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
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 preseason 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:
***Additions from the previous week are in BOLD.***
Baltimore: Jameel McClain (Ray Lewis - Injured)
Cincinnati: Thomas Howard
Cleveland: D'Qwell Jackson, Chris Gocong
Denver: DJ Williams, Von Miller
Houston: Brian Cushing, Connor Barwin, Brooks Reed
Indianapolis: AJ Edds (Pat Angerer - Injured)
Jacksonville: Paul Posluszny, Daryl Smith
Kansas City: Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson, Justin Houston
Miami: Karlos Dansby, Cameron Wake, Kevin Burnett
New England: Jerod Mayo, (Brandon Spikes - Injured)
New York Jets: David Harris, Calvin Pace
Oakland: Rolando McClain, Aaron Curry*, Kamerion Wimbley
Pittsburgh: James Harrison, (Lamarr Woodley - Injured), Lawrence Timmons, James Farrior
San Diego: Takeo Spikes, Shaun Phillips
Tennessee: Colin McCarthy (Barrett Ruud - Injured), Akeem Ayers
Arizona: Daryl Washington, Paris Lenon
Atlanta: Curtis Lofton, Sean Weatherspoon
Carolina: James Anderson, (Omar Gaither - Injured)
Chicago: Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher
Dallas: Sean Lee, Demarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer
Detroit: Stephen Tulloch, DeAndre Levy*
Green Bay: Clay Matthews, DJ Smith (Desmond Bishop - Injured), Robert Francois* (AJ Hawk - Injured), Erik Walden*
Minnesota: Erin Henderson/EJ Henderson (Injury Dependent), Chad Greenway
New Orleans: Jonathan Vilma, Scott Shanle
New York Giants: (Michael Boley - Injured), Mathias Kiwanuka
Philadelphia: Jamar Chaney
St. Louis: James Laurinaitis
San Francisco: Larry Grant (Patrick Willis - Injured), Navorro Bowman, Ahmad Brooks
Seattle: David Hawthorne, Leroy Hill
Tampa Bay: Mason Foster, Quincy Black*
Washington: London Fletcher, Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan, Perry Riley*
*May rotate out in a small number of nickel and dime packages
Last Updated: December 8, 2011