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The holiday season, after fantasy football's regular season has concluded in most leagues, offers the opportunity to reflect on player results to date and implications for line-ups. Reading the Defense will review linebackers this week, followed by defensive backs to close out the column for 2023.
Many IDP fantasy football analysts, including this writer, warned of increased scarcity at the linebacker position with a broadening embrace of true-position designations. Fantasy football platforms are beginning to change position designations of players like T.J. Watt and Micah Parsons from LB to DE to group them with Myles Garrett and Maxx Crosby. All four players' "true position" involves a defensive edge alignment and a primary responsibility to rush the passer. Writers expected this real decline in impact players available at the position would translate to hardship in setting weekly line-ups.
This hardship was generally unrealized in 2023. Player health has been an important reason. Twenty-eight linebackers have averaged at least 11 fantasy points per game through the first 16 weeks of the season. All 28 have played at least 11 of a possible 15 games. All 28, a full complement of LB1s and LB2s for fantasy gamers in 14-team leagues, have recorded at least 90 combined tackles.
The 2023 Buffalo Bills illustrate the importance of durability to fantasy gamers. Opening-day starter Matt Milano, an LB2 in 2022, was lost to injury in Week 5. Tyrel Dodson and Dorian Williams shared Milano's duties thereafter, rendering each relatively useless to fantasy gamers.
At no position is volume more important than linebacker. Of the aforementioned 28 linebackers leading the league in fantasy points per game, each ranks within the top 38 linebackers in total defensive snaps. These include three players who have lost four full games to injuries. Just two linebackers outside the top 28 are on pace for 1,000 snaps this season: Kenneth Murray Jr. and Kaden Elliss average 10.8 and 10.3 points per game, respectively.
Fantasy gamers again in 2023 underinvested in full-time linebackers who lack name recognition. Ernest Jones IV and Kyzir White emerged in the spring not only as full-time options but also as linebackers expected to man the middle of defenses, frequently deploying six defensive backs. Robert Spillane, Quay Walker, and Cody Barton all appeared in preseason games, with first-teamers wearing the green dot. Representing play-calling responsibility for the defense, the green dot is a strong albeit not certain indication that a defender will play full-time.
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