2016 fantasy football profiles (LB 1-15)

Auction...............$14

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

Had he not missed three games with a concussion, Luke Kuechly likely would have finished in the top five scoring linebackers once again. That being said, it's a testament to Kuechly's ability that he still racked up nearly 120 combined tackles, defended 10 passes and intercepted four others in an injury-shortened season. Keuchly is one of the game's best interior linebackers playing on one of the league's best defenses. That's a recipe for fantasy success owners will want to invest in early in IDP drafts.

Auction...............$14

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

Last August, Lavonte David signed a hefty (and well-deserved) contract extension with the Buccaneers, and proved during 2015 that he was worth every penny finishing as the top scoring fantasy linebacker. David has been among the most dominant statistical linebackers since joining the Buccaneers as a second-round draft pick in 2013, racking up an average of over 100 solo tackles in each of his four seasons. He's also proven his mettle as a versatile playmaker, with nine career interceptions and 13 career sacks. Looking ahead to 2016, David should continue his dominance patrolling the field for new defensive coordinator Mike Smith. He's a lock to be one of the first few linebackers drafted in fantasy this fall.

Auction...............$12

Bye Week.............8

NaVorro Bowman carried a lot of risk entering the 2015 season, as no one knew if he'd be the same IDP all-star from years past after missing all of 2014 with a ghastly knee injury. Bowman delivered in dynamic fashion, setting a new career high with 154 combined tackles. His pass defense wasn't up to past standards (just two passes defensed, no interceptions), but Bowman is the centerpiece of a San Francisco defense that has invested first-round picks in defensive lineman in each of the last two years. Bowman has posted more than 140 combined tackles in his last four full seasons, and it's the combination of his consistency and playmaking ability that make him worthy of being one of the first few linebackers taken in fantasy.

Auction...............$10

Bye Week.............5

Throughout his career, Paul Posluszny has been a tackling machine, and thus, an IDP stud. He's notched over 100 solo tackles in four of the last five seasons where he's played in at least 14 games, including 103 a season ago. However, Posluszny is no spring chicken, with nine pro seasons already under his belt. Luckily for him (and his eventual fantasy owners), the team has surrounded him with young talent in the form of Telvin Smith and Myles Jack. While those two could push Posluszny aside down the line, for now, his role is cemented in the middle of that Jacksonville defense and he should be set to post another steady fantasy outing as an LB1 in 2016.

Auction...............$9

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

After seeing Bucannon's success as a hybrid saftey-linebacker as a rookie, they moved him to that role -- coined "Moneybacker" -- almost full time in 2015 with great success. The emerging second-year stud led the team in tackles, and tied for fourth in sacks with three. With Tyrann Mathieu suffering another torn ACL last season, the team will need Bucannon to step up again to start 2016 as their star works his way back to 100 percent. Bucannon should be more than ready to handle that challenge as he roams around, wrecking opposing game plans. He's a good bet to finish the season inside the top-10 scoring linebackers once again, if not the top five.

Auction...............$9

Bye Week.............8

In two short years, C.J. Mosley has established himself as a rising star in the IDP community. The former first-round pick by the Ravens has notched over 117 combined tackles in each of his first two years, while compiling a solid seven career sacks. The Ravens season was one to forget last year, but help has arrived in the form of longtime Charger Eric Weddle in the secondary, and several talented young draft picks. Mosley might not be able to push ahead of the guys above him in our rankings, but he has the talent and system to continue to thrive in fantasy. Look to target him as a mid-range LB1 with upside this fall.

Auction...............$9

Bye Week.............5

One of the main cogs in the Seattle defense, Bobby Wagner has been a fixture in IDP circles as a solid producer, but his 12th place finish last season was a career high. Injuries have been partly to blame, as he's missed eight games over the past three years, but it also stems from Seattle having such a ferocious front seven that Wagner isn't counted on to make every single tackle. That being said, he's still an extremely talented player on an elite defense, which is a good combination for fantasy purposes. Wagner is an excellent safe option as a low-end LB1, but he also carries nice upside if a few more difference-making plays (interceptions, fumble recoveries, etc) come his way in 2016.

Auction...............$9

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

Somethings get better with age, and that's been the case for D'Qwell Jackson's fantasy fortunes since joining the Colts in 2014 after eight years with the Browns. Jackson has posted consecutive top-five fantasy finishes at the linebacker position, setting new career highs in sacks (four in 2014) and passes defensed (10 in 2015) in that span. Jackson could still be facing league punishment after being arrested in February of 2015 for an incident involving Jackson and a pizza delivery driver, but that could also be delayed during the appeal process, so stay tuned. Back to actual football, Jackson is a force in the Colts defense, and one they will certainly be counting on even more with Jerell Freeman leaving for Chicago in free agency. Jackson should be on track for another LB1 finish in 2016 despite the fact that he'll be 33 by the time October rolls around. He's worth drafting as an elite fantasy linebacker for at least one more year.

Auction...............$8

Bye Week.............5

It was good to see Derrick Johnson back among the top scoring fantasy linebackers in 2015, after a torn Achilles tendon robbed him of almost the entire 2014 season. Throwing out 2014, Johnson has posted 95-plus solo tackles in each of his last five seasons. Johnson has thrived in defensive coordinator Bob Sutton's system since the two joined forces in 2013, with Johnson being used more in the pass rush as a result. He's logged four-plus sacks in his last two non-injury seasons, something he hadn't done since 2007. Being another year removed from his Achilles injury should only help Johnson as well. Even if Justin Houston struggles to return from offseason surgery, the Chiefs defense should remain a top-notch unit with Johnson holding court in the middle of the field. He's a solid LB1 once again for 2016.

Auction...............$8

Bye Week.............5

Telvin Smith has risen quickly in NFL and fantasy rankings after entering the league as a fifth-round draft pick out of Florida State in 2014. As a rookie, he started nine games and registered 72 solo tackles, which were the third-most by a rookie in 2014 (C.J. Mosley, Chris Borland). Sliding in as the starting weakside linebacker as a sophomore, Smith pushed his game to new heights with 99 solo tackles, 2.5 sacks, seven passes defensed and one touchdown. Per Pro Football Journal, his 13.5 "stuffs" (when he tackles the runner behind the line of scrimmage) were tied for fourth in the league among all defenders. Smith accomplished this all in just 14 games, too. With more talent joining the Jaguars defense via free agency and the draft, Smith should be poised for another excellent fantasy campaign and is worthy of being selected as an LB1.

Auction...............$8

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

When Malcolm Smith won the Super Bowl MVP award following the Seahawks' title back in 2013, many joked that he'd become the next trvia answer football fans were forced to remember. Few expected him to join the Raiders in 2015 and not only play very well, but lead the team in defensive snaps played (1,139). Smith became a consistent fixutre in defensive coordinator Ken Norton's linebacking corp, and always found himself around the action, as evidenced in his impressive statistical totals. The Raiders added more pieces to the defensive line (Bruce Irvin) and secondary (Reggie Nelson, Karl Joseph, Sean Smith) which will help the unit's playmaking potential as a whole. Either way, Smith figures to pick up where he left off last season and turn in another solid fantasy campaign. Look to lock him down as a fringe LB1 for 2016.

Auction...............$8

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

The most searing memory many will have of Thomas Davis is of his gnarly scar after he had his broken arm surgically repaired two weeks before he played in Super Bowl 50. However, looking back farther than that, Davis played extremely well in 2015 as a 32-year-old linebacker with three ACL surgeries under his belt. His 75 solo tackles were the third most of his career, while his 5.5 sacks, seven passes defensed, four interceptions and four forced fumbles were all career highs. The team may have drafted Davis' eventual replacement last year in Shaq Thompson, but for now the veteran has his role locked down, assuming he doesn't encounter any hangups in the rest of his recovery. He'll once again be a fringe LB1 with a high floor, but lower ceiling than some of the other linebackers on this list.

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

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

After another rock solid season anchoring the middle of the Denver defense, Brandon Marshall enters 2015 in search of a new contract. That's part of the reason why he's slid up our rankings, while the other is the departure of Danny Trevathan in free agency to the Bears. Marshall will be called upon a bit more often in Wade Phillips' defense, hopefully leading to a few more opportunities to make plays. Even if those don't come, Marshall has proven to be a steady tackler with an average of 84 solo takedowns per year in his two starting seasons with the Broncos. He's a great name to target with plenty of upside once the elite linebackers are off the board in IDP leagues.

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

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

Danny Trevathan parlayed a Super Bowl victory with the Broncos into a new contract with the Chicago Bears, where, along with Jerrell Freeman, he'll roam the middle of Vic Fangio's defense. This is a scheme that turned both Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman into IDP stars back in San Francisco. Trevathan isn't that level of player, but he's proven he'll be up for the challenge and should be able to turn in at the very least a mid-tier fantasy campaign. In his two starting seasons in Denver (not counting 2014 where he missed 13 games with injury), Trevathan posted 100-plus combined tackles and at least two interceptions each year. While he isn't likely to crack the top five scorers at his position, Trevathan is a great later-round LB1 target in IDP formats this fall.

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

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

As a rookie, it only took Eric Kendricks three weeks to prove he was the starting middle linebacker of the future for the Vikings, as from Week 4 on he started every game for the Vikings aside from two weeks he missed with injury. In his 14 appearances in 2015, Kendricks racked up nearly 100 combined tackles, four sacks and one pass defensed. The Vikings defense is a unit on the rise with a great head coach in Mike Zimmer, and Kendricks should be a main cog in this group for a long time. As for 2016, expect the former Bruin to build on his promising rookie campaign and make the jump up into the top half of the linebacker fantasy scorers, if not higher.

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