Two weeks ago, you'll remember that our weekly "Around The AFc East" feature was a ranking of the running back stables in the division. After a week off for the holiday last week, we are back this week with the ranking of each team's linebacker corps.
And just a quick note - I only gave consideration to linebackers who have actually played a game in the NFL. I didn't consider rookies or players who have spent their career on the practice squad only. I will admit, though, that this one was a tough ranking to create. All four teams have some solid linebackers.
MATTY'S RANKINGS OF THE AFC EAST LINEBACKER CORPS
As much as I dislike the Jets (my most hated team in the NFL), I respect how good their linebackers are. While I don't think Bart Scott is great, he is very good and will now anchor the middle of New York's defense. Along side Scott is third-year linebacker David Harris - who really impressed me in 2007 but took a step back in '08. On the edges, they have two solid pass-rushers who can get to both the quarterback and the ball carrier. Last year, Bryan Thomas and Calvin Pace combined for 12.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss. But this unit does seem to lack depth. Vernon Gholston showed absolutely nothing as a rookie last year. They'll need more out of him to help that unit get over Pace's four game suspension.
Some people are going to call me a homer. But the Dolphins have some very good linebackers on this team. Having the 2008 AFC sack leader, Joey Porter, instantly makes this unit worthy of being in the upper half half of the divisional rankings. His 17.5 sacks are more than the combined 2008 sack totals of the Jets' projected starting linebackers this year. But the Dolphins are much more than just Porter. Channing Crowder, despite his lack of big plays, is a solid linebacker who really stepped up last year. His 113 tackles last year is more than any other current AFC East linebacker other than Jerod Mayo. And his 3.5 tackles for loss were more than Mayo and David Harris - and just as much as Bills' LB Paul Posluszny. Matt Roth really stepped up in his first year at linebacker - doing a terrific job setting the edge and stopping the run. It got to the point where teams made it a point to run away from Roth's side when he was on the field. And Roth picked up 5 sacks and 5 tackles for loss along the way. He's only going to get better, too.
I also think the Dolphins have solid depth at linebacker. Jason Taylor is back and will be a force as a pass-rusher. He's going to allow defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni to get creative in how he uses Porter and Taylor in passing situations. Reggie Torbor is also a capable backup at inside linebacker. After all, he's a guy who started all four playoff games during the Giants' Super Bowl run in 2007. Truth be told, if not for Akin Ayodele, the Dolphins would ne at the top of my list. And it's not that Ayodele is bad, but he just doesn't compare to either of the Jets' inside linebackers.
I'll admit that I'm a big fan of Paul Posluszny and how he plays the game. He had a very good season last year after missing basically all of his rookie season in 2007. I think he's going to be a star in this league. I also think that Buffalo's backup middle linebacker, John DiGiorgio, is a very solid reserve. He filled in well for Buffalo in '07 after "Pos" went down. I think that Kawika Mitchell is a solid outside linebacker, too. He rarely misses a tackle and he will make the occasional big play - tallying 4 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, and 2 forced fumbles last year. But I'm not too high on Keith Ellison at all and I'm not a big fan of Buffalo's depth at outside linebacker - at least from what I've seen and/or know of the guys.
It's not that I think New England's linebackers stink. I just think they are in a division that has three really good groups of linebackers ahead of them. Jerod Mayo is probably going to be a very good linebacker. But he is yet to prove to me he is as great as the media wants you to believe. Yes, he made 128 tackles (100 of them solo). That's impressive for a rookie. But he didn't show any ability to make a big play. Right now, I simply can't say with any confidence that Mayo is or will be better than Channing Crowder. Mayo had fewer tackles for loss and fewer passes defensed than Crowder, and just as many sacks and interceptions - none. So why am I supposed to believe the media when they talk about how great he's going to be? I'm not buying.
Adalius Thomas wasn't exactly playing outstanding before his season ended early in 2008 due to injuries. Tedy Bruschi was once a good linebacker but is now just a shell of himself. And the Pats don't have anyone of note to man the other outside linebacker spot. Pierre Woods, Shawn Crable, and Tully Banta-Cain are marginal at best. Paris Lenon was a good pickup by New England, though. He'll provide good depth inside - and perhaps even push Bruschi for some playing time.