I have covered the defensive fronts and the inside linebackers, now we finish off the first and second line of defense with outside linebackers. For those 3-4 defenses, ranking the outside linebackers depends a lot upon sack totals. For the 4-3 defenses, it is a bit more tricky. In both cases, coverage ability is important.
Outside linebackers must be athletic enough to cover tight ends and running backs downfield as well as rush the passer when called upon. They are also often tasked with sealing the outside edge to turn running backs and quarterbacks to the inside. It is the most versatile position on the defense and if they miss an assignment, it could mean big yards for the offense.
Here are the AFC West team rankings at outside linebacker:
LOLB Justin Houston, ROLB Tamba Hali
Hali has established himself as a premiere outside linebacker in the NFL. There is no disputing his immense talent. Justin Houston showed in his rookie 2011 campaign that he has the talent to be a special player. I see every reason to believe these two will make for a potent duo in 2012.
SLB Von Miller, WLB DJ Williams/Wesley Woodyard
This was a tricky choice here. Von Miller is a great talent at linebacker and his 11.5 sacks as a rookie bear this out. DJ Williams is also very talented. But he has had some serious off the field issues of late. First, he was suspended six games for violation of the NFL's steroid policy (non-human sample). Then he tweeted out pics of the Broncos' playbook. He is also set to go to trial on DUI charges. If convicted, he could face additional suspension on top of his six game suspension. He will be replaced in the lineup by Wesley Woodyard who has been serviceable. He had 90 combined tackles with six starts last season. It is mainly the talent of Miller that keeps this unit respectable. Woodyard can hold his own in relief until Williams returns.
LOLB Melvin Ingram, ROLB Jarret Johnson
This duo has the potential to be better than the Broncos with the aforementioned DJ Williams problem. But we are talking about a rookie and a veteran free agent acquisition. Johnson is entering his tenth NFL season and we don't yet know whether he has been a product of the Ravens overall solid defense or if his talents will translate to another team. The future looks bright for Ingram and Johnson was a great free agent pickup. We will soon see what the Chargers have with the two of them.
SLB Philip Wheeler, WLB Aaron Curry
No one is expecting Wheeler and Curry to be world beaters for the Raiders. Wheeler was brought over from the Colts on a one-year deal to attempt to replace Kamerion Wimbley and Curry took a paycut to stay with the Raiders. The hope is that they can play well enough that the entire defensive unit can have success. In their favor, they are very versatile which will help tremendously in the multiple schemes and looks the Raiders defense will deploy this season.