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21. Jerod Mayo, New England: A very solid, consistent fantasy contributor that has missed a handful of games due to injury the last few seasons. Notched his first two interceptions last season but saw a dramatic fall off in his tackle numbers from 2010 (175) to 2011 (95). The Patriots have made a lot of moves to improve their defense over the last couple of seasons, and Mayo will see his production suffer as an effect of the improvements. Still a nice fantasy linebacker but no longer the solid LB1 he once was.
22. Lawrence Timmons, Pittsburgh: A versatile linebacker that is equally adept at pass rushing and run stuffing. He also possesses the skill set to be effective in coverage and has been used all over the field in Pittsburgh. Take advantage of the owners that have soured on Timmons after his drop in tackle numbers from 2010 to 2011. Injuries forced the Steelers to move Timmons out of his natural position, and look for his numbers to return to potentially those of a Top 10 linebacker in 2012.
23. Brian Urlacher, Chicago: No longer an elite fantasy option at the linebacker position who will get you 120 tackles, Urlacher is still a savvy enough player to make some big plays as his three interceptions last season show. There is some concern with the knee injury he suffered late last season, so monitor the news of his participation in training camp. He is a solid LB3 with LB2 upside heading into 2012.
24. DeMarcus Ware, Dallas: Ware is a high-risk/high-reward fantasy linebacker on a week-to-week basis. His productivity is directly tied to his ability to get to the quarterback and he will never wow with his tackle numbers. Luckily for fantasy owners, he is very good at getting to the quarterback and recorded 19 1/2 sacks in the 2011 season. Draft him high in leagues slanted heavily towards big-play scoring and make sure your other linebackers are solid tackling options.
25. Luke Kuechly, Carolina: The kid will be starting in the middle for the Carolina Panthers come Week 1 and is going to be a force for years to come in fantasy football. He can do it all and will fly to the ball, making tackles all over the field, while also being athletic enough to be solid in coverage. He will step right in as a three-down linebacker for the Panthers and be a fantasy stud as a rookie.
26. Von Miller, Denver: Despite playing his final four games of the year with a thumb injury, he racked up 11 1/2 sacks and 64 tackles while being named Defensive Rookie of the Year. Will only get better with an entire offseason to understand the defensive schemes and improve his coverage skills. Will be a three-down linebacker in 2012 and improve on his impressive rookie season totals.
27. Nick Barnett, Buffalo: Barnett’s fantasy future was in doubt when he left the Green Bay Packers for Buffalo prior to last season, but he showed he is still a fantasy force to be reckoned with by registering 130 tackles and three sacks for the Bills. Health concerns and age will continue to be on the radar when analyzing Barnett’s fantasy value, but always keep in mind that as long as he is on the field he is going to produce. Solid LB2 with LB1 upside for 2012.
28. Rolando McClain, Oakland: Extremely versatile linebacker who is great against the run and effective in coverage as well. Racked up five sacks in 2011 and has added value in big-play scoring formats. Unfortunately, he has a jail sentence looming over his head and should he manage to avoid that on appeal, will more than likely face a suspension from the league. He is still worth drafting and stashing on your bench until he takes the field and produces excellent fantasy points.
29. Bobby Wagner, Seattle: The rookie out of Utah State appears to have already staked his claim to the middle linebacker position for the Seahawks. He was handling the defensive play-calling duties in the recent Seattle minicamp and looks to be entrenched as a three-down player for 2012. Wagner represents excellent value in the middle for the Seahawks and should put up some nice fantasy numbers in his rookie season.
30. Donald Butler, San Diego: Butler tallied more than 80 stops last season in mainly what amounted to a two-down role. He is an awesome run-stopping linebacker who could see his value skyrocket if he becomes a three-down player. Takeo Spikes isn’t getting any younger, and Butler is poised to make the jump from fantasy LB3 to a high-end LB2. Once he nails down that three-down role, he could work himself into the top tier of linebackers.
31. David Hawthorne, New Orleans: Another player who will benefit from the suspensions left in the wake of ‘Bounty Gate.’ Hawthorne simply produces when he is on the field as an above-average linebacker against the run and capable of defending the pass. He projects as the weak-side linebacker, playing alongside Lofton on one of the league’s top run defenses. He flirted with becoming a fantasy star while in Seattle and may finally emerge as such in 2012 with New Orleans.
32. DeMeco Ryans, Philadelphia: Never really a fit for the 3-4 defense the Houston Texans had been utilizing, Ryans will have new life lining up in the middle for Philadelphia. Look for a return to the 100-tackle plateau in 2012, as Ryans is the linebacker the Eagles have been desperately searching for.
33. Lance Briggs, Chicago: Briggs is a steady force for the Chicago defense and is at his best when lining up at weak-side linebacker and roaming free to pursue the ball. He provides steady fantasy production year-in and year-out. Draft him, plug him in your lineup and don’t worry about that position for the rest of the season.
34. James Harrison, Pittsburgh: May be entering the twilight of his fantasy effectiveness, but I think he has one last run left in him. A fierce combination of determination and intensity he can still wreak havoc along the defensive line in an effort to stuff the run or get to the quarterback. Played in only 11 games last season and still posted nine sacks. He is more of a boom-or-bust option than he was a few years ago but I’m predicting 2012 as ‘boom’ season.
35. James Anderson, Carolina: Back-to-back seasons with more than 130 tackles keep Anderson on the fantasy radar in Carolina. Especially considering that Jon Beason is returning from a torn Achilles and Thomas Davis has had three ACL surgeries in his career. Never a flashy name, Anderson has just been producing excellent fantasy points the last two seasons. He had eight games last season with more than 10 total tackles.
36. Kelvin Sheppard, Buffalo: Sheppard will line up in the middle for the Bills in 2012 and has already been labeled a ‘nucleus’ player for the Buffalo defense. He will be an every-down linebacker in 2012 and in line to have a huge fantasy season.
37. Daryl Smith, Jacksonville: Solid, under-the-radar fantasy option that plays all three downs for the Jaguars defense. Has only missed four games in eight seasons and has 311 tackles over the past three seasons to go along with 8 1/2 sacks. Unspectacular, but a highly effective fantasy option for 2012.
38. DJ Williams, Denver: Is appealing his six-game suspension but still a fantasy factor even should he miss the six games. Is a solid tackle producer as well as above average linebacker in getting to the quarterback. Would be in the Top 15-20 ranks if he did not have the suspension looming.
39. Lavonte David, Tampa Bay: Already slotted in as the weak-side linebacker for Tampa Bay in 2012, he could climb these rankings as the regular season approaches. Will have plenty of tackle opportunities for the Buccaneers as a three-down player in what could be a long year.
40. David Harris, New York Jets: Coming off of a down season in 2011 and can be had on the cheap with the opportunity to bounce back for the Jets. He is a run stuffing specialist who currently grades out LB3 and he still possesses big play potential.
There we have it! Some IDP rankings to get the fantasy season really rolling!
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