2014 fantasy football profiles and projections: (LBs 16-30)

Auction...............$7

Bye Week.............4

After back-to-back top-five finishes, Laurinaitis slipped down to 19th in fantasy scoring among linebackers last season. At only 27 years of age, the Ohio State product still has plenty left in the tank. His slip in fantasy rankings can mostly be attributed to his solo tackles dropping from a ridiculous 117 in 2012 to 85 last season. Laurinaitis is still a playmaker, though, as he tacked on 3.5 sacks and two interceptions to his résumé last season. The presence of the young, athletic Alec Ogletree is likely a cause for Laurinaitis' dip in production, but he's a safe bet to finish among the top scoring linebackers in fantasy once again.

Auction...............$6

Bye Week.............10

Cushing is an IDP stud when he plays a full 16 game season, with a career-best third place finish among linebackers in fantasy scoring in 2009. Sadly, due to a four-game suspension and two ghastly (and unlucky) injuries, that has only happened twice in Cushing's five pro seasons. The broken fibula and torn LCL Cushing suffered in Week 7 last season should be fully healed by the time the Texans kick off the 2014 season, which is great news for Cushing. He's returning to a defense that is out to prove that last season's 2-14 record was an fluke, and not the norm. Cushing will be aided in his quest for a return to IDP glory by the addition of No. 1 overall draft pick Jadeveon Clowney, who along with J.J. Watt forms arguably the most athletic and terrifying defensive lineman duo in the NFL. Don't reach for Cushing, as his injuries the last two seasons have been significant, but he's worth grabbing later in fantasy drafts as a No. 2 linebacker with starter potential if he returns to his old form.

Auction...............$5

Bye Week.............11

Mosley is accustomed to playing on the big stage, as he was a part of two BCS National Championship winning squads while at the University of Alabama. Yet, he'll have a whole new spotlight to play under now that he's in the NFL -- the spotlight of filling Ray Lewis' shoes. That's an uneviable position for any player, but Mosley should be able to handle the stress. He's a hyper-talented force in the middle of the field, with ridiculous closing speed and top-notch instincts. Whether or not he fills Lewis' gigantic shoes remains to be seen, but there's little doubt Mosley will be able to fill up the stat sheets from an IDP perspective. Nab him as a No. 2 option and hope he delivers on his potential early.

Auction...............$5

Bye Week.............9

Worrilow was one of the surprises of the fantasy IDP world last season, when he was thrust into the action as an undrafted rookie free agent -- and actually played pretty darn well. While he was at times out of position, he flashed his raw athleticism and playmaking instincts while rejuvinating an Altanta linebacker corps in desperate need of a spark. Now, with another full offseason in defensive coordinator Mike Nolan's system under his belt, the game should be slowing down for Worrilow and he'll be able to put his athleticism and instincts to greater use. Nab him as a No. 2 linebacker with loads of upside.

Auction...............$5

Bye Week.............10

With eight solid years in Cleveland on his résumé, Jackson now will be suiting up for the Indianapolis Colts and pairing with Jerrell Freeman in the middle of Chuck Pagano's defense. Jackson lacks the speed he had in his youth, when he was able to roam sideline to sideline to make plays, but he now has more experience and savvy in his toolbox. While he isn't a likely candidate to push into the top 10 fantasy scoring linebackers, he can provide excellent value as a rotational IDP player or backup linebacker. Nab him later in drafts to add nice depth to any IDP roster.

Auction...............$4

Bye Week.............9

A fracture in Briggs' left shoulder cost the playmaking veteran a total of seven games in 2013, and was a main reason why the Bears' run defense ranked dead last in the NFL. Briggs will be wearing a shoulder harness this season as a preventative and cautionary measure to help him stay on the field for a full 16 games once again. If Briggs is on the field for the Chicago defense, he needs to be on fantasy rosters as well. The veteran has posted triple-digit tackles in eight of his 11 career seasons. He's likely to make it nine of 12 in 2014.

Auction...............$4

Bye Week.............12

There are some men you just can't keep down, and Davis is one of them. In 2011, Davis suffered his third ligament tear on the same knee, and some (including him at the time) thought his career might be over. Fast forward to last season, when Davis put up career numbers and helped the Panthers reach the playoffs for the first time in five years. Moreover, he probably helped a few fantasy teams reach the same peak thanks to his 126 fantasy points. Davis and teammate Luke Kuechly were forces in the Panthers linebacker corps, and nothing is changing heading into 2014. The vaunted defensive line in is still in front of Davis and Kuechly, helping to create space for them to make plays. Davis should be a safe bet to at least repeat his production from 2013, and possibly surpass it if he gets his hands on a few more turnovers.

Auction...............$3

Bye Week..............6

Despite playing in defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's aggressive system, Lofton didn't rack up game-changing stats or turnovers. That's because he's counted on as one of the fail safes, there to make a sure tackle if an exotic blitz or look gives the offense an opening. This limits Lofton's fantasy potential, but also makes him a sure bet to post around 120 fantasy points -- an excellent total for a rotational or backup linebacker, which is exactly what Lofton should be drafted as.

Auction...............$3

Bye Week.............9

Tulloch had a bounce-back season last year, returning to the top 15 among fantasy scoring linebackers after a down year in 2012. The eight-year veteran has been a tackling machine, racking up over 111 combined tackles in each of the last five seasons. Tulloch will likely be relied upon by the new coaching regime of Jim Caldwell and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin to help keep the defense steady as the players learn the new scheme, even if not too much is changing. Tulloch should still fill up the stat sheets, but a top-15 finish might be hard to duplicate with his playmaking running mate DeAndre Levy stealing fantasy points. Nevertheless, Tulloch should be rostered in all IDP formats as a more than capable backup at the very least.

Auction...............$3

Bye Week.............9

After four years of service in Bill Belichick's Patriots defense, Spikes now changes colors in the AFC East to join the Buffalo Bills. Spikes wasn't a fantasy superstar during his days in New England, but that could be changing now that he'll be filling a more traditional middle linebacker role in Jim Schwartz's 4-3 defense. Spikes is a solid No. 2 linebacker to target, as if he can stay healthy for the full year he should easily eclipse his career-best of 92 combined tackles from 2012.

Auction...............$2

Bye Week.............10

The Chargers awarded Butler a seven-year $48 million contract this offseason as a show of faith in their talented young linebacker. Fantasy owners should take note, as while Butler hasn't set the stat sheets on fire yet, he's a rising star worth noting. Butler has only started 12 games each of the last two seasons due to a groin injury that has flared up each year. If Butler can remember to stretch a bit more, he could be stretching IDP player's fantasy totals week after week. Target him as a No. 2 linebacker with upside.

Auction...............$2

Bye Week.............12

It was a well known fact across the NFL and among pundits that the Steelers needed to get faster on defense. One way to do that, is by drafting the fastest linebacker from college football, which is exactly what they did when they took Ryan Shazier with the 15th overall pick in this year's draft. Shazier posted a 4.38 second time in the 40-yard dash, and is all kinds of explosive, as his broad jump was the best among linebackers, and his vertical jump was the highest among all combine athletes. Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau will certainly be scheming to find ways to put his talented new playmaker in advantageous positions, which makes Shazier worth a flier in IDP formats.

Auction...............$2

Bye Week.............7

It took him seven years, but Ryans finally notched over 100 solo tackles for the second time in his career. The first came during his stellar rookie campaign, when he psoted 155 combined tackles. That was alos the last time Ryans was a surefire IDP commodity. Ryan has been productive, but never at an elite fantasy level. Still, he has enjoyed a career rebirth in Philadelphia last season under defensive coordinator Bill Davis as he posted career-highs in sacks and interceptions, and he should produce again in 2014. The presence of the younger, more athletic Mychal Kendricks is cause for concern, but as a No. 2 linebacker, Ryans provides nice value.

Auction...............$4

Bye Week.............7

Foster has quietly been a nice fantasy commodity since entering the league in 2011, and his stock is on the rise in 2014. New Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith has given defensive play-calling duties to Foster, as he prefers to have his middle linebacker running the show (Lavonte David had been calling the plays). This switch indicates that Smtih believes Foster can be an every-down backer -- something he hasn't been asked to do too often yet in his career. The increased playing time should lead to more tackles and hopefully some points in coverage as well. Foster is worth nabbing as a backup linebacker, if only for the promise he offers of running a Lovie Smith defense.

Auction...............$2

Bye Week.............11

In his fourth season with Dallas, the 26-year-old Carter is in a contract year. Along with the rest of the Cowboys defense, he struggled against the run last season. The North Carolina product will have to step it up in 2014 in an effort to keep the Cowboys defensive unit afloat, especially if he wants to see a nice pay day next year.

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