Linebackers are a critical element to NFL defenses. This is also the case when it comes to roster construction, IDP style. Without getting to into the defensive coordinator mumbo jumbo let’s break it down to say that there are two types of linebackers those that rush the QB (OUTSIDE LB) or those whose primary goal is to punish RB’s (INSIDE LB or Middle Linebacker). Both types of players need to be able to cover RB’s or an occasional tight end. In addition, all are coached to tackle the football (causing fumbles).
There are exceptions to the rule like Carolina dynamo Luke Kuechly who at middle linebacker can stop the run, defend the pass and once in a while sack the QB. Unfortunately, stat stuffers like this guy are very rare. Nonetheless, every draft offers hope that the next Lawrence Taylor or Junior Seau will emerge from the college ranks. This article will, more than likely, not reveal anyone close to that caliber but let’s do the review anyway starting with the class of 2017.
- ILB-Jarad Davis LIONS -1st rounder (21st selection) – ex Florida Gator missed two games but still made the ALL-ROOKIE team (65 solo tackles) and played with a mean streak that the Lions love. Definite starter in IDP leagues this coming season.
- OLB-Haason Reddick CARDS- 1st rounder (13th selection)- ex Temple Owl was thought to be a bit of a hunch/project pick due to speed/sackmaster ability. Training wheels were on and eventually started three games due to injury fallout. Did register 2.5 sacks and caused two forced fumbles. Sleeper status only due to designated rusher role.
- ILB -Reuben Foster 49ERS- 1st rounder (31st selection)- ealso made the All Rookie team and gathered a reasonable amount of tackles (59). More importantly this guy earned a leadership role on a team arisen from the ashes. Worth a pick but not as a cog due to possible legal woes/suspension possibility.
- OLB- T.J Watt STEELERS- 1st rounder (30th selection)- ex Badger carved out a role and was a key guy on a defense that is in disrepair. Regardless, he made the All Rookie team and has more than likely cemented a starting spot this year. Oh and the 7 sacks (and 39 tackles)- that may just be a starting point. Worth a pick but I’d get an ILB first (in most formats).
- Moved to DE- Charles Harris DOLPHINS- 1st rounder (30th selection)- swing and a miss by the Fins. Maybe he’ll be a factor this year but not on my big board in 2018.
THE CLASS OF 2018- IN ORDER OF DRAFT POSITION
I wrote in last week’s DB review how tough it is to break into a lineup let alone be IDP worthy. Linebacker may be just as tough for several reasons, the most important being the onus of being coaches on the field (gotta read the formation/play!). All the stupendous Combine stats aren’t really going to help you when it comes to being “smart” on the field.
Lastly, there are three keys to success in the NFL (besides being tough as nails) : MEANS (ability), MOTIVE (does the player have “heart?) and OPPORTUNITY. Every player drafted is there because they’ve shown a high level of ability regardless of position. Motive is hard to pinpoint but BAD CHARACTER can be a bad sign. Opportunity is by far most important when it comes to fantasy football. It’s not uncommon that even top picks will face a grooming period. So before you even do your rankings check depth charts- don’t consider it in stone, but if a player has a dependable veteran in his path be wary. Connections are definitely something to also make note of- EXAMPLE: if a player is taken from LSU and his position coach also came from LSU (or the SEC) this may help that player’s chances. Below you will see seven players profiled, two which are definitely longshots but at least worth putting on your watch list.
OLB in college /Roquan Smith BEARS – 1st round (8th selection) let’s face it, in the modern era the Bears have been, for the most part, a losing franchise. But they do have a tradition of great linebackers. Dick Butkus, Brian Uhrlacher and Mike Singletary are the gold standard over the past fifty years. Despite all the Pro Bowls and accolades only Singletary got even a sniff of a Super Bowl (he won). Is Smith ready to make his mark as a Rook? The following are the certainties: he’s fast,he loves to hit people and he’s very happy to be part of the Bear rebirth. Time will tell on the last part.
If you’re a Bears fan or even slightly paying attention to off-season moves you know that the hype train is at the station. The Bears offense, arguably the worst in the land last year is being ballyhooed as legit. I don’t buy it BUT the receiving crew is vastly improved and Mitch Trubisky has last year’s catastrophic on-the-job training experience past him.
Back to Mr. Smith. I won’t regale you with the awards of which there were plenty. Let’s just sum it up and say that this a sideline to sideline game wrecking force Currently, he’s listed on the depth chart at LILB which is the blitz/ blindside for most QB. In reality, it doesn’t matter one iota if the Bears are finally good or just THE SAME OLD BEARS. In fact, the worse they are, the better the chances of overall stat filled disruption. All in all, in a twelve team league he needs be drafted as a top ten LB based on all factors.
OLB in college /Leighton Vander Esch COWBOYS- 1st round (19th selection) common are the draft picks based on accolades and big time program exposure (played at/ against) and then there are picks that are based on next level potential. This pick is of the latter persuasion. Not to say that Boise State hasn’t produced NFL talent but L.V.E is going to be in the deep end of the pool, on America’s team. Talk about pressure.
Only in the NFL will you see walk-on starters in college become #1 draft picks. Such is the case the guy with possibly the whitest name in league history. The story gets even stranger when you consider the fact that he was a starter one season and played a total of 28 games in three years. But it was last year that he “went off” with 143 total tackles, five sacks, four forced fumbles and two picks. Add to that his size 6’4″ and 256 lbs, speed and freakishly long arms this may be a striking gold situation for the Cowboys. But will it be this season?
If he does, Idahoans everywhere (Esch-a-Sketch was born and went to college in the Spud State) will be instant Cowboy fans. As far as a starting spot, that’s a strong maybe based on current competition. One thing for sure- he’ll be probably moved to ILB and be learning from a stud. Sean Lee is without question one of best in the business. KEEP A CLOSE EYE ON TRAINING CAMP- if he gets a starting gig take a flyer on this player as your 2nd LB or preferably bench support type.
OLB in college /Tremaine Edmunds BILLS- 1st round (16th selection) at first glance I wasn’t wooed by this year’s class of LB’s but after digging into this I am pumped up! And T- Ed is the third reason why. Oddly, like the two guys listed above, this guy was also left after his Junior year AND played predominantly OLB in college and slated to move inside in the PROS. No doubt he has the size/speed combo 6’5″ and 250 LBS (4.54 forty yard dash) that offers hope at the next level.
More importantly is his lock on the Middle Linebacker position now that last year’s starter, and leading tackler, Preston Brown is a Bengal. Talk about checking the boxes. The Bills have already stated that this season Edmunds will blow by the sorry team leading sack total (4) of 2017.
All that being said there is one thing that makes me list this guy on my BIG BOARD in the 2nd LB/sleeper section: the fact that he’s super young (just turned 20) and still maturing physically against some of the world’s best and most physical athletes.
PROBABLY NOT A FACTOR
ILB/ Rasheem Evans TITANS- 1st round (22nd selection) played at Bama and currently penciled in to start (RILB) between two solid veteran, Brian Orakpo and Wesley Woodyard. This alone makes you wonder what crumbs will the Rookie get? Who knows maybe he’ll be a force and lead the team in tackles. I bet not. I say Watch List Only.
OLB/ Darius Leonard COLTS- 2nd round (4th selection) played at South Carolina State. Speedy guy that could benefit from team transition to a 4-3. Projects to be a work in progress- only because he’s on the Dolts- keep a distant eye on him.
OLB/Lorenzo Carter GIANTS – 3rd round (pick #52) played with Raquan Smith at Georgia. This is an outstanding addition to team with little or no pass rush. Will get chances sooner than later. In deep OR best ball league worth consideration.
ILB/Jack Cichy BUCS- 6th round (pick #202) played at Wisconsin. Injuries stunted what could have been a higher draft slot. May not be fast enough but is a hustler that will start the season buried on the depth chart. Looks to be a special teams force and at the ready if a few guys go down.
In summation, there are some intriguing options at LB (CLASS of 2018).
SO LONG FOR NOW
Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join host Brian Roach, Jr, and Cole Freel live on Sunday May 20th, 2018 from 8-9:30pm EST for episode #121 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. We will discuss the latest information in the world of fantasy baseball.
Our guest this week is Andy Macuga former Head Coach of Borrego Springs High School in San Diego. Andy is also a veteran owner in Major League Fantasy Sports leagues covering baseball and football.