Welcome to the Pro Football Focus Page of Fame for the inside linebackers, where only the best overall regular season performances during our time grading (2008 to Present) are mentioned.
If this is your first visit to a “PFF PoF” then the rules are pretty simple. The highest grades from the regular season make the list, and at the end of every year we update.
Anything over a +15.0 grade for this position will get the recognition it deserves!
1. Patrick Willis, SF, 2009: +25.6
Pass Rush: -0.4, Coverage: +8.8, Run Defense: +15.6, Penalties: +1.6
The 49ers already knew they had a special player, but the 2009 season of Patrick Willis is about as good as it gets. A fantastic talent capable of doing anything that one could ask of him, he would finish the year with the highest rating of any inside linebacker in run defense, and second-highest in coverage. Missing just four tackles and picking off three balls, Willis proved without any doubt he was a do-it-all linebacker.
2. Patrick Willis, SF, 2009: +25.4
Pass Rush: +1.3, Coverage: +15.6, Run Defense: +8.6, Penalties: -0.1
A little bit different this one. The 49ers changed schemes halfway through the year so to give Willis his due we’ve combined his work at 3-4 inside linebacker and 4-3 outside linebacker, renormalized the grades and the result is a monstrous grade. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to any given just how good he was in 2008 with some phenomenal work in coverage being the high point.
3. NaVorro Bowman, SF, 2011: +25.3
Pass Rush: +5.2, Coverage: +6.0, Run Defense: +13.5, Penalties: +0.6
When the 49ers let the productive Takeo Spikes leave, some (including us) questioned it. A year after watching Bowman it became perfectly clear why. Finishing 2011 as our top ranked inside linebacker he emerged from the shadow of Patrick Willis to showcase a truly elite talent level. Excellent going forward, his 70 defensive stops led all linebackers that year.
4. Lawrence Timmons, PIT, 2010: +25.1
Pass Rush: +5.3, Coverage: +3.2, Run Defense: +15.0, Penalties: +1.6
This was the big breakout year from Timmons, who was a force from Day 1 of the season when he racked up nine tackles, with six of them being defensive stops. He finished second among his peers with his 13 Run Stop Percentage score, while also finishing second in terms of total quarterback disruptions. Throw in some excellent coverage and you have a truly fantastic year.
5. Patrick Willis, SF, 2010: +23.4
Pass Rush: +10.8, Coverage: +1.7, Run Defense: +10.4, Penalties: +0.5
A different type of season from Willis, who wasn’t quite his usual productive self except when it came to rushing the passer. Of course, a step below his usual level is still more than a notch above that of many others, and the 49er finished the year our second ranked inside linebacker.
6. Patrick Willis, SF, 2012: +23.0
Pass Rush: +0.0, Coverage: +9.1, Run Defense: +13.3, Penalties: +0.6
Another year, another season in which Willis finished atop the inside linebacker rankings. Apparently, that’s just what he does. Some excellent work in coverage is what really separated him from the guys below him — though don’t discount his excellent work in the run game where his tackling was once again imperious.
7. Bart Scott, NYJ, 2010: +22.6
Pass Rush: +1.3, Coverage: +1.1, Run Defense: +21.6, Penalties: -1.4
Don’t be under any illusions as to what earned Scott this grade. It was his tremendous work in the run game. So he didn’t have the most tackles or defensive stops of his peers, that’s not what his game, or this year, was built on. Instead, he simply dominated lead blockers in his own, often imitated, rarely replicated way.
8. Derrick Johnson, KC, 2010: +21.1
Pass Rush: +1.4, Coverage: +9.1, Run Defense: +10.0, Penalties: +0.6
After a year in the doghouse, Johnson was unleashed and took out all his frustration on offensive players he faced. A stunning 11 pass defenses led all inside linebackers, while he added 33 defensive stops in the run game alone. Those wondering if Johnson was done in KC were not wondering after this season.
=9. Ray Lewis, BAL, 2009: +20.7
Pass Rush: +2.5, Coverage: +7.6, Run Defense: +12.0, Penalties: -1.4
A vintage year from Lewis, who would grade positively in every area of the game as he showed the Ravens faithful he still had it. As was often the case with Lewis, he delivered all over the field with a healthy 51 defensive stops and 16 quarterback disruptions as he helped lead Baltimore back to the playoffs.
=9. Nick Barnett, GB, 2009: +20.7
Pass Rush: +8.7, Coverage: +5.4, Run Defense: +8.0, Penalties: -1.4
The last great year for Barnett in Green Bay saw him thrive in the Packers’ aggressive 3-4 defensive front. Finishing with an extremely impressive 19 quarterback disruptions, as well as 52 defensive stops, it would prove a shame that this would be his last full season in Green Bay.
11. Patrick Willis, SF, 2011: +20.6
Pass Rush: +2.0, Coverage: +10.7, Run Defense: +7.7, Penalties: +0.2
Willis would likely have earned a higher grade in 2011 but he missed the better part of four games at the end of the regular season. When he did come back he didn’t look like his usual self. That he still finished second overall in our inside linebacker rankings for the year should tell how good he was in the first 11 games of the 49ers’ season.
12. Desmond Bishop, GB, 2010: +20.2
Pass Rush: +8.4, Coverage: +4.7, Run Defense: +5.9, Penalties: +1.2
This was the year that made Nick Barnett expendable to the Pack. Bishop saw five snaps in the first four weeks of the season, but became an every-down force as Green Bay rocked and rolled to a Super Bowl triumph. Not a completely consistent player, it was his early-season form where he took over games that ensured he finished fifth overall in the 2010 inside linebacker rankings.
13. Brian Cushing, HOU, 2011: +18.0
Pass Rush: +6.4, Coverage: +5.6, Run Defense: +6.5, Penalties: -0.5
With the Texans switching to a 3-4, and Cushing coming off the back of a disappointing 2010, there were plenty of question marks about how he’d perform. Well, those were answered emphatically as he delivered in every area of the game. A staggering 35 combined sacks, hits and hurries highlighted an inside linebacker who knew how to make life tough for the quarterback, while he added the third-highest Run Stop Percentage of all his peers.
=14. Takeo Spikes, SF, 2010: +17.8
Pass Rush: -0.8, Coverage: +5.8, Run Defense: +12.4, Penalties: +0.4
Incredibly, Spikes was deemed surplus to requirements by the 49ers after a superb year. As time showed, that was owed more to the promise of his replacement than any doubts about Spikes himself. In 2010 he added an impressive 54 defensive stops to his career total, along with three picks and five pass break ups.
=14. James Farrior, PIT, 2010: +17.8
Pass Rush: +6.3, Coverage: +4.8, Run Defense: +6.2, Penalties: +0.5
In partnership with Lawrence Timmons, Farrior produced an excellent year that saw him lead the league in our own Run Stop Percentage Signature Stat. He wasn’t quite as dominant as Timmons, but he didn’t let the Steelers down, grading positively in every area.
16. Ray Lewis, BAL, 2011: +16.5
Pass Rush: +1.6, Coverage: +3.5, Run Defense: +12.2, Penalties: -0.8
There was still some mileage left in the tank as Lewis produced one last truly great year. Not quite as nimble as he once was, he was still able to use his talent to make a huge contribution in the run game, with a very healthy defensive stop on 13.7% of his run defense snaps. That was the fourth-highest of all his peers and was indicative of what a nuisance he was to ball carriers.
17. Bobby Wagner, SEA, 2012: +16.3
Pass Rush: +3.1, Coverage: +1.4, Run Defense: +11.8, Penalties: +0.6
The rookie Wagner didn’t have to wait long to be made an every-down player for the imposing Seahawks, and he rarely let the team down. Showing room to improve in coverage, he would still finish with the highest Run Stop Percentage of every inside linebacker.
18. Takeo Spikes, SF, 2008: +16.0
Pass Rush: -0.4, Coverage: +9.1, Run Defense: +7.0, Penalties: +0.3
The highest ranking inside linebacker of 2008, Spikes would miss just two tackles all year as he assumed the role of a two-down player in his first year in San Francisco. Adapting as the 49ers switched between schemes, Spikes used all his veteran savvy to succeed.
19. Derrick Johnson, KC, 2011: +15.8
Pass Rush: +2.9, Coverage: +1.3, Run Defense: +11.0, Penalties: +0.6
His 50 defensive stops in the run game were the second-most of any inside linebacker, while he added a couple of picks and a few pass deflections in the passing game. It was another one of those complete years from Johnson who was even able to add 14 quarterback disruptions to the mix.
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