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Walking Wounded – LBs Returning from injury in 2013

Each and every fantasy owner realizes that the NFL season is a marathon and not a sprint. Inside that long season falls our beloved fantasy schedule, which is plenty long itself (despite the fact it seems to fly by faster each year). And what remains fresh in our minds is, of course, the latter half of the year and how our teams/players finished.

What can be lost in the grind of working the waiver wire, trades and making tough lineup decisions are those players that were injured in preseason or players that missed significant time due to injuries that affected their fantasy output.

There are also early and mid-season injuries that hamper a player’s effectiveness for the remainder of a season that can cause his fantasy value to dip in some owner’s eyes and make him a steal in the next season’s draft.

Now, I’ll take a moment to quote one of my all-time favorite movie characters. “You all know me. You know how I make my livin’” (that would be Quint from ‘Jaws’).

It’s fitting here because I am an Individual Defensive Players (IDP) junkie, and that is the side of the ball that we are going to be looking at for this particular article.

This is a look at how injuries altered the IDP fantasy landscape of the linebacker position in 2012 and some names to remember as we look forward to the 2013 season.

First up are the players who either were injured in the preseason and missed the entire 2012 season or played less than five games in 2012. These are some names that may fall to a nice value position in IDP drafts if certain owners are grudge holders or just plain negligent in their draft preparation.

When last seen, the Green Bay Packers defense was fruitlessly chasing San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick around the field and allowing 579 yards and 45 points to be run up on them. It was a bitter ending to a season that had seen the Packers defense rally to play solid football after losing their top inside linebacker, Desmond Bishop, as well as his main backup, D.J. Smith.

Bishop had emerged towards the end of the 2010 season as a leader on the defense and posted his first 100 total tackle season. He followed that up with 115 combined tackles with five sacks and two forced fumbles in 2011 and was a Top 10 fantasy linebacker heading into last season.

Bishop would unfortunately rupture his right hamstring in the preseason and fail to play a single regular season snap in 2012. The latest reports are that Bishop is still less that 100 percent but should be ready for training camp, and it remains to be seen if he’ll still have the quickness that he displayed in running down ball carriers and amassing eight sacks in the 2010 and 2011 seasons combined.

Bishop will be 29 years old this July, and if his rehab continues on pace he will once again be a top fantasy option come IDP fantasy draft day. He is an instinctive player with a nose for the football and the skill set to drop back into coverage effectively as well. Don’t fall asleep on draft day and forget about the tackling machine from Green Bay who is in line for a bounce back campaign in 2013.

Some players who have most likely seen the end of their fantasy relevance due to injuries that caused them to miss the entire 2012 season are veterans who had been decent fantasy depth options over the past few seasons.

Cleveland’s WLB Chris Gocong ruptured an Achilles prior to last season and after starting all 16 games in both 2010 and 2011 will likely be reduced to a much smaller role in new defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s 3-4 defense. He has shown decent pass rushing skills and the ability to take on blockers to set the edge and could be a depth player for the Browns.

Gocong is due to make $4.5 million in 2013 and more likely faces the real possibility of either renegotiating a much cheaper deal or being shown the door. James-Michael Johnson will see an expanded role in his second season and D’Qwell Jackson will continue to see his snaps, so Gocong’s days in Cleveland may be numbered.

Parys Haralson racked up 8.5 sacks back in 2008 from the outside linebacker position for the San Francisco 49ers and has only added 11 total in the four seasons since. Having never topped 50 combined tackles in his six seasons, Haralson is more valuable as an actual NFL player as opposed to fantasy producer. Firmly entrenched behind Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks on the San Francisco depth chart and no longer a threat to amass sacks or big plays, Haralson is no longer fantasy relevant.

The Atlanta Falcons signed former Seattle middle linebacker Lofa Tatapu to help fill the void left by the departure of Curtis Lofton before last season, and a torn pectoral muscle suffered in July ended Tatupu’s season. It also ended his time in Atlanta as they subsequently released him. Fantasy owners can pull the plug on Tatupu, as well. Some teams may bring him in and kick the tires as possible linebacker depth, but he is no longer a player to consider for fantasy purposes.

Thomas Howard had a nice bounce back season in 2011 for the Cincinnati Bengals and led the defense in total tackles with 99. He tore his ACL in practice before Week 2, opening the door for extended playing time for rookie Vontaze Burfict (who in turn led the team in tackles in 2012 with 127).

Howard may have also closed the door on his time in Cincinnati as he is a free agent and unlikely to be brought back as anything other than linebacker depth. He’s not worth taking a flyer on in 2013, as there will be plenty of better options.

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