In today's pass-heavy NFL, it's more important than ever to realize which fantasy linebackers play in the nickel package. What is a nickel package and why is relevant to our discussion of fantasy football?
The nickel defense is a defensive alignment that uses five defensive backs. The fifth defensive back is referred to as the "nickelback." The defense has five defensive backs, and usually has four down linemen and only two linebackers meaning that one starting linebacker has to sit on the sidelines when this package is being used.
(A lineup of three down linemen and three linebackers is sometimes used, but this is often called a 3-3-5 defense instead of a Nickel defense. The four-linemen/two linebacker version of the Nickel is generally more popular because it affords the defense greater ability to stop an opponent's running game.)
The key part to that above paragraph is that "one starting linebacker has to sit on the sidelines when this package is being used." Nickel packages are used on a majority of third downs due to the proclivity of NFL teams to throw on third down. So just how often do teams throw on third down? Let's take a quick look at some statistics provided by Advanced NFL Stats.
|3rd Down and...
|13, 12, 11
|9, 8, 7
|6, 5, 4
Below is a list of the current three-down (every-down) linebackers in the league taken from Footballguys - IDP Forums. This list will change as training camp and pre-season games progress. I will do my best to keep it as updated as possible.
A special thanks to Jene Bramel as he is the true originator and maintainer of this list and I am just reproducing and updating it here for easier access to my readers. For anyone interested in IDP, head on over the IDP Forum over at Footballguys where there is constantly good IDP chat going on.
Without further ado, here is the list:
Baltimore: Ray Lewis, Jarrett Johnson
Buffalo: Paul Posluszny, Chris Kelsay
Cincinnati: Dhani Jones
Cleveland: Matt Roth, Scott Fujita (injured - David Bowens*)
Denver: DJ Williams (injured? - Wes Woodward), Mario Haggan, Robert Ayers (injured- Jason Hunter), Joe Mays*
Houston: Brian Cushing, Zac Diles (injured - Kevin Bentley)
Indianapolis: Gary Brackett, Clint Session (injured - Pat Angerer)
Jacksonville: Daryl Smith, Justin Durant
Kansas City: Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson
Miami:: Karlos Dansby, Cameron Wake
New England: Jerod Mayo
New York Jets: Bart Scott, David Harris, Calvin Pace
Oakland: Rolando McClain (injured? - Ricky Brown)
Pittsburgh: James Harrison, Lamarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons
San Diego: Stephen Cooper, Shaun Phillips, Kevin Burnett
Tennessee: Stephen Tulloch, Will Witherspoon
Arizona: Paris Lenon (injured? - Gerald Hayes), Clark Haggans, Joey Porter
Atlanta: Curtis Lofton, Sean Weatherspoon
Carolina: Jon Beason, James Anderson
Chicago: Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher
Dallas: Bradie James*, Keith Brooking*, Demarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer
Detroit: DeAndre Levy, Julian Peterson
Green Bay: AJ Hawk, Clay Matthews, Desmond Bishop*
Minnesota: EJ Henderson, Chad Greenway
New Orleans: Jonathan Vilma, Scott Shanle
New York Giants: Michael Boley
Philadelphia: Stewart Bradley, Ernie Sims*
St. Louis: James Laurinaitis
San Francisco: Patrick Willis
Seattle: Lofa Tatupu, Aaron Curry
Tampa Bay: Barrett Ruud, Geno Hayes
Washington: London Fletcher, Brian Orakpo, Rocky McIntosh
*May rotate out in a small number of nickel and dime packages
So if a fantasy linebacker you are looking at isn't on this list, be aware that he is only going to be a two-down linebacker. There are exceptions to the rule of not starting two-down linebackers (e.g. Stephen Tulloch in 2009 and Dan Connor in 2010). However, as a generality I would avoid doing it.
I hope this article was valuable to you in some way. Thanks for reading and please continue to visit my site!
Last Updated: November 10, 2010