There was a time when having a great middle linebacker was absolutely essential in order to build a dominant defense. In their primes, Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher captained units that more than compensated for below-average quarterback play on the other side of the ball, ensuring that the Ravens and Bears were nearly annual contenders, even reaching the Super Bowl with guys like Trent Dilfer and Rex Grossman under center. Then there was Al Wilson, who was one of the toughest players I’ve ever seen and one of my all-time favorite Broncos. He was the heart and soul of the Denver defense for about five years, and when Wilson was forced to retire that defense lost its backbone, needing another five years to recover. But the game has changed. If you can’t find a better quarterback than Grossman or Dilfer, you will most likely find yourself with a top five pick in the draft the following year. Pro offenses are tailor-made these days to capitalize on all of the great qb’s and receivers, and as a result teams have also been forced to adapt on the defensive side of the ball. The middle linebacker isn’t nearly as important as it used to be because they are simply not on the field as much any more.