Luke Kuechly, Deion Jones, CJ Mosley and Bobby Wagner are well-known names in the IDP community as top-tier linebackers. There are other names at linebacker you should know that have been consistently productive and can be acquired for much cheaper.
JJ Watt, Von Miller, Luke Kuechly, Landon Collins, Aaron Donald, Khalil Mack, Joey Bosa, Deion Jones, Aqib Talib, CJ Mosley. What do these guys all have in common? They are some of the top players at their respective positions. They are also some of the most well-known names on the defensive side of the ball and in the IDP community, with good reason.
I will not waste anyone’s time listing off these players’ statistics and qualifications. The point of this series is to talk about lesser known players who have been consistently productive in their careers and can be acquired for much cheaper. This series will be more applicable to tackle heavy IDP settings. I present to you, the unsung heroes of IDP.
Kiko Alonso – Miami Dolphins
Miami Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso burst onto the scene as a rookie for the Buffalo Bills in 2013. He finished third in the NFL in tackles with 159. He also added four interceptions. Alonso lost the 2014 season with a torn ACL. He was abruptly traded to the Eagles for LeSean McCoy.
Alonso was underwhelming with the Eagles. This was largely due to a partial tear of the same ACL he tore in 2014. The Eagles traded Alonso, cornerback Byron Maxwell and the 13th overall pick for the eighth overall pick of the Miami Dolphins.
The 8th overall pick was eventually used to trade up to the second overall pick. With that selection, the Eagles took Carson Wentz. There is no denying that trading Alonso to eventually acquire Wentz worked out well for the Eagles. The Dolphins did not make out too shabby either. Maxwell was named the Dolphins secret superstar by PFF. More to the point of the article, Alonso produced back-to-back 115 combined tackle seasons.
The Dolphins did not do much to improve their offense in the offseason. They might actually be worse. They traded away their best wide receiver Jarvis Landry. Landry had arguably his best season as a pro in 2017. He has averaged 100 receptions on 143 targets for 1010 yards and 6 touchdowns over his four years with Miami.
To replace Landry, the Dolphins signed former Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Albert Wilson and former New England Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola. While there are high hopes for Wilson this season, he is unproven. 2017 was Wilson’s best season. He caught 42 balls on 65 targets for 554 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Amendola is old and oft-injured. Wilson and Amendola will be hard-pressed to fill the hole left by Landry. They join Devante Parker, who has completely underperformed his entire career and Kenny Stills, who has had an effective career but is by no means a superstar.
The Dolphins also signed the ageless running back Frank Gore. He is not much of a needle mover either. Rookie tight end Mike Gesicki may add a dimension to the passing game the Dolphins have not had in years. However, it is well-known that tight ends take longer to break out.
Rookie running back Kalen Ballage is an athletic freak with a high ceiling, but he is extremely raw. Neither Gesicki nor Ballage can be expected to add much to the Dolphins’ offense in 2018.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is back after a lost season to a partially torn ACL and subsequent surgery. While he may be better than the Dolphins’ quarterback situation last season, Tannehill has been underwhelming his entire career. He has finished as fantasy QB16 or lower in four of five seasons.
The Dolphins have finished bottom third in the NFL in time of possession each of the last three seasons. I do not foresee this trend changing because of the offseason additions and subtractions. What does all this mean for Kiko Alonso? Another year of consistent production.
Although not elite, we can expect another 100-120 tackle season from Alonso. A linebacker you can grab later in drafts. If your strategy is to look for top-end talent at other positions with much less depth (defensive tackle, defensive end, and cornerback), Alonso is a relatively cheap option at linebacker.
Avery Williamson – New York Jets
New York Jets linebacker Avery Williamson has been a model of consistency since entering the league in 2014. Williamson has averaged 94 combined tackles over his four-year career.
His lowest combined tackle total was 79 in his rookie season. In 2017, Williamson produced 92 tackles while only playing 60% of the Titans’ defensive snaps. Williamson has also been successful when it comes to getting after the quarterback. He averages nearly three sacks per season.
The New York Jets signed Avery Williamson to a three-year deal this offseason. He will replace Demario Davis who is now with the New Orleans Saints. With the Jets in 2017, Davis was able to produce 135 combined tackles. That production was good for sixth overall in the league.
Like the Miami Dolphins, the Jets did not make much of an improvement on offense. After losing running back Matt Forte to retirement, they signed mediocre running backs Isaiah Crowell and Thomas Rawls. They will compete with the Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire.
While Crowell, Rawls, and Powell have had their moments, this running back corp is not exactly one that inspires confidence. The Jets run game is even more uninspiring when you realize that the offensive line was ranked 30th overall by PFF in 2017. Expect the same this year, as the organization made no significant additions in free agency or the draft.
The passing game is not much better. The Jets drafted quarterback Sam Darnold who has an extremely high ceiling. While Darnold has a transcendent arm, he is still very young (20 years old) and raw. He needs to work on his footwork and his decision-making. In college, he proved to be turnover prone.
If Darnold plays in 2018, you can expect the Jets defense to be playing a lot. However, Darnold will more than likely sit for a season behind Josh McCown. Despite McCown coming off a decent 2017 season, he is still a below average starting QB.
The only area the Jets arguably improved was the pass-catchers. Wide Receiver Robby Anderson was a bright spot last season with 941 yards and 7 touchdowns. Quincy Enunwa will be back after losing 2017 to a neck injury. He was coming off a breakout season in 2016. The return of Enunwa automatically makes this receiving corp better.
The Jets also signed wide receiver Terrelle Pryor. Pryor was awful for the Washington Redskins despite what many believed to be a breakout season in 2016. Lastly, Austin Seferian-Jenkins is now in Jacksonville, leaving a bunch of young unknowns at tight end.
The Jets offense finished 2017 ranked 28th in yards per game and 24th in points per game. Suffice it to say, with the transactions made this offseason, the Jets offense is still not good.
This will give Williamson ample opportunity to accrue defensive stats and fantasy points. Much like Davis last season, Williamson could be at the top of the league in tackles by season’s end. And much like Alonso, Williamson currently has great value.
Pass on guys like Preston Brown, Joe Schobert, Christian Kirksey, and Blake Martinez. All of these linebackers will likely have disappointing season’s relative to their ADP. Instead, pick Williamson who will outperform his ADP. He could likely be among the league leaders in tackles and possibly fantasy points.
Brandon Marshall – Denver Broncos
The final linebacker you should know is Brandon Marshall of the Denver Broncos. If you haven’t figured out by now, this article is about players with good, consistent production. Marshall is no exception.
Since taking over as the starter at inside linebacker for the Broncos, Marshall has 100+ combined tackles in three of four seasons. The fourth season he battled injuries. Like Williamson, Marshall has done a decent job getting after the quarterback. He averages over two sacks in those three seasons. He is also a good defender against the pass and averaged nearly five passes defended in his four starting seasons.
The Broncos actually made significant changes to their offense this offseason. Their most important change was at quarterback. The Broncos quarterback situation was among the worst in the league over the past three seasons. To remedy that, they signed Case Keenum to a two-year deal.
Keenum had a career year in 2017 with the Minnesota Vikings and moved to a relatively similar situation with the Broncos. Unlike last season when there was a quarterback competition at the start, Keenum has been established as the starter. It seems to be paying dividends.
The Broncos also made an improvement to their 23rd PFF ranked offensive line. They traded for Jared Veldheer, who will replace Menelik Watson at right tackle. Waston was ranked as PFFs 73rd tackle in 2017.
Veldheer was not much better, ranking as the 50th best tackle by PFF. However, Veldheer transitioned from his natural position at left tackle to right tackle in 2017 for the Cardinals. While he struggled early in the season, he started to put things together before transitioning back to right tackle due to injuries.
Along with Keenum and Veldheer, the Broncos added to their offensive skill positions. They added wide receivers Cortland Sutton and DeSean Hamilton via the draft. They join Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, and Carlos Henderson.
Sutton and Hamilton were seemingly drafted to help replace Thomas and Sanders. Thomas, 30, and Sanders, 31, can be cut after the 2018 season with minimal cap hits. In the meantime, Thomas and Sanders have been successful the past three seasons despite the quarterbacks throwing to them. They will likely see an uptick in production with Keenum at the helm.
The Broncos also drafted running back Royce Freeman. He will replace CJ Anderson. Anderson was released in the offseason. He joins Devontae Booker and De’angelo Henderson. Freeman was extremely successful in college, recording over 1000 yards from scrimmage in all four seasons at Oregon. He looks to push Booker for touches in 2018.
Usually, offensive improvements are bad for IDP players. This may not be the case for Marshall. Marshall’s 2014 season was his best. In 2014, the Broncos offense finished second in the league in total yards and points. It seems that Marshall is relatively immune to the success of the offense and will produce regardless.
Like Williamson and Alonso, I expect Marshall to stay his consistent self. He should produce 100+ combined tackles with a few sacks and passes defended. Also like Williamson and Alonso, you can wait to draft Marshall in the later rounds. You can target these three instead of picking top-end talent at more sparse positions.
Linebacker is the deepest of the defensive positions. Many of the top-tier players like Joe Schobert, Blake Martinez, and Preston Brown are prime candidates to underperform. Instead of looking for top-end linebacker talent, go for the positions with a shallower talent pool like defensive tackle and cornerback.
Alonso, Williamson, and Marshall are second-tier linebackers who will not put up elite numbers. However, they will produce consistently good numbers. Coupled with first-tier players at other positions, these linebackers, among others, can help you win your league
Look out for future articles in the unsung heroes series. For more tips and analysis, follow Sam on twitter here. Listen to the guys talk about news, analysis, and strategy on the podcast, and follow the show on twitter @IDPGuys.