Here come the big scorers. As opposed to the DLs, a very top heavy position, the Linebackers are much more balanced. There are a few studs, but they’ll come at a cost, and there is plenty of value to be found elsewhere. Based on name recognition, it might surprise some people to see Lavonte David at the top of the list. He’s probably most famous for costing the Bucs their Week 1 game against the Jets with that ridiculous Unnecessary Roughness penalty. But David is so much more than that. In a division with an extremely diverse set of offenses, David is a legit three-down LB who can put up stats in a variety of ways. He leads a very impressive crop of young LBs (half of my top 10 are 24 or younger), which makes the future of the IDP game very bright.
Before I get to the rankings, I’ll briefly talk strategy. You really can’t go wrong with anyone in my top 3 tiers, but after that choices need to be made. And considering that most IDP leagues require 2+ LBs, those choices can be difficult. My goal is always to acquire as many high-tackle MLBs as possible, but unfortunately that’s everyone else’s goal as well. My personal preference leads me away from LBs who rely on sacks to rack up their stats. You won’t find guys like Von Miller and Clay Matthews on my team (and I’m much lower on them than most), however London Fletcher’s retirement makes me feel like I lost a member of my family. The only exception I’ll make is for a cheap 4-3 OLB with pass rush skills (someone in the Miller mold, but without his name or fame), and even then I would only go that route as my 4th LB.
Big-play leagues obviously change that up a bit, and if you hit on someone like Miller or Aldon Smith in the right year, it can single handedly win you a title. But I’d rather bet on consistency, and that’s why guys like Paul Posluszny and Jerrell Freeman are always on my roster. Here are some other LBs that I’m higher on than consensus:
Mychal Kendricks – I honestly debated putting him higher but there are so many other good options that I held off for now. Unlike many of the players who the ECR has higher than him, Kendricks is still getting better and at just 23 years old, he may have just scratched the surface in his first two years in the league. Playing on the Eagles helps him (and DeMeco Ryans) as well, given their tempo and the number of possessions they’ll be facing this year.
DeAndre Levy – A lot of his 2013 production was tied to his abilities in pass coverage, which can be concerning. I’ll be the first to admit that Levy isn’t picking off 6 passes again this year, but his 15 passes defended do indicate that he really stepped up his game while dropping into coverage. He still competes for tackles with the ever-consistent Stephen Tulloch, but I believe Levy will be an impact LB in a pass-happy division in 2014.
Mason Foster – Another guy who will be competing with a teammate for stats, Foster is even more overlooked than David if that’s possible. Like Levy, Foster showed impressive development in his pass coverage last year, and there is no reason to think that will change. It remains to be seen how Lovie Smith will deploy his LBs, but for now it looks like Foster will take the Urlacher role with David manning Lance Briggs’ slot, and that sounds like fantasy goodness to me.
And these are guys that I would stay away from given their current price:
Paul Worrilow - I will unabashedly be using the fantasy team name Watt Me Worrilow? this year, however I think the hype surrounding Worrilow is questionable. He certainly had a great 2013 out of nowhere, but that was on a miserable Falcons team that had little other options on defense. They haven’t exactly retooled with stars, but the presence of Pat Angerer as well as improved depth all over the field has me concerned about Worrilow’s ability to repeat. Going with situation over talent is always a risky proposition, so I’ll pass on Worrilow at his current price until I see a sustained performance.
Wesley Woodyard – What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time I was touting Woodyard as a potential top 10 LB, and drafted him in every league I could. Then he went and hurt himself in Week 1, and was really never the same afterwards, opening the door for Danny Trevathan’s breakout season. Woodyard has moved on to Tennessee, and while he’s the most talented LB on their roster, it’s a crowded group. Since the days of Keith Bullock, Tennessee’s LB situation has been a nightmare for IDP owners, and this year is no different with Woodyard, Zach Brown, Colin McCarthy and Moise Fokou all competing for snaps. I’m staying away.
D’Qwell Jackson – Another guy I was high on last year, Qwell has moved into the shadow of my boy Jerrell Freeman. Jackson is on the decline, but can still contribute as an LB 3-4 in IDP leagues. His current ECR rank of 17 makes me question if everyone else forgot that Freeman has 126 tackles last year, and shows no signs of slowing down.
On to the rankings…