Linebackers are undoubtedly the staples of a fantasy defense. However, I believe many fantasy owners tend to overvalue this position on draft day. There always seems to be a huge run on linebackers early in drafts as many owners feel that securing a "top tier" linebacker is essential to having a competitive fantasy defense. Although this is a fair strategy, I think more times than not, better value is to be found within other positions at the early junctures in drafts.
The fact is that there are a plethora of potential LB1 linebackers (e.g. Trevathan, Marshall, Perryman) that can be had rounds after the Tier 1 and even Tier 2 linebackers are off the board. Additionally, IDP studs always emerge at the linebacker position throughout the season (e.g. Malcolm Smith). So often times the best strategy is to wait until the upper echelon linebackers have been taken and then come in and start plucking up the potential LB1 upside value plays a few rounds later. This will allow you to use those early round draft picks to shore up other positions such as defensive line where more relative value is to be found, while at the same time, not suffering significant losses of quality at the linebacker position.
Solo Tackle = 1 point
Assist = 0.5 point
Sack = 3 points
Interception = 4 points
Forced Fumble = 2 points
Fumble Recovery = 2 points
Pass Deflection = 1 point
Defensive TD = 6 points
S = Sleeper/Undervalued Player
B = Bust/Overvalued Player
R = Injury Risk
1. MLB Luke Kuechly (CAR) - Kuechly was a stud in nearly every defensive facet last year. Despite missing four games due to injury, he was still a top five linebacker and led all linebackers in points per game. He's got a pretty good stranglehold on the top fantasy linebacker position and should likely be the next defensive player taken off the board after JJ Watt.
2. ILB Navorro Bowman (SF) - Bowman led all 2015 linebackers in total tackles. This isn't all that surprising given the ample amount of opportunity in San Francisco and relative lack of tackle competition. With Chip Kelly's fast-pace offense coming to town, the defense is primed to see even more snaps in 2016. He's not the same player he was prior to the knee injury, but he still knows how to fill the box scores. For these reasons, I like him slightly more than Lavonte David. S
3. WLB Lavonte David (TB) - David was fantasy's top scoring linebacker a year ago and remains one of the most dynamic flow and chase backers in the NFL. He gets a slight bump down under Bowman however because he will likely get some points taken away by Kwon Alexander this year. Still an elite LB1 though.
4. MLB Alec Ogletree (LAR) - With Laurinaitis gone to New Orleans, Ogletree is now the focal point of the Rams' defense and will be moving to middle linebacker. He's hovered in the LB2+ range for the first three seasons of his career, but I expect him to catapult into the LB1 tier in 2016 especially if the stat crew becomes more favorable with the move to LA.
5. ILB C.J. Mosley (BAL) - Mosley was a solid LB2+ in 2015 and with veteran Daryl Smith no longer in the picture, he's firmly planted in the LB1 group. He doesn't have much tackle competition around him and should be a fairly safe bet for 120+ total tackles and few sacks.
6. ILB Jamie Collins (NE) - Collins is perhaps the best big play linebacker in fantasy. He registered 5.5 sacks last year in just 12 games and is a candidate for 6-8 sacks over a full year. He struggled with consistency in the tackle department but the upside is there. If you can handle some slight swings in weekly production, Collins is well worth a selection in the top 7.
7. WLB Telvin Smith (JAX) - Telvin Smith was as consistent as they come in 2015 - never posting less than 5 solo tackles in any game. Posluszny is on the downturn of his career and Myles Jack will be somewhat limited on the strong side, so Smith should continue to be the Jaguars main tackle producer for at least one more season. For those in tackle-heavy leagues, feel free to bump him up into the top 5.
8. WLB Sean Lee (DAL) - As both a Cowboys and IDP fan, it was nice to see Sean Lee have a relatively healthy season (he still missed two games). He was Dallas' main source of production on the defensive side and should be one of the last LB1s/first LB2s taken off the board. Health is still a concern as is opportunity if Dallas can control the ball offensively like they did in 2014. R
9. D'Qwell Jackson (IND) - With 150 total tackles, Jackson was 2nd only behind Navarro Bowman for the league lead in the category. He's 32 years old and has lost a step over the last couple seasons. But with Jerrell Freeman leaving and Sio Moore adjusting to his new role at ILB, Jackson should continue to see a crazy amount of tackle opportunity. Even if his on-the-field performance continues to decline, his production should remain steady.
10. WLB DeAndre Levy (DET) - After a stellar 2014 campaign, Levy missed all of last season with a nagging hip injury. Although initial reports of his recovery were positive, he wasn't activated from the PUP list in mid-August. The team says they were just being overly cautious with him but you have to be concerned given the nature of the injury. With Stephon Tulloch gone, Levy will have the Lion's share (pun intended) of opportunity among Detroit's front seven and be primed for a return to elite LB1 status IF he proves fully healed. This is definitely a situation to monitor during the preseason. R
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Last Updated: August 25, 2016 Related Posts: