11 Breakout Linebackers To Target in IDP Leagues
When it comes to your IDP leagues, it's easy to target Luke Kuechly or LaVonte David in the early stages of your draft. It's when you progress in the draft that you need to identify those mid-to-late round sleepers and break-outs that can boost your squad over the rest of the league. I like to look for defenders that are set to take on more playing time in the way or more snaps, subpackage roles, and tackle rates. I look at 10 linebacker candidates that are primed for a break-out year.
Zachary Orr, ILB, Baltimore Ravens
I’ll be honest, the Baltimore linebacker situation outside of CJ Mosley is tricky and frightening. However, we’re looking for opportunity and Orr looks to be the first ‘backer to get that opportunity to lineup opposite Mosley. Throughout the Ravens’ offseason program, Orr worked with the first-team defense and didn’t do anything to lose his opportunity.
On the surface, Orr’s 22 tackles in 16 games don’t amount to much. Keep in mind, he was playing behind Mosley and, the now Buccaneer, Daryl Smith so snaps were difficult to come by. Orr appeared in 142 defensive snaps and produced a solid 15.5-percent tackle rate, including 19 solo tackles. Those are numbers that should get your attention should he win the starting job and three-down role.
Someone to keep an eye is Kamalei Correa, who is also working reps at ILB. The rookie is the fourth ILB on the chart, so if I’m drafting today, Orr is the guy I’m targeting and he can be had late in drafts.
Ramik Wilson, ILB, Kansas City Chiefs
In the way I’m looking at the depth chart with Orr, I’m not worried about the depth chart when it comes to Ramik Wilson. Wilson is fourth-round pick and was looked at as Derrick Johnson’s heir apparent. He needs to improve his run stopping ability but wasn’t horrible in coverage, which will go a long way in today’s NFL. Wilson showed a nose for the football and is the better athlete, overall.
Wilson appeared in 11 games (starting two) and logged 129 defensive snaps, notching 13 solo tackles and 20 combined, resulting in a 15.5-percent tackle rate. Wilson is solid downhill and won’t shy away from contact. Josh Mauga is not very good and a liability, so I’m looking for Wilson take the job and run with it this season. In re-drafts, he can be had for free as an LB5/6, so he’s shaping up to a solid lottery ticket in a potential break-out season.
Updates: Keep an eye on the remainder of the preseason, as it appears that Justin March is getting 1st team reps opposite Derrick Johnson. The next two preseason games are considered dress rehearsals, especially Week 3, so keep an eye on him over the next few weeks. March will carry the IDP appeal over Wilson.
Bernardrick McKinney, ILB, Houston Texans
In his rookie year, McKinney was someone who turned the heads of the Houston staff. Coach O’Brien even singled out his improvement over the off-season. Much like Liam Neeson’s character in Taken, McKinney possesses a particular set of skills that make him a solid player. McKinney should make IDP players take notice this year, especially if gets that three down role.
McKinney appeared in 14 games (starting 11) and logged 410 defensive snaps, playing Houston’s WILL ILB. What I really like, is that he produced a 15.4-percent tackle rate, which led to 37 solo tackles and 63 total tackles. If he nails down the three-down role, logs over 900 snaps and sees his tackle rate normalize to 12-percent, I don’t see any reason why he shouldn’t notch 100-plus tackles. He’s being drafted as an LB51, so enjoy his cheap price tag and LB3 upside.
Todd Davis, ILB, Denver Broncos
The Broncos lost Danny Trevathan to the Bears, leaving a void opposite Brandon Marshall at the inside. Davis is one of my favorite under the radar linebackers this season and I’m trying to get him everywhere. The 24-year old has spent most of his time as a special-teamer, but now has the chance to carve out a role as a starter.
In 2015, he played in all 16 games, while starting two. Davis logged 129 defensive snaps, notching 21 tackles, resulting in a 16.3-percent tackle rate in his limited playing time. If Davis wins the spot that Trevathan once occupied, he can be had for practically free in most IDP leagues this year. and there's 85-90 tackle upside. Make no mistake, Brandon Marshall is THE Bronco LB to own, but Davis looks like a nice lottery ticket.
Ben Heeney, ILB, Oakland Raiders
Another under the radar linebacker that should slot into the starting role at ILB opposite Malcolm Smith. Curtis Lofton is no longer in town, leaving the job wide open. In 2015, Heeney signed a four-year rookie contract and learned on the job in a solid defense. Heeney will have to fend off Neiron Ball, Cory James and John Lotulelei.
Heeney was mostly a special-teamer to begin 2015, however, he logged over 60-percent of the snaps in his final seven games. In total, Heeney logged 307 defensive snaps in 15 games. Heeney produced 31 solo tackles and a 4:1 solo-to-assist ratio and a 12.4-percent tackle rate. As of now, Heeney is on track to start and appear in nickel packages in his second year.
Denzel Perryman, ILB, San Diego Chargers
Perryman is going to be one of the popular second-year linebackers in IDP leagues, and with good reason. Perryman played very well in his rookie year and ranked among the top-25 linebackers with his overall play. The Chargers brass has already anointed him a starter, which made the oft-injured Donald Butler expendable.
Perryman appeared in 14 games, starting nine and logged 386 defensive snaps in his first year. After the bye week, Perryman was appearing in over 77-percent of the snaps. Perryman recorded 64 solo tackles, eight tackles for a loss and 73 total tackles. He’ll be a beast in tackle heavy formats, producing a 7:1 solo-to-assist ratio and 19-percent tackle rate. I think the tackle rate is unsustainable if he appears in over 1,000 snaps, but if he can produce a 13-15-percent tackle rate, it’s not unreasonable to think he can notch 130-plus tackles.
Jordan Hicks, ILB, Philadelphia Eagles
Hicks earned playing time thanks to injuries to Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans, but landed up on IR himself after just eight games. Hicks was healthy for OTAs and the Eagles let Ryans walk, so the Eagles are expecting him to take on a bigger role wearing the green dot as the three-down MIKE.
Hicks played in eight games and logged 451 defensive snaps before landing on IR. Hicks was appearing in over 78-percent of the snaps and produced a 6:1 solo-to-assist ratio and an 11.1-percent tackle rate. Hicks also had a good nose for the ball, notching 43 solo tackles. I really like Hicks and have him ranked as an LB15.
Tahir Whitehead, MLB, Detroit Lions
The Lions recently cut Stephen Tulloch, leaving Tahir Whitehead a chance to earn a three-down role as Detroit’s WILL. Whitehead is entering his fifth year in the league and was a 15 game starter in 2014. Whitehead has plenty of experience in the defense and is looking like an under the radar IDP sleeper this year, as he should play WILL in base and MIKE in their nickel and subpackages.
In his first two years, Whitehead was a special-teamer before appearing in over 700 defensive snaps in 2014 and 585 snaps in 2015. In that span, Whitehead produced a 10-percent tackle rate and notched 104 solo tackles. If he can maintain that tackle rate with over 1,000 snaps, I don’t see why he can’t record over 100 tackles. He can be had as an LB4 in most drafts this year.
Jake Ryan, ILB, Green Bay Packers
Staying in the NFC North, I look to Jake Ryan. Ryan, a healthy Sam Barrington and the addition of Blake Martinez has allowed Clay Matthews to kick back outside to focus on pass rushing. Ryan was able to earn more playing time down the stretch of 2015 and looks to be one of the favorites to start opposite Barrington in 2016.
From Week 10 on, Ryan appeared in over 70-percent of the defensive snaps. Overall, Ryan appeared in 260 defensive snaps and produced a 19.2-pecent tackle rate in 14 games. Ryan notched 35 solos and 50 total tackles as a rook. I think Ryan should hit the 900 snap mark if he impresses in training camp and the preseason.
Shaq Thompson, WLB, Carolina Panthers
Thompson played mostly the strong-side, while Thomas Davis manned the WILL. Davis is set to kick outside to the strong-side with Thompson playing the IDP-friendly WILL in Carolina’s defense. Over the last four seasons, Davis averaged 108 tackles.
Thompson was a solid linebacker in an already stacked Carolina defense and should only get better in his second year. Thompson appeared in 365 snaps as a rookie, while recording 50 total tackles and a 13.7-percent tackle rate in 14 games. If Thompson can log over 900 snaps, there’s upside for 120 tackles this season, considering what Davis was able to produce over the last several seasons.
Anthony Hitchens, Dallas Cowboys
Hitchens has a chance to take the MIKE and run with it while Rolando McClain serving a 10 game suspension. Hitchens appeared in 538 defensive snaps last season and 529 the previous year, producing a tackle rate of 13.3-percent in over 1,000 total defensive snaps. He can be had for pennies on the dollar in most IDP formats and could see plenty of tackle opportunities with the Cowboys weak at the position.