2016 Fantasy Rankings – Top 10 Linebackers
Back in 1998 Mark McGwire faced off with Sammy Sosa in a campaign to topple Roger Maris’s single season Home Run record, a result of which my favorite player at the time (Greg Maddux) and his teammate (Tom Glavine) blessed us with the slogan, “Chicks Did The Long Ball”. Defense in football faces the same challenge that MLB players who are not bat swinging missile launchers, it’s not as exciting for the average viewer.
That really is what IDP fantasy football is, the un-sexy hard work, that gets so much done, but since touchdowns are so few and far between, few people want to pay more attention to it than just picking a team. Still, I a wisely chosen set of IDP players can help elevate an average fantasy offense to a fantasy postseason threat.
I understand the oddity or risk I take by starting off a football ranking article with a baseball reference, but we players of the IDP flavor of fantasy football are an oddity as it is. We must understand that the rules that apply to the offensive side of the ball do not apply in the same way to the defensive side of the world. If you have read the primer articles I wrote earlier this summer you’ll know I’ve touched on this concept already, currently, I call it the Revis Rule, in the past, it was the Bailey Rule (for Champ Bailey). If you haven’t read those articles basically it boils down to this: amazing defenders in real life are not always fantasy gods. The current example being Darrelle Revis, an amazing lock-down cornerback his whole career, that for years would have been welcome on any real world team because of how much he could disrupt the passing game. Sadly, for most of his career, he has been fantasy irrelevant because he just does not score points, because the ball never comes to his side of the field so he seldom has to chance to produce any stats.
With this in mind, rankings for defense was laid out knowing that a player’s hype and skills in the real world is not always what we need to pay attention to in fantasy. So without further adieu here are the rankings for the sexiest of the un-sexy positions: Linebackers.
- NaVorro Bowman – Outside of his rookie year, Bowman, has never dipped below 140 combined tackles (Tackles and Assisted Tackles), that’s 4 years of elite level performance, any player would be justified a top level rank with that consistency at that level. What solidifies Bowman’s presence in the number one spot is that he has put these numbers up when he’s had Patrick Willis eating up tackles, and when he had to be depended on to lead the defense and seemingly BE the defense at times. The icing on the cake is that the 49ers offense had a tough go of it last year and things do not look much brighter going into this season, so he should be plenty of time on the field, which will mean plenty of chances to get stats.
- Luke Kuechly – Arguably THE BEST defensive player in the league (J.J. Watt being the closest number 2) when it comes to the real sport of football, Luke is a field general, and until his concussion issues last season, had not dipped below 150 total tackles in each season he’s played. The only knock on Kuechly is he actually has other defensive players on the field with him, and now has an offense that will keep him off the field. Truly, the one and two rank is almost a coin flip, but Bowman has the edge when it comes to the situation he is in.
- Lavonte David – The top three should be no surprise, and David should be no surprise at the third spot. He puts up numbers, year over year, since his rookie year. Of these top three, he has the biggest risk to his value this year, as Kwon Alexander should take a bigger bite out of the tackle pool than he did last year. David will still put up good, big numbers, but it’s the biggest threat out of these top three linebackers.
- DeAndre Levy – Now comes everyone else, and Levy gets the edge of the rest, no one filled the void that Levy left last year as he was trying to come back from injury. Expect him to come back and do what he does, play the defense he needs to be played. Two years ago he went over 150 combined tackles, the year before he had 15 passes defended PLUS 6 interceptions, this man can play, and he just rested for a year.
- Alec Ogletree – Either criminally over or under ranked at this spot, you cannot deny the buzz that is surrounding Alec Ogletree, this year will be the year we find out if he deserves to be considered elite or not. Rams linebackers have a strong history of having a very high floor for the points they score, and with James Laurinaitis no longer running things for them Ogletree has all the opportunity one could ask for to be the boss. We think he will rise to the challenge and start to scratch the elite level.
- Paul Posluszny – I love Pauly P! I’ve had a man crush on him since he was drafted by Buffalo and I’m not ashamed to admit it. He’s been running Jacksonville’s defense since 2011 and he’s been making his owners look smart each year. The harsh reality is that he’s entering his 10th season, and Telvin Smith had a great year last year. You could even make a case that Smith should be ranked here and Paul should be just outside the top 10. The edge goes to PP’s experience here, but in another season or two and Smith is your top 10 player here.
- C. J. Mosley – This man has done some work his first two years in the league and with Daryl Smith no longer in town, it’s time for Mosley to take the lead on this team. The good news reports from the middle of last season were that he was already doing this. Finally, while he isn’t a player that will lead the league in total tackles he does fill out the fantasy stats throughout the season, which can be a nice surprise in addition to his great weekly output.
- D’Qwell Jackson – A season was had by D’Qwell last year. Not as outright dominating as his 2011 season where he had 112 solo tackles, but he had 8 fewer total tackles last year than that 2011 campaign and what you can read from that is: he is on a team that plays team defense, and he knows where he needs to be to still produce top tier level stats. Like I said with Paul Posluszny above, experience has an edge on defense, and if players are putting up 150 total tackle seasons 10 years into their career they know what they are doing on defense. He’s not higher in these rankings more due to opportunities for Mosley and Ogletree, and less due to his age, but it is a factor in the end.
- Bobby Wagner – On almost any other team Wagner might be a top five ranked player, but Seattle has so many defensive standouts that it’s hard to expect more than 120 total tackles out of Bobby, and with Pro-Bowl players one every level of the defense, it’s hard to expect stats from other categories for him. The reality is he just won’t be able to get the numbers that the players above him will have access to but, he is that good that he is still a top 10 player.
- Jamie Collins – “Never trust a Belichick running back”, a common fantasy football saying, and as a Patriots fan, I can tell you it’s a very true statement, it is in that same spirit that I say this… I do not know what position Jamie Collins actually plays. He ran as a second DE on either end last year, he lined up as a deep LB, a shallow LB, head to head on split ends, I just know he didn’t play offense. The crazy thing is, he is good at all of it, and is potentially the best athlete on the field at any given moment. Collins, because of how the Pats play him, will not put up extreme tackles, but he will do everything else, passes defended, forced fumbles, sacks, and if he does end up with the ball, there is a solid chance he can find the end-zone, be it at the 5 yards line or 95 yards out.
- Telvin Smith – We discussed it above, Smith has a bright future, and could be argued into the top 10, but Posluszny gets the edge as he is still the man… for now.
- Jordan Hicks – Last year if you’d told me that Hicks would be an honorable mention for me this year, I would have laughed at you, there were three awesome linebackers in Philly at the start of last year and they were not looking like they were going to give up their spots. Now, the only linebacker of that group left is Kendricks and he has yet to play a full 16 game season. Hicks has the great chance to become the leader of a young talented linebacker corps that could be scary for seasons to come. The concern being, while he has all the talent to pull this off and the opportunity to do it, he actually needs to show us something before anyone can reasonably rank him in the top 10.
- Sean Lee – An amazing player when healthy, he has yet to play a full season since joining the league in 2010 (he totally missed 2014 too). If Lee can stay out there for all 16 games he could be a top three linebacker, we just aren’t holding our breath.