2011 IDP Sleepers - Linebackers

I always hesitate to use the word sleeper because readers often associate that word with "no-name players." I prefer the word "undervalued." As a drafter, this is what I am always looking for: value. If I can get a 3rd round value in the 6th round, it gives me a significant relative advantage over my opponent. The following players (e.g. Nick Barnett) most people have heard about and really aren't considered "sleepers." However, this doesn't mean Barnett can't provide just as much relative value as a no-name player that comes out of nowhere.

In this article, I recommend linebackers who I believe will be significantly undervalued heading into the 2011 fantasy season. This list will be continually updated throughout the off-season.

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Barrett Ruud MLB Barrett Ruud (TEN) – Ruud has been drafted as a top 10 linebacker for the last couple of years after he put up back-to-back 100+ solo seasons in 2008 and 2009. However, he struggled to shed blocks last year and put up inconsistent numbers throughout the year which frustrated a lot of his owners. He's the most recognizable name on this list and he will still be drafted in the top 20 in almost all drafts, but his move to the Titans is one of the best landing spots a fantasy owner could have hoped for and he now has top 10 potential again. The Titans have received a very healthy amount of tackle opportunities in recent years and Ruud will be at the top of his game being in a contract year. You should feel comfortable drafting him with LB1 production in mind.

David Hawthorne MLB David Hawthorne (SEA) – Hawthorne was an IDP darling in 2010 after a monster 2009 season in which he exploded onto the IDP scene with 93 solos and 23 assists. With this said, owners drafted Hawthorne with LB1 production expectations and were thoroughly disappointed that he only managed 76 solo and 31 assists last season. However, when you consider Hawthorne was playing the less productive weak side position and sat in the majority of subpackages, his stat line seems significantly more impressive. With Lofa Tatupu being released, Hawthorne now assumes the every-down MLB role and has MONSTER potential this season. This is a guy you should be targeting in all your drafts.

Nick Barnett WILB Nick Barnett (BUF) – As many IDP owners recognize, fantasy football (especially on the IDP side) is about opportunity more so than talent in a lot of cases. Barnett not only finds himself on an optimal defense for tackle opportunity but he also has the talent and experience to fully capitalize on it. After 8 years in the league and a couple of serious knee issues, I don't think he's as good of a player as Paul Posluszny was previously in Buffalo. But he's good enough to put up LB1 numbers in his new role with the Bills. He has experience in this type of system and he has enough talent upfront to keep offenses honest. Barnett's move to Buffalo in the off-season was not largely talked about in the media and the casual fan will likely not realize the effect this move has on Barnett's fantasy value. It's reasonable to expect 2004-2005 type numbers from Barnett this season.

D'Qwell Jackson MLB D'Qwell Jackson (CLE) – Because of where he plays and how he plays the game, Jackson has always been an underrated fantasy player. Even after his 154 tackle season in 2008, he wasn't being drafted as high as he should have been. After struggling with injuries the last two seasons, he's fallen into a semi-oblivion for casual players of IDP fantasy football. The fact remains however that, when healthy, Jackson is one of the premier tackling machines in the league. There was some concern that Jackson may struggle in the middle of the Browns new 4-3 defense, but looking at the game film of his first preseason game, he seems to be adjusting very well. There is a bit of injury risk that comes with drafting Jackson, but the benefits outweigh the risks as he as LB1 potential if he can stay on the field.

Rey Maualuga MLB Rey Maualuga (CIN) - The Bengals coaching staff is notorious for bringing along their young defensive players slowly and Maualuga is no exception. Many expected him to be thrown right into the MLB position in his rookie season after Cincinnati took him in the 2nd round of the 2009 draft. However, it's taken until this season for Maualuga to take over in the middle and become the every-down linebacker that is capable of putting up LB2+ numbers. Maualuga will not be on the minds of most owners come draft day as he hasn't had any value whatsoever his first 2 seasons in the league. Take advantage of this and grab him late in your drafts as he has a great chance to be an anchor for your IDP team.

Daryl Washington WILB Daryl Washington (ARI) - Washington had a luke warm rookie season for the Cardinals in 2010 as he was unable to snag the starting WILB role away from veteran Paris Lenon and instead was slotted into the less productive SILB position as a two-down linebacker which put a damper on his fantasy potential. It seems as the though the Cardinals coaching staff is finally ready to embrace Washington as the future of their defense however; they have firmly installed him as the every-down weak inside linebacker and defensive coordinator Ray Horton even went as far as calling Washington the next "Lawrence Timmons." Washington may very well enter the lower LB1 tier this season so draft accordingly.

Donald Butler WILB Donald Butler (SD) - After missing his entire rookie season with an Achilles' tendon injury, Butler won't be on the radar of many IDP owners. However, he should be. If the preseason is any indication, Butler will be the every-down WILB for the Chargers and will have the talent and opportunity to put up solid LB2 numbers at a LB4/5 price tag. He doesn't have much competition for tackles within the front seven and he plays in perhaps the most productive fantasy position in the Chargers defensive scheme.

Kavell Conner WLB Kavell Conner (IND) - This sleeper pick is more about opportunity than talent. Surprisingly, Conner and not 2nd year player Pat Angerer, has been playing in nickel packages along veteran Gary Brackett in preseason. Additionally, the weak side linebacker position in Indy has been more productive than the middle linebacker in a lot of cases. Conner is unlikely to get drafted in the majority of leagues and has low LB3 value if he can hold onto the every-down WLB role. He's worth a flyer in deep leagues.

Brandon Spikes SILB/MLB Brandon Spikes - New England has been experimenting this preseason with a lot more 4-3 packages and it looks as though they could morph into more a 4-3 beast this year. Spikes has been running as the MLB when the Patriots go with this specific style of defense and could have very nice value if he stays on the field in passing situations. He is one of the better run defenders the Patriots have on the roster and will see a lot of tackle opportunity. He's a bit risky as it's still unclear exactly what the Patriots plan to do from a scheme perspective. Definitely keep a close eye on him, however.

Last Updated: August 22, 2011

Looking for help with your 2011 Fantasy Football draft(s)?  Please support The IDP Guru and purchase a $5, 2011 Fantasy Football IDP Draft Guide. It's over 13,000 words and 28 pages long! To purchase or for additional details, click here.
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