2013 fantasy football profiles and projections (LBs 1-15)

Statistical projections are provided by EA Sports/NFL.com

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Kuechly was a tackling machine in college and was still a tackling machine when he arrived in the NFL. The Panthers linebacker took full advantage of Jon Beason's absence by having a monstrous rookie campaign. It turned out to be so big, that it will likely force Beason to a new position. Kuechly might match his 2012 numbers, but he should be one of the first IDPs off the board in 2013.

Laurinaitis took a small step back from a fantastic 2011 season, but he was still good enough to finish fourth at his position and sixth among IDP players in 2012. The Rams continue to improve their club all the way around, which should only help Laurinaitis. He should once again be a top five linebacker off the board for the 2013 season.

Over the past three seasons, Posluszny has become one of the league's most well-rounded linebackers. 2012 was his best season to date, and it seems like he hasn't yet hit his ceiling. Teaming up with the ever-developing Russell Allen, Posluszny should remain free to patrol the middle of the field as a playmaker.

Jackson ranked 17th in fantasy points among linebackers last season, but there were a mere two instances where he had more than five solo tackles. That was tough for IDP leaguers to take. Still, the veteran's future is bright - he will move into the " Daryl Washington" role in the defense of new coordinator Ray Horton's 3-4 scheme. Jackson will also be better protected with defensive line monsters like Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor back at 100 percent health. With those two behemoths in front of him, Jackson has a legitimate chance to regain his statuis as a No. 1 fantasy linebacker.

Johnson has hit his prime, posting his two most productive all-around seasons in 2011 and 2012. This season, he could have some help on the inside from fourth-round draft pick Nico Johnson (no relation). Still, he's Kansas City's primary playmaker on the defensive side of the ball and has the chance to crack the top 10 at his position once again in 2013.

Add Wagner to the list of young defenders making the Seahawks defense one of the league's most formidable units. Heading into 2013, he'll be hard pressed to duplicate, in large part because fo the additon of Cliff Avril. There will be a logjam at the linebacker spot in Seattle, but we won't see Bruce Irvin seeing any time at the position for at least four games due to a league-imposed suspension. Overall, owners should consider Wagner a viable No. 1 fantasy linebacker in drafts.

It's hard to be a standout on such a talented defense, but Bowman has found a way. In his third season, the Penn State product has arguably surpassed Patrick Willis as the 49ers primary defensive playmaker. Certainly the duo complement each other and will both be valuable IDP options ths year. But in a draft, Bowman is likely to be the first of the two off the board.

Lee played just six games in 2012 because of a toe injury, but he appeared to be on his way to a huge IDP season. While he's yet to record a sack in his NFL career, the Penn State product has been outstanding as a linebacker in coverage. He also tackles nearly anything that moves in his area. With nearly a full year to recover and rehab, Lee is poised to be among the top IDP producers in the league this season.

Mayo might not draw the same amount of attention as some of New England's other stars, but he's just as productive as any of them. He's consistently remained among the league's most productive tacklers while averaging nearly two sacks a season over the past four campaigns. At just 27 years old, he is just entering his prime and will once again be the leader of the Patriots defense. While the unit may have its struggles as a group, there should be no such concerns with Mayo individually.

2012 was a nice introduction to the NFL for David. The man from Nebraska finished the season second in the NFL in tackles and bolstered those numbers with a couple of sacks and an interception. With the Bucs adding help to their secondary, it could free up David to pursue the quarterback a little more often. Regardless, he has plenty of upside as an IDP linebacker in 2013.

Willis is one of the NFL's most dominating linebackers, though he isn't the most productive fantasy option on his own team -- that title goes to NaVorro Bowman. Still, most fantasy owners would be happy to have a player like Willis on their roster. He hasn't pursued the QB as much in the past couple of seasons, but he provides enough across the board that he should be owned in most IDP formats.

If you're looking for Chad Greenway, you can usually find him near the football. The two-time Pro Bowl selection is nearly a lock for 80-plus tackles and a couple of fumble recoveries. The Vikings have also given him free range to attack the quarterback as well. With Minnesota getting stronger along the defensive line, Greenway should continue to rank among the top ten at his position.

The Steelers defense might be aging, but their inside linebackers, Timmons and Larry Foote, keep them in good stead. Timmons has become the main playmaker as the unit has had to deal with injuries to some of its former stars. It should help to have rookie Jarvis Jones rushing from the edge, meaning Timmons can remain a solid reserve option in many fantasy leagues.

The ageless Fletcher shows few signs of slowing down. The veteran set a career high with five interceptions last season to go along with his normally solid tackle and sack numbers. He'll be 38 when the season starts, but has been one of the most reliable players in league history, having never missed a game in his 15-year career. There's no reason to doubt Fletcher can post another top 10 IDP fantasy season.

A knee injury ended Cushing's season after just five games, but he has been one of the league's most dynamic linebackers over the course of his career. The biggest question facing the former USC star is whether he can regain his previous form after undergoing surgery. He's worth taking a chance on this season, but until IDP owners have a better idea of how he'll perform, it might be best to leave him on the bench.

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