10 Rookie Linebackers to Target in 2018 IDP Leagues
Just like that, the 2018 fantasy season has begun. Feels like just yesterday we were lamenting the end of the 2017 season. Volunteer workouts have begun, and training camp season will be just around the corner. With that in mind, it's time to prep for the 2018 fantasy season, and looking at the new crop of rookies set to take the field for their new respective squads is a good starting point.
I still consider linebacker the heart and soul of your IDP teams, especially the high-efficiency tacklers. Below you will find my takes on which rookie LBs to target in 2018 IDP drafts who are set to produce this year and beyond.
If you're in a dynasty league or you're looking for more information on the rookies discussed below, you should definitely check out all the content from our friends at Dynasty League Football.
Tremaine Edmunds, ILB, Buffalo Bills
I was all set to write up Roquan Smith as my top rookie linebacker—until the Bills moved up and drafted him.
Tremaine Edmunds was a tackling machine during his two-year stint at Virginia Tech. Over the course of 27 games, he averaged nearly eight tackles/game. He was a disruptor at the line of scrimmage, producing 32.5 tackles for loss (including 18.5 in 2016). At the pro level, watch him use his athleticism to get to the quarterback—he amassed 10 sacks and 13 QB hurries during his collegiate career.
Edmunds offers a rare combination of plus size and speed which puts him in immediate contention for a three-down role in Buffalo. He has plus range and sideline-to-sideline speed and won't give up on plays. His length and ability to finish tackles allow him to produce a high-tackle efficiency rate.
At 19, he's already better than his would-be competition in Ramon Humber or Matt Milano, so he should be able to settle in right away as a middle linebacker. He also gets the benefit of a tackle-friendly stat crew. He has a 125-tackle ceiling and should be the first defensive player off the board in rookie drafts. In redraft IDP leagues, I'm more than comfortable with him as my LB1 and project him as a top-10 scorer.
Roquan Smith, ILB, Chicago Bears
If you miss out on Edmunds, Roquan Smith is a fine consolation prize.
Smith is no slouch and was an elite college tackler at Georgia, especially this past season, where he compiled 137 tackles (85 solo tackles). He was not afraid to get to the quarterback, notching 6.5 sacks and eight QB hurries, while also being a menace to opposing ball-carriers at the line of scrimmage—racking up 14 tackles for loss.
His athleticism and range allow him to be a three-down linebacker because of his coverage abilities, so he should stick on sub-packages and passing situations. Even though he's a shade over 6-feet, his speed and instincts allow him to avoid getting caught in piles so he can narrow in on the ball-carrier. I also love his ability to cover running backs out of the backfield, another strength which will keep him on the field. He's a rocket and can stop on a dime to change direction.
Vic Fangio is going to have some fun with this kid. Jerrell Freeman is no longer in the Windy City, allowing Smith to slot right in next to Danny Trevathan, who's no stranger to injury, so he could be swallowing up all of the tackle opportunities himself. I'm projecting him as a three-down LB and he should be the second defensive player off the board in rookie drafts. I'm projecting him to hit the 115 tackle mark, so he should be a top-20 LB in redraft leagues.
Darius Leonard, OLB, Indianapolis Colts
Darius Leonard, much like Edmunds, finds himself in a prime spot with the Indianapolis Colts.
Leonard has a shot to outperform some of the other first-round linebackers selected. He was a tackling machine during his junior and senior seasons at South Carolina State. He also added pass-rushing to his repertoire, notching eight sacks and 10 QB hurries during his senior year. Leonard also amassed 225 tackles over his final two seasons, including 12 tackles for loss in 2017.
He's long and his build allows him to take on contact. He's a tackling machine due in large part to his patience and ability to get away from blockers. He's a high-efficient tackler with good range and sideline-to-sideline speed. His ability to cover will keep him on the field.
Leonard becomes one of the more talented linebackers in the room and should slide into their 4-3 as a Will linebacker. There won't be too much competition, so he should be a three-down 'backer out of the gate and swallow up tackle opportunities. If he can hit the 850 snap mark, a 100-tackle season isn't out of the question. Consider him a high-upside LB3 in redraft formats in 2018.