Over the next 3 posts, the top 100 linebackers, with 10-15 names to keep an eye on after the 100th ranked LB, will be ranked. This is by far the longest post, but linebacker is also deep, so should you miss out on the top names, there’s still ample opportunity to grab a good one. Linebacker should be the first IDP position you draft, unless you re fortunate to have drafted J.J. Watt or Jason Pierre-Paul, as the position is the most consistent. While there is a cliff at LB, it is not nearly as steep nor jagged as the cliff of DT and DE. Some names appearing on this list will be more of tackle specialists, whereas some will be more of sack specialists, but the truly valuable ones are the ones that contribute a stud number in one category, and also contribute in all the other defensive stats. A smart owner would realize that while a top LB may cost you a pick that you could use to nab an RB or WR3, that player could net you more points than some offensive players, so the trade-off might be worth it, depending on who’s available at each respective position.
1.)Luke Kuechly – He and J.J. Watt may be participating in a 1-up competition, as both are absolute beasts at their respective positions. Few players can challenge Watt for top I.D.P honors, but Kuechly is one of them. After posting 164 total tackles (TT), 3 fumble recoveries (FR), 2 interceptions (INT), 8 passes defensed (PD), and 11 stuffs (SF) in his inaugural season, Kuechly seems poised to at least make a run at 200 total tackles this year. At the very least, in his sophomore season, Kuech should post 185 TT, 3 INT, a combined 24 PDs and SFs, and should he collect a few more sacks, he cold be a real challenge for Mr. Watt for top I.D.P honors.
2.) Von Miller – His tackle numbers may look more like upper-echelon defensive end tackle numbers, and he’s not your prototypical 100+ tackle LB, but Miller more than makes up for tackles with sacks, forced fumbles, and stuffs. With Elvis Dumervil gone, his tackle numbers will likely go up to the 80 range, while posting 19 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, and 16 stuffs. Don’t be surprised if he picks a pass or two as well. He is an elite talent still developing, and a worthy LB1 .
3.) NaVorro Bowman- It takes a lot to overshadow Patrick Willis, but that is exactly what Bowman has done. The more he’s on the field, the scarier he gets. Don’t be surprised to see 155 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries, 7 stuffs, and 9 passes defensed. This could be the beginning of a total transformation of Bowman into a complete statistical monster.
4.) Derrick Johnson – With the emergence of all the young studs in I.D.P., Johnson may get slightly overlooked, meaning you could get him cheap, compared to some other big names. If you end up with him as your second LB1, you’ve drafted wisely, as Johnson is a rock at LB, and has been healthy the past 3 seasons. He will contribute 125 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 10 stuffs.
5.) Lavonte David – David can flat-out hit. Collecting 19 tackles for loss on 139 tackles, and throwing in two sacks and five passes defensed, David will look to build upon a solid rookie season. As long as the stuffs and tackles come, and he can get a few more sacks, David could be ranked even higher on this list come next year. The upside is too good to pass on.
6.) Paul Posluszny – Playing middle linebacker on the Jaguars has its perks, and Posluszny has been the benefactor of that role. Amassing 252 total tackles the past two seasons, Posluszny is a tackling machine, but is also a good bet to nab three picks, two forced fumbles, and a handful of passes defensed and stuffs. Not the flashiest LB, but one that gets the job done.
7.) London Fletcher – Age seems to mean nothing to this motor, even at 38. Averaging 147 tackles/season over the past three seasons, Fletcher also gets passes defensed and interceptions. Barring an injury, you know what to do: Draft him and enjoy the 145 tackle, 10 passes defensed, 2 interception season.
8.) Patrick Willis – Don’t worry, Willis is still upper-echelon, but he likely will never repeat the numbers from earlier in his career. Having Bowman overshadow him may be a blessing in disguise, as the double teams Bowman will draw will open up gaps for Willis to rack up better tackle numbers than he has the past few seasons, and occasionally get to the quarterback. Pair him with Bowman or another top 5 LB, and your LB core will be one of the nastiest in your league. Expect a rebound to 135 TT, 3 FF, 1 FR, 10 PDs, and 5 SFs.
9.) Jo-Lonn Dunbar – After being a backup in New Orleans for the better part of four seasons, Dunbar finally got his opportunity to start in St. Louis last season, and made the Saints wish they had never let him go. If last season was any indication of things to come with him, then 135 TT, 3 INT, 5 SK, and 15 PDs could easily be in order. He’s a name that should put up LB1 numbers, but you’ll likely get him at an LB2 price.
10.) Karlos Dansby – Los may thank Daryl Washington’s four game suspension for this ranking. Had Washington not been handed down that suspension to start this season, Los would be further down this list. What Los is, though, is an absolute tank. Coming back to Arizona after three seasons in Miami, Dansby will look to pick up right where he left off on the rebuilding Cardinals. Anything less than 123 TT, 2 SK, 2 FF, 1 FR, and 18 combined PDs and SFs should be considered sub-Dansby standards.
11.) D.J. Williams – Likely an aggressive ranking for the former Broncos linebacker, but Williams was brought in to attempt to fill Urlacher’s shoes, and his stats from Denver suggest he can handle it. During his last two fully healthy seasons, he posted 242 tackles, 9 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, and 3 recovered fumbles. Given he’s fully healthy to start this season, he should be good for 120 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, while delivering a handful of passes defensed and stuffs.
12.) Jerod Mayo – The captain of the Patriots defense is unlikely to repeat the four forced fumbles from last season, however, the rest of the production you will get is elite. He is a consistent tackling motor, who will net you 145 tackles, 2 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, and 2 fumble recoveries. Just make sure to cover his short comings in passes defensed and stuffs elsewhere.
13.) Bobby Wagner – Draft Wagner ahead of where you think you’ll get him, because he’s going to completely breakout this season as the Seahawks middle linebacker. Look for him to up his tackle total from his rookie season (140), and to be a complete nightmare to opposing offensive lines. I’ll call my shot here and put money on him posting 150 total tackles, 3.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, 3 interceptions, 5 passes defensed, and 9 stuffs.
14.) Arthur Brown – Every season, there will always be one or two rookies that become fantasy studs I.D.P wise, and Brown is the best bet to be the stud of this season’s draft class. Ray Lewis’ heir to the throne at middle linebacker, Brown steps into the Baltimore defense and instantly is in a position to put up 115 TT, 3 sacks, and 2 FR. All he has to do is fend off pesky Daryl Smith and the job is his. If you miss out on him this season, you likely miss out on him for good in your league, especially keeper and dynasty leagues.
15.) James Laurinaitis – If you are looking for consistency for 140+ tackles, look no further. Viewed by some as a one trick pony, Laurinaitis actually has more value than that. As the rock in the middle of the Rams defense, peg him for another typical season for him of 142 tackles, 2 interceptions, 5 passes defensed and 7 stuffs. As consistent as they come for lower-end LB1s.
16.) Chad Greenway – Even from the strong side, Greenway posts an average of 150 tackles per season, and if he moved to the middle, he could easily top 170 tackles. While he may be a one trick pony and contribute little elsewhere, the additions of 3.5 sacks, 1 interception, and a couple stuffs and passes defensed would only boost his value to fantasy owners. His only downside is the names above him.
17.) Sean Lee – The movement of Demarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer to defensive end (to strengthen the weak D-Line), opens up the opportunity for Lee to start and prosper at middle linebacker. Temper expectations initially, but the rewards from him as his upside could be immense. He has all the tools to be a 135 TT, 2 FF, 1 FR, 2 INT backer. The question is, can he put it all together at middle linebacker?
18.) Russell Allen – With Allen, you know what you’ll get before he steps onto the field. He’ll get you 135 tackles, 8 passes defensed, 10 stuffs, and toss in a forced or recovered fumble. An excellent way to pad your tackle stats, but don’t expect much upside.
19.) Lance Briggs – The retirement of Brian Urlacher boosts Briggs’ value some, as now he’ll be the top linebacker on the Bears. Even in the waning stages of his career, Briggs will be called upon to anchor the Bears linebacking core, and teach the rookies how to play smash mouth football. The addition of middle linebacker D.J. Williams may retard Briggs’ stats some this season, but Briggs will still net you 110 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 2 interceptions, 7 passes defensed, and 7 stuffs. More of a high-end LB2 than an LB1 who you’d draft as your anchor, however.
20.) Jon Beason – Fantasy owners are still reminiscing over the days before he got injured. Unfortunately, he did, and then Kuechly claimed middle linebacker honors. Assuming he is fully healthy, and the transition to outside linebacker goes smoothly, drafting him at a discount turns into a steal and the potential for 125 tackles, 2 interceptions, a forced and recovered fumble apiece, 9 passes defensed, and 9 stuffs. Definitely worth the risk.
21.) Lawrence Timmons – James Harrison’s departure to the Bengals means Timmons is now top Black and Gold defensive player, and that’s a scary thought. He flashed beast potential while Harrison was still around, and now that he’s gone 135 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 2 fumbles forced and recoveries, and 9 passes defensed and stuffs seems very realistic. Don’t let him slip too far on draft day.
22.) Curtis Lofton – The former Falcons middle linebacker went to the Falcons #1 nemesis, and now Lofton looks to continue his solid play. He’s a virtual lock for 125 tackles or more, and in the new defensive scheme the Saints are implementing this season, his numbers could see a slight uptick. I may not draft him, but, don’t make the same mistake, as Lofton will also net you a sack here or there, 2 fumbles forced and recoveries, and 12 combined passes defensed and stuffs, in addition to those 125+ tackles.
23.) Vontaze Burfict – Aside from having a cool sounding name, Burfict is a great sleeper to become a fantasy stud this season. Keep an eye on him, and draft him late as an LB2 with tons of upside, as opposing teams will focus on stopping Harrison and Maualuga from hitting the QB. Starting at outside linebacker, Burfict should expand upon his 127 tackle/6 stuff rookie season,and post 135 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 fumbles recovered, 9 stuffs, and 3 sacks. Draft him while he’s still cheap to acquire for his upside.
24.) Mason Foster – Another of those young, high-upside linebackers who opposing offensive lines could soon start to hate, due to his hard-hitting ability. Foster isn’t as explosive or as dynamic as Lavonte David, but what Foster can do for you is provide solid numbers at a discounted price. You could do a lot worse than drafting him as your LB2 or high-end LB3, as he should have no problems netting any fantasy team 115 TT, 3 SK, 15 SF, and 1 FR.
25.) Brian Cushing – In the same boat as Jon Beason. If Cushing is healthy, he’ll come at a discounted price and have the potential to put up LB1 numbers. He’ll be relied upon to anchor the middle of the Texans LB core, and should he be healthy for the season opener ( keep an eye, as he did visit Dr. Andrews), he should get back to his old self and post 124 TT, 4.5 SK, 2 INT, 7 PDs, and 9 SF.
26.) Colin McCarthy – In 20 games, McCarthy has posted 106 tackles, and this season will be his first as full-time starter. The risk here is that he doesn’t keep up the production for an entire season, but the upside could be a top 15 LB. Your choice, but we could be looking at a 115 tackle, 1 fumble recovery, 1 forced fumble, 8 stuff, 4 passes defensed season.
27.) D’Qwell Jackson – All Jackson will do for your team is provide 125 TT, 3.5 SK, 2 FF, 3 FR, 6 PDs, and 9 SF. Anything more you need to know about this productive all-around LB? Oh, he’s starting in the middle.
28.) Sean Weatherspoon – Weatherspoon has had breakout written all over him for two seasons now, and the third time is the charm. He’ll start at weak side linebacker, but should he transitioned to the middle, so his stat line could only boom even more. As it is, draft Spoon as a LB2, and expect 120 TT, 1 FF, 1 FR, 4.5 SK, 10 SFs, and 9 PDs. He’s still emerging and hasn’t sniffed his true potential yet.
29.) Perry Riley – Riley is the mold of LB that could net you 135 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and 1 fumble recovery, but leave you wanting more from him, as he may not provide more than a flash in the pan for passes defensed or stuffs. There’s nothing wrong with 5 passes defensed and 5 stuffs, but fantasy owners see him and expect more. The upside is immense, though, so well worth a shot as your LB3.
30.) Aldon Smith – Aldon is one of those players opposing QBs fear. Smith is virtually impossible to block mono a mono, and starting for a second season in San Francisco should only further help him keep improving his stats. 70 TT, 20 SK, 5 FF, 2 FR, 5 SF, and 3 PD could easily be his stat line this season. Grab the Harrison-esque LB while he’s still available, especially in sack-heavy leagues.