I already went over my (admittedly vague) definition of a Sleeper and Bust in the Defensive Line version of this article, but it’s worth revisiting. A sleeper is someone who will significantly outperform their draft position, allowing you to improve your team at other positions, while a bust is someone who will essentially do the opposite.
Linebackers tend to bust less frequently than their front-seven counterparts (unless you don’t know your league’s rules!), so they are typically safer picks. This also allows you to wait on them, as well as take more risks than you would on linemen. They also provide solid sleepers, as high-volume tacklers are not always household names in the same way that the top sack masters are. For instance, the casual fan would never guess that Chad Greenway put up the same amount of points as James Harrison and DeMarcus Ware combined in 2012.
So don’t fall prey to the big names just because they get to the QB, and don’t disregard your team’s weak-side LB just because Adrian Peterson burned him last year. Here are 2013’s LB Sleepers and Busts:
Jerrell Freeman – I’m very high on Freeman this year, for reasons discussed here. I also want to point out that his ADP has him as the 25th LB off the board, which is insane value for 2012’s LB9, who is not dealing with any injuries. He’s also going after the top 3 busts listed below, so you can laugh to yourself as another owner drafts Clay Matthews and does his ridiculous sack dance while Freeman is still on the board.
Perry Riley – Another LB who I discussed in my LB rankings, Riley is prime for a breakout in 2013. His current ADP has him as LB 32, right behind Elvis Dumervil. For context, Dumervil’s best season was 60 points worse than Riley’s 2012, where he racked up 56 assists, some of which should turn into solos. Targeting Freeman and Riley as your starting LBs allows you to reach a little bit for guys like JPP or Mario Williams.
Demario Davis – As we get closer to the season he’ll be less and less of a sleeper, but Davis still presents a huge value at his current ADP of LB40. I suspect he’ll surpass Stephen Tulloch, Jo-Lonn Dunbar, and Terrell Suggs, among others, within the next two months, and with good reason. Bart Scott is gone, leaving David Harris as the only established tackler left in Rex Ryan’s front seven. I’m higher on Harris than most, but it would not be surprising for Davis to take over as the LB to own in North Jersey this year.
Brad Jones – With Desmond Bishop moving over to Lake Minnetonka, Jones steps in opposite AJ Hawk to anchor the Packers D. Jones held his own in the second half last year, racking up 8+ tackles in 7 of his last 9 games. I’m not completely sold on Jones or Hawk providing LB1-2 numbers this year, but for someone not going in the top 40 LBs, Jones is well worth a flier later in drafts.
Mychal Kendricks – To be honest, Kendricks has never been on one of my teams before, mostly due to the way he spells his name. I feel like he either needs to spell his first name as Michael or his last name as Kendrix, but he can’t keep it status quo. Personal grudges aside, after a solid rookie year, Kendricks should break out in 2013. There are a lot of question marks in the Philly defense this year – Do they have the personnel for a 3-4? Is Trent Cole getting traded or cut? Is Patrick Chung not Asian? – but the Kendricks/DeMeco Ryans combo in the middle is not one of them. I like Kendricks ceiling more, so he’s the one I’m targeting.
Martez Wilson –BIG PLAY LEAGUE ONLY ALERT! When Victor Butler went down with a torn ACL in June, Wilson was left as the sole pass rusher opposite Will Smith and Cameron Jordan. Speaking of Will Smith, doesn’t Martez Wilson sound like the perfect villain name for Bad Boys 3? I’m thinking Dwyane Wade steps in for Martin Lawrence (because he’s dating Gabrielle Union and let’s face it, Martin is past his prime) and Javier Bardem plays Martez Wilson, former undercover cop gone rogue. Why is no one else excited about this? Anyways, Wilson could threaten double digit sacks in Rob Ryan’s scheme, so he should be on your radar late in big-play league drafts.
Von Miller/Aldon Smith/Clay Matthews/Elvis Dumervil – To misquote the great thespian Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson from his WWE days, “Know your rules, and shut your mouth!” It’s as simple as this with these guys: If your league does not provide a big boost for sacks (and to a lesser extent, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries), they will not be nearly as valuable as they are in big-play leagues. Miller will provide tackles on top of his big-play stats, but he has yet to top 55 solos or 14 assists in his two years so far, and finished as LB38 in ESPN “standard” scoring despite 18.5 sacks in 2012. He’s currently going as the second LB off the board in 2013. Number two! Well if you take him over James Laurinaitis, Navorro Bowman, or dozens of other guys, then you’ll be the one feeling like Number Two. Aldon Smith is currently LB10, Matthews is LB19, and Dumervil is LB31, while I rank Smith at 42 with Matthews and Elvis outside of my top 50. In big-play leagues, it’s a different story. But if you’re playing with a 3:1 sack to tackle ratio or less (which is the majority of the IDP leagues I’ve ever played in), then steer clear of these big names.
Bruce Carter – I went over my infatuation with all men named Bruce in the DL version of this article, but it appears that it does not apply to IDP leagues this year. Carter racked up 70 total tackles in 2012, but 38 of them (including 32 of his 51 solos) occurred in the 5 games after Sean Lee was lost for the year. Well Lee is back this year, and despite Dallas’s move to the 3-4, Carter will take a back seat to his fellow ‘backer. I like Bruce as a backup LB in 2013, but relying on him for weekly production, as his LB23 ADP currently indicates, is a risky proposition.
Daryl Washington/Karlos Dansby/Kevin Minter – I know I’m using the slash lines a lot for the busts, but it’s just easier to kill multiple birds with one stone for some of these guys. Has anyone actually ever killed even one bird with a stone before? Let alone two? Unless the birds flew into a massive, transparent stone like they do to the windows at my office, I don’t understand that phrase. Speaking of birds, the Cardinals LB situation is going to be an IDP mess this year. Daryl Washington was an absolute stud in 2012, finishing at LB2 overall. Then he did as much damage to his career as any player this side of Aaron Hernandez. A 4-game suspension due to a substance abuse policy violation followed by a domestic abuse took D-Wash from a top 10 IDP pick, to someone who is borderline undraftable. The Cards responded by taking Minter in the 2nd round and picking up Dansby after he was let go by Miami. On their own, each of these guys has IDP value, but all together? Things get complicated. Early on, Dansby should put up the best numbers. If and when Washington returns, he should take over as the top option, with Minter coming along as the season progresses. But if Washington misses more than 4 games? Or Minter struggles to make the transition to the NFL? Or if Jasper Brinkley impresses during training camp? That’s just too many questions for me to spend a draft pick on, so I’m likely going to avoid the situation completely.