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The IDP Dating Game - Ideal Landing Spots for FA LBs

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Since this is an article geared towards the best fantasy landing spot for a particular player we will forego the pleasantries of whether or not a team can actually afford to sign a certain player and focus on why he would be an ideal fit. Let’s leave the financial situations to the real general managers and enjoy an unencumbered look at Individual Defensive Player (IDP) fantasy fits for teams while not being bothered by such trivial matters as a salary cap. Hey, it’s called fantasy football for a reason.

Nick Barnett, OLB, Buffalo: The Detroit Lions recently brought in former Buffalo strong safety George Wilson for a free agent visit and would be wise to keep that Buffalo pipeline open and get on the phone with another cap casualty in Barnett.

Both DeAndre Levy and Justin Durant are free agents heading into 2013, and, rather than dance with the devil, you know the Lions would be well served to bring in Barnett and his versatile skill set.

After suffering a wrist injury that would limit him to only playing four games back in 2010 (his last season in Green Bay) Barnett has racked up 150 solos and 242 total tackles over the past two seasons in Buffalo. He’s also added five sacks; four forced fumbles while intercepting three passes and returning one for a touchdown.

In that same two-year time frame Levy and Durant have combined for only 2.5 sacks, two interceptions and a pair of forced fumbles on a Detroit defense that has struggled mightily against the run.

While the obvious choice for Barnett to replace would be Levy as both have manned the WLB over the past couple of years, Barnett is capable of adjusting to any scheme and manned an inside linebacker position for years in Green Bay.

Barnett will be 32 in May but still has some tread on his tires and actually finished as a Top 10 4-3 outside linebacker in Pro Football Focus’ 2012 rankings. He would be a perfect stopgap signing for the Lions as youngsters Travis Lewis and Tahir Whitehead continue to develop.

Lining up next to Stephen Tulloch in 2013 would give the Lions a pair of solid, proven linebackers to mentor the youngsters while racking up very nice tackle numbers. Barnett would have the real possibility of finishing as a Top 20 fantasy linebacker in 2013 if he should sign in Detroit.

Anthony Spencer, OLB, Dallas: Spencer finally emerged from the shadow of DeMarcus Ware and posted a career-high 11 sacks last season while playing with a pectoral strain that limited him to 14 games. He would be an ideal fit for the New York Jets as the hybrid edge setting, pass rush specialist they have lacked. Signing Spencer would allow New York to continue to maintain their multiple front defensive scheme with the emphasis on a 3-4 base set.

Spencer played defensive end while at Purdue and has the versatility to remain on the field in whichever scheme the Jets choose to employ and is solid against the running game. He racked up a career-high 95 total tackles last season for the Cowboys while adding two forced fumbles and three passes defended. He’s scheme proof and is the consummate three down defender.

The Jets will save more than $15 million with the release of linebackers Bart Scott and Calvin Pace, and, after finishing 2012 with a struggling pass rush that produced only 30 sacks, it was time to cut bait on that underachieving pair. It’s time for Spencer to shine from a fantasy perspective, and signing in New York is the perfect landing place for that to occur.

Spencer will be a solid LB3 wherever he signs for 2013, or even if he stays with Dallas, but will have the real chance to finish with LB2 numbers if he can find his way to New York.

Dannell Ellerbe, ILB, Baltimore: With the career threatening injury suffered by Tampa Bay linebacker Quincy Black creating a hole at the SLB position, beat writer Roy Cummings has a ‘gut feeling’ that the Buccaneers may move Mason Foster into that position. Should that occur, Tampa Bay would be looking to fill a vacancy at their middle linebacker spot.

Ellerbe stepped in for the injured Ray Lewis in the middle of the Ravens defense last season and will be looking to cash in on his fine play. He finished the regular season with 92 total tackles, 4.5 sacks and added another 32 combined stops with an interception in the playoffs and Super Bowl.

The Ravens will look to lock up Ellerbe as the heir apparent to Lewis in their defense but the Buccaneers would be wise to try and lure him south as he would be a nice fit in the middle should Foster shift to the strong side. Ellerbe is excellent against the run and would be an excellent addition to the Tampa Bay defense alongside Foster and Lavonte David.

Ellerbe struggles against the pass, allowing 70.4 percent completions into his coverage but would still be an upgrade from the over 77 percent that Foster allowed when thrown at. What Ellerbe does bring that would keep him on the field in a three down role is above average pass rushing talent from the inside linebacker position. He led all inside linebackers in pass rushing productivity last season according to Pro Football Focus.

Should the Ravens not be able to secure his services for 2013 and beyond, Ellerbe could amass very nice fantasy numbers as the middle linebacker in the Tampa Bay defense easily posting more than 100 total tackles and 5-6 sacks. A Top 10 finish among fantasy linebackers would not be out of the question for Ellerbe should he end up in Tampa Bay next season.

Larry Grant, ILB, San Francisco: When James Farrior retired prior to the 2012 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers decided to go back to the future by turning to Larry Foote as his replacement at inside linebacker. Foote would finish the season with career highs in both total tackles (113) as well as sacks with (four).

Foote’s numbers were nice from a fantasy perspective but his play was subpar as an NFL inside linebacker and he missed too many tackles for the Steelers, and, although there is talk that they would like to be able to bring him back in 2013, the Steelers could look to fill the role with a younger option.

The Steelers should “Go west young man!” in their search for a replacement in the middle of their defense by signing Grant, who looks to be on his way out of San Francisco. Grant stepped in for an injured Patrick Willis back in 2011 and acquitted himself quite well by amassing 35 total tackles with two sacks and a forced fumble in a five game stretch. Then, inexplicably, he would only play 21 defensive snaps last season for the 49ers last season as an insurance policy at the linebacker position.

He is solid against the run and will be 28 years old when 2013 kicks off as opposed to the 33 years old Foote will be. Grant is also athletic enough to hold his own in coverage and be utilized in blitz packages to get after the quarterback.

Grant has paid his dues while a member of the 49ers and St. Louis Rams and could be a nice stopgap signing for Pittsburgh should they choose to select their inside linebacker of the future in April’s draft. He would offer solid LB3 production as an ILB for the Steelers in 2013.



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