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 quite 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
(xx) = Previous Ranking
|Age: 25||1. RILB Patrick Willis (SF) - Willis is the obvious number one linebacker heading into the 2010 season (in both dynasty and redraft leagues). 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.|
|Age: 25||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."|
|Age: 24||3. MLB Curtis Lofton (ATL) - In my redraft rankings, I have Lofton listed at #6. However, in dynasty formats he is the #3 LB overall behind Willis and Beason. He's still very young and is continuing to learn his position. He started to wear down during the latter half of last season, but with another full year under his belt he will be better suited to finish the season strong and maintain a top 5 linebacker ranking.|
|Age: 23||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 of experience in the NFL, Laurinaitis should be able to improve upon his top 6 2009 numbers.|
|Age: 25||5. 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
For more in-depth information on Paul Posluszny, click here.
|Age: 26||6. 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
|Age: 21||7 (8). 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 his 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|
|Age: 27||8. 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.|
|Age: 26||9. RILB David Harris (NYJ) – Many fantasy owners were slightly disappointed in Harris’ production last 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 tutorledge of defensive mastermind Rex Ryan.|
|Age: 28||10 (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.|
|Age: 28||11. 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.|
|Age: 26||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|
|Age: 24||13. 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.|
|Age: 29||14. 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.|
|Age: 28||15. 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.|
|Age: 23||16. MLB DeAndre Levy (DET) – Levy will be the Lions starting MLB heading into the 2010 season. This is great news for Levy owners. DeAndre has been on the watchlists 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 and even better numbers in the following years. S|
|Age: 25||17. 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.|
|Age: 23||18. 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. His value in dynasty leagues won't be affected that much since you figure he's got 8-10 good years left in him. Even though I'm not extremely high on Cushing as a fantasy player, he may fall in dynasty leagues because of this suspension and therefore become a good buy low candidate. B|
|Age: 35||19. LILB Ray Lewis (BAL) – Lewis got knocked down a few spots from where he was in my redraft rankings because of his age (35 entering into the 2010 season). I have no doubts that he will be putting up solid numbers in 2010. However, you have to wonder how many years he has left.|
|Age: 35||20. 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
|Age: 28||21. 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.|
||22. 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 was 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|
|Age: 25||23. 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|
|Age: 25||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. MLB E.J. Henderson (MIN) –Henderson is definitely a good buy low candidate. Many owners will shy away from him due to the broken leg he suffered in the latter half of the 2009 season. In actuality, broken legs are easier to come back from then other injuries such as ACL tears. E.J. is still relatively young and is in a good position as the MLB in Minnesota. I wouldn't mind having him as a low LB2. R, S
August 23 Update: Henderson posted 7 tackles during his first preseason game and looked to have regained a majority of his quickness and explosiveness.
|Age: 30||26. 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|
|Age: 29||27 (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.|
|Age: 27||28. 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.|
|Age: 21||29 (32). ILB Daryl Washington (ARI) -
Washington finds himself in a great fantasy position as the heir apparent to Karlos Dansby in Arizona. Washington is better suited in as a 4-3 WLB than a 3-4 ILB. However, he has shown signs that he can play the inside. The ILB position in a 3-4 defensive scheme is a lot like a 4-3 WLB anyway and Washington has the instincts to pull it off. Ken Whisenhunt has already confirmed that the Cardinals think Washington is an every-down linebacker; it's just a matter of when he will become the starter.
I see him as a LB2 with potential low LB1 upside once he becomes a starter. ROOKIE
September 6 Update: The Cardinals just placed ILB Gerald Hayes on the PUP list giving Washington the starting SILB job in Arizona. He should play well enough to hold that position for the rest of the year or until he takes over Paris Lenon's weak side position.
|Age: 25||30 (35). MLB David Hawthorne (SEA) – Hawthorne was a top five linebacker last season and he didn't start five games. However, the Seahawks gave Lofa Tatupu a ton of money and he will be back starting at the MLB in 2010. The reports out of OTAs are that Hawthorne will be the starting WLB entering into Week 1 of the 2010 NFL season. If he plays like he did last year, he should have no problem holding onto that spot once Leroy Hill comes back from his suspension. DSC
For more in-depth information on David Hawthorne, click here.
August 23 Update: The Seahawks seemed to be running a hybrid version of the 4-3 (which looks quite similar to a 3-4) with an "Elephant" position which is essentially a standup defensive lineman. Hawthorne will slide into the inside during this formation and he should see an increase in tackle numbers.
|Age: 28||31. ROLB DeMarcus Ware (DAL) – Ware had his worst fantasy season since his rookie year way back in 2005. Both his tackle numbers and sacks were down compared to previous years. I don't think we'll ever see another 20 sack season out of Ware, but I do expect him to improve upon his 11 sacks from 2009. With the emerging play of LOLB Anthony Spencer, Ware shouldn't have to face as many double teams next season and, consequently, he should see a rise in his fantasy numbers.|
|Age: 27||32 (29) . 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|
||33. 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|
|Age: 32||34. 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 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. On the downside, he is 32 years old which makes him one of the older linebackers on my rankings. B|
|Age: 23||35 (36). SLB Rey Maualuga (CIN) – Maualuga could have some nice long-term value if he can dig himself out of the doghouse. Fortunately, the Bengals seem to have a lot of patience with troubled players. I see Rey becoming the starting MLB in 2011 for the Bengals and consequently putting up nice LB2 numbers. He's a high risk/reward type of selection.|
|Age: 23||36. WLB Geno Hayes (TB) – This is one of my top sleeper picks for next year. Hayes came on like a banshee during the last few games of the 2009 campaign. He was the #6 overall linebacker in my scoring system over the last eight weeks of the season and the WLB in Tampa Bay has proven to be lucrative (i.e. Derrick Brooks). Keep your eye on this kid! S|
|Age: 22||37. WLB Sean Weatherspoon (ATL) – Weatherspoon is a great fit for the Falcons defense. He's a great sideline-to-sideline pursuer and will be a staple of the weak side of Atlanta's defense for years to come. He may not start from week 1, but I expect him to win the starting job from WLB Mike Peterson sometime during the 2010 season. Weatherspoon should be able to become a solid LB2. ROOKIE|
|Age: 24||38 (43) . RILB Lawrence Timmons (PIT) – I'm not as high on Timmons as other IDP writers. I've seen him consistently ranked in the upper 20's and low 30's. He's possibly the most talented linebacker in Pittsburgh. However, he plays on the inside and his sack totals are naturally going to be reduced. He had a nice year last season, but he still only finished as the #46 linebacker in this scoring system. In my opinion, he has just too much competition in Pittsburgh with outside linebackers LaMarr Woodley (13 sacks last season) and James Harrison (34 sacks in 3 seasons) there. Furthermore, the Steelers just used a 2nd round draft choice on pass-rushing linebacker Jason Worilds. Don't get me wrong, Timmons has upside, I just think he's going to be drafted too high in most fantasy drafts. B
For more in-depth information on Lawrence Timmons, click here.
|Age: 24||39 (34). MLB Justin Durant (JAX) – Durant's value took a serious hit when the Jaguars traded for MLB Kirk Morrison and consequently moved Durant to WLB. I see Durant putting up around 85 solos and 20-25 assists next season with not many big plays thrown in. He's still young and has shown the potential to be a stud linebacker. However, playing the weak side with Morrison in the middle limits his fantasy potential to a certain degree.|
|Age: 24||40. SLB Aaron Curry (SEA) – Curry is one of the better linebacking talents to come through the draft in recent years. However, he struggled to find a role within Seattle's defense and consequently was riding the pine for a large part of many games. The Seahawks have overhauled their coaching staff and I look for them to make every attempt to give Curry close to full-time playing status. If he can bring it all together, he could be a top 25 linebacker. That's a big if though. DSC|
|Age: 26||41. WLB Ernie Sims (PHI) – Many people have given up on Sims after an injury-riddled couple of years in the league. I'm not one of those people. When healthy, Sims is one of the more solid run-stopping linebackers in the league and put up good fantasy numbers in each of his first three seasons by averaging a whopping 124 total tackles per year. He gets a fresh start in Philadelphia to carve out a new role for himself. Sims is only 26 years old and if he can overcome his injury issues, he will be one of the best LB3s around. R|
|Age: 32||42. MLB Brian Urlacher (CHI) – Urlacher remains one of the most overrated fantasy linebackers in the game. He started showing signs of wearing down in 2008 when he failed to register over 100 tackles and then he missed pretty much the entire 2009 season with a wrist injury. He is expected to be fully healthy by the time offseason workouts begin though. On the positive side, Urlacher is the leader of the Bears defense and has a non-stop motor when it comes to tracking down the ball carrier. I think Briggs is the best fantasy linebacker option in Chicago, but Urlacher can still provide some good value, just not top 30 value anymore. B, R|
|Age: 26||43. LOLB Anthony Spencer (DAL) – I'm a huge Cowboys fan and watched every game in close detail last season. Consequently, Anthony Spencer is on my sleeper list for next season. During the last 6 games of the season, Spencer registered 6.5 sacks and put up decent tackle numbers. In fact, he scored in double digits every week after week 10 in my scoring system and finished as the 5th ranked linebacker over that span of time. While other people are snagging up Spencer's teammate DeMarcus Ware, I will wait and grab Spencer much later. S|
|Age: 31||44. RILB Stephen Cooper (SD) –I've always been a fan of Stephen Cooper. For the last couple seasons he has been grossly undervalued. He started off the 2009 season with a bang by averaging 9.5 total tackles per game for the first 8 games. He quickly cooled off however in the 2nd half of the season as it appeared fellow linebackers Tim Dobbins and Brandon Siler began more heavily competing with Cooper for tackles. The Chargers have a very young and talented linebacking crew and I'm concerned that Cooper may have a difficult time establishing himself as the focal point of the defense in 2010 (especially now since they drafted ILB Donald Butler).|
|Age: 24||45 (46). ROLB Clay Matthews (GB) – Matthews performed extremely well last season especially considering he was a rookie. With Aaron Kampman in Seattle, Matthews will be the Packers main pass-rushing threat. He's valuable in big-play leagues because of his ability to get to the quarterback. He registered double-digit sacks in his rookie campaign and I see no reason why he can't replicate, if not improve upon, those numbers in 2010.|
|Age: 24||46 (45). ROLB Brian Orakpo (WASH) – Orakpo had a solid rookie season by posting 11 sacks. Keep in mind, however, that he had 4 sacks in one game and he didn't have a single sack after week 14. The Redskins switch to a 3-4 defense should help Orakpo's number even more and he could be one of the top sack producing linebackers next season. Mr. Orakpo's ranking increases in a more big-play heavy scoring system. DSC|
|Age: 26||47. ROLB Tamba Hali (KC) - Hali was one of the most underrated pass-rushing linebackers last season (he had a Pro Footall Focus rating of 10.1). I see him on the same upward trend as Dumervil was between the 2008 and 2009 season. Last season, Hali made a higher percentage of his team's plays than Dumervil did, despite the fact that teams ran at Dumervil like it was going out of style. He had more quarterback hits that didn't result in sacks than Dumervil did, with several more hurries. Adding up their sacks, hits, and hurries yields a total of 41 quarterback "incidents" for Dumervil - and 41.5 for Hali. Furthermore, five of Hali's 8.5 sacks resulted in a forced fumble or a safety; only three of Dumervil's 17 sacks did the same.
September 1 Update: Hali is classified as DE in ESPN leagues and could very well end up being the top fantasy DL (he was #5 last season). Grab him late and ride him to the championship!
|Age: 29||48. LILB Bradie James (DAL) – James has surprisingly been a top 30 linebacker in each of the last two seasons. His overall fantasy numbers were down quite substantially from 2008. However, those 2008 numbers were likely an aberration due to his 8 sacks. James' expected fantasy production should remain relatively consistent with what he did in 2009 which was garner about 80 solo tackles, 30 assists, and a couple of sacks. This makes him a reliable low LB3 option.|
|Age: 27||49. WLB Thomas Davis (CAR) – When healthy Davis is a top 25 linebacker with tons of upside playing on the weak side in Carolina. However, he is going to miss the entire 2010 season after he tore his ACL for the second time. It's hard to come back from one devastating injury let along two. It's going to be hard for Davis to ever play at the same level he did pre-injury. However, if you're fairly deep at linebacker and can afford to sit on him for a year, he could provide you with great late round value. R|
|Age: 24||50. LILB Sean Lee (DAL) – The Cowboys had Lee ranked #14 overall on their draft board and were escatic to get him in the 2nd round. He won't play a ton in his 1st year (unless someone gets injured), but I expect him to become a starting ILB in 2011 and put up Keith Brooking-type numbers. This makes him an average LB2. ROOKIE|
Last Updated: September 6, 2010
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