2012 NFL Season Predictions – Top 5 Inside Linebackers in the NFL: With more and more outside linebackers becoming pass rushing specialists, having a strong inside linebacker in the middle of a defense is more valuable than ever before. Having speed off the edge is nice, but having the strength and toughness to shed blocks and bring down ball carriers in traffic is what it takes to get the dirty work done in the trenches. A reliable inside linebacker that can take down any running back or receiver that comes there way can make life easier on the rest of a defense. When everyone else knows that the middle of the field is taken care of, they are free to blitz and attack to make big plays.

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2012 NFL Predictions: Top 5 Inside Linebackers

1.      Patrick Willis, San Francisco 49ers

Willis notched 174 tackles as a rookie, and he hasn’t slowed down since. He has topped 128 tackles in four of his five seasons, and he has had at least 101 solo tackles four times, as well. Injuries forced him to miss some time last year, causing his numbers to dip a bit, but Willis still managed a career-high four forced fumbles. He is stronger and faster than he gets credit for, and Willis always seems to be in the right position to make plays. More importantly, he is able to make big plays in the backfield and doesn’t miss tackles.

2.      Brian Cushing, Houston Texans

He has the speed to play outside linebacker, but Cushing strength and attitude allow him to excel at inside linebacker. He will be entering just his fourth season in the NFL, and in his two healthy years, he has averaged 124 tackles, 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and three interceptions. Cushing is just entering his prime, and with the all-around ability he has already displayed, he might just be the most-disruptive inside linebacker in the game today.

3.      London Fletcher, Washington Redskins

Like a fine wine, Fletcher keeps getting better with age. He has had at least 116 tackles in 12 straight seasons, and last year, he had a career-high 166 tackles. Fletcher is just one of those players that have a nose for the football, and whatever he has lost in speed and athleticism over the years, he has more than made up for in savvy and technique. Plain and simple, the guy is a tackling machine, and he still patrols the middle of the field as well as any player at the position.

4.      Jerod Mayo, New England Patriots

He missed two games and was never really healthy last year, but Mayo still gutted out 95 tackles in 2011. The year before, he amassed 175 tackles, including 114 solo stops. Mayo is a 250-pound tank in the middle of the New England defense, and when he is 100 percent, he can blow through blocks and make plays in the backfield with the best of them. With three 100-plus tackle seasons in four years in the NFL, there is no doubt Mayo is a productive player. However, his ferocious attacking style is what really sets him apart. He simply overpowers the opposition at times.

5.      Derrick Johnson, Kansas City Chiefs

After being somewhat of a bust for the first five years of his career, a light bulb has finally gone off for Johnson. He recorded 121 tackles in 2010 and 131 last season, including 104 solo. Johnson has five forced fumbles combined in the last two years, as well. He has finally found the game-to-game consistency to go with his big-play ability, and Johnson is now a linebacker that can make both the highlight reel plays in the backfield and the routine plays. He is now the complete package the Chiefs expected him to be when they picked him the first round.

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