Reuben Foster, Jarrad Davis, and 7 Other Rookie Linebackers to Target in IDP Leagues in 2017
The NFL Draft is in the rearview, so time to start focusing on our fantasy drafts. A new batch of shiny new toys are entering the player pool. A few linebackers landed in some great spots. Some, not so much.
In the first of three IDP rookie articles, I’ll take a look at the 2017 linebacker class.
Linebackers are still the lifeblood of your IDP squad. The 2017 NFL Draft didn’t produce many rookies with the opportunity to start right away, so you'll have to be selective with rookies in re-draft leagues, but there are plenty of dynasty stashes.
Re-Draft Rookie Linebacker Targets
Reuben Foster, ILB, San Francisco 49ers
Foster had concerns with his medicals and with a diluted sample at the Combine -- which caused him to drop to the end of the first round despite being initially projected as a top-10 pick -- but the 49ers landed a projected tackle machine. Foster's big-time sideline-to-sideline range will have opposing ball carriers' heads on a swivel. Foster is solid in coverage, but relies on speed more than instinct. He racked up 115 tackles (13 for a loss) and five sacks in 2016.
I love the landing spot for Foster. He’ll play on the weak side opposite Navorro Bowman, where he’ll make use of his tackling and coverage abilities. Foster's tackling abilities remind me of Bobby Wagner, and he looks like a better prospect than Reggie Ragland coming out of Alabama. I’m targeting Foster as an LB2, as should finish as a top-25 linebacker in re-draft IDP leagues.
Jarrad Davis, ILB, Detroit Lions
Davis is tough -- he tried playing through a leg injury in 2016, but ended up missing three games. It wasn’t a concern for Detroit, who took him 21st overall. The Lions didn’t waste any time in naming him their starting middle linebacker, so a three-down role is all but guaranteed out of the gate. In 23 games as a junior and senior, Davis averaged nearly seven tackles per game, including 98 tackles (11 for a loss) as a senior. Great flexibility should help him fill gaps, and he has solid fundamentals when it comes to tackling, allowing him to wrap up and finish.
Hasson Reddick, ILB, Arizona Cardinals
Reddick is going to be a draft-and-stash in deeper re-draft leagues this season. At first, it was projected he’d play outside, limiting his IDP upside. However, he worked primarily at ILB during rookie mini-camp, so I’m slowly starting to get on the bandwagon. I’d rather draft him as my fourth or fifth LB than compete for him on the waiver wire if he storms out of the gates.
Reddick really grew over his last two seasons in Temple. I love his athleticism. When he has room to run, look out -- he’s going to make a play. His ability to stop on a dime is off the charts, and he doesn’t mind contact. He shoots gaps to make plays, notching 22.5 tackles for loss in 2016. You read that right: not 22.5 tackle-for-loss yards...22.5 tackles for loss. His ability to blitz is also a plus trait.
Reddick definitely is more athletic than Karlos Dansby. Monitor this kid throughout training camp, especially since fellow hybrid Deone Bucannon is a candidate to start the season on PUP.
There's a look at the re-draft targets, now let's look at some dynasty targets...
Dynasty Rookie Linebacker Targets
Zach Cunningham, ILB, Houston Texans
Cunningham was one of my favorite LBs for IDP production, but him landing with the Texans makes me sad. Bernardrick McKinney is already locked up at ILB, and I’m not so sure the Texans are ready to put Brian Cushing out to pasture -- at least not this year.
Cunningham was a tackle machine at Vanderbilt, amassing 295 tackles in three seasons. He’s a playmaker and uses his speed to get through gaps and make tackles for losses, producing 33 in his three seasons at Vandy. He doesn’t mind contact and is quick enough to stay with running backs coming out of the backfield. Cushing has played only a full-season just once since 2011, and has just three 16-game seasons under his belt, so durability has been a concern. If Cushing gets injured, Cunningham would be a top-priority target -- perhaps even in re-draft.
Raekwon McMillan, OLB, Miami Dolphins
Cunningham is 1a in landing-spot sadness, while McMillan is 1b. The Dolphins brought in Lawrence Timmons in free agency, and he's signed through 2019. Kiko Alonso, Miami’s current MIKE, is signed through 2021.
McMillan was a tackle machine at OSU, notching 221 tackles during the 2015 and 2016 seasons. I like his instincts to the ball and his ability to take on contact. He displays good QB recognition and is able to break up passes, registering eight in his last two seasons.
I don’t see McMillan getting the opportunity to showcase his talents early on. He could be deployed in coverage against tight ends, where tackle opportunities will be limited. He could start paying dividends if Lawrence Timmons doesn’t stick in South Beach. I’m thinking McMillan could receive 500-600 snaps this season.
Update: McMillan is now in the conversation as a top rookie target in dynasty and re-draft IDP leagues now that he's being listed as a starter in their base defense. Hopefully, you'll be able to take advantage of his ADP for the time being until it starts shooting upward.
Update 8/11/2017: McMillian is now out for the year with a torn ACL. He got locked up in punt coverage....PUNT COVERAGE!?!?! He's still a dynasty target, but his 2017 season is over.
Jaylon Reeves-Maybin, OLB, Detroit Lions
Maybin will start out as a special-teamer in 2017, and that's if he sees the field at all. Right now, Tahir Whitehead, the Lions’ leading tackler by a mile, projects as starting WLB and should have a three-down role with Paul Worrilow likely to come off the field in nickel situations.
From 2014-2015, Maybin recorded 206 tackles. He played in only four games in 2016, causing his draft stock to slip down to the fourth round. However, he’s quick off the ball and has good burst to get to the ball carrier. He can get caught up in piles, though, and his shoulder will certainly be a concern.
While Maybin can be a three-down linebacker, it’s unlikely that's going to happen this season unless injuries pile up. Nevertheless, he should be one of the top-five linebackers taken in rookie drafts.
Marquel Lee, ILB, Oakland Raiders
I've got Cory James and Jelani Jenkins ranked higher in re-draft, but there's a possibility Lee could see some time this season. He was a three-year starter at Wake and notched over 100 total tackles in two of three seasons and will be someone to monitor over the course of training camp.
Lee is good at run recognition and made an impact at the line of scrimmage with 42 tackles for loss between 2014-16. He just needs some seasoning in pass coverage. He's not quite worth a re-draft pick, but definitely keep him on your waiver wire watch list. I love him as a long-term prospect for dynasty.
Update: Lee is now in the running for the starting job. In re-draft, he's shaping up to be a solid LB4/5 target in deeper leagues.
Tyus Bowser, OLB, Baltimore Ravens
Bowser will be a target in IDP leagues where tackles are devalued in favor of big plays. Bowser lands in an environment which favors edge rushers. Elvis Dumervil left Baltimore and Terrell Suggs is 35 and coming off a torn Achilles' in 2015, as well as a biceps injury last year.
Bowser recorded 21.5 sacks and 29 QB hurries in his four seasons with Houston. He's projected to be a starting OLB for the Ravens, but I don't see him as a three-down 'backer just yet. He'll probably only be utilized in pass rush situations.
Tanner Vallejo, ILB/OLB, Buffalo Bills
Right now, Vallejo is slotted to play the middle, but I think he can still play outside as a WILL. As a sophomore, Vallejo notched 99 tackles and was on pace for similar production as a senior, producing 69 tackles in just nine games. He's good at moving with the flow of the play and maintaining contain angles. He doesn't mind contact and has a good foundation to take on blockers.
New head coach Sean McDermott likes Vallejo's athleticism. Vallejo has the ability to be a three-down linebacker even though he's a bit under-sized. Hopefully, his injury issues don't follow him to the NFL.