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, for the 2013 season 45% of all defensive snaps were played in a nickel formation, with an additional 12% in a dime look. And those percentages have likely gone up even further over the last two seasons. 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. 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 pioneer of tracking every down linebackers in this format. Along with my own observations and independent research, I also take into account his thoughts when compiling and updating this list. 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: