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Breaking Down The Top 10 Linebackers

If there were such a thing as the ‘offseason’ in the NFL (let’s face it there really isn’t) this time of the summer would be the closest thing to it. Now that minicamps are in the rear view mirror, players have time to relax and recharge before the rigors of training camp begin.

That doesn’t mean that we here at Fantasy Sharks are taking a break and catching our breath. Oh, no. We continue to pump out all the information and advice that savvy fantasy football owners need to dominate their leagues.

Having concluded a look at the top 10 players at each of the offensive skill positions and how they have changed from April, it’s time to get down and dirty. Yes, we are now going to switch over to the defensive side of the ball.

It’s time to examine whom the movers and shakers are among the top-10 linebackers from my initial rankings back in March. Hey, they were labeled as ‘way too early rankings’ so cut a guy some slack.

1) Luke Kuechly, CAROLINA PANTHERS, previous rank-1: There is no change at the top of the rankings as the consistent Kuechly remains in the number one position. Since entering the league in 2012, Kuechly has averaged 158 total tackles per season as a three-down MLB for the Panthers.

Kuechly brings everything to the table that owners in IDP leagues covet. He routinely racks up over 95 solo stops per season and has been extremely durable having never missed a game in his career. Kuechly has also proven very effective against the pass having racked up seven career interceptions as well as 26 passes defended.

Another encouraging aspect of Kuechlys’ game is the improvement he has shown as a pass rusher. His sack totals have increased each year and he should easily surpass his single season high of three that he posted last season. Draft him early, plug him in as weekly start and watch the fantasy points roll in.

2) Lavonte David, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS, previous rank-2: David could almost be listed as #1B as he is that close to the top spot. Since joining the Buccaneers three years ago, he has posted triple-digit solo tackles in every season. Even more impressive is the fact that David missed a pair of games last season and still managed to rack up 101 solo stops.

He has sideline-to-sideline speed to burn and is a relentless pursuer of the ball carrier. David is a perfect fit as the WLB in the Tampa-2 defense and will continue to play all three downs alongside new MLB Bruce Carter.

There is also big play potential for David, as he has posted six interceptions, six forced fumbles and nine sacks over the past three seasons. Despite a drop off last year in both interceptions as well as sacks, the ability to create both remains in David’s tool belt of skills.

3) C.J. Mosley, BALTIMORE RAVENS, previous rank-4: What is not to love about Mosley? All he did as a rookie linebacker was rack up over 120 total tackles along with three sacks and a pair of interceptions for a team rich in linebacker tradition.

He was a three-down wrecking ball that showed the athleticism to drop into coverage (he had 8 passes defensed) while remaining a tackling machine.

Mosley is the real deal and played 98% of the regular season defensive snaps while leading the team in tackles. Again, he did all of this as a rookie.

Another year of seasoning will only enhance his value and there is the real possibility that he challenges Kuechly and David for the top spot among linebackers. Mosley will never make folks forget Ray Lewis but he will carve out a place among the top fantasy linebackers for years to come.

4) Navorro Bowman, SAN FRANCISCO 49ers, previous rank-8: I stated back in April that if Bowman appeared healthy and on his way to being ready for training camp he would move up. Reports out of OTAs were that while he was wearing a bulky knee brace, Bowman was moving well.

Bowman should be good to go for training camp some 20 months removed from shredding his knee against the Seahawks in 2013. Just how game ready he will be remains to be seen but on a defense that lost Patrick Willis, Chris Borland and Justin Smith, Bowman will be asked to carry a heavy workload.

Pre-injury there were few linebackers as athletic or explosive as Bowman who averaged 109 solo tackles per season from2011-2013. In that same time frame, Bowman also showed the big-play production that IDP owners love. He racked up nine sacks along with three interceptions and five forced fumbles.

We will know more about Bowman’s health as training camp and preseason games unfold and there is the chance he never returns to the player he was back in 2013 when he tore the league (and unfortunately his knee) up. As mentioned earlier though, this defense has been ravaged by the loss of key defensive players and if he’s on the field, Bowman will have a ton of tackle opportunities.

5) DeAndre Levy, DETROIT LIONS, previous rank-3: In his first four years, Levy averaged 86 total tackles per season and had five interceptions with a pair of forced fumbles. He was pretty much fantasy fodder as a late round selection for roster depth purposes.

That has all changed in the last two years as Levy has exploded on the scene as a tackling machine and solid big-play producer. He has averaged 134 tackles (he posted 151 last season) while racking up seven interceptions and 2 ½ sacks. Levy is entrenched as the three-down WLB that excels in coverage and has posted 20 passes defended the past two years.

Even with Stephen Tulloch returning to the defense there will still be plenty of tackles to go around. Expectations are that with the departures of both Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley from the interior line, ball carriers will find it easier to reach the second level.

It’s unlikely that Levy will pick off six passes as he did back in 2013 but we should see him used as a pass rusher a bit more as Detroit is going to need to manufacture pressure with the absence of Suh.

About Wally Spurlin

Wally Spurlin is a Fantasy Football Staff Writer at Fantasy Sharks and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writer Association (FSWA). Spurlin’s work has appeared in print publications, including the FSWA award winning 2014 USA Today Fantasy Football magazine as well as the 2015 edition. Wally is also a weekly co-host on the Fantasy Football Feeding Frenzy pod cast on Fantasy Sharks Radio at Blog Talk Radio.Follow him on Twitter @WaltonSpurlin