2012 NFL top linebacker corps

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For the past few seasons, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Green Bay and Chicago have been among the few teams that feature savvy, versatile linebacker corps. In 2012 however, whether due to injury, free agency or retirement, each of those four are missing at least one of those components, allowing a handful of other teams to qualify as among the NFL’s top linebacker corps.

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San Francisco 49ers

The defending NFC West champion San Francisco 49ers came out of nowhere last season to become one of the league’s top teams, especially on defense. One of the main factors in their new-found dominance is a quartet of LBs (Patrick Willis, Navorro Bowman, Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith) who are arguably the best unit in the NFL. Willis and Bowman both made the First-Team All-Pro and totaled 240 tackles, 4 sacks, 4 forced fumbles and 20 pass deflections between them in 2011. Smith, a rookie last season, had 14 sacks and forced 2 fumbles, while Brooks collected 7 sacks and a forced fumble. The foursome helped the 49ers to second in the league in points allowed (14.3 per game), tied for first in takeaways (38) and their 77.3 yards per game allowed rushing topped the NFL. It certainly wasn’t the offense that took the ‘Niners to the NFC title game.

Baltimore Ravens

Even though five-time Pro Bowler (and 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year) Terrell Suggs may be sidelined for the entire season with a torn Achilles tendon and inspirational leader Ray Lewis is 37, the Baltimore Ravens LB corps is still one of the league’s most dominating. As with all great units, when one component breaks down, there’s a replacement to step in. Jameel McClain returns next to Lewis at an inside slot, while rookie Courtney Upshaw is slated for an outside berth. Paul Kruger slides into Suggs’ place, and though he certainly isn’t the fiery competitor Suggs was, he may be a better pass rusher. Ray Lewis has a way of getting teammates to perform beyond their capabilities and this season should be no different. Read more…

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