Assessing the IDP Dynasty Landscape: Linebackers
When it comes to this time of the season you are either still in with a shout of winning your fantasy championship and focused on achieving that goal, or taking stock of your season and what went wrong. In dynasty leagues part of the latter task will be assessing the talent you have available both on your roster and the waiver wire. Depending how deep your league is there might be some 2013 gems still waiting to be snapped up and if you are out of contention there is no harm in being prepared and grabbing these guys for the tail-end of your squad. Not only should owners be looking at securing potential breakout players for next season, but they should be re-evaluating the players they had invested in over the previous seasons as things change fast in the NFL and player’s values change quickly. All that being said, lets run through some of the players having seen some significant alteration in their values heading in next season.
Change At The Top
For several season seasons there had been somewhat of a status quo at the top of the linebacker dynasty rankings, and they were dominated (and deservedly so) by Patrick Willis. Having played six NFL seasons and been elected to the Pro Bowl every year, Willis is on pace to have bested the 120 total tackle mark for the fifth time in his career highlighting just why he was seen as the #1 LB. Add in his big-play ability and he has been a force among the linebacker elite since year two of his career. However the emergence of NaVorro Bowman alongside him in the past two seasons has dented his fantasy upside. Factor in too that Willis’ usage has changed slightly to the extent where there were four games this season when he played less than 90% of snaps, not due to injury, but by schematic design. As good as Willis is and has been, losing those 100 odd snaps over the course of a season and having some of your play-making opportunities also taken (by Bowman) means he is only a borderline top 5 LB these days. Bowman himself is well within the LB elite status tier as he has recorded over 140 total tackles for the second consecutive season, despite similar snap counts to Willis. The two other names that featured highly in LB discussions pre-season despite their ages of 28 and 29 respectively were Des Bishop and D’Qwell Jackson. Both will have seen fairly big drops in value, although Bishop’s is injury related rather than a decline in production like Jackson. Bishop’s pre-season hamstring injury landed him on IR and it is expected that he will be a starting MLB for the Packers in 2013, but dynasty owners will want to handcuff him with DJ Smith or find some LB value elsewhere as a backup. Jackson is a player who has been beset by injuries himself in the past, but a healthy 2011 season showed what he could do for his owners. Unfortunately his 158 total tackle season has not been repeated and although he should still exceed the 120 mark he has over 50 fewer solo tackles than a year ago which in most scoring systems is a big step backwards. Their respective falls in value will have been compounded by the addition of three highly promising young rookie and our expected development of Daryl Washington into the linebacker mix. Washington has flashed the ability and scoring to push to be the #1 LB in fantasy football and he has delivered this season. With over 100 solo tackles supplemented by a ILB-leading nine sacks he has emerged as one of the must-own LBs in IDP dynasty leagues at 26 years old.
One of the biggest factors to IDP dynasty leagues this season has been the stellar rookie linebacker class that has added three new names into contention for LB1 status in redraft leagues, and certainly top 15 plays every week. Being so young and effective already means Luke Kuechly, Bobby Wagner and Lavonte David will find themselves in the conversation for top 5 spots in LB dynasty rankings, as Sean Lee and Colin McCarthy suffered injuries which will hurt their long-term values. Of the rookie trio Kuechly was the safest bet from a talent perspective but the injury to teammate Jon Beason did open the door for him at MLB. Kuechly’s start to the season and play at WLB was mediocre at best, but the switch to the middle when Beason hit injured reserve opened the floodgates of production and he hasn’t looked back since. Kuechly is a top 3 dynasty LB right now and at just 21 years old he looks to have a long future ahead of him, and although he is better in tackle-heavy formats, he is a highly desirable asset in all IDP leagues.
Although given a MLB role from the start of the season, it wasn’t until Week 5 that Bobby Wagner (22) became an everydown linebacker for the Seahawks. Since that game he has posted at least eight total tackles each week and five double-digit tackle performances. Add in a couple of sacks and three interceptions and you have another bone-fide LB1, and in my mind he is of a similar profile to Patrick Willis and Daryl Washington with his multi-purpose points scoring (whereas Kuechly is similar to Bowman). In more balanced scoring systems a 16-game Wagner season might just edge Kuechly, but it would be a close run thing. Owners of either player should be very happy.
The final rookie LB that has forced his way into the IDP limelight is Buccaneers OLB Lavonte David (22). After comparing Wagner and Kuechly to their most established counterparts, the best comparison for David has to be none other than tackle-machine Chad Greenway. David has 133 total tackles on the year to date from the often less IDP friendly 4-3 OLB role and utilises his speed to be an impact player from sideline to sideline. Although he’ll get over-looked from time to time in leagues due being an OLB (like Greenway), he’ll be a threat to post top-10 numbers every season and should creep in to the top 10 LBs in dynasty rankings too.
There are a few other rookie names to put out there with more of an eye on 2013 and beyond. Vontaze Burfict (22) overcame his draft stock plummet and looks a decent LB2 prospect with potential, but will already be owned in all but the shallowest leagues, while Sean Spence (22 – spent the season on IR) and Demario Davis (23) are both waiting to replace ageing incumbents Larry Foote and Bart Scott and should be available unless you play in a deep dynasty system.
Best of the Rest
Jerod Mayo (26) re-established himself as a top tier IDP linebacker after a poor 2011, while James Laurinaitis (26) solidified his top 5 ranking with another consistent season. Many of their counterparts got injured and/or under-performed in 2012 (Bishop, Jackson, Lee, Beason, Ray Lewis, Sean Weatherspoon, Colin McCarthy and Donald Butler to name a few) so they see jumps in value based on being able to trust future production and more confidently predict their usage in 2013.
Donald Butler (24) and Colin McCarthy (24) are of particular interest as both ranked highly in pre-season dynasty rankings but failed to produce this season. McCarthy suffered an early season ankle injury that caused him to miss multiple games and then suffered a late season concussion that also forced him to miss several weeks. Owners will be worried he isn’t durable enough for the rigours of an NFL season, but personally I’d want to take that chance on a player we’ve seen produce when on the field in a position/system that has produced IDP studs before. He was a top 5 dynasty LB before the season and will still be a top 10 option in my rankings. Donald Butler on the other hand disappointed massively after a 14%+ tackle frequency in 2011 and promotion to a three-down role in 2012 did not materialise into the fantasy production we expected. He has to be downgraded into dynasty LB2 territory until he can return to his former ways.
Sean Weatherspoon (24) did not get to reap the fantasy rewards (extra tackles) due to Curtis Lofton’s departure to New Orleans as he missed three games to injury and Stephen Nicholas playing some solid football alongside him. A borderline LB1 ranked player before the season from those who saw his scoring potential with no Lofton for the Falcons will assuredly have to knock Weatherspoon back a few spots for 2013. Sean Lee (26) is another player who needs to be reassessed due to durability as he was played on IR this season after a toe injury. In 2011 he suffered a wrist injury that caused him to miss one game and wear a club cast for multiple others. An exciting playmaker when fully fit on the field, he needs to find a way to stay healthy if he wants to remain a LB1 moving forwards.
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