The linebacker is by far the most valuable player in most IDP formats. They are the most consistent of the IDP positions and usually rack up the most points compared to their DL and DB teammates. However, they can be matchup-dependent based primarily on whether or not their opponent is running the rock.
The mild fluctuation in production leads me to believe that it might be a better idea to wait on drafting your linebackers. I would much rather draft my fifth or sixth running back before I take my second or third linebacker. Of course, you might want to make sure that your scoring doesn't heavily favor defense. Also, if your league is really competitive and most of the owners are always on the prowl for some 4-3 MLB sleepers, it might behoove you to make grabbing some linebackers earlier than you might have planned. There are usually a half dozen linebackers that emerge once the season starts, so if you feel comfortable in your ability to hone in on them and pluck 'em off the wire, waiting is certainly a great option in standard IDP leagues.
Similarly, if you're able to clean up on the offensive front, chances are someone that reached for an elite linebacker might be more apt to dump them at a discount in order to address a need on offense due to injury (usually at running back).
The following is a list of the top 30 linebackers for the 2012 season with some explanations on a handful of players:
|1||D'Qwell Jackson (MLB)||CLE||4-3|
|2||Desmond Bishop (ILB)||GB||3-4|
|3||James Laurinaitis (MLB)||STL||4-3|
|4||Derrick Johnson (ILB)||KC||3-4|
|5||Patrick Willis (ILB)||SF||3-4|
|6||Colin McCarthy (MLB)||TEN||4-3|
|7||NaVorro Bowman (ILB)||SF||3-4|
|8||Paul Posluszny (MLB)||JAX||4-3|
|10||Daryl Washington (ILB)||AZ||3-4|
|11||Karlos Dansby (MLB)||MIA||4-3|
|12||Sean Lee (ILB)||DAL||3-4|
|13||Curtis Lofton (MLB)||NO||4-3|
|14||Pat Angerer (ILB)||IND||3-4|
|15||Stephen Tulloch (MLB)||DET||4-3|
|16||DeMeco Ryans (MLB)||PHI||4-3|
|17||Kelvin Sheppard (MLB)||BUF||4-3|
|18||Ray Lewis (MLB)||BAL||4-3|
|19||Chad Greenway (SLB)||MIN||4-3|
|20||London Fletcher (ILB)||WAS||3-4|
|21||Lawrence Timmons (ILB)||PIT||3-4|
|22||Bobby Wagner (MLB)||SEA||4-3|
|23||Donald Butler (ILB)||SD||3-4|
|24||Jerod Mayo (WLB)||NE||4-3|
|25||DeMarcus Ware (OLB)||DAL||3-4|
|26||David Harris (ILB)||NYJ||3-4|
|27||Brian Cushing (ILB)||HOU||3-4|
|28||Luke Kuechly (MLB)||CAR||4-3|
|29||Aldon Smith (OLB)||SF||3-4|
|30||James Anderson (SLB)||CAR||4-3|
Patrick Willis- Willis has been ranked as the top IDP player during draft season for the past few seasons. Oddly enough, it has absolutely nothing to do with a possible decline. In fact, he turned 27 earlier this year and is still in the midst of his prime. If you were under a rock last year, you might not have heard or NaVorro Bowman. The second-year Nittany Lion came out like gangbusters by racking up 143 tackles (ranked seventh in the NFL). Bowman doesn't look like a flash in the pan, so he should take away quite a few tackles from arguably the most talented tackler in the NFL.
Colin McCarthy- McCarthy enters 2012 as the starting middle linebacker for the Titans. McCarthy was busy in the second half of last season even though he wasn't truly a three-down backer down the stretch. If his 7.9 tackles per game in the last eight games were extrapolated, he would have accounted for 126 tackles. He's a good bet for 130 tackles this year as a three-down backer. It's worth noting that the starting middle linebacker for Tennessee failed to sack the QB all of last season, so keep that in mind if your league rewards sacks more than most.
Sean Weatherspoon- Curtis Lofton, one of the fastest sideline-to-sideline LBs in the league, jumped ship to join the rival Saints this offseason. He was replaced by one of the slowest backers in the league, Lofa Tatupu. Obviously, this is a huge win for the Mizzou product. Weatherspoon tallied 115 tackles in the regular season (and 12 in the NFC Wild Card) with Lofton by his side. Lofton had the fifth-best tackle total last year with 147. It's not usually a good idea to grab WLBs as your LB2, but Weatherspoon seems like a lock to at least repeat his 115 tackles from last year. Plus, he's 25 and didn't miss any action last year in his first full season.
Curtis Lofton- Lofton is an interesting case. As mentioned in the Weatherspoon paragraph, the former Falcon was a dynamic asset in IDP with his 147 tackles. The Saints surprised most of us by signing David Hawthorne (Seattle's MLB last year) to accompany Lofton as their primary Mike acquisitions. Hawthorne is expected to slide over to the Will, but he's no slouch either by accounting for 115 tackles in 2011. That projects to hurt Lofton in some capacity. The Saints had the least rushing attempts allowed last year and while that might seem discouraging, the Falcons weren't far behind by coming in at number three. I'd like to rank Lofton higher, but there are too many concerns at this point.
DeMeco Ryans- Chances are you won't see DeMeco Ryans higher on other rankings than I have him here, Eagles fans notwithstanding. The Eagles had one of the best trades in the offseason by acquiring the former DPOY for a measly fourth-round pick and also swapping third-round spots. Offenses attacked the Eagles with a little more of a pass attack with a 1.21:1 pass:run ratio. One would think they might have better luck defending the pass with a healthier Trent Cole and perhaps Nnamdi and Co. fully adapted to more of the zone schemes. Demeco could be kept busy in the middle with the Wide 9 to allow more room to roam. This ideology is also contingent upon Cullen Jenkins and rookie Fletcher Cox from keeping the offensive guards and fullbacks from getting to the second level. This sounds great and all, but the main concern with Ryans is his Achilles. Well, besides that devastating injury in 2010, he has played in 16 games in the other five seasons as a Texan. I've been able to grab Ryans usually after the 18th LB is off the board in my mocks so far.
Kelvin Sheppard- Say hello to one of the biggest upside sleepers for 2012 IDP. Sheppard is going to be the Mike for the Bills and it's certainly a position that holds a lot of potential. While the Bills ran a 3-4 last year, 30-year-old Nick Barnett pulled the ball carrier down 130 times and in 2010 Paul Posluszny in the 4-3 earned 151 tackles as the Mike in Buffalo. Sheppard is the heavy favorite to be the middle linebacker for Buffalo as the aging Barnett shifts to the Will. The interesting thing about Buffalo is their humongous changes to their front four. They added Mario Williams and Mark Anderson to lead their passing rush, so that should potentially limit the opponents' propensity to lean on the pass. Dave Wannstedt has already voiced his pleasure on Sheppard and the Buffalo brass has called him the "nucleus" of the defense. Sheppard also had 8.25 tackles per game over his last four games in 2011. I'm planning on drafting the LSU Tiger in almost every league.
Ray Lewis- He's 37. 37!? It's really as simple as that when it comes to explaining why he comes in at number 18.
Bobby Wagner- If it wasn't for Sheppard, Wagner would likely be my sleeper of choice at linebacker. He has yet to really acquire the keys as the Mike gig (and possibly the cool radio with fancy green sticker) for Seattle, but early signs indicate he's on his way. Barrett Ruud has been struggling to stay healthy with a myriad of injuries, so he might be relegated back to a reserve role. There's upside here for the rookie, but there's certainly a two-word warning that comes to mind: Mason Foster.
Thanks for reading!