Let it be known that this ranking is mostly based on production from last season, that is why guys like Jerod Mayo, Demario Davis, and David Harris are not on here. The ranking from 5-1 is based on how I think these five guys will fair this season.
5) Calvin Pace: New York Jets. Calvin Pace is the oldest guy on this list, and not a single person thought he would produce what he did last season. At 32 he played and started in all 16 games, he recorded 53 tackles and an impressive 10 sacks. He also forced 2 fumbles. Pace's surplus production could have been because of the amazing defensive line that the Jets had last season, nevertheless I expect Pace to have over 50 tackles and 5 sacks again this season. Not only is he an enforcer on the field but he is a leader on and off the field for Rex Ryan's Jets.
4) Dannell Ellerbe: Miami Dolphins. Ellerbe is one of those guys that you don't really notice being that good until you take a look at his stats. In his first season with Miami, after winning a super bowl next to Ray Lewis, he recorded 101 tackles, 1 sack, 2 interceptions, and 2 fumble recoveries. Ellerbe is no doubt a leader and a tremendous tackler on the Miami Dolphins, a team which had a lot of off the field issues that season with the offensive line. Ellerbe was a player that the Ravens really missed that season, I expect Ellerbe to have another 100+ tackles season, with 3 sacks, and 1 interception. Playing on a good defense like Miami's Ellerbe will be one of the main guys trying to stop Chris Johnson this upcoming season.
3) Brandon Spikes: Buffalo Bills. The former Patriot who played in all 16 games but only started 11 last season signed with the Bills this off-season. Lining him up next to Kiki Alonso is like putting Terrell Suggs next to Ray Lewis. He recorded 86 tackles last season with 1 interception and 1 fumble recovery. Spikes is a huge defender at 6'2 and 255 pounds, Spikes clogs up the running hole and I expect him to have a season like he did in 2012 with 90+ tackles and 1 interception. Spikes should be one of the better linebackers in the AFC East next year.
2) Dont'a Hightower: New England Patriots. Even bigger than Spikes is Hightower, at 6'3, 270 pounds, Hightower is the linebacker you would kill to have especially when he lined up next to Spikes. Last season in 16 games he had 97 tackles and 1 sack. Hightower is one of those Alabama guys who scouts love, he has been exactly what New England needed him to be, the problem next year is that he's losing a guy like Spikes to help him out. I expect 90+ tackles and 3 sacks for Hightower next season.
1) Kiki Alonso: Buffalo Bills. The legend of Kiki Alonso. The former Oregon standout, Alonso killed it in his rookie season, coming in 2nd place by 4 votes to the Jets' Sheldon Richardson in the NFL's Rookie of the Year vote. Alonso had an incredible 159 tackles, which was good enough for 3rd in the league. He added 2 sacks, 4 interceptions, 1 forced fumble, and 2 fumble recoveries. No one in the AFC nevertheless AFC East, is anywhere near Alonso, the gap between him and Hightower is like the gap between Peyton Manning and Geno Smith, it's incomparable. Alonso can do it all, and he does do it all, playing in cold Buffalo, if Alonso plays like he did last year, for the rest of his career, he's tackling his way into Canton! My expectation of Alonso are a little awkward because I don't know how he'll do with the addition of Brandon Spikes. I still expect ridiculous numbers, 150+ tackles, 5 sacks, and 2 interceptions, with 1 forced fumble and 1 recovery. Alonso is a Brian Urlacher, or a Navarro Bowman, someone who is just way better than everyone else, and the best part about Alonso is that he was drafted in the 2nd round. Buffalo is known for finding very good linebackers, they also found tackling machine Paul Posluszny, in the 2nd round. Expect a hall of fame career out of this guy, and expect player of the year numbers once again from Alonso.