It’s that time of year again when football fanatics are looking over their team’s rosters, looking for sleepers, busts, and the middle, wondering who should I draft for my fantasy team. Well, over the next month or so, I, along with other writers on Major League Fantasy Sports will be compiling IDP rankings for the upcoming 2014 season. If you would like to check my accuracy from last season, feel free to look at my rankings on here from 2013; some are spot on, and I was accurate more often than not.
Linebackers are the backbone of your fantasy squad. Unless you manage to get both JJ Watt and Robert Quinn on your team, or play in a league that counts sacks in an absurd points ratio compared to tackles, linebackers will be your bulk of points from your defense most weeks. Since I know you readers are anxious to get to the rankings, I’ll stop jabbering and leave you to ponder a question: If you had this player, would you keep him or not. At the end of the segment I will provide an argument for and against keeping linebackers that could also be used to analyze whether or not to keep some defensive ends or safeties.
Tier 1: No doubt, surefire studs
1.) Luke Kuechly- With the exception of the name immediately following him, there is no reason Kuechly should ever not be the top linebacker taken. Simply put, Kuechly is The Man in Carolina on defense. Through 2 season he has an absurd 320 total tackles, to go along with 6 interceptions. He might be skinny on the sacks thus far in his career, but they should start coming this season. PUt him down for 155 tackles, 3 picks, and 3 sacks this season as a baseline. (Photo courtesy of sportsillustrated.cnn.com)
2.) Lavonte David- If you were to take a linebacker above Kuechly, David should be the only one considered. If you had to sum up David in one word last season it would be unstoppable. He simply was everywhere on the field amassing 145 tackles, 7 sacks, 5 picks, 10 passes defensed, and 18 stuffs. Yeah. The stat line needs no explaining. If you play in a passes defensed or stuffs heavy league, David could arguably be the top LB off the boards. While he may not repeat his monster 2013 season this year, he’ll still net you over 125 tackles, 5 sacks, 3 picks, and a healthy dose of passes defensed and stuffs.
3.) Vontaze Burfict- Burfict is ahead of ‘Los on this list purely due to age and upside. After registering 114 tackles and sacks last season, Burfict could still have more in the tank at the age of 23. He is the center of the Bengals defense and still has upside. It’s not out of the question that he could eclipse the 135 tackle, 5 sack plateau this season. The difference between him and the 2 above him is Kuechly and David have more rounded games.
4.) Karlos Dansby- ‘Los is the type backer who will smack you harder than a freight train to get the ball. This guy just doesn’t relent until the opposition is glued to the turf. He had an insane season last year in Arizona where he went for 114 tackles, 6.4 sacks, 4 interceptions, 19 passes defensed, and 8 stuffs. Stat-stuffer in other words. Don’t expect things to change much now that he’s in Cleveland where he will again be middle linebacker and resume his bone crushing hit ways.
5.) Paul Posluszny- Drafting Posluszny is the equivalent of buying a Ford F-150. You know what you get, and its capabilities. I might not be the flashiest truck on the road, but it always gets the job done. That sums up Posluszny in a nutshell. He will net you 120 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 picks, 9 passes defensed, and a handful of stuffs. Top 5 LB material no matter how you dice it.
6.) Alec Ogletree- I missed out on Ogletree in too many leagues last season and I regretted it. I had Ogletree as an impact rookie, just didn’t nab him in time. Those in leagues counting passes defensed and stuffs, make sure you grab him as he is going to build off his rookie numbers of 94 tackles and 1 interception. This season I envision Ogletree posting 2 picks, 115 tackles, 12 passes defensed, 15 stuffs, and 3 sacks. In other words grab him while you can, because he is a threat to emerge as a top 3 LB this season.
7.) Danny Trevathan- I’m bullish on Trevathan, but he has breakout written all over. Playing on the opposite side of sack machine Von Miller, Trevathan will continue to see loads of traffic coming his way as running backs and quarterbacks run from Miller. It’s not out of the question this season that Trevathan 100 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 12 passes defensed. He’s raw, and last season was the tip of the iceberg of his potential. (Photo courtesy of cbssports.com)
8.) Kiko Alonso- Yep, that’s another rookie I had queued in too many leagues then failed to grab last season. While he doesn’t quite have the upside of fellow draft class mate Alec Ogletree, Alonso still will be a top 10 LB for years to come. He has a knack for the pick (had 4 last season) and is in the middle of almost every defensive play in Buffalo it seems. I know it sounds absurd, but Alonso could post a 105 tackle, 5 interception, 15 stuff season. He was everywhere for Buffalo last season, and he will be again this season.
Tier 2: On the doorstep of elite, but not quite there
9.) Jerod Mayo- It’s not out of the question that Mayo will finish as a top 7 LB this season, and he would have last season had he not gotten injured last season against the Saints in week 6. Historically, Mayo had been a very reliable fantasy contributor with a nice mixture of stats, and now that he’s in his prime (28), look for him to eclipse 100 tackles again this season, along with 3 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and a handful of stuffs.
10.) Derrick Johnson- Just another linebacker you know what you get when you draft him. Johnson has consistently posted around 100 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, a recovered fumble, 8 passes defensed and 9 stuffs since 2010, ands this season will be no different for him in the middle of an emerging Chiefs defense.
11.) James Laurinaitis- PLayed 2nd fiddle to Ogletree last season, as Alec completely took over last season. James, to his credit had another very solid season last year, and should return to the 100 tackle plateau this season. Yes, the Rams will have 2 top 12 linebackers this season, led by Ogletree. Put your money down for Laurinaitis to net you 110 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, 2 recovered fumbles, 8 passes defensed, and 6 stuffs. If you don’t want that production, someone else in your league will gladly take it as a middle tier LB1. (Photo courtesy of sikids.com)
12.) Mychal Kendricks- Kendricks could be poised for a breakout season. He showed a new level of nastiness last season in Philly, and should be the Eagles most valuable fantasy linebacker this season. Pencil him in for 100 tackles, 5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles,2 recovered fumbles, and 10 stuffs and then tell me I’m wrong about him being a breakout player.
13.) Navorro Bowman- Reports have Bowman (torn ACL, MCL) returning to the 49ers by midseason, which could still mean a top 15 fantasy season from Bowman, given his relentless playing style. Of course there will be some rust when he first starts playing again,, but NFL players have good track records from returning from knee injuries, so Bowman should be fine going forward. If he plays 8-9 games, put him down for 75 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, another recovered fumble, and a handful of passes defensed and stuffs. This guy is the leader on 49ers and a top 5 talent when fully healthy.
14.) Khalil Mack- I’m going to make sure I don’t miss out on Mack this season like I did with Ogletree and Alonso last season. Mack was hands down the best linebacker in the 2014 Draft, and playing outside on a rebuilding Raiders team, his motor and explosiveness will put him in position to post 105 tackles, 6 sacks, and a pick or so. He’s low-end LB1/high LB2 material with tremendous upside this season.
15.) Chad Greenway- There’s a chance for addition through subtraction in Minnesota. That is, with Jared Allen now in Chicago, there will be an excess 12 or so sacks to go around, and Greenway is a good bet to get a few of those. Playing opposite Anthony Barr on the outside should give him more looks at the QB with Brinkley in the middle. The Vikings will miss Allen this season, but Greenway will pick up some of the slack and post 100 tackles, 5 sacks, a forced fumble, and 2 recovered fumbles. At 31, he may not have a ton of upside, but he’s consistent.
Tier 3: High-end LB 2s.
16.) Jerrell Freeman- The addition of D’Qwell JAckson to the middle of the Colts defense is great in real life, but subtracts from both their values in 2014. Freeman will be the better all-around fantasy contributor with 80 tackles, 4 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, but the 2 inside linebackers will also assist one another on another 50 tackles, bringing Freeman’s 2014 tackle total with assists to 120 or so. He was a better fantasy contributor with the middle to himself, but he will still deliver a solid stat line. (Photo courtesy of zimbio.com)
17.) Thomas Davis- With teams attempting to slow down the Kuech-machine, Davis will get an extra few opportunities to get to the QB in Carolina this season. He’s 31, but he’s still plenty solid. Playing the strong side in Carolina, Davis will just post another 80 tackle, 3.5 sack, 10stuff, 5 passes defensed season. Solid LB2 in other words.
18.) Daryl Smith- Smith needs to stay healthy like in 2013, and he’ll be a nice fantasy asset in 2014 playing alongside Brown in the belly of the Ravens defense. Even at 32, if Smith stays healthy, put him down for 80 tackles, 4 sacks, 10 passes defensed and 2 forced fumbles. Remember, the Ravens are more physical than Smith’s former team the Jaguars, so he gets to hit more players.
19.) Bobby Wagner- Here’s your breakout candidate for this season.Look at his numbers and tell me that Wagner doesn’t have ‘breakout’ written all over. I know I’m right, so trust me. From week 9 onward, Wagner posted 80 tackles, 5 sacks, and an interception. He’s playing middle linebacker for the Seahawks this season. This could lead to a 115 tackle, 7 sack, 10 passes defensed, 2 interception season for Wagner. What’s that, you wanna wager on that one? Money in the bank for me.
20.)Stephen Tulloch- Tulloch is the rock in the middle of the Lions defense. He’s like the Jaguars Posluszny; not flashy, but a grinder that will git er done. Tulloch will give fantasy owners 80 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 2 recovered fumbles, and 6 stuffs.
21.) DeAndre Levy- Some are going to criticize me for having Levy so low, but if you look at his numbers, his value is strictly reliant upon his ability to post triple digit tackles. He isn’t going to net you sacks, but will contribute a healthy portion of passes defensed. Strip away his 6 interceptions and 15 passes defensed from last year, and you get a LB2. Not a LB1. He’s a solid LB2 and should contribute around 95 tackles and 9 stuffs this season, but won’t repeat his high number of passes defensed or pick numbers from last season. (Photo courtesy of grfx.cstv.com)
22.) Nick Roach- Roach is Oakland’s version of Daryl Smith: He’s a solid tackler, and will contribute a few sacks…but that’s about it. If you draft Roach, 80 tackles and 4 sacks will come to ya with 3 forced fumbles, but he won’t contribute many passes defensed or stuffs.
23.) Paul Worrilow- If you heard the sound of something getting broken, that was the sound of my fist punching something as hard as I could, and spraining my hand in the process; breaking said something when I found out Sean Weatherspoon was done for the season. The Delaware product showed glimpses of potential and will be relied upon heavily this season with the loss of Weatherspoon. I might be high on him, but I envision 100 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 10 stuffs for Worrilow this season as a Falcons inside linebacker.
24.) DeMeco Ryans- Playing alongside Kendricks at MILB in Philly affords Ryans the opportunity for tackles, and he is will also contribute a handful of sacks. He will never post numbers like he did his rookie season in Houston, but Ryans should lead the Eagles in tackles this season and net owners 3.5 sacks to go with 11 stuffs. Solid production here.
25.) Anthony Barr- Barr will lead the Vikings in sacks this season and challenge for Defensive ROY. I’m not the first to say it, but be sure you grab him as a high upside LB2, as he could blow up in front of us this season. The UCLA product could very well post 75 tackles, 8 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles as a more advanced pass rusher than Kahalil Mack. Yes, he’s gonna wreak havoc this season in Minnesota and clean up a majority of the sacks left behind by Jared Allen. (Photo courtesy of usatoday.com)
At the beginning of the post I posed a question to you readers on whether or not you should keep a specific linebacker or IDP. If you have Kuechly or David, you should seriously consider it if you have 4 or more keepers and your league is a dynasty league. Other than that, save your keeper spots for your best offensive players, or keep less and get an extra draft pick. Kuechly and David will both approach the production of some middle tier offensive keepers and give you a solid foundation for your defense for the 2014. Season. As we move along the rankings, I’ll be sure to point out other IDP options worth consideration of keeper spots. Thanks for tuning in, and I hope the results of my double-post Tuesdays work as I value everyone’s readership and feedback. If you have any questions for me post here, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be forewarned, if you disrespect me or this site I will not respond. We here at MLFS are here for you the readers and to gain insight from your comments/critique.