|ESPN.com: NFL Nation||[Print without images]|
|Greg Trott and Scott Boehm/Getty Images|
|Carolina's Jon Beason and Tampa Bay's Barrett Ruud are the top linebackers in the NFC South.|
Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson
Ranking the NFC South linebacker corps:
1. Carolina: This is a dead heat between Carolina and Tampa Bay's linebacking corps, but we give the slight edge to the Panthers because they have MLB Jon Beason, who is the best linebacker in the division. However, he just edges out Bucs MLB Barrett Ruud for that honor. WLB Thomas Davis, a former first-rounder, has really stepped his game up this season and is an explosive playmaker on the outside. Carolina also has pretty good depth, despite the injury to Dan Connor.
2. Tampa Bay: Ruud is a tackling machine and has grabbed a hold of his role in the middle. He is a do-it-all player who is always around the football. Veteran WLB Derrick Brooks isn't what he once was, but he's still not a liability because he reads plays so well. Opposite Brooks is SLB Cato June, who also has very good range and can play the run or pass very adeptly. All three fit the system very well.
3. Atlanta: This is a pretty good group, despite being No. 3 in the division. The addition of rookie MLB Curtis Lofton gives this defense a much-needed run-thumper in the middle. WLB Keith Brooking is still quite productive and is better suited on the outside, which adds to Lofton's value. SLB Michael Boley is capable of great things, but he is one of the few Falcons who have disappointed a bit this season. But, he can still be a difference maker.
4. New Orleans: Jonathan Vilma has transitioned well to his new team and has returned his true position: middle linebacker in a 4-3 scheme. He excels in pursuit as a run-and-hit player. The outside starters (WLB Scott Shanle and SLB Scott Fujita) are not flashy, but they are solid football players and rarely hurt the club.