Linebacker is by far one of the most important positions on defense, if not the most recognizable. They are the quarterback’s equal on defense, getting the defense set correctly and making a majority of the stops, both against the run and the pass. Being a linebacker is more than about individual effort, though; it’s about being part of a corps.
Linebackers need to have men by their side who can match their intensity and complement their skill set to create a dominant group. Most teams, however, do not have the resources to bring together three or more star linebackers into the fold, create elite linebacker duos, then surround them with role players.
Linebacker duos have been integral to the development of defense in the NFL for a long time, especially during the Super Bowl era. These defensive tag teams have lifted defenses to the greatest heights, not only in NFL records, but also in Super Bowl rings. Bobby Bell and Willy Lanier. Jack Ham and Jack Lambert. Lawrence Taylor and Carl Banks. Even more recently, Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman.
All of these great linebacker duos have lifted their defense to the top of the NFL, and have led their teams to the Super Bowl. They’ve also found their ways to the Hall of Fame, but only time will tell for Willis and Bowman.
The Carolina Panthers have assembled a great linebacker duo of their own in recent years, composed of young phenom Luke Kuechly and veteran stalwart Thomas Davis. The Panthers had hoped that Jon Beason would be part of this unit as well, but injuries have hampered his playmaking ability. However, Davis and Kuechly have fared well without him. Only Erin Henderson and Chad Greenway have more combined tackles than Davis and Kuechly, but their play has translated into wins, making big plays in big games in big moments.
Their versatility is also phenomenal, with both being physical at the point of attack and also being quick and fluid in pass defense. Davis and Kuechly have become the best linebackers in the league, but we will have to wait to see if it can stay that way.