SALT LAKE CITY — There’s no doubt who the top linebacker is in the NFL. It’s former Utah State star Bobby Wagner, with Luke Kuechly’s retirement in January.
So says CBS Sports writer Sean Wagner-McGough in his ranking of the top 10 NFL linebackers, with Wagner — a five-time first-team All-Pro with the Seattle Seahawks — taking the top spot for the second straight year. Wagner-McGough notes the list doesn’t include edge rushers, like Chicago’s Khalil Mack or Denver’s Von Miller, whose primary role is to rush the quarterback.
“Luke Kuechly’s retirement means Bobby Wagner is now the undisputed best linebacker in the league. Before Kuechly retired, Wagner was either 1A or 1B. Now, he’s No. 1 — and by a wide margin,” Wagner-McGough wrote.
Kuechly ended his eight-year career, all with the Carolina Panthers, not long after the 2019 season. He was taken in the same draft as Wagner — Kuechly was the ninth overall selection while Wagner was a second-round pick (47th overall) by Seattle. Like Wagner, Kuechly was a five-time first-team All-Pro, and he was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2013.
“He’s the perfect inside linebacker for the modern game, and his position atop this list shouldn’t be the subject of controversy.” — Sean Wagner-McGough, on Bobby Wagner
Now, Wagner stands as the top off-ball linebacker in the league. In eight seasons, he has started 118 games and amassed 1,075 tackles, 58 tackles for loss, 19.5 sacks, 47 pass deflections, nine fumble recoveries and 10 interceptions. He earned a Super Bowl ring with Seattle six years ago, has twice led the NFL in tackles during a single season (in 2016 and 2019) and was recently named to the NFL 2010s all-decade team, by NFL.com columnist Judy Battista.
“He’s not slowing down either. Last year, at the age of 29, he notched the second-most tackles of his career,” Wagner-McGough wrote. “He’s the perfect inside linebacker for the modern game, and his position atop this list shouldn’t be the subject of controversy.”
Wagner isn’t the only local represented on the top 10 linebacker list, as former BYU standout Fred Warner — now with the San Francisco 49ers — makes his first appearance. Wagner-McGough said Warner, who comes in at No. 9 on the list, has been overlooked because of factors outside his control during the first two years of his NFL career.
“Warner flies under the radar largely because he’s been playing on a stacked defense that has also included the likes of DeForest Buckner, Nick Bosa and Richard Sherman — not to mention, the 49ers gave another linebacker, Kwon Alexander, a gigantic contract in free agency before last season,” Wagner-McGough wrote.
“2020 feels like the year Warner will get the credit he deserves. All he has to do is keep playing the way he has over the past two years.” — Sean Wagner-McGough, on Fred Warner
Since being a third-round draft pick by San Francisco in 2018, Warner has started every game he’s played for the 49ers and put up 242 tackles — 10th among linebackers in combined tackles the past two years, Wagner-McGough notes — and also had 10 tackles for loss, three sacks, 15 passes defended, four forced fumbles and an interception. In Super Bowl LIV in February, Wagner had a third-quarter interception that led to a San Francisco touchdown, putting the 49ers ahead 20-10 in an eventual 31-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
“Despite his consistent production, he’s yet to earn a trip to the Pro Bowl,” Wagner-McGough wrote. “2020 feels like the year Warner will get the credit he deserves. All he has to do is keep playing the way he has over the past two years.”