Running backs may no longer be the unquestioned kings of the fantasy mountain on the offensive side of the ball, but traditionalism still has a strong hold on the world of Individual Defensive Players (IDP). Sure, elite defensive ends such as Jason Pierre-Paul of the New York Giants may have jumped into the discussion where the first overall defensive player off draft boards is concerned, but the linebacker position still rules the fantasy roost.
The reason for that is really quite simple. Linebackers are the leading tacklers on the vast majority of NFL teams, and tackles are the most consistent source of fantasy points in IDP leagues. Linebackers will dominate the early defensive picks in IDP leagues, and depending on how long you choose to wait before assembling your linebacker corps you may find that elite options such as Patrick Willis of the San Francisco 49ers are off the board before you’re prepared to pull the trigger on your first linebacker.
However, whether you find yourself in just such a predicament, are searching for solid later-round options to complement a beefcake defensive front or are just trying to assemble a deep group of capable linebackers without sacrificing offensive talent, there are some value picks at the linebacker spot that can give your IDP team an edge.
Here’s a look at a few linebackers that would appear to represent excellent values this year given their current average draft positions at myFantasyLeague.com, and astute IDP owners should consider giving these players a long look whether you’re the type that likes to wait on IDP or just prefer your defensive deck stacked.
London Fletcher, ILB, Washington:
Given that London Fletcher led the National Football League with 166 tackles last year and finished second at his position in Default IDP Manor Scoring, one would think that he would be among the first linebackers taken in IDP drafts this summer. However, not only is that not the case but the 15-year veteran is barely cracking the Top 20 linebackers off the board.
Granted, Fletcher is 37 years old, and there’s always the chance that this could be the year that Father Time catches up with him. However, Fletcher has missed all of zero games since 2001 while averaging more than 140 tackles a season over that stretch.
Old man or no, Fletcher is a ridiculous value given his top five upside and LB2 price tag, and much like in the NFL, London Fletcher continues to be one of the most underrated players in fantasy football.
If you’re the sort that likes to wait on defensive players while loading up on offense, Fletcher can serve as a more than adequate LB1 for IDP teams this year, and the grizzled vet is a fantastic LB2 that can help turn a solid linebacker group into a juggernaut.
Daryl Smith, OLB, Jacksonville:
Daryl Smith quietly put up a very solid statistical season for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2011, tying a career high with 107 total tackles, chipping in 3.5 sacks and three takeaways, and finishing among the Top 25 IDP options at his position for the second time in three seasons, ending the year all of half-a-point behind Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny.
The discrepancy between the 30-year-old and Posluszny production-wise a year ago may have been negligible, but the difference in their average draft positions in 2012 is not. Posluszny is being taken among the first 20 linebackers in IDP drafts at MyFantasyLeague.com, but Smith has fallen outside of the Top 50, after the likes of second-year disappointment Mason Foster of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and rookie Melvin Ingram of the San Diego Chargers.
Granted, this ADP may be skewed a bit by differing IDP league scoring systems and lineup requirements, and Smith isn’t necessarily a “sexy” pick that’s going to turn many heads. However, Smith has posted at least IDP LB3 production three years running, and getting those sorts of numbers for that paltry asking price is the sort of quietly savvy pick that great fantasy defenses are built on.
DeAndre Levy, OLB, Detroit:
The arrival of linebacker Stephen Tulloch in the Motor City a year ago left IDP enthusiasts spending much of the truncated offseason trying to figure out which linebacker would play in what spot in the Detroit Lions’ 4-3 defense.
When the dust settled, it was Tulloch that manned the middle while Levy kicked to the weak side, and while Tulloch turned in a LB1 season Levy wasn’t exactly a slouch himself, topping 100 tackles for the first time in his NFL career and finishing 2011 as fantasy football’s 40th-ranked linebacker.
Sure, LB4 numbers aren’t exactly anything to jump up and down about. However, with many IDP leagues now calling for at least three starters at linebacker and many others also adding defensive “flex” positions, there’s plenty of room on fantasy squads for just such a player.
Add in the facts that Levy has been available at or near the end of most of the IDP drafts I’ve participated in so far this year and the very real possibility that Levy could improve on last year’s numbers in 2012, and you get a player that, while not an earth-shattering draft pick, is just the sort of IDP depth or bye-week fill-in that can salvage a season should one of your starters go down with an injury.
There are any number of other linebackers that could represent excellent values for IDP owners this season depending on your league’s scoring and lineup requirements, and for more information on these players be sure to check out the IDP Team Preview Series at IDP Manor, the Fantasy Sharks IDP forum, and for the latest news on IDP follow IDP Manor on Twitter.