The most important thing to look for in a linebacker, other than his Fantasy stat line, is playing time. Not every team has a three down linebacker, but the majority have at least one and some have two. However, when you get this far down in the rankings most of the guys do not play all three downs – I have tried to mark the exceptions.
There have already been quite a few changes at the linebacker position since I started this undertaking of ranking the Top 50 Linebackers. Myles Jack has been moved back to the Strong Side, Malcolm Smith will miss the season for San Francisco and there are sure to be others, so make sure to keep up with the current news. In season I always scan the box scores Sunday evening and again Monday evening to see who is making plays and look for any possible future moves. One thing is for sure, the linebacker pool is deep. Here are some Linebackers (1-25 in previous article) that should help you this Fantasy Season…
26) Lavonte David (Tampa Bay) – David dropped off by 60 Combined Tackles over the previous year where he finished among the top 5 linebackers, his first under 100 tackles. He is still a quality linebacker, though the defense is designed for Kwon Alexander to get the majority of the tackles. David however, will once again be a solid contributor this season on all three downs.
27) Christian Kirksey (Cleveland) – I have Kirksey ranked too low if he remains a three down linebacker, and it now looks as though he will be. Last season he struggled against the pass, but was a top 10 IDP Linebacker ahead of teammate Jamie Collins, and could possibly finish in the same range.
28) Derrick Johnson (Kansas City) – Johnson will turn 35 this season and is coming off of his second Achilles injury. However, the Chiefs do not yet have his replacement on their roster so he will be counted on again this season on all three downs.
29) Navorro Bowman (San Francisco) – Bowman has kept the MLB job, while rookie Reuben Foster has taken the injured Malcolm Smith’s spot at WLB. With this news Bowman should be ranked higher. Last year he was my top ranked linebacker in IDP. How high he finishes this season will depend on if he is stays in the game on passing downs throughout the year.
30) Avery Williamson (Tennessee) – Williamson quietly produced 73 Solo Tackles with 31 Assists and 2 Sacks last season–his second season in a row with more than 100 tackles. He is a three down linebacker for the Titans.
31) Jordan Hicks (Philadelphia) – Hicks is back from a broken hand injury suffered over the summer and impressing in practice. From his MLB position Hicks corralled 5 INT’s last season to go with his combined 85 tackles. Hicks is a three down player as well.
32) Lorenzo Alexander (Buffalo) – Alexander burst on the scene last season at the age of 33 with 12.5 Sacks and 76 combined tackles. This season the defense is switching to a 4-3 and Alexander is expected to be used mainly on passing downs at DE or OLB.
33) Mark Barron (Los Angeles) – The switch to the 3-4 defense will cut down on stat opportunities for Barron. But, since he is a former safety, Barron will have a three down roll and should only take small hit to his previous stat levels.
34) Danny Trevathan (Chicago) – Trevathan is back from injury earlier than expected. He has been a quality linebacker from his first year in the league and played well alongside Jerrell Freeman last year. Now, if only he can finish a season. Nick Kwiatkoski will get more playing time if Trevathan continues to struggle with injuries.
35) Kiko Alonso (Miami) – The recent injury to rookie Raekwon McMillan should benefit both Alonso and Lawrence Timmons. Alonso is coming off of a solid year and will keep his three down roll at his new position of WLB.
36) Thomas Davis (Carolina) – Davis is 34 years of age and recently signed a 1 year extension so he can retire as a Panther. He has had over 100 tackles in five straight seasons, and I think he will make it six in a row. Davis still has a three down role in Carolina.
37) Paul Posluszny (Jacksonville) – The Jaguars recently switch Posluszny back to MLB and moved Myles Jack to SLB. However, Jack appears to have kept the three down roll. Regardless, Posluszny is a beast against the run.
38) Mason Foster (Washington) – Foster is coming off of his best season by far. He produced 89 Solo Tackles and 35 Assists. But, how will he be affected by the signing of Zach Brown?
39) Kamalei Correa (Baltimore) – Correa is expected to take over for Zachary Orr, who retired due to a neck injury in the off-season. Correa had a disappointing rookie season, but is having a great training camp in his second year.
40) Deone Bucannon/Haason Reddick (Arizona) – Reddick has been practicing in Bucannon’s spot as he recovers from injury, and has greatly improved while chasing David Johnson around in practice. Bucannon has not yet been cleared to practice, but is expected back soon. Keep an eye on the situation if drafting soon.
41) Karlos Dansby (Arizona) – Dansby is occupying the other ILB spot for Arizona. His lowest tackle total in a 16 game season is 105. Will he give way to Reddick later in the season if all three linebackers are healthy?
42) Tahir Whitehead (Detroit) – Whitehead moves to the WLB position with the addition of Jarrad Davis. He put together a solid season last year taking over for an injured DeAndre Levy at MLB, and should be solid again this season if he can stave off rookie Jalen Reeves-Maybin.
43) Chandler Jones (Arizona) – Jones had 49 tackles and 11 Sacks last season, and is expected to move around along the line more in his second season. Jones is very consistent and the only thing that would keep him out of this range is injury.
44) Kevin Minter (Cincinnati) – Minter will be a three down starter next to Vontaze Burfict in Cincinnati. He has played in all 16 games over the last three seasons, and his 81 Combined Tackles could increase if Burfict were to miss time again this season.
45) Darron Lee (NY Jets) – Lee will play next to Demario Davis this season and have every chance to impress. In 13 games during his rookie season he combined for 73 tackles, but failed to supplant David Harris. This season he should lead all Jets linebackers. Lee should have a three down role this season.
46) Manti Te’o (New Orleans) – Te’o appears to be the MLB for the Saints. He could project much higher if he were to be in a three down role. But he does have an extensive injury history. Keep an eye out to see whether A.J. Klein, Robertson or Te’o is put in a three role.
47) Cory James (Oakland) – James had a 15 tackle game in week 4 last season and was promptly added in a lot of IDP leagues only to disappear for the rest of the season. Now, with a year under his belt, I expect him to be a more consistent contributor. (NOTE: James and Marquel Lee both played a lot of minutes in Oakland’s first pre-season game. Keep an eye on this group to see if one emerges.)
48) Duke Riley (Atlanta) – Riley is a rookie that is expected to play WLB for the Falcons this season. He led the team in tackles in their first pre-season game and has impressed coaches in practice.
49) Brandon Marshall (Denver) – Marshall is a solid but not spectacular linebacker in Denver’s 3-4 defense. He hasn’t really met previous expectations in IDP circles, but can contribute on deeper rosters.
50) Whitney Mercilus (Houston) – Mercilus has been a very consistent performer, always around the 50 tackle range and the 7 sacks range. 2015 was a slight aberration with 12 Sacks.
Other possibilities: Justin Houston (Kansas City), Bud Dupree (Pittsburgh), Dee Ford (Kansas City), Reggie Ragland (Buffalo), Jaylon Smith (Dallas), Antonio Morrison/John Bostic (Indianapolis), T.J. Watt (Pittsburgh), Marquel Lee (Oakland), A.J. Klein/Craig Robertson (New Orleans) and Brandon Marshall/Todd Davis (Denver)
Leagues that use one IDP position really won’t find any players above other than possibly Christian Kirksey and Navorro Bowman or a breakout player as a waiver pickup, but the field is deep for leagues that really make use of the IDP positions. If you like to wait until the end of the draft to make your defensive picks, hopefully the list above helps. If you are using this approach I’d start by taking the lead linebackers like (Kirksey, Avery Williamson, Jordan Hicks, possibly Bowman, Derrick Johnson, Darron Lee or even a Marquel Lee and then fill in with the secondary linebackers.
Next week I’ll be taking a look at the Defensive End and Defensive Tackles positions. Will Khalil Mack lead the league again or will J.J. Watt return to the top? Has Aaron Donald’s holdout affected his DT ranking? Check back next week to find out and good luck this Fantasy Season!