• IDP Fantasy Redraft Top 10 Series: Linebacker Edition

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    This is the third in a series of articles on my top 10 players at each defensive position in IDP fantasy redraft formats. Welcome to the Linebacker edition.


    Welcome to article three in my series of articles about my Top 10 IDP stars, linebacker edition! So far, I have covered DTs and Edges. If you missed those articles, you can find the DT edition here and the Edge edition here.

    I don't usually make definitive lists of players, but it's the offseason, and I'm bored and feeling ballsy. So I thought I would put together a list of my top 10 players in fantasy redraft formats at five defensive positions - defensive tackle, edge rusher, linebacker, safety, and cornerback.

    I'll still split players into tiers for further context and try to justify each selection with data, evidence, thoughts, and ramblings. If I remember or someone reminds me, I'll revisit my picks at the end of the season to see how I fared. I believe in accountability, and it's always fun and educational to see what we got right with predictions and what we got wrong.

    Enough of the preamble. Let's get into it.

    Tier One

    1. Shaquille Leonard

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    I love Leonard. He's the rare example of a linebacker who produces in fantasy AND performs at an elite level in the NFL. He struggled with a lingering ankle injury last year, but it wasn't enough to keep him from playing.

    Despite being in visible pain at times, Leonard's overall PFF grade in 2021 was the 7th highest among all off-ball linebackers, and he has never ranked lower than 11th in that category since he entered the league. His tackle efficiency was 12.2% in 2021 compared to a league average of 10.34%.

    Granted, tackle efficiency is not a reliable year-on-year predictor of future production, as demonstrated by Tom Kislingbury below. I mention the tackle efficiency metric here only to illustrate how Leonard continued to produce despite his ankle injury:

     

    I've placed four other guys in the same tier for two reasons. Firstly, Leonard's existing injury concerns me about his week one status, and warrants being closely monitored over the next four weeks. Secondly, inferior linebackers can play poorly and still have fantastic fantasy production. Tae Crowder and Alex Singleton proved that point in 2021, but it happens every, single, year. It's sad to admit, but opportunity is more important than talent (unless you're playing in a PFF All-22 format).

    The bottom line is that if a linebacker has an every-down role and remains healthy, they have a very good chance to produce like a top 10 guy.

    Leonard remains my clear number one for now. However, if your scoring system rewards sacks more highly than average, and tackles lower than average, then the next guy should probably be top of your list.

    2. Micah Parsons

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    Parsons had a phenomenal rookie year. Randy Gregory missed five games, and DeMarcus Lawrence missed ten, prompting the Cowboys to switch Parsons between a traditional off-ball role and that of an edge rusher. It's rare for a player to be adept in either role; the youngster deserves all the credit for his performance. He ended the season with 70 tackles, 67 pressures, and between 13 and 14 sacks depending on your source of sack information.

    The big question fantasy managers want to know is how Parsons will be used in 2022. It's a fair question, his value will largely be determined by the answer, so most of his write-up will be spent talking about that point. The truth is that only those within the Cowboys organization truly know what their plans are for the former Nittany Lions star. What we do know is that his role may change from game to game depending on the availability and form of other players, and the defensive game plan any given game week.

    Beyond that, all we can do in the fantasy community is look for hints, clues, and rumors, and take guesses based on incomplete information. So let's start by looking at the notable defensive personnel holdovers, additions, and subtractions who may affect Parsons's role:

    Holdovers:

    Additions:

    Subtractions:

    Barr's addition is one of the most interesting. He provides a steady, veteran presence on a team that predominantly features single LB packages. On the face of things, it appears the Cowboys averaged 1.68 linebackers on the field per game, slightly higher than the league average of 1.62. However, that figure is skewed because Parsons (assumed to be one of those 1.68 LBs) was often lined up as a DE.

    Gregory's departure opens the door for more edge rush snaps to go around. Fowler hasn't been effective since 2019 and if we believe the rumors, he may even fail to make the final 53. I believe Armstrong and Basham played more often than is ideal given their ability level. Williams is a wildcard. Parsons could be the main beneficiary.

    Were it me, I'd try to get Parsons rushing the passer as often as possible, alongside Lawrence. Barr would man the LB spot, and I'd work in Williams, Armstrong, Basham, and Fowler (if he is still on the roster) as spot relief when Parsons spends time at LB, and when Parsons or Lawrence need a breather.

    But what do I know?

    Parsons himself seems to think he'll spend most of his time rushing the passer:

    So what does all of this mean for Parsons' value? His 307 pass rush attempts in 2021 look within his range of outcomes for 2022. My advice is to expect more of the same. If Parsons did well in your scoring system last year, he should do well again this year. If not, you could drop him in these rankings.

    It's worth noting that Sleeper has given Parsons a dual designation as an LB and DL. MFL has him as an LB unless you're using true position (hint: you should be.)

    3. Bobby Wagner

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    It feels wrong to drop a player with a résumé like Wagner's into tier two. He's had a HoF-worthy career, and has headlined articles like this for the last decade.

    For the first time since he entered the league, Wagner will be playing for a new team in 2022 after leaving the Seahawks in free agency to join divisional rivals the L.A. Rams. Adding a savvy veteran to an otherwise weak position group is a shrewd signing for the reigning Super Bowl champions, who hope the 32-year-old can continue to produce as he has over the course of his career.

    Platitudes aside, Wagner wasn't quite the same player in 2021. Compared to the rest of his career, he posted bottom-three PFF grades in coverage, tackling, and run defense. PFF graded his last two games in weeks 15 and 16 as two of the worst of his career.

    Let's not overreact. Compared to his peers, Wagner still compares favorably in most categories. He has farther to fall than most. He recorded a career-high in tackles, helped by the fact that he remained healthy most of the season, and finished seventh in total snaps among all NFL linebackers.

    No team in the NFL is committed to a single-linebacker scheme more than the Rams. Wagner will undoubtedly be the sole every-down player at the position. Ernest Jones and Troy Reeder interchanged at the position in 2021, and managed a combined 148 tackles between them. I wouldn't be in the least bit surprised if Wagner had similar numbers on his own in 2022, health permitting.

    4. Devin White

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    Fantasy managers had unrealistic expectations of White following his 156 tackles, and nine sack campaign in 2020. It's somewhat understandable that we chase these elite performers in the hope of a repeat performance, but the sooner we begin treating otherworldly single-season performances as outliers that are difficult to reproduce, the more successful we will be.

    If you're a realist, White's production in 2021 wasn't a disappointment. 135 tackles and 4 sacks, and four pass breakups is a perfectly fine stat line for an LB1. I could talk to you about his pressure rate or his tackle efficiency, but neither will help determine his value as an elite fantasy linebacker in 2021.

    Some will take exception to me ranking White as low as the LB5. As I said earlier, and as I'll keep saying throughout this article, what matters more than anything else is opportunity. Bobby Wagner is the only linebacker who has played more snaps than White in the last two years combined. White has benefitted from insanely high snap numbers.

    So, can White remain as healthy going forward? The odds are against him. But his odds are no worse than anyone below him on this list.

    5. Roquan Smith

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    Smith recently requested a trade after failing to agree on a new extension with the Bears. Arguably the best outcome for Smith's fantasy managers is that he remains in Chicago. He was supposed to be playing the same role that Shaquille Leonard had in former Colts DC and current Bears HC Matt Eberflus' defense. If he remains with the team, that role could be exactly what the youngster needs to take his game to the next level.

    If Smith moves on, it's unlikely his fantasy value would take a big hit. Wherever he goes, he should retain fantasy LB1 status. Whether he can continue to be as productive remains to be seen, but it won't be for lack of opportunity.

    Smith has his detractors:

    https://twitter.com/PFF_Eric/status/1554820763336822784?s=20&t=7wQ-qnXTmXlTgfRM7oN6IA

    The criticism is fair. As a player, Smith isn't quite in the same league as someone like Leonard, or Fred Warner. But to date, Smith has been just as productive as those guys, registering over 500 tackles in five years. Long may it continue for his fantasy managers.

    6. Jordyn Brooks

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    Brooks finished third among all linebackers with 1109 snaps in 2021. He made the most of his opportunity, 'earning' a colossal 176 tackles, finishing second only to Foyesade Oluokun with 177. It was a giant leap in production for the sophomore, who emerged from the shadow of Bobby Wagner to establish himself as an elite fantasy option in 2021.

    The 24-year-old's 7.1% missed tackle rate was impressive, fourth only to Roquan Smith, Shaquille Leonard, and De'Vondre Campbell on this list. Per PFF, it helped Brooks achieve the 19th best tackle grade among 93 linebackers who played at least 250 snaps. This is part of what makes him adept in run defense.

    However, the same can't be said for Brook's coverage abilities. It's easy, and perhaps a little misleading to point to the counting stats as evidence of this. He allowed more completions (92), passing yards (1010) and touchdowns (7) than any other linebacker, but he was also targeted more than any other linebacker. The fact that he played so many snaps is a factor, but coverage remains an area of his game Brooks needs to improve.

    If the beat reporter rumor-mill is to be believed, Brooks has been a standout in camp:

    Hopefully, the hamstring injury he suffered recently doesn't linger, and he can continue to make strides as a player in his third year.

    Tier Two

    7. Fred Warner

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    Warner is one of the best all-around linebackers in the league. Equally proficient in run defense as he is in coverage, he demonstrates many of the qualities teams covet in a modern linebacker:

    Warner is the latest in a line of excellent 49ers' linebackers in the last 15 years, following in the footsteps of Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman. However, unlike his predecessors, Warner's abilities don't always translate into elite fantasy production. Per FantasyPros, Warner finished as the LB#18 in 2021, LB#15 in 2020, and LB#10 in 2019. He's also never surpassed 100 solo tackles in a season.

    Why, then, do I have him listed as my redraft LB#7, you might ask. Part of the reason is that FantasyPros give edge rushers a LB tag, so they don't really count when we're specifically talking about off-ball linebackers. Therefore, we can remove T.J. Watt, and Robert Quinn from their 2021 linebacker rankings.

    I am confident that a handful of linebackers who finished ahead of Warner will struggle to maintain their lofty status in 2022. Kyzir White and Denzel Perryman to name a few. I also fancy the ascending 25-year-old's chances to leapfrog declining players such such as Deion Jones and C.J. Mosley.

    8. De'Vondre Campbell

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    Campbell came from nowhere to put together arguably the most impressive 2021 season of any linebacker on this list. He was always productive for the Falcons prior to joining the Packers, but he took his game to a new level last year.

    The only off-ball linebacker to earn a better PFF grade was Micah Parsons, and the Cowboys star did so only because his pass rusher rating dwarfed that of more orthodox linebackers. Campbell joined the rare cluster of players who exhibit proficiency in multiple areas, earning accolades in run defense, as a tackler, and for his coverage ability, earning top five PFF grades in each area among all linebackers who played at least 250 snaps.

    First round pick, Quay Walker joined Campbell on the Packers' linebacker corps this summer. Rumors and camp nuggets suggest Walker is off to a fast start, and that the team may play more two linebacker sets in 2022. Whether that happens or not, Campbell won't lose his every down role.

    As if often the case with players who take such a sizeable leap, the big question hanging over Campbell is whether he can reproduce at the same level. The safe bet is to expect some regression, but I still believe he'll produce well enough to easily earn LB1 status.

    9. Eric Kendricks

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    The Vikings' veteran took a step backwards in 2021 after two superb seasons in succession. He graded poorly in a number of areas, recorded bottom three career numbers in missed tackles, target % allowed, and touchdowns allowed.

    Earlier in this article I explained how linebackers can play poor football and still produce in fantasy. Kendricks was that man last season. Despite grading poorly, he still had a career high 137 tackles, and five sacks, helping him to the LB#8 finish overall.

    Kendricks is only 30-years-old and has been too good for too long for us to allow one season of poor play to cloud our judgment. Some positive regression is well within the range of his outcomes; I wouldn't be surprised to see him improve.

    If you've read the rest of this article, you're probably tired of me banging the drum for the importance of opportunity. Jordan Hicks replaced Anthony Barr as Kendrick's parter at linebacker, but the Vikings should continue to rank near the top of the league in two linebacker sets:

    Tier Three

    10. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah

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    I love watching JOK play, and I definitely have a soft spot for him. I didn't expect him to start as fast as he did last year, and was pleasantly surprised that he achieved what he did in his rookie year. He was very inconsistent at times, as is the case for the vast majority of rookies, but overall he graded well in most areas.

    There's plenty of room for growth. His 17.4% missed tackle rate is a big concern; JOK probably has to improve in that area for him to remain the Browns first choice at LB in the years ahead. Fortunately for him, tackling form is easier to improve than coverage ability, for example. And coverage is one area where he played pretty well by rookie standards.

    With that said, the vast majority of the 'best of the rest' category could feasibly rank above JOK this year. There's a thin line separating him and several others at the position. I won't argue the point with anyone who champions any of the other every-down linebackers as more deserving of this spot on the list. There are numerous, more established players who haven't made the top 10. Foye Oluokun, specifically.

    Best of the Rest:

    For this list, I've listed every other linebacker who I am confident will have an every-down (or very near to an every-down) role. Therefore, there are some notable absentees such as Nick Bolton, who will once again play in a heavy rotation, and will need to maintain otherworldly tackle efficiency to remain as productive in 2022.

    Sorry, Chiefs fans, it doesn't mean I don't rate him as a player. Blame Andy Reid and Steve Spagnuolo!

    Logan Wilson
    Foyesade Oluokun

    It will raise eyebrows that I've left the LB2 from the 2021 season out of my top 10. I definitely think lower of him than the consensus, but I'm also concerned whether he'll remain as productive on a new team in a new scheme.

    Shaq Thompson
    Cole Holcomb

    Not an elite player, but produces excellent numbers. One of the most likely candidates to make this list look silly by the end of the season.

    Demario Davis
    Blake Martinez

    Lavonte David

    Tremaine Edmunds

    Deion Jones

    Bobby Okereke

    Lavonte David

    Isaiah Simmons

    Zaven Collins

    Myles Jack

    Nicholas Morrow

    C.J. Mosley

    I know Mosley was incredibly productive last season, but he's another player I'm lower on than most. His age, his declining play, and the way his contract is structured scare me, even in redraft formats.

    Matt Milano
    Devin Lloyd
    Dre Greenlaw

    Greenlaw is criminally underrated after missing most of 2021. I'm pretty confident he'll return to an every down role again in 2022, reprising his role from Azeez Al-Shaair.


    Thanks for reading my 'IDP Fantasy Redraft Top 10 series - LB edition'. I hope you find it helpful or interesting. Check in on other articles in the series covering my top 10 DT, edge, linebacker, safety, and cornerbacks, and follow me on Twitter @JaseAbbey and the IDP Guys at @IDPGuys.

    Jase Abbey

    I'm an IDP-obsessive and have been playing fantasy football for 20 years. I write the weekly IDP start/sit for IDP Guys in-season, redraft IDP content during the offseason, and appear on the odd podcast from time to time. I am a big, big believer in data-driven and evidence-based content. I'm UK-based, love most sports, and study sports journalism at university. My favorite two things in life are family and sarcasm.
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