Ranking some of the rookie linebackers that could be relevant for IDP.
When making IDP fantasy football rankings, rookies are a tough lot to mix in. By the time fantasy drafts start, we have been inundated for months about how great these kids are. The truth of the matter is that most of them are, at best, watchlist material for fantasy purposes.
The first-round draft picks usually get to play, but some positions almost never make an immediate impact. At other spots, a team’s poor roster might make a fourth-round pick get playing time from week one. If that fourth-round player is the weak point of his team’s pass coverage, he’s a viable fantasy streaming play based on matchups at the very least.
Unlike the draft itself, ranking IDP fantasy football players is not about relative player quality as much as it is about ranking their opportunities. The best player in the world is not going to put up stats if he’s not on the field. He is also not going to put up stats if he’s not in a scheme that emphasizes his abilities. Here are the rookie linebackers that I think have the most fantasy relevance in 2018.
1) Roquan Smith
Roquan Smith is the top of the class in both ability and opportunity. There is no competition for him to beat out. He will have a three-down role from the moment he gets on the field. He is playing in a linebacker-friendly system (recall that Christian Jones ended 2017 with 90 tackles in 11 starts for the Bears) with a defensive coordinator in Vic Fangio who will put him in a place to be successful.
2) Tremaine Edmunds
Tremaine Edmunds is going to struggle early. He will be the Bills starting MLB, which is a great opportunity, but he is an incredibly raw player. I see his season arc mirroring that of the Detroit Lions Jarrad Davis in 2017. He will rack up big tackle numbers early on, partially due to struggles in coverage concepts, partially because his primary nickel defense partner is Matt Milano, who will likely be swallowed up against the run.
3) Rashaan Evans
Rashaan Evans in Tennesee has a great spot to exploit. He steps directly into the departed Avery Williamson‘s role from last season. Williamson tallied 90 tackles in 2017. Evans is also beside an aging veteran in Wesley Woodyard. The rookie is a tackling machine. Woodyard is not a stout run defender. That will give Evans the opportunity to clean up the mess on running plays.
4) Darius Leonard
Darius Leonard has to jump over Anthony Walker to take a three-down role for the Indianapolis Colts. Walker had a concussion in June and a lackluster rookie campaign. Someone has to be on the field beside Antonio Morrison in nickel packages, and Leonard offers the Colts dizzying athleticism, natural-looking coverage movement, and blitz acumen. Leonard’s potential is what you’re drafting.
5) Leighton Vander Esch
Leighton Vander Esch has to get past two better players for a three-down role. One of them, Sean Lee, will probably be injured for a portion of the season. The other, Jaylon Smith, is recovering from a career-threatening injury. For the moment both Lee and Smith are healthy. Until that changes it is difficult to see fantasy significance for Vander Esch. He will be limited to a two-down role. In a deep league, he is draftable, but he shouldn’t be starting for you.
6) Harold Landry
Harold Landry might get enough sacks to make up for being a rotational player. At least make up for it enough to get you through bye weeks. He isn’t going to be a fantasy starter. Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo will eat enough snaps that Landry won’t get the volume of tackles required. If you have starters with byes in weeks five, six, ten, or eleven, Landry could be a solution as a backup with an opportunity for good day rushing the passer. It’s not a great option, but we’ve run out of those.
7) Malik Jefferson
Malik Jefferson could very well be the Bengals starting weakside linebacker to start the year. Bengals new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has a history of asking a lot from his linebackers in coverage. Because he has an opportunity to put up tackle stats early during Vontaze Burfict‘s four-game suspension, Jefferson could be an option if you end up on the bad side of the startable linebackers run in your draft.
8) Fred Warner
Fred Warner could get an opportunity to play on nickel downs during Reuben Foster‘s suspension. If he is holding up well in run support during the preseason he is worth a late round flyer. I do not believe he is a good enough three-down player to get a ton of snaps over 16 games, but his early opportunity makes him a watchlist candidate.
9) Jerome Baker
Jerome Baker needs to leapfrog Kiko Alonso or Raekwon McMillan to get a three-down role. He is a good player but he is a watchlist candidate only at this point. If you have either of those players, taking Baker later in the draft insulates you against injury. He is one of my top linebacker handcuffs for 2018.
10) Dorian O’Daniel
Dorian O’Daniel could be the player spelling Reggie Ragland in obvious passing situations for the Chiefs. He’s not likely to take on a full-time role, but in weeks where the Chiefs could face a pass-heavy offense, he’s a desperation play if you’re streaming linebackers due to injuries in your lineup.
So there you have it. These are the ten linebackers I believe to have any fantasy relevance at all. Obviously, if any team is hit with a rash of injuries, any rookies further down their lineups could move onto the list. For the moment, however, these ten have the best opportunity to make an impact in IDP fantasy during their rookie seasons. These are not dynasty rankings, only projections for 2018.
Follow Ash Thompson on twitter (@A5hcrack) and read more of his work on idpguys.org.