Ah, the linebacker position. Despite the lofty numbers that J.J. Watt produced from the defensive end spot, linebackers are still the glamor boys of the Individual Defensive Player (IDP) format. They are the quarterbacks of IDP lineups, if you will.
Even the most casual football fan would recognize names such as Ray Lewis or Brian Urlacher. The same can’t be said for Jared Allen, Roman Harper or any other high producing defensive lineman or defensive backs in the league.
A solid linebacker corps is essential in having a successful IDP fantasy season and the position generally runs deep with fantasy point producers but precious few reach the lofty level of top-tier elite players.
The league wide shift to a more RBBC (running back by committee) approach has altered the way running backs are looked at and drafted in today’s fantasy realm. And the IDP side of the ball has also seen a shift in how often and when certain positions should be targeted in fantasy drafts.
The specialization of the linebacker position has made it a smart strategy to draft as many high point producers at the position as early as possible. Distinguishing three down players from those that leave the field on passing downs is vital when examining and then ranking linebackers.
Some situational players may be poised to take that next step to an every down role and being ahead of that curve can exponentially help an IDP owner to dominate their league.
So, let’s take a look at a few linebackers that are ready to step into fantasy stardom and lead IDP teams to 2013 glory.
Perry Riley, ILB, Washington:
Riley has been rock solid since replacing Rocky McIntosh at inside linebacker prior to Week 10 of the 2011 season. In the 25 games that Riley has appeared as a full-time player, he has amassed more than 200 combined tackles.
Due to injuries suffered by Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker, Riley was also utilized in quite a few blitz packages last season, as Washington had to get creative with ways to generate pressure on the quarterback. He responded with 3 1/2 sacks while also holding his own in coverage and was credited with seven passes defended.
Riley is the heir apparent to London Fletcher, if and when, he does finally decide to retire (I’m not holding my breath while waiting for that) and is due for a big bump in fantasy value once that does occur. At 6-foot-1 and 240 pounds, he is a slightly bigger version of Fletcher, and, once he takes over as the lead man in the middle, he can easily surpass 140 total tackles in a season.
Should Fletcher retire prior to the 2013 season, Riley is an immediate Top 10 linebacker in fantasy drafts and easy LB1. If Fletcher holds on for one more year, Riley remains a solid, low-end LB2 and bides his time for a little while longer.
Mason Foster, MLB, Tampa Bay:
After starting his rookie season in 2011 playing as a two-down linebacker, Foster was elevated into the nickel package after Quincy Black suffered an ankle injury in the Week 2 game against Minnesota. Foster would post an impressive 10 tackle, one sack and a forced fumble performance in the win over the Vikings.
Foster would suffer an ankle injury of his own in Week 5 against the San Francisco 49ers that would be an issue throughout his rookie campaign. He struggled to get off blocks and sometimes looked lost in coverage but still finished with 84 tackles, two sacks and an interception for the season.
A new head coach (Greg Schiano) and a new defensive coordinator (Bill Sheridan) would arrive prior to the 2012 season after Tampa Bay finished 4-12 and dead last against the run. Foster would maintain his starting spot in the middle of the defense but return to strictly a two-down role, coming off the field in the nickel package.
He finished the 2012 season second on the team in tackles with 82 solos and 106 total stops while playing only 756 of 1109 defensive snaps. The Buccaneers would employ three safeties in their nickel package with Ahmad Black replacing Foster, which greatly diminished his fantasy value.
The thought here is that Tampa Bay gives Foster another shot at a three-down role and elevates his fantasy value back to that of a LB1. Monitor the alignment that the Buccaneers utilize in the preseason and jump on Foster early if he does indeed secure that coveted every down role for 2013.