Top 5 Rookie Linebackers to Target in IDP Leagues
The dust has settled on yet another NFL Draft. There were a few surprises, but not the bombshells many of us were expecting in the first round. For those following the defensive side of the ball, a few big names dropped out of the first round, but many of the defenders find themselves with a chance to compete for the opportunity to produce right away.
In my first of three IDP rookie articles, I will look at the linebacker class of 2015. The linebackers are the bread and butter of your squad, and I'll show which of these tacklers to target for IDP success in redraft and dynasty leagues. In the interest of full disclosure, I tend to focus on tackles for the linebackers I target as opposed to the rushers.
1. Stephone Anthony, ILB, New Orleans Saints: At first, it didn't look like a fit, but I'm beginning think New Orleans is the perfect landing spot for the rook. The Saints just let Curtis Lofton walk, so there's a hole at the middle. Anthony will compete with aging vet David Hawthorne and recently signed Dannell Ellerbe who missed the 2014 season due to injury.
Anthony was a surprise 1st round pick, but his measureables and talent certainly aren't. Anthony compiled 221 tackles over his last two seasons. He isn't going to miss tackles and has plus sideline to sideline speed. What will differentiate him among the current Saint LBs is his ability to cover athletic tight ends and finish plays. He's an above average pass defender and can analyze plays quickly.
Anthony is on track to be a 3-down LB and is slotted for the MIKE, where Lofton was a consistent 100+ tackle defender. I look for him to be drafted among the top 30 LBs once he claims the job. Triple digit tackles isn't out of the question in his rookie year.
4for4 initial projection: 119 tackles (85 solos)/2.5 sacks/9 tackles for loss
2. Eric Kendricks, ILB, Minnesota Vikings: Kendricks was thought to be a 1st round pick, with many draft touts thinking he'd end up in Green Bay or San Francisco. However, he was passed over, so the Vikings and Mike Zimmer quickly scooped him up. Another great landing spot for a highly touted IDP defender. Kendricks joins former UCLA teammate, Anthony Barr, to form one of the more talented LB duos.
There's a whole lot to like about Kendricks's make-up as an LB. He's versatile, as he can play both MIKE and WILL spots. Like his brother, Mychal, he has plus coverage skills which is going to set him apart and give him the opportunity to contribute right away. In 2014, Kendricks had 10+ tackles in 11 games, leading to 149 on the season, the definition of a tackle machine. He has good range and speed sideline to sideline and can analyze a play quickly. Plus football instincts will allow him to be productive for several years.
Audie Cole and Casey Matthews will be relegated to the bench, as Kendricks is slated to be the Vikes first 3-down MLB since E.J. Henderson. He can also take over for Chad Greenway at WILL once Greenway's time is up. There's no doubt Kendricks should be one of the top LBs off the board in dynasty and redraft formats this season.
4for4 initial projection: 117 tackles (95 solos)/3 sacks/10 tackles for loss
3. Bernardrick McKinney, ILB, Houston Texans: Houston needed to address their LB core, as Brian Cushing has been bitten by the injury bug and there are no other capable LBs; apologies to Mike Mohamed, Akeem Dent and Justin Tuggle, you just couldn't cut it. McKinney finds himself in a spot to produce solid IDP digits right away in Houston. The Texans didn't trade up to use McKinney as a backup.
McKinney started every game and led Mississippi St. in tackles in, both, 2013 and 2014. He can take on blockers and get to the ball and make the fundamental tackle, so misses shouldn't be an issue. He shouldn't need too much help to keep clean to make tackles in the NFL, especially with teams paying so much attention to J.J. Watt. Not a star name by any stretch, but he should log plenty of snaps.
As mentioned above, McKinney should be in line for 3-down snaps alongside Brian Cushing. He has a chance to be productive right away in a stout defense. He should be one of the first LBs taken in rookie drafts and has LB3 upside in redraft leagues.
4for4 initial projection: 118 tackles (75 solos)/2 sacks/7 tackles for loss
4. Denzel Perryman, ILB, San Diego Chargers: Perryman finds himself in a decent position, although, a little less desirous than the above three 'backers. However, Perryman should have no problems carving out a role in the Charger defense when all is said and done.
The former Hurricane led his team tackles in 2014 with 110 and has a solid linebacker type build. Perryman welcomes contact and is able to shed blockers, make big hits and take on linemen in the defensive backfield. Good instincts get him through gaps. Hopefully, he can correct his tackle fundamentals to cut down on misses.
I view Perryman as an upgrade over Manti Te'o, who is more a 2-down LB and can't stand up to the rigors of the NFL. Perryman could have easily been brought in take over Donald Butler, who could be phased out as he has hasn't played a full 16-game season since 2011. Butler signed a seven-year deal in 2014, however, these contracts are about as iron-clad as mud. Perryman will make for solid bench depth in re-draft leagues and should be one of the top-five LBs off the board in rookie drafts.
4for4 initial projection: 92 tackles/1.5 sacks/7 tackles for loss
Big Play Scoring Target
5. Preston Smith, OLB, Washington Redskins: It’s close between Smith and Bud Dupree. I like Smith’s situation slightly more, as Dupree could be the focus of blocking schemes. Drafted as the heir apparent to Brian Orakpo, Smith should slot right in opposite Ryan Kerrigan. Smith used a solid Senior Bowl and Combine to boost his draft stock.
Smith played DE in college, but is slotted for OLB in Washington’s scheme. He finished his senior year with 15 tackles for loss and nine sacks thanks to his long arms and strength on his attack. For a rusher, he also tackles well and doesn’t miss many. He needs to be in the game 100% of the time and not take plays off.
It’s unclear as to whether Smith will be a 3-down backer or a situational rusher. His OLB spot limits his IDP upside to big play scoring formats, as tackles may be inconsistent. He’ll be worth targeting in leagues that devalue tackles.
4for4 initial projection: 52 tackles/8.5 sacks/6 tackles for loss
2015 IDP Rookie Sleepers
Jake Ryan, ILB/OLB, Green Bay Packers: He could’ve easily made my top picks, but there’s a real possibility he can achieve success in 2015. If you happen to miss out on the top guys, Ryan could go un-noticed and provide nice value late in your draft. There are still questions surrounding Clay Matthews’s role as ILB or OLB. If Matthews moves back outside, there’s not much competition for Ryan to land a significant role inside with Sam Barrington. Nate Palmer is coming back from a torn ACL, and Carl Bradford couldn’t get on the field. Ryan could flirt with 100+ tackles if things shake out just right this summer.
Shaq Thompson, OLB, Carolina Panthers: My initial reaction was that this could be a bad landing spot for Thompson. In reading The Charlotte Observer, they want Thompson to play the WILL, which puts him a solid position to be productive in IDP leagues. There’s less chance he’s taking on bigger blockers and tight ends. If he can establish a 3-down role, 100 tackles is not out of the question, even with Luke Kuechly swallowing up the majority of tackles.
Ramik Wilson, ILB, Kansas City Chiefs: He was a 4th round pick and can play inside or out. He was a 25-game starter at Georgia, compiling 19 career tackles for loss, while notching 243 tackles over his 2013 and 2014 seasons. Keep an eye on the camp battle, as there’s a real possibility he could be playing opposite Derrick Johnson in 2015.
Deeper Dynasty Targets
Paul Dawson, ILB, Cincinnati Bengals: A lot will have to go his way to log meaningful snaps in 2015, as he’s behind Rey Maualuga and Vincent Rey at the middle. Bengals are deep at LB with Burfict, AJ Hawk and Emmanuel Lamur, as well. Dawson appears to be a long-term IDP prospect.
Kwon Alexander, ILB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: He’ll be a stash playing behind the likes of Danny Lansaneh and Bruce Carter.
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