2010 Every-Down Linebackers

Reading this type of article thoroughly and fully understanding it's importance is going to separate you from other IDP owners and ultimately help you win your championship.

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...
Pass %
13, 12, 11
9, 8, 7
6, 5, 4
3, 2

As you can witness by looking at this chart, teams throw on third down an overwhelming majority of the time (even on 3rd and 2!). To counteract this, NFL defenses have been using their nickel packages basically on every third down. This means that linebackers who don't play in nickel packages only usually play about 65-80% of the defensive snaps. Thus severely reducing their amount of tackle opportunities and overall fantasy production.

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:


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

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t.olmsted said...

i like this...makes sense the top tackle guys are every-down types but this clears it up a bit..did you see ej today? i thought he looked good

Anonymous said...

what happened to Casillas from NOS? I thought he was the new WLB.

Ryan Sitzmann said...

Shanle and Vilma still figure to be the nickel linebackers. Casillas will be a two-down linebacker.

Anonymous said...

What should I do with David Harris? He has been very dissapointing so far. Do you think he will step it up soon?

Ryan Sitzmann said...

Harris plays the Dolphins this week who are one of the best matchups for opposing fantasy linebackers. If he doesn't put up good numbers this week, I would start getting concerned a bit. However, keep in mind that Harris isn't a top 10 tackle linebacker (never really has been). He's a top 10 linebacker overall because of his big play ability (5.5 sacks last season). Therefore, his scoring is going to be more sporadic than the tackle beasts like Patrick Willis or Jon Beason.

Anonymous said...

how can Haralson be an every down backer and score so little points?

Ryan Sitzmann said...

Haralson depends on sacks for a majority of his points and he's just not getting to the quarterback.

Bryan said...

what do the green letters mean? Is AJ Hawk an every down linebacker now? I saw he got more work with Chillar out, but is that gonna continue?

Anonymous said...

Ryan, quick question about Kyle Wilson.
Rotoworld posted that if Revis is out Sunday, "Drew Coleman is expected to start opposite Antonio Cromartie, who will likely be assigned to streaking Broncos WR Brandon Lloyd."

I'd sure like to pickup Wilson and play him, but is Coleman the real starter?



Ryan Sitzmann said...

Good catch ReadyMan. I somehow missed that. With Wilson getting burned so much it looks as though the Jets are probably going to use Coleman if Revis sits. And even if Revis doesn't sit, Coleman may be used in the nickel packages over Wilson. I will make the necessary changes to my waiver wire article.

Ryan Sitzmann said...

The green letters mean that player was recently added to the list. Hawk is playing in the nickel because Chillar is out. It remains to be seen who is going to play in nickel packages when Chillar comes back. It's a wait and see type thing.

Neil said...

Hy Ryan, with Chillar coming back this week, does that mean that Bishop will not be a 3 down backer anymore or does Chillar just rotate with Hawk?

tackle junkie said...

with dj williams not starting against the chiefs is joe mays a decent play in a tackle heavy league?

Ryan Sitzmann said...

@tackle junkie
Most reports have Williams likely sitting just the 1st quarter of this weeks game. So, Mays doesn't have much value this week. That changes if Williams gets suspended for any length of time obviously.

Kanuks said...

1.5 points award for both assisted and solo tackles
2.0 points for pass defense
3 points for - sacks, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, interceptions

we play - 1 DL/DE, 2 LB's, 2 DB/S and only have 3 bench spots that can be sued for both Offense or Defense.

I have Trent Cole, Patrick Chung, T. Branch, Timmons, DJ Williams... based on your LB lock of the week I picked up Keith Brooking as a one week replacement for Williams...

should I look to replace Timmons or Williams or drop DJ Williams and add someone else off the waiver wire like Angerer, Pat IND, Matthews, Clay GBP,Hawthorne, David SEA, Durant, Justin JAC or Mays, Joe DEN.


RCB Dimitri Patterson a better play than Branch, Tyvon OAK?

Ryan Sitzmann said...

I would keep Timmons. I see Patterson as a slight upgrade over Branch this week. Branch has a good matchup, but he's nursing a sore shoulder.

G said...

Hey Ryan, who do you like the best this week and beyond between Timmons, clay mattews, and laurinaitis? Thanks!

Ryan Sitzmann said...

None have great matchups. I would go with Timmons.

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