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 update are in BOLD.***
Baltimore: Josh Bynes (while Ray Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe are injured)
Cincinnati: Rey Maualuga, Vontaze Burfict
Cleveland: D'Qwell Jackson
Denver: Von Miller*, Wesley Woodyard
Houston: Connor Barwin, Whitney Mercilus*
Indianapolis: Jerrell Freeman, Dwight Freeney*
Jacksonville: Paul Posluszny, Daryl Smith
Kansas City: Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson, Justin Houston
Miami: Karlos Dansby, Kevin Burnett
New England: Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower
New York Jets: David Harris, Calvin Pace
Oakland: Miles Burris, Philip Wheeler
Pittsburgh: Larry Foote, Lawrence Timmons, James Harrison
San Diego: Takeo Spikes (while Donald Butler is injured)
Tennessee: Colin McCarthy, Zach Brown
Arizona: Daryl Washington, Paris Lenon, Sam Acho*
Atlanta: Sean Weatherspoon, Stephen Nicholas
Carolina: Luke Kuechly,
Chicago: Lance Briggs, Nick Roach (while Brian Urlacher is injured)
Dallas: Ernie Sims, Demarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer*
Detroit: Stephen Tulloch, Justin Durant*, DeAndre Levy*
Green Bay: Brad Jones, Clay Matthews
Minnesota: Chad Greenway, Jasper Brinkley*
New Orleans: Curtis Lofton
New York Giants: Michael Boley*, Chase Blackburn*
Philadelphia: DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks
St. Louis: James Laurinaitis, Jo-Lonn Dunbar
San Francisco: Patrick Willis, Navorro Bowman, Aldon Smith
Seattle: K.J. Wright, Bobby Wagner
Tampa Bay: Mason Foster*, Lavonte David
Washington: London Fletcher, Ryan Kerrigan, Perry Riley
*May rotate out in a small number of nickel and dime packages
Last Updated: January 5, 2013