Home Sports Headlines 2021 NFL Free Agency: Lavonte David leads linebacker crop that is strong at the top but very thin

2021 NFL Free Agency: Lavonte David leads linebacker crop that is strong at the top but very thin

by Ryan


The team here at CBS Sports has taken it upon ourselves to preview every single position’s free agency class. 

Tyler Sullivan walked through the stacked wide receiver market, headed by Allen Robinson and Chris Godwin, among others; Patrik Walker dug into the deep and intriguing running back crop, led by Aaron Jones; Jordan Dajani wrote about the tight end market, which is headed up by Rob Gronkowski and Hunter Henry; Cody Benjamin went deep on the quarterback class, in which all eyes will be on Dak Prescott; Jeff Kerr detailed the loaded class of available edge rushers, including Shaquil Barrett; and I wrote about the offensive linemen, both on the interior and at tackle

Today, we’re here to take a look at the linebackers. As with all the other positions, we’ll walk through the 10 best available options and then detail some of the best of the rest. 

Lavonte David is still arguably the best coverage linebacker in the NFL. If you don’t believe, go re-watch the Super Bowl and see if you can find a snap where David is not blanketed all over Travis Kelce. Long one of the league’s most underrated players, he’s finally gotten his due as a star in recent seasons. He was named a Second Team All-Pro in 2020, which was his age-30 season. His next deal might be his last big-money contract in the league, but he deserves to get paid at the top of the market. 

The next few guys on this list could go in pretty much any order. We’re going with Jayon Brown first because he’s the youngest and thus likely has the most left in the tank. Brown was limited to 10 games in 2020 but he was excellent when on the field. He’s largely played as a 3-4 inside linebacker during his time in the NFL and that’s a good fit for him, but he’s shown some surprising pass-rush skill as well, such as when he had six sacks during his second season in the league. At 25 years old, his best football should be ahead of him. 

Matt Milano also played just 10 games in 2020, but he was quite good when on the field, despite a down year in pass coverage. He’s a versatile player, useful both against the run and the pass. If you’re looking for a Will linebacker, he’s got all the skills required to play the position. 

Speaking of Will linebackers, K.J. Wright has basically been the prototype at the position for years. Both he and Bobby Wagner were overshadowed by their more famous teammates in the Legion of Boom, and he’s been a bit overshadowed by Wagner since the defensive backs moved on. But he is still a terrific player, 10 years into his career. He’s good against the run and good in coverage. He’s also said he won’t be taking a discount to stay in Seattle, so he could be gettable on the open market. 

Robert Spillane barely played before this season. He barely played the first few weeks of the year. But when injuries befell the Steelers‘ linebacker corps, he had to step in, and he acquitted himself pretty nicely. He allowed only 207 passing yards on 35 targets, according to Pro Football Focus, an average of 5.9 yards per attempt. There’s not much of a track record here and he had a couple bad games, but a low-cost flier on a player with potentially untapped upside seems like it could pay off. 

Denzel Perryman is a good player. He just can’t stay healthy. He’s at his best coming downhill to tackle against the run, but he’s a solid coverage player as well. If you’re bringing him in, you have to have a plan to manage his snaps to keep him on the field, but he’ll do his job when he’s out there. 

Patrick Onwuasor only played one game in 2020, but what he showed during his time with the Baltimore Ravens from 2016 to 2019 makes him worth a look. He’s a versatile player who shined in a limited role early on before becoming a solid starter. He left in free agency last offseason but didn’t get much of a chance to show what he can do in 2020. 

Todd Davis was a longtime starter during his time with the Denver Broncos, but played more of a rotational role last season with the Vikings. He’s a very good tackler and at his best playing run defense so he’s probably not a three-down guy, but if you need an inside linebacker who can fill the hole and make the play, he can do that pretty well. 

A former first-round pick who has not lived up to expectations, Jarrad Davis quietly had what might have been his best year in 2020 — albeit while playing a much more limited role than he did during his first few seasons. He finally showcased the athleticism that made him an attractive linebacker selection, and the right coaching staff could presumably tap into that to make him a weapon in coverage. 

Other notables: Alex Anzalone, Nick Vigil, Avery Williamson, Christian Kirksey, De’Vondre Campbell, Sean Lee, Thomas Davis, Damien Wilson, Kevin Pierre-Louis, Tahir Whitehead, B.J. Goodson, Reuben Foster, Neville Hewitt, Elandon Roberts, Josh Bynes





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