These are the 10 best devy linebackers in 2020, who are ready to make the leap from college to the pros. Let’s get to know them, and why you should want them on your fantasy teams!
In any devy Individual Defensive Player (IDP) league, it’s hard to know how production will translate from the college game to the NFL. Roles are different, defensive schemes shift, and some players’ skill sets just don’t make the cut. Though sifting through the college ranks to find the top devy linebackers in 2020 might seem daunting, I can tell you it is possible.
For any linebacker in fantasy football, tackles are the lifeblood of their scoring. No matter what format of league you play in tackles form at least the floor of a player’s value, and in tackle-heavy styles of IDP leagues, they also comprise the ceiling. So, we’ll look for good tackle numbers relative to their defense in our devy IDP, as well as some big-play upside – be they sacks, tackles for a loss, interceptions, etc.
There are literally thousands of defensive players in college and high school waiting to emerge for a chance in the NFL, who might someday end up on your fantasy squads. However, we don’t need to worry about all of them today. Let’s start by running down my rankings of top-10 linebackers in devy IDP leagues.
Devy Linebackers for 2020
Micah Parsons, JR, Penn State
Career Stats, 2018-19: 191 combined tackles, 18.0 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 5 passes defensed; in 26 games.
Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons is the complete package as a second-level defender: he wraps up hard-hitting tackles, he’s in the backfield on run defense before the back can change gaps, his blitzing stunts on the pass-rush make interior offensive linemen look like turnstiles, and his awareness and intellectual pass coverage is more than passable for the young star in the making.
The former five-star recruit from Harrisburg (PA) has been large since he entered college, but he’s also incredibly fast. He’s clocking in at a 4.43 in the 40-yard dash. Even if we add +0.05 seconds due to the likelihood of it being hand-timed, a 4.48 40 would give the 6-foot-3, 245-pound a Parsons Speed Score of 121.6 – still the eighth-highest LB Speed Score in the Combine era, and on-par with athletic marvels Ryan Shazier and Myles Jack (for the record, the 4.43 would put him behind only Shazier and Dontay Moch).
Parsons has averaged almost 100 combined tackles and double-digit defeats (tackles for a loss plus sacks) in his first two seasons and looks likely to be an early first-round draft pick in 2021. He may end up more of a strong-side SAM linebacker in a 4-3 defense or the JACK inside linebacker in a 3-4 due to his experience as a defensive end, but he’ll be on the field for every play and will be the general of his defense.
Dylan Moses, rs-JR, Alabama
Career Stats, 2017-19: 116 combined tackles, 15.5 TFL, 5.0 sacks, 1 INT, 2 forced fumbles; in 23 games.
Many folks will have Alabama inside linebacker Dylan Moses as the number-one devy LB, and I can’t really fault them for that. Moses has many of the physical tools Parsons has, standing 6-foot-3 and weighing 235 pounds while running a 4.46 40, 39-inch vertical jump, and 4.15 short shuttle. Where I drop Moses behind Parsons is his extra year of age (Parsons will be 22 at NFL Kickoff in 2021; Moses will be 23) and the ACL injury Moses suffered in 2019 that forced him to medical redshirt the season.
That said, he’s still a 97th-percentile athlete assuming he returns to pre-injury form, and his production so far when starting has been impressive. Although his coverage may be his least impressive skill, he’s still quite adept thanks to above-average instincts and incredible speed. His tackling is by far his best quality, as he thoroughly devastates ball carriers with shoulder and head-up smashes, while still wrapping up and dragging down. His footwork, despite his size, keeps him clean while flowing to the ball, and while he needs to work on using his hands more to keep blockers off his large frame, Moses’s ability in multiple phases will likely make him a mid-to-late first-round selection in 2021.
Henry To’o To’o, SO, Tennessee
Career Stats, 2019: 72 combined tackles, 5.0 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 2 PD; in 13 games.
Tennessee’s Henry To’o To’o is an off-ball linebacker with the coverage and tackling ability of Parsons but with a little less sack upside. As a true freshman in 2019, he earned All-American honors and played through a number of nagging injuries to remain one of the critical pieces of the Vols’ defense. One of his most key plays was a critical tackle for a loss against Kentucky in a fourth-quarter goal-line stand, where his reaction, penetration, speed, and strength were on full display. With top linebacker Daniel Bituli gone this year, it’s HTT’s turn to lead the way. There’s little preventing the four-star California product from a true production explosion in 2020.
Hamilcar Rashed Jr., rs-SR, Oregon State
Career Stats, 2017-19: 121 combined tackles, 35.0 TFL, 16.5 sacks, 5 PD, 3 forced fumbles; in 28 games.
With such sexy production from the younger guys, Oregon State senior Hamilcar Rashed gets a little lost in the shuffle at points. However, he is a candidate to be an early Day 2 pick in 2021. Rashed will likely fit more as a 3-4 weak-side outside linebacker in the NFL than an off-ball tackling machine. He has the versatility to move into the middle of the defense, especially as a passing down A-gap blitzer. The 6-foot-4, 238-pound Rashed will want to add some weight if he aims to be a pass-rusher, but the frame is there for it. After a breakout 62-tackle (22.5 for a loss) and 14-sack 2019 season, Rashed is proving he can be a game-changer.
Mike Rose, JR, Iowa State
Career Stats, 2018-19: 152 combined tackles, 18.5 for a loss, 4.0 sacks, 1 INT, 5 PD, 1 forced fumble; in 26 games.
Iowa State’s Mike Rose brings us back to more traditional off-ball linebackers, and the rising true junior has shown he can play wherever he’s needed in the second level. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound thumper flexed between the MIKE and SAM linebacker spots as the Cyclones adapted to the injury suffered by starting MIKE O’Rien Vance and performed up to the challenge despite differing responsibilities in each role. Rose isn’t a special athlete, but his reaction skills and diagnosing abilities put him in a good position to stop plays in their tracks. He should be a solid Day 2 pick in 2021.
Nick Bolton, JR, Missouri
Career Stats, 2018-19: 125 combined tackles, 9.5 for a loss, 2.0 sacks, 2 INT, 7 PD; in 22 games.
Missouri’s star linebacker Nick Bolton posted the highest PFF grade for SEC linebackers in 2019, his true sophomore season, while racking up more than 100 tackles and earning all-conference first-team honors. In fact, only Cleveland Browns 2020 third-round draft pick, Jacob Phillips, topped Bolton on the SEC tackle leaderboard last year. The rising junior Bolton announced his presence as a Day 2 draft pick in the making. The 6-foot, 232-pound Bolton plays WILL (weak-side) linebacker for the Tigers, and his smaller frame will likely force him to stay in that role in the NFL, but he has the speed and coverage skills that many successful pro WILLs have had (think Seattle Seahawks’ LB K.J. Wright; LB40 in July ADP). Solid tackling floor plus pass defense big-play upside makes Bolton a great stash for devy players.
Jabril Cox, SR, LSU
Career Stats, 2017-19: 258 combined tackles, 32.0 for a loss, 14.0 sacks, 6 INT, 12 PD; in 46 games.
By all rights, LSU grad transfer/rising senior Jabril Cox could be much higher on this list. All he’s done over his collegiate career is average more than 90 tackles (9.5 for a loss) and 5.0 sacks from the SAM outside linebacker position. This is a repertoire that should easily make him a top-5 player on this board and a late first-round pick in 2021. That said, he earned those marks at North Dakota State in the FCS, so we have to slightly downgrade the production when evaluating it because of the quality of competition.
What we can’t discount is his ability: the 6-foot-3, 230-pounder is a fluid mover in space and a brilliant decipherer of the offense, watching angles and jumping routes, showing that he is much more than just a thumper. If Cox displays his prowess with the defending champion Tigers on college’s biggest football stage, he’ll be a no-doubt first-round prospect next year.
Cameron McGrone, rs-SO, Michigan
Career Stats, 2018-19: 65 combined tackles, 9.0 for a loss, 2.5 sacks, 1 PD, 1 forced fumble; in 11 games.
Despite a smaller 6-foot-1, 232-pound frame, Cameron McGrone ably mans the middle linebacker spot for Michigan. He doesn’t yet have the starting resumé that others on this list do, but 2020 will be his year to take the mantle and lead the Wolverines’ defense. He has the body of a space-mover WILL backer, but the attacking mentality of a MIKE or SAM, so it remains to be seen how he’ll be used down the line. As only a redshirt sophomore, it’s entirely possible that McGrone takes another year to develop and doesn’t come out until the 2022 NFL Draft, but that’s another year of devy control for fantasy owners.
Justin Flowe, FR, Oregon
Career Stats: N/A
Oregon recruit, Justin Flowe, hasn’t yet played a down for the Ducks, but he’s on the top-10 list. I know, it’s insane, but he’s an extremely talented young man who will compete to start at the middle linebacker spot as a true freshman. The top ILB prospect in the 2020 recruiting class and the number-six overall, Flowe is 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, but a powerful downhill attacker. As he grows and fills out, he has a good chance to be even more explosive and he’s shown the aptitude to work on his flaws to become a well-rounded defender. He’s well worth this ranking.
Colin Schooler, SR, Arizona
Career Stats, 2017-19: 313 combined tackles, 46.0 for a loss, 9.0 sacks, 4 INT, 7 PD, 3 forced fumbles; in 37 games.
One of my favorite players on this list, Arizona inside linebacker Colin Schooler is a true senior and will just have turned 22 on Draft Day 2021. The JACK backer for the Wildcats’ 3-4 defense, Schooler’s duties mainly involve run defense and tackling – and, boy, does he do that well. The 6-foot-1, 230-pounder doesn’t have a traditional massive thumper frame, but he has averaged more than 100 tackles, 15.0 for a loss, and 3.0 sacks as a three-year starter. When you can get that kind of experience and production, it’s hard to sniffle at. Schooler looks like a clear top-100 draft pick in 2021 and a future stud in tackle-heavy IDP fantasy football formats.
Joe Redemann (@TheIDPGuy on Twitter) is a fantasy football analyst specializing in IDP, dynasty, and the NFL Draft for IDPGuys and NumberFire.com. He also co-hosts two podcasts, coming soon on the Big 3 Network!