8 Rookie Linebackers to Target in 2019 IDP Leagues
It seems like a few weeks ago we were watching the Patriots hoist another Lombardi Trophy, and now, another NFL Draft is in the books. Now that the draft has wrapped up, it's time to comb through the new pool of players who are set to make an impact in 2019.
For me, the linebacker position is the most important. They are on the field the most snaps and they are the playcallers of the defense. I also focus on tackles since that's where most of your IDP scoring tends to come from.
Last season, we were blessed with a bounty of linebackers who were productive immediately. Five 'backers finished as top-20 scorers (four were in the top 15). I'm not expecting this year's class to repeat, however, there are more than a few linebackers who should receive significant snaps in their inaugural season. Now that the dust has settled, let's look at the linebackers we're targeting in 2019.
Devin Bush, ILB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh traded up to the 10-spot to get their target in Devin Bush. From an IDP standpoint, this is the perfect landing spot for significant production in 2019. He's already their best active linebacker and, potentially, Ryan Shazier's replacement if he's done with football (though, his progress is encouraging).
I'm not worried about Bush's size and I love his sideline-to-sideline speed. His 4.43 40-time confirmed what I saw on the field. Bush's coverage and run-stopping skills made him one of the better off-ball linebackers in the draft. He's also underrated as a pass rusher. In 2018, he received 60 pass rush snaps and recorded a 30% pressure rate, converting six of those pressures into sacks. He's methodical in his pursuit, so he'll rarely get eaten up by blockers and his balance allows him to finish tackles. He might get fooled on play action or misdirection, but that can be coached. His measurables have been compared to Bobby Wagner and Eric Kendricks.
Bush was productive in the last two seasons at Michigan, recording a 12.3% tackle rate over 1,475 snaps (resulting in 181 tackles) and compiling 18.5 tackles for loss, so he's going to have a presence near the line of scrimmage. He also has the speed to keep up with running backs catching passes out of the backfield. The Steelers just released Jon Bostic, so as of now, it's Vince Williams as one of the starting ILBs. As mentioned, Bush is already their best active LB and they traded up to get him. He should be in line to see over 900 snaps and it wouldn't surprise me to see him calling the plays. In redraft leagues, there are about 15 veteran LBs I'd draft ahead of him, so target him as an LB2, however, he carries LB1 upside. In dynasty leagues, he's one of your top LBs off the board. 110 tackles are not out of the question in 2019.
Devin White, ILB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
White is the other Devin to target in 2019. The Bucs fill a need at ILB with Kwon Alexander and Adarius Taylor's departures, so White should slot in next to Lavonte David in their 3-4 defense. Much like Bush, White's rookie year should be a productive one.
White comes in at a shade over 6'0 and posted a 4.42 40 at the Combine. He made the transition from RB to LB and his speed is on display during every snap. He developed quickly at LSU and became an impact player, earning defensive MVP honors. His production over the last two seasons at LSU in a competitive conference should transition easily over to the NFL. He has a voracious appetite for knowledge, so he's only going to get better and will be learning from one of best in Lavonte David. White is not afraid of contact and has quick hands and hips and can stop on a dime to change direction. His sideline-to-sideline speed and burst will be a problem for opposing RBs. The comparisons to Deion Jones are unavoidable as they are similar athletically.
White recorded an absurd 17.5% tackle rate over his 2017-18 seasons at LSU, while also notching 26 tackles for loss, resulting in 3.4 yards per lost per tackle. His 4.4 speed is going to keep opposing RBs and TEs from gaining significant yards after the pass and missed tackles aren't going to be an issue—he missed just eight tackles over 266 attempts. White is expected to step in immediately as the starter opposite David, so 950-plus snaps aren't out of the question. White and Bush project similar, so I view them as 1a/1b in re-draft and dynasty leagues, similar to how I viewed Roquan Smith and Tremaine Edmunds last season (without the benefit of hindsight into Darius Leonard's ridiculous season). Alexander and David were a productive duo, so I don't see any reason why White and David can't co-exist as a lovely IDP duo.
Germaine Pratt, OLB, Cincinnati Bengals
There's a new coaching staff in Cincinnati, and I can't imagine they're enamored with their current crop of linebackers. Pratt was taken 72nd overall and with Vontaze Burfict out of the picture, the competition is wide open for the two LB spots.
Pratt is position versatile, so he's able to man inside and out in any defensive scheme. He's a converted safety and his coverage ability shows. He has the size and speed and is still growing into the position. He's a fundamental tackler and uses his burst to finish and wrap up on tackles. He shows fluidity in his motion, thanks to his time at safety. His real drawback is only one year as a full-time starter.
As a starter in 2018, he played in 677 defensive snaps and recorded a 16% tackle rate. Pratt had an impact around the line of scrimmage in stopping the run and rushing the QB. He recorded 10.5 tackles for loss with an average of 5.1 yards lost per tackle. He also registered a 36% QB pressure rate, converting six pressures into sacks. I don't think any LB on the current roster has snaps solidified, and Pratt projects as a WILL, so he could push Jordan Evans, and even Preston Brown at MIKE. For deeper re-draft leagues, you can roster him as a potential fourth or fifth LB. In dynasty leagues, target him as an LB3.
Bobby Okereke, LB, Indianapolis Colts
The Colts continue to build their linebacking group around speed, taking Okereke 89th overall. He could compete with Anthony Walker for the MIKE job over the course of training camp.
Okereke's athleticism is already being compared to teammate Darius Leonard. At Stanford, Okereke earned the starting role in 2016 and never looked back. He earned honorable mention All Pac-12 twice during his stint as a Cardinal. He showed good instincts getting to the ball, which showcased his range, is quick to analyze plays and uses his hands well to shed blocks. Okereke has great length and is above average from sideline-to-sideline but he can be a plodder in his change of direction, causing him to get out of position. He has shown the capability to handle a heavy workload, accumulating 1,710 snaps between the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
From a fantasy standpoint, Anthony Walker produced, however, he didn't make much of an impact on the field. He was an average run-stopper and struggled in coverage. Okereke produced back-to-back 96 tackle seasons in 2017 and 2018, and during his three years as a starter, recorded an 11.3% tackle rate. He responded at the line of scrimmage, recording 19 tackles of loss which produced an average of 5.2 lost yards per tackle. The MIKE battle will be one to watch over the offseason. If the Colts really do view him as their Darius Leonard at MIKE, then I see Okereke winning the job over Walker. It wouldn't surprise me to see him as the nickel LB and earn his way into a three-down role. The Colts will have some great speed at LB. Target him in the later rounds in re-draft leagues and in dynasty, as he should be one of the first five LBs off the board.
Jahlani Tavai, ILB, Detroit Lions
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