After a few years of volatility, when rookies would enter the rankings at No. 1 with a bullet, in 2009 we saw a shift back towards stability.
Yes, some rookies were very impressive and we had our share of breakout stars, and that will happen every year. But these days there are quite a number of LBs who have established a basis for reliable annual production.
Also, this season is seeing limited free agent movement, considering the most attractive candidates have been restricted at high tenders. That’s another factor working in favor of stability.
In this climate, it becomes even more to your advantage to wait to draft linebackers. It should not be too difficult to acquire three of the players in my top three tiers, and most of them can be taken relatively late in any draft.
I don’t think I’d be too critical if you reached early for Patrick Willis, but other than that great value at LB can always be found in the last rounds or on the waiver wire.
These rankings take into account the first wave of free agency in early March. Ages listed are as of September 1, 2010. In putting together this list, I was amazed at the number of these players who were born in January.
Tier 1 – Top Studs
1. Patrick Willis, 25, 49ers – Willis really should be in Tier 1 all by himself. He certainly was in 2009. Willis had five or more total tackles in every game, and there’s no reason to believe he can’t keep it up.
2. Jon Beason, 25, Panthers – Beason gets just a little bit better every year. This year he started adding sacks to his repertoire. Beason is basically a guarantee for over 110 tackles a year, which is the definition of an elite LB...