2019 Rankings: Top 50 Linebackers for Fantasy Football
So, you’ve decided to start playing in an IDP league.
Not to be hyperbolic, but this is probably the best decision you’ve ever made, taking your fantasy football game to the next level. If this is your first season doing IDP welcome, and I hope you enjoy playing fantasy football where you don’t ignore an entire half of the player base. If you’ve been doing IDP for a while though and are just stopping by to look at the rankings for this season and prep for your draft, welcome to you too, and I hope these rankings help you. The first in our series of three ranking sets is going to be linebacker, the core of the IDP positions and the highest scoring.
Tier 1: The Best There is, the Best There Was, the Best There Ever Will Be.
1. Darius Leonard (Indianapolis Colts) – 2018 Stats: 111 Solo, 52 Assists, 12 TFL, 7.0 Sacks, 4 FF, 2 FR, 2 INT, 8 PD
To say Darius Leonard exploded onto the scene last season would be drastically underselling how spectacular he was. The closest season we’ve seen to his 2017 campaign in recent memory was Lavonte David back in 2015, and even his #1 LB season fell a full 33 points behind that of the former South Carolina State Bulldog. The Colts made no additions to the defense that should eat into Leonard’s tackle totals, though Justin Houston could potentially impact his sack numbers. Even factoring in regression from an insane rookie season, Leonard should once again be, far and away, the best option at the LB position.
Tier 2: The “Would be Tier 1 if Not For Darius Leonard” Tier.
2. Bobby Wagner (Seattle Seahawks) – 2018 Stats (15 G): 84 Solo, 54 Assists, 6 TFL, 1.0 Sacks, 2 FF, 1 FR, 1 INT, 11 PD
Bobby Wagner still managed to finish Top 5 at the position despite missing a game, his third straight year in the top 5 (Including being #1 in 2016) and his 4th straight year in the Top 20. It’s largely this unmatched consistency that lands him this high on the list, despite having perhaps less upside than some of the players below him. Don’t get me wrong though; he could easily earn the #2 spot on his play alone, ignoring how insanely consistent he’s been. As the once mighty Seahawks defense has slowly crumbled away, Wagner has stood as the central column of what used to be, and can be that same column for your fantasy team in 2019.
3. Luke Kuechly (Carolina Panthers) – 2018 Stats: 93 Solo, 37 Assists, 20 TFL, 2.0 Sacks, 2 FF, 1 FR, 1 INT, 6 PD
Everyone was rooting for Luke Kuechly in 2018 following his well-documented struggles with concussions over the last several seasons, and he more than delivered, finishing as the #2 overall linebacker, and in the top 5 for the first time since his #1 LB season in 2014. The concussion issues add an element of risk to Kuechly’s profile, but when he’s on the field, he consistently produces stats as impressive as any linebacker not hailing from South Carolina State. Though his monstrous 20 TFL from last season will certainly drop substantially, he should also be able to pick off more than the single pass he intercepted in 2018, having multiple interceptions in 5 of his 7 NFL seasons. Assuming his health from last season carries over, Kuechly should more than carry your linebacker core, while also chasing Thomas Davis‘s record for career tackles as a Panther.
4. Deion Jones (Atlanta Falcons) – 2018 Stats (6 G): 34 Solo, 19 Assists, 1 TFL, 1.0 Sacks, 1 FF, 2 INT, 6 PD
Deion Jones has wasted no time in his young career establishing himself as one of the NFL’s finest linebackers, finishing 15th in LB scoring his rookie year of 2016, 4th his sophomore year, and though his 2018 was cut very short, his per game pace would have landed him firmly as the #2 LB (though still a ways away from Leonard). Jones could very easily have headed this tier, and if I were to pick one LB to usurp Leonard’s throne, it would be he. Draft with confidence, and reap the potentially huge rewards.
5. Corey Littleton (Los Angeles Rams) – 2018 Stat s: 90 Solo, 35 Assists, 9 TFL, 4.0 Sacks, 3 INT, 13 PD, 1 TD
Thrust into a starting role after the Rams shipped Alec Ogletree to New York, Corey Littleton more than delivered for the Super Bowl runner-up Rams, racking up 12 AV while finishing as the #3 fantasy linebacker. The Rams chose to bring the 25-year-old back in free agency, and he’s poised to once again be among the best options at the position. Behind a Rams defensive line that lost one of the best run defenders in football in Ndamukong Suh, Littleton should have even more opportunities to rack up tackles than in 2018.
Tier 3: The Rest of the Studs. The Spider-Man: Homecoming Tier.
6. Lavonte David (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) – 2018 Stats (14 Games): 94 Solo, 26 Assists, 13 TFL, 3.5 Sacks, 1 FF, 2 FR, 2 PD
Despite three seasons missing multiple games, David has incredibly never finished outside the Top 15 in LB points at any point in his 7-year NFL career, including Top 5 finishes in 2013, 2014 and 2015, and Top 10 in every season outside of a 13 game 2017 season. This impressive feat of consistency could have landed David a spot in Tier 2, but the multiple lower-body injuries (including an MCL sprain last season) that he’s sustained make him more of an injury risk than most, making it difficult for me to put him in that upper echelon. Still, if he can stay healthy, David could be a strong value pick as a player with proven Top 5 upside who likely won’t be drafted inside the top 5.
7. Roquan Smith (Chicago Bears) – 2018 Stats: 89 Solo, 32 Assists, 8 TFL, 5.0 Sacks, 1 INT, 5 PD
To say the 2018 NFL Draft was a huge one for IDP players would be a gross understatement, as 3 of the Top 10 LB from last season were all in their rookie campaigns, with a 4th just barely missing the cut at 11. The second best rookie LB of that group last year was Roquan Smith, who racked up 121 total tackles and was one of the better coverage linebackers in the NFL. For how good he was though, Smith was only on the field for 880 snaps, 83.65% of the Bears total. Assuming his snap count goes up the future looks even brighter for Roquan, who should blossom into a perennial star for both real life and fantasy purposes.
8. Blake Martinez (Green Bay Packers) – 2018 Stats: 91 Solo, 53 Assists, 10 TFL, 5.0 Sacks, 3 PD
Blake Martinez has established himself as one of the best linebackers in fantasy over the last two years, following up a #3 LB season in 2017 with a #4 LB season in 2018. He lands down here in the rankings mostly because he lacks the upside that the rest of the linebackers above him possess. The 5 sacks he racked up last year certainly helped propel him past a clump of similarly valued players in the 5-8 range, and the offseason additions of Rashan Gary, Za’darius Smith and Preston Smith indicate that Martinez will have far fewer pass-rushing snaps than he had in 2018. Blake Martinez isn’t the sexiest pick in the world, but he’ll more than get the job done, and it’s entirely possible he defies my ranking of him and churns out another Top 5 season.
9. Leighton Vander Esch (Dallas Cowboys) – 2018 Stats: 102 Solo, 38 Assists, 2 TFL, 2 INT, 7 PD
Rounding out our trio of Top 10 rookie LB’s is Leighton Vander Esch, who finished second only to Darius Leonard in solo tackles last season and third in total tackles behind Leonard and Blake Martinez. Amazingly, Vander Esch accomplished the feat on just 784 snaps, 76.56% of the Cowboys total. His snap count should certainly improve going into 2019, meaning we could see even more bonkers tackle numbers from the former Boise State Bronco. Vander Esch certainly has the opportunity and talent to finish far higher than the rank I’ve given him, and his low placement relative to the consensus is more a product of loving the players above him, rather than disliking Vander Esch.
Tier 4: Very good, lots of upside, not elite. The Spider-Man 2 Tier.
1o. C.J. Mosley Jr. (New York Jets) – 2018 Stats (15 G): 70 Solo, 35 Assists, 6 TFL, 0.5 Sacks, 1 INT, 5 PD
Consistency has been a bit of bugaboo for C.J. Mosley up to this point in his career, with 3 LB1 finishes (including being the #1 LB in 2017) and two LB4 finishes, including last season. The talent is certainly there though, and the move away from Baltimore’s stout defensive line should only help Mosley rack up better tackle numbers. Though the addition of Quinnen Williams figures to improve things, he won’t completely transform a Jets D-Line that was among the most porous in football last year. With the bitter taste of last year likely still lingering in fantasy owners mouths, Mosley could turn out to be a value in 2019 drafts, though where he gets drafted remains to be seen.
11. Myles Jack (Jacksonville Jaguars) – 2018 Stats: 75 Solo, 32 Assists, 1 TFL, 2.5 Sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 INT, 1 PD, 1 TD
With Myles Jack‘s play largely taking a step back in 2018, and after finishing as just the LB37 in 2018, you might think I’m a bit soft in the head for sticking him all the way up at 11. And you’d be right, if not for the fact that teammate Telvin Smith was taking a year off from football for personal reasons, and that Jack was dealing with learning a new position all season. With the former Pro Bowler vacating 134 tackles from last year; and with a full season at middle linebacker under his belt, Jack should be able to return incredible value relative to where he’ll be drafted. I certainly don’t advise drafting Jack at 11, but he more than has the talent to make this dramatic 4th-year jump.
12. Zach Cunningham (Houston Texans) – 2018 Stats (14 G): 74 Solo, 34 Assists, 3 TFL, 2 FF, 1 FR, 1 INT, 5 PD, 1 TD
Speaking of dramatic jumps, Zach Cunningham finished as just the LB35 last season, but the 3rd year linebacker out of Vanderbilt is oozing with upside. Cunningham would have been the LB18 with a full slate of 16 games, so a 6 spot jump going into his 3rd year in the league isn’t out of the question by any means. He needs to get a hike up in snaps in 2019 to reach these heights, but with Benardrick McKinney continuing to leave tackle opportunities on the table, Cunningham will likely have an opportunity to siphon the necessary opportunities from him.
13. Tremaine Edmunds (Buffalo Bills) – 2018 Stats (15 Games): 80 Solo, 41 Assists, 5 TFL, 2.0 Sacks, 2 FF, 2 INT, 12 PD
After the Bills made Tremaine Edmunds the youngest player ever taken in the NFL Draft, he delivered with 121 total tackles and a finish as the #11 fantasy LB. His real-life play lagged behind a bit, but that was to be expected from a player who was barely removed from his teenage years, going against full-grown men. He finished the year strong though, taking home Defensive Rookie of the Month honors for the month of December. The better Edmunds gets in real life, the better numbers he’ll able to produce for his owners, and he should be an exciting IDP to own for years to come.
14. Jaylon Smith (Dallas Cowboys) – 2018 Stats: 82 Solo, 39 Assists, 6 TFL, 4.0 Sacks, 2 FF, 2 FR, 4 PD
Jaylon Smith‘s emergence as one of the NFL’s best linebackers last season was a true feel-good story, after a torn ACL and LCL coming out college, raised questions of if he’d ever again be the same elite player we saw at Notre Dame. Those questions were answered in full this year, as he and Leighton Vander Esch combined to form the best LB duo the Cowboys have seen since the days of Chuck Howley and Lee Roy Jordan (Heck, maybe better). Though he was able to finish #10 last season, the presence of Vander Esch (and his assumed increase in snaps) caps Smith’s tackle upside, and a fumble recovered for a touchdown singlehandedly pushed him from the #17 LB to the #10. Don’t get it twisted though: Smith is an incredible player, who should be a huge part of this Cowboys’ team for years to come.
15. Devin Bush (Pittsburgh Steelers) – 2018 Stats (College): 41 Solo, 25 Assists, 8.5 TFL, 4.5 Sacks, 4 PD
Devin Bush made the most of his final year as a Michigan Wolverine, taking home enough hardware to make Tim Taylor jealous. On top of his second First Team All-Big Ten honor, he was also named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and Big Ten Linebacker of the Year, earning a spot as a consensus All-American to top it all off. Bush should give the Steelers a huge presence on the inside that they’ve lacked since Ryan Shazier‘s gruesome injury, and he should immediately be an impact IDP player. He could very easily outperform this ranking.
16. Kenny Young (Baltimore Ravens) – 2018 Stats: 40 Solo, 11 Assists, 4 TFL, 2.5 Sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 PD
Despite playing just 369 snaps his rookie year, Kenny Young managed to rack up a whopping 51 total tackles, not too shabby for a 4th round pick. The departure of several Ravens LB’s has rendered the path to regular snaps unobstructed for the sophomore, who while not likely to repeat his absurd tackle efficiency, should rack up plenty in the middle of the Ravens defense.
17. Devin White (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) – 2018 Stats (College): 62 Solo, 61 Assists, 12 TFL, 3.0 Sacks, 3 FF, 2 FR, 6 PD
The pride of Springhill, Louisiana, Devin White had a monstrous final season at LSU, and following an equally impressive performance at the NFL Combine, the Buccaneers had no gripes taking White at #5 overall in the Draft. In addition to making his second career All-SEC first team, White was also an All-American and won the collegiate Butkus Award, given to the nations top linebacker. Although arguably more talented than his rookie contemporary, Devin Bush, White lands in a slightly trickier situation in Tampa Bay, facing a fair bit more competition for tackles, specifically from Lavonte David, who’s far better than anyone Bush is competing with in Pittsburgh. That said, the cream rises to the top, and it’s not at all unfeasible that White finishes as a top 10 LB, if not better.
Tier 5: Good, with some upside, and reliable. The Spider-Man 3 Tier.
18. DeMario Davis (New Orleans Saints) – 2018 Stats: 74 Solo, 36 Assists, 11 TFL, 5.0 Sacks, 2 FF, 1 FR, 4 PD
After cashing in big time with a three year, $24M contract with the Saints in the offseason, DeMario Davis showed why he was considered the top LB in the class, delivering the best defensive season of his career and nearly repeating as an LB1 for fantasy. The 8th year vet from Arkansas State should once again be a very reliable option for production at the position, but the steadily improving New Orleans defensive line could negatively impact his opportunities for tackles.
19. Khalil Mack (Chicago Bears) – 2018 Stats (14 G): 37 Solo, 10 Assists, 10 TFL, 12.5 Sacks, 6 FF, 2 FR, 1 INT, 4 PD
This ranking makes me sad, because Khalil Mack absolutely deserves a more prestigious designation in IDP, like he had when he was considered a defensive lineman (DL). However, at the linebacker position, the 47 tackles Mack posted in 2018 just aren’t going to cut it. Even so, Mack was so incredibly dominant that he finished as the LB23, despite missing a pair of games with an ankle injury. Now stuck at LB, and no longer in an Oakland defense where he was the only NFL caliber-talent, (mostly joking Raiders fans) Mack will be a good second linebacker, but not too much else.
20. Nick Vigil (Cincinnati Bengals) – 2018 Stats (11 G): 62 Solo, 22 Assists, 5 TFL, 1 FR, 3 PD
Nick Vigil joins Kenny Young in the “High Tackle Efficiency in a Short Time” Club, racking up 84 total tackles on 672 snaps. If you exclude a Week 6 tilt against the Steelers in which he played just 13 snaps after suffering a knee injury, Vigil averaged a lofty 8.2 tackles per game, equating to 131 over a full season. Vigil’s not a particularly exciting or sexy player, but a guy who simply goes out and gets consistent tackles week in and week out is a guy worth rostering, and Vigil’s price should be more than worth paying.
21. Alec Ogletree (New York Giants) – 2018 Stats (13 G): 58 Solo, 35 Assists, 6 TFL, 1.0 Sacks, 5 INT, 2 TD
Following a surprise trade last March that shipped him to the Giants, Alec Ogletree subsequently made Les Snead look very smart, though that’s not what we’re talking about here. What we are talking about though is his #27 LB finish in 13 games, with a 16 game pace that would have placed him at #5. However, that number is hugely inflated by two defensive TDs and a career-high 5 interceptions (two of which were tipped to him). That said though, Ogletree was on the field for 100% of the Giants snaps in every game he played, and the sheer volume of workload should be enough to keep him relevant, even accounting for some natural regression.
22. Christian Kirksey (Cleveland Browns) – 2018 Stats (7 G): 29 Solo, 14 Assists, 1 TFL, 1 FR, 2 INT
Sadly, injuries prevented Christian Kirksey from giving us an encore to his spectacular 2017, though he absolutely made the most of his 7 games, putting up very solid LB2 numbers. The talent is still absolutely there for Kirksey, but the Browns defense has changed quite a lot since Kirksey last suited up. A pair of Pro-Bowler’s in Sheldon Richardson and Olivier Vernon have solidified the front lines, and Morgan Burnett will be watching Kirksey’s 6. Kirksey could still potentially sneak up into the LB1 ranks, but with Joe Schobert beside him and the improvements made to the defensive line, I wouldn’t advise drafting him expecting more than a rock-solid LB2.
23. Joe Schobert (Cleveland Browns) – 2018 Stats (13 G): 57 Solo, 46 Assists, 3 TFL, 3.0 Sacks, 2 FF, 2 FR, 1 INT, 6 PD
Speak of the devil. You can copy and paste a lot of what I said about Kirksey for Joe Schobert. Excellent LB1 season in 2017, injury-shortened 2018, operating behind a newly improved defensive line. Strong set-and-forget LB2.
24. Kwon Alexander (San Francisco 49ers) – 2018 Stats (6 G): 34 Solo, 11 Assists, 6 TFL, 1.0 Sacks, 2 FF, 2 PD
Kwon Alexander was en route to a very solid LB2 season last year in Tampa Bay before a torn ACL cut his season short. Likewise, a 12 game 2017 season was also an LB2 season when he was on the field, not quite able to repeat the lofty #1 LB season he posted in 2016. Coupling a torn ACL with leaving a fantasy-friendly scheme in Tampa Bay isn’t a great combo for production, though an egregiously large contract from the Niners should keep him on the field at the very least.
Tier 6: Depth, but possible matchup–based starters. The Spider–Man 1 Tier.
25. Kiko Alonso (Miami Dolphins) – 2018 Stats (15 Gs): 79 Solo, 46 Assists, 3 TFL, 3 FF, 1 FR, 3 INT, 6 PD
Kiko Alonso had about as good of a situation for a strong IDP year as one could ask for in Miami, taking advantage of his being the only starting linebacker on the team with NFL experience to finish as the LB15, scoring his highest point total since his rookie season in 2013. However, Jerome Baker and Raekwon McMillan now have a season each under their belt, and 13th overall pick Christian Wilkins should immediately give Miami an excellent run stopper up front. Alonso will likely still finish as a usable IDP, but if you have to pay for his 2018 season, it’s probably best to pass.
26. Mason Foster (Washington Redskins) – 2018 Stats: 81 Solo, 5o Assists, 4 TFL, 1.0 Sacks, 2 FR, 2 INT, 4 PD
Mason Foster‘s fantasy finishes since 2013 when he’s played a full 16 games: 20, 14. The number of seasons not playing 16: 4. Foster is a tackle machine when he’s on the field, he’s just struggled to do so for much of his career. With Zach Brown having departed Washington, Mason Foster is in a good position to rack up even more tackles, and could definitely finish higher than this, but the risk of him missing several games has to be baked in.
27. T.J. Watt (Pittsburgh Steelers) – 2018 Stats: 50 Solo, 18 Assists, 12 TFL, 13.0 Sacks, 6 FF, 3 PD
T.J. Watt might not be Canton-bound yet like his older brother (J.J., not Derek) but he’s been great in his own right since debuting in 2017 and emerged as one of the NFL’s better pass rushers in 2018 with a whopping 13 sacks. His explosive second year was good for an LB1 finish, but fantasy owners shouldn’t expect a repeat. The presence of Devin Bush will eat into his tackle totals, and could potentially also impact his sack numbers, as the rookie from Michigan brings his excellence rushing the passer to Pittsburgh with him. Finally, 6 forced fumbles aren’t likely to happen again, and at 5 points apiece, that really hurts. Watt’s going to have some huge games for his owners, but as whole this season will be less 2018 fantasy T.J., more 2017 fantasy T.J.
28. Jordan Hicks (Arizona Cardinals) – 2018 Stats (12 G) 61 Solo, 30 Assists, 5 TFL, 3.0 Sacks, 1 FR, 5 PD
Entering his 5th year in the NFL, Jordan Hicks simply cannot stay healthy, having missed 23 total games up to this point. That said, he lands in a pretty great situation in Arizona, by far the best linebacker on a defense that will be among the leagues worst, and with an offense that will put the ball back in the opponent’s hands with regularity. If Hicks can stay healthy, he could very well outperform this ranking and be a very good starting LB. For now, though, we don’t have any reason to trust Hicks’ health.
29. Jayon Brown (Tennessee Titans) – 2018 Stats: 64 Solo, 33 Assists, 8 TFL, 6.0 Sacks, 2 FF, 1 FR, 1 INT, 6 PD
After a pretty nondescript rookie season in Tennessee, Jayon Brown exploded onto the scene in 2018, establishing himself as a legitimate stud at the linebacker position, as well as finishing as the #19 LB for fantasy purposes. His major bugaboo emerges from a real-life football struggle against the run, an aspect which fellow weakside linebacker Rashaan Evans excels. This ranking could go either way: If Jayon continues to struggle against the run, and Evans steals more snaps as a result, Brown could drop from here. If he shows that he’s made improvements in that area though, he could very easily be an every down player and a low-end LB1. Until we see it though I’m erring on the side of caution, and ranking him lower.
30. Bradley Chubb (Denver Broncos) – 2018 Stats: 41 Solo, 19 Assists, 14 TFL, 12.0 Sacks, 2 FF, 1 FR, 1 PD
Bradley Chubb was very highly touted coming out of North Carolina State, and he showed everyone that it was well deserved, his 12.0 sacks representing the most by a rookie since Aldon Smith racked up 14.0 in 2011. He finished the season as the #32 linebacker, more than respectable for a rookie edge rusher. Chubb likely doesn’t have too much helium in his scoring though, outside of racking up much higher sack totals, he doesn’t have many ways of reliably increasing his point totals in his current role. Considering how good he is at that role, the Broncos are certainly in no rush to move him, and you should be in no rush to pick up Chubb for anything more than a third LB.
31. Anthony Hitchens (Kansas City Chiefs) – 2018 Stats (15 Gs): 81 Solo, 54 Assists, 7 TFL, 1 FF
Anthony Hitchens (Or the Hitman, if you’re a cool kid) was a pretty popular sleeper around draft season last year, and for most of the year, he delivered respectable LB2 numbers, having a handful of elite performances along the way. The issue with Anthony Hitchens though is that outside of racking up tackles like nobodies business (He finished 5th in the NFL despite missing a game), he doesn’t really do anything else. 1 career interception, 3 career forced fumbles, No recovered fumbles, 3.5 career sacks, all in the span of 75 games. Until the Hitman finds a way to augment his tackle production with auxiliary stats, he isn’t really necessary to roster, especially behind an improved Kansas City defensive line.
32. Zach Brown (Philadelphia Eagles) – 2018 Stats: 69 Solo, 27 Assists, 10 TFL, 1.0 Sacks, 2 FF, 1 PD
After a pair of seasons in Washington, Zach Brown is moving onto his 4th NFL squad in 5 years, replacing Jordan Hicks at middle linebacker for the Eagles. Brown has been all over the place as a fantasy contributor, finishing 38th at the position last season, 12th, 3rd and 57th over his last four seasons. It remains to be seen how Brown will perform in a talented Eagles defense, but he could certainly finish higher than this if the stars align. A strong sleeper choice in 2019, whose down year in 2018 should make his price manageable.
33. Tahir Whitehead (Oakland Raiders) – 2018 Stats: 89 Solo, 37 Assists, 9 TFL, 1 FF, 1 INT, 5 PD
Tahir Whitehead started the season slowly for the Raiders, standing as the #42 LB through the first 8 weeks. For the rest of the season on though, Tahir was on fire, the #6 LB in that span, and finished the year as the LB17. This uptick in fantasy production corresponded with an increase in real life production as well, as his abysmal run defense from the first half of the year greatly improved. Whitehead lands this low on the rankings largely because of how much riskier he is this season. While he had very little in his way to being a full-time player for the Raiders in 2018, the offseason additions of Brandon Marshall and Vontaze Burfict mean that Tahir is no longer alone, and will have to play well to keep his spot. If we see more of second-half Whitehead I feel very confident he can fulfill and likely surpass this ranking. If we get first-half Tahir, he’ll absolutely plummet.
34. Avery Williamson (New York Jets) – 2018 Stats: 80 Solo, 40 Assists, 6 TFL, 3.0 Sacks, 2 FF, 1 FR, 1 INT, 6 PD
After a few nondescript fantasy seasons, Avery Williamson broke out last season in his first year as Jet, finishing as the #18 LB, tearing it up to start the year before petering out a bit towards the end. Unfortunately for Williamson, the Jets saw fit to bring C.J. Mosley in the offseason, significantly diminishing his opportunities. Mosley is guaranteed to get a full slice of the pie, but Williamson and talented rookie Blake Cashman are likely going to have to share their piece because of Williamson’s abysmal coverage abilities; and while Williamson should get the majority of it, the uncertainty isn’t ideal.
35. Danny Trevathan (Chicago Bears) – 2018 Stats: 76 Solo, 26 Assists, 8 TFL, 2.0 Sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR, 2 INT, 6 PD
Does Danny Trevathan deserve better than this? Probably. The guy finished as the #21 LB last season and has an LB1 season under his belt. The problem is though, that 2018 was Danny Trevathan’s first 16 game season since 2013, having missed 25 games in that span. Factoring in his awful injury history with the level of talent in the Bears defense, and it’s hard to really trust the 7-year vet. Enough things breaking right for Trevathan could lead to a strong season, but I’ll leave the praying for those things to break to someone else.
Tier 7: Deep roster guys. The Amazing Spider-Man 1 Tier.
36. Jarrad Davis (Detroit Lions) – 2018 Stats: 73 Solo, 27 Assists, 10 TFL, 6.0 Sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR, 5 PD
Remember that time the TE-needy Lions drafted Jarrad Davis over Evan Engram and David Njoku, when they could have grabbed Raekwon McMillan or Zach Cunningham in the 2nd round? Instead of a pair of great young players, they ended up with Teez Tabor (Don’t get me started on him) and Jarrad Davis, who’s been abysmal since stepping into the league. Davis ends up even this high purely because the Lions seem willing to let him keep holding onto the job, though second-round rookie Jahlani Tavai could push him, and if Davis goes down might be a very intriguing fantasy option. Davis is not exciting to own, and the only leagues you should own him in are a league where owning a 4th LB is absolutely necessary. I wouldn’t even really want Davis as my 3rd LB, there are options with far more upside than Davis later in drafts. Davis is the perfect example of opportunity trumping talent in fantasy.
37. Von Miller (Denver Broncos) – 2018 Stats: 29 Solo, 19 Assists, 14 TFL, 14.5 Sacks, 4 FF, 4 FR, 1 INT, 3 PD
On the entire opposite side of the coin from Davis is Von Miller, a victim of edge rushers not being their own fantasy position. There’s not a whole lot to say about Von, his talent is immense enough that he’s managed to finish Top 30 the last 3 seasons, despite topping out at 78 total tackles, and having just 48 total tackles in 2018. He’s a real life stud and treat to watch, but for fantasy, Sacks, FF and FR, the main sources of his production, just aren’t reliable or predictable enough year to year to confidently project Miller will be worth owning in most leagues. You could do worse, but you could also do better with your bench LB.
38. Eric Kendricks (Minnesota Vikings) – 2018 Stats: 63 Solo, 45 Assists, 3 TFL, 1.0 Sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR, 2 INT, 7 PD
Eric Kendricks, outside of an LB1 finish in 2016, has not been a particularly interesting player for fantasy purposes, finishing outside the top 30 in every other season. He’s got reliable snaps, a shiny new extension, and back-to-back-to-back 100+ tackle season though, so you could do worse late. Not at all a sexy pick, but the Vikings’ ample investment in him should keep him on the field, though rookie LB Cameron Smith could be a concern to siphon some snaps if he gets an opportunity to show what he can do.
39. Wesley Woodyard (Tennessee Titans) – 2018 Stats (14 G): 69 Solo, 44 Assists, 5 TFL, 4.5 Sacks, 1 FR, 2 PD
It’s a testament to Wesley Woodyard‘s abilities that even heading into his 12th NFL season, the former undrafted free agent out of Kentucky is still rolling, finishing as at least an LB3 in 5 of the last 7 seasons, including finishing as the #8 LB in 2017. We pretty much know what we’re going to get from Woodyard at this point, and what you get is pretty good. After 12 years and a shoulder injury last season, it’s fair to start wondering how much longer Woodyard is going to hold up though, and with a bevy of talented linebackers young and otherwise in Tennessee, it’s entirely possible the Titans scale back his snaps a bit to mitigate the risk of losing a captain and incredibly talented veteran.
40. Patrick Onwuasor (Baltimore Ravens) – 2018 Stats: 37 Solo, 22 Assists, 8 TFL, 5.5 Sacks, 2 FF, 1 INT, 3 PD
This ranking largely comes down to opportunity: with C.J. Mosley gone, the entire Baltimore linebacking crew has an opportunity to break out, and behind the aforementioned Kenny Young, I think Onwuasor is next up to soak up tackles. Additionally, seeing more pass rushing snaps (an area he excelled in the latter half of 2018) could score him a couple more sacks than he managed last season.
41. Todd Davis (Denver Broncos) – 2018 Stats: 80 Solo, 34 Assists, 6 TFL, 0.5 Sacks, 1 INT, 7 PD, 1 TD
Having been on the Broncos since all the way back in 2014, Todd Davis had done a whole lot of nothing for fantasy owners until his LB22 season in 2018. He could very well put up similar numbers in 2018, though sharing the field with an equally talented LB in Josey Jewell, whose skill set is more conducive to racking up tackles than Brandon Marshall‘s was, could complicate things a bit.
42. Lorenzo Alexander (Buffalo Bills) – 2018 Stats: 55 Solo, 19 Assists, 11 TFL, 6.5 Sacks, 2 FF, 1 FR, 2 INT, 9 PD
Lorenzo Alexander has been around a long time, and crazily enough, he’s just now having his best fantasy seasons ever, finishing as the #30 LB in both 2016 and 2018. Driving those finishes though were the only 3 interceptions of his 12-year career, which I’m not quite willing to bank on happening again.
43. Chandler Jones (Arizona Cardinals) – 2018 Stats: 38 Solo, 11 Assists, 13 TFL, 13.0 Sacks, 3 FF, 1 FR, 4 PD
Given the tall task of following up his bonkers 2017 season, which saw him finish as the #9 LB, Chandler Jones instead switched over to defensive line, and finished as the #10 at that position (he would have finished in the high 30’s at LB), and he’s now back to being an LB for fantasy purposes. Expect lots of sacks, few tackles, and a widely variant number of TFL that will largely determine where he ranks this season.
44. Fred Warner (San Francisco 49ers) – 2018 Stats: 85 Solo, 39 Assists, 3 TFL, 1 FF, 1 FR, 6 PD
The 49ers losing Reuben Foster opened the gates for Fred Warner to have a productive rookie season, amassing 124 total tackles. The addition of Kwon Alexander though means that Warner is no longer the only fox in the henhouse, and will have difficulty repeating his tackle numbers from last season. Add in a defense that’s greatly improved with the additions of Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, and the hype train really starts to slow down for the second-year LB out of BYU.
45. Raekwon McMillan (Miami Dolphins) – 2018 Stats: 69 Solo, 36 Assists, 5 TFL, 2 FF, 1 FR, 1 PD
As impactful as I think Raekwon McMillan is going to be for the Dolphins defense in 2019, I don’t quite feel the same way for his impact on fantasy teams. While his continuing to develop should let him take some more tackle opportunities, those are going to be weighed out by the Dolphins defensive line no longer resembling a colander that’s been shot with a cannon. It wouldn’t be altogether surprising to me given his talent if Raekwon finished much higher than this, but a mountain of things have to break right for him, and realistically, I think he gives fantasy owners much of the same he gave last year.
46. Matt Milano (Buffalo Bills) – 2018 Stats (13 G): 52 Solo, 26 Assists, 12 TFL, 1.0 Sacks, 3 FR, 3 INT
Matt Milano had sort of an anti-Anthony Hitchens season; he couldn’t rack up tackles but he stuffed the stat sheet in other ways, with 6 takeaways and an impressive 12 TFL. However, INT and FR are numbers that vary quite a bit year to year and are very difficult to project. Without them, I don’t see Milano putting up the tackle numbers surrounded by all the talented players in the Bills front seven to make up for regression in the takeaways department.
47. Haason Reddick (Arizona Cardinals) – 2018 Stats: 53 Solo, 27 Assists, 8 TFL, 4.0 Sacks, 1 FF, 5 PD
The once-hyped first-round pick of the Cardinals, Haason Reddick has disappointing through his first two seasons in the NFL, and now Jordan Hicks enters the Cardinals defense as competition for carries. A switch back to his more natural position inside could potentially help revitalize the young LB, but I’m not optimistic, given what we’ve seen through two seasons. Let someone else swing and miss.
Tier 8: Your league is too deep. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Tier.
48. Jadeveon Clowney (Houston Texans) – 2018 Stats (15 G): 38 Solo, 9 Assists, 16 TFL, 9.0 Sacks, 1 FF, 3 FR, 1 PD
Jadeveon Clowney is “Stud who suffers from edge rushers not being its own position” incarnate, and is consequentially not a great option for fantasy. He finished as a DL1 last season, but his eligibility swap back to LB hurts him immensely. He’ll be incredibly fun to watch as he shoots for his fourth straight Pro Bowl, but you should also stick to watching as someone else in your league blows a draft pick on the name value.
49. K.J. Wright (Seattle Seahawks) – 2018 Stats (5 G): 15 Solo, 8 Assists, 2 TFL, 3 PD
This ranking hurts me because, as a Seahawks fan, I so desperately want to boost K.J. Wright as high as I can. However, with a knee injury sidelining him most of 2018, and with a bevy of other players stepping up in his absence last season, betting on him to be K.J. Wright of years past isn’t a wise bet. I could easily be wrong here, and K.J. could post another solid LB3 season, but messing with aging players coming off knee problems, who also have competition isn’t a bet I want to take.
50. Benardrick McKinney (Houston Texans) – 2018 Stats: 63 Solo, 42 Assists, 5 TFL, 1.5 Sacks, 1 FF, 1 INT, 7 PD
Hype was appropriately high for Benardrick McKinney following a Top 10 LB season in 2016, but since then he’s disappointed in a major way, finishing as the #34 LB in 2017 and #40 in 2018. And now, with Zach Cunningham on the come up, that downward slide looks like it’s going to continue for McKinney. He’s an excellent real-life player, and the number of snaps he’ll get as a result could lead to relevance if things break right, but I’m jumping off the train now.
That wraps up our linebacker rankings. Next on the docket is going to be defensive lineman, which will be released for your viewing pleasure on Tuesday, July 23rd. Until then, feel free to leave a comment down below to ask a question or comment on these rankings, singing my praises and telling me how amazing these rankings are. Or, if you want more personal engagement, feel free to shoot me a Tweet @Quack2Back.
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