2012 IDP Draft Rankings - Linebackers (Redraft)

I will continually update these rankings throughout the off-season to reflect changes in free agency, defensive schemes, defensive playing time, rookie draft selections, etc.

Drafting Philosophy:
Linebackers are undoubtedly the staples of a fantasy defense. However, I believe many owners often times misjudge value at this position. There are a plethora of LB1 potential linebackers (Cushing, Butler, Timmons, etc.) that can be had many rounds after the Tier 1 and even Tier 2 linebackers are off the board. With this said, the best strategy this season is to wait until the top 5-10 linebackers have been taken and then come in and start plucking up the aforementioned LB1 upside linebackers that are sitting in the 15-20 range.

In addition, IDP studs always emerge at the linebacker position during the early part of the season (e.g. Colin McCarthy, Sean Lee, Pat Angerer, Daryl Washington, James Anderson, etc.). With this being said, it makes more sense to go with high upside, boom/bust linebackers in the later rounds as opposed to playing it safe with high floor, low ceiling players. If the risky play doesn't work out, you can always turn to the waiver wire to possibly scoop up an early season linebacker stud.


Scoring System:
Solo Tackle = 2 points
Assist = 1 point
Sack = 7 points
Interception = 7 points
Forced Fumble = 5 points
Fumble Recovery = 5 points

Key:
DSC = Possible Defensive Scheme Change
S = Sleeper/Undervalued Player
B = Bust/Overvalued Player
R = Injury Risk


Tier 1

D'Qwell Jackson 1. MLB D'Qwell Jackson (CLE) – Jackson just signed a long-term deal with the Browns this off-season. He's the center of Cleveland's defense and is the best pure tackle producer in the league when healthy.



Patrick Willis 2. RILB Patrick Willis (SF) - Willis has been the #1 LB taken off the board in most leagues over the last couple of years, but his value has dropped slightly with the emergence of up and coming stud Navarro Bowman. He's still a clear cut LB1 however and a good bet for 95-105 solos per year.



Tier 2

James Laurinaitis 3. MLB James Laurinaitis (STL) – Laurinaitis had the best fantasy season of his young career in 2011 with 142 total tackles. He's averaged 103 solo tackles and a couple sacks a year over his first three seasons and has shown no signs of slowing down. He lays outside the top 3 due to the historical lack of assisted tackles issued by the Rams scorekeeper over the last several straight seasons.

Derrick Johnson 4. RILB Derrick Johnson (KC) – Johnson was a fantasy darling of many owners upon entering the league in 2005. However, he quickly fall out of fashion with the Kansas City coaching staff and found himself on the bench while mediocre fill-ins such as Demorrio Williams received a bulk of the snaps. That all changed in 2010 when Johnson launched himself back into the starting lineup and became the leader of the KC defense. He was even better in 2011 and deserves to be a top 5-10 pick in most fantasy formats come this season.

Colin McCarthy 5. MLB Colin McCarthy (TEN) – McCarthy turned out to be one of the best mid-season waiver wire IDP pickups of 2011. In just 8 starts, he racked up 50 solo tackles, 13 assists, 2 FFs, 2 FRs, and 1 sack. If you extrapolate those numbers over the course of an entire season, McCarthy is a low-end LB1. I expect his numbers to improve further this season as he will only get better with more experience.  S


Daryl Washington 6. RILB Daryl Washington (ARI) – Washington really came into his own last season especially towards the end of the year. Look for his numbers to continue to trend upwards as Ray Horton builds his defense around this talented ILB out of TCU. Look for 100+ solos next season.

Navarro Bowman 7. LILB Navarro Bowman (SF) – Bowman's 2011 numbers were a surprise even to those who follow the defensive side very of football quite closely. He was regarded as an above average run-stopping LB coming out of Penn State, but playing next to arguably the best fantasy LB in the game seemed that it would put a severe damper on his production. Well that thinking turned out to be dead wrong as Bowman actually outpaced Willis' production last year. With this said, be careful not to overvalue Bowman based on his 2011 numbers. A healthy Patrick Willis will likely carve into Bowman's production a bit. He's still well worth a top 10 pick, however.

London Fletcher 8. MLB London Fletcher-Baker (WAS) – LFB is perhaps the most consistent IDP in the history of fantasy football and actually had one of the best years of his career from a pure production standpoint last season at the age of 36. With this said, he did start to show signs of slowing down and I expect his production to be curtailed a bit as Perry Riley continues to emerge as an IDP presence on the strong side.

Ray Lewis 9. WILB Ray Lewis (BAL) – Along with London Fletcher, Lewis has established himself as one of the most consistent year-to-year fantasy linebackers in the game. Extremely well conditioned and motivated, Lewis' tackle numbers continue to remain well above average even at his advanced age of 36. This year may be his last in the NFL, so look for him to go out with a bang.

Sean Weatherspoon 10. WLB Sean Weatherspoon (ATL) – The departure of Curtis Lofton to New Orleans means that Weatherspoon becomes the main focus point of the Falcons defense. Expect his tackle production to rise a bit as Lofa Tatupu is less of a threat to steal tackles than Lofton was in previous seasons.

Karlos Dansby 11. MLB Karlos Dansby (MIA) – After a down year in 2010, Dansby bounced back in 2011 with a solid season reminiscent of his Arizona playing days. Miami will be transitioning to a 4-3 defense this year with Karlos manning the middle and is reportedly a "kid in a candy store" in his new position. Ultimately, this scheme change will help his production a lot. Dhani Jones posted 100+ tackles annually in this system from 2008-2010. I think Dansby makes the leap from the LB3+ status he's held the last couple of years to LB1- status. Great value pick this year. DSC, S

12. RILB Sean Lee (DAL) – Lee was well on his way to one of the better fantasy seasons by a linebacker before breaking his wrist in Week 8 of the regular season. He only missed one game due to that injury but it severely impacted his play the rest of the year. Being fully healthy and having a full year of experience in Rob Ryan's complex scheme should allow Lee's production to continue to trend upwards. His added big play potential secures his spot in the top 10.



Tier 3

Chad Greenway 13. SLB Chad Greenway (MIN) – Greenway set a career high in total tackles last season with 152. This was in large part due to him registering a whopping 64 assists. With this said, this ranking assumes your league rewards for assists and that is where a substantial portion of his points are generated. If not, he's more in the 20-25 range.

Curtis Lofton 14. MLB Curtis Lofton (NO) – Lofton was a top 10 linebacker in Atlanta over the last three seasons. His move to the Big Easy slightly diminish his fantasy value especially with the signing of David Hawthorne. I still expect him to be a three-down backer, however his opportunity will likely decrease as he won't see quite as many overall snaps playing on a time-consuming offensive team such as the Saints. B

Brian Cushing 15. WILB Brian Cushing (HOU) – Cushing had a very solid year and bounced back well from a rough 2010 campaign that was clouded by a steroid suspension which caused him to miss the first 4 games of the season. With DeMeco Ryans recently departed to Philadelphia, Cushing is cemented as the on-the-field leader of the defense at WILB and will continue to thrive in Wade Phillips 3-4, one gap system. Look for similar numbers to last year. S

Donald Butler 16. RILB Donald Butler (SD) – Butler graded out last season as one of the top run-stopping linebackers in the game which is a pretty impressive feat for a 2nd year player. Judging by the Chargers 1st preseason game, Butler will move into an every down role this year. If this is indeed the case, he has 90-95+ solo tackle upside. This is a guy you definitely want to buy low on as he is likely to emerge as one of the top IDP sleepers of the 2012 season. S

Lawrence Timmons 17. RILB Lawrence Timmons (PIT) – After a stellar 2011 campaign in which Timmons was a top 5 LB in the majority of leagues, he came crashing back down to Earth in a bad way. In his defense, several injuries amongst the Steelers linebacking core forced Timmons to play outside his natural position for a few games and he did play much better the last 6 games of the season (47 total tackles, 2 sacks, 1 FF). I don't expect him to reach his 2010 levels again this year, but do expect a marked improvement over last year. You should be able to find good value in drafting Timmons as many owners have soured on him after he burned them last year. He still remains a solid LB3+ choice with LB1 upside. S

Paul Posluszny 18. MLB Paul Posluszny (JAX) – One of the best pure tacklers in the game, Posluszny was expected to put up LB1 type numbers last season upon arriving in his new home of Jacksonville. However, he admitted up producing more like an LB2 in 2011. The decline in tackles can mostly be attributed to poor tackle opportunity (especially during the 1st half of the season). Expect Poz's numbers to return to the 90 solo tackle range assuming he can stay healthy for a full 16 game season.



Tier 4

Jon Beason 19. MLB Jon Beason (CAR) – If not for suffering an ACL injury early last season, Beason would be a top 10 fantasy selection at his position in 2012. The strong play of James Anderson on the strong side and the addition of 1st round draft selection Luke Kuechly on the weak side definitely diminishes Beason's value, but he seems fully recovered from his injury and is an elite enough linebacker to still have top 15 upside.

Stephen Tulloch 20. MLB Stephen Tulloch (DET) – To be perfectly honest, Tulloch peformed better than I thought he would last year from a fantasy perspective. I never questioned his talent, more so his tackle opportunity playing within a very strong tackling front seven. He just signed a big off-season contract and I still feel his 2011 numbers were a bit inflated. With this said, I'd still have no problems grabbing him as a middle to low-end LB2.


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Last Updated: August 26, 2012
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