17 Rookie Linebackers To Target in IDP Leagues
We're right in the middle of summer, which means we're headed into fantasy football draft season, if you can believe that. For me, the new fantasy season started after the conclusion of the Super Bowl -- it was time to analyze NFL Draft prospects. There were definitely a few surprises in the Draft, and many linebackers have found themselves in advantageous positions to produce in fantasy.
In the first of three IDP rookie articles, I’ll look at the linebacker class of 2016.
Linebackers are the bread and butter of your squad. Below, I’ll point out which rookie defenders you should be targeting in re-draft and dynasty leagues. Since tackles are more predictable than sacks, I tend to favor linebackers with tackle upside as opposed to sack upside. (However, make sure you know your scoring system.)
Myles Jack, OLB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Jack was passed up due to concerns surrounding his knee, but Jacksonville traded up in the 2nd round for the UCLA product in what could be one of the steals of the draft. Jack has a nose for the football, and no matter where he’s lined up, his instincts take him to the football. He can shed blockers, and his plus-speed allows him to get to running backs, while his fundamentals will allow him to excel in coverage.
With the frame to be a heat-seeking WILL, Jack could start out as Jacksonville’s SAM linebacker with Telvin Smith at WILL and Paul Posluszny at MIKE. Jack is not going to miss tackles and is unyielding in his pursuit of the ball. His comp, for me, is NaVorro Bowman or Lavonte David. The upside is there for Jack to be an LB2 right out of the gate, and he projects as a three-down backer right away. He should be one of the top-30 linebackers drafted in IDP this year.
Deion Jones, ILB, Atlanta Falcons
Jones lands in Atlanta, where they needed to upgrade at the middle linebacker position. The Falcons used the 52nd pick on Jones, who is still playing catching up after starting just one game in three seasons at LSU. Jones made the most of his opportunity after Kwon Alexander left for the draft -- he was named team captain and became LSU’s defensive MVP.
Jones finished with 100 tackles in 12 games, including 13.5 tackles for loss, and is a menace around the line of scrimmage. He’s solid in pass coverage as well, and has plus sideline-to-sideline speed, which will put him in a spot to be a three-down LB.
Possessing the athleticism and assertiveness to play through contact, Jones is going to challenge -- and should beat -- Paul Worrilow at MIKE. If Jones wins the job, he’ll be in the IDP spotlight, especially if it turns out to be a three-down role. Even at this size, he’s still a tackle machine and should be one of the top-two or three rookie linebackers selected in re-draft leagues.
Darron Lee, ILB, New York Jets
The Jets lost Demario Davis to Cleveland in free agency, leaving an opening at inside linebacker. Lee -- a top-20 pick even leaving Ohio State after his sophomore year -- is versatile in that he can play both inside and outside, but he is ticketed to play on the inside next to David Harris.
Lee’s Combine performance really put him on the map, with a 4.47-second 40 and an 11-inch broad jump. He can diagnose plays quickly and his instincts for the ball put him in the best position to make the tackles. He’s quick and loose and has plus pass coverage skills, so I don’t see any reason why he wouldn’t be on track for a three-down role. I can’t picture Erin Henderson eating into too many of Lee’s snaps this year.
Since the Jets are lacking at OLB, Lee is going to be asked to rush the QB, which increases his ceiling. His 2014 and 2015 seasons saw him rack up 12 sacks and 10 hurries. He was a menace near the line of scrimmage, also notching 27.5 tackles for a loss. In re-draft leagues, Lee and Jones should compete for 2nd or 3rd rookie linebacker off the board.
Update: His stock is falling in re-draft leagues since Erin Henderson was named starter opposite David Harris. He's still worth the early target in dynasty leagues, but is only worth drafting for depth in re-draft.
Reggie Ragland, ILB, Buffalo Bills
Ragland was touted as a 1st round pick but fell to 41st overall before Buffalo traded up for him. He was the 2015 SEC Defensive Player of the Year and manned the middle in Alabama’s defense, notching back-to-back years of 90-plus tackles, including 102 in 2015. He makes plays at the line of scrimmage, producing 17.5 tackles for loss over his last two seasons. There’s a lot to like about Ragland’s play, especially his tackling -- he doesn’t miss.
The Bills lost Nigel Bradham and brought in Zach Brown, and Ragland will likely have a chance to compete with them for a starting spot right out of the gate, especially since Buffalo traded up to get him (you don’t give up picks for someone you don’t anticipate having a big role). My only concern with Ragland is his average coverage ability, which could prevent him from assuming a three-down role.
If Ragland can be on the field for 70-80 percent of the defensive snaps, there’s a possibility he can notch a 12-percent tackle rate due in part to Buffalo’s generous home scorekeepers. Ragland finds himself in a position to produce in re-draft leagues this year and should among the top-five rookie linebackers taken.
Josh Perry, ILB, San Diego Chargers
Perry could be a sleeper this year. He has a chance to compete with Manti Te’o for snaps, and with Te’o’s injury history, Perry could easily see significant time in 2016. The Chargers also drafted Jatavis Brown, but I see him ticketed for a special teams role at the outset.
Perry was a tackle machine at OSU, recording consecutive seasons of 100-plus tackles in 2014 and 2015, including 124 in ‘14. He’s a productive and efficient tackler and will not miss. He’s also a leader and smart player who seems to know where the ball is going in both the run and pass. He makes jumps on screens and gets to the outside on sweeps. The physical linebacker will compete for snaps this year.
De'Vondre Campbell, OLB, Atlanta Falcons
Thanks to Eric Coleman over at DLF for putting this guy on my radar. I checked out the depth chart and it appears he's running with the first team over Sean Weatherspoon. He and Deion Jones are a speedy combo and he posted a quick 4.58-40 at the combine. The Falcons appear to have a solid trio of linebackers heading into the 2016 season.
Cambell was a big playmaker for the Gophers, recording 92 tackles, including 6.5 tackles for loss that resulted in 44 yards lost. He also notched four sacks in 13 games at LB. He had an impact at the line of scrimmage and his athleticism and his explosiveness will help him at the next level. With Derron Lee losing out on a starting gig, I'd target him in re-draft leagues as an LB4/5.
Big-Play Scoring Targets (for leagues that reward 1 point or fewer for tackles and 4 points or greater for sacks)
Leonard Floyd, OLB, Chicago Bears
The Bears moved up in the first round to nab Floyd to be Vic Fangio’s Aldon Smith. Although Floyd notched just 4.5 sacks with Georgia in 2015, he produced 10 QB hurries. In fact, between the 2013 and 2014 seasons, he produced 28 QB hurries (and 12.5 sacks) -- he can get to the QB. Floyd is lean, and although he can chase down the QB while shedding opposing offensive linemen, I’d like to see him put on some muscle.
Shaq Lawson, OLB, Buffalo Bills
Lawson had a breakout season with Clemson in 2015. After recording 7.5 sacks between 2013 and 2014, Lawson exploded for 12.5 sacks last year. He is expected to step into the Buffalo locker room as Mario Williams’s replacement at edge rusher. Bills GM Doug Whaley has already stated Lawson is going to be a Week 1 starter and play opposite Jerry Hughes. Lawson should play as a five tech in base and sub-packages, and should have a three-down role.
Update: Welp...Lawson is going to need shoulder surgery and has a 5-6 month timetable on return. He goes from a re-draft big play target to a dynasty stash.
Kevin Dodd, OLB, Tennessee Titans
Dodd was Tennessee’s 33rd overall pick, so his pedigree suggests there’s a chance for significant playing time at the beginning of the season. Incumbent Derrick Morgan is still dealing with shoulder issues and has yet to be cleared for playing activities. Dodd is a great fit in Dick LeBeau’s aggressive scheme. He’s coming off a huge 12-sack season with Clemson in 2015, where he also notched 23.5 tackles for a loss. His multi-sack game in the National Title boosted his draft stock, and he should be a target in big-play scoring formats.
Jaylon Smith, LB, Dallas Cowboys
It’s looking more and more like Smith won’t play in 2016, leaving him out of contention for re-draft consideration. However, I have no problem with pulling the trigger on him as one of the top LBs in your rookie draft.
Kamalei Correa, OLB, Baltimore Ravens
Terrell Suggs is coming off another Achilles’ tear, and both he and Elvis Dumervil are both over 30. The Ravens envisioned Correa as their pass rusher of the future when they nabbed him 42nd overall. In his last two seasons at Boise State, Correa notched 19 sacks and 30 tackles for loss. He’ll be ready to compete for consistent snaps in a year or two.
Tyler Matakevich, ILB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Matakevich will play mostly special teams this year. Even though he’s under-sized, he plays big and has a relentless motor. I would’ve loved for him to land in a spot where he’d have the chance to start, as he was a tackle machine at Temple. He recorded 100-plus tackles in all four years there, totaling 493 total tackles and 40 tackles for a loss. Keep him on your watch list in case injuries pave a way for him.
Nick Vigil, ILB, Cincinnati Bengals
Vigil is another long-term chip. He recorded 38.5 career tackles for a loss and was solid in coverage at Utah State. He’ll start out on special teams and could eventually find himself getting snaps on defense.
B.J. Goodson, ILB, New York Giants
Goodson will be in the mix for depth for backup middle linebacker, but will have some veterans to compete with in Jasper Brinkley and Kelvin Sheppard. Goodson was a five-year starter at Clemson and notched 160 tackles in 2015. He plays downhill and has the length to be a solid NFL linebacker.
Potential Mid-Season Adds
Scooby Wright, ILB, Cleveland Browns
It might take a few injuries, but Wright can eventually carve out a role in the defense this year, as Chris Kirksey is from a previous regime and hasn’t really excelled when given an opportunity. Wright, meanwhile, could be one of the steals of the Draft. Keep the seventh-rounder out of Arizona on your free agent watch list.
Blake Martinez, ILB, Green Bay Packers
Martinez someone to consider taking in drafts this year. Holdovers Sam Barrington and Jake Ryan aren’t imposing figures, while Martinez has a solid all-around game. At Stanford, he played well in coverage and could see sub-package duties right away. He was a tackle machine last season, notching 140 in 14 games, and may just be one of those late round lottery tickets.
Antonio Morrison, ILB, Indianapolis Colts
Jerrell Freeman went to Chicago, leaving a hole next to D’Qwell Jackson in Indianapolis. Morrison, a fourth-rounder out of Florida, should be in the mix with Nate Irving, Sio Moore and Josh McNary for snaps, so keep an eye on him during training camp.
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