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Jersey Numbers: Linebackers

This is our next to last post choosing the best players at each position by jersey number. If you have quibbles, leave a comment and we’ll update this post. And please have patience – this is a big job.

We started this project with wide receivers in this post and then with tight ends in this post and quarterbacks in this post and running backs in this post and offensive linemen in this post and kickers/punters in this post and defensive linemen in this post. Now we move to linebackers, who can wear numbers in the 50s and the 90s with a few exceptions. If a number is omitted, it’s because no linebacker who has played this season wears those digits.

46 – Vinny Ciurciu, Lions – Ciurciu is the only linebacker currently wearing 46. He has played in six games this year, seeing most of his action on special teams. Now with his fourth team, Ciurciu also has a good locker-room nickname (see the bottom of the linked post).

47 – Brit Miller, 49ers – Miller is the only linebacker currently wearing 47. The rookie out of Illinois has played in two games this season.

49 – Zack Follett, Lions – Follett is the only linebacker currently wearing 49. The rookie out of Cal has played in nine games this year, mostly on special teams.

50 – Curtis Lofton, Falcons – Lofton, a second-year middle linebacker, has emerged as a tackle machine for the Falcons. His growth allowed the Dirty Birds to let stalwart Keith Brooking leave via free agency, and now it’s Lofton who will lead Atlanta’s defense for years to come. Lofton is tied for second in the NFL with 118 tackles. We give him the nod over OLB Mike Vrabel, who had great years in New England and is now a veteran leader in Kansas City. Other notable 50s: Russell Allen, Jaguars; James Anderson, Panthers; K.C. Asiodu, Rams; Antwan Barnes, Ravens; Eric Barton, Browns; Monty Beisel, Cardinals; Rocky Boiman, Steelers; Diyral Briggs, 49ers; Isaiah Ekejiuba, Raiders; Vernon Gholston, Jets; A.J. Hawk, Packers; Erin Henderson, Vikings; Lance Laury, Seahawks; Matt McCoy, Buccaneers; Marvin Mitchell, Saints; Rob Ninkovich, Patriots; Ernie Sims, Lions; David Thornton, Titans; Erik Walden, Dolphins; Philip Wheeler, Colts; Will Witherspoon, Eagles

51 – Barrett Ruud, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Ruud has emerged as a do-everything middle linebacker for the Buccaneers, and he’s one of the few bright spots on the team’s defense. He’s fifth in the league with 113 tackles and also has six passes defensed. He gets the nod over Jonathan Vilma of New Orleans, who may be better in pass coverage. Also worth mentioning are long-time veterans Keith Brooking of Dallas, James Farrior of Pittsburgh, and Takeo Spikes of the 49ers; youngsters Jerod Mayo of the Patriots and Paul Posluszny of Buffalo; and injured Seahawks MLB Lofa Tatupu. Other notable 51s: Brendon Ayanbadejo, Ravens; Akin Ayodele, Dolphins; Tim Diles, Chargers; Ryan Fowler, Jets; Tony Gilbert, Falcons; Alex Hall, Browns; Clint Ingram, Colts; Ben Leber, Vikings; Corey Mays, Chiefs; Joe Mays, Eagles; Gerald McRath, Titans; Brady Poppinga, Packers; Dan Skuta, Bengals; Chaun Thompson, Texans

52 – Ray Lewis, Ravens – This is a loaded number that features Pro Bowl-caliber linebackers in Carolina MLB Jon Beason, San Francisco MLB Patrick Willis, and Jets ILB David Harris, but Lewis gets the nod for his long, productive career that continues at a very high level. Other notable youngsters include rookie Clay Matthews of Green Bay, Kirk Morrison of Oakland, Daryl Smith of Jacksonville, and injured Browns ILB D’Qwell Jackson. Other notable 52s: Xavier Adibi, Texans; Eric Alexander, Patriots;  Michael Boley, Giants; Cody Brown, Cardinals; Jonathan Casillas, Saints; Channing Crowder, Dolphins; Chris Draft, Bills; Larry English, Chargers; Cody Glenn, Colts; Chad Greenway, Vikings; David Herron, Chiefs; Abdul Hodge, Bengals; D.D. Lewis, Seahawks;  Rocky McIntosh, Redskins; Jamar Williams, Bears; Coy Wire, Falcons

53 – Keith Bulluck, Titans – Bulluck has long been the emotional leader of the Titans’ defense, and he remains a solid sideline-to-sideline player. His three interceptions tie him for the lead among linebackers, and his 10 passes defensed place him second at the position. He’s also among the top 10 in tackles for linebackers. That’s enough to give him the nod over Atlanta’s Mike Peterson, another long-time, solid performer. Other notable 53s: Marcus Buggs, Bills; Derrick Burgess, Patriots; Khary Campbell, Texans; Na’il Diggs, Panthers; Moise Fokou, Eagles; Clark Haggans, Cardinals; James Holt, Chargers; Thomas Howard, Raiders; Larry Izzo, Jets; Rashad Jeanty, Bengals; Bryan Kehl, Giants; Niko Koutouvides, Buccaneers; Paris Lenon, Rams; Jameel McClain, Ravens; Tyrone McKenzie, Patriots; Steve Octavien, Cowboys; Nick Roach, Bears; Matt Roth, Browns; Mark Simoneau, Saints; Bryan Smith, Jaguars; Reggie Torbor, Dolphins; Jeff Ulbrich, 49ers; Demorrio Williams, Chiefs

54 – Andra Davis, Broncos – This number lost its stalwart when Brian Urlacher of Chicago was knocked out for the season. So among a group of solid if unspectacular inside linebackers, we’ll give Davis the nod for his contributions (72 tackles, 3.5 sacks) in reinvigorating the Denver defense. Other contenders were Chargers ILB Stephen Cooper and Titans MLB Stephen Tulloch. Other notable 54s: H.B. Blades, Redskins; Jasper Brinkley, Vikings; Prescott Burgess, Ravens; Bobby Carpenter, Cowboys; Brandon Chillar, Packers; Blake Costanzo, Browns; Kenwin Cummings, Jets; Zac Diles, Texans; Troy Evans, Saints; Andre Frazier, Steelers; Jonathan Goff, Giants; Nic Harris, Bills; Geno Hayes, Buccaneers; Gerald Hayes, Cardinals; Will Herring, Seahawks; Freddie Keiaho, Colts; DeAndre Levy, Lions; Stephen Nicholas, Falcons; Jeremiah Trotter, Eagles; Tracy White, Eagles; Sam Williams, Raiders

55 – Terrell Suggs, Ravens – This is a tough call, because Suggs has just 3.5 sacks this season and has missed three games. But on the whole, he’s the most complete linebacker at this position, because he can be a dynamite pass rusher and also do well against the run and in coverage. I’d rather have Suggs that Miami OLB Joey Porter, who has eight sacks thus far this season, or Chicago’s playmaking WLB Lance Briggs, who stars in the featured position in the old Tampa 2 defense the Bears run. Other solid vets wearing 55 include Detroit’s Larry Foote and Denver’s D.J. Williams, while youngsters Clint Session of Indianapolis and James Laurinaitis of St. Louis deserve mention as well. Other notable 55s: Jon Alston, Raiders; Patrick Bailey, Steelers; Desmond Bishop, Packers; Alvin Bowen, Redskins; Stewart Bradley, Eagles; Ahmad Brooks, 49ers; Danny Clark, Giants; Dan Connor, Panthers; Scott Fujita, Saints; Stephen Hodge, Cowboys; Kawika Mitchell, Bills; Kenny Onatolu, Vikings; Keith Rivers, Bengals; Justin Rogers, Chiefs; Junior Seau, Patriots; Reggie Walker, Cardinals; Jamaal Westerman, Jets

56 – Brian Cushing, Texans – It’s hard to imagine giving a rookie like Cushing the honor at a highly populated number like this one, but Cushing has earned it. He’s sixth among linebackers with 116 tackles and also has 2.5 sacks, 3 interceptions, 12 passes defensed, 2 forced fumbles, and a safety. That’s huge impact that earns him the nod over Shawne Merriman of San Diego, who isn’t the same after last season’s knee injury, pass-rushing stud LaMarr Woodley of Pittsburgh, and solid all-around players Nick Barnett of Green Bay and Bradie James of Dallas. Other notable 56s: Colin Allred, Titans; Charlie Anderson, Dolphins; Robert Ayers, Broncos; Quinton Culbertson, Panthers; Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Saints; Justin Durant, Jaguars; Keith Ellison, Bills; Tavares Gooden, Ravens; Tyjuan Hagler, Colts; E.J. Henderson, Vikings; Leroy Hill, Seahawks; Derrick Johnson, Chiefs; Akeem Jordan, Eagles; Kaluka Maiava, Browns; Scott McKillop, 49ers; David Nixon, Raiders; Chike Okeafor, Cardinals; Rod Wilson, Buccaneers

57 – Bart Scott, Jets – New Jets head coach Rex Ryan brought Scott with him from Baltimore as a high-dollar free agent to be the emotional leader and scheme expert in the middle of Gang Green’s defense. Scott has played fine for the Jets, but over the year it’s been fellow ILB David Harris who has emerged as a top-tier player. Still, Scott gets the nod over veteran Dhani Jones of Cincinnati and David Hawthorne, who’s having a terrific season as a fill-in starter at middle linebacker for Seattle. Other notable 57s: Stanley Arnoux, Saints; Kevin Bentley, Texans; Chase Blackburn, Giants; Ricky Brown, Raiders; Victor Butler, Cowboys; Chris Chamberlain, Saints; Jon Corto, Bills; Jordon Dizon, Lions; Keyaron Fox, Steelers; Chris Gocong, Eagles; Mario Haggan, Broncos; Adam Hayward, Buccaneers; Jordan Senn, Panthers; David Veikune, Browns; Matt Wilhelm, 49ers

58 – Karlos Dansby, Cardinals – It’s hard to imagine a better physical specimen at outside linebacker than Dansby, who is a leader on a strong Cardinals defense. He gets the nod over Gary Brackett, an undersized middle linebacker at the heart of the Colts defense. Other notable 58s: Marcus Benard, Browns; Quincy Black, Buccaneers; Thomas Davis, Panthers; Marques Harris, Chargers; Robert Henson, Redskins; Rey Maualuga, Bengals; Slade Norris, Raiders; Antonio Pierce, Giants; Scott Shanle, Saints; Tim Shaw, Bears; David Vobora, Rams; Jason Williams, Cowboys; Pierre Woods, Patriots

59 – London Fletcher, Redskins – Fletcher doesn’t have ideal size, but year after year he is a leader, a reliable tackler, and a playmaker, no matter what team he’s playing for. He’s a great success story as an undrafted player. He gets the nod over Julian Peterson of Detroit and DeMeco Ryans of Houston. Other notable 59s: Spencer Adkins, Falcons; Jovan Belcher, Chiefs; Angelo Crowell, Buccaneers; Aaron Curry, Seahawks; Dannell Ellerbe, Ravens; Heath Farwell, Vikings; Larry Grant, Rams; Gary Guyton, Patriots; Ramon Humber, Colts; Brian Iwuh, Jaguars; Brandon Johnson, Bengals; Landon Johnson, Panthers; Brad Jones, Packers; Cato June, Bears; Stanford Keglar, Titans; Ashlee Palmer, Bills; Brandon Siler, Chargers; Pisa Tinoisamoa, Bears; Gerris Wilkerson, Giants; Brandon Williams, Cowboys; Wesley Woodyard, Broncos

74 – Aaron Kampman, Packers – Kampman, who moved from defensive end to outside ‘backer this season as Green Bay implemented a 3-4 defense, kept his old D-lineman number. Kampman didn’t have a great transition season, with just 3.5 sacks in nine games before suffering a season-ending injury. But he’s still a good player, and he’s the only linebacker wearing 74, so he merits a mention.

90 – No linebackers wearing 90 have played a game this season.

91 – Tamba Hali, Chiefs – Hali is emerging as a solid pass rusher in Kansas City, with 7.5 sacks thus far this season. He gets the nod at this number over Cameron Wake, Miami’s CFL import who has 5.5 sacks in his first NFL season.

92 – Elvis Dumervil, Broncos – In one of the toughest calls of this whole project, we’re going with Dumervil, the NFL leader with 15 sacks, over 2008 Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison of Pittsburgh. Both guys play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, and both add the fright factor to their respective defenses. But while Harrison may be a better player in pass coverage, Dumervil is having a defensive player of the year caliber campaign in Denver, and so for 2009 we have to opt for him. Other notable 92s: Bertrand Berry, Cardinals; Hunter Hillenmeyer, Bears

93 – Anthony Spencer, Cowboys – Spencer has been a disappointment at outside ‘backer since the Cowboys made him a first-round pick three years ago, but as a full-time player he gets the nod over Jason Trusnik, who has moved into the starting lineup in Cleveland after a midseason trade from the Jets.

94 – DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys – Ware is a preeminent pass rusher with nine sacks this year and 62.5 in five seasons so far. Also deserving mention is Lawrence Timmons, an emerging inside ‘backer for the Steelers. Other notable 94s: Arnold Harrison, Browns; Marques Murrell, Jets; Jyles Tucker, Chargers

95 – Shaun Phillips, Chargers – In a close call, the nod here goes to Phillips, a pass-rushing outside ‘backer who has seven sacks for San Diego, over Cleveland OLB Kamerion Wimbley, who has 6.5 sacks. The six fumbles Phillips has forced was the determining factor. We’ll also shout out to Baltimore’s Jarret Johnson, another emerging pass-rusher. Other notable 95s: Tully Banta-Cain, Patriots; Ali Highsmith, Cardinals

96 – David Bowens, Browns – Bowens came with Eric Mangini from the Jets to Cleveland. He has long been an above-average pass-rushing outside ‘backer, and he has five sacks in that role this season. He gets the nod over declining Patriot Adalius Thomas. Other notable 96s: Omar Gaither, Eagles; Andy Studebaker, Chiefs

97 – Calvin Pace, Jets – Pace missed the first four games of the season due to a performance-enhancing drug suspension, but since returning he has continued to provide pass rush off the edge with six sacks. Other notable 97s: Clint Sintim, Giants; Pierre Walters, Chiefs

98 – Brian Orakpo, Redskins – Orakpo, Washington’s first-round pick, has 11 sacks in his rookie season, including four last week against Oakland. That’s the kind of defensive jolt Washington was hoping for when it drafted him. Other notable 98s: Shawn Crable, Patriots; Parys Haralson, 49ers; Darrell McClover, Bears

99 – Jason Taylor, Dolphins – Taylor spent most of his career as a 4-3 defensive end, but he has seamlessly made the transition to a 3-4 outside linebacker over the last few years. After a slow season in his one campaign in Washington, Taylor has six sacks this year for Miami, giving him 126.5 in his 13-year career. Other notable 99s: Kevin Burnett, Chargers; Paul Kruger, Ravens; Manny Lawson, 49ers; Bryan Thomas, Jets; Jeremy Thompson, Packers

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Week 8 moves

We do a weekly update on major NFL transactions. We include signings, releases, and also players who are put on injured reserve, because they are lost for the year. You can check out the Week 7 transactions here and work your way back through the season.

Additions

Chiefs (claim WR Chris Chambers on waivers, sign CB Travis Daniels) – The Chiefs pounced when their division rivals the Chargers cut Chambers, a quality receiver for a long time who seems to have lost a step or a grip or something. Chambers is probably still good enough to play for the Chiefs, though he’s not better than current No. 2 and No. 3 receivers Bobby Wade and Mark Bradley. Daniels, a former Dolphin and Brown who was among the Chiefs’ final cuts in September, comes in to add depth in the secondary after the Chiefs had to put S Jarrad Page on injured reserve for the rest of the season after suffering an injury in practice last week.

Broncos (add CB Ty Law) – Law isn’t the game changer he was back in his days with the Patriots, but last year he was an effective half-season player for the Jets. He kept himself in good shape last season, so it’s fair to assume he’ll be ready to play pretty much right away for the Broncos this year. He adds depth to a cornerback group that includes superstar Champ Bailey as well as Andre Goodman and rookie Alphonso Smith.

Buccaneers (add PK Connor Barth and Mike Mickens) – The Buccaneers tried to make two upgrades, signing Barth to replace Shane Andrus and signing Mickens to replace Marcus McCauley. As bad as the Bucs are, these moves won’t make the difference, but churning the roster looking for someone who can help now or in the future isn’t a bad plan.

49ers (add CB Keith Smith) – Smith, who spent the last five seasons with the Lions, adds depth to a secondary that will be without CB Nate Clements for several weeks. To make room for Smith on the roster, the Niners cut WR Micheal Spurlock.

Subtractions

Colts (put LB Tyjuan Hagler and CB Marlin Jackson on injured reserve) – You can read much more of the impact of these injuries in this post on the Colts. Indy promoted LB Cody Glenn from the practice squad to take Hagler’s roster spot and signed DE Josh Thomas, who played for the team over the past five years, to fill Jackson’s place on the 53-man roster.

Seahawks (cut RB Edgerrin James and CB Travis Fisher; put S C.J. Wallace on injured reserve) – James, who signed with the Seahawks just before the season, averaged just 2.9 yards per carry over the first seven games of the season. This is just about the end of James’ solid career. He did pile up just enough yards in Seattle to move into the top 10 on the NFL’s all-time rushing list, so that’s a positive to his lackluster Seahawk tenure. The Seahawks also cut Fisher, who had served as a backup corner, and put Wallace, a special-teamer, on injured reserve. By making these moves, Seattle cleared space to promote three players from the practice squad – WR Mike Hass, S Jamar Adams, and CB Roy Lewis. That will allow the Seahawks to get a look at these young players and see if they might fit as roster pieces going forward.

Texans (put TE Owen Daniels on injured reserve) – Daniels, one of the top three or four tight ends in the league, was having a great season before he suffered a torn ACL against Buffalo last week. He’s now gone for the season, which is a huge loss to the Texans’ prolific passing game. It will likely take a better effort from wide receivers Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones to make up for Daniels’ absence, because the Texans don’t have another tight end who is anywhere close to Daniels as a receiver. To replace Daniels on the roster, the Texans promoted DE Jess Nading from the practice squad.

Patriots (cut OG Kendall Simmons) – The Pats took a chance on Simmons, the long-time Steeler who was trying to come back from a torn Achilles tendon he suffered last season, but Simmons never found a role in New England and his only game action came on special teams.

Falcons (put S Jamaal Fudge and LS Mike Schneck on injured reserve) – The Falcons put two more guys on injured reserve this week. Schneck was a reliable long snapper for the Falcons over the past several years. To replace him, the Falcons signed Bryan Pittman, who snapped for the Texans for many years. To replace Fudge, Atlanta added Charlie Peprah.

Bengals (cut OG Scott Kooistra) – Kooistra had been a backup for the Bengals since Marvin Lewis arrived in Cincy in 2003, but he had just one start during his tenure. His roster spot was taken by FB Fui Vakapuna, but his departure more likely means that rookie first-rounder Andre Smith is getting closer to playing.

Rams (cut WR Tim Carter) – Carter, a former Giant, never latched in St. Louis after arriving there earlier this season. If he can’t cut it in that mediocre receiving corps, he has little hope of hooking on elsewhere in the league.

Browns (cut PK Billy Cundiff and CB Anthony Madison) – Cundiff had served as a fill-in for the injured Phil Dawson, who is now ready to return. Madison had mainly played on special teams for Cleveland.

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They shoot horses, don’t they?

It’s been a bad week to be a Colts defender, as Indy has had to put two key players on injured reserve this week. We thought we’d take a moment to break down the significance of the season-ending injuries of all-star S Bobb Sanders, starting OLB Tyjuan Hagler and CB Marlin Jackson along with the significant injury suffered by CB Kelvin Hayden.

Sanders is the biggest X-factor for the Colts defense. He is their Troy Polamalu, making plays against the run, rushing the passer, and in coverage. As with Pittsburgh, Indy’s defense loses a dimension when Sanders isn’t in there. This is a huge loss that takes away any scary element of the Colts’ D and makes them far more vulnerable.

Hagler, the Colts’ starting strong-side linebacker, suffered a ruptured biceps that will cost him the rest of the season. This will test the Colts’ depth at a position that wasn’t necessarily deep to begin with. Hagler isn’t a great player, but he has been dependable, ranking seventh on the team in tackles. He’s broken up three passes but has no sacks, interceptions, or forced fumbles. The Colts haven’t gotten many impact plays from regular starting LBs Clint Session and Gary Brackett either. Philip Wheeler, who does actually have a sack this season, will get the first chance to replace Hagler.

Jackson had lost his starting cornerback job to Jerraud Powers, but he still figured in as a nickel back. But he tore an ACL in practice this week and will now miss the rest of the season. That’s a blow, especially since CB Kelvin Hayden suffered a knee injury last week vs. the 49ers that will park him for a month.  Hayden is the Colts’ best cover corner, so he’s a big loss. Combine that with Jackson’s absence, and it’s a huge blow, especially considering that the Colts are using a more aggressive scheme that puts more pressure on its corners to perform.

The  injuries to Sanders, Hayden, and Jackson undoubtedly will make the Colts more susceptible to the pass, at least in the short term – and the pass defense wasn’t stellar in the first place. (And if you were inclined to pick the Texans to upset the Colts this week, you should feel a little better about that pick, because it’s easy to see Andre Johnson and company running amok in this decimated secondary.)

Indy promoted LB Cody Glenn from the practice squad to take Hagler’s roster spot and signed DE Josh Thomas, who played for the team over the past five years, to fill Jackson’s place on the 53-man roster.

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