As there typically is no standard-setting in Individual Defensive Player (IDP) leagues, knowing your roster requirements and scoring settings is essential to a sound draft strategy. You will need to consider the value of tackles compared to other defensive scoring categories such as sacks, interceptions and passes-defensed. If your league requires you to draft linebackers, we have your top 5 targets here:
1. Kwon Alexander, Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
If your league is solo-tackle dependent, Tampa Bay’s Kwon Alexander should be your number one target. The second-year middle linebacker out of LSU set career highs with 108 solo tackles in 2016. Kwon added 37 tackle-assists, 3 sacks and one interception that was returned for a TD and had 12 games with at least five solo tackles. Alexander also adds the ability to score fantasy points in the double-digits, as he had three games with at least 11 tackles, including two contests with 14 solo stops as he flourished under Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith. With Smith returning on a multi-year contract extension and the Buccaneers offense loading up on offense through the draft and free agency to score plenty of points, expect Alexander to be turned loose against opposing offenses that are forced to come from behind, racking up several double-digit tackle efforts this season. 2017 prediction: 119 solo tackles, 29 tackle-assists, 2.5 sacks, two interceptions, one forced fumble.
2. Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks:
If an opposing player was tackled by a Seattle Seahawk in 2016, odds were that Bobby Wagner was involved. The 27-year old middle linebacker recorded 85 solo stops to go along with an eye-popping 82 assisted tackles, finishing as the Seahawks’ top-graded defender by PFF last year. Wagner, already a force in the run game, was also one of the best pass-rushers from the middle linebacker spot in 2016, totaling 4.5 sacks and pressuring the opposing QB on 23.5 percent of his snaps. Bobby, looking forward to 2017, hopes to turn all those pressures into more sacks. “I had a lot of QB pressures but not a lot of sacks; so, turning those pressures into sacks, hopefully,” he said during OTA’s when asked what he focused on in the offseason. “So whenever I get my name called, I hope to have a sack instead of a pressure.” Wagner, who once was recorded running a 4.5-40, doesn’t just rely on his athleticism to make plays, as his hours spent in the film room has earned him recognition as one of the smartest linebackers in the game. Wagner uses that intelligence to make an impact in coverage as well, recording one interception and three passes-defensed in 2016. The three-time Pro Bowler and two-time 1st-team All-Pro has recorded at least 100 tackles in five straight years, and expect more of the same this season. 2017 prediction: 81 solo tackles, 69 assisted tackles, 2 interceptions, 5 sacks.
3. Alec Ogletree, Los Angeles Rams:
2016 saw the rangy 4th-year linebacker transition from the weak side spot to the middle, where he ended up flourishing. The University of Georgia alum amassed 98 solo tackles and 38 assisted-tackles while breaking up 11 passes and recording two interceptions. Using his incredible speed and athleticism, Ogletree made plays all over the field, contributing to consistent IDP fantasy points throughout 2016. Alec posted 12 games with at least five solo stops and had four games with double-digit combined tackles. Now, with new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips bringing his attacking 3-4 defense from Denver and defensive tackle Aaron Donald eating up blockers in front of him, Ogletree will use his versatility to rack up the stats this year. Look for Alec to play on all three downs and have a major impact on the field. Over Phillips’ two seasons in Denver, his top two inside linebackers averaged over 180 combined tackles, 1 sack and 1.5 interceptions per year. 2017 prediction: 88 solo tackles, 33 assisted tackles, 2.5 sacks, 2 interceptions.
4. Von Miller, Denver Broncos:
If sacks are the way to score big points in your IDP-league, Miller will be your go-to-guy. Over the course of his six professional seasons, Von has averaged over 12 sacks a year. In 2016 Miller sacked opposing QBs 13.5 times and added 62 solo stops, 16 assisted-tackles and three passes defensed. The 28 year-old was named the second most-productive pass rusher in 2016 by PFF, just behind Khalil Mack. Miller posted ten 2016 games with at least half a sack and nine games with at least four solo tackles. This season, Von is already off to a great start, wreaking havoc in the Broncos’ backfield during training camp and warning Atlanta’s Vic Beasley that he’s coming for his sack crown. With no offseason distractions like Dancing With the Stars to fill up his summer, Miller is focusing all his efforts to improving on his already prestigious career with a monster ’17. 2017 prediction: 14.5 sacks, 53 solo tackles, 12 assisted tackles, two passes-defensed, three forced fumbles.
5. Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers:
Despite missing nine games over the past two seasons with concussions, Kuechly recorded his 5th-straight season with at least 100 total tackles in 2016. Playing in just ten games last year, Luke averaged over seven solo tackles and three tackle-assists per game. He also added six passes-defensed, two sacks, one interception and one forced fumble before missing the final six weeks of the season with a concussion. Though disappointing for fantasy owners who kept him on their roster during the playoff push in hopes he would return, his injury-shortened 2016 stats would have been a great year for anyone else. Entering 2017, Kuechly has been cleared from the concussion protocol and refuses to alter his playing style. One of the most athletic middle linebackers in the league, Kuechly, with 12 career interceptions and 43 passes defensed, wreaks havoc all over the field and on all three downs. With a full return to health, and if he can avoid his third straight season with a concussion, expect a ton of fantasy points this year. 2017 prediction: 98 solo tackles, 43 assisted tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, 1 forced fumble.
Next level options:
Deion Jones, Atlanta Falcons
Sean Lee, Dallas Cowboys
Vic Beasley Jr., Atlanta Falcons
Telvin Smith, Jacksonville Jaguars
Bernardrick McKinney, Houston Texans