In fantasy football, the defense is typically an afterthought for owners. Fantasy players grab a team defense at the end of their draft and then play week-by-week matchups to maximize points. To add more strategy to the defensive side of the ball, fantasy leagues can opt to play in Individual Defensive Players (IDP) leagues. IDPs allow for the specific defensive positions, and the defensive starts to get the spotlight in fantasy. The most impactful IDP position is linebacker due to their ability to rack up the tackles and fantasy points. Let’s take a look at the top 10 fantasy football linebackers for IDP leagues going into the 2021 season.
Fantasy Football Linebackers | Tier 1
LB1 | Darius Leonard (IND)
When looking for an elite IDP linebacker, fantasy football owners should be looking for players who can rack up the tackles and provide extra value with sacks and turnovers. Darius Leonard is an all-around linebacker who can make plays all over the field. Leonard has a nose for the ball carrier and can make tackles anywhere on the field for the Indianapolis Colts.
Leonard has put up over 120 combined tackles in each of his three NFL seasons, including 111 solo tackles as a rookie. Topping 100 solo tackles is a truly elite level for linebackers and a number to measure linebackers by for fantasy. Not only is Leonard a tackling machine, but he provides the ability to pressure the quarterback and get some sacks added to his stat-line. The one knock on Leonard is his health. He is the best IDP linebacker on a game-by-game basis for fantasy football, but he has missed multiple games each of the past two seasons.
LB2 | Bobby Wagner (SEA)
Bobby Wagner has been the poster boy for consistency at the linebacker position for years. He has had at least 130 combined tackles and over 80 solo tackles every season since 2016.
Wagner is the oldest linebacker on this top 10 list, however, he has shown no signs of slowing down. Wagner still provides plenty of potential to get sacks and turnovers. Also, he has provided owners three sacks each of the past two seasons. Until Wagner starts to show signs of wear or any regression from his consistent tackling, he will continue to be a top option for IDP leagues at linebacker for fantasy football.
LB3 | Devin White (TB)
Devin White emerged in 2020 as one of the best linebackers in all of football. White was dominant for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this past season. He had 140 combined tackles and 97 solos. Nearing that 100 solo tackle mark is a significant number to look for in fantasy football. As long as White shows consistency in racking up tackles, he will continue to provide elite fantasy value for IDP owners.
White provided fantasy owners value through his tackling ability and his pressure on the quarterback. White recorded nine sacks in 2020. If he can replicate his success in 2021 with sacks, he will become the best linebacker for fantasy football teams.
LB4 | Roquan Smith (CHI)
Roquan Smith has been a great fantasy asset for teams since he joined the Chicago Bears as a rookie in 2018. Smith has had at least 100 combined tackles in each of his three seasons, including his injury-shortened 12 game season.
In 2020 Smith moved to inside linebacker, and it allowed for Smith to go from a good fantasy linebacker to an elite one. Last season, Smith averaged 14 combined tackles and neared the 100 solo tackle mark with 98. Like the other tier-one linebackers, Smith is a tackling machine, but he provides value through sacks. In his two full seasons, Smith has had at least four sacks. Smith can continue to grow in his new role as an inside linebacker and should continue to provide elite fantasy football value for owners.
LB5 | Zach Cunningham (HOU)
Zach Cunningham has emerged onto the IDP scene over the past two seasons as an elite producer from the linebacker position. Cunningham broke out in 2019 with a 142 combined tackle and 99 solo tackle season. He only improved upon that in 2020 with 164 combined and 106 solo tackles. When it comes to pure tackling numbers, nobody has matched Cunningham over the past two years.
Cunningham has been lacking when it comes to sacks and turnovers, which is what holds him back from being the top linebacker in football. Cunningham is not used to blitzing the quarterback much, with four quarterback hits being his most in any season. Cunningham also only has one interception in his career. While tackles are most important for linebackers, these other stats help significantly in fantasy. Should Cunningham be used in blitz situations more or get his hands on more turnovers, he could quickly become the LB1 in fantasy football.
LB6 | Blake Martinez (NYG)
The final linebacker of tier one is Blake Martinez. Martinez has been a consistent fantasy producer from the linebacker position. He has had 144 combined tackles in every season since 2017 and has averaged 92 solo tackles over that time.
Martinez joined the New York Giants last season and showed he could maintain his fantasy production on a new team. He did have his lowest solo tackle season since his rookie year with 87 but made up for it with his most assisted tackles in his career at 65.
Each tier-one member has shown the ability to reach close to 100 solo tackles, and fantasy owners cannot go wrong owning any of these linebackers in their IDP leagues.
Fantasy Football Linebackers | Tier 2
LB7 | Jaylon Smith (DAL)
Tier two consists of four linebackers that are all very similar. Jaylon Smith of the Dallas Cowboys settles in at the top of this tier. Smith has been consistently improving as a linebacker in the NFL and for fantasy. He has increased his combined and solo tackles each year he has been in the league. This past season he put up numbers close to the tier one guys with 154 combined tackles and 89 solos which nearly pushed him into tier one.
Smith falls slightly behind the tier one linebackers when pressuring the quarterback and getting the added points from sacks. Smith has never had more than six quarterback hits in a season and has only recorded four sacks total over the past two years. As long as Smith continues to be a consistent tackler, he will continue to be a fantasy asset for IDP teams.
LB8 | Tremaine Edmunds (BUF)
Tremaine Edmunds of the Buffalo Bills has shown to be a tremendous linebacker on the field. He has racked up over 120 combined tackles in each of his three NFL seasons. However, Edmunds has only topped 80 solo tackles once. Should Edmunds increase his solo tackling numbers, he could easily challenge for the number one linebacker in fantasy football. For now, he will continue to be a consistent option for fantasy teams.
LB9 | Fred Warner (SF)
The third member of the tier two linebackers is San Francisco‘s, Fred Warner. Like Edmunds and Smith before him, he has put up solid combined tackle numbers throughout his career but has not quite neared the elite 90 plus to 100 tackle range. Warner has had at least 118 combined tackles every year, and just like Smith, Warner had an 89 solo tackle season. Warner only has four sacks and three interceptions in his career. As long as he continues his production, he will be an excellent option for years to come.
LB10 | Joe Schobert (JAC)
Joe Schobert comes in as the last member of the tier two linebackers and has provided owners with much of the same value as the ones ahead of him in these rankings. In his three fully healthy seasons as a starter, Schobert has over 130 combined tackles and over 80 solo tackles every year. Schobert plays the ball well in the air, bringing in 7 interceptions over the past two years, an incredible number for a middle linebacker. He’s a solid fantasy football option for IDP leagues.
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