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: Terrell Suggs, Daryl Smith
Cincinnati: Vontaze Burfict
Cleveland: D'Qwell Jackson, (Craig Robertson - Injured)
Denver: Wesley Woodyard, Danny Trevathan, Von Miller
Houston: Daryl Sharpton*, Brooks Reed, Whitney Mercilus
Indianapolis: Jerrell Freeman, Robert Mathis, Erik Walden
Jacksonville: Paul Posluszny, Geno Hayes
Kansas City: Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali, (Justin Houston - Injured)
Miami: Dannell Ellerbe, Phillip Wheeler
New England: Dont'a Hightower*, Brandon Spikes*
New York Jets: David Harris, Demario Davis
Oakland: Nick Roach, Kevin Burnett
Pittsburgh: Lawrence Timmons, Jason Worilds, Jarvis Jones (While Lamarr Woodley Is Injured)
San Diego: Donald Butler, Reggie Walker, Manti Te'o*
Tennessee: Moise Fokou, Zach Brown*
Arizona: Karlos Dansby, Daryl Washington, John Abraham*
Atlanta: Sean Weatherspoon, Paul Worrilow
Carolina: Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis
Chicago: James Anderson, Jon Bostic (While Lance Briggs is Injured)
Dallas: Bruce Carter, (Sean Lee - Injured)
Detroit: Stephen Tulloch, DeAndre Levy
Green Bay: A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones*
Minnesota: Chad Greenway, Audie Cole
New Orleans: Curtis Lofton, Junior Galette*
New York Giants: Jon Beason
Philadelphia: DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks, Connor Barwin, Trent Cole*
St. Louis: James Laurinaitis, Alec Ogletree
San Francisco: Patrick Willis, Navorro Bowman, Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks
Seattle: Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright
Tampa Bay: Lavonte David, Mason Foster*
Washington: London Fletcher*, Perry Riley, Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan
*May rotate out in some of the nickel and dime packages
Last Updated: December 4, 2013