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Fantasy Football: Using 2024 NFL defensive schemes for IDP linebacker projections

2EKAK9J Mike Zimmer watches from the sidelines as the Vikings play the Bears on Dec. 30, 2019. (Photo by Anthony Souffle/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS/Sipa USA)

• Creating tackle projections for 2024 based on past defensive tendencies: See which linebackers are in the best position for IDP success this season by utilizing key information about each team’s expected defensive schemes.

• The Dallas Cowboys linebackers are in for a significant change: With Mike Zimmer replacing Dan Quinn as defensive coordinator, things are looking up for the Dallas linebackers.

ADP, trade values, projections and analysis: Available in PFF’s fantasy rankings.

Estimated reading time: 11 minutes

Fantasy football projections can often be a helpful guide to find players to target and avoid in drafts, as they rely on mostly stable data and information that is typically unbiased relative to rankings. For IDP, we’re going to aim to do the same thing as we take two of the most important pieces of information for linebackers — playing time and defensive schemes — in order to create a general tackle production total for the 2024 NFL season.

Key note to keep in mind (please read first)

  • These are general projections. This set of projections is only focusing on two key data pieces at the moment — previous team LB usage and previous team coverage schemes.
  • This should help IDP managers get a better feel for the teams and players that are worth targeting this season using two of the greatest contributing factors for tackles in IDP: playing time and defensive coverage schemes.
  • These projections are not for specific players but instead focus on the specific roles within the team (i.e. using “LB1” and “LB2” instead of Alex Anzalone and Jack Campbell, for example, as the players can be interchangeable throughout a season due to injuries, etc. with the role itself being more stable for expectations)
  • Some team projections are more limited than others due to a lack of information. For example, Jim Harbaugh hasn't coached in the NFL since 2014, leading to a lack of coverage data. 
  • Personnel can dictate usage and deployment. Defensive coordinators changing teams, for example, may not deploy the exact same defense they did with the previous team, though it’s often close. These projections will still use previous data from past defensive coordinator’s seasons, even when changing teams.
  • The NFL is constantly changing and evolving. Teams are expected to vary in usage and coverage deployment year-to-year so it needs to be expected that these numbers are not exact and just a general expectation.

Projecting team linebacker playing time for 2024

The first and most important factor for every single defensive player's IDP production is, and always will be, playing time. The more snaps a player plays, the more likely they are to deliver fantasy production, and if they’re not on the field they have no chance of delivering fantasy production. It’s as simple as that.

For linebackers, specifically, teams that use two full-time linebackers are becoming less and less throughout the years as coaches find more value in utilizing more defensive backs for coverage purposes and/or only using certain linebackers in specific situations as opposed to just leaving them out there for all three downs. With this in mind, we can look back at recent past data to identify how often each defense deployed its linebacker corps on average for the season.

Looking at the chart below, the primary focus will be on the secondary linebacker for the most part, as you can see almost every team deploys at least one true full-time linebacker on a weekly basis. Highlighted teams are using different team data than their own from 2023 because their new defensive coordinators have reliable past data to pull from.


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