ProFootball Focus (PFF) released their five-year grades for middle linebackers earlier this week. PFF develops these grades, according to the site, by “adding up the grades each player has earned and then normalizing their performance on every snap based on the position they played.”
As you’d imagine, Patrick Willis took home the highest grade of all linebackers with a +139.4 — which is numbers for “he’s encroaching upon the ‘Greatest Linebacker of All-Time’ title.”
Said PFF of Willis’s performance over the last five years:
There was no doubt that Willis would be atop this list, as he has been one of the Top 2 inside/middle linebackers in each of the past five years. After getting drafted in the early first round of the 2007 draft, he has amazed in both the run game and pass game.
His 289 stops over the past five years is the most of any player, while his 25 passes defended is the most for all linebackers over that time. Although he doesn’t have a reputation as a pass rusher, his 16 sacks are the fourth-most for inside/middle linebackers. There is no linebacker who can do as well in all three aspects of defense as Willis. While there are never any guarantees for who ends up in the Hall of Fame, Willis is certainly on the right path.
What doubt I didn’t have that Willis would make the top-5 was transferred to NaVarro Bowman. Though he’s been as good as Willis the past few seasons, I thought Bowman simply wouldn’t have logged the requisite snaps in order to crack the list. After all, the competition is based on a cumulative number of times a player has positively impacted a game. How could Bowman, who has logged just 33 starts in his career, compete with Ray Lewis or Takeo Spikes?
Well, it turns out, I was wrong. Bowman’s grade ranked him 5th, higher than both Ray Lewis and Takeo Spikes. With a grade of +49, Bowman isn’t close to encroaching upon Willis’s territory, but it’s impressive nonetheless. Here’s what PFF had to say:
If this were a list of the best linebackers of the past two years, then Bowman would be second on the list behind his teammate Patrick Willis. After seeing little playing time as a rookie in 2010, he broke out as our best inside linebacker in 2011. While in 2012 he didn’t play as well in 2011, he was still one of the best players at the position.
He has a Run Stop Percentageof 12.3%, which is by far the best at the position for those who have played more than a year. Bowman has also been a Top-5 player in passes defended over the past two years. If you were to ask me to predict the Top 10 linebackers for the next five years, Bowman is one of the few who would end up on both that list as well as this one.
I’m not sure a duo of this magnitude has ever been paired together. Sure, the Bears’ duo of Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs was dominant for a time. But they haven’t enjoyed nearly the success as Willis and Bowman. Beyond that, I’m drawing a blank — which is probably what opposing offensive coordinators experience when trying to scheme run plays.