The 2018 draft class was a stacked class. There was plenty of linebacker talent that broke out during their rookie seasons. Here we will talk about which second-year linebackers will break out in 2019.
The 2018 linebacker class was probably the best linebacker class we may have ever seen. It hosted the likes of four out of the possible top five linebackers in the NFL. With Roquan Smith selected 8th overall, Tremaine Edmunds 16th overall, Leighton Vander Esch 19th overall, and reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year Darius Leonard selected at 36th overall, needless to say, the class was amazing. These were not the only talented linebackers though. Here you can see which second-year linebackers are poised for a breakout.
Rashaan Evans – Tennessee Titans – Drafted 1st Round, 22nd overall
Rashaan Evans most likely would have had a rookie season breakout had his teammate, and the second-year man at the time Jayon Brown, not had a breakout year of his own. Jayon Brown saw his tackle total jump from 51 to 97 and sack total jump from 1.5 to six. The Titans also have steady producing Wesley Woodyard. Woodyard put up another 100 tackle season, the second consecutive and third overall of his career. The thing is Woodyard is going to be 33 years old and is just holding back Rashaan Evans.
Woodyard is in the last year of his contract and cutting him saves $3.86 million and leaves only $250,000 in dead money. The Titans did not draft Evans in the first round to wait for Woodyard to retire. Especially when Evans produced well in his limited time. Evans only played 47.3% of the Titans defensive snaps and yet still produced 53 total tackles. That is a pace of over 100 hundred if he does not come off the field.
Second team All Pro LB, Rashaan Evans. https://t.co/oTwslqfYf0
— Will Oberst (@ItsWillOberst) August 21, 2019
By looking at the clip above, Evans played the run perfect. He was patient, filled the gap, and made the hit for the stop. He showed a better ability to read the game as the season went on. I expect 2019 to be the Jayon Brown and Rashann Evans show to form an inside linebacker tandem that is not matched by many teams.
Lorenzo Carter – New York Giants – Drafted 3rd Round, 66th overall
Lorenzo Carter was a great 3rd round selection for the Giants. Carter played very well last year even though he only played 40.3% of the team’s defensive snaps. He still produced 43 total tackles, seven tackles for a loss, four sacks and four passes defended. He showed that he is one of the Giants most talented players on the defensive side of the football.
Carter this season should be at the least on the field for 75% of the team’s snaps. His position on the offense is more of a weakside linebacker but will be pass-rushing more than your traditional weakside. His athleticism is great and he seems to be very capable in coverage. At the combine, he ran a 4.46-second 40-yard dash. Watch this group of clips, it showcases his ability to cover tight ends, pass rush, and read the screen pass:
Giants select LB Lorenzo Carter with the No. 66 pick pic.twitter.com/Im6McrLQb0
— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) April 28, 2018
If Carter can translate this to the NFL level and becomes more than just a run stopper and pass rusher, they may need to leave him on the field making him very dangerous in a thin linebacker corps.
Josey Jewell – Denver Broncos – Drafted 4th Round, 106th overall
Josey Jewell was only a part-time player for the Broncos during his rookie season but he did make nine starts. Still, Jewell only played on 42.6% of the team’s defensive snaps. He ceded work to the likes of Brandon Marshall and Shaquil Barrett, both of whom have moved on to new teams for the 2019 season. This opens up plenty of opportunities to shine for Jewell.
The Broncos brought on Vic Fangio to be the new head coach of the team. Fangio is a historically great defensive coach. He was the defensive coordinator of the 49ers from 2011-2014 and the Chicago Bears from 2015-2018. Both of those defenses were known to be some of the best in the league. Both were also known for having great interior linebacker duos. The 49ers employed all pros, Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman, while the Bears employed Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman to start with the Bears and added Roquan Smith last year.
In the stat shown below it shows how much Fangio relies on his interior linebackers:
Others on here have said it, but now with Fangio as the HC Denver is going to have to overhaul their interior linebacking corp.
Last year both interior linebackers for Fangio (Roquan S./Danny T.) played 83% and 93% of snaps on D.
In 2012, both Willis & Bowman played over 90%
— Jeffrey Essary (@JeffreyEssary) January 9, 2019
The Broncos did not add any linebacker depth in the offseason and Jewell should see plenty of time on the field this year. He provided 58 total tackles in less than 50% of the team’s snaps. With another year of experience, Jewell could turn out a very productive year.
Jerome Baker – Miami Dolphins – Drafted 3rd Round, 73rd overall
Jerome Baker is my IDP breakout player of the year. I love what I saw from him as a rookie and by the looks of it so have the Dolphins. The Dolphins are doing a complete teardown of their roster. They have released T.J. McDonald and both Reshad Jones and Kiko Alonso are available. If Alonso is not traded he is another candidate to be released. Jerome Baker now seems like he will be an every-down linebacker after splitting time with Kiko and Raekwon McMillan his rookie season.
The team seems to be aware that McMillan is very poor in pass coverage and he will not be a starter this year. Baker provided 79 total tackles, four tackles for a loss, three sacks, three passes defended, one interception and a touchdown while playing on only 62.4% of the teams snaps. Baker showed great improvement throughout the season and was excellent in run defense. It seems to be transitioning to 2019 as well. Watch these two run plays where he shoots the gaps, sheds blocks and makes the play on Leonard Fournette:
jerome baker is a stud pic.twitter.com/XNvtlLC38J
— josh houtz (@houtz) August 23, 2019
fournette ran into a wall, the wall’s name was jerome Baker pic.twitter.com/AdgVc7cFt7
— The Extra Yard: 5RSN (@5ReasonsFins) August 23, 2019
Jerome Baker is in my eyes the best linebacker on the Dolphins team and is going to see an uptick in snaps. 2019 has the making of a huge year for the second-year linebacker.
Shaun Dion Hamilton – Washington Redskins – Drafted 6th Round, 197th overall
Shaun Dion Hamilton barely saw the field in the first 12 games of the season. He did start the final four games of the season as the Redskins had to see what they had in him. During those four starts, he accumulated 23 total tackles and 1.5 sacks. Reuben Foster and Mason Foster were the projected starters this season. Mason Foster has since been released and Reuben Foster suffered a horrific knee injury.
Hamilton is a very versatile linebacker but thrives in his reads and coverage. Watch here a play from college where he reads run, recognizes play action, and has sound coverage:
What makes Alabama’s defense so special is the communication & spatial awareness of all 11 players.
Watch LB Shaun Dion Hamilton track his run fit, read play action, flip his hips and find the crossing route.
He doesn’t even waste a split second peeking in the backfield. pic.twitter.com/wLGfdu9Cre
— Coach Dan Casey (@CoachDanCasey) March 18, 2018
Then watch here as he sees the running as the check down and makes the break on the ball before it’s released by the quarterback. He then makes the tackle with zero yards after the catch:
— Clint Lamb (@ClintRLamb) August 25, 2018
The Redskins have lost every linebacker from their original starting inside linebacker unit from 2018. That opens up 1,756 snaps up for grabs. Hamilton and journeyman Jon Bostic are the two starters now and Hamilton should be in line for a great season.
Listed here are five linebackers that you need to be targeting in your fantasy drafts. All five of them are at bargain prices and should be seeing heavy workloads in 2019. This includes my, I am calling it again, IDP breakout player of the year Jerome Baker. I think all of these linebackers have top 30 LB potential with some jumping much higher. Make sure you use some of your late-round draft picks on these guys.
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