Last week we unveiled the Defensive Linemen rankings, and within days they became outdated with the news of Sheldon Richardson’s suspension. This is yet another reminder of how quickly things can change in the NFL. These rankings will be maintained as the preseason develops, but if you have specific questions, feel free to ask them in the Comments as always. The LB Rankings below were affected as well, with Rolando McClain’s suspension adding more uncertainty to an already unpredictable situation in Dallas. In fact, “uncertainty” is a good theme for the Linebacker position in 2015, as player movement, injuries (both new and recoveries), and suspensions leave a lot of question marks from the top of the list to the bottom.
Tier 1 – David or Kuechly? Kuechly or David? Finkle is Einhorn? You can’t really go wrong with either of these guys, but I’m taking Lavonte David because of his supporting cast. A solid front four, with no real playmakers surrounding him at LB should make for an all you can eat buffet of scoring opportunities. Luke Kuechly has Thomas Davis and Shaq Thompson to potentially infringe on him, and he also has name value, so offenses might game-plan around avoiding him. But again, both of them are well worthy of being the top LB taken.
Tier 2 – …and that’s it for the sure things. Most of the rest of these guys have some sort of question about how they’ll perform this year, enough so that I would have no problem reaching for David or Kuechly a round or two early just for peace of mind. Tier 2 is full of LBs who definitely have the ability for superstar years, but they will require a few uncertainties to go their way, which is uncommon for players ranked in the Top 10, let alone the Top 5. I would definitely expect this group to re-shuffle between now and Week One.
Tier 3 – If you draft in this tier, you have a lot of faith in NFL medical staffs. Everyone here missed games last year, ranging from a few (Mychal Kendricks) to the entire season (Kiko Alonso) and everything in between. On top of that, they now have to deal with the improved performance of those who replaced them. I expect Derrick Johnson to easily win his job (and stats) back, but the rest of them may have an uphill climb to avoid being Wally Pipp-ed, especially if any of their injuries linger.
Tier 4 – These are the last guys that are worth drafting. There are a mix of solid but unspectacular options, who make for easy lineup decisions (Daryl Smith, Curtis Lofton, David Harris), as well as high-upside guys who have yet to prove themselves for more than a few games at a time (Preston Brown, Telvin Smith, Anthony Barr). Your picks in this range will depend on who else you’ve already taken. If I have one or more of the Tier 3 guys, I’d prefer the safety of a guy like James Laurinaitis, but if I’m confident in the rest of my LBs, taking a risk on Ryan Shazier could pay off huge.
Everyone else ranked, and not ranked, fall into my “wait and see” category. This includes all of the rookies, and guys who will rely on their situations improving over the preseason. One of the biggest questions facing the LB position this year is, “Who will play in the middle in Green Bay”? Clay Matthews played out of position for much of last year, and while his numbers were fine, it wasn’t the ideal situation for the Packers or IDP owners. Right now it looks like Matthews may start the year in the middle, but look for guys like Sam Barrington and Carl Bradford to get opportunities in the preseason. In deeper leagues, stashing one of these guys isn’t a bad idea.