Ranking NFL's best LB corps

Niners among teams that dominate defense's second level

Updated: August 15, 2013, 2:38 PM ET
By Matt Williamson | ESPN Insider

Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, NaVorro Bowman Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsPatrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman form a terrific linebacking duo in San Francisco.

In today's NFL, teams are becoming more and more multiple on defense. While a defense may operate out of a base 4-3 or 3-4 scheme, with the advent of two tight end sets and more teams using multiple wide receiver sets to spread defenses out, defenses are going to sub packages more frequently than ever. And that means that jobs for linebackers are tougher than ever. The teams with LBs capable of meeting that rising standard are teams that should stand out without the ball.

The rankings below break down the top linebacker units in the league. Since responsibilities are inherently different for 4-3 and 3-4 linebackers, I thought it was best to split a the rankings along those lines.

Here are the top three 3-4 and 4-3 linebacking corps in the NFL:

Best 3-4 LB groups

San Francisco 49ers

This was an easy decision. There isn't a linebacking corps in the league that comes close to competing with San Francisco's right now. They are totally stacked at all four starting positions. In fact, my only concern with this unit as a whole is the depth behind Pro Bowlers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman on the inside. San Francisco might be wise to comb the waiver wire after final cuts for a veteran inside guy for insurance.