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Are Middle Linebackers Becoming Extinct?

As with most athletes, NFL players are constantly getting bigger, faster, and stronger.  It is not uncommon to see 300+ pound linemen run a 40 yard dash in under 5 seconds.  It's not uncommon to see kickers bench press as much as running backs.  And, it's not uncommon to see hybrid defensive ends playing outside linebacker, and hybrid outside linebackers playing in the middle.

This article, written by John Lopez of Sports Illustrated, talks about the evolution of the linebacker position, and how we are seeing the position move from players like Brian Urlacher and Zach Thomas to more of the hybrid type players.  He also mentions how the monetary value of the position has dropped off.

Once the premier position on the defensive side of the ball -- the proverbial quarterback of the defense -- middle linebackers now are more like the tight ends of the defense. Or at least that's how they're paid.

If you averaged the top-five salaries at every position on the field in 2008, the five highest-paid middle linebackers averaged $5.68 million. Only kickers ($2.24 million) and tight ends ($3.74 million) averaged less. Cornerbacks ($10 million), defensive tackles ($8.04 million) and defensive ends ($8.02 million) averaged significantly more among the five highest-paid players at their respective positions.

Are we seeing the end of the ferocious middle linebackers?  Are we moving towards an NFL where nearly every player is 6'3", 235lbs, who can jump, catch, and run like a super-athlete?

One thing is for sure... as the players continue evolving, we will see more and more offensive and defensive scheme changes from every team in the NFL.  Green Bay is going through exactly that right now.

Are the days numbered for players like Brian Urlacher?