With the continuing presence of the 3-4, linebackers continue to be more than tackling machines. Last year, Cameron Wake and Tamba Hali broke out and showed their abilities to get to the quarterback. There are plenty of examples like this each and every year so here are some linebackers who should make a big impact whether it’s getting to the passer or stopping the run.
Paul Posluszny, Jaguars: Posluszny was all over the place last season recording 151 tackles despite missing two games. This offseason he signed a deal with the Jaguars and has a very good chance to exceed that total. With Terrance Knighton and Tyson Alualu in front of him, Posluszny should have plenty of chances to record tackles. He could post up similar numbers to those that Mike Peterson put up with the Jaguars in the early 2000’s with John Henderson and Marcus Stroud in front of him.
Connor Barwin, Texans: Barwin only played in one game last season before going on injured reserve so is essentially entering his second season as a pro. With Wade Phillips as the Texans new defensive coordinator, Barwin should have plenty of chances to get to the passer. It wouldn’t be surprising if he is the next player to join the long list of outside linebackers with double digit sacks under Phillips.
Anthony Spencer, Cowboys: Opposite DeMarcus Ware, Spencer has the potential to become a double digit sack player. Surprisingly, through four years his career high is six but this could be the year that all changes under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan who tends to get the most out of his players.
Mathias Kiwanuka, Giants: Before a season ending injury, Kiwanuka only played in three games but certainly made the most of them. In that span he recorded four sacks along with a forced fumble. Kiwanuka is just one of the many Giants with the potential for a double digit sack season. At full health, he could make a big impact on the Giants final destination this year.
Rey Maualuga, Bengals: Maualuga was one of my breakout predictions last season but while he didn’t meet expectations last year, has a chance to make a huge impact in his third year. He is now making the move to middle linebacker after playing outside in his two prior seasons. Considering how poorly the Bengals have looked, teams will most likely be running the ball early and often. Maualuga has the potential for at least 110 tackles this season.