Execs, coaches, scouts rank NFL's top 10 off-ball linebackers for 2023

Illustration by ESPN

NFL training camps are fast approaching, which means it is again time for the league's true insiders to have their say. As part of ESPN's 2023 NFL season preview, we surveyed league executives, coaches, scouts and players to help us rank the top 10 players at 11 different positions, from quarterback to cornerback and all positions in between. This is the fourth edition of these rankings, and as usual, several players have moved up or fallen off last year's lists.

By way of refresher, here's how our process works: Voters give us their best 10 players at a position, then we compile the results and rank candidates based on number of top-10 votes, composite average, along with dozens of interviews, research and film-study help from ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen. In total, more than 80 voters submitted a ballot on at least one position, and in many cases all positions. We had several ties, so we broke them with the help of additional voting and follow-up calls with those surveyed.

Each section includes quotes and nuggets from the voters on every ranked player -- even the honorable mentions. The objective is to identify the best players right now for 2023. This is not a five-year projection or a career achievement award. Who are the best players today? Check out who makes the list at every position on ESPN+.

We will roll out a position per day over 11 days. The schedule: Off-ball linebackers (July 8), defensive tackles (July 9), edge rushers (July 10), cornerbacks (July 11), safeties (July 12), tight ends (July 13), running backs (July 14), offensive tackles (July 15), guards and centers (July 16), quarterbacks (July 17) and wide receivers (July 18).

Linebacker is one of the more difficult positions to rank and left some evaluators uninspired, saying the players are essentially interchangeable after the first two or three spots.

But linebackers across the league are highly productive, which made for a difficult voting process. Players nine through 15 were all deserving and fairly close in the voting.

The 30-somethings are holding up well, and the young, physical players are vying to take their spots.

This year, Micah Parsons was left out of the off-ball linebacker category (we will see him later). And last year's No. 1 spent most of the 2022 season on the sideline because of injury. That opened the door for a clear-cut linebacker king.