IDP – 2015 linebacker review
Following my recent review of defensive linemen, this week I’ll be taking a closer look at how the linebacker class played in 2015. How did our preseason projections work out? Which players did we get wrong? How did the rookie class do?
Our combined staff preseason rankings (from Jeff Ratcliffe, Nate Jahnke and myself) had a familiar feel in 2015, and rightly so. In recent seasons we have seen an influx in of ultra-talented, young linebackers headed by Luke Kuechly and Lavonte David, and the duo topped our rankings heading into the season. There wasn’t much disagreement between our analysts, with all three placing both players as their top two, Ratcliffe and Jahnke preferring Kuechly, while I favored David. The end-of-season scores show that David (second) outscored Kuechly (eighth), but reality is that Kuechly was the better fantasy play as he missed three games due to a concussion (David played all 16) and scored more points on a points-per-game basis. Both players remain fantasy studs and will be among the first few linebackers taken on draft day in 2016.
The eventual top fantasy ‘backer in 2015 was Jaguars second-year operator on the weakside, Telvin Smith, who missed Weeks 16 and 17 but still ended the year with 128 total tackles, 2.5 sacks, a pick-six and two forced fumbles. Smith catapulted himself into the top LB1 tier early, posting LB1 scores in three of the first seven weeks (twice leading all linebackers in scoring) and hitting double-digit scores in 14-of-15 games he played. He was certainly a player our staff was clued in on as a potential breakout as he sat 18th in our pre-season ranks, and although I may have been highest on him by placing him 15th, it was Jeff’s original work on tackles per opportunity (tPOP) that highlighted Smith, and reinforced just how invaluable tPOP is when assessing a linebacker’s fantasy potential as a breakout player.
Significant injuries to DeAndre Levy (pre-season rank seventh), Alec Ogletree (11th) and Kiko Alonso (23rd) were pretty brutal for their fantasy owners as all had their impassioned supporters, but perhaps Levy was the most frustrating. The former top fantasy linebacker wasn’t placed on injured reserve until early November, having struggled to return from what the Lions termed a “hip injury.” Levy was inactive for the first four weeks of the season while rumors swirled that he actually had a parasitic infection (this was refuted by all parties involved) contracted from his off-season in Chile. He finally saw some action in Week 5 but only lasted 17 snaps before aggravating the hip injury hindering him, which then led to him electing for surgery and missing the entire season. A healthy Levy in 2016 should be back in the LB1 conversation, and the same can be said for Ogletree, while Alonso has more to prove having played 481 snaps, seeing significant playing time in all Eagles games after Week 9. The former Oregon star appeared to lack the fluidity and mobility from his rookie season, which is to be expected coming off of ACL injuries, but perhaps more importantly, the firing of HC Chip Kelly (his college coach and instigator of the trade that took him to Philadelphia) leaves further question marks over his future and usage.
Ross Miles is a Lead Writer for Pro Football Focus Fantasy. Follow him on Twitter – @RossMilesNFL
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