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Jene Bramel

LB Tiers

187 posts in this topic

These tiers will obviously change significantly between now and August. But it’s never too early to take a stand and start sorting players into tiers.

I’m going to use this thread to update the linebacker tiers through the summer (they’ll also be translated into my rankings starting in early May after the NFL Draft). Each update will have its own post in the thread, with later posts including a notation for changes from the previous version. I’ll link the post to each version here to keep things (somewhat) organized.

For the purposes of the defensive line tiers, assume a league with 60+ LB rostered, 25+ starting LB, a balanced scoring system (about 4:1 sack to tackle) and a relatively strong upside bias.

Discussion is welcome and encouraged.

Post Coaching Changes / Pre Free Agency

Version 1.0 (Post 2)

Post Free Agency Wave 1 / Pre Draft

Version 2.0 (Post 88)

Post Draft / Pre Camp

Version 3.0 (Post 155)

Version 3.1 (Post 169)

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Version 1.0

ELITE

Desmond Bishop

D’Qwell Jackson

Patrick Willis

Derrick Johnson

LB1 W/ ??? FLOOR

Colin McCarthy

Daryl Washington

Sean Lee

Curtis Lofton

James Laurinaitis

Ray Lewis

Pat Angerer

NaVorro Bowman

David Hawthorne

LB2 HIGH FLOOR

Paul Posluszny

Donald Butler

Jerod Mayo

Chad Greenway

Jon Beason

London Fletcher

DJ Williams

Brian Cushing

Brian Urlacher

Stephen Tulloch

LB2 HIGH CEILING

Lawrence Timmons

Rolando McClain

Sean Weatherspoon

James Anderson

Kelvin Sheppard

Karlos Dansby

Mason Foster

Perry Riley

Brandon Spikes

RUSH LB2

Von Miller

DeMarcus Ware

Tamba Hali

James Harrison

Kamerion Wimbley

Aldon Smith

LB3 LOW RISK/DEPTH

Lance Briggs

Kevin Burnett

Nick Barnett

David Harris

Jonathan Vilma

Michael Boley

Mathias Kiwanuka

Thomas Howard

Daryl Smith

Paris Lenon

DeAndre Levy

AJ Hawk

EJ Henderson

RUSH LB3

Connor Barwin

Clay Matthews

LaMarr Woodley

Ryan Kerrigan

Brooks Reed

Justin Houston

Shaun Phillips

Brian Orakpo

Sam Acho

UPSIDE ROSTERS/TIER JUMPERS

Bruce Carter

Rey Maualuga

Nate Irving

Jonathan Goff

Barrett Ruud

Thomas Davis

DeMeco Ryans

Martez Wilson

KJ Wright

ROOKIE WATCH

Luke Kuechly

Vontaze Burfict

Donta Hightower

Zach Brown

Lavonte David

Bobby Wagner

James-Michael Johnson

Sean Spence

Demario Davis

Audie Cole

Mychal Kendricks

Nigel Bradham

Keenan Robinson

Emmanuel Acho

Shea McClellin

Courtney Upshaw

Nick Perry

Melvin Ingram

Cam Johnson

Andre Branch

Vinny Curry

Bruce Irvin

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Clint Session is probably off the list because has too much of an injury history, is a 2 down Linebacker as well. Is that right Jene?

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Clint Session done or just off the list in the next group?

I must be missing something with Session. I get asked about him a couple of times a month.I still think he can be a valuable run defender and wouldn't pigeonhole him as a Tampa-2 system player, but there's been no indication that the Jaguars see him as an every-down player. And he's not been productive enough against run-heavy matchups as guys like Dan Connor or Jovan Belcher to be considered as a LB5/bye week/matchup replacement. He'd fit into the "replacement level currently, needs an injury to have any real value" tier alongside guys like Jo-Lonn Dunbar or Justin Durant for me.

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Where would you put Lofa Tatupu is he ends up on Philly?

Toward the end of the LB3/depth tier if he's able to play every down. Would expect that I'd be lower on him than most if that happens. He'd have to show much better range and power between the tackles before I'd consider him. Instincts and proper run fits can only get you so far. I'd love to see his knees healthy enough to allow him to play as he did five years ago, but I think it's a longshot. Very much doubt that anyone signs him with the expectation that he can hold up as a starting inside linebacker.

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Thanks, Jene...

Thoughts on Kavell Conner or Jamar Chaney? A bit surprised to see neither of them listed...

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Jene what do you think about Jasper Brinkley in Minny if he takes over the middle?

Is he good enough in coverage to play 3 downs?

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What happens to Angerer's value if the Colts go to a 3-4?

Colts are definitely moving toward hybrid base. Depends on how often they use the 3-4 as a base, which ILB role he plays and whether he plays every down. I think he's relatively safe but there's definitely risk there. New coach, new front office and new scheme. He was up and down last year and end of 2010, so there's reason for concern for what Pagano etal may see on film, too.

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Thanks, Jene...Thoughts on Kavell Conner or Jamar Chaney? A bit surprised to see neither of them listed...

Marginal talents with marginal upside with no guarantee they'll be every down players. There's an argument both belong in "upside roster" or "high floor depth" tier but I think they're more likely sell high or cut for better upside than holds.

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Jene what do you think about Jasper Brinkley in Minny if he takes over the middle?Is he good enough in coverage to play 3 downs?

I haven't seen anything that makes me confident that Brinkley will play every down. Both Hendersons are free agent, but I think it's likely that one or both re-signs. Brinkley probably in LB2 upside tier as every down player, but he'd have to look very good to hit 90+ solo ceiling.

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Think there's any chance Kiwanuka gets moved back to DE if Osi flies the coop in NY this year?

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Is Johnathan Goff's upside dependent on him re-signing with the Giants or do you just like him as a player? If he leaves do you see Greg Jones as their every down MLB and where would you put him on this list?

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Think there's any chance Kiwanuka gets moved back to DE if Osi flies the coop in NY this year?

There's a chance. I think the staff likes him at linebacker on most downs, though.

Thoughts on Jordan Senn in Carolina?

Replacement level talent. Was never high on the list of injury replacements until this year; Gaither, Williams, Williams and others got shots ahead of him at times over the past two years. Ron Rivera had some nice things to say about his play, but if Jon Beason is healthy, Senn is a base defensive player at best. He'll be behind both Beason and James Anderson on the nickel depth chart.

Is Johnathan Goff's upside dependent on him re-signing with the Giants or do you just like him as a player? If he leaves do you see Greg Jones as their every down MLB and where would you put him on this list?

Dependent on him re-signing with the Giants and the expectation that the Giants may continue to prioritize other positions in the draft over ILB.

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Excellent work as usual Jene. I can't wait to see your tiering for DB.

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No Wesley Woodyard??

Joe Mays is a free agent but I think we'll either see Mays re-signed or Irving in the middle before Woodyard gets a shot at an every-down job (which would necessitate Williams moving inside). Woodyard is a nice player, but he's a starter in subpackages only with the current depth chart.

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Why is McClain so low ?

He had a strong finish last year (last 6 games after the arrest)

Are you worried for a possible suspension ?

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Why is McClain so low ?

He had a strong finish last year (last 6 games after the arrest)

Are you worried for a possible suspension ?

Ignore the following and skip to the end if you feel comfortable with the reasoning behind the tier process itself. :P

-------------

The beauty of tiers -- and the difficulty for those who prefer a straight rank list -- is that this particular group of players...

LB1 W/ ??? FLOOR

Colin McCarthy

Daryl Washington

Sean Lee

Curtis Lofton

James Laurinaitis

Ray Lewis

Pat Angerer

NaVorro Bowman

David Hawthorne

LB2 HIGH FLOOR

Paul Posluszny

Donald Butler

Jerod Mayo

Chad Greenway

Jon Beason

London Fletcher

DJ Williams

Brian Cushing

Brian Urlacher

Stephen Tulloch

LB2 HIGH CEILING

Lawrence Timmons

Rolando McClain

Sean Weatherspoon

James Anderson

Kelvin Sheppard

Karlos Dansby

Mason Foster

Perry Riley

Brandon Spikes

...isn't nearly as different when you're using tiers as when you're looking at a 1-XX rank list.

Though it suggests that Colin McCarthy is ranked 5th and Rolando McClain is ranked 26th, they're really aren't that far apart in reality.

LB1 with Unknown Floor

LB2 with High Floor

LB2 with High Ceiling

Is there really a big difference between what those three tiers mean? To me, there is. I think there's more upside (today) in the first tier, a lot of safety in the second tier and a mix of both (with a relatively lower ceiling) in the third. But it's close.

When I translate these into my rank list later this spring, I'd expect that some of the players in the second and third tiers here will rank above those listed in the tier above. That's because I have to make a call on how confident I am in a player's likely floor and upside (which includes some of my own biases on whether ceiling or floor is more important.

Don't look at McClain as "low" here.

See him as in a range between 10-12 and 20-25. Read those tiers as saying that I think he belongs in the LB2 tier, that I don't feel he has true LB1 upside, but that I think he has a relatively higher ceiling (with a little more risk) than those in the high floor tier "above."

-----------

Regarding McClain specifically...

I like the uptick in his peripheral stats last year (four sacks and 13 PDs) but his inconsistent effort and inability to finish plays he should have continue to limit his solo tackle upside. That bothers me enough (despite seven games with seven or more solos in a season where he dealt with leg injuries) that I'm not confident enough in his chances to hit a 95+ solo ceiling to slot him in the higher LB1 upside tier.

There's also reason, as you note, to be concerned about his off-field issues and I expect that the Raiders will use more 3-4 fronts in the base defense. I think McClain's expectation is closer to David Harris than Ray Lewis if he slots at 3-4 SILB / 4-3 MLB as I suspect he would.

Still, there's an argument that there isn't much difference between Timmons and McClain and Hawthorne. I've no argument with those who would put Timmons and McClain at the bottom of the LB1 with questionable floor tier alongside Hawthorne (or Hawthorne down with the Timmons and McClain). The order in Post 2 is how I felt about the three at the time.

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does the dolphins possible scheme change back to a 4-3 help or hurt Dansby and Burnett? both had monster statisical games at times last year. i could be wrong but i don't believe Burnett has played in a 4-3 as a pro(nor misi of course). the fins don't seem to have a true 4-3 MLB. IMHO misi/dansby/burnett all seem to fit more of a SLB role with maybe Burnett having WLB ability.

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does the dolphins possible scheme change back to a 4-3 help or hurt Dansby and Burnett? both had monster statisical games at times last year. i could be wrong but i don't believe Burnett has played in a 4-3 as a pro(nor misi of course). the fins don't seem to have a true 4-3 MLB. IMHO misi/dansby/burnett all seem to fit more of a SLB role with maybe Burnett having WLB ability.

I agree that the Dolphins' depth chart looks like a bunch of 4-3 OLBs. The prevailing thought in the local media seems to be Dansby MLB, Burnett WLB. I think that's probably the best lineup fit, too. You're correct that Burnett has never played in a four man front, though the brand of 3-4 he's played in resembles a 4-3 in many ways.Using last season's stats as a baseline, the 4-3 isn't likely to help either player significantly. Whichever player lines up inside has the better chance at a 90+ solo season, but I don't know that either will have true LB1 upside without well above-average opportunity.

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So is this offseason the time to buy Nate Irving before he potentially explodes or is Irving still very much a gamble? I liked Irving coming out but noticed he had a quiet rookie season. That in itself doesn't make me that nervous however I didn't see enough Broncos football to get a good estimation on how their personnel will shake out and if Irving really is their future or if he's just a prospect with an opportunity.

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So is this offseason the time to buy Nate Irving before he potentially explodes or is Irving still very much a gamble? I liked Irving coming out but noticed he had a quiet rookie season. That in itself doesn't make me that nervous however I didn't see enough Broncos football to get a good estimation on how their personnel will shake out and if Irving really is their future or if he's just a prospect with an opportunity.

Prospect with opportunity.It's a risk, but a prime buy low situation. If you can pay LB4 prices for his LB2+ upside, it's worth it. Joe Mays is a free agent, but he played well and may not draw that much attention on the market. If he's brought back, Irving will have to be very effective to win a job. There's also no guarantee that he'll play in subpackages if Wes Woodyard is re-signed.

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Jene, word has it Nolan is going to bench Lofton on 3rd downs if he resigns w/ the Falcons? Do you think this will really happen? If so i would guess that Loftons value would plummet? :cry:

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Jene, word has it Nolan is going to bench Lofton on 3rd downs if he resigns w/ the Falcons? Do you think this will really happen? If so i would guess that Loftons value would plummet? :cry:

Not sure what to make of that. It's not unreasonable, and I think Nicholas can handle the job well. But I wonder how connected Pasquarelli is anymore and whether this may be a negotiating tactic. We've seen what this would do to Lofton in his rookie season (and with many other guys). He's a matchup LB3 without subpackage snaps.

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What's the perceived effect of the regime change in Tampa on Mason Foster? I liked what I saw out of Foster in his first season. Tough to say what impact if any the front office housecleaning will have.

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What's the perceived effect of the regime change in Tampa on Mason Foster? I liked what I saw out of Foster in his first season. Tough to say what impact if any the front office housecleaning will have.

I think the new flavor of the 4-3 (assuming it's the same Miami style 4-3 Schiano and Butch Davis have favored in the past) could be very good for Foster. But I'm not sold on him. He really struggled between the tackles at times and was up and down in coverage. If he's the every-down MLB in a slightly more downhill scheme and the DTs are healthy, it'll be hard to keep him out of the top 20-25. But I'm not yet convinced his ceiling is as high as others who have thrived in that scheme before him.

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Kavell Conner impressed me throughout the season. He in decisive and gets downhill quickly and hits hard. I don't have a complete picture of his coverage game because I don't have access to game tape that shows it completely, but from what I have seen he seems to be just fine. He is one of those guys that just "flashed" for me. Dekoda Watson is another player that "flashed" in my eyes, I think he needs to get more snaps.

Sean Weatherspoon makes too many mistakes, I think he is a bad player although his fantasy production opportunity is a different story.

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Jene, word has it Nolan is going to bench Lofton on 3rd downs if he resigns w/ the Falcons? Do you think this will really happen? If so i would guess that Loftons value would plummet? :cry:

Not sure what to make of that.

It's not unreasonable, and I think Nicholas can handle the job well. But I wonder how connected Pasquarelli is anymore and whether this may be a negotiating tactic.

We've seen what this would do to Lofton in his rookie season (and with many other guys). He's a matchup LB3 without subpackage snaps.

is nicholas another of those "NFL-is-not-FF" players? i had high hopes for him going into the season.

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I think a guy flying under the radar right now is Kelvin Sheppard. He didn't really go nuts or anything during his rookie season, but he got some serious playing time (like Lofton his rookie season) and looks to be ready to roll as the Bills new 4-3 MLB this spring.

Check this out from Rotoworld:

Kelvin Sheppard - Linebacker

New DC Dave Wannstedt has singled out MLB Kelvin Sheppard as a nucleus player on the Bills defense.

"I've got all the confidence in the world with Shep," said Wannstedt. "To me he's about what you're looking for in a 4-3 middle linebacker. ... I think it's going to fit his skills to a 'T'. I think he's going to be a very, very productive player for us." Sheppard is going to be a player to target in IDP formats in 2012. Feb 16 - 5:29 PM

Jene, can you give us some thoughts about his play, opportunity, and expectations if he is their 3 down MLB? I'm liking this guy right now...

Get him cheap before he goes Desmond Bishop all over your league!

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I think a guy flying under the radar right now is Kelvin Sheppard. He didn't really go nuts or anything during his rookie season, but he got some serious playing time (like Lofton his rookie season) and looks to be ready to roll as the Bills new 4-3 MLB this spring. Check this out from Rotoworld:Kelvin Sheppard - LinebackerNew DC Dave Wannstedt has singled out MLB Kelvin Sheppard as a nucleus player on the Bills defense."I've got all the confidence in the world with Shep," said Wannstedt. "To me he's about what you're looking for in a 4-3 middle linebacker. ... I think it's going to fit his skills to a 'T'. I think he's going to be a very, very productive player for us." Sheppard is going to be a player to target in IDP formats in 2012. Feb 16 - 5:29 PMJene, can you give us some thoughts about his play, opportunity, and expectations if he is their 3 down MLB? I'm liking this guy right now...Get him cheap before he goes Desmond Bishop all over your league!

I read a tweet from Wannstedt that went something like this, Nick Barnett played well last season and will play MLB for us in the nickle.If this is the case, i would temper my expectations.

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yeah, I thought I read someplace that Barnett would be Will in Base and move to MLB in Nickel

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Let's have Jene weigh in here. A) Before we get too worried we should see how often the Bills go into a nickel formation. B) Does Sheppard not have the skill set to grow into a 3dwn MLB or not? Jene could tell us I think. :football:

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Jene, word has it Nolan is going to bench Lofton on 3rd downs if he resigns w/ the Falcons? Do you think this will really happen? If so i would guess that Loftons value would plummet? :cry:

Not sure what to make of that.

It's not unreasonable, and I think Nicholas can handle the job well. But I wonder how connected Pasquarelli is anymore and whether this may be a negotiating tactic.

We've seen what this would do to Lofton in his rookie season (and with many other guys). He's a matchup LB3 without subpackage snaps.

is nicholas another of those "NFL-is-not-FF" players? i had high hopes for him going into the season.
I like Nicholas a lot as a player. He is very productive on a per snap basis and one of those guys who would jump tiers immediately if he's put in an every-down role by design or due to injury.

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I read a tweet from Wannstedt that went something like this, Nick Barnett played well last season and will play MLB for us in the nickle.

If this is the case, i would temper my expectations.

Full transcript here with lots of detail about what to expect from the Buffalo base defense. In short, Wannstedt tried to keep from committing to specifics, but you can read between the lines and see that he'll favor the "Miami" 4-3 as we expected.

Here's the important part of the linebacker discussion (though Wannstedt had nice words for Sheppard later in the press conference).

The beautiful thing about Nick is really nothing has to change for Nick. He was an outside backer last year. He’ll be an outside backer this year. He was our mike nickel in third-down. Nick Barnett had an outstanding year last year. And I learned this at Dallas, our first Super Bowl we had nobody go to the Super Bowl that year and after we go to the Super Bowl and have success as a team I think the next year we had six or seven guys. Were they the same guys? I think they were. But you know how that recognition thing works. Nick had a great year last year. There will be a few changes. I’m over simplifying it. But from a position standpoint, outside in the 4-3, inside in our nickel package that will remain the same.

Though there were subpackages in which Sheppard played when five DBs were on the field last year, it again would seem that the Bills would prefer Barnett as the primary nickel backer. Wannstedt didn't specifically say that Sheppard wouldn't play in the nickel, but there's no reason to flip the two roles in subpackages. If Barnett slides inside, Sheppard isn't flipping to a nickel OLB role.

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Hearing Nolan is considering bringing crowder in if they let lofton go.

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