IDP Projected Three-Down Linebackers
Finding linebackers who aren’t going to leave the field is as important as finding running backs who are going to get the majority of their team's carries. It’s all about opportunity, and if you’re not on the field, you can’t get fantasy points. Keeping that in mind, here are the projected three-down LBs for each team. The linebackers wearing the communication device (green dot) are listed. These are based on year's past and what I've seen through three weeks of preseason play.
Deone Bucannon makes the shift from DB to LB and is set to take the every-down duties this season. Chandler Jones was acquired by the Cardinals via trade and is going to focus mostly on rushing the passer. Jones should be on the field for the majority of snaps and will be a target in big-play scoring formats. Kevin Minter is set to appear in the Cards base defense and sub packages and saw a career-high 926 snaps in 2015. Bucannon is the LB to target here, with Minter likely to be available later in drafts.
Green Dot: Deone Buccanon
Deion Jones has taken hold of the three-down job and has been wearing the green dot in preseason games. Vic Beasley transitions to SAM and should shift to the line in Atlanta’s sub packages. Keep an eye on him, however, as he could see a position change. Outside of deeper, big-play leagues, I’m ignoring Beasley. DeVondre Campbell should get base snaps, so keep an eye on him throughout season, as he should be in for more sub packages. The Falcons have two solid up-and-coming linebackers, and I’ll be targeting Jones and Campbell, in that order.
Green Dot: Deion Jones
C.J. Mosley is the top target here, as he's Baltimore’s alpha-male ‘backer. He’s a tackling machine who should easily regain his rookie year form, especially since Daryl Smith is now with Tampa Bay. Zachary Orr is set to receive base/sub package snaps and is a nice breakout candidate. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil are the edge rushers and should see the majority of the defensive snaps. Za’Darius Smith and Matt Judon are guys who can play themselves into some snaps, but may not see a significant amount of playing time at the outset of the season.
Green Dot: CJ Mosley
The loss of second-round draft pick Reggie Ragland put a monkey wrench into the Bills LB situation. Preston Brown and Zach Brown are projected to be the every-down ‘backers for Buffalo. The Bills did bring in Brandon Spikes and David Hawthorne, but they are more run stoppers and shouldn’t take too many snaps from the two Browns. Preston Brown is underrated for IDP purposes, averaging over 100 tackles in the last three seasons.
Green Dot: Preston Brown
This section more or less begins and ends with Luke Kuechly. Thomas Davis will be playing the strong side and should also be on the field for the majority of snaps. So far, Shaq Thompson hasn't been getting any of the subpackage snaps, really limiting his IDP value. Kuechly and Davis are the three-down LBs for Carolina.
Green Dot: Luke Kuechly
The Bears brought in Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman over the offseason, and they should be the ones roaming the middle and making plays. Pernell McPhee is also an option in big-play scoring formats, as he should see 80-90 percent of the snaps this season.
Green Dot:Jerrell Freeman
Vincent Rey should get the green dot and three-down role with Vontaze Burfict serving a three-game suspension, but should only get consideration in drafts as a late, late round flier. Karlos Dansby’s days of IDP usefulness might be drawing to a close, however. Not only is he going to get the base defense snaps, but he has also transitioned to SAM. I’m avoiding Dansby in most drafts.
Update 9/30/2016: In Burfict's first game back, Rey was the odd-man out in the four-LB rotation as he in on fewer than 25% of the snaps. With all of the Bengal LBs coming in, Burfict might be the only LB to own in Cincy.
Green Dot: Vontaze Burfict
Demario Davis was brought in from the Jets and should draw the three-down role for the Browns. Demario has produced 90-plus tackles for three straight seasons, and while the offense does look improved, Davis should see over 1,000 snaps. Christian Kirksey should finally see the majority of snaps, but could have a short leash since he’s not a draft pick of the new front office. Kirksey has produced a solid tackle rate in limited snaps, however, so there’s a good chance he can hold on to the gig.
Green Dot: Demario Davis
Sean Lee is the only Cowboys linebacker I trust -- even with his injury history. Anthony Hitchens should see base and nickel snaps and could be serviceable in deeper leagues where you’re starting three or more LBs. Justin Durant is a below-average run stopper and should only see base defense snaps. He’s avoidable in IDP leagues.
Green Dot: Sean Lee
The Lions have done a great job hiding DeAndre Levy’s status during the preseason by simply saying he’ll be ready for Week 1. Taking the Lions at their word, he should be manning the weak-side and seeing three-down duties alongside Tahir Whitehead, who’s getting the MKE role. Whitehead, when given the chance to play and contribute, has notched tackles. Levy is an elite LB1 and Whitehead is a nice late-round sleeper who has top-30 potential.
Update 9/30/2016: Levy has been battling injury for the first few weeks. Whitehead is the only LB ot own in Detroit.
Green Dot: Tahir Whitehead
Brandon Marshall is the clear-cut three-down linebacker, and Von Miller is going to see base and sub package snaps. That still means Miller should see 75 percent or more of the snaps, which he’s accomplished in four straight seasons.
Green Dot: Brandon Marshall
Green Bay Packers
Blake Martinez has been wearing the green dot this preseason in Jake Ryan’s absence. Clay Matthews has appeared in 80 percent or more of the snaps in three of the last four seasons, including 97 percent of the snaps in 2015. I have a feeling Jake Ryan will emerge as the other ILB alongside Martinez and should see a significant snap uptick to make him serviceable in IDP leagues this year.
Update 9/30/2016: Martinez saw a season low 44% of the snaps in Week 3, while Ryan's snap count has steadily increased all three weeks, up to 82% in Week 3. Martinez still wearing the dot, but will be situation to monitor as they head out of the bye week.
Green Dot: Jake Ryan
I project Brian Cushing and Bernardrick McKinney as the three-down LBs for Houston. While I still think McKinney could play better during the regular season, his pre-season play has been less than stellar. Whitney Mercilus should play on the edge and Jadeveon Clowney will play OLB in base and DL in sub packages.
Green Dot: Benardrick McKinney
Update 10/5/2016: The Colts cut Sio Moore and the LB position is a mess right now. I'd even consider dropping D'Qwell Jackson for a higher upside LB at this point, as he's appeared in 80 percent of the snaps. There will be a rotation at the position now with Antonio Morrison, Josh McNary, Trevor Bates and Edwin Jackson. As of now, don't waste your time chasing any Indy LB. If you have Jackson, keep him on the bench.
Green Dot: D'Qwell Jackson
Telvin Smith is the three-down LB I want from Jacksonville. I think Paul Posluszny could lose his every-down role, and I’m devaluing him this year. Myles Jack should carve out a role in their base defense and see some sub package snaps.
Green Dot: Telvin Smith
Kansas City Chiefs
Derrick Johnson has his role solidified, but the other ILB spot in Kansas City is still up in the air. Justin March has been given snaps with the first team and could be the leader out of the gate to start opposite DJ. Ramik Wilson is the other name to watch, but is behind March for the time being as he's been on the field in nickel packages.
Green Dot: Derrick Johnson
Los Angeles Rams
I love Alec Ogletree, despite the fact he’s coming off an injury. He’s an elite playmaker and will not be coming off the field. Mark Barron makes the shift to the linebacking group from defensive back and should see the majority of the snaps, as well, with James Laurinaitis moving to New Orleans. Akeem Ayers is an IDP afterthought, as he should just see base defense snaps.
Green Dot: Alec Ogletree
Kiko Alonso is projected to Miami’s three-down MIKE LB, but he still looks like he's playing tentatively and is shying away from contact. Jelani Jenkins should also appear in at least 90 percent of the snaps, making him viable in IDP as an LB3 with LB2 upside. Koa Misi appears to have just a two-down role in the Dolphins base defense.
Green Dot: Kiko Alonso
Eric Kendricks is the Vikings LB I’m targeting in tackle-heavy/balanced formats. Anthony Barr plays similarly to Khalil Mack and will be in on blitzes. So while he should have a three-down role, I’m mostly targeting him in big-play scoring formats.
Green Dot: Anthony Barr
New England Patriots
Jamie Collins is the LB to own in New England. Dont'a Hightower playing SAM, which isn't the most ideal spot in IDP. I also being utilized in pass rush. Shea McClellin could be playing on the defensive line with injuries to Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard.
Green Dot: Jamie Collins
New Orleans Saints
Unfortunately for Stephone Anthony, the arrival of James Laurinaitis torpedoes Anthony’s IDP value in 2015. Not only could he lose snaps in the base defense, but he’s also been moved outside to the SAM ‘backer spot. Dannell Ellerbe could see snaps in both base and subs, but Laurinaitis is the only Saints linebacker who won’t leave the field in 2016.
Green Dot: James Laurinaitis
New York Giants
Honestly, I’d avoid this entire situation altogether. Seriously.
Green Dot: Keenan Robinson. I'd still stay away.
New York Jets
David Harris, much like D’Qwell Jackson in Indy, is the Old Faithful value, as he’s going to be on the field and make tackles. Harris is looking for his fifth-straight 100-plus tackle campaign. Erin Henderson is going to draw the start opposite Harris, leaving Darron Lee to come off the bench. Lee will be off the radar in re-draft formats. Lorenzo Mauldin will be a target in big-play scoring formats, as he should see 75-80 percent of the snaps on the outside.
Green Dot: David Harris
Update 9/30/2016: Cory James has taken over Ben Heeney's spot opposite Smith on the inside. James looks to be the three-down LB going forward as he saw over 90% of the snaps in his first start in Week 3.
Update 10/5/2016: Ben Heeney has been placed on IR and the Raiders added Perry Riley. This was just done for depth. James still should see the majority of snaps in base and subpackages.
Green Dot: Malcolm Smith
Jordan Hicks is set to take over the three-down role, but makes sure to keep tabs on things in Philly as they brought in Stephen Tulloch over the offseason. There’s no thought of moving Hicks to the outside, but Tulloch was brought in to compete. The LB I’m most worried about is Mychal Kendricks. Nigel Bradham has been the starting nickel linebacker, so Mychal's snaps and upside are capped. I'd target Hicks first and then Bradham later on as a sleeper.
Green Dot: Jordan Hicks
Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier are the only LBs I’d target from this group. It’s that simple.
Green Dot: Lawrence Timmons
San Diego Chargers
Denzel Perryman is primed for a breakout season as the newly-minted three-down LB in San Diego. Manti Te’o is still in town, but unfortunately, has been prone to injury. Melvin Ingram recorded 60 tackles and 10-plus sacks in 2015 and is a LB3/4 target in most IDP formats this year, as he should see nearly 80 percent of the snaps in 2016.
Update: Manti Te'o is out for the year. Perryman should take over as three-down LB and Jatavis Brown is also going to get snaps.
Green Dot: Jatavis Brown
San Francisco 49’ers
Update 10/7/206: Navorro Bowman is out for the year with a torn Achilles'. In Week 5, Nick Bellore and Gerald Hodges received the starts at ILB, however, Hodges was barely on the field. Michael Wilhoite appeared in the majorty of the snaps, while Bellore was in 100% of the snaps. The ILB situation is fluid, but if you're a Wilhoite owner, I wouldn't go dropping him yet. Hodges is still off the radar, registering fewer than 20% of the snaps.
Green Dot: Nick Bellore
Bobby Wagner has been the LB mainstay in the Emerald City and is again a lock for 100-plus tackles. KJ Wright should see 85-90 percent of the snaps, but will have a low ceiling.
Green Dot: Bobby Wagner
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
LaVonte David and Kwon Alexander should be on the field for all of the Bucs snaps at LB this season. Daryl Smith loses his IDP appeal going forward, as he should only see snaps in their base defense.
Green Dot: Kwon Alexander
The only LB I’m targeting in Tennessee is Avery Williamson, as he should be on the field for the majority of the snaps and should be able to record over 100 tackles this season.
Green Dot: Avery Williamson
Will Compton can be had for free and should see the field for at least 90 percent of the defensive snaps for the Redskins this year. In 2015, he appeared in 718 defensive snaps and produced a 13.4-percent tackle rate.
Green Dot: Will Compton