It’s the dynasty off-season and IDP managers are assessing their squads and looking to make moves. Let’s take a look at three second year linebackers that I feel are worth investing in.
It’s a fun time of year as the dynasty off-season is in full swing. Free agency is just around the corner and the NFL draft is getting closer and closer. While there is a new exciting class of IDP rookies incoming, let’s not forget about some of last year’s promising talent. This is the time of year I like to pick out a few second year linebackers who made some noise as rookies, but could see their role really expand in year two. Below are three linebackers who I feel have the talent and potential opportunity to be key IDP contributors in their second season.
2020 Defensive Snaps: 267 (25%)
2020 Stats: 39 tackles (29 solo), 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 3 passes defended, 1 forced fumble, 1 QB Hits
The Chiefs selected Willie Gay with the 31st pick in the Second Round (64th overall) in the 2020 NFL draft. Coming out of Mississippi State, Gay was seen as a bit of a raw prospect with some serious upside if he develops. While he lacked experience coming out of college, his athleticism and ability were very apparent. Gay showed solid play speed on tape and lit up the combine during the pre-draft process. Not only is he athletic, but Gay packs a punch as a tackler and closes in a hurry when he goes. Gay also flashed some nice ability in coverage and that is an area he can continue to develop.
In his rookie season, Gay was used sporadically. He ended up making eight starts, but his playing time was all over the place during the season. I thought once he got more comfortable with the scheme he would see more consistent playing time, but the Chiefs chose to bring him along slowly. However, Gay did show flashes of what he brings to the table while in there, along with some mistakes along the way like any rookie.
Here you can see Gay’s burst and speed as he gets down the line in a hurry to take down the runner.
Steve Spagnuolo and the Chiefs defensive staff's number one priority this offseason needs to be to get Willie Gay ready to play and play a lot in 2021. We saw his physical traits, his nose for the ball, and his ability to tackle. Time to put it together. @ArrowheadLive pic.twitter.com/9Lbia0hfci
— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) January 7, 2021
Leading the way in defensive snaps at linebacker for the Chiefs this season were Anthony Hitchens (56%), Damien Wilson (49%), and Ben Niemann (44%). While Hitchens is still under contract, Wilson will be an unrestricted free agent and Niemann will be a restricted free agent. They may choose to bring one of the two back, but I don’t think either will be a big priority.
This would open the door for Willie Gay to be an integral part of the defense. The Chiefs’ linebacker unit needs some juice and Gay would bring that. He’s the best cover linebacker of the bunch and has sideline to sideline range to cover the field. It’s time for the Chiefs to unleash Willie Gay and I want him on my team before they do. While anything can happen in free agency, the opportunity seems to be trending in the right direction for Gay. It is noteworthy that Gay is currently recovering from meniscus surgery, but should be available for the start of the season.
2020 Defensive Snaps: 367 (32%)
2020 Stats: 57 tackles (35 solos), 2 tackles for loss, 2 passes defended
The Seattle Seahawks really liked what they saw in Jordyn Brooks and showed that by making him a first round pick selecting him 27th overall in the 2020 draft. Brooks had a very productive career at Texas Tech and capped it off with an impressive Senior year amassing 108 tackles (66 solos) and an impressive 20 tackles for loss. While he only ran the 40 at the combine, Brooks did answer any speed questions running a solid 4.54 second time. A proficient tackler with a three-down skill set there was a lot to like with Brooks’ game.
As a rookie, Brooks saw his snaps fluctuate throughout the season. He made six starts and played over 50% of the defensive snaps only four times on the season. Brooks did have a couple weeks that popped though when he was out there. In week 10 against the Giants, Brooks had a solid 11 tackle (5 solos) performance. He then finished off the year nicely with an eight tackle (7 solos) game in Week 16 and a nine tackle (5 solo) outing in Week 17.
On this play you can see Brooks’ ability to hit the gap and get downhill to make a big play behind the line near the goal line.
Jordyn Brooks is special. pic.twitter.com/gtWVquDsC5
— 𝘙𝘢𝘵𝘦𝘥𝘥✨ (@Raytedd) December 29, 2020
The reason Brooks struggled to see the field consistently as a rookie is that Seattle had two veteran ballers at linebacker in Bobby Wagner and KJ Wright. Wagner is under contract for two more seasons and hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. Wright on the other hand is about to be an unrestricted free agent. His situation is the one to watch to see if Seattle decides to bring him back.
If the Seahawks decide not to bring Wright back it will open the door for Brooks to take on a bigger role next to Wagner. With the team investing a first round pick in Brooks, one would think the writing is on the wall that he is a big part of their future at linebacker. Wagner and Wright have both been productive IDP assets in Seattle and I expect Brooks to do the same. Brooks has a three-down skill set making him a candidate to see a healthy number of snaps which is key for IDP production. I’m checking in on Brooks’ price now before it potentially goes up with the KJ Wright situation.
2020 Defensive Snaps: 343 (32%)
2020 Stats: 33 tackles (23 solos), 4 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 interceptions, 3 passes defended, 2 QB Hits
Looking to add to their linebacker unit, Cincinnati selected Logan Wilson with the first pick in the third round (66th overall) in the 2020 draft. Wilson had an outstanding career during his time at Wyoming collecting over 400 tackles and 10 interceptions in his four years there. A converted safety, Wilson moves fluidly for a bigger linebacker at 6’2’’ and 241 pounds. Wilson is very capable in coverage making him a candidate to play all three downs. He also answered any speed concerns at the combine running a respectable 4.63 time for a linebacker his size.
Wilson was a part of the Bengal linebacker rotation as a rookie, but only managed to make two starts. Wilson made a splash early on hauling in interceptions in back to back games in Weeks 3 and 4. His snaps started to increase a bit as the season went on hitting the 50+ percent mark in Week’s 11-13. Unfortunately, Wilson suffered an ankle injury in Week 14 that ended his season. Although his season didn’t end as he hoped, Wilson did show flashes as a rookie and Cincinnati should see him as a key contributor going forward.
On this play Wilson does an excellent job making the read, slipping the block, and making the tackle behind the line.
Ok, Logan Wilson pic.twitter.com/Bk52mNsCrn
— Goodberry (@JoeGoodberry) November 29, 2020
The two leading snap eaters at linebacker for Cincinnati during the season were Josh Bynes (72%) and Germaine Pratt (65%). Bynes was brought in on a one-year deal to be a veteran leader and will be an unrestricted free agent. Pratt however, still has two years left on his rookie deal. The Bengals should choose to let Bynes go elsewhere and let the young fellas spread their wings.
While Pratt has been productive in his first two seasons, I think Wilson has more to offer from a three-down perspective. I also expect fellow second-year linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither to be in the mix as well. That being said, Wilson is the linebacker I’m most intrigued by there. If the Bengals let Bynes go and don’t bring anyone else in during free agency, I think Wilson could be in for a nice jump in year two.
It’s always good to stay ahead of the game and look to acquire young players who could see their values rise and become difference makers. Finding lower-cost linebackers with potential opportunity can really bolster your team in IDP and I feel these three players fit that bill. Whether you are looking to trade for these players straight up or adding them into a deal, they are players I’m looking to acquire.