In the center of the field, the linebacker usually steers the ship on the defensive end of the ball. They are the biggest, most freakish athletes on the field. The responsibility of a linebacker differs due to the defensive scheme and positioning. The inside linebacker is a run stopper and a cover man. They patrol the middle of the field in a zone defense, and line up against tight ends or half backs in the passing attack. Outside is sometimes categorized as an edge rusher, lining up on the defensive line and rushing the quarterback. If they drop into coverage, the player’s build determines who or which zone they cover. Cornerbacks guard wideouts usually on the outside edge of the field, and as receivers have become progressively more involved in the offensive game, corners have gained recognition. Both of these positions are pivotal in the defense and these players are irreplaceable on their teams.
Linebacker: Luke Kuechly
Luke Kuechly is the Carolina Panthers’ defensive captain and the best inside linebacker in today’s game. He is very well respected by his competitors, as shown by his top-100 ranking of 12, which is voted on by the players. Kuechly has earned this respect through his voice on the field. He constantly communicates with his team yelling out defensive schemes and positioning his teammates in the correct spots to stop the offense. He is a different kind of leader on the defense, one that nobody has ever seen before.
Kuechly is an extremely smart defender who strikes horror into opposing offenses when he steps up to the line. He knows every play before it happens, and more importantly, he knows how to stop it. Division rival Cameron Brate of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers stated that “He [Kuechly] was calling out half the plays we were running before we ran them.” Imagine calling a run play, but as soon as the offense gets to the line, the middle linebacker begins to tell his whole defense what the play is. If the quarterback changes the play, Kuechly knows he was right, and then he’ll call out that next play too. It cuts down the opposing playbook significantly and is extremely unnerving to look across that line as a running back to see a 240-pound All-Pro linebacker pointing to the spot you are supposed to run through, thinking that he is going to blast you backwards before you gain a yard. That is the fear factor that Kuechly brings to the field. Along with being one of the smartest players the league has ever seen, Kuechly is also extremely physically gifted.
Kuechly has had an injury problem in the past three seasons, however his productivity has not faltered considering his missed time. Of his six professional seasons, the first three were played to the full extent, as he did not miss a game in any of them. He had over 150 total tackles in all of his first three seasons, won the 2012 Defensive Rookie of the Year, and the 2013 Defensive Player of the year, and led the league in tackles twice. As far as beginning careers goes, the Carolina superstar stands out among the pack. As for his next three seasons, he missed at least one game in all of them, yet he still put up outrageous numbers, compiling at least 100 total tackles in all three seasons. Overall, he has five Pro-Bowl and 4 First-Team All-Pro seasons, with 5 forced fumbles, 8 fumble recoveries, 15 interceptions, and 2 defensive touchdowns. The numbers and his tape are astonishing, so why is he undervalued?
He is relatively young and new to the league, but his production should not go unnoticed, as he has been the best linebacker since entering the league in 2012. By the end of his career, he will be a hall of famer, considered the most intelligent player of all time, and a top coverage defender of all time. He is a top-20 linebacker purely based off his first six years, but if he keeps up his level of play for 4-6 more years, he will be top-10 at the least.
Corner: Emlen Tunnell
Emlen Tunnell was the premier defensive back of the 50’s, and because of the era he played in, Tunnell is extremely unknown. In Tunnell’s fourteen-year career, he spent eleven seasons with the New York Giants, and three with the Green Bay Packers. His nine Pro-Bowl campaigns and four First-Team All-Pro seasons helped him to his Hall of Fame induction in 1967. Tunnell’s contributions were unparalleled by anyone in his time, yet they have gone unnoticed by most in today’s game.
Tunnell’s stats were ridiculous, and nobody in today’s NFL could ever match the astonishing turnover rate that he accomplished. He ranks second all time in career interceptions with 79, ranking first among corners in that category. Even more impressive, is that seasons were only 12 games long during his career, so his average interceptions per game was extremely high. Many stats such as forced fumbles, tackles, and sacks, were not recorded at this time in football, so, it is difficult to judge players based on their statistical performance other than interceptions and fumble recoveries. He recovered 16 fumbles in his career, and his return numbers, for both interceptions and fumbles add up to 1,292 yards and four touchdowns.
Tunnell is underappreciated because of how long ago he played. Many undervalue this era of football because they didn’t see it or because some players were not of the same stature. However, I would argue that this era was much more physical and difficult to have a long and successful career, therefore merits more respect from admirers of the game. Tunnel was well ahead of his time, as he demonstrated pure dominance over opposing offenses, gathering ridiculous stat lines year after year. Tunnell’s unmatched turnover production has somehow slipped away from this generation’s attention. He should be considered a top-10 corner based on his ridiculous stat line and Tunnell’s impact on his era of football.