News & Analysis

The NFL's best linebacker tandems ahead of the 2019 NFL season

By Connor Price
Jun 26, 2019

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When scanning a defensive depth chart, it’s easy to have your attention pulled toward to the ostentatious defensive back or the pass-rushing stud in the front seven. However, PFF data shows that elite linebackers are few and far between, and when your team is lucky enough to have one, they can be game-changing players in all phases of the game — players not to be taken for granted.

The analytics world was taken by storm a few weeks ago by a discussion that argued the importance of pass-rush versus coverage for defensive players. PFF data scientists Eric Eager and George Chahrouri examined the value of both coverage and the pass rush amid this discussion. It just so happens that modern-day NFL linebackers must possess the ability to impact the game in both of these crucial facets. 

With that said, here is PFF’s list of the best linebacker duos in the NFL.

5. ANTHONY BARR & ERIC KENDRICKS, MINNESOTA VIKINGS

The 2018 Vikings’ defense may not have presented the same sting it maintained in 2017, but they continued to sustain their top-ten status. The tandem of UCLA alums, Barr and Kendricks, has been a mainstay of a defense that is full of superstar talent.

Barr has been pestering opposing quarterbacks as much as anyone at his position since he joined the league. His 116 total pressures generated since 2015 rank second among linebackers which largely contributes to his third-ranked 90.0 pass-rushing grade in that same period. Even when he doesn’t successfully pressure the quarterback, he is still effective against the pass. His nine batted passes rank second at his position over the last five seasons. 

Kendricks, who has been productive yet unspectacular in his time in the NFL, has seen his grade fluctuate anywhere from 58.0 to 68.0 throughout his four-year career. However, he has shown flashes of potential, as he has earned 80.0-plus game grades seven times throughout his NFL career.

4. C.J. MOSLEY & AVERY WILLIAMSON, NEW YORK JETS

Eight years removed from their top-three graded defense, the Jets have a top linebacking duo in the NFL once again, and it comes in the shape of two members of the 2014 draft class. 

Tackles are cited frequently by other media outlets, but PFF data suggests stops better explain how effective a player is on the field. Since they both entered the league in 2014, Mosley has garnered 167 run stops and Williamson has tallied 154 — fifth and sixth among linebackers in that span, respectively. Williamson has established a top-five in run-defense grade in two-straight seasons which has contributed significantly to his fifth-ranked run-defense grade (90.4) since 2014. 

New York’s defense has been a bit of a mixed bag over recent times, but the Jets now boast one of the NFL’s top positional units, and that should thrill new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. 

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