I hope everyone enjoyed All-Star week in baseball, as things got dead in terms of sports the last week with no other games. I hear some guy named Mike Trout stole the show, but who the hell is he anyways? This week, we continue our rankings with what honestly is a truly mixed bag of linebackers: The oldie-but-goodies, the young players with upside, the ones who should be flipping burgers, and even our second rookie ranked.
80.) Jameel McClain (NYG)- In his six seasons in Baltimore, McClain never topped 74 tackles in a season. But, last year with the Giants, he had 116 tackles and two and a half sacks. Be warned, those tackles totals are likely to regress some this season as Jon Beason (toe), is expected to be fully healthy for the start of the 2015 season. The Giants are horrible on the weakside of their line, and will look for help from the likes of J.T. Thomas and Mark Herzlich. The knock on McClain is he is poor in coverage, and limited in his side-sideline mobility. He has a high motor and hits hard, but his weaknesses are easily exploited. Be careful on draft day, and do not reach too much for him as a regression is certain. (Photo courtesy of nj.com)
79.) Joplu Bartu (ATL)- Bartu is fighting for his roster spot this offseason after underwhelming in his two seasons with Atlanta and the signings of Brooks Reed and Justin Durant. He was supposed to be the Falcons answer at the weakside when he was drafted. He is extremely athletic, just has not put it together. Maybe Dan Quinn can turn him around? First we have to see if he makes the roster. Bartu’s issue is not explosiveness, as he can power past tight ends and offensive linemen and disrupt plays in the backfield, the issue is he is absolute trash in coverage, leaving the Falcons secondary to clean up the mess. Honestly, Bartu is a rotational player who you slot in on running downs, or use an extra rusher off the edge, but he must show improved ability to play in coverage.
78.) Alex Okafor (ARZ)- Rotoworld reported that Okafor’s roster spot was on the bubble, but I highly doubt it. Okafor is a nice, young pass rusher for the Cardinals and is a nice complement to DE Calais Campbell playing outside linebacker. But, needs to work on his ability in short spaces. Okafor has a tendency to engage too much with blockers, allowing running backs to run around him. But, once he gets disengaged, he is a nightmare in the backfield given his explosiveness and ideal OLB frame. With a lack of any competition to start opposite Lamarr Woodley, Okfafor should be good to go to start 2015. He needs to stay true to his game, which is a quick, powerful, punch to opponents off the line and his ability to disrupt in the backfield. If he improves his ability to shed blockers, he could be in for a double-digit sack season.
77.) Jon Beason (NYG)- Could he please stay on the field! I mean, Giants fans would appreciate it as their linebacker core outside of him can be very shaky. When Beason is on the field, he is a high-tackling machine who will also contribute a pick. Beason is by far the best linebacker the Giants have, but he is also the most injury prone and has not played 16 game season since 2010. When he missed action last season, the Giants run defense took a major blow. Beason is draftable in most leagues, but you must have a backup plan if you roster him, as chances are he will miss a game or 2.
76.) Jadaveon Clowney (HOU)- Microfracture surgery is incredibly hard to come back from, but unfortunately, that’s exactly what Clowney is recovering from and he only played in four games last season as the Texans are being cautious with him. If he is able to fully recover from the surgery, opposing QBs and RBs are in trouble, because Clowney is flat-out nasty. We all witnessed how he dominated the college ranks at South Carolina, and now he’ll see if he can replicate that success in the NFL. Due to namesake, he will go earlier than maybe he should, but he is definitely someone to try to get. Defenses will be keying in on attempting to slow down that machine at defensive end named J.J. Watt, which should open some opportunities for Clowney to rack up the sacks and stuffs from outside linebacker.
75.) Chad Greenway (MIN)- For years, Greenway was an elite option at linebacker when he was starting in the middle for Minnesota, but father time is catching up to him and he is slowing-down a little. Greenway missed four games in 2014 with an MCL injury, but is good to go for OTAs. He will contribute triple-digit sacks and a handful of stuffs and passes defensed, but his tackle clip may take a hit with Eric Kendricks starting at middle, moving Greenway over to weakside. This should open a few more opportunities for Greenway to get to the quarterback, but he has never been a sack guy for his career. The Vikings line is getting nasty with battery mates Kendricks and Anthony Barr looking to wreak havoc, and Greenway continuing to produce solid linebacker lines. (Photo courtesy of imagefiesta.com)
74.) Daryl Washington (ARZ?)- Washington is no longer the Cards linebacker to own. No, you didn’t hear me incorrectly, I said it. There are too many off-field concerns with him and with the seeming emergence of Minter, do not be surprised if Washington is just another guy on the Cards line. When your own coach says it is “A waste of breath to even consider to discuss you,” you really messed up. Washington missed all of last season due to substance abuse issues and was suspended for the entire season, and he is still suspended at the time of this writing. Washington was a fantasy slam dunk before off-field issues cropped up, but even if he does play this season, he will be rusty. And, not to mention playing on the same line as equally talented linebackers Kevin Minter and Sean Weatherspoon.
73.) Michael Wilhoite (SF)- Opportunity knocks huge for Wilhoite in 2015 as Patrick Willis retired, and Bowman is still slowed by the knee injury (ACL/MCL) he sustained in the NFC Championship game against the Seahawks in January 2014. Truth be told, Wilhoite was a candidate to be cut before the 2015 season, but now he is penciled in as starter alongside Bowman. Wilhoite was in-line to start for an injured Navorro Bowman last season until Chris Borland absolutely destroyed as a starter and never turned back… then retired after one season in the league. Wilhoite is solid against the run and diagnoses plays well. Wilhoite will likely never be what Willis was in prime, but few are. Wilhoite is a sleeper to contribute a healthy tackle total, passes defensed and stuffs. He posted six passes defended and five stuffs last season for the 49ers.
72.) Arthur Brown (BAL)- Brown has been a disappointment since he joined Ravens as the 56th pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, and he is now just fighting to keep a spot on the roster. With C.J. Mosley and Daryl Smith entrenched at inside linebacker, Brown better make an imprint in OTAs, or he will be a weekly inactive like he was last season, or outright cut. Brown is athletic enough to play every down, but he has not proven the ability to use his skills to produce at the highest level. He is ranked because he still has a good bit of upside, but has yet to bring it all to the table. If he is available late enough, take a flier on him, as I think this could be the season he begins to tap into his potential.
71.) Dannell Ellerbe (NO)- If it weren’t for a moderately high tackle total, Ellerbe would be an afterthought. He is no use against the run and poor in coverage, and doesn’t bring a ton to the table. Now he’ll have to fight for snaps in New Orleans after the Miami enacted a massive salary dump after signing Ndamukong Suh. The Saints aren’t exactly going to pay Ellerbe $4.9 million to sit on the bench. They will deploy him this season more than they should, but he will compete with more talented linebackers to keep his supposed starting gig at weakside linebacker. Expect the Saints to release Ellerbe after the season. Hell, maybe the defensively-minded Saints DC Rob Ryan can turn Ellerbe around.
70.) Craig Robertson (CLE)- The Browns tendered Robertson, and he will only see so many snaps as Christian Kirksey continues to emerge. Robertson is nor a tackling machine nor sack magnet, but he will continue in coverage as he rated 19th out of 60 for ILB rankings for coverage. He is serviceable in fantasy as long as he continues to contribute middling tackle totals to go his PDs and SFs. If you draft Robertson, you must also get Kirksey, but I would rather only have Kirksey due to upside. (Photo courtesy of dawgpoundnation.com)
69.) Malcolm Smith (OAK)- Smith, the Super Bowl 48 MVP, now finds himself battling Sio Moore for the starting gig in Oakland. Smith is fast, as in 4.46/40 time at the 2011 NFL Combine. However, Smith is yet to find a true position. He seems to be a good fit at weakside for the Raiders, who continue to rebuild. For whatever reason, he never fit in with Seattle’s defense, and now finds him in fantasy turmoil land; more formally known as Oakland. Reports of him coming out of USC pegged him as a good blitzer and solid in coverage, but can he play every down in Oakland? Granted, in Seattle, he was always overshadowed by more physical and pure linebackers, but he needs to show something, or he could relegated to sub packages and special teams.
68.) Zach Brown (TEN)- Had Zach Brown not torn his pectoral muscle last season, he would be higher on this list as he profiles as a high-upside, high-motor inside linebacker. Some were low on Brown when he first came into the league, as he does not play very physically for his size 6’1″ 248 and needs to work on his ability to react to plays. He is lightning-fast though, 4.44/40 to be exact, so he can definitely break through gaps. The upside here, though is a linebacker who could reach triple digit tackles and approach 5 sacks.
67.) Emmaunel Lamur (CIN)- If Lamur does not improve his play, he may find himself a weekly inactive as the Bengals need production from their linebacking unit. The fortunate thing for Lamur is, he has very little competition and will start the season at strongside. If you own Lamur in fantasy, you pray you don’t have to start him every week as he may register 5-6 and get a PD or SF, but will not contribute much else. He seems to have ability in coverage, but needs to improve everything.
66.) K.J. Wright (SEA)- The time is now to jump on-board the Wright train as he is going to be in Seattle for a very longtime. Already one of the leagues best cover linebackers, Wright teased fantasy owners with his line last season and could easily find himself in the top 30 if he continues to emerge. The Seahawks will use him at weakside, in addition to having him used a situational blitzer. Simply put, the Seahawks will find a way to get this ballhawk-LB in the lineup anyway they can, and so should you. (Photo courtesy of zimbio.com)
65.)Jake Ryan (GB)- If the Packers move Clay Matthews full-time to outside linebacker, the rookie Ryan would be the instant favorite to start and is a natural ILB. Ryan is a film-rat and grades out positively in his zone coverage. The Michigan alum played all three linebacker positions for the Blue, but the packers see him as the reason to move Matthews back outside to his natural outside linebacker position. The concern though, is he tends to engage to long with blockers and can be overly aggressive, leading to missed plays. Keep an eye on the outside linebacker for the Packers heading further into OTAs, as Ryan will have a big role his rookie season.
64.) David Harris (NYJ)- In terms of fantasy, Harris is frustrating to own as he is a liability in coverage, and is a weak fantasy inside linebacker. The Jets fought hard in the offseason to retain the rights for Harris’ services to the tune of 3 years, $21.5M. New Head Coach Todd Bowles has his ‘Mike’ linebacker, and will rely heavily upon him to command the defense on the field, but fantasy owners should only view Davis as an LB2/3.
63.)Paul Kruger (CLE)- Mike Pettine has an uncanny ability to get the most out of his defensive players, and Kruger is no exception. Historically a QB nuisance, Kruger had 11 sacks and four forced fumbles last season, which means he will continue to be a key playmaker for the Browns going forward. If you can live with skinny tackle total and the occasional goose-egg week, Kruger is a solid investment for sacks and forced fumbles.
62.) Bruce Carter (TB)- The Buccaneers acquisition from Dallas will be their everyday middle linebacker, and while he will not be a top half of the league MLB, he will still produce alongside fantasy stud Lavonte David. Carter’s best fit at the Sam position, but the Bucs are committed to Danny Lansanah there, leaving carter to play Mike. Carter is very good in coverage and has good hands, as evidenced by his 5 picks last season from the strongside for a Dallas defense that was decimated by injuries (Durant, Lee), and off-field issues (McClain). It is natural to expect his pick numbers to decline to 1-2, but leagues that count passes defensed should move Carter up your cheat sheets some as he is very solid.
61.) Elvis Dumervil (BAL)- Every season I tell myself, I will not overpay for sacks late in drafts, and I always do. Normally it’s this guy as well. Yes, Elvis is a sack machine who continues to produce at a high level even as he ages. The Ravens 2013 free agent pick up from Denver has spans where he’ll get seven sacks in four games, then disappear for five more, then re-emerge, so he is difficult to start, but he definitely has a nice role carved out for the Ravens. Last season, Dumervil tied a career high with 17 sacks, good for the Baltimore record (previously held by Peter Boulware, 2001). As long as the Ravens keep his role consistent, and he is on the field, opposing offenses will need to game plan for him, as he is coming fast. (Photo courtesy of usatoday.com)
Thanks for tuning-in as we count down the top 100 linebackers for the upcoming season. I know some leagues have drafts starting up soon. So, if you need anymore immediate advice, I’m available as always as insomniac me never sleeps anyways.
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Major League Fantasy Sports Radio Show: Join Ej Garr and Corey D Roberts on Sunday July 19th from 7-9pm EST for this week’s episode of Major League Fantasy Sports Radio sponsored by the Sports Palooza Radio Network. Call in at 646-915-8596 to ask questions. This week’s topics will be Hits & Misses, and the players that will have a big second half.