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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 1 Moves

As we did in the preseason, we’re going to do a weekly update on major NFL transactions. We’ll include signings, releases, and also players who are put on injured reserve, because they are lost for the year.

Additions

Panthers (add QB A.J. Feeley) – Given the quarterback crisis they have going on right now, the Panthers needed a veteran hand, and they thought Feeley was the best guy out there. He’s been a solid performer in the past for the Eagles, and he started some games for Miami back in the day again.

Eagles (add QB Jeff Garcia) – With Donovan McNabb suffering from a broken rib and Michael Vick ineligible until Week 3, the Eagles needed a quarterback who’s at least good enough to back up immediately in case Kevin Kolb gets hurt or just stinks out loud. Garcia had good success with the Eagles a few years back, and he can still move an offense. Given Garcia’s locker-room personality, don’t be surprised if he’s cut when Vick and McNabb are available again, but for right now he can help Philly.

Chiefs (add WR Bobby Wade) – The Chiefs, who have been looking for veteran help at wideout all offseason, picked up Wade, who had 50 catches each of the last two seasons in Minnesota. Wade isn’t a great receiver, but he’s a tick above average, and he can be a solid No. 3 wideout for the Chiefs. This move won’t put the Chiefs over the top in the playoff chase, but it will help.

Colts (add WR Hank Baskett) – Mr. Kendra has had his moments in Philly, but as the Eagles have upgraded their receiving corps via the draft in recent years, Baskett’s limited speed moved him down the depth chart. He still has good size and good hands, so he can help the Colts. Indy has some talented young receivers but very little experience behind Reggie Wayne, and so Baskett can help in that area. But Indy must realize that Baskett is going to be a bigger reality-TV star than football star at this point in his career.

Bears (add LB Tim Shaw) – After Brian Urlacher and The Tower were hurt in the opener against the Packers, Chicago needed to add some linebacker depth. Shaw played basically a full season with the Panthers in 2007 and had a cup of coffee with the Jags last season. He won’t start, but he can provide depth and help fill the special-teams void left by new MLB starter Hunter Hillenmeyer.

Buccaneers (add OG Sean Mahan and DE Tim Crowder) – Mahan, who was cut just before the opener, came back after Week One in what looks like a ploy by the Bucs to keep his entire ’09 salary from being guaranteed. He’s a veteran backup but not much more at this point, but he can still help. Crowder, a former second-round pick in Denver, was lost in the Broncos’ move to a 3-4 this year, but he still has enough promise that he’s worth a look for a team like the Bucs that runs a 4-3.

Lions (add DL Turk McBride via waivers) – McBride, a second-round pick back in 2007, didn’t fit as a linebacker in the Chiefs’ new 3-4 defense, making him a bust in two systems. He’s another in a long line of failed Chiefs defensive line picks in recent years, which is a huge reason that the Chiefs are in such a rebuilding mode right now. But ex-Chiefs defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, who is now in Detroit, thought McBride is worth a shot in a 4-3 set. Given the Lions’ lack of talent, it’s worth a shot for them.

Seahawks (add LB D.D. Lewis) – Lewis, an eight-year vet who was cut late in training camp, came back to provide depth for Seattle with OLB Leroy Hill hurting. Hill will miss a couple of games, and Lewis can provide depth behind fill-in Will Herring and add some special-teams stability as well.

Giants (add RB Gartrell Johnson off waivers) – With Danny Ware injured, the Giants needed to beef up their backfield depth. Johnson, a fourth-round pick of the Chargers from Colorado State, is the kind of young back who’s worth a look.

Saints (add WR-RS Courtney Roby) – Roby played for the Saints last year but didn’t make the opening-game roster this year. But the Saints brought him back, likely as much for special teams and returns as anything else.

Rams (add LB Paris Lenon and WR Ruvell Martin) – Lenon was a full-time starter the last three years in Detroit, and he brings experience if not pizzaz to St. Louis’ LB corps. He can replace the veteran wile that Chris Draft provided before he was cut just prior to the opener. Martin, who had 52 catches and 6 TDs in three years in Green Bay, adds depth to a receiving corps that has little of it.

Bears (add CB DeAngelo Smith) – The Bears have had major injuries and upheaval in the secondary, and that has kept them from estabishling a rotation there. This week, they cut McBride and replaced him with DeAngelo Smith. Smith was a higher draft pick than McBride two years ago, and the Bears thought his physical skills made the switch worth it. But neither Smith nor McBride is the ultimate answer to the dilemma the Bears have in the secondary right now.

Subtractions

Bears (put LB Brian Urlacher on IR) – We cover the Urlacher injury in more depth in this blog entry on Most Valuable Network’s Football Wire.

Chargers (put NT Jamal Williams on IR) – One of the biggest keys to any 3-4 defense is the nose tackle’s ability to anchor against the run and free the linebackers to run around and make plays. For more than a decade, Williams has been one of the best at that, but now the Chargers will have to make do without him. This is a huge injury that deals a significant blow to the Chargers’ championship hopes. Williams won’t be easily replaced.

Panthers (put QB Josh McCown on IR) – McCown was the Panthers’ No. 2 quarterback, but he quickly got hurt after he took over for Delhomme in Week One. The injury was a six-week injury, but the Panthers needed quarterback help stat, and so they shelved McCown to make room for Feeley.

Eagles (put ORT Shawn Andrews on IR) – Andrews, who was supposed to team with his brother Stacy this year to provide the Eagles massive beef on the right side of the offensive line, instead will miss the season. Winston Justice, who is much lighter and less accomplished than Andrews, will try to fill his massive shoes.

Jaguars (put DE Reggie Hayward on IR) – Hayward broke his shin in Week One and will miss the year. The long-time Jaguar’s pass-rush ability will be missed, and his absence will force second-year men Quentin Groves and Derrick Harvey to step up.

Giants (cut OG Tutan Reyes) – Reyes is a big man who is a passable backup guard but not much more at his career. Given how solid and sturdy as the Giants’ offensive line has been in recent years, Reyes wasn’t going to see much playing time. At least he was on the roster long enough to get his 2009 salary guaranteed.

Lions (cut DT Orien Harris) – Harris was traded twice this offseason, from Cincinnati to St. Louis to Detroit, but he lasted just one game with the Lions before being replaced by Turk McBride. He is a borderline rotation player at this point who should find work as injuries pile up throughout the league.

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