2018 IDP Positional Rankings: Top Ten Linebackers
Last year I started off this article with the same theme that I want to this year, “Times, they are a changin’ “. After another year, even more, young faces have risen to displace some long-term top 10 mainstays of the position.
To find a solid linebacker there are usually a couple of important factors that should be kept in mind. Starting is always a good thing, but seriously, “Middle” and “Inside” linebackers should be who you target first when drafting. “Strong side”, “Weak side”, and “Outside” linebackers can still be relevant but are significantly more dependent on the type of defense in which they reside, and who is playing the middle linebacker in that situation as well. Even more so than at any other position, tackles are accrued at a high rate by linebackers, on the opposite side of this typically Interceptions, Tackles for Loss, Passes Defended, and Sacks don’t happen as often as you might find from Defensive Ends, Safeties, or Cornerbacks.
Before we dive into the top ten I want to touch on the players who just missed out:
Joe Schobert – After a touch and go rookie year, Schobert took advantage of the departure of the next honorable mention player on this list last year and totaled 144 total tackles. Cleveland added Mychal Kendricks this offseason so it is likely Schobert will see some regression. That said Kendricks is a hybrid LB/Safety and in his best season saw a combined 106 total tackles and no more than 86 any other season outside of that, so I think the impact on Schobert’s production will be limited.
Demario Davis – Davis produced his best season in what can now be best described as a stopover season on the Jets, a team where Darron Lee was supposed to dominate last year, but it was Davis who did. This year Davis has landed on a Saints team that featured an out of position Craig Robertson in the MLB spot last season, cementing Davis into the spot this year. 2012 was the only season that Davis collected fewer than 90 total tackles, so while I expect some regression off of his 135 combined tackles last year, I feel their won’t be a significant drop off in his production this year.
Preston Brown – If Brown had stayed in Buffalo there would be a chance that he’d be in my top 5 linebackers, given how prolific MLB/ILBs have scored in that system. I still expect him to flourish in Cincinnati, but their offense is talented enough where it will cut down the total number of snaps that Brown will play compared to what he saw in his past four seasons.
Now for the good stuff, the top 10!
10. Telvin Smith – Finally raising to replace Paul Posluszny in full last year, Smith was poised to return to his 2015 peak season, then Myles Jack showed he had plenty of talent. Smith is set up to succeed again this year, but now it looks like Blair Brown may start to demand snaps because of his talented play. The only plus side here for Smith is that he was able to maintain a 100 total tackle season last year while on a talented Jacksonville team that will be as equally talented again this season. I feel like last season’s level of production is what can be expected again this year and for a couple seasons to come while this defensive core is held together, once players start to depart we could see a bump back in his production.
9. Christian Kirksey – A certified tackle machine, really don’t expect many other stats, now that he has produced back to back 135+ tackle seasons. Kirksey has very little reason why he would slow down! Cleveland isn’t changing much about their defensive scheme, similar to Schobert it is likely that Kendricks could cut into some of his production, but I don’t expect it to be a massive cut. Unless Cleveland does pull off the 0-16 to 16-0 switch this season, and the offense stays on the field for significantly more snaps, then I expect Kirksey will keep up the pace of his previous two seasons, plain and simple.
8. Bobby Wagner – Admittedly I have been historically cold on Wagner, and this is likely the lowest rank on him you will see from most writers. Wagner has certainly taken advantage of both other talented players leaving the Seattle defense, and a struggling run offense over the past two years (Wagner’s two of his three best seasons). If all things stay the same, then Wagner shouldn’t see much of a drop off, but the moment that the Seattle offense can control games again, which could happen with a healthy Chris Carson and rookie Rashaad Penny, I expect to see production similar to Wagner’s 2014-2015 seasons, which were fine, just not top tier.
7. Alec Ogletree – Another player that you will likely see ranked higher elsewhere, I just am not certain enough with Ogletree’s situation to expect him to be a top 5 player this year. Last season showed that Ogletree is dependent on a struggling offense to be a beast in IDP. Now he’s on the New York Giants with a good number of question marks on the offensive side of the ball… so if Eli, Barkley, Engram, and OBJ can get firing on all cylinders then, Ogletree will continue the slide he saw last year. On the other hand, if the offense falls apart, then we would have a shot at seeing 2016’s production again. In a more concrete situation, he’s talented enough to be back in the top 5.
6. Blake Martinez – I was certainly expecting a jump from Martinez last year, but I would be lying if I said I was expecting 144 total tackles, my goodness Mr. Blake blew up last season! Most certainly the focal point of the defense now, Martinez had consistent production all season, this is important because he was as equally productive when Aaron Rodgers was healthy as when he was out. This shows that his productivity was not based on sheer exposure to more snaps. Even if Martinez does regress this season, I don’t expect a super significant drop but because I do expect some regression I didn’t feel comfortable putting him much higher on this list.
5. Luke Kuechly – Only 27 this season, it feels like Kuechly is closer to 35, especially with so many missed games due to concussions in 2015 and 2016. I am still pretty high on his raw talent, but I feel like the following players have stepped up to his tier of skill over the past couple of seasons. Given that his 2015 and 2016 seasons were cut short due to serious concussions, a concern of if another one will happen will stay with Kuechly for the rest of his career. So, while talent and production can justify Luke to be ranked at any of the other four spots below, I am far less concerned about whether the players I ranked higher will be on the field.
4. Kwon Alexander – Even younger than Kuechly, Kwon is only 23 and already has a 146 total tackle season under his belt. I don’t think he’ll hit that peak this year, but I believe the addition of Jason Pierre-Paul will demand attention enough to allow Alexander to rise to a potentially similar level from two years ago. He has proven that his production is rather independent of LaVonte David, so even if David has some resurgence I don’t see it being a massive negative impact on Alexander.
3. Zach Brown – The move to Washington did very little to impede Brown’s success that he turned on in Buffalo. I do not see Brown regressing much at all from last year. Washington’s offense last year was productive and took plenty of snaps from the defense, other talented defenders were present on the team, yet Brown put up great numbers. If anything you could see Brown make more of an impact in passing situations since the secondary has thinned out a little this offseason.
2. Deion Jones – From the first snap of his rookie season, Jones has been the man not only in Atlanta but throughout the league. It is likely that most ranks have Jones in the first overall position, which is very justifiable. The center to my thought process of not ranking him first is I feel Atlanta’s decision to move De’Vondre Campbell to the SLB and get Duke Riley on the field in the WLB role, will prevent from Jones from maximizing his tackles to snaps ratio. Atlanta plays enough 2 LB sets that Riley’s arrival shouldn’t prevent Jones from reproducing production levels that we’ve seen for the past two years, as Campbell will be the other LB on the field with him, not a big change from last year. What we will see is that when there are 3 LB formations on the field, is in addition to Riley, Vic Beasley will still be out there as well (because he was moved from SLB to DE this offseason, and plays DE more like an OLB anyway), now there are effectively 4 LBs on the field, which is where Jones’ chances at extra production will get limited. Even with all of this I still see Jones as more of a 1b rank instead of a full on 2nd overall.
1. C.J. Mosley – A strong IDP LB before the retirement of Zachary Orr, Mosely has shown that he can be as much of a monster as Orr was. The only reason why I don’t have Jones ranked first on this list, is that Mosley has 4 seasons of high-level production while averaging 118 total tackles per season in that time. It’s simple and straightforward, but you can’t ignore how well he has produced playing next to Orr or playing next to a rotation of other LBs, it hasn’t changed, he still gets his stats. That’s what you want from the #1 guy, the offense changes, his scoring stays strong, the defense changes, his scoring stays strong. I expect Jones and Mosley to be the 1 and 2 for another 3 or 4 seasons.
And there you have it! The counting down my top ten LB’s of 2018. Send us your feedback and let us know what you think by sending us an email: TrophyTime@TFFGurus.com. Remember to check out the Trophy Time Podcast which can be found on all the major podcast networks and follow and chat with us on Twitter – @TFFGurus, @DaFantasyFather, and @DecoyLife.