The position of linebacker has evolved, in response to the pass catching (third-down running back) as well as athletic tight ends. Linebackers are now required to to do everything, rush the passer, stop the run, and cover tight ends and running backs out of the backfield.
Inside linebackers are not required to play in space, where as outside linebackers must be able to roam the field and be comfortable in space. Linebacker is also a position that is reliant upon the ability to process information quickly and act on instincts. What exactly should you look for in both inside and outside linebackers.
Must be able to step up and tackle a running back in the whole. In order to do this they need to be able to shed blockers and quickly diagnose whether the play is a run or pass. Ability to lead the defense and ensure everyone is in the right place and aware of his assignment. The ability to drop into zone coverage is also an asset, more necessary in cover 2 defenses. Any pass rush is a benefit, but not essential.
Must be fluid athletes, as they are required to play in space. Ability to rush the passer and cover players out of the backfield is essential. Need to be able to secure ball carriers and also take good pursuit angles. Must also be able drop into zone coverage and make plays on the ball in coverage.
In 3-4 defenses pass rush ability is by far the most important ability required. Where 4-3 defenses don’t ask their linebackers to rush as much.
The gold standard of outside linebackers is Von Miller, OLB Denver Broncos. He is an elite athlete, who can influence the game through rushing the passer, making plays on the ball carrier and in coverage.
The best inside linebacker in the game is Luke Kuechly, ILB, Carolina Panthers. He is a highly instinctive playmaker on the field who can cover sideline to sideline and is exceptional in coverage.