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Most fantasy owners are used to drafting off a simple ranking of players, but that can mask underlying differences that exist between players. For example, two players may be ranked right next to each other on a cheatsheet, but there could be a wide gap in the expected production for them. In that case, you would probably want to draft the higher-ranked player a full round earlier than the lower-ranked player. Similarly, there may be a large group of players with very similar projections that are bunched together on a ranking sheet. It may seem that a player ranked 10th is much more valuable than a player ranked 15th, but if only a few projected points separate them, then they are roughly equivalent in value. Rather than force yourself to pick one, it may be best to focus on another position and then come back to this position in the next round since you’re likely to get a player of nearly identical value.
Grouping players into distinct tiers or buckets provides additional context that allows a drafter to make more informed decisions. The projections we offer at Footballguys also help a lot in this regard, but those are still static projections that may not fully indicate the range of likely outcomes for a player. For example, two players may be projected with similar numbers, but one may have significantly more upside and/or a higher floor than the other. Those types of risk vs. reward decisions are inherent in any fantasy draft. While drafting the safe players will typically help you build a solid team, you often need to take some chances and hit on some players who exceed their preseason expectations to win.
Rankings are helpful in ordering players within the same position group, but tiers can help you figure out which position to take as you move through a draft. If you see a large group of linebackers that are all capable of putting up top-12 numbers but only one defensive lineman likely to put up elite numbers, it’s wise to grab the lineman and assume a quality linebacker will last until your next pick. This helps maximize the value of your pick and is a strategy that all strong fantasy players use to some extent.
How to Use the Tiers
- These tiers are based on expected performance for the 2023 season in a balanced scoring system. While dynasty owners always need to consider long-term outcomes to some extent, the upcoming season is most critical for player value. I’ll highlight some dynasty stash options in a separate tier that you can focus on if you are less concerned about this year and want to focus on building for the future.
- Positional classifications can differ depending on what your league-hosting website uses. For consistency, I will rely on the official Footballguys player classifications. For the most part, these should match up well with the major sources that exist online, but there could be differences. Edge rushers are typically where the most questions come from, as a linebacker vs. defensive end classification can have a huge impact on fantasy value.
- Will add an asterisk (*) for some players that have added value in big-play scoring systems. There is a lot of scoring variability that exists among IDP leagues, so if your league places added value on big plays (i.e., sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles, etc.), this information should help you identify some key targets within each tier.
LINEBACKERS TIER 1: ELITE LB1
These are core pieces for any fantasy roster with IDPs and the type of players you can build a championship team with. They are all going to play just about every snap for their respective teams and have a history of production in the league, including high tackle output combined with big-play potential. Foyesade Oluokun was the top-ranked linebacker in 2021 with Atlanta and then backed it up with another #1 finish in 2022 with the Jaguars. Roquan Smith has been a top-5 linebacker for several years in a row, and his game found a new level after the trade to Baltimore. Nick Bolton is perhaps the least proven here, with just one elite season so far, but he’s also just 23 years old and had 180 combined tackles last year. C.J. Mosley may not have the big-play upside you’d expect from an elite player, but he feels closer to this group than the next.
LINEBACKERS TIER 2: LOW-END LB1/HIGH-END LB2
This group includes several players with elite potential who figure to play a huge role for their teams, but they all carry slightly more risk that warrants a slight drop in value. Each linebacker on this list has a realistic chance to finish in the top 15 among fantasy linebackers this year, provided they can stay healthy. Some figure to play a lot of snaps on bad teams (i.e., Devin White, Zaire Franklin, De'Vondre Campbell), which will inevitably boost their tackle numbers, while others are quite talented but may not get enough opportunities on a strong team to fully realize their fantasy potential (i.e., Fred Warner, Eric Kendricks). Bobby Wagner is 33 years old and likely to start slowing down, but he’ll play a big role in Seattle while Jordyn Brooks recovers from a torn ACL. Bobby Okereke has proven himself in Indianapolis the past two seasons but could emerge as a star after signing with the Giants this year.
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