Rank lists and cheatsheets can be deceiving when they're presented without commentary. Our rankings have been vastly improved by adding staffer comments, but it can be hard to see the all-important context in the consensus rankings and sheets. It's critical to know where a significant drop-off in fantasy value occurs. A simple rank list can't tell you if the DL4 is closer in value to the DL10 than the DL3. A cheatsheet can't tell you if the ranker feels the LB10 is a boom-bust play with LB2 upside and LB40 downside while the LB11 has a much narrower range of expectation.
That's where tiers are helpful.
Using tiers allows you to lump and split players in context. Using tiers can help keep you on the right side of draft runs. Seeing that you have five linebackers of equal value left on your board might prompt you to take a player at another position. Noting that there's only one wide receiver left before a major drop in value will show you when you must draft a position sooner than expected. A tiered draft board keeps you from making panicked decisions while on the clock.
Note 1: These tiers are based on 2014 expectation only and I'm basing positional classifications on the MFL database (which syncs to the Rotoworld depth charts later in the offseason). I will include a separate dynasty stash tier at the end of each positional article.
Note 2: The date on this article represents the last time the tiers were updated. Make sure you are viewing the most recent tier article by checking the complete IDP article list here.
THIS IS THE MID TRAINING CAMP UPDATE (MID AUGUST)
I'll be updating this feature twice more before the season starts, once after the third preseason games and then a final update before the season begins. Any changes in this update come from watching the first two preseason games, listening to camp press conferences and examining the first team released depth charts earlier in camp.
I've added a column to address trends inside and throughout the tiers. I'll add a ^^^^ for those players making a move up in my tiers and vvvv for those players who have dropped since the previous tier release (August 2). For reference, I'm going to preserve the earlier versions of these tier articles, but the trend column should help you see where player movement is happening within the tiers at a quick glance.
I've also included an ADP column. The ADP number (snapshot taken on August 18) will be an average of our FBG rankings (top 80), the FantasyPros Consensus Rankings (top 90) and ADP data from all drafts after July 1 at MFL.
TIER 1 | ELITE LB1
Barring some positive signs in the very deep tier jumper category below, this won't be a season to slough this tier and look for safe value later. You'll need at least one of this tier on your roster this year to avoid what could be a frustrating season of chasing matchups and worrying over snap counts for the players in the middle ranks. We've already lost three consensus elite backers to injury or suspension (Sean Lee, Kiko Alonso, Daryl Washington). Riskier names are moving into the lower tiers on numbers alone -- someone has to finish in the LB2 ranks -- but the pool of true every-down strong fantasy options has already weakened. You'll be wise not to let this tier pass you by in favor of deeper WR and RB rosters.
|May not finish as overall LB1, but arguably still safest target on your draft board
|New scheme is perfect fit, but not much room to improve from last year's solo and big plays
|Depth chart in Cincinnati still full of role players, stat crew no longer a concern
|Though not elite talent, opportunity and surrounding cast make him near lock for 100 solos
|Still a stud, Bowman likely to miss 1/2 season, could be #1 overall fantasy LB again
|Jerod Mayo [VALUE]
|Favorable home stat crew, marginal surrounding cast, don't underrate him
|Steady, big-play capable, KC still hasn't paired him with another talented ILB
|Huge 2013 and momentum should follow him to great situation in Cleveland
|Paul Worrilow [VALUE]
|Play didn't match numbers last year but should improve, little competition for tackles
TIER 1A | ELITE LB1 UPSIDE
There's an argument to jump these three names up into the elite tier group due to their high floor and scrap this hedge tier altogether. But I'm hopeful that camp elevates a few additional names into this tier by early August. Woodyard stands out to me as the best upper tier value on the board.
|Gregg Williams as DC could improve big plays, presence of Ogletree limits ceiling
|Home stat crew depresses solo tackles, strong defense limits tackle opportunity
|Wesley Woodyard [VALUE]
|Locked in at WILB, durability concern holding him out of elite tier
TIER 2A | RISK-REWARD LB2
Here's why you'll want to attack the elite tiers this year. While I've added some intriguing names with upside in Jamie Collins and Mason Foster and Ryan Shazier and Brandon Spikes in recent updates, the floor of this group is riskier than usual. Also, remember, in a straight rank list the names in this tier would be intermixed with the other Tier 2 players.
|Instincts questionable but athleticism more than make up for it, near elite option
|Fragile but healthy, has good big play value, little competition for tackles
|Jamie Collins [VALUE]
|Versatile enough to play inside or outside, OTA evidence suggests full time role
|Ryans' rebound limited numbers last year, closer look has me optimistic again
|Mason Foster [VALUE]
|Impressing Lovie Smith, playing every down in preseason
|Knee injury will cost him multiple weeks, still has LB2+ upside when returns
|Likely to start season on PUP, target as depth after you've drafted 3-4 others
|Performance in second preseason game shows his athleticism can be harnessed
|Bills installed him in nickel package after evaluating other options in OTAs
|Assist-happy stat crew hurts solo tackle upside, must compete w/ Freeman
TIER 2B | HIGH FLOOR LB2
Generally, I use this tier to list players I'd be comfortable using as my LB2 every week in a pinch and would be very happy running out as an every-week LB3 starter in balanced scoring systems. Each of these players put up solid numbers and will be in similar situations this year. But there's an argument that every player on this list will struggle to reach last year's numbers or will have more weekly variance than expected.
|Goofy stat line last year (57-66, 5 sacks, 18 PD), hard to project elite ceiling here
|Could slot in risk-reward tier, but think high floor is better bet than elite ceiling
|Quietly top ten fantasy option last year with strong solos and good peripherals
|Scheme independent high floor fantasy option, should be dependable every-week play
|Zimmer scheme a positive, but 90 solos may be a tough ask
|Looks slow next to Shazier, more competition for tackles
|Steady production last year, will be every-down player again with consistent opportunity
|Stellar talent, upside blunted due to Kuechly's fundamental play between the tackles
|May be underrating him, but stiffer competition for tackles this year, stat crew an issue
|Expected more solos last year, OAK much more athletic outside, ceiling questionable
TIER 2C | RUSH / BIG PLAY LB2
This tier looks better than it did a month ago. Von Miller looks like he'll be ready for Week 1 and I like what I'm seeing from Brian Orakpo. If you're going to use a high variance option in balanced scoring systems, you may as well go all or nothing.
|Terrell Suggs [VALUE]
|Wasn't limited by Achilles last year, still putting up 50-10 seasons
|Would have been T10 in balanced scoring in 2014 if it weren't for elbow dislocation
|Will drop if not ready in camp, but late spring reports looked positive
|Brian Orakpo [VALUE]
|Rumors of more aggressive rush scheme, on franchise tag, set up for big year
|Suspended for first four games, will be top tier big play threat when returns
TIER 3A | UPSIDE LB3
This tier is starting to become more attractive. Mosley, Jones, Robinson and Brown are all seeing an uptick in value, making the top half of this tier stronger with each passing week. And there's still hopeful upside in Bartu, Moore, Kirksey and Te'o.
|Playing every down at WILB, looks comfortable in preseason games
|Back in dime packages, playing every down without competition
|Gets Weatherspoon's SILB role, will play every-down, high variance play
|Keenan Robinson [VALUE]
|Locked into starting and every-down role, has durability questions
|Running with first team in camp, could be every-week fantasy play
|Battling with Miles Burris in camp, but winner likely to play every down
|Playing in all but the dime snaps this preseason
|Likely to win ILB job in camp, good chance to play every down
|Won WLB job in OTAs, expected to play in subs, durability questions
|Cardinals using dime subpackage w/ Foote lone linebacker, be wary here
|Likely to start at MLB in third preseason game, don't overdraft him yet
|Won't hold value long, but could be LB3 while Trevathan recovers
TIER 3B | HIGH FLOOR LB3
If you decide you'd rather not mess with risky players from the middle tiers, the top half of this tier are solid LB3s you can rely on if you heavily target the elite DE and safety tiers instead.
|Inconsistency and durability are concerns, high floor option with upside when healthy
|Off to good start last season, questionable surrounding cast, may be underrating him here
|Has a chance to be ready for opening weekend, don't see LB1 ceiling
|Looks entrenched at MLB with indications he'll be every-down player
|Likely to stick as every-down ILB in Arizona but has limited ceiling
|Strong between tackles, not rangy enough to be elite fantasy option
|Unlikely to repeat 2013 tackle numbers, change in scheme won't boost stats
|Brutal in run defense last year, moving outside with Misi in middle now
A NOTE ABOUT THE FOLLOWING TIERS
We may still see players move into the draftable tiers above, but it's time to make definitive calls on the long list of players who were previously in the watch list tier. Some have moved up, some will be dropped from the tiers altogether. In addition to the established Matchup Rush LB tier, I'm adding a Early Season Matchup Cloud tier (for watch list players who didn't end up in a better role but still have depth value) and a Inseason Speed Dial tier (for players who will immediately jump in value with any role change).
Your scoring system, roster depth and lineup requirements will determine whether any of these players are immediately rosterable or waiver wire targets in the first month of the season.
MATCHUP RUSH LB
There are some intriguing names here and lots of suitable flyers for those in big play heavy scoring systems. Hali and Peppers will be solid and if Mingo continues to play every down, look out for him to ascend rapidly this year.
|May be short suspension, will move up to Rush LB2 tier if less than four games
|Always lock for 40-10 floor, solid LB2 in big play systems
|Will be reclassified to LB, think he'll surprise with big pass rush numbers
|Either dominant or dominated last year, development will skey ratio toward dominant soon
|May have dropped him too far, but sitting frequently in nickel in preseason
|Not enough tackles to rank higher, durability concern
|Needs work against run to be every-week option, pass rush was there in full time duty
|High floor with questionable ceiling, may be underrating him a few slots here
|Elite talent in great situation opposite Watt, tackle stats limiting factor
|Big pass rush numbers, non-existent tackle numbers due to role
|Still something left in tank, limited ceiling
|Melvin Ingram III
|Talented enough to be next Robert Mathis, injuries have slowed development
|Better against run than expected, pass rush upside major question
|Started strong last year, slowed after teams adjusted, upside alongside Watt/Clowney
|Pressure numbers still strong, boom-bust matchup option
|Showing signs of life in camp and preseason games
BEST OF EARLY SEASON MATCHUP CLOUD
This group look locked into to a role already. Most of them have limited upside unfortunately, but could be strong matchup plays for those in tackle-heavy leagues in the right situation. Bradham, Barr and Durant are the most likely candidates to pop early this season.
|Suspended one game, has shot at every-down role w/ continued strong camp
|McClain getting look as MLB, Durant could still be every-down WLB
|Disappointing stats and hasn't fully developed, but will get snaps again this year
|High variance option as every-down SLB opposite Burfict
|No longer playing in dime subpackage
|Niners likely to use platoon next to Willis
|Running with first team at OLB and playing every-down, limited upside
|Running with first team, but Bostic replacing him in nickel
|Lack of instincts and inconsistent play finally dooming his prospects
|Still not guaranteed of starting role, won't play in nickel
INSEASON SPEED DIAL WATCHLIST
The players in this group have the potential to see their role change into a much more attractive fantasy situaiton at some point this season. Any of them may have a LB3++ ceiling if things break just right for them.
|Battling Wilhoite for snaps, may rotate early but could takeover quickly
|Vikings looked at Greenway inside, still have Brinkley w/ first team
|May beat out Nigel Bradham for snaps outside, but current role nickel only
|Telvin Smith Sr
|Playing OLB in nickel, will need injury to crack base defense this year
|Needs to be on watch list, but fit and ILB instincts are questionable
|Longshot, team still prefers Maualuga, healthy Lamur hurts upside
|Lapped by Jamie Collins, will not have every-down role
|High speed score does not a MLB make, nickel backer only right now
|Didn't like what I saw on tape, but MIA looking to upgrade now
|Tuggle and Mohammed moving up depth chart, Dent looks like afterthought
|Starting at OLB for now, but has no fantasy upside
Players listed here are either young vets buried on the depth chart or recently drafted prospects with some long term potential. Or they are named Brandon Graham. If you thought I'd be taking Graham off this list, know that it will now never happen after Graham favorited my "Free Brandon Graham!!" tweet during the draft last month.
|Torn ACL in offseason workouts ends his 2014 season
|Torn ACL in OTAs, on injured reserve, out until 2015, long term durability questions
|Suspended indefinitely, to miss all of 2014, early 2015 questionable
|Was rumored to have chance to split ILB reps but hasn't seen first team yet
|Kyle Van Noy
|Could be base WLB and nickel pass rusher on stud defensive line
|Range dropped considerably before Achilles injury, not great long term bet
|Dolphins are goofy, insist on starting Wheeler as base OLB
|Playing well with first team at SLB in camp, may earn long term look inside
|Could see high leverage rotational role, upside tied to Smith's suspension length
|FBG!! = Free Brandon Graham!!
|Cowboys giving Durant first shot, signed McClain, ETA may not be until 2015
|Marcus Smith II
|Could move into Matchup Rush LB tier with strong offseason
|Still questionable fit at MLB, Irving earned job in OTAs
|Needs development, Chargers could have strong young pass rush combo soon
|Intriguing long term ILB option, quick and powerful and every-down capable
|Compared favorably to Telvin Smith Sr, stuck on depth chart for now
|Fifth round selection, but warrants monitoring given lack of depth chart clarity in TEN
|Fell in draft due to off-field concerns, talented member of crowded CHI depth chart
|Stuck behind Houston and Hali, may follow Mingo development curve
|Not sure he's more than solid college player, won't have much opportunity in 2014
|Third team OLB on depth chart, may not make final 53 in Minnesota
Follow and ask questions on Twitter @JeneBramel. Reading the Defense will be a regular feature this offseason with free agent commentary, draft prospect previews, tier discussion, links to our offseason IDP roundtable podcasts and much more. Subscribe to The Audible on iTunes or download our IDP podcast here.