10 Linebackers Who Can Ruin Your Fantasy Sunday, Monday, or Thursday

Joe FortenbaughCorrespondent ISeptember 10, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO - AUGUST 18:  Linebacker Patrick Willis #52 of the San Francisco 49ers during a preseason game against the Oakland Raiders on August 18, 2007 at Monster Park in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Greg Trott/Getty Images)

With a knock ‘em down, drag ‘em out affair set to kick off the 2009 NFL season tonight (Tennessee at Pittsburgh), I figured now would be a great time to talk about the side of the football that gets the least amount of coverage in the fantasy world: defense.

Today’s article is a bit of a hybrid as we take a look at 10 of the best IDP (individual defensive players) linebackers, while also breaking down the tendency of these playmakers to destroy your fantasy running backs.

Be advised: Some of what you are about to read is downright nasty.

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10 linebackers who can ruin your Sunday (or Monday…or Thursday)

1. Patrick Willis, San Francisco 49ers

Willis is that dangerous blend of size, speed, and athleticism that makes him an absolute nightmare to try to slow down. He’s racked up more tackles than any other player over the past two years (315) and is only getting better.

What makes him so effective on Sundays is the defensive scheme the 49ers run. It’s predicated on protecting Willis so that he can get free and find the football. In addition, he’s got the speed and agility to recover any time he takes a false step and is momentarily out of position.

Notable Performance

Dec. 23, 2007: 21-19 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Buccaneers’ leading rusher

Earnest Graham. Nine carries for 21 yards (2.3 YPC), zero touchdowns.

Willis: 20 total tackles (12 solo), two sacks, one forced fumble.

Marquee running backs he’ll face in 2009

Adrian Peterson, Michael Turner, Steve Slaton, Beanie Wells


2. Jon Beason, Carolina Panthers

Beason plays the Mike linebacker position in a Carolina system that is built around the philosophies of the legendary Tampa two defense. The key here is the ability of the defensive tackles to take on blockers up front. When the tackles do their job, Beason can run wild and make plays.

Only Willis has accumulated more tackles over the past two years (315 to 275), but Beason has made more plays in the passing game, racking up 16 passes defensed since 2007.

Be Advised

Defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu is out for the year with a torn right Achilles tendon. Beason’s success is predicated on solid play from the defensive tackle position, so his numbers could take a hit this year.

Notable Performance

Oct. 7, 2007: 16-13 win over the New Orleans Saints

Saints’ leading rusher

Reggie Bush. 21 carries for 67 yards (3.2 YPC), zero touchdowns.

Beason: 13 tackles (eight solo)

Marquee running backs he’ll face in 2009

Brian Westbrook, Michael Turner, Ronnie Brown, Brandon Jacobs


3. D’Qwell Jackson, Cleveland Browns

Jackson is a baller who always looks great on tape because he’s a fast player on a slow defense. He led all defenders in tackles last season with 154 and is ranked ninth in tackles over the past three years with 342.

Jackson’s success this season will be due in large part to the system in which he plays. The Browns will be running a 3-4 base package that funnels the ball carrier in Jackson’s direction. The key player in this equation is linebacker Eric Barton, who will need to take on blocks in order to free up Jackson so he can make plays.

Notable Performance

Dec. 7, 2008: 28-9 loss to the Tennessee Titans

Titans’ leading rusher

Chris Johnson. 19 carries for 136 yards and one touchdown.

Jackson: 15 tackles (12 solo), two interceptions, three passes defensed

Marquee running backs he’ll face in 2009

Adrian Peterson, Kevin Smith, Matt Forte, LaDainian Tomlinson


4. Jonathan Vilma, New Orleans Saints

Vilma plays the middle linebacker position in a Gregg Williams defense, meaning he’ll be put in a position to succeed on a weekly basis.

He ranked ninth in tackles last year with 132 but is very active in the passing game and knows how to find the football with his high-end speed. Vilma posted six passes defensed in 2008 and will improve on those numbers in 2009 now that he has a higher level of talent around him.

Notable Performance

Oct. 12, 2008: 34-3 win over the Oakland Raiders

Raiders’ leading rusher

Justin Fargas. 10 carries for 35 yards (3.5 YPC), zero touchdowns

Vilma: 11 tackles (seven solo), two passes defensed

Marquee running backs he’ll face in 2009

Michael Turner, Steven Jackson, Ronnie Brown, DeAngelo Williams


5. Barrett Ruud, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Ruud has excellent athleticism and, much like Beason in Carolina, finds success in large part because of the system he plays in. He ranks fifth in tackles over the past two years (250), in addition to posting three sacks and three forced fumbles.

New defensive coordinator Jim Bates is implementing a defensive scheme in Tampa Bay that requires a very active Mike linebacker (no problem there). If the Bucs’ defensive tackles can be stout at the point of attack up front, they’ll keep Ruud clean in 2009, allowing him to make plays all over the field.

Notable Performance

Sept. 16, 2007: 31-14 win over the New Orleans Saints

Saints’ leading rusher

Deuce McAllister. 10 carries for 49 yards and zero touchdowns.

Ruud: 11 tackles (nine solo), two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery

Marquee running backs he’ll face in 2009

Clinton Portis, DeAngelo Williams, Michael Turner, Marion Barber


6. London Fletcher, Washington Redskins

Fletcher may be getting older, but his speed and short-range quickness are still very much intact. A constant producer in the world of IDP football, Fletcher leads all defenders in tackles over the past three years with 408 and has defensed more than 29 passes as well during that span.

The big bonus here is the addition of free agent defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. Haynesworth is so physically dominant at the line of scrimmage that he commands attention from multiple blockers, which should keep Fletcher clean and free to bring down opposing ball carriers.

Notable Performance

Oct. 21, 2007: 21-19 win over the Arizona Cardinals

Cardinals’ leading rusher

Edgerrin James. 27 carries for 83 yards (3.1 YPC), zero touchdowns

Fletcher: 13 tackles (10 solo), one interception, one touchdown, two passes defensed

Marquee running backs he’ll face in 2009

Brian Westbrook, Brandon Jacobs, Marion Barber, LaDainian Tomlinson


7. Jerod Mayo, New England Patriots

The 2008 NFL defensive rookie of the year is poised for another big season. After finishing his rookie campaign ranked 10th in tackles (126), Mayo is set to assume the role as the leader of the Patriots’ defense.

New England runs a base 3-4 but varies how many men it puts on the line of scrimmage (three or four) depending on the caliber of its opponent’s offensive line. Expect the Patriots to bring four against the Bills in Week One. With standout nose tackle Vince Wilfork clogging up the middle, Mayo is generally free to use his outstanding speed to fly to the football.

Notable Performance

Nov. 11, 2008: 34-31 loss to the New York Jets

Jets’ leading rusher

Thomas Jones. 30 carries for 104 yards (3.5 YPC), one touchdown

Mayo: 20 tackles (16 solo), one pass defensed, three tackles for loss

Marquee running backs he’ll face in 2009

Ronnie Brown, Chris Johnson, Joseph Addai, Michael Turner


8. Kirk Morrison, Oakland Raiders

Morrison ranks third in tackles over the past three years (379), and for good reason. He is one of the most instinctive and competitive defenders in the NFL today, two very good traits for a linebacker to possess.

Despite his ability to bring down opposing ball carriers, Morrison falls down on our list for two reasons: First, he is still currently nursing a dislocated elbow. Second, he’s a touch slower than the other players on this list and is not as effective in pass coverage.

Notable Performance

Oct. 26, 2008: 29-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens

Ravens’ leading rusher

Ray Rice. Eight carries for 64 yards and zero touchdowns.

Morrison: 13 tackles (11 solo)

Marquee running backs he’ll face in 2009

LaDainian Tomlinson, Steve Slaton, Brian Westbrook, Clinton Portis


9. DeMeco Ryans, Houston Texans

Ryans is an outstanding tackler who has a knack for staying clean and getting after the ball carrier. He trails only Fletcher in total tackles over the past three years (395) and has posted an impressive 6.5 sacks during that span.

What’s amazing is that Ryans has found so much success despite the lack of quality play from Houston’s defensive tackles. If the Texans had some bigger bodies up front who could take on more blockers, Ryans would put up even bigger numbers.

Notable Performance

Oct. 21, 2007: 38-36 loss to the Tennessee Titans

Titans’ leading rusher

LenDale White. 27 carries for 104 yards (3.9 YPC), one touchdown

Ryans: 11 tackles (nine solo), one sack, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, one touchdown

Marquee running backs he’ll face in 2009

Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Frank Gore, Steven Jackson


10. James Farrior, Pittsburgh Steelers

A smart, instinctive linebacker, Farrior fits the Steelers’ lockdown 3-4 scheme beautifully. He has the ability to catch teams off guard because defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau always figures out a way to get Farrior in an ideal matchup.

Since 2006, Farrior has posted 355 tackles (sixth), 14 sacks (more than any player on this list), five forced fumbles, and 19 passes defensed. This guy can make plays in all facets of the defense.

Notable Performance

Nov. 26, 2007: 3-0 win over the Miami Dolphins

Dolphins’ leading rusher

Jesse Chatman. 11 carries for 17 yards (1.5 YPC), zero touchdowns

Farrior: 11 tackles (seven solo), one-half sack, one tackle for loss, one forced fumble

Marquee running backs he’ll face in 2009

Chris Johnson, LaDainian Tomlinson, Ryan Grant, Ronnie Brown


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