NFL Nation: NFC South linebacker rankings

 
 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.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

A while back, I asked for your thoughts on how the NFC South's linebacker corps should be ranked. You responded in force, but we still face an awfully tough call.

 
 Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
 Derrick Brooks may not be the elite player he once was, but he's still good enough to give Tampa Bay the advantage among linebacker corps in the NFC South.

After sorting through your responses and watching the linebackers of all four teams very closely, this is an incredibly tough call. I'm going to first give you my rankings, then run two very strong (and different) notes from readers that I think summed up a lot of your thoughts. Finally, I've asked Matt Williamson from Scouts Inc., for his thoughts on the matter.

Williamson's answer will appear on this blog at 6 p.m. ET Tuesday.

Anyway, on to my thoughts. I'd like to just say Carolina and Tampa Bay are tied when it comes to linebackers because they pretty much are. But I told you I'd rank the division's four groups, so I will. Here goes:

1. Bucs. Until watching Barrett Ruud closely on Sunday, I was going to go with the Panthers. But Ruud's performance against Adrian Peterson went a long way in changing my mind. He's closer to Carolina's Jon Beason, the division's best linebacker, than I thought. Cato June's a very solid player and I think the final decision was clinched by the fact that Derrick Brooks -- while not quite what he once was -- is still a tremendous linebacker and the best player in NFC South history.

2. Panthers. Again, this call really could have gone either way. I think Beason could turn out to be a Hall of Famer. I love what Thomas Davis has done since moving to the weak side and Na'il Diggs might be the most underrated player in the division.

3. Falcons. The tough stuff is out of the way, for now. There's a dropoff after Tampa Bay and Carolina, but the Falcons are closing this gap. Michael Boley and Curtis Lofton are very good and getting better. Veteran Keith Brooking is nearing the end of an excellent career and still contributes.

4. Saints. It's somewhat painful to rank New Orleans' linebackers fourth because they'd be a good bit higher in just about any other division. They're the one solid area of this defense. Jonathan Vilma has done what the Saints brought him in to do and Scott Shanle and Scott Fujita are very solid.

All right, let's hand it off to a couple of readers and hear their rankings:

Noah in Lakeland, FL, writes: 1. Bucs. Derrick Brooks is one of the best linebackers to ever play the game, and he provides smarts and veteran leadership. He's also still playing at a high level. Barret Ruud is one of the best at his position, and is the QB of one of the leagues best defenses. Cato June is an underrated playmaker that plays well in the Bucs system. All three are very disciplined and don't make mistakes. 2. Carolina. It's hard to say who's playing middle linebacker better, Jon Beason or Barret Ruud. Beason is the more athletic of the two. Thomas Davis is also an athletic linebacker and Na'il Diggs is very solid. 3. Atlanta. They have a good veteran in Keith Brooking and two promising youngsters in Michael Boley & Curtis lofton. 4. New Orleans. Vilma is probably the best all-around linebacker in the division. While the New Orleans linebackers do all that they are asked, they aren't exactly playmakers. If they can start helping out the weak secondary by making some plays in the passing game, they would be ranked higher.

Waylon in Wilmington, NC, writes: I will first say this, the NFC South has the best all around defense in the NFL. But getting to the NFC South. I put the Carolina Panthers on top of the division with their linebackers. You just are not going to top Jon (the beast) Beason along with Thomas Davis and Na'il Diggs. They are by far the best in the division if not one of the best in the NFL. I put New Orleans linebackers second in the division mainly because of Vilma. He is absolutely dangerous. Third I put Tampa Bays boys. Barrett Ruud is going to be a force to reckon with within the next couple years. And last is the boys from Atlanta. Just because I am putting them fourth doesnt mean Im downing them. They do have a solid defense but when compared to the rest of the divsion I think that they are last.

Thanks to Noah and Waylon and thanks to all those who sent their thoughts to the mailbag. As I said earlier, stay tuned at 6 p.m. and we'll hear what Matt Williamson has to say.

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