Ranking top 20 linebackers for 2024 NFL season: 49ers' Fred Warner leads impressive list


Our CBS Sports top 20 positional rankings continue with linebacker. While this position is now somewhat of an endangered species, it does play an important role. Linebackers patrol the second level of the field, and are asked to both lay the lumber on running backs, and cover pass-catchers downfield. Not many are efficient in both, but those who are make special weapons for their respective defenses. 

A couple of things to note here: WE ARE NOT RANKING PASS RUSHERS. Yes, T.J. Watt is a kind of “linebacker” but he’s an EDGE in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ scheme. He’s a pass rusher, not your “Brian Urlacher-type” linebacker. Also, this list will require some level of projection when it comes to what these players will be in 2024. This is not just a recap of what occurred in 2023. With that said, let’s jump in.

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Let’s begin with a projection. Pace is not some solidified veteran that has been playing at a high level for multiple seasons. He was an undrafted free agent out of Cincinnati that made the active roster of an NFL team his rookie year, then recorded 102 combined tackles, 2.5 sacks, nine QB hits, two passes defensed and one interception in 17 games played with 11 starts. 

Not many were excited to watch the Vikings’ 3-0 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 14, but Pace made his mark with 13 combined tackles, one tackle for loss, one QB hit, one pass defensed and one interception. He was good as a blitzer, recording a 78.0 PFF pass-rush grade and 15 pressures. 

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Tavai earned a three-year extension last week after a career year in which he recorded 110 combined tackles, five tackles for loss, one sack, two forced fumbles, five passes defensed and two interceptions. New head coach Jerod Mayo will have fun moving Tavai around in his scheme. 

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For the third straight season, Wilson led the Bengals in tackles with a career-high 135, and added one sack, nine passes defensed, two forced fumbles and tied for the team lead in interceptions with four. In fact, the Bengals’ official website claims Wilson’s 11 career interceptions are the most by any linebacker since he entered the league in 2020. He is also one of just two players to record 10 interceptions, five sacks and five forced fumbles since 2020, the other being safety Harrison Smith. Wilson and Germaine Pratt form a nice duo at linebacker for Cincinnati. 

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The former Jet had a career year with the Carolina Panthers in 2023, recording 125 combined tackles, 5.5 sacks, 10 tackles for loss, 11 QB hits, five passes defensed and two forced fumbles. Luvu turned that performance into a three-year contract worth up to $36 million with Washington, and will get to play alongside Bobby Wagner under Dan Quinn. Luvu makes this list because of his play style, which is centered around attacking ballcarriers and quarterbacks, and appears to be a great fit for the scheme Washington will employ. 

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A tackling monster, Oluokun has recorded at least 173 combined tackles in each of the last three seasons. He led the league with 192 tackles as a member of the Atlanta Falcons in 2021, then successfully defended his crown in 2022 with 184 takedowns and led the league in solo tackles for the second straight year in 2023 with 111. Oluokun played 99.7% of defensive snaps last year. Only two NFL defenders played more. 

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“JOK” finally had the career year fans were hoping for, as he recorded 101 combined tackles, 3.5 sacks, 20 tackles for loss, five QB hits, six passes defensed and two interceptions under new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. Lauded for his athleticism, Owusu-Koramoah is scary when sent as a blitzer. Expect even more from him in 2024. 

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In his first season away from Buffalo, Edmunds recorded 113 combined tackles, seven passes defensed and a career-high four interceptions — including his first pick six. He was also immediately voted a team captain by his new Bears teammates. Edmunds has long been regarded as one of the better linebackers in the NFL, and while he’s entering his seventh season, he’s just 26 years old. The former first-round pick has also surpassed 100 tackles each year. 

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Greenlaw is a tough player to place on this list. He will likely miss a good chunk of the 2024 season due to the torn Achilles he suffered in Super Bowl LVIII, so he probably can’t be considered a “top 20 linebacker for 2024.” If he was healthy, he certainly deserves a place on this list, as Greenlaw recorded 120 combined tackles, a career-high 1.5 sacks and four passes defensed in 15 games played last year. Sure, he has a great running mate to rely on. But Greenlaw is a talent himself. 

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David turned 34 earlier this year, but he’s still one of the best in the game. In 2023, he recorded 134 combined tackles, 4.5 sacks, five passes defensed and 17 tackles for loss. It was enough for Tampa Bay to re-sign him to another deal. David has been a team captain in each of the last 10 seasons, and has recorded the most solo tackles in franchise history with 1,035. His 1,480 combined tackles rank second among all active players. 

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After signing with the Bears last offseason, Edwards turned in probably his best NFL campaign with 155 combined tackles, 2.5 sacks, seven passes defensed and three interceptions. It marked his second straight 150-tackle season, and Edwards showed he’s solid in coverage as well. There’s a lot of hype in Chicago because of the Bears’ additions on offense, but Caleb Williams could have the backing of a top 10 defense, led by the linebacking dynamic duo of Edwards and Edmunds.

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Okereke played 100% of defensive snaps in his first season with the Giants, and had a career year with 149 combined tackles, 2.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, 10 passes defensed, 11 tackles for loss and two interceptions. His performance in the Week 6 loss to Buffalo was epic, as he recorded 11 combined tackles, two tackles for loss, two passes defensed and a forced fumble. He also tipped up an interception for teammate Micah McFadden. Giants fans are rightfully very excited for Okereke’s future. 

9. Bobby Wagner, Washington Commanders

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Wagner was long seen as the best linebacker in the NFL, and still deserves a spot in the top 10 at 34 years old. After all, he did lead the league in tackles last year with 183! Wagner will be a Hall of Famer one day, as he is a 10-time All-Pro and nine-time Pro Bowler. He has gone 12 straight seasons having recorded 100 tackles (which is his whole career), and is still a dominant run defender. 

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We are going to get to see how good Queen really is now that he’s in Pittsburgh. The former first-round pick thrived next to Roquan Smith in Baltimore, but now is expected to be the top dog. He’s clearly capable, as Queen is one of just six players to record at least 450 combined tackles and 10 sacks in the last four seasons. After recording 133 combined tackles, 3.5 sacks, six passes defensed and one interception in 2023, Queen earned his first Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections. 

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Bolton missed nine games last season, and I still think he’s underrated. In 2022, Bolton recorded 180 combined tackles (second among all players), two sacks and three passes defensed to go along with two interceptions. He could have won Super Bowl MVP in the win over the Philadelphia Eagles, as he recorded nine combined tackles and a fumble recovery he took back for a touchdown. Now, he’s in a contract year, so expect big things in 2024. 

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Mosley may have turned 32 this summer, but he hasn’t slowed down yet. Last year, he led the Jets in tackles with 152, and added seven passes defensed, two forced fumbles and an interception. He has now crossed 150 combined tackles in three straight seasons, and clearly bounced back after playing just two games from 2019-2020. Mosley is one of the best mike linebackers of the last decade, as he’s been named an All-Pro five times, and made five Pro Bowls. 

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Milano suffered a broken leg last year and turns 30 later this month, but he’s still one of the best linebackers in the game. In 2022, he earned his first All-Pro and Pro Bowl selections after recording 99 combined tackles, 11 passes defensed, 1.5 sacks and three interceptions. Milano was on track for an insane campaign in 2023, as he recorded 30 combined tackles, two passes defensed, one forced fumble and two interceptions in just five games played! But the injury unfortunately ended his season early. 

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The Jets have one of the best defenses in the NFL, a fact distorted by their anemic offense. Even with New York scoring the fewest offensive touchdowns by any team in over a decade, the defense allowed the fewest yards per play (4.6) and third-fewest yards per game (292.3) in the league. Williams was certainly a reason why. 

Many will be surprised to see the brother of Quinnen Williams listed this high, but this is a player that has gotten better and better each year. At 27 years old, Williams earned his first All-Pro selection after recording a career-high 139 combined tackles, two sacks, 15 tackles for loss and 10 passes defensed. It’s impossible to watch the Jets defense and not notice this guy flying around all over the field. 

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It feels like some have been attempting to predict Davis’ downfall for some time now due to his age, but the man just doesn’t slow down. The Arkansas State product, who turned 35 in January, has now been named an All-Pro five straight seasons, and made his second Pro Bowl in 2023 after recording 121 combined tackles, 6.5 sacks, 12 tackles for loss, 11 QB hits and four passes defensed. Davis has crossed 100 combined tackles in seven straight seasons, and only two active players have recorded more tackles than him. 

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Smith was a very good linebacker with the Bears, but man, he’s evolved into a different animal with the Ravens. His 158 combined tackles last year were the most by a Raven since Ray Lewis in 2003, even though it was Smith’s lowest tackle total since 2020! In Week 10 against the Browns, Smith recorded a whopping 21 combined tackles, which set a career-high. Then, in the AFC Championship loss to the Chiefs, Smith led his team in tackles with 16. He earned his fourth-straight All-Pro selection, and second-straight Pro Bowl bid after helping the Ravens defense become the first unit all-time to lead or co-lead the NFL in scoring defense, sacks and takeaways. 

1. Fred Warner, San Francisco 49ers

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Warner has long been one of the best linebackers in the league, and we’ll give him the nod in being the top dog at his position entering 2024. Last year, the versatile defender became the only player over the last 25 seasons to record 125 tackles, four interceptions and four forced fumbles in a season. 

In all, Warner recorded 132 combined tackles, 2.5 sacks, a career-high 11 passes defensed, four interceptions and four forced fumbles in 2023, which earned him his third First Team All-Pro nod, and third Pro Bowl appearance as well. His coverage ability gives the already-talented 49ers defense some flexibility, and he’s proven to be a playmaker at virtually every level of the field. Warner is the best linebacker in the NFL. 





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