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Bobby Wagner tops ESPN list of best linebackers in positional top-10 rankings

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Divisional Round - Seattle Seahawks v Green Bay Packers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

This week sees ESPN continue its unveiling of the top-10 players in the NFL by position, polling “more than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players.” Last week featured offensive players, with Russell Wilson representing the Seattle Seahawksonly inclusion in a top-10 list.

As a reminder, here’s the criteria for rankings:

Here’s how it worked: Voters gave their best 10 to 15 players at a position, then we compiled the results and ranked candidates based on number of top-10 votes, composite average, interviews and research. We had several ties, so we broke them by isolating the two-man matchup with additional voting and follow-up calls. Each section is packed with quotes and nuggets from the voters on every guy — even the honorable mentions.

What would the defensive side of the ball bring? Well edge rushers and interior linemen... were a problem for the Seahawks last year. Unsurprisingly no one from Seattle got ranked (more on that later). For off-ball linebackers, Bobby Wagner was expected to be on the list, and he is numero uno.

Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks

Age: 30 | Highest ranking: 1 | Lowest ranking: 3

For all of Wagner’s accolades over eight seasons — five first-team All-Pros, six Pro Bowls, 1,075 tackles — you can follow the trail he blazed to unlock his true impact.

He was the speedy, compact bullet at linebacker before Devin Bush, Devin White, Roquan Smith and others made it fashionable in recent drafts. Wagner isn’t the first speedy linebacker to come out of the draft, but he has improved since bursting onto the scene in 2012 til he became one of the NFL’s top defenders.

Some evaluators say he has lost, eh, a quarter-step, and that 2019 wasn’t Wagner at his best. But his fastball is still better than everyone else’s, and he has averaged nearly eight passes defended per season since 2017.

“I know he’s old and been around, but the guy has just got great instincts to go with speed, and when you have that, you can dominate,” said an AFC exec.

That dominance looks like this: Match seam routes with tight ends, execute a zone defense with precision, drop into coverage and close on the ball with authority, and stand next to Russell Wilson as a leader of a contender.

“Damn good player,” said an NFC scout. “That’s all there is to say.”

Any complaints? I didn’t think so. The others behind him are Lavonte David, Eric Kendricks, Darius Leonard, and Demorio Davis. A little further back on the bottom-half of the list are Deion Jones, Tremaine Edmunds, Jamie Collins, C.J. Mosley, and Fred Warner. Lavonte David, Deion Jones, and Demorio Davis were the only ones who received #1 votes over Wagner.

Not much to add here other than counting down the days when Wagner is in Canton.

Getting back to what else has been revealed on the defensive rankings, Jadeveon Clowney was an honorable mention for edge rushers. When you consider the likes of T.J. Watt, Cam Jordan, Nick Bosa, Chandler Jones, Joey Bosa, Frank Clark, and Khalil Mack are part of the top ten, you cannot make a compelling argument that Clowney is one of the ten best edge rushers in the game. For interior defensive lineman, Jarran Reed’s name was not even given an honorable mention.

The rankings conclude with cornerbacks and safeties through the end of this week. Shaquill Griffin might have at least an honorable mention shout on the cornerbacks side, whereas I don’t think we’ll see either Bradley McDougald or Quandre Diggs’ names appear in the safety rankings.