Most improved linebacker rooms following free agency and the 2023 NFL Draft

Lake Forest, IL, USA; Chicago Bears linebacker Tremaine Edmunds speaks during a press conference at Halas Hall. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

• Chicago Bears: With T.J. Edwards and Tremaine Edmunds now in tow, the Bears will field one of the NFL's most promising linebacker duos in 2023 and beyond.

• New York Giants: After dealing with poor linebacker play in 2022, the Giants secured Bobby Okereke's services in free agency.

• Detroit Lions: The Lions controversially selected Iowa's Jack Campbell with the No. 18 overall pick, but he was still PFF’s top linebacker in the draft and should help Detroit’s defense in all facets of the game.

Estimated Reading Time: 4 mins

Following us exploring which teams improved the most in the secondary and in the offensive backfield, let's dive into which teams managed to improve the most at the linebacker position after the bulk of free agency and the 2023 NFL Draft.

Chicago Bears

The Bears were in dire need of help at the linebacker position after trading away Roquan Smith last season, and they did not waste any time once free agency opened. Chicago signed two of PFF’s top five available linebackers on the market in Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards.

Both enjoyed breakout seasons in 2022. While Edmunds mainly played second fiddle to Matt Milano in the middle of the Buffalo Bills‘ defense in his first couple of seasons, he made a huge leap last season en route to ranking fifth among linebackers in PFF grade. Furthermore, he earned the highest coverage grade among linebackers and, including the playoffs, he forced 10 incompletions, which was tied for the second most in the league behind Fred Warner.

The player he was tied with? His current teammate T.J. Edwards, who the Bears signed after he ranked sixth in PFF grade among linebackers in 2022. While Edwards rarely rushed the passer, his versatility is highlighted by the fact that he was the only linebacker to earn PFF grades higher than 78.0 in run defense, coverage and pass rush.

Seattle Seahawks

No Seahawks linebacker ranked in the top 50 in PFF grade in 2022. Cody Barton was the highest-ranked Seattle player at the position, and he slotted in at just 59th with a 56.6 PFF grade. Meanwhile, Jordyn Brooks earned a 52.8 PFF grade, which was good for 68th out of 81 linebackers.

Consequently, the Seahawks did not pick up Brooks’s fifth-year option, which suggests that they knew an upgrade was needed at the position. Seattle turned to a familiar face when it came to strengthening the position this offseason, as they signed former Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner after he spent a season with the Los Angeles Rams. Wagner showed in Los Angeles that he can still play at a high level, as his 90.7 PFF grade was his highest since 2018. He was also PFF’s highest-graded linebacker in 2022.

While it is unclear how much Wagner, who will turn 33 this summer, has left in the tank and this cannot be viewed as a long-term solution, especially with it being a one-year contract, this addition should help solidify the position as the Seahawks hope to make a longer playoff run in a weakened NFC. The offseason addition of former first-round pick Devin Bush could also help in this quest.

New York Giants

The Giants rostered arguably the weakest linebacker group in the entire NFL in 2022. Day 1 starter Tae Crowder was PFF’s second-lowest-graded linebacker out of 81 players and was not even on the roster by the end of the season, while rookie Micah McFadden earned a 38.7 PFF grade, which ranked 77th out of 81 linebackers.

Nothing highlighted the situation of the group more than Jarrad Davis being one of the starters at the position in the playoffs after he was signed off the Lions' practice squad following Week 16. Davis is still projected to be a starter in 2023; however, the move that gives hope and suggests that the Giants might move away from rock bottom is the acquisition of Bobby Okereke. Only eight linebackers played more snaps than Okereke over the past two regular seasons, as he was on the field for 2,042 snaps in the span. He saved the best for his last season with the Colts, ranking 22nd in the league with a 73.3 PFF grade while earning a 15th-ranked 79.3 run-defense grade.

Detroit Lions

Similarly to when we featured the Lions in our article on the most improved running back groups, the debate around picking an off-ball linebacker in the first round has to be acknowledged. However, while the discussion was mainly around the secondary — and Detroit did address that in free agency — the Lions needed help at the linebacker position.

Rookie Malcolm Rodriguez was Detroit’s highest-graded linebacker, earning a 62.8 mark that ranked only 47th among linebackers in the NFL. In addition, teammates Derrick Barnes and Alex Anzalone ranked 48th and 53rd, respectively. Drafting former Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell should certainly strengthen the position group. Even though the value of the pick can be argued about, he was still PFF’s top linebacker in this year’s draft and should help Detroit’s defense in all facets of the game, especially coverage.


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