Chicago Bears: Home and AwayJon Bostic
After being drafted in the second round out of Florida in 2013, Bostic has seemingly cemented his role as the starting middle linebacker for the Bears. Last season he recorded 83 tackles, second on the team, and three passes defended. All of that while also missing three games during the middle of the season and only playing in 474 snaps. While on the field, Bostic played well against the run but struggled when forced into pass coverage..
Detroit Lions: Home and AwayTahir Whitehead
At 24 years old, Whitehead has earned his spot as the starting middle linebacker for the Lions after they drafted him in the fifth round out of Temple in 2012. Last year he was second on the team with 86 tackles and also recorded two interception and five passes defended. Whitehead played in every game during the 2014 season, but like most middle linebackers was used on a limited basis and played in just 672 snaps during the course of the season. At the end of the season he received a 3.8 rating by Pro Football Focus. He played strong while defending the run, but struggled when rushing the passer and when forced into pass coverage.
Green Bay Packers: Home and AwayA.J. Hawk
During his nine years in the NFL, Hawk has been a stable force for the Packers defense. He will not always make the flashy plays, but he has been the type of player that will rarely make mistakes and someone the team can depend on. Last year he was third on the team with 90 tackles and recorded two defended passes. Although he was able to make a lot of tackles, Hawk struggled in almost every aspect of his game during the 2014 season and ended the season being rated -11.6 by PFF.
Seattle Seahawks: HomeBobby Wagner
The Seahawks defense finished the year with the No. 1 defense in the NFL and was a big part of their run to the Super Bowl. Even though Wagner was only on the field for 671 snaps, he has still made a huge impact. During the regular season he was second on the team with 104 tackles and also had two sacks and three passes defensed. At the end of the season, PFF rated Wagner an impressive 19.2 overall, making him the No. 5 inside linebacker on their list and the second-highest rated one the Vikings will have to face in 2015. He played well in most aspects of the game, but did struggle from time to time in pass coverage.
Arizona Cardinals: AwayLarry Foote
At the end of the regular season Foote was second on the team with 84 tackles and recorded two sacks, one fumble recovery, one interception and four defended passes. He was one of the few inside linebackers to play over 1,000 defensive snaps (1,018), but as he continues to get older you may see his amount of snaps decrease. Last year was his 13th season in the NFL, and at the end of it PFF had him rated -20.3. He struggled in most aspects of the game while being rated a -3.2 in run defense, -8.0 rushing the passer, and -15.4 in coverage. Foote is a free agent this offseason, and it is unclear whether the Cardinals will be willing to bring him back or not.
St. Louis Rams: HomeJames Laurinaitis
Laurinaitis is another one of the rare inside linebackers what barely leave the field, as he played in 1,070 snaps during the 2014 season. He was also the opposite of most inside linebackers in the areas where he struggled. Usually inside linebackers are better against the run than they are in coverage, but Laurinaitis was rated higher while in coverage (2.3) than he was defending the run (-9.6), eliciting an overall rating of -8.9 by PFF. At the end of the season, Laurinaitis was second on the Rams with 109 tackles and also recorded 3½ sacks, two fumble recoveries and three defended passes. At 28 years old he is still in the prime of his career and should remain an important piece of the Rams defense.
San Francisco 49ers: AwayChris Borland
Even though Borland was only on the field for 487 snaps during the 2014 season, he was the highest-rated inside linebacker that the Vikings will play in 2015. PFF rated him 20.8 overall, which led to him being the No. 4 inside linebacker in their rankings. A big part of that was due to the fact that he led the 49ers with 107 tackles, while also recording one sack, one fumble recovery, two interceptions and five defended passes. Borland just finished his rookie season after the 49ers drafted him in the third round out of Wisconsin. He did not play in the first five weeks, but once he played he never looked back.
Kansas City Chiefs: HomeJosh Mauga
Mauga led the Chiefs with 103 tackles in what was his fifth season in the NFL, but tackling may have been the only strong part of his game during the 2014 season. At the end of the season, PFF had Mauga rated -14.0 overall, -11.4 while defending the run, -1.7 while rushing the passer, and -1.5 in pass coverage. Since the Chiefs play a 3-4 defense, he was forced to be on the field for a majority of the snaps – 1,028 to be exact – and being worn down by the amount of playing time could have contributed to his poor play. Along with the 103 tackles, Mauga added a half sack and three passes defensed. He will be a free agent this offseason and with both their inside linebackers performing poorly it is possible that the Chiefs will let him walk and bring in a new player via free agency or the draft.
Denver Broncos: AwayNate Irving
At the beginning of the season Irving was the Broncos’ starting inside the linebacker, but it is difficult to judge how well he did as he suffered an injury that forced him to miss Weeks 10 through 17. While on the field, though, Irving proved to be a serviceable middle linebacker. Like most inside linebackers he played well against the run – earning a 5.9 rating – and struggled in pass coverage – earning a -4.9 rating from PFF. During the season he recorded 46 tackles and one sack. He will be a free agent this offseason, and since he is only 26 years old will likely draw interest from multiple teams. The Broncos have another inside linebacker in Brandon Marshall who is also a free agent this offseason so it is unclear if the Broncos will want to bring them both back or bring just one back.
San Diego Chargers: HomeManti Te’o
2014 was not a good season for the inside linebackers of the San Diego Chargers, as Te’o was the only one to receive a positive rating from PFF with a 0.7. He was only able to play in five games, though, as he sustained an injury that cut his season short. Before his injury he was able to play in 465 defensive snaps and record 61 tackles, one sack, one interception and three passes defenses. There were a lot of questions surrounding Te’o in the 2013 draft, but when he has been on the field he has shown that he has what it takes to be a serviceable inside linebacker.
Oakland Raiders: AwayMiles Burris
Burris received the lowest rating of every inside linebacker in the NFL at the end of the 2014 regular season from PFF with a -42.2. He received a -23.2 rating in run defense, a -16.9 in pass coverage, and a -3.7 rushing the passer. Even though Burris struggled in most aspects of the game, he was still able to record 110 tackles, second on the team, and broke up one pass. He has only been in the NFL for three years, so he still has plenty of time to improve, but after a season like 2014 the new coaching regime in Oakland may choose to move in a different direction at the inside linebacker position.
New York Giants: HomeJameel McClain
Last season was an up and down one for McClain, who seemed to switch being rated negatively and positively by PFF every week. At the end of the season he received a -10.6 overall rating. He was on the field for 897 defensive snaps and led the team with 116 tackles while also recording 2½ sacks, one forced fumble and three passes defensed.
Atlanta Falcons: AwayPaul Worrilow
Worrilow received the second-lowest rating among inside linebackers during the 2014 season with a -22.0 rating from PFF. Still, he played more defensive snaps (1,102) than any other inside linebacker. He led his team with 143 tackles and recorded two sacks, two forced fumbles and three deflected passes. It was just Worrilow’s second season in the NFL.