9 Breakout Linebackers to Target in IDP Leagues
We have embarked on an offseason for the ages. The COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged our sports, and even though the NFL is on track to play, who the hell knows what's going to happen during training camps. Reporting will be limited, and in addition to that, there won't be any preseason games. So it'll be even more difficult to pinpoint those late-round targets.
As we head into draft season, these are the linebackers who I think will be in position to produce for your IDP squads and will be able to get later on in your drafts. These guys find themselves in a new location or have potentially taken on more responsibility.
Germaine Pratt, LB, Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals had to retool their LB room after a dismal 2019 season. Out, are Nick Vigil and Preston Brown and they addressed the position through the draft. One LB seems ready to take on a greater role and the Bengals are looking to Germaine Pratt to take a second-year leap.
In 2019, Preston Brown appeared in nine games before getting moved to Oakland, which allowed Pratt to take on more snaps. Through eight weeks of his rookie year, he was averaging a paltry 18% usage rate, right around 13 snaps a game. After the Brown move, his usage boomed to 64%, roughly 42 snaps per game.
During the final eight games, Pratt finished strong - just three games of fewer than five tackles and averaged seven tackles per game - resulting in a 16.7% tackle rate. It’s an absurd and unsustainable rate, however, he puts himself in position to make tackles no matter the alignment.
Pratt didn’t play a traditional MIKE/SAM/WILL role, and moved around according to what the offense presented. Over his 436 snaps in 2019, he recorded 0.29 points per snap, so as long Pratt earns that three-down role, which appears likely, he’ll be in the conversation as a weekly starter. Pratt doesn't appear to be among the top 55 LBs drafted, so you're getting a potential LB1 for nothing.
Nick Kwiatkoski, LB, Las Vegas Raiders
Kwiatkoski has a chance to have a breakout year as he enters his fifth year in the league. He leaves the shadows of Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith, and has the opportunity to carve out his own role in Las Vegas.
Kwiatkoski has spent his career as a role player and backup while with the Chicago Bears. He’s played that role, well. He’ll see a handful of snaps in one game, or a player will get hurt, and he’ll come in as a replacement for a few games to man the ship - he’s the equivalent of having a solid backup QB. Last season, however, he proved worthy of being an every-down player. From Week 10 through the end of the season, Kwiatkoski appeared in at least 90% of the defensive snaps - his best game coming in Week 10, coincidentally - where he filled in for an injured Trevathan.
Kwiatkoski was deployed in multiple alignments at LB and was efficient with his snaps - recording a 14.8% tackle rate over 512 snaps - resulting in 76 tackles and a near 3:1 solo-to-assist ratio. On a points per snap basis, he recorded 0.31 points per. He’ll have Cory Littleton playing alongside him, and those two should see the field for the majority of the snaps. If he’s on the field for 900+ snaps, and his points per snap rate regress to 0.23, that puts him in the conversation as a top-25 LB.
Bobby Okereke, LB, Indianapolis Colts
This will be one of the bigger position battles to keep an eye on this offseason. The Colts feel that Okereke did enough in his rookie year to battle Anthony Walker for the spot opposite Darius Leonard.
Although he appeared in fewer than 500 snaps - roughly 46% of the total - Okereke was one of Indy’s top defenders. As a rookie, Okereke played some WILL and MIKE, but he’s heading into his sophomore year expecting to play the SAM role - which is essentially the left side of the LB alignment - but if he wins the job from Walker, he’ll end up aligning everywhere. He’s going to compete with Anthony Walker for the MIKE, but it’s really for Walker’s volume - where he ended up playing in 80% of the snaps. One of Okereke’s best games came in Week 3 - where he played in 90% of the snaps and recorded eight tackles.
The position battle between Okereke and Walker will be a bit more challenging to follow compared to season’s past with all of the restrictions placed on beat writers and their reporting privileges - thanks to COVID. The question is where will the snaps come from? The defensive staff is expecting a jump in production this year, so I think he’s worth taking at the tail-end of your draft as your LB6/7. I like to be on the train before it leaves the tracks and Okereke’s whistle is blowing.
AJ Johnson, ILB, Denver Broncos
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