2012 NFL Fantasy Football Rankings: Linebackers

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Athlon breaks down each position on the fantasy gridiron, including IDPs.

<p> Athlon breaks down each position on the fantasy gridiron, including IDPs.</p>

The 2012 NFL Fantasy Season is here. Mock drafts abound. Rookie round-ups are nearly complete. Bye week cheat sheets are everywhere. Positional rankings are popping up everywhere, which at Athlon Sports also includes Individual Defensive Players or IDPs

While the ever-important Athlon Sports 2012 Big Board, the most accurate consensus top 100 list of fantasy footballers on the web, includes the most common and used positions in fantasy football, IDPs are also a part of many leagues out there. So true to our word of providing you everything you need to get you ready for the upcoming fantasy football season, here are our IDP rankings for linebackers (LB).

Rankings are based on Athlon Sports standard scoring for IDPs:

Solo tackle = 1 pt
Tackle assist = 0.5 pts
Sack = 3.5 pts
Interception = 3.5 pts
Forced fumble/recovery = 2 pts
Defensive TD = 8 pts
Safety = 2 pts
Pass Defended = 0.5 pts
Blocked Kick = 4 pts

Athlon Sports Fantasy Football Positional Rankings: Linebackers

Rank, Name, Position, Team (2011 Fantasy Points per Athlon Sports standard scoring)

1. Patrick Willis, LB, San Francisco 49ers (114.0 FP)
Willis has finished each of his pro seasons among the top five linebackers in fantasy football. Willis produced career highs in pass breakups and forced fumbles despite missing three games.

2. Desmond Bishop, LB, Green Bay Packers (124.5 FP)
Only D’Qwell Jackson delivered a better fantasy scoring average among linebackers last year. Bishop tied for the league lead in sacks for an inside backer, despite losing three games to a calf injury.

3. James Laurinaitis, LB, St. Louis Rams (146.5 FP)
Not a whole lot changed for Laurinaitis in 2011, so it’s tough to nail down the reason for his jump of 21 assisted tackles. Coach Jeff Fisher touted first-round pick Michael Brockers as a guy who will tie up blockers and clear pursuit lanes for his star middle linebacker.

4. Derrick Johnson, LB, Kansas City Chiefs (140.0 FP)
Johnson followed a slow start last season by delivering double-digit fantasy points in seven of the final 10 fantasy weeks, despite the fact that the Chiefs spent two fewer snaps per game on defense than in any of the previous four years.

5. NaVorro Bowman, LB, San Francisco 49ers (144.0 FP)
It would have been unfair to expect Bowman to step in and be Patrick Willis, but he basically did. The question will be whether he can repeat the performance now that the league knows about him. The presence of both on the same defense should help each player, and — like Willis — Bowman will stay on the field in all packages.

6. D'Qwell Jackson, LB, Cleveland Browns (162.3 FP)
Finally back healthy last season, Jackson led the league in solo tackles and ranked second only to London Fletcher in total stops. Jackson also delivered a career high in sacks and can’t help but enjoy the Browns’ improved defensive line.

7. Daryl Washington, LB, Arizona Cardinals (128.0 FP)
Washington tied several others for the sack lead among inside linebackers. Pro Football Focus rated him second-best at the position in pass rushing, fourth-best in coverage. That keeps Washington on the field and keeps opposing offenses from knowing how he’ll be deployed.

8. Sean Weatherspoon, LB, Atlanta Falcons (118.5 FP)
The departure of Curtis Lofton in free agency should turn Weatherspoon into the Falcons’ leading tackler. Weatherspoon is an impact pass-rusher and coverage player who will stay on the field in all packages.

9. Curtis Lofton, LB, New Orleans Saints (143.0 FP)
Jonathan Vilma’s suspension only ensures that Lofton will man the middle for his new team. He ranked fifth in the league in tackles — his second finish among the top six in the past three seasons.

10. Stephen Tulloch, LB, Detroit Lions (131.5 FP)
A two-down type with the Titans, Tulloch graded out as the league’s second-best coverage player at inside linebacker last season, according to Pro Football Focus. That delivered a career high in interceptions and indicates upside beyond his five passes defensed. Three sacks were also a personal best.

11. Jerod Mayo, LB, New England Patriots (91.0 FP)
Mayo became largely a 4-3 outside linebacker last season and fared just fine with it. Mayo’s versatility keeps him on the field across formations, which will prove important with so many new pieces entering the Patriots’ fray. With health, he should continue his late-2011 fantasy production.

12. Colin McCarthy, LB, Tennessee Titans (74.0 FP)
Over the final eight games, McCarthy averaged 9.3 fantasy points in our scoring format. That would have placed him among the top 10 linebackers for the season, just ahead of NaVorro Bowman.

13. Paul Posluszny, LB, Jacksonville Jaguars (114.5 FP)
Posluszny’s numbers dipped last season, but it wasn’t for lack of effort. His career-high nine passes defensed were evidence of arguably his best performance in pass coverage. Poz’s all-around ability provides upside and keeps him on the field.

14. Pat Angerer, LB, Indianapolis Colts (127.5 FP)
A rookie-led unit should still allow the defense to spend lots of time on the field, which was the biggest mark in Angerer’s favor last year. He’s moving to Chuck Pagano’s 3-4 scheme, but Angerer remains the squad’s clear best bet for tackles.

15. Ray Lewis, LB, Baltimore Ravens (101.5 FP)
A toe injury cost him four games, but Lewis still managed the position’s 12th-best scoring average. It was his sixth straight season ranking among the top 12 and followed three years of not missing a game. Lewis has delivered two sacks or more in six straight seasons with at least seven passes defensed in five of those.

16. Brian Urlacher, LB, Chicago Bears (119.0 FP)
Urlacher isn’t quite the same player he used to be, but you can’t tell by his fantasy numbers. His three interceptions in 2011 were his most since 2007. Beware of a decline, but don’t ignore him.

17. Sean Lee, LB, Dallas Cowboys (109.0 FP)
Lee got off to a fast start in 2011, with three interceptions over his first five games and three 11-plus tackle games in that span. Lee’s strong run defense results in a good tackle base, pairing well with coverage upside.

18. Luke Kuechly, LB, Carolina Panthers (Rookie, DNP in NFL in ’11)
The early plan in Carolina is for Kuechly to man the weak side and Jon Beason to stay in the middle. Kuechly brings range, speed, smarts, cover skills — basically everything. We don’t yet know if the team will keep all three linebackers on the field for passing downs, but Kuechly shouldn’t go anywhere.

19. DeMarcus Ware, LB, Dallas Cowboys (128.3 FP)
Ware leads the NFL in sacks over the past four years, five years, six years and seven years. Even in a standard format, Ware hasn’t ranked outside the top 30 linebackers since his rookie year. In 2011, Ware never went two consecutive games without a sack. He delivered more than one in six outings.

20. Chad Greenway, LB, Minnesota Vikings (131.5 FP)
Greenway enjoyed his second straight season as a top-five tackle producer in 2011. His 65 assists helped prove the importance of counting that category to any IDP leagues still lagging in the land of solos-only.

21. Karlos Dansby, LB, Miami Dolphins (109.5 FP)
Settling in at middle linebacker when the Dolphins go 4-3 would be good for Dansby's fantasy value. Strong-side linebacker likely wouldn’t be so good. Dansby’s talent as a pass-rusher and in coverage make him worth a risk.

22. Rolando McClain, LB, Oakland Raiders (114.0 FP)
McClain’s criminal conviction obviously adds risk. Even if his sentence doesn’t interfere with the regular season, the league figures to dock him at least a couple of games. McClain broke out as a fantasy factor and might have scored more if not for a foot injury. He could be on a short leash with the Raiders.

23. London Fletcher, LB, Washington Redskins (153.3 FP)
Fletcher led the league in tackles last season with 166 total. This marked the sixth time in seven seasons the veteran's had at least 95 solos, and the 70 assists he had in 2011 marked a career high. Still, he’s 37 and playing next to the emerging Perry Riley. That threatens to siphon some tackles.

24. Lawrence Timmons, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers (95.5 FP)
Timmons is among the league’s fastest, most athletic inside linebackers. Sacks and INTs bring considerable upside.

25. Brian Cushing, LB, Houston Texans (122.5 FP)
Cushing played the third-most snaps of any Texans defender and performed quite well in every facet. Pro Football Focus credited him with 31 combined hits and hurries beyond his four sacks, and Cushing continued to improve in coverage.

26. Von Miller, LB, Denver Broncos (103.3 FP)
Miller couldn’t have been much better in his first season. He finished just two of his first 12 games without a sack. A fractured thumb cost him a game and severely limited his production down the stretch, yet Miller tied for ninth in the league in sacks and carries upside beyond that.

27. Jon Beason, LB, Carolina Panthers (4.0 FP)
Two years ago, Beason was among the surest things in IDP. But his numbers dipped as he slid outside for the injured Thomas Davis, and then last year he ruptured his Achilles’ tendon. It’s also a distinct possibility that first-round pick Luke Kuechly pushes Beason out of the middle. Beason gets some benefit of the doubt, but you must draft with caution.

28. Kelvin Sheppard, LB, Buffalo Bills (62.5 FP)
Heading into his first season as Buffalo’s defensive coordinator, Dave Wannstedt has already talked about Sheppard’s fit at middle linebacker in the new 4-3 scheme. Sheppard will need to prove himself in coverage to stay on the field for third downs and keep from capping his production.

29. DeMeco Ryans, LB, Philadelphia Eagles (58.0 FP)
Ryans started a bit slowly last year in his return from a ruptured Achilles’ tendon. Ryans’ biggest problem was that Houston’s new 3-4 scheme left him as a part-time player. That won’t be the case in Philly, where Ryans is poised for bounce-back numbers based on sheer opportunity.

30. Lavonte David, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Rookie, DNP in NFL in ’11)
The Derrick Brooks comparison isn’t fair, because the Bucs no longer deploy the old Tampa-2 defense. On the weak side, David should be able to work around his limited size and leverage the tackling ability that led him to average more than 10 per game each year at Nebraska.

— Published on June 19, 2012

Athlon Sports 2012 NFL Fantasy Content:

Athlon Sports Big Board: Top 150

2012 Fantasy Football Mock Draft I

2012 Bye Week Cheat Sheet

Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: QBs

Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: RBs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: WRs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: TEs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: DLs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: DBs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: IDP Top 75

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