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IDP Showdown: Linebacker Values

If there’s one thing about Individual Defensive Player rankings that’s consistent, it’s that very little among Individual Defensive Player Rankings is consistent. Show us five sets of rankings, each thoughtfully put together by an IDP pundit who we know knows their stuff every bit as well as any other and whose opinion we respect and we’ll show you five very different sets of rankings. It’s just the nature of the beast with IDPs.

The IDP crew here at Fantasy Sharks is often asked why there’s so much variance among even our own rankings, so in an effort to shed some light on that particular subject Walton Spurlin and Gary Davenport sat down to give the rationale behind their rankings for some linebackers for whom their 2012 outlook seems to differ pretty significantly.

And so, without further delay, let the showdown begin!

Numbers in parentheses denote each author’s current ranking of that player in Fantasy Sharks’ redraft linebacker rankings.

D.J. Smith – ILB, Green Bay Packers

Walton Spurlin (14): Smith will be stepping into the position formerly held by Top 5 fantasy scoring linebacker Desmond Bishop as a three-down player and has already shown he can handle the workload. He racked up 19 solo tackles in the three games he started for an injured Bishop last season, which averages out to six solos a game and Bishop averaged seven solos a game last season.

In the Packers two losses last season, the Chiefs and Giants ran the ball 39 and 27 times, respectively, and I look for teams to emulate that game plan when facing Green Bay in 2012 to try and keep the potent Packers offense on the sideline, which will offer Smith ample tackle opportunities.

There is some concern about his big play capabilities (Smith had zero sacks and one interception in 2011) compared to those of Bishop’s but he will have had nearly the entire preseason to be worked into some blitz packages. In limited preseason action he has put up seven solo stops, 13 total tackles and I believe he will flirt with 100 solo stops in 2012. A Top 10 finish among fantasy linebackers is well within the reach of Smith and if he can add a few sacks to his resume, a Top 5 finish is not out of the question.

Gary Davenport (26): First things first. I agree with just about all of what Mr. Spurlin said about Smith the player. D.J. Smith has shown the ability to get the job done in relief of Desmond Bishop, as evidenced by his 27 total tackles and an interception in three starts last year.

With that said, however, three starts is still a relatively small sample size, and there’s still a possibility (albeit a small one) that if the second-year pro struggles in coverage at some point that he could lose subpackage snaps to Rob Francois.

Even if he doesn’t, the fact remains that the players ranked in front of Smith in my rankings (especially the top 20) have more established resumes than Smith does, and while I’m sure that teams will
try to establish the run in the hopes of keeping the Green Bay offense off the field, that strategy will go out the window if they get down big, which has a tendency to happen against the Pack.

It’s no knock on the player, and it wouldn’t surprise me even a little bit if Smith outperforms my ranking, but I’d be much more inclined to try to grab Smith as a low-end LB2 or top-end LB3 in the hopes that he smokes that draft position than to grab him as a high-end LB2 in the hopes that he can live up to it.

Sean Lee – ILB, Dallas Cowboys

GD (7): Through six games last year, Dallas Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee looked to be well on his way to a breakout season, racking up 51 total tackles and intercepting three passes. However, the 26-year-old broke his wrist in Week 7, and while Lee only missed one game, the “club” he wore for the rest of the season slowed his production considerably.

Even then, Lee still managed 105 total tackles and a Top 30 fantasy finish at his position, which isn’t bad for a one-handed player. As the centerpiece of Rob Ryan’s attacking defense, with not a lot of competition for tackles, there’s little reason to think that Lee can’t build on last year’s numbers and top the 100 solos mark, and that combined with the youngster’s propensity for making the big play is enough for me to rank Sean Lee squarely in LB1 territory.

WS (17): For the sake of full disclosure I must first off admit that I probably have Sean Lee ranked too low. In my initial rankings, I just liked the players I had ranked in front of him a bit more than I did Lee. Watching the preseason play out and taking into consideration the opportunities that Lee will have to make plays as the three-down man in the middle for the Cowboys, he does deserve a bump up in my rankings.

The murky status of the health of Brian Cushing definitely has me thinking that Lee should move ahead of him and the fact the Jaguars offense may not be completely dead leaves me to believe that Paul Posluszny may not be on the field as much as I originally thought. Unlike my knowledgeable colleague Mr. Davenport, I still have Lee just outside the Top 10 ranked linebackers, but do see room to bump him up a couple of spots.

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