With all due respect to Jim Mora Sr., Off season? Off season? Don't talk to me about the off season! It has almost been a week since the Giants bested the Patriots, so what are we waiting for? It is time to start ranking players for 2012. Some would say only a fool would attempt to rank players before free agency and the draft. Well, I say that I am that fool and I will go one step further by ranking linebackers. So let's waste no more time and here are my top 20 linebackers.
#1) Desmond Bishop (GB): Everything a stud #1 LBer should be. An every down player that missed 3 games in 2011 and still posted 115 tackles. Even though passes defended dropped off, he added a career high 5 sacks. Is an ascending talent who has dominated since moving into the starting lineup.
#2)DQ Jackson(CLE): Bounced back huge after being hurt in 2010. Over 150 tackles to go along with 3.5 sacks added up to Jackson having a career season. Look for Cleveland to do all they can to re-sign Jackson (who is a free agent). A healthy DQ Jackson on a bad Cleveland team equals big time fantasy scoring.
#3) James Laurinaitis (ST LOU): Consistent tackling machine who averages over 125 tackles per season. Solid in coverage, had 2 interceptions, 7 passes defended, and 3 sacks in 2011. Is an every down player on a weak offensive team and that guarantees plenty of fantasy points again in 2012.
#4) Daryl Washington (AZ): Flourished in Ray Horton's system, putting up over 100 tackles. Despite missing a game and battling through an early season calf injury, he also added 4.5 sacks. The ceiling is high for this three down LBer who has improved his numbers each season.
#5) Curtis Lofton (ATL): Solid, so very solid. Has played all 16 games in each of his 4 seasons and does not leave the field on third downs. Averages over 120 tackles a season. Sack totals are low, but he is steady in coverage and does get the occasional interception.
#6) Jerrod Mayo (NE): A knee injury hampered Mayo for much of 2011, leading to a career low in tackle production. Mayo has been fantasy gold throughout his first 3 seasons in the NFL, averaging over 130 tackles a season. Spikes and Guyton struggled to hold down the ship while Mayo got healthy; look for a bounce back season for Jerod in 2012.
#7) Navarro Bowman (SF): Bowman erupted for over 130 tackles in 2012, leading the Niners in his second season. Has great speed and explodes to the ball, adding 2 sacks and 7 passes defended. Bowman and Willis are arguably the premier line backing duo in the NFL. Grabbing either one early is a must.
#8) Patrick Willis (SF): Battled a late season injury that led to his least productive season to date. Was still a big playmaker and managed 2 sacks, 1 INT, 12 passes defended and forced 4 fumbles. Less tackle opportunities with the speedy Bowman playing alongside him now, but still a fantasy stud.
#9) London Fletcher (WSH): Old Man River just keeps rolling along. Over 160 tackles, 2 INTs, with 8 passes defended. He is the consummate 3 down inside LBer. Keep an eye on his free agent status. Continues to be written off year after year as too old and continues to put up stellar stats.
#10) Derrick Johnson (KC): Once out of Todd Haley's doghouse Johnson excelled. He has averaged over 130 tackles the last two years. 9 career INTs with 3 returned for TDs indicate his coverage skills. Sack totals have declined over his career, but he is still an elite every down line backer.
#11) Chad Greenway (MINN): Mainstay on the Vikings defense since missing his entire rookie season with an ACL injury. Solid performer coming off a career high in total tackles. Averages 120 tackles a year for his career and is a solid, durable every down linebacker. Geenway will be on the field a lot in 2012 as Minnesota's offense looks for an identity.
#12) Jon Beason (CAR): A wild card to rank due to achilles injury in 2011. Beason's numbers had already dipped from 2009 to his 2010 totals. Days as a top 5 fantasy linebacker are likely over. Monitor any recovery updates and training camp reports of participation before investing a pick on Beason.
#13) Pat Angerer (IND): Had 146 tackles in 2011 playing on a balky knee. Angerer will be working in a new system under Greg Manusky in 2012, so his role may change a bit. Looks to still be an every down player on a rebuilding team, so tackle opportunities will be plentiful.
#14) Paul Posluszny (JAX): Solid first season with Jacksonville, but not up to his former Buffalo stats. Solo stops dipped to a career low 70, but still remained a solid coverage LBer with 9 passes defended and 2 picks. Off season shoulder surgery but should be good to go for training camp.
#15) Brian Cushing (HOU): Bounced back after a forgettable, suspension marred 2010. 4 sacks, 2 INTs and 2 forced fumbles speak to Cushing's big play abilities. Cushing adjusted very well to playing in Wade Phillips' system and put up 114 tackles.
#16) Sean Lee (DAL): Led Dallas in tackles despite playing from week 9 on with an injured wrist. Added 4 INTs, 100 tackles and cemented his spot in the middle for years to come for the Cowboys. Numbers will only go up from here.
#17) Colin McCarthy (TENN): Took over for an injured B Ruud and flashed his potential. 65 tackles, 2 forced fumbles and 1 INT in half a season puts McCarthy on a fast track to fantasy stardom. He will have huge upside as the starting inside linebacker for the Titans heading into 2012.
#18) Rolando McClain (OAK): Facing a May court date for assault, so monitor the outcome of that situation. Increased in both tackles and sacks in his second season, added 13 passes defended to showcase his coverage abilities. Monitor his legal situation going forward.
#19) Von Miller (DEN): A sack machine in his rookie season. Huge big play abilities with 11.5 sacks and 3 forced fumbles. Miller suffered a big drop in production after breaking his hand down the stretch. An entire off season to improve his run stopping game combined with his burst to the quarterback means the sky is the limit for Miller.
#20) Stephen Tulloch (DET): Steady producer in the middle with 111 tackles to go with 3 sacks and a pair of INTs. The Lions would like to re-sign Tulloch to anchor their line backing corps. Monitor where he lands in free agency and look for solid scoring wherever that is.
Obviously, this list will be significantly altered by free agency as well as the draft in the days, weeks and months to come. That said, there does need to be something to occupy our fantasy minds until the first forty yard dash time comes in from the NFL combine. Say goodbye to 2011 and all the great memories it gave us in the fantasy world. It is time for the preparation to begin on building our championship squads for 2012.