Up until now our coverage of the best players Madden NFL 17 has to offer has been concentrated on the offensive side of the ball, looking at the most valuable quarterbacks and wide receivers on offer. Now it’s time to turn our attention to the defence and there’s no better position to begin than linebacker.
The commanders-in-chief of the defence, it’s the linebackers’ job to not just make tackles and interceptions but to make sure that everyone around them is communicating effectively and doing their jobs properly. Set yourself up with a dominant linebacker corps and the task of piecing together the rest of your defence becomes much more straightforward.
NFL teams are loaded with great linebackers, but we’ve selected the very best from a list bulging with talent. Acquire a couple of the players below and you’ll find it much easier to shut out even the best attacking talent.
One of two linebackers to be in possession of an overall rating of 99, the Denver Broncos’ Von Miller has made an electrifying start to the season. In his first three games he recorded five quarterback sacks, helping his team to restrict opponents to just two passing touchdowns over that period.
Miller excels in top speed and acceleration, which goes a long way to explaining why he is so able to consistently elude an offensive line and get to the quarterback before the ball has been thrown. He plays the outside linebacker position, meaning you’ll want to partner him with a strong presence through the middle to deal with teams that invariably try to focus on the running game given Miller’s success in shutting down quarterbacks.
Over the course of his seven full seasons in the NFL, the Green Bay Packers’ Clay Matthews has failed to reach the Pro Bowl on just one occasion. Like the Packers themselves, Matthews’ danger comes from his lack of any distinct weakness. His speed and agility make him a threat when rushing the quarterback, while his awareness rating of 88 makes him someone capable of positioning himself in the right channels to make interceptions.
At the start of this season Matthews’ rating came in at 89, but it has since been increased to 90 due to his performances in aiding the team notch up victories. Right now, at 30 years old, Matthews is likely experiencing the peak of his abilities and, as such, the time is perfect to snap him up for your team before he begins to dip.
The second of the two 99-rated linebackers in the game, Luke Kuechly has been one of the most essential elements of the Carolina Panthers’ success over recent seasons. Sure, Cam Newton has been lighting up the scoreboard, but the pressure on the quarterback is reduced thanks to the work Kuechly and company do in keeping the opposition’s tally low.
Kuechly doesn’t have as much strength as Miller, meaning that he can’t eliminate a quarterback in such devastating fashion so consistently, but he makes up for it with his awareness rating of 98 – the highest of all linebackers. As such, Kuechly is very rarely caught out of position and left scrambling to recover.
If you can’t afford the salary cap space to sign Kuechly or Miller to your squad, then the next best option is the Kansas City Chiefs’ Justin Houston with an overall rating of 96. While Kuechley excels in awareness and Miller in speed and acceleration, Houston represents the middle ground. He might not have the specialised skill of his two peers, but he makes up for it by being highly competent across the board.
One of the greatest advantages of this broad set of abilities is that, if you’re stuck for other options, then Houston can act as elite cover for players injured in similar positions to his. Ideally, of course, you’ll want to play him in his preferred outside linebacker role, but it’s always good to have a player that provides plenty of tactical flexibility.
Playing for the Houston Texans, Whitney Mercilus has the luxury of lining up behind the ferocious presence that is JJ Watt at defensive end. With one of the most dominant defensive players in NFL history leading the charge ahead of you, there can be little doubt that your job is made that bit easier. However, to put Mercilus’ success solely down to his alliance with Watt would be to do the Ohio native a major disservice.
Where Watt is about power, Mercilus is about speed. Their partnership covers the bases, then. Should an attacker evade Watt by making a detour around him, Mercilus has the pace to intercept them on route and prevent them making a big gain. If you can use Mercilus in this way in your own team then you’ll be a long way to defining a working defence for yourself.
While not the most consistent performer in the outside linebacker position, when Brian Orakpo is on form he is devastating. That inconsistency is reflected in his overall rating of 87, although his recent performances have been good and have resulted in his stats being increased by publisher EA Sports since the launch of Madden NFL 17.
He is a pure power player, relying on brute strength over finesse to solve his problems. As such, injuries might be an issue as the season reaches its climax and this should be considered if you’re planning on making him your primary linebacker. However, if you take the risk and can keep him healthy then there are few individuals capable of dishing out the pain like Orakpo.
Picking out individuals from a Seattle Seahawks defence that has dominated the league over the past few years is no easy task. KJ Wright would be a very fine choice if you’re going to pick a single Seahawks linebacker, but for overall impact and leadership it’s Wagner that comes out on top.
In his first four seasons in the NFL he has made two Pro Bowl appearances and won a Super Bowl, not a bad list of accomplishments for a player who, at 26 years old, still has plenty of time to add to his honours. If you’re struggling to find a player to rely on and be the man to lead through dedication to hard work and getting the basics right on each and every play then Wagner is an obvious choice.