The first tier of linebackers is clear this season: Luke Kuechly, Kwon Alexander and Bobby Wagner. But after these three, not a whole lot of points separate four through perhaps as far as twenty-two. I’d bet at least one linebacker in this range will jump up to tier one for next season. Only a couple of rookies made my top 25 list, but more may appear as I rank the top 60 IDP linebackers for the 2017 Fantasy Season. I’ll start with my top 25…
- Luke Kuechly (Carolina Panthers) – When healthy the best linebacker in the league and in fantasy. More consistent than my number two. New Defensive Coordinator, Steve Wilks, is for the most part keeping the same 4-3 system that Sean McDermott previously ran.
- Kwon Alexander (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) – Alexander, a third year player, jumped up near the top of linebacker scoring last season and will be one of the first linebackers off the board. He plays in Mike Smith’s 4-3 system, and there have been no major changes from last season.
- Bobby Wagner (Seattle Seahawks) – No changes here in Seattle either. Wagner will man the middle of Kris Richard’s 4-3 defense, and last year we got to see the benefit of staying healthy for Wagner, who finished among the top 3 linebackers.
- Alec Ogletree (Los Angeles Rams) – The Rams will switch to Wade Phillips 3-4 system this season. Ogletree should still be the bell cow for tackles in this system that utilizes a lot of 1-Gap techniques, similar to the middle linebacker in a 4-3.
- Deion Jones (Atlanta Falcons) – Jones should be better in his 2nd year with the Falcons, and his first year wasn’t bad, finishing just inside the top 10 linebackers. The Falcons have a new Defensive Coordinator in Marquand Manuel, but make no mistake about it, this is Dan Quinn’s 4-3 system, so we shouldn’t see a learning curve early in the season for Jones as we did last year.
- Jerrell Freeman (Chicago Bears) – With 87 Solo Tackles and 24 Assists in 12 games before his suspension, Freeman was near the top of the league. He should step back into the same role this season. Fellow inside linebacker, Danny Trevathan, who is recovering from a torn patellar tendon was not placed on the PUP, but still may not be ready to start the season.
- Jamie Collins (Cleveland Browns) – With Cleveland’s switch to Gregg Williams’ 4-3 defense, Collins will be the three down linebacker. Collins’ tackle numbers aren’t quite as high as some other guys, but he should make up for it in other categories like sacks in Williams’ system.
- Zach Brown (Washington Redskins) – Brown is coming off of a breakout year in Buffalo’s 3-4 system. However, with the return of Reggie Ragland, Brown was expendable and has moved on to another 3-4 system in Washington under new coordinator Greg Manusky. Manusky was Washington’s outside linebacker’s coach last season, but has nine season of Defensive Coordinator experience in the NFL, and is himself a former linebacker. Zach Brown is the most talented linebacker on this roster and remain among the top idp linebackers in the league.
- Von Miller (Denver Broncos) – Miller is the first outside linebacker on the list. New Defensive Coordinator, Joe Woods, was promoted from within and will not make any major changes to Wade Phillips’ system. Miller is still just 28 years of age and if healthy will continue to rack up double digit sacks.
- Bernardrick McKinney (Houston Texans) – McKinney showed himself to be the best middle linebacker on the Texans’ roster last season. The coaching staff is expecting him to raise his level of play even higher this year in his third season. Mike Vrabel is the new Defensive Coordinator, but will keep Romeo Crennel’s system, a system he played in during his career with the New England Patriots. McKinney’s best games only garnered 8 solo tackles, twice, but I’d expect his 79 solo tackles to be in the 90-100 range this season, and he should follow up his 5 sacks with a similar number.
- Vontaze Burfict (Cincinnati Bengals) – Burfict had the highest fantasy points per game average last season among linebackers, but his style of play leads to injuries and suspensions. If he could be counted on for 16 games he’d be near the top of my rankings.
- Sean Lee (Dallas Cowboys) – After two injury filled seasons, Lee has played all but three games over the last two, and they have been his best. Last season, with 145 combined tackles, he earned first team all-pro honors for the first time. Lee will continue to be a solid idp contributor as long as he stays healthy.
- Jarrad Davis (Detroit Lions) – Jarrad Davis is the first rookie on my list and should replace Tahir Whitehead as the middle linebacker in Teryl Austin’s 4-3 defense. Davis has the speed and coverage ability Whitehead struggled with last year and should improve upon Whitehead’s 20-25 range in the rankings from last season.
- Vince Williams (Pittsburgh Steelers) – Williams in 3 starts last season, for an injured Ryan Shazier, accrued 31 combined tackles and 2 sacks. He will have a far lower ADP than his counterpart, but I think he will put up the better fantasy stats this season. Williams is in his 5th season out of Florida State.
- B.J. Goodson (NY Giants) – B.J. Goodson is in his 2nd season out of Clemson after playing only 13 snaps in his rookie season. However he impressed his teammates last season before being injured, and he is impressing them again this season in training camp as he looks to takeover the middle linebacker role in Steve Spagnuolo’s 4-3 defense. Other than Giants fans, most of us can’t name the Giant’s linebackers, but Goodson will change that this season if healthy.
- Eric Kendricks (Minnesota Vikings) – Kendricks is solid linebacker, but not an elite one. In his first two seasons he has had 93 and 109 combined tackles, but I don’t see this number jumping up much this season. The defense is just too good up front to allow Kendricks enough opportunities to increase his tackle stats, and they don’t stay on the field as much as most teams.
- C.J. Mosley (Baltimore Ravens) – Last year Mosley had a great NFL season, but his worst fantasy season. This is in part because of the emergence of Zachary Orr, who retired in January due to a neck condition. Mosley’s stats should increase again without Orr at his side, but this will be contingent on the play of Kamalei Correa who will be stepping into Orr’s vacated position. If Correa doesn’t play well, Mosley will finish higher than I have him ranked.
- Myles Jack (Jacksonville Jaguars) – Jack should replace Paul Posluszny as middle linebacker and play caller this season, and be a three down player. He is a possible breakout player and has the ability to finish near the top of the rankings (think Kwon Alexander).
- Lawrence Timmons (Miami Dolphins) – Timmons was signed by the Dolphins after spending his first 10 seasons in Pittsburgh. In Miami, Timmons will be switching to a 4-3 system under Matt Burke and be positioned at outside linebacker. In this role he should still be a three down player and continue to be a top 20 fantasy linebacker.
- Telvin Smith (Jacksonville Jaguars) – I struggle with where to put Telvin Smith on the list. Last season he finished around the twelfth best fantasy linebacker. If Myles Jack emerges as a quality middle linebacker I think Smith’s stats will take a minor hit and put him in this range this season. If Jack struggles then Smith will once again be close to a top 10 linebacker.
- K.J. Wright (Seattle Seahawks) – Wright is coming off of three straight seasons with over 100 combined tackles and they have increased year over year (126 in 2016). He is not quite at Bobby Wagner’s fantasy points level, but he is not far behind.
- Jatavis Brown (Los Angeles Chargers) – Last season was Brown’s first and he emerged as the Chargers best linebacker despite missing four games in the middle of the season. Gus Bradley is the new Defensive Coordinator and is making the switch to a 4-3 defense, and Jatavis Brown will be the middle linebacker. This will be a similar defense to the one he ran in Jacksonville and Brown should benefit.
- Ryan Shazier (Pittsburgh Steelers) – Shazier is expected to make a jump up the idp rankings after the departure of Lawrence Timmons. He has flashed at times, but has yet to show any real consistency and has missed 14 games in his first three seasons. Yet, the way he flew around the field making tackles everywhere during his first pre-season showed he has the ability to be a top linebacker. Perhaps this season, as a veteran linebacker, he lives up to his potential.
- Preston Brown (Buffalo Bills) – Preston Brown seems to be the early favorite to play middle linebacker in Sean McDermott’s and Leslie Frazier’s new 4-3 defense in Buffalo. Reggie Ragland is still slowed by a knee injury suffered last pre-season and may be moved to outside linebacker and a two down role. If drafting Preston Brown, keep an eye on the situation in Buffalo and be prepared if a switch is made later in the season. I would have ranked Ragland slightly higher than this spot, but Brown is still a solid linebacker I would target in the LB3 range.
- Reuben Foster (San Francisco 49’ers) – Foster is the second rookie on my list and was thought to be the best middle linebacker available in the draft. Due to shoulder and off the field concerns, he dropped to the end of the first round of the NFL draft. The 49’ers have said that he is a full go for training camp, and my guess is he will either replace Navarro Bowman at middle linebacker or play at outside linebacker and move to the middle in passing situations. Bowman is still good against the run, but has struggled against the pass after a couple of leg injuries over the last few years. I expect Foster to easily lead the 49’ers in tackles this season.
Next Saturday I’ll continue with my 26-60 IDP Linebacker Rankings, and list the players I think are your best bets for breakouts this season. Also, check in this Thursday for my Top 15 IDP Safeties and best of luck this Fantasy Season!
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Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join guest host Andrea LaMont, and Kyle Amore live on Sunday July 30th, 2017 from 7-9pm EST for episode #96 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. We will discuss the latest information in the world of fantasy baseball.
Our guest this week is Joe Iannone. Joe is a writer with majorleaguefantasysports.com and he focuses on spot starting low owned pitchers. His articles publish every Sunday morning.