For the final installment in the linebacker rankings I just want to emphasize the rankings are for Major League Fantasy Football and similar leagues, but could be applicable to almost every other I.D.P. league as well. They can be helpful to standard leagues in that understanding the players that make up the team defense you select is an advantage to you over your opponent. There will be some disagreement as some people will think I ranked certain players on this list too harshly, and some too leniently. What I look at is their place on the depth chart, potential, scheme, and other factors when making these rankings. Are all of these guys going to be owned in leagues? Of course not, but defensive depth on your fantasy teams can often make the difference between playoffs and playoff snub, or 1st round exit versus potential title run team. So draft well and monitor the waiver wire for defensive pickups.
61.) Aldon Smith- Smith will open the season serving a likely 3 game suspension which is very lenient considering the felony charges he may be facing. Put this in perspective: Josh Gordon gets a season suspension for pot use, but Smith only gets 3 games for brandishing a gun and firing it at a house party. He needs to figure out whether he wants an NFL career, or a party-hard, felony-filled career. He would obviously be higher on this list if he could keep his nose clean and stay on the field. He’s a top 35 linebacker when on the field for a full year as he’ll likely produce in the range of 11 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 2 recovered fumbles, and a handful of stuffs. Key word: IF. (Photo courtesy of sfexaminer.com)
62.) Barkevious Mingo- Mingo was mainly used as a situational pass rusher last season as a rookie, however, look for him to be utilized heavily in blitz-packages this season under Mike Pettine. Mingo has breakout written all over him, and don’t be surprised if he goes for 50 tackles, 9 sacks, 5 stuffs, 5 passes defensed, and a forced fumble or two.
63.) Jamie Collins- If you watched the playoffs last season, Collins was everywhere on the field, and showed his potential in the game against the Colts where he had a sack and a pick. This season he’s an every down backer on the weak side, and can play inside or out. His versatility and explosion will allow him to rack up the sacks and defend the run. Nab him for your LB slot for a cheap price in the draft, and you’ll be nicely rewarded this season. Projections: 5.5 sacks, 80 tackles, 11 stuffs, 8 passes defensed, and a 2 picks.
64.) DeMario Davis- Davis will start alongside Harris once again this season in hopes of becoming an anchor for the Jets. He likely won’t ever produce Harris-like number in his prime, but he’ll contribute a solid 80 tackles 2.5 sacks, 1 pick and 7 stuffs this season.
65.) David Hawthorne- Hawthorne is still in the top 70 because he produces in most counting categories in Major League Fantasy Football. In his inside job opposite Lofton, he’ll give you 63 tackles, 3 sacks, a forced and recovered fumble apiece, 8 stuffs and a pick.
66.) Telvin Smith- Smith oozes with potential, and was an anchor on the Noles’ defense last season. Geno Hayes is currently penciled in above him on the depth chart on weak side, but Smith should be able to surpass him on the depth chart in training camp as Hayes suffered from a bout of mediocrity last season and had offseason surgery. Smith’s explosiveness and play making ability should enable him to post 60 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 picks, and a handful of stuffs in his rookie season. (Photo courtesy of jacksonville.com)
67.)Bruce Carter- With Sean Lee (torn ACL) done for their season, the Cowboys will lack a run defense, and while weak side backer Carter isn’t that serviceable in the run game, he should be of use for sacks and tackles in leagues that use 3 LB slot plus a flex IDP slot. Projections: 75 tackles, 3 sacks, 6 stuffs
68.) Jon Bostic- If Bostic wins the Middle Linebacker gig, move him up, as the Florida product could be in for a monster season. Last season on the strong side, Bostic posted 2 sacks a fumble recovery, 1 interception, and 4 stuffs. Bostic is quicker and more explosive than Williams, so a 75 tackle, 4.5 sacks, 2 picks, and 8 stuffs could be in the cards this season. Surefire sleeper.
69.) Akeem Ayers- Ayers is recovering from surgery on both knees, but should be ready for training camp. He had a mini-breakout season in 2013, and health provided, Ayers should once again anchor the outside of the Titans linebacker core. He is definitely a name to keep an eye on in dynasty leagues as a 9 sack, 60 tackle, 9 passes defensed season could be in store for 2014.
70.) Christian Kirksey- Kirksey will start opposite Los this season, and for an idea of his upside, look at what Kiko Alonso did in his rookie season last season under Pettine in Buffalo. Pettine is now in Cleveland, and his aggressive defensive scheme in addition to playing alongside ‘Los will afford him the opportunity to be Cleveland’s version of Alonso. Projections: 70 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and a pick would not be surprising at all.
71.) Jonathan Massaquoi- Massaquoi only started 4 games last season and still amassed 4 sacks. He’s not going to post 16 sacks in 16 games in his third season in Atlanta, but given the questions the Falcons have on the defensive line, don’t be shocked to see him post 9 sacks, 11 stuffs, and 45 tackles in Atlanta’s inaugural season as a 3-4 defense.
72.) Jarvis Jones- Jones is only this low, because he is a second year linebacker who has a lot to prove. He seemed overmatched last season when he filled in for Woodley or Worilds. In his prime, he could be a double-digit sack LB, but for this season as a starter on the outside, expect the potential for 7 sacks, 48 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, and 10 passes defensed. (Photo courtesy of fan sided.com)
73.) Brian Cushing- If Cushing could just stay healthy he’d be an IDP monster, but unfortunately he can’t. He tore his ACL in 2012, and his LCL plus a broken fibula in 2013. This limited him to only 12 games over the past 2 seasons. He’s one helluva a risk for injury, but if he stays healthy expect a top 30-35 season. He could rack up 75 tackles, 6 sacks, 2 picks, and a forced fumble. In a full healthy season expect more.
74.) Jacquian Williams- AFter playing primarily as a nickel back in 2013, Williams is slated to start 2014 as the G-Men’s 2014 WLB. Rushing off the outside means he’ll see more shots at the QB, and he could be a sleeper for a nice pass defensed total. Projections: 60 tackles, 3 fumbles recovered, 11 passes defensed, 8 stuffs, and sack potential.
75.) Jason Worilds- If last season (8 sacks) was any indication of things to come, sign me up. Jones and Worilds are going to cause a world of havoc, so opposing offensive lines better prepare. Projections: 54 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 4 stuffs. The Steelers D-Line is getting nastier by the season!
76.) Koa Misi- The Phins are moving Misi to Middle Linebacker, because Wheeler and Ellerbe simply aren’t the answers. Misi isn’t an ideal Mike fit, but the Phins can’t have complacency at Middle linebacker (Wheeler last season) if they want to improve their defense this season. 70 tackles, 2 sacks, 2.5 sacks, 8 stuffs, and a forced fumble from Misi this season is feasible.
77.) Joplu Bartu- With Weatherspoon going down again, the Falcons need another ILB to step up, and Bartu will get first crack to start opposite Worrilow. In his rookie season, Bartu managed 47 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 8 stuffs as a backup. This season as a starter he could blow up, and provide the Atlanta pass rush a boost. Projections: 68 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 14 stuffs, and a forced fumble.
78.) Manti Te-o- Te’o is going to start on the inside with Butler, but I’m not wowed. Te’o is slow off the line and bad against the run, leaving the middle of the Chargers defensive line vulnerable to getting gashed. Manti should be heavily involved in plays against the run, but be at risk for losing snaps against the run if he continues to struggle. Projections: 51 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 8 stuffs, and 6 passes defensed.
79.) Geno Hayes- The Jaguars drafted Smith to start at weak side backer. Hayes, while he is admirable against the pass, sucks against the run, and lacks the explosiveness of Smith. Hayes should find the field enough to post 70 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 7 passes defensed, but Smith will likely be starter come Week 1.
80.) Dont’a Hightower- Hightower will be given the reigns to rush the passer more on third down, and while he may only be a 2 down backer at times this season, expect 6 sacks, 3 recovered fumbles, 68 tackles, and 7 stuffs from the young, emerging strong side backer. (Photo courtesy of rantsports.com)
81.) K.J. Wright- The problem with the Seahawks defense is that they’re all so good, they detract from one another at times when it comes to fantasy numbers. That’s the case with Wright. He’s über talented in the pass game, but is horrific in the run game which limits his upside. As long as he holds his own in the pass game, and can show some improvement in the run game I would put Wright down for 63 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced and recovered fumble, and 8 stuffs.
82.) Nigel Bradham- Bradham may not be the fastest linebacker in the league, but is plenty quick as he ran a 4.56/40 at the 2012 Combine, can play sideline-to-sideline, and is great against the run. He’s currently penciled in as the SLB in Jim Schwartz’s 4-3 D and is a sleeper to keep an eye on with Alonso done for the season. Projections: 54 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 recovered fumble, and 5 stuffs.
83.) Vincent Rey After Maualuga missed on a whopping 14.8% of his tackle opportunities last season, the Bengals will give V. Rey every opportunity to start at MLB, and from a small sample size last season, he did admirably, posting 32 tackles and 3 sacks in 3 starts. Even if he doesn’t win the Middle Linebacker job, he’ll still be backup at all 3 LB positions and post 55 tackles, 5 sacks, 8 passes defensed, and 1 interception.
84.) Brad Jones- Let’s just chalk off last season as a down year for Jones after he broke out in 2012. Entrenched as starter next to Hawk, Jones should continue to be good against the run and be able hold his own in coverage, and post 70 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 9 stuffs, and a forced fumble. He means more to the Packers than fantasy teams, but he still has some decent fantasy value.
85.) Nate Irving- After the Broncos failed to land any of the true middle backers this offseason (Dansby, D’Qwell, or Daryl Smith), the Broncos are left Irving at the Mike, who honestly is better fit for the strong side. He’s going to underwhelm this season in the middle, but should still manage to post 60 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 10 stuffs.
86.)Junior Galette- Galette is a sack-machine like Mercilus two spots below, and Abraham, but with only a few more tackles and forced/recovered fumbles. Galette will continue to start on the outside in New Orleans this season and provide sacks with little else. Projections: 9.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 2 recovered fumbles, 38 tackles, and 8 stuffs.
87.) Sio Moore- With Burnett M.I.A, Moore has an opportunity to claim the WLB slot for himself, and all signs point to him nabbing it. Playing opposite Mack will land him in the ‘keep an eye on’ list as Moore did well against the run, excelled in coverage, and contributed 4.5 sacks. He won’t out-produce Mack, but he’ll still net owners 5.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 5 stuffs.
88.)Whitney Mercilus- Mercilus is a merciless sack machine, but does less tackling than your prototypical outside linebacker. With the addition of Clowney through the draft, Mercilus’ sack numbers may even take a hit. He has upside at just 23, but don’t expect more than 30 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and 3 stuffs.
89.) Calvin Pace- The Jets resigned pace in the offseason, but likely only because they need his presence on the outside until they find a true pass rusher to complement Quinton Coples. Those envisioning Pace repeating his 10 sack season from last year are day dreaming because it isn’t happening. Pace will continue to mentor the young players, but his days as a force on the outside are gone. Projections: 36 tackles, 5 sacks, 5 passes defensed, and 3 stuffs.
Likely WW Material, but some interesting options
90.) Bjöern Werner- Werner has the opportunity to earn more playing time with Mathis suspended for the first 4 games of the season. Werner was already in line to see an expanded role in Indianapolis, but should make the most of his opportunity, and he could find himself on the field a lot more than anticipated. Look for him to build off his rookie season and post 5.5 sacks, 7 passes defensed, 3 stuffs, and 38 tackles on a sack-heavy Colts defensive line. Add a few ticks to those numbers if he overtakes Walden for a starting gig as the season progresses. (Photo courtesy of m.spox.com)
91.) Emmanuel Lamur- Lamur has been drawing droves of approval in training camp due to his raw athleticism and play-making ability, and seems poised for a statistical breakout season playing strong side. Being heralded as the “Carlos Dunlap” of the linebackers, those are lofty expectations to live up to, but if he gets off to a hot start, Lamur could post 4.5 sacks, 45 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, and a handful of passes defensed and stuffs.
92.) Jo-Lonn Dunbar- A two down backer, Dunbar was resigned due to his familiarity with Gregg Williams’ defensive scheme from New Orleans. Dunbar is strong against the run, but struggles against the pass, and is not a big sack producer. With both Laurinaitis and Ogletree commanding the offensive line’s attention, Dunbar could provide a fantasy line of 2.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, an interception, 45 tackles, and 12 stuffs.
93.) Jabaal Sheard- The depth of the Browns linebackers is great for fantasy owners, as there could be 5 solid fantasy producers from the LB core this season. Sheard will be given the reigns to rush the passer more which could lead to 9.5 sacks, 40 tackles, 3 forced fumbles, and 8 stuffs is entirely feasible this season under Coach Pettine.
94.) Brooks Reed- With the addition of Clowney, Reed will start on the inside, but also play OLB in some sub-packages under Romeo Crennel. Reed isn’t a great pass rusher, but given that he’ll be used all over the field by the Texans, he’ll post 4.5 sacks, 5 stuffs, and a forced fumble.
95.) Shea McClellin- McClellin is not likely to win a starting gig for the Bears to enter the season, but given his ability in the run game, where the Bears finished 32nd last season, McLellin will see the field enough to post 6 sacks, 35 tackles, a recovered fumble, and 7 stuffs.
96.) Kyle Wilber- Dallas starting strong side linebacker Wilber will be limited to 2 down play to start the season, but given the Cowboys desperate defensive need, he may be pressed into playing 3 downs as the season progresses. The Boys will use Middle Linebacker Durant and WLB Carter in nickel packages to help cover Wilber’s weaknesses in the passing game, but Wilber does serviceably well in the run game. Projections: 30 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 5 stuffs, and 2 fumble recoveries.
97.) Stansly Maponga- If your league awards points for cool names, bump Maponga up a few spots. With the Falcons transitioning to a 3-4 D with Biermann serving as a hybrid DE/OLB Maponga will get a shot at starting at OLB opposite Massaquoi. Maponga is raw, but if he wins the OLB gig in training camp, look for Maponga to net you 5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 40 tackles, and a handful of stuffs. (Photo courtesy of ww.hdnux.com)
98.) Matt Shaughnessy- Matt’s real value is in the run game as he excels against the run, and serves as a nice complement to sack monster John Abraham. If you draft Shaughnessy, you’ll get 3.5 sacks, 8 stuffs, and 2 recovered fumbles, but he won’t contribute many tackles.
99.) Rey Maualuga- After missing on a whopping 14.8 percent of his tackle opportunities last season, and consistently underperforming in his career, the Bengals will look to move on from Maualuga as their Middle Linebacker. He likely is now backup to Vincent Rey in the middle, and with the decrease in snaps, Maualuga will struggle to post 40 tackles, 1 recovered fumble, and an interception.
100.) Chris Borland- Lucky number 100 goes to Borland. Borland could see some significant time on the inside as the 49ers ease Bowman back into an every down backer after a horrific knee injury suffered last season against the Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game. Borland was a machine at Wisconsin, and while he’s not likely to steal anyone’s gig this season, Borland will definitely be part of the 49ers rotation starting this season and is a deep sleeper in dynasty and deep IDP formats. Projections: 45 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, an interception and a few stuffs.
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