Welcome to a deep-dive into the history of linebackers in the NFL and a peak into which players were the best at taking the ball away from the opposing team. We are looking at which linebackers registered the most “Turnover-Producing Plays” (or TPPs) in league history.
Yes, we are PackersHistory.com, but we enjoy looking at all things NFL history. Not to mention, Green Bay is well-represented on this list.
When thinking of linebackers a few NFL franchises just come to mind. The Chicago Bears and Pittsburgh Steelers being the most synonymous with the position.
This list further reinforces that belief, but perhaps the Baltimore Colts should be more highly-regarded when it comes to all-time playmaking linebackers (the numbers don’t lie).
Note: This is not a subjective list of the “Best Linebackers of All-Time Ranked in Order” it’s instead an objective list of the linebackers that are the best all-time at producing turnovers. There are plenty of other ways that linebackers can, and do, make a difference.
Some linebackers make their mark as a pass rusher that creates pressure, sacks, and forces fumbles. Others are simply tackling machines or brilliant minds that can read defenses. Some are great at defending passes and shutting down would-be receivers. This stat, and ranking, doesn’t account for all of those things. With that said, the players atop this list are certainly phenomenal players. So there is much to be learned about the skill of the NFL’s top turnover-producing linebackers.
We call this stat career “Turnover-Producing Plays” because it involves the total number of times a player got their hands on the ball, immediately changing possession back to their team.
We considered calling this metric the career “Linebacker Ballhawk Stat” but that term is more commonly attached to intercepting the ball.
We didn’t include forced-fumbles in this metric for multiple reasons. 1. A forced fumble doesn’t automatically mean possession has been changed. 2. The NFL didn’t keep forced-fumble stats consistently (and with any reliability) until about the late 1980s. 3. Official fumble recoveries are included when the ball is literally taken away from the opponent, so if a player prys the ball away, then they get credit for both a forced-fumble and a fumble recovery anyway.
What is pure about this stat is that it specifically honors the exact moment when the ball is taken away by a linebacker.
This stat is particularly interesting for linebackers because defensive ends are more likely to cause forced fumbles (during sacks) and defensive backs are more likely to record interceptions, obviously. Linebackers could go in either direction depending on their playing style. A blitzing linebacker is more likely to have more forced fumbles, thus recover more fumbles. Whereas a coverage linebacker is more likely to intercept the ball.
This accounts for the fact that some truly great linebackers did not make this list because their playing style meant their impact was felt on the field in other ways than simply producing turnovers. Seriously, some of the all-time greats didn’t crack the Top 30.
Keep in mind: These statistics include postseason games. Players that played in the 1950s, for the most part, do not have complete postseason statistics in all instances due to sloppy and incomplete record keeping. Also, defensive record keeping was pretty much nonexistent in the 1940s and before, so I couldn’t include any great linebackers from those decades.
Linebackers are known for being enforcers in the NFL, but this ranking reminds us that their position can be so much more when they can play the ball with such skill.
Below is the top 30, technically 33 because of a four-way tie, Turnover-Producing Linebackers in NFL History (Modern Era, 1950-Present).
TPPs = Turnover-Producing Plays
30. Junior Seau, San Diego Chargers: 37 TPPs
30. Bill George, Chicago Bears: 37 TPPs
30. Chris Hanburger, Washington: 37 TPPs
30. Bill Forester, Green Bay Packers: 37 TPPs
26. Ricky Jackson, New Orleans Saints: 38 TPPs
26. Gregg Bingham, Houston Oilers: 38 TPPs
26. Joe Fortunato, Chicago Bears: 38 TPPs
26. Mike Curtis, Baltimore Colts: 38 TPPs
24. Jack Pardee, Los Angeles Rams: 39 TPPs
24. Brian Urlacher, Chicago Bears: 39 TPPs
20. Donnie Edwards, Kansas City Chiefs/San Diego Chargers: 40 TPPs
20. Seth Joyner, Philadelphia Eagles: 40 TPPs
20. Dave Robinson, Green Bay Packers: 40 TPPs
20. John Anderson, Green Bay Packers: 40 TPPs
17. William Thomas, Philadelphia Eagles: 41 TPPs
17. Chuck Bednarik, Philadelphia Eagles: 41 TPPs
17. Nick Buoniconti, Boston Patriots/Miami Dolphins: 41 TPPs
16. Wilber Marshall, Chicago Bears/Washington: 42 TPPs
On the next page are the 15 best “Turnover-Producing Linebackers” in the history of the NFL. Just look at some of the legendary names that appear on this countdown.
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