Positional Rankings Series: The Patriots’ 2017 opponents — Linebackers

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1. Carolina Panthers
The title of best linebacker tandem http://www.rd-corp.com/reggie-jackson-jersey-c-1_23.html in the NFLhas belonged to Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis for the better part of the last four seasons, perhaps only challenged by Seattles Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright. But the gap between Carolina and the second highest ranked team on this list isnt as large as it is because of Kuechly and Davis alone. Shaq Thompson, the Panthersfirst round pick in 2015, saw his snap count elevate to 50% last season, and that number will rise even further as news surfaced Friday that the team plans on placing 34-year-old Thomas Davis on a pitch countin 2017, according to CBSSports.coms RotoWire Staff. Thompsons incredible athletic ability has translated so beautifully to the NFL that he has forced his way onto the field.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Lavonte David has been nothing short of a stud since entering the league in 2012, and Kwon Alexander has begun making a name for himself after an excellent sophomore season. Each played over 96% of the teams defensive snaps last year. Tampa, looking to further improve the unit, spent its third-round pick on LSU Tiger Kendall Beckwith, who projects to be an early-down run thumper.
3. Houston Texans
If you feel the Texans defense is getting too much love in this rankings series, youre wrong. Bernardrick McKinney was outstanding in 2016, his second NFL season. He is joined by a physically healthy and mentally psychotic Brian Cushing, and second-round pick Zach Cunningham from Vanderbilt, who many in New England coveted prior to the draft.
4. Atlanta Falcons
Simply put, Deion Jones is the http://www.texansprosale.com/will-fuller-v-jersey-c-1_32.html truth. Anything to the contrary is blasphemy.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers
Ryan Shazier is a player poised to make some noise in 2016 if he can stay healthy. The play makers reaction time and burst are elite. It will be interesting to see where rookie first-round pick T.J. Watt lines up this season as well.
6. Los Angeles Chargers
Fifth-round rookie Jatavis Brown was one of the pleasant surprises at the linebacker position last year. And when injuries occasionally sidelined Brown and Denzel Perryman, Korey Toomer filled in admirably. This defense could gel into something special in 2017.
7. Kansas City Chiefs
It will be interesting to see how twelve-year veteran Derrick Johnson looks upon his return from the Achilles injury that cut his 2016 campaign short. Ramik Watson looks to build on what was a solid second-year performance last season in Johnsons absence.
8. Buffalo Bills
The strong-side linebacker spot is once again a question mark for Buffalo. The Bills let Nigel Bradham walk in free agency a year ago after an injury riddled 2015 season, only to see him flourish in Philadelphia last season. Then they drafted Reggie Ragland and signed Zach Brown to a year one year deal. Brown was excellent in September and October, and faded as the year went on and the games took on less Don Mattingly Womens Jersey meaning. He signed with Washington this offseason. Ragland, after spending 2016 on IR, will battle Preston Brown for the starting job on the inside, with the loser presumably taking an outside role in the teams new 4-3 scheme, according to buffalobills.com insider Chris Brown.
9. Denver Broncos
Brandon M. Marshall has quietly developed into one of the better players at the position in the AFC, but the jury is still out on the rest of the linebacker unit in Denver. Although a liability in coverage, Todd Davis was serviceable against the run last season when healthy, but the group still longs for the volume tackling and instincts of Danny Trevathan.
10. Miami Dolphins
Lawrence Timmons was less than stellar in his final season in Pittsburgh. Hell join recent extension recipient Kiko Alonso. Seven-year veteran Koa Misi still awaits clearance from team physicians following a spinal fusion procedure to correct a neck injury that landed him on IR after three games in 2016. Rookie Raekwon McMillan could look to make an immediate impact should some snaps become available due to injury or poor play from others in the unit.
11. New Orleans Saints
Craig Robertson, a special teamer who was thrust into action after the retirement of James Laurinitis last season, finished the year with 115 tackles. Despite the solid production, Robertson will likely be relegated to his special teams role in 2017 according to Larry Holder of Nola.com. The issue for this unit will be figuring out who will join a healthy Dannell Ellerbe in the starting lineup.
12. New York Jets
Only three qualifying linebackers received a lower PFF grade than Darron Lee last season. Hell look to rebound as the pesky Demario Davis rejoins the Jets defense as a result of the Calvin Pryor trade.
13. Oakland Raiders
Linebacker is the only position group in Oakland with a bleaker 2017 outlook than their interior defensive linemen which is saying something. Malcolm Smith, their leading tackler last season, signed a five-year deal across Andre Hal Womens Jersey the bay in San Francisco. Meanwhile, the units most effective contributor in 2016 (and a top-15 player at the position according to PFF) was veteran Perry Riley, who currently remains on the free agent market. The two played a combined 1,560 defensive snaps last year. Wake Forest rookie Marquel Lee could be looked upon to make an immediate impact.
Posted 11 Jul 2017

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