Breakout Player Recap: Linebacker

Linebackers had a very big impact on the way the season went last year. James Harrison won defensive player of the year and who knows how far the Ravens would have gone if Ray Lewis didn’t play so well. While players like Lewis are a few years from retiring, there are a lot of young talented linebackers who will fill their void. Here are how my breakout predictions from last year look now.

LaMarr Woodley Steelers:

What I said: Woodley didn’t start a game in his rookie season but still managed to get 4 sacks. Now that Clark Haggans left for the Cardinals. Woodley has his chance to start for the Steelers and show why he has the upside to be one of the best pass rushers in the league. Woodley has the potential and opportunity to put up a Pro Bowl season in his first full year as a starter.

Now: Woodley put up big numbers in his first year as a starter recording 11.5 sacks and becoming a key player on a very strong Steelers defense. As long as James Harrison commands double teams, Woodley should continue to have double digit sack totals.

Hit or Miss: Hit

Ernie Sims Lions:

What I said: Sims has already established himself as one of the best linebackers in the league as he has 258 tackles in his first two seasons. So why is Sims on this list? That’s because he plays for the Lions. Other than Thanksgiving day, football fans around the country don’t get to watch Sims and they are missing out. He has already shown what he is capable of and is similar to a young Derrick Brooks. Another good season and Sims should be headed to Hawaii for his first Pro Bowl.

Now: Sims had another very productive year with 113 tackles and 1 sack. The problem is that those numbers are because the Lions defense was on the field most of the game. Sims has played very well his first few years in the league but the Lions must improve before Sims is known on a national stage.

Hit or Miss: Push

Jon Beason Panthers:

What I said: If not for Patrick Willis, Beason would have been talked about for his incredible rookie season. Beason had 140 tackles and 1 interception. He is in a similar boat as Sims as the Panthers don’t get much national attention either. But if Beason keeps putting up numbers like that, it will be hard for most football fans to not pay attention.

Now: Beason was just as productive in his second season notching 138 tackles and 3 interceptions. He also did well in the team’s only playoff game as he managed to have 8 tackles and an interception. If he puts those numbers up again this year, he should be making his first trip to the Pro Bowl.

Hit or Miss: Hit

David Harris Jets:

What I said: As a rookie, Harris only started 9 games. But he was a tackling machine as he had 127 on the year. Harris also had 5 sacks and forced 2 fumbles. With a full year starting, Harris could prove to be one of the best young linebackers in the league.

Now: Harris was starting to shine in his first year as a starter but a hamstring injury that cost him 5 games hindered his progress. The Jets defense should be one of the best in the league this year and in a big market, Harris could become one of the elite linebackers in the league.

Hit or Miss: Push

Paul Posluszny Bills:

What I said: If Posluszny didn’t have a season ending arm injury in week 3, he would be in the same discussion as Willis and Beason. In 3 games, he had 26 tackles which would have put him on pace for 139 tackles. Now Posluszny is healthy and with the Bills poised to make the playoffs, Posluszny has the chance to become a star in his second year.

Now: Posluszny put up good numbers in his first full season as he notched 110 tackles and an interception. With the improvements to the offense, the Bills defense shouldn’t be on the field as much so it wouldn’t be a surprise if Posluszny did even better in his second full season.

HIt or Miss: Push

D’Qwell Jackson Browns:

What I said: In his second season,Jackson showed flashes of his potential as he had 101 tackles, 1 sack and an interception. But because he plays for the Browns, nobody knows who he is yet. That should change this year as the Browns have 5 prime time games this season and with the additions of Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams up front, Jackson could be even better this year.

Now: Jackson was excellent in his third season recording 154 tackles with two sacks and three interceptions. The Browns were one of the biggest dissapointments last year which would explain why Jackson didn’t make the Pro Bowl even though it was well deserved. Jackson is playing like an elite linebacker and it will only be a matter of time until he is regarded as one.

Hit or Miss: Hit

Thomas Howard Raiders:

What I said: Howard has all the makings to turn into a star in his 3rd season. He had 95 tackles last year and is one of the best linebackers in the league in pass coverage as he had 6 interceptions. With his 4.4 speed, Howard ended up taking two of those for touchdowns. With the Raiders improved defense, look for Howard to make his first Pro Bowl appearance in the near future.

Now: Howard’s third season was almost identical to his second as he had 97 tackles and 1 interception. His interception total dropped due to the fact that teams were throwing away from him because of his great coverage skills and athleticism. Look for Howard to emerge this season if the Raiders contend in a weak AFC West.

Hit or Miss: Push

Justin Durant Jaguars:

What I said: When Mike Peterson went down with an injury, the unknown Durant stepped in as a rookie and had 49 tackles and 1 interception. The most impressive part was how in his first playoff game against the Steelers, he stepped in and had 12 tackles. With Peterson returning to the middle, Durant will most likely move to the outside where he can utilize his speed and has the opportunity to be a game changing linebacker for years to come.

Now: Durant was solid in his first year as a starter, but the numbers weren’t as good as expected as he had 70 tackles in 13 games. In his prime Mike Peterson was a tackling machine with the Jaguars and it wouldn’t be surprising if Durant ends up following the same path.

Hit or Miss: Miss

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