By: Gary VanDyke II @HBogart27
FFD260 IDP: The “Probable” Top-Tier Linebackers for 2018
While writing the reviews for the 2nd and 3rd year linebackers I kept thinking exactly how to determine who would be the “Probable” IDP Top-Tier Players 2018. There are so many ways to approach this. We could cover averages per snap count, player grades, opponent versus home stat crew tendencies (yes, there is such a thing), and etc. I actually spent some time creating charts for each of these very things. As I did it kept dawning on me there is no simple way to add in the unknown factors such as coaching changes, the rookie draft, overall team adjustments, and etc. So exactly how is the best and safe way to encourage fantasy owners on who they should target as reliable top-tier linebackers for 2018? Afterall I could make all the charts I wanted and in the end, the results would vary widely because of the unknowns. For example, at this time last season did we know that players like Joe Schobert and Blake Martinez would emerge as top performers in this category? Or how about Kwon Alexander, who was at the top of last years rankings heading into 2017, would be injured with a hamstring for so many weeks. How about Alec Ogletree switching to a 3-4 base defensive scheme that would actually knock him down a tier? Is Jatavis Brown being the biggest IDP flop of the season going to far? There just isn’t a full proof way of predicting the future. We can analyze it any way we want, make all the charts we want, and still be way off with all the unknowns.
Then it dawned on me, it will be just as effective to make that “gut call” as it is to assume that any information on paper can lead us to the right answer. The trust factor isn’t any worse than the idea that predicting the future by the numbers is any better. So at the end of my conundrum, I’ve decided to admittingly go with the “gut call” based on what information I do have. And I’ll make the calls based off a “safe” assumption on what I know about the player and his situation this past season and his career. Then, in the end, I’ll let the “unknown” play itself out as it is an equation that can’t be determined at this time. So at this point, if your looking for a sure thing I’ll advise you that there is no one in the world that we know of that can predict the future to a point that is more than a “gut call”. If you do happen to know of such a person ask them why they didn’t tell us about Scholbert, Martinez, Alexander, Brown, and Ogletree. We would all love to know how they are not “banking” on such knowledge, wouldn’t you?
So as I list my players I’ll state who I like from a dynasty point of view and who to target to build your IDP lineup around. The list surely should translate over into a one year league as well. You’re not going to find me reaching for any players here. For example, as much all of us like a rookie there wasn’t one single rookie across the board I’d trust 100% to add to this list in their sophomore season. Remember I am going “safe” as possible as I suggest that we all trade for and occur these players with lower tiered players and picks. If you want to when now we have to stay with the known. Leaving the unknown and the lesser tiered for depth on our rosters. And as I’ve stated many times, winning now is my only approach. You’ll notice there are no 2017 rookies I’m convinced will be elite in 2018. In my view, wanting it to be will not make it happen. They have to earn it just like anyone else.
The “Gut Call” on Top-Tier Linebackers
Atlanta Falcons – Deion Jones
Unlike the 2017 rookie class, the 2016 rookie class of linebackers instantly produced playmakers that consistently was able to perform. Jones was personally one of my favorites out of the class from his skill set coming out of college to his landing spot with Atlanta. His opportunity was right and he was able to take advantage of that opportunity. He had a very respectable rookie season and made a leap in his sophomore season that many second-year linebackers struggle to do. Jones has the speed to cover sideline to sideline and reads and reacts at a level that takes years for average linebackers to do at the NFL level. His 2017 season was filled with “playmaker” type plays when it counted and was consistent with what he was able to do as a rookie. It is said in the NFL that a players third season is a crucial indication to his development and with what Jones has already accomplished in his first two seasons the assumption should be he’ll be a top-tier IDP player again in 2018. Due to his age, situation and performance thus far he is my suggested number one player to pay for to build that winning IDP lineup. Jones averaged making a tackle every 7.4 snap he was on the field in 2017. You’ll see as I go this is a strong indication of how a player dominates on the field of play.
Washington Redskins – Zach Brown
After a strong season in Buffalo after being misused in Tennessee, Brown put it all together again when Washington signed him for 2017. He is currently going to be an unrestricted free agent heading into the offseason. One would have to think that Washington wouldn’t let Brown walk without attempting to resign him. While playing thru the season with an Achilles issue he still played at a very high level on a defense desperately needing a playmaker. If he happens to sign somewhere else there isn’t any reason to believe at this point he can’t repeat his performance of the last two seasons. Brown is a player we shouldn’t have to convince ourselves to buy into as a top-tier performer. In this 2017 season he averaged making a play every 6.5 snap he was on the field. I’ll note here that so far he is leading that percentage.
Seattle Seahawks – Bobby Wagner
An obvious player here with Wagner who has headlined the top-tier for years now. There isn’t any reason with him in the middle of his prime to think he doesn’t remain here. One interesting thing to note that more than likely won’t matter, while looking at his current contract there is something to mention. He will jump from $4 million for the 2017 season to $10 million in 2018. There is also a potential out clause in his contract for 2018 if Seattle wants to move on. It would be a shock if Wagner is anywhere else but in Seattle in 2018. And if by a slim chance he wasn’t there isn’t any reason to remove him from this top-tier list. He is a proven player and it would take a drastic situation at this point for him not to remain here. Wagner averaged making a play ever 7.7 snap.
Carolina Panthers – Luke Kuechly
After a shaky 2016 season with concussion issues, Kuechly had one scare with the same issue in 2017. When thinking about if he should be on this list at this point I had to put some real thought into it. In the end, it came down to a couple of things. One was I believe the scare in 2017 was just that, a scare. There were a lot of conflicting reports coming out of camp at that time whether he actually had a concussion. The other would be that he made it thru the rest of 2017 season with no problems. He falls exactly where Wagner falls, he has been a top-tier and remains top-tier and the risk of injury can’t hamper his outlook if we are in a win now state of mind. He actually might be one of the easier players to obtain as people might not want to take what looks like a risk. Kuechly averaged making a play every 7.4 snap.
Tampa Bay Buccaneeers – Kwon Alexander
I have faith that Alexander would have been a top-tier linebacker this season if it wasn’t for his first few weeks of being injured with a hamstring issue. He also missed out on a portion of preseason with an issue. But once he got back into the fold and gained momentum he was performing at a top-tier level. There is no reason for us to believe that he’ll have the same issues at the beginning of the 2018 season. I’m basing this call on his rookie season and the fact he averaged making a play on every 7.4 snaps he did play this season.
The above players are my “gut” calls for sure upper tier players. Below is who I consider right outside of being a sure thing and a short take why they are. All are still great targets to try and upgrade for. They just have a situation that even if they’ll remain an LB1 tier type player in 2018 I don’t trust they can repeat just yet as an elite if they have before. And not willing to overpay as much as I would for the above players.
Baltimore Ravens – C.J. Mosley, I’ll need to see 2 straight seasons of top-tier numbers. (8.2)
Buffalo Bills – Preston Brown, a truly productive player by default for me based on his situation in Buffalo and has no extra playmaking abilities, 100% tackle dependent. (7.6)
Cleveland Browns – Joe Schobert, I’ll need to see 2 straight seasons of top-tier numbers, and the threat of Collins return in 2018. (7.4)
Cleveland Browns – Christian Kirksey, he almost made the sure thing list, but I’m going to side with caution and say Schobert and Collins and the situation in Cleveland hampers adding him. (7.7)
Green Bay Packers – Blake Martinez, I’ll need to see 2 straight seasons of top-tier numbers. And now Green Bay is looking at a new coordinator on defense in 2018. (6.8)
New York Jets – Demario Davis, see Preston Brown above. (8.3) Added note, Davis (1,118) and Brown (1,098) played the most snaps among the NFL linebackers. Screaming production by default with no notable playmaking stats.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Lavonte David, 100% stud playing the less relevant weakside backer in the defense with very talented Kwon Alexander to compete with. (8.0)
Minnesota Vikings – Eric Kendricks, settled in as a lower tier LB1 or high LB2 every season he has been in the league. (8.5)
Los Angeles Rams – Alec Ogletree, defensive scheme change in 2017 affected his production on the field making 2018 risky. Mark Barron may actually be the better player to own. (9.7)
If I have left off anyone that you would like to hear my “take” on, please let me know.
Thanks again for reading, I hope you found some helpful information to gain the edge in your IDP leagues heading into 2018. As always, I can be found on Twitter at @HBogart27 or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org for a follow-up or any questions you may have.