Willis, DeMarcus Ware and Jon Beason are all NFL linebackers. They do not have the same job descriptions. Ware makes his money crunching quarterbacks. Willis is a physical force with good pass-rush ability on blitzes. Beason has played multiple linebacker positions within a 4-3 scheme.
Filtering for reputation. Ray Lewis will go down in NFL history as one of the all-time great linebackers. How high should he rank at age 35 (he turns 36 next month)? I'm not implying Lewis has fallen off significantly.
Seeing beyond stats. Tackle numbers are unofficial and unreliable. Some of the very best linebackers rarely get sacks. Some dominate against the run. Some excel in coverage. A few can do everything well.
That last point is where I'm inclined to start. Which linebackers do everything, or nearly everything, at the highest level? Insider subscribers can check out Scouts Inc. rankings heading into 2010.