Ranking the top linebackers in the NFL for 2022 shows that the position group is relatively top-heavy around the league. There is an elite group of 10-15 linebackers that are true difference-makers, but the delta between the 16th- and 30th-best LBs is not significant.
Linebackers are required to perform many different tasks, including defending the run, covering pass catchers, and rushing the passer. Given the importance of the passing game in today’s NFL, we placed a bit more emphasis on those ‘backers who impact the aerial attack.
Top NFL linebackers in 2022
1) Fred Warner, San Francisco 49ers
It says a lot about Fred Warner that he had a relatively subdued campaign in 2021 — at least by his standards — but still heads into the 2022 season as the top linebacker in the NFL. Signed to a five-year, $95 million extension just before training camp, the 25-year-old admitted he might have put too much pressure on himself early in the year.
Nevertheless, Warner was back to his old self by the second half of the season. He played especially well after fellow linebacker Dre Greenlaw returned to the lineup after dealing with an injury. While many LBs excel at either run defense or pass coverage, Warner is elite in both areas.
The 49ers have boasted a top-seven defense by DVOA in each of the past three seasons, and Warner is a massive part of that effort. Along with edge rusher Nick Bosa, Warner should keep San Francisco’s defense among the league’s best for years to come.
2) Micah Parsons, Dallas Cowboys
Reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year Micah Parsons posted 13 sacks in 2021, the third-most by a rookie in NFL history. Parsons is part edge rusher and part off-ball linebacker, but his true role is simply defined as “playmaker.”
Parsons played 960 snaps a season ago, and they were neatly aligned in three areas: 346 in run defense, 319 as a pass rusher, and 295 in coverage. He was solid in coverage, but his best work came getting after the quarterback, as he ranked 11th in the league with 70 total pressures.
Will Parsons’ role change next season? The Cowboys lost defensive end Randy Gregory in free agency, and while they signed Dante Fowler Jr. and drafted Sam Williams, Dallas may need more help on the edge. Returning defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has proven he can get the most out of Parsons no matter his alignment.
3) Demario Davis, New Orleans Saints
Demario Davis was an above-average linebacker earlier in his career with the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns, but he’s become a dominant force since joining the Saints in 2017. New Orleans has other stars like Marshon Lattimore and Cameron Jordan on defense, but Davis wears the green dot as the leader of the unit.
While he’s entering his age-33 campaign, Davis is one of the more durable players in the entire league. He missed the first game of his career in 2021, but that absence was due to COVID-19, not injury. After serving as a part-time player in his rookie season, Davis has played at least 750 snaps every year since.
He’s outstanding in run defense, but Davis has also posted elite pass-coverage numbers. Last season, he allowed only 66.7% of the targets in his area to be completed, fifth-best among qualifying linebackers.
4) Eric Kendricks, Minnesota Vikings
Perhaps it’s because he plays in Minnesota, but Eric Kendricks is probably the most anonymous player in our top 10. Kendricks’ best season came in 2019 when he was named a first-team All-Pro, but he’s still an excellent cog in the Vikings’ system.
At just 6’0″, 232 pounds, Kendricks is much more effective in the passing game than he is against the run. In the past, that disparity may have made him a liability. But in an NFL where coverage is king, Kendricks’ value hasn’t been depleted.
Kendricks is superb at moving in space, and his role in new defensive coordinator Ed Donatell’s scheme should allow him more flexibility. With five interceptions over the past two seasons, Kendricks is capable of making plays on the ball, and he might be able to create even more turnovers in 2022.
5) Bobby Wagner, Los Angeles Rams
The only linebacker in our top 10 to change teams this offseason, Bobby Wagner spent a decade with the Seattle Seahawks before joining the division-rival Rams. A shoo-in for the Hall of Fame once he hangs up his cleats, Wagner has been named an All-Pro eight times (six first-teams, two second-teams).
Wagner will be 32 years old when the season gets underway, and there’s no denying he took a small step backward in 2021. Yet, he’ll now be playing for the chance at another Super Bowl title. Plus, the added motivation of proving he’s still got it could be enough to propel Wagner to a rebound campaign.
The Rams desperately needed help at linebacker, where now-departed whipping boy Troy Reeder led the unit with 864 snaps last season. Even if Wagner simply repeats his 2021 levels of production, he’ll represent a massive upgrade for Los Angeles.
6) Darius Leonard, Indianapolis Colts
There may not be a more appropriate nickname in the NFL than Darius Leonard’s “Maniac” moniker. He’s the ultimate game-wrecker who posted eight forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, eight pass deflections, and four interceptions in 2021.
It remains to be seen if new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley sticks to his Cover 3 scheme now that he’s in Indianapolis, but Leonard should be a perfect fit. Bradley gets the most out of his linebackers, and Leonard will be one of the best LBs he’s ever coached. Leonard has the quickness and experience to thrive over the middle of the field in Bradley’s zone-heavy looks.
Leonard has been a first-team All-Pro in three of his four NFL seasons. The only questions about his production are injury-related. Leonard’s missed time every year he’s been in the league, and he’s currently dealing with ankle and back issues. However, Leonard could be ready by the time training camp rolls around.
7) Lavonte David, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers drafted Devin White fifth overall in 2019 with the idea that he’d eventually take over for Lavonte David. Three years later, White is a mercurial presence at the second level while David is as reliable as ever.
David is far and away a better player than White, but the two have complementary skill sets. With his instincts and sound technique, David’s steadiness allows White to shoot gaps as a blitzer.
Will 2022 be the year White overtakes David as the top linebacker in Tampa Bay? Anything’s possible, but we doubt it. Even as he enters his 30s, David is too much of a playmaker to be counted out.
8) Roquan Smith, Chicago Bears
Parsons and Roquan Smith are the only linebackers in our top 10 for 2022 still on rookie contracts. While Parsons isn’t eligible for an extension for a few more years, the Bears can give Smith a new deal at any time. Currently scheduled to play on his fifth-year option, Smith should become one of the highest-paid linebackers in the NFL.
It’s fair to point out that Smith struggled in 2021, but most of Chicago’s roster was subpar last season. Under first-year DC Sean Desai, the Bears didn’t have much talent on the defensive side of the ball. Smith played with — easily — the worst supporting cast of any ‘backer in our top 10.
Next season, Smith will play under new head coach Matt Eberflus, who was critical in developing Leonard with the Colts. Expect a rebound campaign from Smith as he enters a contract year.
9) De’Vondre Campbell, Green Bay Packers
What a career turnaround for De’Vondre Campbell. After five nondescript seasons with the Atlanta Falcons and Arizona Cardinals, Campbell inked a one-year, $2 million deal with the Packers in 2021. That investment provided a better ROI than any pact in the league, as Campbell earned a first-team All-Pro nod.
Campbell’s sideline-to-sideline range makes him effective against both the pass and the run. He played more coverage snaps in the slot than any other LB in the NFL, and his 2.8% missed tackle rate ranked fourth at the position.
Now teamed with first-round pick Quay Walker, Campbell could take yet another leap in 2022. Along with key pieces like Jaire Alexander, Kenny Clark, and Rashan Gary, Campbell will lead a Packers defense that has a chance to be the best in the league next season.
10) Shaq Thompson, Carolina Panthers
Carolina’s defense flashed at times in 2021, and they could show more improvement next year with a young core comprised of Brian Burns, Derrick Brown, Jaycee Horn, and Jeremy Chinn. At 28 years old, Shaq Thompson is the longest-tenured player on the Panthers’ defense, making him the wise, old veteran of the group.
Thompson will never replicate Luke Kuechly’s Hall of Fame performance for Carolina, but he’s highly productive in his own right. He can rush the passer, but he’s best used in coverage. Last season, Thompson allowed a passer rating of just 65.8, second-best among all linebackers.
Top NFL LBs in 2022 | 11-32
11) Matt Milano, Buffalo Bills
12) Nick Bolton, Kansas City Chiefs
13) Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Cleveland Browns
14) Logan Wilson, Cincinnati Bengals
15) Kyzir White, Philadelphia Eagles
16) T.J. Edwards, Philadelphia Eagles
17) Jordan Hicks, Minnesota Vikings
18) Anthony Walker, Cleveland Browns
19) Alexander Johnson, Free Agent
20) Zach Cunningham, Tennessee Titans
21) Jordyn Brooks, Seattle Seahawks
22) Deion Jones, Atlanta Falcons
23) Denzel Perryman, Las Vegas Raiders
24) David Long, Tennessee Titans
25) Blake Martinez, New York Giants
26) Jerome Baker, Miami Dolphins
27) Josey Jewell, Denver Broncos
28) Devin White, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
29) Kyle Van Noy, Los Angeles Chargers
30) Ja’Whaun Bentley, New England Patriots
31) Azeez Al-Shaair, San Francisco 49ers
32) Anthony Barr, Free Agent