In today's pass-heavy NFL, it's more important than ever to realize which linebackers play in their team's subpackages, primarily the Nickel package. So 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." This defense has traditionally had four down linemen and only two linebackers on the field at the same time. However in recent years, teams have been phasing out the traditional "4-2-5" subpackage look in favor of the 3-3-5 alignment as well as a variety of one and two down linemen packages. This means that some teams will often have more than one or two linebackers on the field in subpackages. These new looks are being utilized to get the best combination of speed, versatility, and coverage ability on the field at the same time to defend against multiple wide receiver sets.
According to Pro Football Focus, 45% of all defensive snaps last year were played in a nickel formation, with an additional 12% in a dime look. This means that linebackers who don't play in subpackages are in danger of missing 50%+ of their team's defensive snaps. Since this dramatic decrease in playing time is a huge blow to a player's value, it becomes critical that we continually track which players are staying on the field on a near every down basis.
That said, 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 mainly reproducing/updating/slightly altering 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, C.J. Mosley
Cincinnati: Vincent Rey, Emmanuel Lamur
Cleveland: Karlos Dansby
Denver: Von Miller, Todd Davis (While Brandon Marshall Is Injured)
Houston: Brian Cushing, Whitney Mercilus
Indianapolis: Jerrell Freeman, D'Qwell Jackson
Jacksonville: J.T. Thomas, Telvin Smith
Kansas City: Josh Mauga, Tamba Hali, Justin Houston
Miami: Jelani Jenkins, Koa Misi*
New England: Jamie Collins, Dont'a Hightower, Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones
New York Jets: David Harris, Demario Davis
Oakland: Miles Burris, Kahlil Mack, Ray-Ray Armstrong
Pittsburgh: Lawrence Timmons, Jason Worilds, James Harrison*
San Diego: Manti Te'o, Melvin Ingram
Tennessee: Avery Williamson, Derrick Morgan*
Arizona: Larry Foote, Alex Okafor*
Atlanta: Paul Worrilow, Kroy Biermann*
Carolina: Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis
Chicago: Jon Bostic, Christian Jones
Dallas: Rolando McClain**, Anthony Hitchens*
Detroit: DeAndre Levy
Green Bay: Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers*
Minnesota: Chad Greenway (Injured), Gerald Hodges (While Anthony Barr Is Injured)
New Orleans: Curtis Lofton, David Hawthorne, Junior Galette*
New York Giants: Jameel McClain
Philadelphia: Mychal Kendricks**, Connor Barwin
St. Louis: James Laurinaitis, Alec Ogletree
San Francisco: Michael Wilhoite, Nick Moody, Aldon Smith
Seattle: Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Bruce Irvin
Tampa Bay: Lavonte David, Danny Lansanah
Washington: Perry Riley, Keenan Robinson
*May rotate out in some of the nickel and dime packages
**May not be play full-time until near 100% healthy
Last Updated: January 1, 2015