2013 IDP FREE AGENT FEEDING FRENZY: Linebackers
We’re less than one week away from the beginning of the NFL’s annual free-for-all, as on March 12th the floodgates will open and the bidding will begin, when free agency kicks off across the National Football League.
For IDP enthusiasts the most important part of free agency lies in the most important position in IDP leagues…the linebackers. Granted, this year’s crop of free agent linebackers is a little lacking in top-end talent, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some faces whose changing situations could have an impact both in the NFL and in fantasy football.
So, as the dawn of free agency nears, here’s a look at 15 linebackers who could be headed to new homes, from a future Hall-of-Famer to a couple of sleepers, and what the future might hold for both their NFL careers and IDP fortunes.
Lorenzo Alexander – ILB, Washington Redskins: The 8th-year pro had 46 tackles last year in a part time role, making the Pro Bowl as the NFC’s special teams representative. With London Fletcher set to return in 2013 Alexander may well move on from the cap-strapped Redskins, especially if the opportunity to start arises elsewhere. Given the number of teams making the switch to the 3-4 that’s a real possibility, and should that prove to be the case Alexander could have some IDP sleeper potential.
Nick Barnett – WLB, Buffalo Bills: The Bills cut loose the 31-year-old Barnett last month in a cost-cutting move, despite the fact that he led the team with 112 tackles in 2012. Those numbers were good enough for an LB38 finish in Default IDP Manor Scoring last year, and if Barnett can land a three-down role in 2013 he would maintain that same lower-end IDP LB3 value. However, Barnett struggled badly in coverage last season with the Bills, so that’s far from a sure thing.
Michael Boley – WLB, New York Giants: Another salary cap casualty, Boley was cut loose by the Giants after a 2012 season that saw the eight-year veteran tally 92 tackles with three interceptions and half a sack. Only three 4-3 outside linebackers graded lower last year than Boley according to Pro Football Focus, and while it’s possible that Boley could find the sort of favorable situation that would boost his IDP stock it’s far more likely that his days of fantasy relevance are over.
Jasper Brinkley – MLB, Minnesota Vikings: For a time last year, Brinkley was a three-down middle linebacker for the Vikings. However, by season’s end the fourth-year pro was back to a base down role. The result was a very up-and-down season in which Brinkley totaled 99 stops but was nearly impossible to count on a weekly basis. The Vikings have a number of decisions to make where their linebackers are concerned this year, and depending on who stays and who goes Brinkley could wind up anything from a viable IDP LB3 to waiver wire fodder.
Dannell Ellerbe – ILB, Baltimore Ravens: Ellerbe saw by far the most extensive playing time of his four-year NFL career last year and responded well, making 92 tackles in 13 games (including seven starts). As Jamison Hensley of ESPN recently reported, now that the Ravens have quarterback Joe Flacco locked up long term the team is expected to now focus on doing the same with Ellerbe. Assuming that the Ravens are able to accomplish that goal, Ellerbe will slide into the WILB spot formerly occupied by Ray Lewis, at which point the 27-year-old will merit consideration as a solid IDP LB2 with a shot at cracking the top 15 fantasy linebackers.
Larry Foote – ILB, Pittsburgh Steelers: At 32 years of age Larry Foote isn’t getting any younger, but he was an every-down player for the Steelers in 2012 and racked up 113 tackles and four sacks, finishing well inside IDP LB3 territory. It’s not hard to imagine that with Sean Spence recovering from a horrific knee injury that the team will try to bring Foote back on a team-friendly deal. If that occurs and the Steelers don’t draft a linebacker early, Foote may have one more year left in him as a deep-league starter or solid IDP reserve.
Larry Grant – ILB, San Francisco 49ers: The deep sleeper of this group, Larry Grant barely played in 2012, and frankly the odds are against the former Ohio State standout having any real IDP value in 2013. However, the 28-year-old showed in three starts in 2011 that he is capable of solid production if afforded the opportunity. Should Grant somehow find that opportunity on a 3-4 team with little cap space he could work his way onto the IDP radar, so if nothing else it’s worth keeping an eye on where Grant lands.