For the longest time, linebackers have been the running backs of IDP leagues. They’re constantly in a position that can put up points, be it in the form of tackles, interceptions, forced fumbles, sacks and just about every other way imaginable. Unfortunately, as IDP leagues continue to progress, legitimate gripes have been voiced over linebackers that dominate fantasy leagues but don’t exactly mirror that dominance on the actual playing field. Much of this can be attributed to racking-up a high volume of tackles, which by no means indicates a great performance, but the fantasy scoreboard can indicate otherwise.
When I mentioned that IDP leagues are progressing, what I specifically mean is that scoring settings are changing in order to reward players who truly have an impact in the game’s outcome rather than ones who make several routine plays which add up. Pro Football Focus has a scoring setting in place aiming to do just that. I’ve addressed how this setting and standard settings reward players over the course of a full season, but now I’m continuing to assess it on a game-by-game basis.
As a base to measure a player’s in-game impact, I’m using Pro Football Focus’ overall grades for the week that corresponds to the week where a player posted a high number of fantasy points. Before going further, here is a reminder of what each scoring setting specifically rewards:
|Standard IDP Scoring||PFF Scoring|
|Tackles: 1 point||Tackles: 1.5 Points|
|Assisted Tackles: .5 points||Assisted tackles – .5 points|
|Sacks: 2 points||Sacks – 4 points|
|Forced Fumbles: 2 points||Forced Fumbles: 4 points|
|Fumble Recoveries: 2 points||Fumble Recoveries: 2 points|
|Interceptions: 3 points||Interceptions: 6 points|
|Tackles for Loss: 1.5 points||Tackles for Loss: 2 points|
|Passes Defensed: 1 points||Passes Defensed: 1.5 points|
|Blocks: 2 points||Blocks: 8 points|
|Safeties: 2 points||Safeties: 10 points|
I had compared the grades of the top 20 fantasy outputs of 4-3 defensive ends and 3-4 outside linebackers in my previous posts. Now, it’s time to focus on the interior and see how inside linebackers fare in each setting. Let’s begin with standard scoring:
|Rank||Player Name||Team||Week||Standard Fantasy Points||PFF Grade|
|8||Derrick O. Johnson||KC||8||17.5||3.9|
A 6.5 point difference is all that separates the top fantasy performance from the 20th-best fantasy performance among middle linebackers, which suggests that selecting a top player at the position is not very important if you’re an advocate of value-based drafting (if you aren’t, you should be). Another eye-popper in this data set is how different the grades compare to the ones of the edge rushers that were listed in previous articles. The average grade here hovers near +2.1 while 4-3 defensive ends and 3-4 outside linebackers averaged grades of +4.40 and +2.97, respectively. Upsettingly enough, three of the top fantasy performers (Sean Lee, Donald Butler, Colin McCarthy) were graded negatively despite being a boon to their fantasy owners’ scores during those games.
Do similar findings reign true for inside linebackers when the PFF scoring settings are applied? Here’s what they look like:
|Rank||Player Name||Team||Week||PFF Fantasy Points||PFF Grade|
|7||Derrick O. Johnson||KC||8||28||3.9|
Again, the average grade seems a bit on the lower side here when compared to pass-rushers, but the +2.85 mark is still a significant step ahead of the +2.1 average of the top scoring inside linebackers in standard leagues. What’s also notable is that despite the broader range of awarded points in each category in PFF scoring, just 6.5 points separate the top output from the 20th-best, as was the case in standard leagues. Colin McCarthy’s Week 11 game is the only negatively graded one among the top 20 scores in this format, and the monster game that Rolando McClain registered in Week 14 where he recorded two sacks and a safety did not even qualify as a top game in standard scoring.
Another interesting name that made this list is Rob Francois, who similar to what Jason Worilds did as a 3-4 outside linebacker, made the most while in place of an injured starter. Francois had his best game of the season, registering four defensive stops and tallying an interception, a forced fumble and a defensed pass to his credit. Brian Cushing helped boost the average of this data set, making the list with an impressive +4.2 grade, and Daryl Washington’s +1.8 performance was lower than the average but much better than the negative scores of Sean Lee and Donald Butler, who did not make the cut this time around.
The difference in grade averages between the top standard-scoring players and the top PFF-scoring players is .72, which is the most significant so far after analyzing three different positions. To get a better visual representation of what this means, here’s what each table looks like graphed together:
With the exception of the top three grades, which appeared in both scoring settings, the grades as a whole are higher among the PFF-scoring settings. As stated in previous entries, it’s dangerous to generalize on small sample sizes, but this is yet another sample that indicates that on-field play is better represented in the fantasy world when standard scoring settings are ousted in favor of the PFF ones.