With free agency set to begin in mid-March, Redskins.com previews the 2019 NFL free agent class position-by-position. Today's focus continues with the inside linebackers.
For the Redskins, the inside linebacker group has been a talented one, affected by injury, in Washington's defense the past couple seasons. With the addition of lightning-quick Zach Brown prior to the 2017 season, and the consistency and leadership provided by Mason Foster, the unit again could be primed for another successful year under new inside linebackers coach Rob Ryan.
However, there are decisions to be made, especially with the late season production of Shaun Dion Hamilton raising eyebrows among the coaching staff and the talent of Reuben Foster also sitting in the wings ready to produce.
Here are the top five free agents at the position, along with other notables below.
Take a look at some of the top free agent inside linebackers in the NFL this offseason.
In his four NFL seasons, Jordan Hicks has been a great inside linebacker. He’s dealt with nagging injury problems over the entire course of his career, but they’ve never been too destructive.
This past season, Hicks played in 12 games and was the heart and soul of the Philadelphia Eagles defense. He had 91 total tackles, getting five for a loss and three sacks. He also had five passes defensed and a fumble recovery. Hicks’ other standout season was in 2016 when he started all 16 games of the Eagles. That year he had 86 tackles with six tackles for loss and a sack. He had 11 passes defensed, five interceptions and a fumble recovery.
Hicks excels at pass coverage and is regarded as one of the best pass coverage linebackers in the NFL. Following the 2017 season, Hicks was ranked by Pro Football Focus as the number one coverage linebacker in the NFL, as he allowed an NFL low QB rating of 53.7. The second lowest that season was a 76.8.
Denzel Perryman has been a fantastic linebacker, but he’s never had a full season to showcase his skillset. In his four NFL seasons, Perryman has only started more than 10 games once, as he started 11 in 2016. The past two seasons Perryman has played in only 16 games combined, due to injury problems.
When Perryman is on the field, he is one of the most well-rounded linebackers in the NFL. Perryman is good at stopping the run as well as sitting back and covering the pass. In 2018, Perryman played in nine games getting 51 tackles, with one being for a loss. He also had two passes defensed and one interception.
In 2016, Perryman’s healthiest season, he started 11 of the 12 games he played in for the Chargers. He had 71 tackles, getting eight for a loss and sacking the quarterback twice. He also had two passes defensed and one interception that season.
In five years with the Baltimore Ravens, CJ Mosely has made four Pro Bowls and has started every game he’s played in. He has also racked up over 100 total tackles in four out of his five NFL seasons.
This past season, Mosley was selected to his third consecutive Pro Bowl after getting 105 total tackles in 15 games. Mosley also chipped in six tackles for loss, a half sack, five passes defensed and one interception.
Over his impressive five year career, Mosley has a grand total of 597 tackles. Fourty-three of those have been for a loss, while also chipping in 8.5 sacks. Mosley has shown some flashes at covering the pass, getting 35 passes defensed and nine interceptions, with one being taken back for a touchdown. Mosley has also forced six fumbles and recovered five, returning one for a touchdown.
Patrick Onwuasor has quickly established himself as one of the best pure coverage linebackers in the NFL. In his three years following being an undrafted free agent, Onwuasor has excelled in the middle of the Ravens defense.
Although he is not known for being a good tackling linebacker, Onwuasor can still chip in a decent amount of tackles. In 2017 he had 88 tackles in 16 games, and last year he had 59 in just as many games. The drop in the number of tackles can be explained by the Ravens using him more as a coverage linebacker instead of gap-stopping linebacker.
Onwuasor did have an uptick in tackles for loss and sacks this past year, as he recorded a career-high in both categories. He had eight tackles in the backfield and recorded five and a half sacks. He also had three passes defensed and picked up his first career interception this past year.
Cory Littleton saw a massive upgrade in his role from 2017 to 2018. After being a backup in his first two seasons with the Los Angeles Rams, Littleton became the starting middle linebacker in 2018. He started all 16 games this past year and was one of the most improved linebackers in the NFL.
This past season, Littleton recorded 125 total tackles in his 16 starts. Nine of those were for a loss, with four of them being sacks. While Littleton had solid tackling numbers, his ability in pass coverage was where he made the biggest difference. He had 13 passes defensed as well as three interceptions, returning one for a touchdown.
In the Rams Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots, Littleton made possibly the best play of the game for the Rams. Early in the first quarter, Littleton made an acrobatic interception off of a deflected pass from Tom Brady. Littleton ended the game with 10 tackles and two passes defensed along with his interception.
Coming off a Pro Bowl season in 2017, Kwon Alexander was set to have a huge 2018 campaign. Unfortunately, he wound up only playing in six games due to a torn ACL mid-season. Alexander still had an impressive 2018 season, getting 45 tackles in his limited time.
In 2017, Alexander made his first Pro Bowl appearance after having a very well-rounded season. Alexander made 97 tackles, with seven for loss in just 12 games. He also chipped in a forced fumble, four passes defensed and three interceptions.
Alexander’s best statistical season came in 2016, his second NFL year. He made 145 total tackles, 12 tackles for loss and three sacks, which helped him build a reputation as a pass-rushing inside linebacker. He also forced and recovered a fumble that year, along with getting seven passes defensed and an interception.