By Joe Landers
Click Here if you missed the Introduction to the Series
The trend continues – Year 2. The second season may be the peak, but Years 3 and 4 are not far off. The real change is from Year 4 to Year 5 and beyond. The visible difference with linebackers is that the relative deficiency in Year 1 only mirrors that of quarterbacks. There’s not a year as low as Year 1 until Year 7. Only three per year have their career season in their rookie year. For as many linebackers as there are on rosters and on the field, three is very low.
As with other positions, this trend suggests that there will be eight 2015 rookie linebackers who were among the 46 who contributed during the 2015 regular season and will have the best season of their careers (no matter how long) in the 2016 regular season. Who will it be? Look below for names, past and present.
With Year 2 being the most common peak season for Linebackers, it’s the first group of ten we’ll look at. Some of the below have not concluded their careers, but to exceed Year 2 is going to take a really big year. Off-hand, would you have guessed that Vilma, Ware, Morrison, or Weatherspoon had their best season in Year 2 of their career? Before looking at this data, I wouldn’t have.
The Norm – LBs Who Peaked in Year Two of Their Career
|Thomas Howard||Ernie Sims|
|Jonathan Vilma||Scott Fujita|
|Demarcus Ware||Lofa Tatupu|
|Kirk Morrison||Sean Weatherspoon|
|LaVar Arrington||Donald Butler|
In the second list, these ten backers are outliers on the early side and it’s not common, but they all peaked as rookies. Their on-field productivity never again matched what they accomplished in their rookie seasons.
Rookie Peaks – LBs Who Peaked in Year One of Their Career
|A.J. Hawk||DeMeco Ryans|
|Kamerion Wimbley||David Harris|
|Patrick Willis||Brian Cushing|
|Jermaine Cunningham||Andre Wadsworth|
|Dwight Freeney||Keith Ellison|
As with other positions, our third list is of the outliers hitting their peak on the later side of careers. With the Linebacker trend dropping off considerably after Year 6, take a look at ten examples of backers who defied the norm and had their peak season after Year 6 of their career.
Late-Peakers – LBs Who Peaked After Year 6 of Their Career
|Chad Greenway (7)||Tamba Hali (8)|
|Derrick Johnson (7)||James Harrison (7)|
|Takeo Spikes (7)||Mike Peterson (7)|
|Thomas Davis (11)||Karlos Dansby (10)|
|London Fletcher (9)||Terrell Suggs (9)|
The fourth list is ten big-name linebackers who seem to have their best season not only behind them, but they achieved it in the first four years. The prediction isn’t that they’re in terminal decline, but based on the odds and how prolific their peak season was (in parentheses), it’s highly unlikely that their career year is ahead. Beason, Mayo, Briggs, Rivers, Carpenter, and DJ are easy since their careers are likely done and Year 4 was their best. There may be some controversy with Peppers, Woodley, and Washington, but history and trends suggest Year 4 was their best and will be viewed as such at the conclusion of their careers.
Big Names Who Seem to Have Peaked in First Four Years
|Jon Beason (3)||LaMarr Woodley (3)|
|Lance Briggs (4)||Jerod Mayo (3)|
|Keith Rivers (3)||Daryl Washington (3)|
|Julius Peppers (3)||Brian Urlacher (3)|
|Bobby Carpenter (4)||D.J. Williams (4)|
The fifth list is ten who didn’t qualify for the study as they’re in the 2011 or later classes. However, they do have three years of productivity. For those up for new contracts, the question I’d ask is will they surpass what they did in Year 1 (Upshaw), Year 2 (Trevathan/Lavonte), Year 3 (Mason), or Year 4 (Robertson)? Based on their career trajectory thus far, it appears their best season (in parentheses) might be in the rearview mirror.
Current Players Who Seem to Have Peaked in First Four Years
|Danny Trevathan (2)||Mychal Kendricks (2)|
|Courtney Upshaw (1)||Vontaze Burfict (2)|
|Mason Foster (3)||Craig Robertson (4)|
|Akeem Dent (2)||Lavonte David (2)|
|Joplu Bartu (1)||Zach Brown (1)|
As a decision-maker, who hasn’t hit their peak and who might have it coming? Based on their trajectories thus far, this final list is of ten linebackers who seem as though their best season is ahead of them in the next 1-3 years.
Peak Coming 1-3 Years
|Jelani Jenkins||C.J. Mosley|
|Ryan Shazier||Jarvis Jones|
|DeVon Kennard||Pernell McPhee|
|Christian Jones||Jake Ryan|
|Avery Williamson||Denzel Perryman|
Next up – Quarterbacks