IDP or Individual Defensive Player: the most under appreciated format in fantasy football. This season I hope to convince many of our readers to give the format a shot in your leagues. Playing fantasy football without defensive player stats is like playing fantasy baseball without pitching stats. Your draft pool increases by hundreds of players, and while that may seem daunting to many, I guarantee you already know more about the other side of the ball than you think.
I have broken down my ranks into five tiers. It’s important to remember that you want to build most of your starting offensive roster and maybe even a backup or two before taking your first IDP. That means waiting till the 9th round isn’t crazy. I will get more into draft strategy for IDP in a future article.
Here are our top 25 linebackers for 2017:
1. Kwon Alexander (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) – I am taking Kwon first overall this year for several reasons. He has an incredibly favorable IDP schedule. In the first eight weeks he will play Miami, Chicago, New England, Buffalo and Carolina who all project to be run heavy offenses. He makes big plays and I’m still worried about the next players health…
2. Luke Kuechly (Carolina Panthers) – After not missing a game in his first three seasons, Kuechly has missed 9 games in the next two. More concerning is the injuries have been concussions, something that in unpredictable and risky. When on the field, Kuechly still scored at the All Pro clip we are used to. I am dropping him one spot simply for the injury risk.
3. Bobby Wagner (Seattle Seahawks) – Wagner has been a cornerstone of the Seahawks defense for years now but he enjoyed his best season last year, according to Pro Football Focus. Two things help Wagner’s value and land him in the top tier. One is he plays a ridiculous number of snaps and two is his home stat crew. Seattle’s stat crew awards more assists than any team in the league. If your league awards equal points for assists opposed to tackles you can make the argument Wagner is the top LB IDP and he can be drafted later.
4. Alec Ogletree (Los Angeles Rams) – Undersized and hated by PFF’s scoring system, Ogletree has produced as a top 5 LB since his first game in the league. He should finish with just under 100 solo tackles and make a few big plays while he’s at it. A steady, if unspectacular, fantasy LB.
5. Telvin Smith (Jacksonville Jaguars) – Smith has been one of the most consistent fantasy LB since the week he played in the league. Smith won’t make many big plays, so if your league scores that way he gets knocked down a bit. However in tackle heavy leagues he’s a gem, scoring 6+ solo tackles in 11 of 16 games last year.
6. Deion Jones (Atlanta Falcons) – Jones rookie year proved that the league is changing at the LB spot. He’s primarily a coverage LB, playing more snaps in coverage that any LB in the league. And he excelled there, the pass defended and INT numbers are no fluke. Plus he closed out the season strong and I expect that to continue in 2017.
7. Vontaze Burfict (Cincinnati Bengals) – One of the most polarizing players in the NFL, there is no doubt that Burfict is an IDP stud. He’s consistently in the top 10 in points per game, year after year. You can likely draft him late and expect easy LB1 production when he is playing. Just be sure to scour the waiver wire well, because Burfict is almost sure to miss games.
8. Sean Lee (Dallas Cowboys) – Lee has enjoyed health for the past two seasons, while shaking the injury prone label. Two years removed from an ACL injury, Lee is in prime form and the most important piece of a young Cowboys defense. With news of Elliott’s suspension, he will be on the field more in 2017 where he is equally great in run defense and pass coverage.
9. C.J. Mosley (Baltimore Ravens) – Zach Orr is gone, and Orr was largely responsible for Mosley’s declining numbers in 2017. If not for big plays, Mosley would have been on the IDP’s biggest disappointments. He’s here because he shows incredible potential as an all around producer. He’s risk/reward and I will be looking further down the list for my LBs.
10. Ryan Shazier (Pittsburgh Steelers) – Shazier is much like Mosley, oozing with scoring potential but his health is the big question. Shazier is perhaps the most physically impressive LB in the league, when on the field, but he’s missed 14 games in three seasons. He’s another player I don’t feel comfortable drafting at his ADP but he could easily finish in the top 10 if healthy.
11. Benardrick McKinney (Houston Texans) – McKinney has shown steady improvement in his 2 years, earning a starting ILB role last season. I expect him to challenge for 90+ solo tackles in this incredible high-pressure defense. He’ll be the quiet and productive rock in the middle of the field for Houston and a consistent fantasy option.
12. Jatavis Brown (Los Angeles Chargers) – I expect a big jump in production for Brown, so much in fact that he’s a sleeper for top 10 production. Gus Bradley is now the DC with the Chargers and he will deploy Brown in the WLB role Telvin Smith has excelled at. 90+ solo tackles is in reach, and Brown is also a solid blitzer.
13. Christian Kirksey (Cleveland Browns) – The two Browns fine themselves back to back on the list and I’ll admit most of it is because of opportunity. Kirksey will play the weakside for a team that should challenge the Jets for the most defensive snaps in the league. 140+ tackles is well within reach.
14. Jamie Collins (Cleveland Browns) – Collins saw a jump in his production of almost 20% after the mid-season trade that sent him from New England to Cleveland. Collins now has much more freedom to patrol the field, no longer playing in the highly structured NE scheme. An all-around fantasy producer his heavy opportunity makes him a high ceiling, low floor player week to week.
15. Zach Brown (Washington Redskins) – Brown enjoyed a career year patrolling the middle of the Bills defense. He moves to Washington this season, a team desperate for reliable MLB play. His numbers will undoubtedly take a dip, Buffalo awards tackles like candy, but Brown should still have a solid year with the Redskins.
16. Navorro Bowman (San Francisco 49ers) – It’s difficult to drop Bowman too far down the list. Coming off a severe Achilles injury, Bowman has proven he can bounce from injury. With four All Pro seasons in his career, Bowman will serve as the perfect mentor for another player on the list.
17. Lavonte David (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) – The emergence of Kwon Alexander really cut into David’s production in 2016. Once is a fluke but I expect this to turn to trend. David played more snaps in coverage than any of his career and Alexander frees the team up to play this way. He’s now an LB2 with a few big games thrown in.
18. Eric Kendricks (Minnesota Vikings) – Kendricks struggles in run defense and is more often deployed in coverage. That should lead to a solid pick in big play leagues but a low end LB2 in tackle heavy. Playing on such a great defense doesn’t help either.
19. K.J. Wright (Seattle Seahawks) – Wright is just a solid fantasy producer, finishing in the top 25 LBs for the third straight year. He isn’t flashy, which means you can wait and take him before most guys in this tier are gone. Very little risk here, he’s a solid LB who you can set and forget on your fantasy team.
20. Jerrell Freeman (Chicago Bears) – Freeman may be a guy who I have too low. The Bears defense will see plenty of time on the field and he doesn’t have much competition for tackles. If he can stay healthy (he’s 31 starting the year) he will be a consistent player for you.
21. Reuben Foster (San Francisco 49ers) – Every year we hear about a player leading up to draft day who has injury concerns, and then the years go by and you stop hearing about them. I expect that to happen with Foster. He could easily finish as an LB1, with talent that jumps off the tape and potential for big plays. He’s a guy I am taking a chance on.
22. Jarrad Davis (Detroit Lions) – Detroit spent the #21 overall pick to draft Davis and he will be a three down MLB from day one. The position in the Lions defense has been productive in the last few years with average talent. I expect Davis to challenge for the top rookie LB and 125+ combined tackles is well within reach.
23. Vince Williams (Pittsburgh Steelers) – Williams finally gets his chance to start after three seasons serving as the primary backup inside. Anytime Williams has made his way into the lineup he’s been highly productive. The job is his this year and he’ll be the run stuffer Steelers fans have grown accustomed to.
24. Preston Brown (Buffalo Bills) – Brown makes the list mostly because of his home stat crew, something that makes a huge difference in weekly fantasy football. Brown is making the transition to a new 4-3 scheme. However he holds onto his starting role and should play three downs with little competition.
25. Paul Posluszny (Jacksonville Jaguars) – The veteran is now 33 and makes the transition to SAM LB while Miles Jack will be starting in the middle. I am not quite sold that the youngster will rack up the points like we’ve grown accustomed to with Posluszny. It’s likely his last year before he rides away into the fantasy sunset but I’m betting on one more year of 125+ tackles.