For IDP fantasy football leagues, there is a ton of variance in preseason player rankings, but utilizing tiers can help us properly value each group of players in 2023 fantasy football drafts.
The main contributors to a linebacker’s IDP success are the volume of defensive snaps combined with playing in zone-heavy defenses, which rack up tackles more efficiently.
The following tiers reflect which players are in the best situations to produce — they're ranked based on the likelihood of doing so every single week.
The criteria for making the top tier of IDP linebackers is relatively simple: be an every-down linebacker and play in a linebacker-friendly defense that breeds above-average tackle efficiency for the position. This means zone-heavy coverages and, more specifically, a Cover-2 heavy scheme, which proves to be the most effective coverage at propping up linebacker tackle numbers (as illustrated below).
A quick thread on the most efficient coverage scheme for linebacker tackling since 2019, per @PFF:
Cover-2 has allowed for >15% tackle efficiency for LBs since 2019 (average being 11-13%) acting as a true edge for #FFIDP leagues!
— Jon Macri (@PFF_Macri) March 25, 2022
The six players in the 1A tier figure to be the favorites to post the highest tackle numbers in the league based on their expected role in their defenses. Bobby Wagner may surprise some based on his age. Still, the Rams ranked fourth in the NFL last season in zone coverages (82.60%). Then there's the added bonus of playing behind Aaron Donald, who draws all the attention at the offensive line, opening up room for the linebackers for clean tackle opportunities.
The rest of 1A should surprise no one, with this group almost filling out the consensus top-five linebackers in ADP terms,. Their tackle efficiency and every-down roles make them the most coveted players at the position.
The 1B tier has just as much going for them, with zone-heavy defenses, expected positive tackle efficiency and an every-down roles.
Rounding out the top-tier of linebackers, Lavonte David is likely another surprise player based on where he tends to go in drafts, but don’t let the age fool you. He may be coming off one of his worst statistical seasons in recent memory, but he also missed five games with injury. Typically, David is the ideal linebacker for IDP. He rarely leaves the field, having never played less than 90% of defensive snaps when healthy in a season, and is a lock for triple-digit tackles as a result.
Rookie Devin Lloyd and sophomore Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah both project to be every-down linebackers on ideal defenses for expected production. Expect both young studs to push for 140-plus combined tackles, if healthy.
The second linebacker tier features 17 linebackers on teams that are expected to be less zone-heavy than those in the tier above. Here's why that is important:
|Coverage Scheme||2021 Linebacker Tackle Efficiency|
|Average LB Tackle Efficiency||12.98%|
|Cover-2 Man (man)||9.62%|
The tackle efficiency drop-off is massive when defenses lean toward man coverages, especially considering the league average linebacker tackle efficiency in 2021 was 12.98% — also well above the man coverage averages. These are the seemingly small tiebreakers that matter when it comes to predicting production for IDP fantasy purposes.
Micah Parsons will almost never make it to the 13th linebacker off the board in IDP drafts, but this isn’t an ADP ranking — it’s a ranking for expected linebacker production in 2022. Parsons is almost certainly due for production regression this season — after posting 13 sacks in his rookie year, he’ll have everyone clamoring for that ceiling again. Unfortunately, his part-time role as a pass-rusher, combined with a part-time role as an off-ball linebacker, is more than likely to create a very low weekly floor throughout the season.
Parsons’ 8.23% tackle efficiency ranked 99th among linebackers last year, in large part due to his time spent on the edge (41% of defensive snaps), which kept him from being in a position to add to his tackle totals each week. That role is not expected to change in 2022.
Each player in the 2B tier is in line for an every-down role and likely to be productive, but each team is below-average in zone coverage usage, separating them just a bit from the linebackers above.
The 2C tier is represented by potentially every-down players who have struggled to stay healthy or have question marks about their in-season availability (Deion Jones). If they can play an entire season, then their IDP prospects should allow them to finish anywhere in this range.
This final group in tier 2 includes players who are likely to be starters on their teams, but their less-than-ideal roles may hold back their IDP production. For Isaiah Simmons and Jerome Baker, it’s a combination of high blitz rates that depend on converting sacks and low tackle efficiency, which hurts their floor. Drue Tranquill, playing for the Chargers, will have volume concerns, but he is an efficient player when asked to start.
The third linebacker tier kicks off with four players who should be in line for every-down roles, but the confidence level of them holding those jobs all season, or at all, is just low enough that they find themselves in the middle here. Denzel Perryman has the best chance to exceed his ranks, emerging as an IDP star last season, posting 154 total tackles (sixth in the NFL). But Josh McDaniels could be an issue after coming over from New England, where linebackers (and defensive players in general) are rotated heavily with few true every-down players to rely on for IDP.
Nicholas Morrow, Dre Greenlaw and Jordan Hicks all figure to be locked into the No. 2 team linebacker role and in a position to produce decent numbers in the box score, but they may see just slightly less than a full-time role.
The next group also consists mostly of expected No. 2 linebackers on their teams, a role which is likely to be a little less than the linebackers who precede them on this list (around 75% of defensive snaps). Still, there will be plenty of opportunity for production even with playing time limits.
Nick Bolton also makes this group, not as a No. 2 linebacker on his team but one whose expected workload is less than that of a No. 2 linebacker on most other teams, which figures to be around 60% of defensive snaps.
T.J. Edwards and Rashaan Evans both land in this tier based on the uncertainty of their roles in 2022. Both teams added exciting rookies (Nakobe Dean and Troy Andersen), though both rookies come with question marks (Dean with his injury and Andersen just as a very raw player). If one or both lock down a starting role, it would mean IDP-relevancy in defenses that allow for every-down roles and deploy coverage schemes that breed increased linebacker production. Atlanta led the NFL in Cover-2 zone looks in 2021 at 32.1% — over 100 defensive snaps more than the next-closest team. Unfortunately, the ambiguity around their situations adds some risk to overspending on them in drafts.
Alex Anzalone leads off the last group in Tier 3 and despite being in an expected every-down role is among the least efficient tacklers at the position, ranking 107th among all linebackers over the past three seasons in total tackle efficiency. His 9.66% rate was nearly three percentage points below average (12.36%). After that, we’re looking at less than every-down roles for top linebackers on teams with less linebacker-friendly defenses.
|4C||53||Leighton Vander Esch||Cowboys|
|4C||54||Willie Gay Jr.||Chiefs|
We’re getting more team No. 2 linebackers in this tier, but ones whose IDP values are likely to be even less than those ahead in the ranks, either based on their team’s tendency to lean more one linebacker-heavy or just a lack of confidence in those players to hold a starting job for an entire season. Quincy Williams and Kamu Grugier-Hill qualify for the latter, while Pete Werner, Jamin Davis, Devin Bush, Cory Littleton and Germaine Pratt figure to all come off the field quite a bit in defensive sub-packages.
The middle of this tier is full of linebackers whose teams either deploy a very heavy rotation at the position (Willie Gay, Leighton Vander Esch) or are so dime-heavy that their team LB2 carries a low floor for IDP production (Ernest Jones, Quay Walker, Kenneth Murray).
The penultimate tier is mostly about ambiguous linebacker situations for IDP managers to bet on who they expect to win a starting role, ordered by the most profitable for fantasy purposes. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of evidence at this point in the offseason to suggest one player over the other, so for those drafting right now, we’re purely taking best-guess shots on who will emerge.
Nakobe Dean locking down a starting spot would vault him further up this list, but due to injury concerns and his third-round draft capital, IDP managers may not see that happen until later in the season. Until then, Kyzir White and T.J. Edwards should get plenty of play.
The Falcons linebacker situation is currently bogged down in uncertainty with Deion Jones trade talks combined with his offseason surgery. Plus, the unproven Mykal Walker and raw Troy Andersen have been added to the mix, along with Rashaan Evans, who has experience playing under Falcons current defensive coordinator Dean Pees. There are no clear bets for the Falcons' top two starting linebackers for Week 1, but whoever gets that role will be well worth the low cost, as this situation will yield solid IDP production.
The Raiders’ and/or Lions‘ second linebacker spot figures to be less profitable for IDP but still worth taking a shot on in deeper leagues. While these aren’t necessarily full-time roles when on the field, these defenses tend to create above-average linebacker production for IDP purposes.
TIER 6: SLEEPERS
Depending on the starters’ availability, some of these players (Chad Muma, Azeez Al-Shaair, Krys Barnes, Monty Rice) would be locks for in-season waiver-wire targets, while others (Jabril Cox, Christian Harris, Micah McFadden) could earn their way into bigger roles as the season progresses.
Troy Reeder can an IDP-relevant starter when given the opportunity, and the Chargers' LB1 spot is not set in stone.
Matthew Adams figures to be a deep sleeper for the Bears if Nicholas Morrow can’t win the job outright or isn’t healthy enough, Adams is most familiar with new head coach Matt Eberflus and his defense.
Leo Chenal was a tackling machine in college, earning the highest run-defense grade (94.1) among all linebackers in this year’s rookie class. The Chiefs aren’t likely to give him much playing time in Year 1, but injuries to starters could allow him to produce IDP-relevant numbers even on lower snap totals, not unlike Nick Bolton last season.