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Linebacker Tiers - Footballguys

Takes a look at the landscape for linebackers in 2018 and breaks them up into tiers to help with your IDP draft.

Why Tiers?

Most fantasy owners are used to drafting off a simple ranking of players, but that can mask underlying differences that exist between players. For example, two players may be ranked right next to each other on a cheatsheet but there could be a wide gap in the expected production for them. In that case, you would probably want to draft the higher-ranked player a full-round earlier than the lower-ranked player. Similarly, there may be a large group of players with very similar projections that are bunched together on a ranking sheet. It may seem that a player ranked 10th is much more valuable than a player ranked 15th, but if only a few projected points separate them then they are roughly equivalent in value. Rather than force yourself to pick one, it may be best to focus on another position and then come back to this position in the next round since you're likely to get a player of nearly identical value.

Grouping players into distinct tiers or buckets provides additional context that allows a drafter to make more informed decisions. The projections we offer at Footballguys also help a lot in this regard, but those are still static projections that may not fully indicate the range of likely outcomes for a player. For example, two players may be projected with similar numbers but one may have significantly more upside and/or a higher floor than the other. Those types of risk vs reward decisions are inherent in any fantasy draft. While drafting the safe players will typically help you build a solid team, you often need to take some chances and hit on some players who significantly exceed their preseason expectations to win.

Rankings are typically helpful in ordering players within the same position group, but tiers can help you figure out which position to take as you move through a draft. If you see a large group of linebackers that are all capable of putting up LB1-type numbers but only one defensive lineman likely to put up elite numbers, it's obviously wise to grab the lineman and assume at least one of the linebackers will be there for your next pick. This helps you maximize the value of your picks, and is a strategy that all strong fantasy players likely use to some extent.

How To Use The Tiers

  1. These tiers are based on expected performance for the 2018 season in a balanced scoring system. While dynasty owners always need to consider long-term outcomes to some extent, the upcoming season is most critical for player value. I'll highlight some dynasty stash options in a separate tier that you can focus on if you are less concerned about 2018 and want to focus on 2019 and beyond.
  2. Positional classifications can differ depending on what your league-hosting website uses. For consistency, I will rely on the official Footballguys player classifications. For the most part, these should match up well with the major sources that exist online but there could be differences. Assigning edge rushers to linebacker or defensive end is the main area that causes issues here as the classification can have a huge impact on fantasy value.
  3. Look for an asterisk (*) next to players that have added value in big-play scoring systems. There is a lot of scoring variability that exists among IDP leagues, so if your league places added value on big plays (i.e., sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles, etc.), this information should help you identify some key targets in each tier.

LINEBACKERS TIER 1: ELITE LB1

These are the players you want to build your IDP roster around. They all play just about every snap for their respective teams and have put up huge numbers in the past with little reason to expect a dropoff in the years ahead. Luke Kuechly has a history of concussions that has to be taken into account but otherwise, he and Bobby Wagner represent the gold standard for the middle linebacker position. C.J. Mosley, Blake Martinez, and Zach Brown all play inside linebacker in a 3-4 front but clearly have enough upside to reach 100 solo tackles and 50 assists. Deion Jones and Kwon Alexander are two of the best young middle linebackers in the league with excellent all-around games, while Telvin Smith Sr and Christian Kirksey offer similar production and talent from the weakside linebacker spot. If you wind up with two players from this tier, you will have a clear edge over the rest of your league. If you wind up with zero, however, don't panic as there is plenty of talent available at this position so you can still build a solid group overall.

LINEBACKERS TIER 2: LOW-END LB1/HIGH-END LB2

Several players in this tier have the ability to put up numbers comparable with players in the elite tier but they also carry more risk with a lower floor. Rookies like Roquan Smith and Tremaine Edmunds were drafted high for a reason and should eventually become elite fantasy options but there is typically a learning curve. Lavonte David is one of the most talented linebackers in the league but he has seen a noticeable decline in his tackle numbers over the past two years that make him more reliant on big plays. Alec Ogletree should be very productive playing in front of the most favorable stat crew in the league after playing with one of the stingiest for years. His former teammate Mark Barron should also get a boost with the upgrades the Rams have made around him. Sean Lee is a tackling machine but makes very few big plays and is also injury-prone. Deone Bucannon has been held back by injuries of late but can make a solid every-week option when healthy. Jarrad Davis was great against the run as a rookie but needs to show improvement in coverage to stay on the field in nickel situations. Vince Williams will take over for Ryan Shazier as the focal point in the middle of the Steelers defense. Joe Schobert had an incredible season with the Browns last year but now has added competition with the signing of Mychal Kendricks. Now that Paul Posluszny has retired, maybe Myles Jack can finally start to reach his potential alongside Telvin Smith Sr.

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