You could probably arrange these groups of Linebackers in many different ways and I wouldn’t have much of a problem with it.
But, this is the way I think the teams with the best Linebackers should be ranked all time.
1. 2008 USC: The main reason I picked this group of Linebackers over the Bermuda Triangle of Miami was that there were 4 of these guys with the Hurricanes playing a 4-3 and only having 3 Linebackers on the field.
The Trojans of 2008 had Clay Matthews III, Brian Cushing, Rey Maualuga and Kaluka Maiava.
Matthews is well known and the third Clay Matthews to play in the NFL. He was a first round draft
pick by the Green Bay Packers and has more than paid the Packers back for that pick. Cushing was a first round by the Houston Texans and he has been solid. Maualuga was picked in the 2nd round by the Cincinnati Bengals where he has become a standout.
Maiava was drafted in the 4th round by the Cleveland Browns where he played for 4 seasons before moving on to the Oakland Raiders where he played 2 more seasons. I posted about these 4 spectacular Linebackers here: USC Backers
2. 1991 Miami: AKA The Bermuda Triangle. I wrote about Michael Barrow, Darrin Smith and Jessie Armstead previously here: Bermuda Triangle
Darrin Smith is fortunate to have played on 2 national champion college football teams and on 2 Super Bowl Champion teams and he played 12 seasons in the NFL. Barrow was a consensus All American and then was picked in the 2nd round of the draft by the Houston Oilers. He also played 12 seasons in the NFL. Armstead was the top recruit in Texas and was considered the least successful college Linebacker of the three. He wasn’t picked until the 8th round by the NFL, but he was the best of the three in the NFL making All Pro 5 times. He also played 12 seasons in the NFL with the New York Giants, Washington Redskins and Carolina Panthers.
3. 1994 Florida State: This was an outstanding group as well and could be rated as highly any of them. Derrick Brooks was one of the better Linebackers of all time making consensus All American twice. In the NFL, Brooks played 14 seasons and he was a regular in the Pro Bowl making it 11 Daryl Bush was the Middle Linebacker and he was the team’s top tackler in 1994. Sam Cowart was just a youngster in 1994, but he was 3rd on the team in tackles and one of the defensive leaders. Cowart was a 2nd round pick by the Buffalo Bills and he played in the NFL for 9 seasons making a Pro Bowl in 2000. Todd Rebol was also among the team’s top tacklers from his Linebacker position.
4. 1994 Illinois: Hard to believe the kind of talent that John Mackovic recruited to Illinois at Linebacker. Dana Howard was a product of national high school powerhouse East St Louis. He was the Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year in 1993 and 1994. In 1994, he won the Butkus Award and the Jack Lambert Award. The Dallas Cowboys picked him in the 5th round of the NFL Draft, but he was not the same player in the NFL that he was in college.
Kevin Hardy was a year behind Howard and he won the Butkus Award in 1995. He was an All American in the 1995 season and was the 2nd overall pick in the 1996 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Hardy played 9 years in the NFL and made the Pro Bowl in 1999.
Teammate Simeon Rice was a highly recruited athlete out of Chicago Mount Carmel High School. At Illinois, Rice was the sack artist that most teams love to have. He was drafted one pick after teammate Hardy with the 3rd selection of the 1st round. In the NFL, Rice played 12 seasons making All Pro many times. John Holecek was another Chicago product and he was a lot better than some gave him credit for. Holecek was drafted in the 5th round by the Buffalo Bills and he played in the NFL successfully for 8 seasons.
5. 2005 Ohio State: AJ Hawk was one of the better college Linebackers I have ever had the privilege to watch. Hawk played high school football in Centerville, Ohio and made All State twice. At Ohio State, Hawk was a 2 time consensus All American and he won the Lombardi and Jack Lambert Trophy. Hawk was picked with the 5th pick of the 1st round by the Green Bay Packers and he played there up until this past season when he signed with Cincinnati.
Bobby Carpenter is the son of former NFL player Rob Carpenter. Carpenter was picked by the Dallas Cowboys in the 1st round and he was basically a bust in the NFL. But, he was a good Linebacker at Ohio State. Anthony Schlegel was a transfer from the Air Force Academy and developed into a good Linebacker for the Buckeyes. Schlegel was a 3rd round pick of the New York Jets and he played there 2 seasons before going to the Bengals.
6. 1985 Ohio State: This Buckeye team was loaded at Linebacker. Chris Spielman was the most celebrated of this group coming to Ohio State from the famous Massillon Washington High School and was the most highly recruited Linebacker in his class. Spielman was a consensus All American twice, but not until 1986 and 1987. He won the Lombardi Award in 1987 and then he was a 2nd round pick in 1988 by the Detroit Lions. In the NFL, Spielman played 11 seasons in the NFL and
made many All Pro teams.
I picked the 1985 seasons because the Buckeyes still had Pepper Johnson. The Detroit, Michigan product signed with the Buckeyes and he led the team in tackles in 1984 and 1985. Johnson was a 2nd round pick by the New York Giants. With 4 different teams, Johnson played 13 seasons in the league. He played on 2 Super Bowl champions and was in the Pro Bowl 2 times.
Eric Kumerow was a high school All American, a tremendous athlete, and a big guy at 6-7, 265. He’s also the uncle of current Buckeye Joey Bosa. Kumerow was a 1st round pick by the Miami Dolphins. Kumerow is also the grandson of a former mob boss: http://collegefootballcrazy.com/the-mob-two-cousins-and-two-championships/
Byron Lee started opposite of Kumerow and was the team’s best pass rusher.
7. 2001 Miami: This Miami Hurricanes team was one of the best ever and their Linebackers were about as good as it gets. Jonathan Vilma was a monster at Middle Linebacker for the Hurricanes. Vilma’s numbers at the NFL Combine were incredible. He ran a 4.43 40 yard dash at 6-1, 230 with a 37 inch vertical. Vilma was drafted in the 1st round in the 2004 NFL Draft by the New York Jets and he played there for 4 seasons and then for the New Orleans Saints another 6 years.
As a freshman DJ Williams moved to Fullback because he was needed there. But, the star from De La Salle High School in California moved back to Linebacker as a sophomore in 2001 and he was the star he was expected to be. Williams was drafted in the 1st round by the Denver Broncos where he played for 9 seasons. Then he signed with the Chicago Bears where he played 2 more seasons.
Chris Campbell was the 3rd Linebacker in this group and he was a star from Texas. Tragically, Campbell was killed in a car accident in 2002 when he was a senior at Miami.
8. 1969 Penn State: The Nittany Lions were unbeaten in 1969 and this was the beginnings of the Linebacker U reputation for Penn State.
Jack Ham is considered one of the best Outside Linebackers to ever play the game. He was an All American in 1969 and 1970. The Pittsburgh Steelers took Ham with their 2nd pick in the 1971 NFL Draft and he was part of 4 Super Bowl championships. He was in the Pro Bowl almost every season and is the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Dennis Onkotz was a consensus All American in 1968 and 1969. Onkotz was so fast that he also returned punts for the Nittany Lions. He was picked in the 3rd round by the New York Jets, but an injury ended his career before it ever got going. Dave Radakovich was the 3rd starter on that team and he was solid, but how good would he even have needed to be teaming up with Ham and Onkotz?
9. 1999 Penn State: Penn State rises again with another talented group of Linebackers. Lavar Arrington was a two time All American in 1998 and 1999. In 1999, he won the Butkus, Benarik and Lambert Awards The Washington Redskins took Arrington with their 1st pick in the draft which was
at number 2. Arrington played 7 years in the NFL before injuries cut it short.
Brandon Short was a highly recruited Linebacker out of McKeesport, Pennsylvania. At Penn State, Short was a consensus All American in 1999. Short was picked by the Giants in the 4th round and he played in the NFL for 7 years.
Mac Morrison was the other Linebacker at Penn State in 1999.
10. 1988 Notre Dame: If this group wasn’t the best Linebackers, they at least had the best names with Flash Gordon and Michael Stonebreaker.
Stonebreaker was one of the Irish leaders in their national championship season. Stonebreaker played high school football at the storied John Curtis in River Ridge, Louisiana. Stonebreaker played briefly in the NFL.
Wes Pritchett was a huge Linebacker and a hard hitter. Andre Jones was another Linebacker in the mix.
11. 1986 Penn State: Shane Conlan was one of the great Linebackers in college football history. He was a 1st round pick by the Buffalo Bills and played 9 seasons in the NFL making the Pro Bowl 3
Trey Bauer, Pete Giftopoulos, and Don Graham were other Linebackers on the team and all were important in the Penn State national championship win over Miami.
12. 1991 Washington: The Washington Huskies won the national title in 1991 along with the Miami Hurricanes. Dave Hoffman, Chico Fraley, Jaime Fields, Donald Jones and Brett Collins were all star Linebackers for the Huskies and their undefeated season. Hoffman is another personal hero.
13. 2005 Penn State: Paul Posluszny beat out Ohio State’s AJ Hawk for the Butkus Award so you know he was really good.
Dan Connor, Tim Shaw and Brandon Snow were the other starting Linebackers. Future super Linebacker Sean Lee was a freshman on this team.
14. 1972 Penn State: Tom Hull, John Skorupan, Ed O’neil, Chris Devlin and Larry Ludwig were all star Linebackers at Penn State in 1972. Tom Hull is the father of Mike Hull
15. 1974 Penn State: Ho hum, another season, another group of Penn State Linebackers. Greg Buttle, Chris Devlin, Kurt Allerman, Richard Kriston and Buddy Tesner were all good Linebackers in either 1974 or beyond.