I would love to get feedback from my readers. Often times, we get stuck in our own philosophies and tendencies. So, it's nice to get a different perspective on things. Your comments will definitely influence my rankings.
Linebackers are undoubtedly the staples of a fantasy defense. However, I believe many owners often times misjudge value at this position. If you aren't able to grab a "Tier 1" or "Tier 2" linebacker, then I would wait on drafting a linebacker until the later rounds. In my scoring system, the difference between the 2nd leading point scorer for linebackers, Jon Beason, and the next highest scoring linebacker, James Laurinaitis, was 51 points. Conversely, only 51 points separated Laurinaitis from the 25th ranked linebacker Dhani Jones. This stat shows that after the 1st two tiers of linebackers, the fantasy production is very similar. Hence, why my "Tier 3" is so large.
In addition, IDP studs always emerge at the linebacker position during the early part of the season (e.g. David Hawthorne, Brian Cushing, Clint Session, Stephen Tulloch, etc.). With this being said, I sometimes like to have a player at linebacker who I feel is expendable in order to pick up a potential linebacker stud off of the waiver wire during the season.
Solo Tackle = 2 points
Assist = 1 point
Sack = 7 points
Interception = 12 points
Fumble Recovery = 5 points
DSC = Possible Defensive Scheme Change
S = Sleeper/Undervalued Player
B = Bust/Overvalued Player
R = Injury Risk
ROOKIE = 2010 NFL Rookie
|1. RILB Patrick Willis (SF) - Willis is the obvious number one linebacker heading into the 2010 season. In his first three seasons in the league, he has averaged 120 solo tackles, 36 assists, and 3 sacks. You won't find a more consistent and reliable linebacker then Pat.|
|2. MLB Jon Beason (CAR) – For some reason, some IDP owners have lost a little faith in Beason. I haven't at all. He played most of the season injured and he still registered career highs in total tackles, sacks, and INTs with 142 total tackles, 3 sacks, and 3 INTs. He's the best fantasy linebacker not named "Patrick Willis."|
|3. MLB Paul Posluszny (BUF) – Admittedly, I have a bit of a man-crush on "Pos." Who could resist those long blond locks? Joking aside, Posluszny was a beast last season. In my scoring system, he averaged 20 points per game which made him the fifth highest scoring linebacker by average. He only played 12 games last season due to an injury in week 1. If you extrapolate his numbers out to a full season, he would have had 116 solo tackles, 30 assists, and 4 INTs. He has all the intangibles to make for a great fantasy linebacker; he plays on a bad defense, he doesn't have a ton of competition in the front seven for tackles, and he has a non-stop motor. The Bills switch to a 3-4 system shouldn't affect Poz's value at all. He's actually a pretty good fit for this type of defense as he is a big enough linebacker to fend off opposing guards. If he can stay healthy, I foresee Paul being a top five linebacker next year. DSC, S, R|
|4. MLB James Laurinaitis (STL) – I was really big on Laurinaitis coming into the 2009 season. He plays in a position in St. Louis that has proven to be very fruitful for fantasy owners over the last several seasons. Will Witherspoon, a mediocre fantasy player in my opinion, put up solid fantasy numbers there for years. Laurinaitis is much more talented than Witherspoon and it showed this season. With a full year under his belt in the NFL, Laurinaitis should be able to improve upon his top 6 2009 numbers.|
|5. RILB D’Qwell Jackson (CLE) – As far as pure tackling production is concerned, Jackson is about as good as they get. Not only does he compile a massive amount of solo tackles, he compiles a ton of assists as well. If he hadn’t gotten hurt early in the season this year, he could have finished as the #1 or #2 overall linebacker in a tackle-heavy league. Jackson does come with some injury risk, but if that doesn't bother you, feel free to grab him somewhat early in your 2010 fantasy draft, especially if you're in a tackle-heavy league. R|
|6. MLB Barrett Ruud (TB) – I personally think Ruud is a tad overrated. However, over the last three years, he has proven to be one of the most consistent fantasy linebackers in the league by averaging 131 total tackles per year. When drafting linebackers early, I look for reliability and consistency and this is what Ruud brings.|
|7. MLB Curtis Lofton (ATL) - I don't have Lofton ranked as high as others do because he showed some signs of wearing down over the last four games of the season. Lofton started the season out hot and was a top five linebacker. However, he finished as the 16th best linebacker in my scoring system. I like that he is a 4-3 MLB because they tend to produce the most consistent fantasy results and Lofton is still young and last year was his first year as the leader of the defense. With this being said, he should be able to improve upon his 2009 totals and be a top 8 linebacker next season. B|
|8. RILB David Harris (NYJ) – Many fantasy owners were slightly disappointed in Harris’ production this year and I can’t figure out why. He had 131 total tackles and 5.5 sacks (both career highs). His production did slightly fall off towards the end of the season, but he was playing through an injury. He still finished as a top eight linebacker in my scoring system and should thrive under the tutelage of defensive mastermind Rex Ryan.|
|9. MLB Rolando McClain (OAK) – I really couldn't have imagined a much better place for McClain to land in the draft as far as fantasy purposes are concerned. The MLB position in Oakland is fantasy gold and McClain is an elite level ILB. I don't think it's unreasonable to expect McClain to put up similar numbers to those of Patrick Willis in 2007 rookie year. McClain is a better fit for a 3-4 defense, however, the Raiders draft selections and off-season signings signal that they are going to be switching from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 defense or, at the very least, using multiple fronts. This will help speed up McClain's production. ROOKIE|
|10. RILB D.J. Williams (DEN) – Many IDP websites project Williams as a low LB1/high LB2 and I agree with this projection. Williams finished as the 10th best linebacker in my scoring system and he was a very consistent point scorer throughout the year. However, Williams doesn't produce a ton of big plays. Essentially, he is slightly more productive version of Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo.|
|11. RILB Karlos Dansby (MIA) – I expect Dansby's production in Miami to be the same, if not better, in Miami then in Arizona. He has even less competition for tackles and he will be playing in a familiar 3-4 defensive scheme. He seems to be getting better with each coming year and this makes him a great dynasty selection.|
|12. MLB DeMeco Ryans (HOU) – I think Ryans will give owners a lot of value in 2010. He was a bit inconsistent in 2009 and consequently some owners have lost faith in him. However, the fact remains, he actually improved upon his 2008 fantasy production by putting up 93 solo tackles and 30 assists. In addition, the suspension of SLB Brian Cushing should further improve his 2010 fantasy value as he will have very little competition for tackles and should consequently see a small spike in his projected fantasy production. Ryans could be a nice middle-to-late round steal. S|
|13. LILB Ray Lewis (BAL) – Along the same lines at LFB, I really don’t care that Lewis will be 35 entering into the 2010 season. Did you see this guy in the playoffs this year? He looks like he’s 25. I’ve owned Lewis numerous times in my ten years as an owner in IDP leagues and he’s never let me down. Lewis may fall in next year's draft because of his age. If he does, he could be a great middle-round value.|
|14. MLB London Fletcher-Baker (WAS) – LFB is in the same boat as Ray Lewis; he is one of the most consistent fantasy point scorers in the game and I expect him to continue that production in 2010. I just don't think he's going to play much longer. He also may see a very slight decrease in numbers with the Redskins moving to a 3-4 scheme. DSC|
|15. RILB Jerod Mayo (NE) – Mayo is one of the most consistent fantasy producers in the league and although he doesn’t have a very high point ceiling, he doesn’t have a very low floor either. There isn't much competition in New England's front seven for tackles, so Mayo's production should remain relatively constant. He's a fairly safe bet for 95-100 solo tackles. If you’re looking for a pick with little risk, Mayo is a great option.|
|16. WLB Lance Briggs (CHI) – Briggs has been outperforming Brian “Big Name” Urlacher for years, as far as fantasy production is concerned. Over the last six years, Briggs has averaged 94 solo tackles and 22 assists. With Urlacher injured and another year slower, Briggs should remain the solid IDP producer he has been for the last several years.|
|17. MLB Jonathan Vilma (NO) – VILMA!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I thought Vilma had a pretty good year considering the New Orleans defense wasn’t on the field a ton this year and, when they were, teams were usually passing to play catch-up. Vilma doesn’t have much competition for tackles in New Orleans and will therefore remain a solid linebacker next year.|
|18. MLB Stephen Tulloch (TEN) –Tulloch had a fantastic year in 2009 and I expect him to improve upon those numbers moving forward in his career now that he is the main, three-down linebacker in Tennessee. With Keith Bulluck unlikely to return, Tulloch becomes the leader of the defense and I expect numbers close to Bulluck's 2002-2006 seasons.|
|19. MLB Kirk Morrison (JAX) – Morrison getting traded to Jacksonville hurt his fantasy value. The MLB position in Oakland was one of the best spots for fantasy production at that specific position. Jacksonville is a good landing spot, but I don't see Morrison putting up LB1 numbers like he did in Oakland. He still remains a solid LB2 though.|
|20. MLB Stewart Bradley (PHI) – Coming into the 2009 season, I was very high on Bradley. In 2008, he showed flashes of brilliant defensive play and with SS Brian Dawkins signing with the Broncos last season, Bradley is in line to become the leader of the defense. I look for him to come back from his injury and put up solid LB2-LB3 numbers. S, R|
|21. WLB Clint Session (IND) - Session could prove to be a great value pick next year. Before he went down with an injury in Week 15, he was a top 10 linebacker. Even though I don't think he will return to top 10 status next year, I still think Session is a top 25 linebacker. Indy plays a lot of Cover 2 which bodes well for Session at his WLB position. In addition, that position has proven to be a lucrative one for fantasy players in Indy (e.g. David Thornton, Mike Peterson). S|
|22. MLB DeAndre Levy (DET) – Lions defensive coordinator has announced that he wants Levy to be the starting MLB for the 2010 season. This is great news for Levy owners. DeAndre has been on the watch lists of many IDP owners since he was drafted with the 2nd pick in the 3rd round of last year's draft. He has the skills to be a solid NFL middle linebacker and will get plenty of tackle opportunities in Detroit. It may take him a few games to get used to playing the position. However, I still expect 85-95 solos out of him next season. S|
|23. SLB Brian Cushing (HOU) – I was a bit skeptical of Cushing early in the season because of the historical lack of fantasy production from strong side linebackers. However, Cushing ended up having a fantastic year and his fantasy production actually improved as the year progressed. I still remain a little leery of Cushing because his fantasy numbers were inflated due to a number of big plays and his tackling production was a bit shaky; he had five games with three solos or fewer and nine games with five solos or fewer. Furthermore, Cushing has been suspended 4 games for testing positive for HCG. This really hurts his value in redraft leagues as he will most 1/4 of the season at the very least. B|
|24. LOLB LaMarr Woodley (PIT) – I tend to shy away from players who rely heavily on big plays (e.g. sacks). However, Woodley was an absolute stud the last eight weeks of the season. During this span, he registered 11.5 sacks. Admittedly, this is a high risk/reward pick. Next year, Woodley could end up with numbers similar to James Harrison’s 2008 campaign or Harrison could rebound and take away from Woodley’s numbers.|
|25. RILB Nick Barnett (GB) – Barnett rebounded nicely from his season-ending knee injury in 2008. Over his seven years in the league, Barnett has proven to be one of the more consistent tackling linebackers in the league by averaging 86 solo tackles and 34 assists. Look for him to continue to perform well in Dom Capers' 3-4 defensive system.|
|26. SLB Chad Greenway (MIN) – Greenway, along with Brian Cushing, are oddities in the IDP world because of their solid production out of the SLB position. Greenway finished as the 23rd ranked linebacker in my scoring system by registering 99 total tackles, 3 fumble recoveries, and 3 interceptions. With E.J. Henderson slowed down somewhat because of injury, Greenway may have a slight uptake in production next year.|
|27. MLB Gary Brackett (IND) – Brackett has been one of fantasy football’s best kept secrets the last few years and although he doesn't have much big play upside, when healthy, Brackett is capable of putting of solid low LB2/high LB3 numbers in a tackle-heavy league. The emergence of Clint Session doesn't bother me much because there are enough tackles to go around for two solid tackling linebackers on the Colts defense. S|
|28. MLB Lofa Tatupu (SEA) – With the sudden emergence of David Hawthorne and the drafting of Aaron Curry, many people are starting to forget about Lofa Tatupu, which could be a mistake. The Seahawks gave Tatupu a six-year, $42 million contract extension and he will remain the leader and focal point of the defense. He managed over 100 total tackles in three of his first four seasons in the league. He was injured for pretty much the whole 2009 season but should return completely healthy in 2010. Consequently, at this point in time, I can't justify having a one-year performer like Hawthorne ranked higher than a proven reliable fantasy linebacker like Lofa. DSC, R|
|29. ROLB James Harrison (PIT) – The one stat that concerns me about Harrison is that he only registered two sacks in the final nine games of the season. On the other hand, he did have eight sacks in his first seven games. Even though I believe the LaMarr Woodley has now become THE sack guy in Pittsburgh, I also believe that there are enough sacks to feed Harrison as well. In addition, Harrison tends to generate a decent amount of tackles for a big-play linebacker (he's averaged 93 total tackles over the last three seasons) and even though he had an off-year, he still finished in the top 30 linebackers in my scoring system. B|
|30. WLB Michael Boley (NYG) - If you look at Boley's 2009 stat line (66 solo tackles, 19 assists, and 2 sacks), you may be disappointed. However, Boley missed 5 games due to injury. If you extrapolate these numbers over 16 games, he would have finished with 96 solo tackles, 27 assists, and 3 sacks. These are D.J. Williams type numbers. In addition, the Giants just signed defensive coordinator Perry Fewell who tends to use the Tampa-2 scheme frequently. This should further increase Boley's value next season. DSC, S|
Last Updated: August 8, 2010
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