By: Gary VanDyke ll @HBogart27
Updated: 10/9/2017

Dude, Where’s My LB1?!

We just wrapped up Sunday’s Week 5 games and after noticing a trend the last couple of weeks I thought we may cover a situation we have at hand. There have been a few linebackers so far this year that had been ranked in top tiers before the season that hasn’t lived up to those high rankings. Most, if not all sites, would have considered them LB1’s in terms of their 2017 outlook. And so did most of their fantasy owners playing in IDP leagues. In this article, I thought we would recap the first part of the season and cover why these situations have happened.

To have a base ranking before the season to go by, I have decided to use FantasyPros. One of the main reasons I will be using their September 7th rankings at FantasyPros is pretty simple. They use a consensus style ranking and I believe this fact may help understand that these linebacker’s rankings are from more than one source as a whole. I had covered and searched many different sites over this past off-season and can say with confidence these are the general rankings across the board from all of them. You can locate this archived page here. I’ll also be using Fantasypros for the actual up to date points (standard) by these linebackers currently, linked here.
*Note: Article written before the last game on Monday night of Week 5 between the Bears and the Vikings.

We will only cover the linebackers not living up to those September rankings that aren’t currently living up to the tiers they were inserted into, so no need for us to list the entire list here. We also will only be covering the higher tiered linebackers at this time. We will list what ranked position and tier they were listed then versus what we can consider them at the moment, and of course, the reason why this appears to be the case.

Luke Kuechly
Preseason position rank:#1 / Tier 1
Currently: #13 / Tier 3
According to an overall perspective, there are a couple factors that could be hampering Kuechly’s fantasy production. The Panthers defensive line is overall healthy and stacked with studs in rotation keeping them healthy and fresh. Linebacker Thomas Davis had been playing like a madman up until week 3 when he sustained a rib injury. After the injury linebacker, Shaq Thomas saw a big boost in snap counts and has taken advantage of the situation by playing at a high level. We have to also keep in mind that Kuechly himself may be playing a bit more conservative after having concussion issues over the last two seasons. With this current situation, we should still consider him a top IDP play and not risk sitting him any given week. The idea someone may want to trade him away at this point would more than likely mean not getting a return for him as many had paid or would want to settle for. If this situation continues like this for the rest of the season at the least fantasy owners can think about the fact that Thomas Davis, Charles Johnson, Julius Peppers, Kurt Coleman and Mike Adams are not getting any younger and may not even be around as soon as next season. It has been the Kuechly & Davis show for a few years now, and while this could remain a down year for Kuechly, keep in mind it very well could be back to a two-man show with Kuechly & Thompson next season, especially if the now 34-year-old Davis retires.

Alec Ogletree
Preseason position rank:#3 / Tier 1
Currently: #23 / Tier Tier 4
This one boils down to the fact that the Rams have introduced a new defensive scheme for 2017. Wade Phillips brought in his 3-4 base defense and it has affected Ogletree’s opportunities to make plays. In the old scheme of a 4-3, he was the only real centerfielder linebacker and this is no longer the case. Ogletree is a special talent and after he settles into the new scheme completely he should remain a top IDP play. But as long as he is in the 3-4 scheme we shouldn’t expect much higher than a low-end tier 2 type player. At his current rate, he may only be a Tier 3 ranked player heading into the 2018 season. There is no reason to panic for fantasy owners now that you know why he isn’t producing as he did in the past. Just consider him as more of an LB2 on in your lineups.

Telvin Smith
Preseason position rank:#5 / Tier 2
Currently:#12 / Tier 3
Smith flatlining week one didn’t help his cause. He did just have a great week in week 5 that actually vaulted him up in the fantasy points to that 12th spot. He recorded an addition interception that he ran back for a touchdown that padded those stats. Not to take away from this performance but it is clear as to why he isn’t the very top option that he had been, or looked to be in 2017. Myles Jack is a beast at middle linebacker and just as good as Smith. Smith no longer has Paul Posluszny playing right next to him who had lost a step about the time Smith joined the Jaguars. When we take away Smith’s latest interception returned for a touchdown he actually falls into the top of Tier 4. Not that we should take that out of the equation. But do believe that going forward we should consider him a Tier 1 talent stuck at Tier 3 to 4 level now due to his supporting cast. He has now become the Jaguars version of K.J. Wright. If after a few more weeks of play time he has settled in as that LB3 for your roster you may have to go as far as packaging him to upgrade. The Jaguars defense as a whole is playing lights out and that is not necessarily a good situation for a chance at constant weekly production for Smith owners. We shouldn’t sell just yet, he is still worth a hold to see how this plays out. And depending exactly what it would take to package with him for that upgrade he still remains a good IDP play to keep around anyhow.

Christian Kirksey
Preseason position rank:#11 / Tier 3
Currently:#18 / Tier 4
Kirksey is the victim of Joe Schobert first and foremost. Schobert has slotted in next to Kirksey as an every down linebacker and excel. Before the season when Demario Davis was playing linebacker next to him, Kirksey was the only true every down linebacker. With improved talent around him and the switch from an ILB in the 3-4 scheme to WLB in the 4-3 scheme, he hasn’t the opportunities he had in 2016. We shouldn’t expect much more of a drop-off, but an interesting note is the fact that linebacker Jamie Collins has missed multiple games and when he returns could affect Kirksey’s opportunities even more. As well as Kirksey looked in 2016 we should consider the fact that maybe he isn’t as good as he played then. The volume and his situation could have propelled him into upper Tier rankings. Still, a solid IDP plays currently we may want to think about if we traded him now before any more value drops would it be selling high now versus his value later. It’s a tough situation to determine how to handle.

Benardrick McKinney
Preseason position rank:#12 / Tier 3
Currently:#27 / Tier 5
There are three reasons for McKinney’s dip in production. One is he is no longer playing next to the aging and worn out Brian Cushing. The second and third are as clear as the first. Houston drafted help inside with Zack Cunningham and signed an unknown undrafted player named Dylan Cole. Neither of them has lit the fantasy world on fire as of yet, but both are clearly young and as fast as McKinney, if not faster. We should also wonder if McKinney falls under that situation he performed so well last year next to Cushing’s and because of the volume of opportunities that doing so held. There is maybe a glimmer of hope in his situation with both T.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus both injured in week 5. Both of them are likely heading to injured reserve and Houston will need to spread the linebacker talent out across the field a little thinner. Everyone, including McKinney, could find themselves with more of those opportunities to make the play. This situation may warrant a pause to see exactly how this plays out for the rest of the season. If it does improve for McKinney keep this whole youth movement in mind next offseason and possibly consider the idea of selling him high. The early offseason signings and the rookie draft could be great indicators on how to proceed.

Short Takes: Other Top linebackers struggling to live up to the hype, including the preseason rank.
Tiers 1 thru 3 only
#4 Kwon Alexander: Injured.
#8 Jamie Collins: Injured
#9 Sean Lee: Injured
#11 Deion Jones: Slow start? Better play around him?
#13 Lavonte David: Injured
#14 Navarro Bowman: Worn out? Scheme change?
#15 Jerrell Freeman: Idiot! (SSPD 10 games)
#16 Vontaze Burfict: Idiot! (SSPD 3 games) Will recover.
#17 Eric Kendricks: Currently at #41. Flatout overhyped?

Thanks for reading. I can be reached on Twitter @HBogart27

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