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Draft season is in full-swing now, so I’ll be brief before getting to the meat and potatoes of this article. The saying goes that the Middle Linebacker is the Quarterback of the defense. Well in IDP leagues, the Linebacker is the Runningback of the defense. Take them early, take them often, and ride them to championships. You might take J.J. Watt or JPP before an LB, which is the defensive equivalent of taking Calvin Johnson or Drew Brees before an RB. But by doing this, on offense or defense, you leave a huge hole in what is more often than not the most valuable spot in your lineup. And unlike on offense, where Brees and Megatron are more than likely to rack up stats due to their superior talent, Watt and JPP can spend a week getting double-teamed constantly. They still wreak havoc on the field, but not necessarily on the stat sheet. So unless you believe Watt can repeat his other-worldly 2012 season, load up on LBs before moving on to other IDP positions.

Tackles Reign Supreme

They may seem boring, but tackles win championships in the IDP world. Understanding that fact alone will help you decipher who among the hundred or so starting linebackers deserve a spot on your team. If you want some next-level analysis, look for players with high-assisted tackle rates. Assist rates for defensive players are somewhat like BABIP for baseball players. They may be extremely high or low one year, but over the long run they are likely to regress to the mean. So players like Perry Riley with an assist rate of 1.27 (solos per assist) are likely to see some of those assists turn into twice-as-valuable solo tackles in 2013, while players like Derrick Johnson with an assist rate of 7.33 may see their point totals drop off. The stat crew at each stadium has a lot to do with this rate, but while some teams rank high in assists from year-to-year (Bills, Giants, Titans) and others rank low (Bucs, Panthers, Vikings), the majority are variable and should not play a part in your draft strategy.

Don’t Fall Prey To The Sexiness Of The Sack

I’ve been preaching this non-stop since May, but too often IDPers ignore this piece of advice and get tempted by the sack. I get it. It’s more fun to watch one of your players crush the QB than it is to watch the same guy make a tackle 6 yards downfield. And it’s worth more points as well. But simple math tells you that when Jerrell Freeman has 145 tackles and 2 sacks, and Aldon Smith has 65 tackles and 19.5 sacks, then sacks need to be worth at least 4 times as much as tackles for Smith to be more valuable than Freeman. So unless your league has a sack-to-tackle ratio of 4 or more, if you’re taking Smith 4+ rounds before Freeman (as he’s going now), you’re paying for sacks. Which I believe only legal in Amsterdam.

3 > 2

This seems like an obvious thing to say, but when applied to IDP linebackers, it can make an enormous difference. The LBs that play three downs have a huge advantage over their two-down counterparts. Not only in tackle opportunities, as a 50% increase in downs played is an overly simplistic way to express the advantage, but also in big-play stats. You know by now that I don’t advocate targeting LBs based on their big-play ability, but the mere presence of a backer on the field on 3rd down can give them big-play chances. When a defense switches to a nickel or dime package, they assume the offense is throwing the ball. This hugely increases the odds of an interception or pass deflection in coverage, or a sack if the LB rushes the passer. The difference between a two-down LB and a three-down LB is why Wesley Woodyard and Demario Davis are more valuable than they might otherwise seem.

Weak > Strong

This one is a little more counterintuitive at first glance, but absolutely holds true when it comes to linebackers. Strong side LBs line up on the side of the field with an additional blocker to assist with run support, an extremely valuable responsibility to a defense. For IDP leagues, the only thing that matters is the first part of that sentence: the side of the field with an additional blocker. Why would you target a guy who is lessening his chances of a tackle on every single play? Sure, some strong side LBs are consistently good fantasy options, but that has more to do with them playing 3-downs (Lance Briggs) than it does with them lining up on the strong side. When it comes to your third or fourth LB, and the MLB studs are gone, target underrated weak side LBs for cheap options with potentially big pay-offs.

From Around The Web

  1. Clint (aka Pablo Death) says:
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    I’m playing in a league that appears to value playmakers over the LB consistency as sacks (5) and INT’s (3) outweigh the standard 1/0.5 tackle point totals so despite the fumble recoveries being worth a lot (3) and forced ones (2) as well, when I did a calculation based on my league’s scoring on another site, it spit back Aldon Smith as my top LB overall and boosted Patrick Peterson up in the rankings as well.

    I’m curious if you think balancing a guy like Kuechley with a sack master like Smith/Ware or a ball hawk like Peterson is the best way to go in this 2 IDP starter league? As opposed to stacking up on a pair like Derrick Johnson and Posluzny. And with scoring like this, where would you start to sprinkle in IDP guys in the draft? I was thinking around rounds 5-8 or so.

    • Kevin Kumpf

      Kevin Kumpf says:
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      @Clint (aka Pablo Death):

      This system definitely values pass rushers, and with only 2 IDP starters, position doesn’t matter all that much. With these settings I still like to grab someone like Kuechley/Bowman to get some consistency week-to-week, but you probably need to pair them with a big-play threat. Sacks are tough to predict, but they’re easier than interceptions, so I would aim for Aldon/Ware/etc. In a league like this, Von Miller is incredibly valuable when he’s playing, so depending on how many bench spots you have, he could come at a value.

      As for when to target your IDPs, with only two starters, you can afford to wait a bit. Fill out your offensive roster and then look to see if any top pass rushers are left, as they tend to go early even in “standard” leagues. Worst-case scenario, you end up with two guys who rack up tackles and go for a Dion Jordan or Da’Quan Bowers as a late-round flier with upside.

  2. Slob on my Cobb says:
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    Do you have a few LBs that fit this formula who you think will be especially valuable? Right now I have Patrick Willis as my LB.

    • Kevin Kumpf

      Kevin Kumpf says:
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      @Slob on my Cobb:

      My favorite “value” LB all summer has been Jerrell Freeman, but London Fletcher and Wesley Woodyard also fit the bill as tackling machines who won’t be among the first LBs taken.

    • George says:
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      @Slob on my Cobb:

      In our contract year (we assign contract years when a player is drafted or signed via waivers/free agency), 20-team, 25-player keep league, my three linebackers are DQwell Jackson, Paul Posluszny and Vontaze Burfict. Posluszny and Jackson are sure fire top 10 linebackers as well.

      • Kevin Kumpf

        Kevin Kumpf says:
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        @George:

        Yessir, I love that corps you’ve put together.

  3. Wilsonian says:
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    I’ve got Tillman and Derrick Johnson as my two Def players. These guys are available:

    Fletcher
    Lavonte David
    J. Freeman
    Timmons
    Woodyard
    Briggs
    Dansby
    R. Allen

    Making any swaps? We are relatively normal on the scoring here, but do get 0.5 per assist.

    • Kevin Kumpf

      Kevin Kumpf says:
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      @Wilsonian:

      If you can only start 2 IDPs, then I would absolutely swap Tillman for a Linebacker. DB scoring is just too inconsistent week-to-week. I have David as my highest ranked among the LBs you listed, but Freeman/Fletcher/Woodyard/Timmons are all great options as well.

  4. George says:
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    Hey Kevin – I am in a 14-team, 22-man, $123 million salary cap keeper league (three are annually drafted for a 25-man roster). This team won the title last year with the following IDP’s:

    London Fletcher (starter all of last year)
    NaVorro Bowman (same)
    Sean Lee (starter until injured last year)
    Wesley Woodyard (starter)
    Donald Butler (regular starter depending on matchup)
    Brian Cushing (picked him up after his injury)
    Sean Weatherspoon (same as Butler)
    along with Devin McCourty (same as Butler

    I drafted Cyprien this year (at pick 28, last pick of round 2). Dropped Jason McCourty this pre-season, who is still available.

    You are spot on regarding IDP’s. We have seven starting IDP slots. I normally rack up no less than 140 fantasy points from my group of seven.

    • Kevin Kumpf

      Kevin Kumpf says:
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      @George:

      With an LB corps of Bowman/Lee/Fletcher/Woodyard/Cushing, you have 5 of my top IDPs, regardless of position. Well done.

      I like the consistency of Weatherspoon and Butler, but they may be worth ditching for some high-upside guys (like your Cyprien pick), who can have a huge week from time to time. I always preach consistency over anything else, but with the base that you have, I’d probably throw a lotto ticket or two in there as well. But even if you don’t, you’re set up very nicely on the defensive side.

      • George says:
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        @Kevin Kumpf:

        Thanks Kevin – I did draft the Green Bay OLB last year who flopped (the USC kid). I just picked up Brad Jones for Latavius Murray to further deepen my linebacking corp for bye weeks. We’ll see if Brad Jones hits his projected point total of 295 (2 pts for solos, 1 pt for assists, 10 pts for sacks, 5 and 5 for fumbles caused and recovered).

        I am fine with not having DE’s on this roster because of the hit and miss factor and knowing that I have the best defense in the league. If I could only get a #2 RB behind AD (hopefully Ben Tate breaks through this year).

        • George says:
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          @George:

          Nick Perry…..I will be watching him this year as well. He was the flop.

          • Kevin Kumpf

            Kevin Kumpf says:
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            @George:

            Brad Jones is a nice pickup as well. With all your LB depth you may be able to package someone with Tate for an RB2 upgrade, especially to Foster’s owner.

            • George says:
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              @Kevin Kumpf: Right after the 1st Ben Tate start…. :)

  5. farcus says:
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    in a league with sacks worth 12 pts and tackles worth two guys like aldon and von miller (if he weren’t suspended) should be the first LBs off the board right?

    • Kevin Kumpf

      Kevin Kumpf says:
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      @farcus:

      Absolutely. As I said to Clint above, pass rushers are at a premium in those leagues. And I’ve changed my tune on Miller, as he might even become a value pick if you can spare the roster room in a league like that.

  6. Jack Full O' Hate says:
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    what are your thoughts on the Bears LB situation, do you think DJ rebounds to his former glory or does Anderson rebound to his?

    • Kevin Kumpf

      Kevin Kumpf says:
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      @Jack Full O’ Hate:

      I think DJ is a solid LB, but I wouldn’t want to rely on any Bears LB outside of Briggs as an every-week starter for me at this point. Bostic has ended up on a few of my teams this year as a value pick, and I think he eventually takes over for DJ this year. There are too many other options out there to rely on a timeshare for LB. Anderson has not been on my radar at all this year, and unless you’re in an insanely deep league, he shouldn’t be on yours either.

  7. Targaryen says:
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    I cherry picked early a couple LBs in my draft after I selected Trent, Cam & Stafford. Unorthodox I know but the flex is a super flex plus I nabbed Gronk & cook w Welker , and filled out my RB depth whenever everyone started filling out their IDPs. My LBs are Bowman & Greenway, plus I grabbed Kiko and Arthur Brown late (for the IDP flex) my DL is Hardy(in a contract year to boot) plus Kam Chance & Cyprien as my 2 DBs, you think I should drop the rookies I picked up? I had Bostic but he wouldn’t be a 3 down guy w DJ there in Chitown. Thats how I ended up with alonzo who I think will do alot better in his position than the guy that was there last year in Buffalo, I look at Farley the years prior. Your doctothoughts Murph please

    • Targaryen says:
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      @Targaryen: sorry, Kevin

      • Kevin Kumpf

        Kevin Kumpf says:
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        @Targaryen:

        Sounds like an interesting league in terms of roster requirements. With Bowman and Greenway, you should be set in terms of LB consistency, so after that it’s all about upside. I love the Brown/Alonzo duo, and while I’m a big Bostic fan, I can easily see Alonzo over him. I’m assuming you start 1 DB and 1 DL, so Hardy should be fine and I like the Kam/Cyprien combo as well. If Cyprien lives up to the hype, Kam may be droppable early on.

        • Targaryen says:
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          @Kevin Kumpf: 1 dl 2 db 2 lb 1 idp flex. I think Kam will have to be a staple at this point since we have to start 2 dbs, at least until the bye week, I expect some bloomers to appear to exchange my DB with. So Witb the roster setup it is difficult to balance backups in all position. I cant seem to find any recent news on arthur brown. Do I hold him? At this point I think he has to be my bench guy. I seen Kiko won the starting gig along w Cyprien but no one has talked about Brown since the Draft in May (/june.)

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