The San Francisco 49ers placed three linebackers on the Associated Press' All-Pro first team for 2012. A fourth 49ers linebacker earned second-team All-Pro honors.
Matt Williamson Ranks West by Position
There was really no debate, then, when Matt Williamson ranked NFC West teams at the position heading into the 2013 NFL draft. Williamson, who scouts the NFL for ESPN.com, covered this position more quickly than some of the others we've discussed previously.
Sando: You've already said the 49ers were best in the NFL on the offensive line. This gives them two positions of supremacy in your eyes. Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman were first-team All-Pro choices last season. Smith was first-team All-Pro at outside linebacker for his 19.5-sack season. Brooks was the second-teamer. I've gone through the record books and failed to find a similar display of dominance at linebacker from one team in one season.
Williamson: Seattle is very easily No. 2. The Seahawks could use another outside guy, but so what? They are easy to find.
Sando: The Seahawks found one starter in the second round (Bobby Wagner) and another in the fourth (K.J. Wright). They plan to use Cliff Avril at strong-side linebacker in some situations. But with Leroy Hill apparently having run his course in Seattle, the team figures to draft a weak-side linebacker to compete with Malcolm Smith.
Williamson: They should be fine. I think St. Louis and Arizona are hurting in that department. Outside of James Laurinaitis, St. Louis is light at linebacker. Arizona has Daryl Washington and he was tremendous last year. I didn't factor in his four-game suspension to start the season. Their outside linebackers are adequate on a good day.
Sando: I'd say Jo-Lonn Dunbar was a pleasant surprise at outside linebacker for the Rams last season. The Cardinals released Stewart Bradley and appear to be moving on from Paris Lenon. They're counting on better health from O'Brien Schofield. Either Schofield or Sam Acho could break out, I would say, but that's not assured.
Williamson: Their outside linebackers are adequate on a good day. That might be as big a need as offensive line if they continue to play a 3-4.
Sando: There's some uncertainty over what form the Cardinals' defense will take, but none regarding which NFC West team's linebackers stand tallest.