As opposed to my 2013 DL Rankings, the top spot in the LB rankings is not quite as clear cut. Luke Kuechly took the #1 overall spot in 2012, as a rookie no less, so common sense would tell you that he will only improve in year 2. I’m not one to disagree with Thomas Paine, so Kuechly will appear at the top of my rankings, but he likely won’t be on any of my teams. Unlike the top Linemen, the top Linebackers are not worth reaching for in 2013.
After Kuechly, any of my next twenty or so LBs would make for a fine LB1 this year. If you wait and take someone like Dannell Ellerbe a few rounds after the top LBs are taken, you could easily end up with the #1 LB overall for a fraction of the price.
A few players I want to call out, due to my differing opinion to the Experts over at FantasyPros:
Jerrell Freeman – A top-10 LB option in 2012, Freeman is being consistently rated outside the top 20 for 2013. A move to the 3-4 as well as the presence of Kelvin Sheppard and a healthy Pat Angerer are changes from last year, but Freeman should continue to rack up tackles at a high rate. His career path hasn’t been normal (cut by the Titans after going undrafted in 2008; three years in the CFL), but Freeman looks like the LB position’s answer to Cameron Wake: A late bloomer who makes the most of his second chance.
Vontaze Burfict – After a slow start to his rookie season, Burfict became the most reliable LB in Cincinnati, and arguably in the AFC North, by the end of 2012. There was some speculation that he would take over at MLB for Rey Maualuga, but for some reason Marvin Lewis doesn’t see what the rest of the world does. My ranking shows some faith in Lewis coming to his senses, as well as acknowledging that Burfict has an extremely fun name to say.
Perry Riley – One of the biggest indicators of a breakout performance for an IDP is a huge number of assisted tackles, and Riley is the poster-boy for that this year. He finished 5th in assists in 2012, behind three LBs that will be ranked above him as well as the enigma that is Maualuga. With London Fletcher manning the middle, and Brian Orakpo back from injury and ill-fated Geico commercials, Riley will see less blockers, giving him a great chance to out-produce his ADP simply by turning some assists into solos.
Lance Briggs – Rumors of his demise have been greatly exaggerated. With Brian Urlacher gone, it’s easy to forget about Briggs in the presence of promising rookies Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene. Briggs has been a tackling machine for years, and his responsibility will only increase without Urlacher manning the middle. He may give way to the young guns in 2014, but expect him to provide veteran leadership and stability for the Bears D this year.
Von Miller/Aldon Smith – While these two LBs (along with Elvis Dumervil) will likely pace the position in terms of sacks, their relative lack of tackles hurts them in balanced scoring leagues. Miller’s performance should drop a bit without Dumervil rushing opposite him, and Aldon showed us late last year that his stats were highly dependent on a healthy Justin Smith. Let other teams in your league reach for these guys, while you scoop up less sexy names like Curtis Lofton and Sean Weatherspoon and bask in their consistent tackles.
Disclaimer: For these and all of my rankings, I am assuming a balanced IDP scoring system with a 3:1 ratio of sacks/interceptions to solo tackles. If you have any questions regarding your league’s specific settings, please ask in the comments.