Patrick Willis | San Francisco 49ers | 6-foot-1, 240 pounds | 4th year
Fantasy tip: Few defensive players have been as dominant as Willis has for IDP owners. He is a tackle machine and adds peripheral stats to complete his value. Willis has averaged 155.67 tackles and 3.0 sacks per year since entering the league in 2007. Willis has picked off four passes in the last two years, taking two of them back for scores. He is easily the top fantasy linebacker in all formats and should be an early midround pick in standard IDP drafts.
Jon Beason | Carolina Panthers | 6-foot, 237 pounds | 4th year
Fantasy tip: The undersized 'backer has played larger than life in his three NFL seasons. He has recorded at least 138 total tackles in each of his three seasons and is coming off his finest year as a pro. In 2009, Beason racked up 141 combined stops, 3.0 sacks, seven passes defensed, three interceptions and a forced fumble - clearly a multi-category contributor. He trails only the San Francisco 49ers' Patrick Willis as the top IDP linebacker.
London Fletcher | Washington Redskins | 5-foot-10, 245 pounds | 13th year
Fantasy tip: Fletcher is like a fine wine: In 2009, at 34 years old, he logged 142 combined tackles, 2.0 sacks, one interception and one forced fumble. Fletcher has scored twice via interception returns in the past four seasons and has eight total INTs in this time. He hasn't dipped below the 116 total tackle mark in the last nine years. The Redskins have switched to a 3-4 alignment, which means Fletcher will be responsible for covering less ground - a positive for a 35-year-old linebacker. He still has the necessary lateral range to excel. Fletcher hasn't missed a game in 12 seasons, and he is a quality No. 1 fantasy linebacker.
Barrett Ruud | Tampa Bay Buccaneers | 6-foot-2, 241 pounds | 6th year
Fantasy tip: Ruud emerged in 2007 as an upstart IDP commodity and has solidified his place among the position's best in the two years since. He notched 137 total tackles in 2008 and improved that figure to 142 last year. He has 13 passes defensed in his last 32 games, and Ruud has chipped in five total picks since becoming a full-time starter in '07. He is a midrange No. 1 fantasy linebacker, but we're afraid he may have reached his statistical ceiling in tackles - it's tough to top his already lofty personal best.
D.J. Williams | Denver Broncos | 6-foot-1, 242 pounds | 7th year
Fantasy tip: Williams is a bit of a risky pick due to past inconsistencies. He has a lot of talent and upside; some of his prior lows weren't his fault (system changes, shuffled positions). Williams has topped the 120-tackle barrier twice in the past three seasons (he missed five games in 2008 but posted 93 total stops). The former Miami Hurricane has tallied 6.0 total sacks in the past two years and is two years removed from a 141-tackle effort. He's a midrange No. 1 linebacker with reasonable upside.
James Laurinaitis | St. Louis Rams | 6-foot-2, 247 pounds | 2nd year
Fantasy tip: The Ohio State product turned in a marvelous rookie season a year ago, posting 120 total stops, 2.0 sacks, five passes defensed, two interceptions and a forced fumble in 16 starts. He returns to anchor St. Louis' young defense and has a good shot at improving his tackle numbers with another year of understanding this aggressive system. He is a high-upside No. 1 linebacker.
DeMeco Ryans | Houston Texans | 6-foot-1, 250 pounds | 5th year
Fantasy tip: Ryans has started every game in his four years in the NFL, and he has been nothing short of impressive. His rookie season was best, statistically speaking (155 tackles, 3.5 sacks), but he has been very good since with three straight campaigns of at least 112 combined tackles. Linebacker Brian Cushing will miss four games, which should only help Ryans' tackle numbers early in the season. He doesn't add a lot in additional stat categories, but he's an acceptable No. 1 in tackle-centric formats.
Kirk Morrison | Jacksonville Jaguars | 6-foot-2, 240 pounds | 6th year
Fantasy tip: The Oakland Raiders traded Morrison during the draft to the Jags, and he'll start in the middle. He hasn't missed a game in five years and has posted a minimum of 116 total tackles each year. Morrison has at least one sack each of the last four years and has forced five fumbles over the past two seasons. Morrison is a strong tackler and contributes just enough elsewhere to be a reasonable No. 1 for IDP leaguers.
Ray Lewis | Baltimore Ravens | 6-foot-1, 250 pounds | 15th year
Fantasy tip: Lewis has stayed healthy the past two years and has been pretty darn good considering his age (35). He still has lateral mobility and contributes across the board. Last year was only the second season of his entire career in which he didn't pick off a pass. He has six forced fumbles in the last three years and 8.5 sacks during this same timeframe.
Rolando McClain | Oakland Raiders | 6-foot-3, 254 pounds | Rookie
Fantasy tip: The Raiders replaced Kirk Morrison (Jaguars) with McClain in this year's draft, and the Alabama star hasn't disappointed in camp. He is a tackle specialist but has enough range in his game to provide ample peripheral stats. He's a low-end No. 1 linebacker and should shine from the onset of his career.
Jonathan Vilma | New Orleans Saints | 5-foot-11, 240 pounds | 5th year
Fantasy tip: Vilma has rebounded over the past two seasons and is a multi-category performer for IDP owners. He has posted at least 110 total tackles each of the past two years, while chipping in 3.0 total sacks, 14 passes defensed, four interceptions and two forced fumbles in this time. He is a low-end No. 1 and is still in the prime of his game at 28 years old.
Stephen Tulloch | Tennessee Titans | 5-foot-11, 240 pounds | 5th year
Fantasy tip: While he often comes off the field on third downs, Tulloch is a tackle hog and has a nose for the ball. He doesn't offer much outside of making stops (2.0 sacks, one pass defensed, no picks in '09). Tulloch is only a passable No. 1 in IDP leagues and has limited upside due to his two-down role.
Cory is KFFL's General Manager. In late 2002, he joined the KFFL staff as a research analyst and has been involved in fantasy sports since 1996. A member of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, as well as Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Bonini has been featured in print, on radio and on scores of websites. Bonini co-hosted Big Lead Sports on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio from 2011 to 2012.
Bonini was recognized with the 2010 Best Article in Print Award from the FSWA and was a finalist for the same award in 2011. In '11, he finished first overall in the FSWA NFL experts challenge that featured 60 of the industry's best competitors.