NFL Rankings: 10 best linebackers in the league

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Dec 22, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly (59) reacts in the fourth quarter. The Panthers defeated the Saint 17-13 at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Linebackers have played a vital role throughout the history of the NFL.

From legends such as Chuck Bednarik and Sam Huff in the 1950s, through Ray Nitschke and Dick Butkus in the 1960s and 1970s legends Jack Lambert and Jack Ham, linebackers were guys who stuffed the run and covered backs and tight ends out of the backfield.

In the early 1980s, one guy changed all of that.

When the New York Giants drafted North Carolina linebacker Lawrence Taylor second overall in 1981, the consensus was that he would be a very good player, possibly an impact guy.

No one had any idea at the time that Taylor would redefine the position.

Given free rein to rush the passer, Taylor racked up 132½ quarterback sacks in his career, leading the NFL with 20½ in 1986. That year, Taylor became just the second defensive player named NFL Most Valuable Player, joining Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Alan Page in 1971.

Almost 30 years later, Taylor is still the last defensive player to win the award.

More than 30 years since Taylor’s landmark debut, the linebacker position has evolved into one of the most important on a defense, because these are the players who support the run, cover the pass and rush the passer—sometimes with the same linebacker doing all three tasks on one series.

So who are the 10 best linebackers in the NFL heading into the 2014 season?

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