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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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FR: Free agency weekly review part 2

The second week of free agency started out with a kaboom when Terrell Owens signed with Buffalo. We have many thoughts on that signing in this post. As for other signings this week, we’ve compiled a list comparing them to each other below. (Click through for the opening weekend comparison and the first full week comparison) As always, the following moves are compared relative to each other using a 10-point scale, with 10 being the most impactful move of the week and 1 being a move that’s barely worth noting. Remember that these moves are compared only to each other; this week’s 10 level would have been merely a 5 or 6 last week.

10 – Cowboys (added DE Igor Olshansky and S Gerald Sansbaugh) – Olshansky isn’t an impact player, but he’s a solid, dependable end who does his job as a 3-4 defensive end and allows the glamour players (Shawne Merriman in San Diego, now DeMarcus Ware in Dallas) to rush the passer and get their sacks. Olshansky, who got a 4-year contract worth $18 million,  is replacing Chris Canty and should put forth a performance in the ballpark at Canty’s at a much cheaper price. This is the best way the Cowboys could have replaced Canty. To replace Roy Williams, the Cowboys need options, and Sansbaugh is at least that. He is an acceptable option who might still have the upside to take a step forward in his career. To get someone like him on a one-year contract is another win for Dallas.
(Note: I know that Olshanksy isn’t much of a 10 move. But that’s what you get when you compare moves on a relatively slow week.)

9 – Jaguars (added OT Tra Thomas) – The Jaguars had massive offensive line problems last year (mainly because of injury), and they throttled the Jags’ chances of a successful season. With starting OLT Khalif Barnes a free agent who expects a contract beyond what Jacksonville is willing to play, they had to get a replacement. Thomas, a three-time Pro Bowler who has played left tackle his whole career, is a pretty good one. While Thomas may not be the player he once was, he’s still pretty good. If he can play 16 games, he’ll be an asset protecting David Garrard’s blind side. Plus, Thomas is big and physical enough to be a good run blocker, which is important given Jacksonville’s offensive bent toward the ground game.

9 (con’t) – Rams (added S James Butler and FB Mike Karney) – Butler played for new Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo with the Giants, and he now moves to the Gateway City with Spags to be the run-stopping strong safety in the St. Louis defense. The Rams have focused on their secondary in free agency, resigning CB Ron Bartell and franchising FS O.J. Atogwe, and Butler (who got $17 million over 4 years) gives them another young building block in that area. Karney is a block-first fullback who fills an important role as the Rams move to a less wide open, more run-first offense. He’s a nice player to have around, and the price (3 years, $3.6M) is reasonable.

8 – Cardinals (added CB Bryant McFadden and LS Mike Leach) – McFadden isn’t a big name at cornerback, but scouts are high on his abilities — especially as a second cornerback. Rookie sensation Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will be the Cards’ undisputed No. 1 corner going into his second season, and McFadden brings physicality and reliability on the other side. This is a good addition in an offseason marked by departures in Arizona. Leach is a dependable long snapper who will replace Nathan Hodel.

7 – Falcons (added LB Mike Peterson and C Brett Romberg) – Peterson was a longtime stalwart in Indianapolis and Jacksonville, but he clashed with Jags head coach Jack Del Rio last year, and that paved his way out of Jacksonville. But Peterson had great success with current Falcons head coach Mike Smith in Jacksonville, so the fit is good. Add that to the fact that the Falcons have lost OLBs Michael Boley and Keith Brooking, and so there was a big need for a veteran ‘backer in the ATL. Romberg fits in as a backup who won’t kill you if he has to start.

7 (con’t) – Chargers (added LB Kevin Burnett) – Burnett was an emerging linebacker in Dallas, but the Cowboys’ desire to lock DeMarcus Ware to a long-term deal made him expendable. The Chargers run a similar system, and so Burnett has a chance to continue his ascent there. He can be a plus starter in San Diego, and he should step in immediately to help that defense.

6 – Browns (added LB David Bowens, DE C.J. Mosley and CB Hank Poteat) – It was ex-Jets week in Cleveland, as new head coach Eric Mangini brought in some players he knows and who, just as importantly, know his defensive system. Bowens is the headline here – he’s an effective pass rusher as a 3-4 outside ‘backer. Poteat is at this point a grizzled vet who can fit in as a cornerback but shouldn’t start except in an emergency. Mosley will be a rotation guy at defensive end.

6 (con’t) – Dolphins (added CB Eric Green) – After Andre Goodman left for Denver, the Dolphins needed to add a potential starter at cornerback. Green can be that. He started six games in Arizona last year before rookie Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie seized that job. Green isn’t great, but he’s an acceptable guy to start a position competition with.

5 – Seahawks (kept OT Ray Willis) – Willis is a versatile player who could potentially play tackle, although he’s slated to start at guard for the Seahawks. Given the contract that Frank Omiyale got from Chicago, Willis (a similar player) was a good guy for Seattle to keep.

5 (con’t) – Patriots (added CB Leigh Bodden and LS Nathan Hodel) – Bodden has played well in his career, but his play really fell off last year. But was that because his skills are slipping or because he was stuck in Detroit? I tend to believe he has a little bit left, which is why this move is above some others. It’s a steal for New England to get him for a minimum salary. Hodel replaces Lonnie Paxton, who moved to Denver.

4 – Bears (added S Josh Bullocks; kept RB Kevin Jones) – The Bears needed safety depth, and so they’re giving Bullocks a shot. Bears fans aren’t excited, thanks mainly to this YouTube video called “How can a safety be this bad?” Even if he is that bad, the price makes it a shot worth taking given the talent drain in Chicago over the past few years. Jones didn’t play much last year, but he showed talent in Detroit before a major injury. He’s an acceptable backup for ’08 rookie sensation Matt Forte.

3 – Packers (added S Anthony Smith) – Smith got less and less playing time in Pittsburgh last year as the season went on, but he still could be a decent safety option. The Packers have only chased bit-part players in free agency lately, and Smith fits that profile to a T.

3 (con’t) – Chiefs (added CB Travis Daniels, WR C.J. Jones and LB Corey Mays) – Daniels has bounced around a little, but he still could fit as a starter or nickel corner in the right situation. Jones and Mays both have Patriots ties, which made them attractive to new Chiefs head honcho Scott Pioli.

2 – Jets (added LB Larry Izzo and DT Howard Green) – Izzo is a special-teams ace, and Green is a rotation defensive tackle. Both will add depth for the Jets.

2 (con’t) – Vikings (kept CB Benny Sapp and DT Jimmy Kennedy) – Kennedy is important because the Vikings still may lose DTs Pat and Kevin Williams for four games each after the Starcaps issues of last season. Sapp fits in as a third or fourth corner.

1 – Texans (kept S Nick Ferguson) – Ferguson is a borderline starter who did a decent job in his first year in Houston last year, so they opted to keep him. He fits in as a backup who can play OK if called upon.

1 (con’t) – Lions (added OL Daniel Loper and LB Cody Spencer; kept RB Aveion Cason) – Loper and Spencer played in Tennessee when new Lions head coach Jim Schwartz was there. Like Cleveland and K.C., Detroit is filling the back half of its roster with guys the new bosses know.

1 (con’t) – Eagles (added S Rashad Baker) – Sean Jones is the big addition at safety for the Eagles, but Baker, a journeyman who was in Oakland last year, brings depth that’s badly needed after the departures of Brian Dawkins and Sean Considine.

1 (con’t) – Steelers (kept LB Andre Frazier) – Anytime the Steelers re-sign a free agent, it’s worth noting. Frazier isn’t a starter, but he can play the system in case of injury.

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