IDP Dynasty Debate: Linebackers

Eric Coleman

The off-season is a great time to look at re-evaluating players going into the draft so we can properly measure their trade value and start up value. Since the bulk of the DLF IDP team has posted updated IDP rankings, we can see who is the highest and lowest on players. I have chosen a smattering of some the most divisive players in the composite rankings and asked members of the team to defend their rankings. I also suggest following all of these IDP gurus if you have not yet. In the second part of this series, we will cover the linebackers. Part one of this series on defensive lineman can be found here.

Ryan Shazier, LB PIT – DLF Composite Rank: LB11

Adam Tzikas: LB6

[am4show have=’g1;’ guest_error=’sub_message’ user_error=’sub_message’ ]

I might be slightly too high on him, but its hard to deny his talent when he is on the field. He has incredible burst and play speed recognition. I have zero doubt he would be a top ten linebacker with a full season. Another key factor is that this offense is continuing to age, and he will have an increased tackle opportunity going forward. 

Alex Onushco: LB32

Shazier is the type of athletic linebacker that the NFL and IDP owners cover these days, but the film I’ve watched on him leaves a lot to be desired. Despite his athleticism, he graded out with a lower coverage grade from PFF than fellow teammate and two-down thumper Lawrence Timmons. Even if he could stay healthy for a full season (which has yet to happen in three years), I think we’ve seen the ceiling for Shazier, and it is entirely mediocre.

Sean Lee, LB DAL – DLF Composite Rank: LB14

Alex Onushco: LB5

Lee may be over the 30-year mark, but for the first time in his career he has strung together back-to-back dominant seasons. He is a true do-it-all linebacker, and it seems the Cowboys have finally figured out how to best utilize him so that he can avoid the trainer’s table. I’m banking on two-three more years of elite production.

Adam Tzikas: LB24

Sean Lee had a great year and thats hard to deny, but my low ranking of him is quite simple. In six seasons, he has never played a full 16 games. Couple that with Jaylon Smith getting right and seeing the field in coming years, Lee will continue to let fantasy owners down. There are many other linebackers I have ahead of him that offer more long term stability.

Jordan Hicks, LB PHI – DLF Composite Rank: LB15

Bill Latin: LB12

Jordan Hicks fits the new small linebacker prototype.  He has great short area agility with above average athleticism.  To me tackling is the foundation of a good IDP asset and Hicks is an outstanding form tackler.  He has a high football IQ.  He will be 25 when the season starts.  In addition, he played on 95% of the teams defensive snaps.  He has only scratched the surface of his potential.  He is locked as a high-end LB2 with a nice ceiling.

Tom Kislingbury: LB32

I like opportunity from IDPs.  In 2016, Hicks had the 17th-most snaps of all NFL LBs.  That placed him just behind Craig Robertson who no-one is valuing highly.  He played 38 snaps less than Thomas Davis who is old and 45 fewer than Anthony Barr who was bad.  Hicks is not a volume play.

On the other hand, Hicks is a bad LB in the running game and not efficient at all.  In solo tackles per snap, he finished 129th.  He had fewer tackles per snap than specialist pass-rushers James Harrison, Von Miller, Jarvis Jones, Justin Houston and Lorenzo Alexander managed.  He did manage to snag five interceptions, which boosted his production.  Given no other LB had more than three and we know INTs are a fairly random stat, I fully expect that number to drop in 2017.

So we’re left with a player who doesn’t play that much, is less inefficient with the snaps he does get and relied on a random stat to boost his production that is being drafted as a high-end LB2.  I think you can do better. 

Brandon Marshall, LB DEN – DLF Composite Rank: LB18

Doug Green: LB16

Truth be told, I’m probably a little high on him. I’m not going to hold the injuries at the end of the season against him though. He still can be a productive linebacker and playing behind a talented Broncos line, I think he can still put up nice numbers.

Steve Wyremski: LB29

Marshall will be 28 at the start of the season in 2017 and now has only one season performing at a high IDP level. After five seasons, 2014 is the only year he finished as a top IDP option. After his 2014 breakout, he slipped to a high-end LB3 option in 2015 and played through a hamstring injury in a disappointing 2016 season where he finished in the LB 70+ range on a points-per-game basis. He last played all three downs in week six before rotating with Todd Davis and Corey Nelson for the remainder of the season. It’s possible the rotation was a result of a lingering hamstring injury, which is why I still maintain him at a high end LB3 level, but I’m not entirely sold. Give me the upside with Nelson at basement level pricing over a risky Marshall with only one elite IDP season.

Christian Kirksey, LB CLE – DLF Composite Rank: LB19

Tom Kislingbury: LB6

The number one thing I want in all IDPs is presence.  I want them on the field as much as possible to have the opportunity to make plays, and Kirksey plays more than any other LB.  He finished with 1,111 snaps last year as the number two overall IDP [Antoine Bethea was first].  He was the only LB in the top seven.  The next two LBs were Alec Ogletree and Mark Barron of the Rams.  Kirksey’s new defensive coordinator (Gregg Williams) is the only other one in the league that likes to leave his starting LBs on the field more than Kirksey was last season.  No other LB in the NFL has the opportunity Kirskey has.

But it’s not just volume.  Kirksey finished fourth in the league in combined tackles with 143.  He was only behind Bobby Wagner, Kwon Alexander and Sean Lee

The Browns might improve next season.  They might even win a few games, but Kirksey will still be effective.  He’s already proved he can play high volumes and make plays.  He isn’t a sexy name but he’s going to be a top LB in 2017.

Eric Olinger: LB13

Unfortunately my initial ranking of Christian Kirksey (at LB44) was an oversight on my part. After addressing the mistake I have ranked him 13th, just behind Benardrick McKinney and ahead of Mark Barron. Kirksey is just 24 years old and coming off an impressive 2016 campaign. Consistency was the one thing which always made me worry about Kirksey but it was arguably his strongest asset this year. After finishing with 148 total tackles he nearly doubled his previous career high of 81. His arrow is trending upward and my rankings now reflect that.

Benardrick McKinney, LB HOU – DLF Composite Rank: LB21

Eric Olinger: LB12

Ironically, the things I said about Kirksey are the same things I could say about McKinney. Consistency was the one thing I wanted to see from him in 2016 and he delivered. He finished with 129 total tackles and added five sacks after taking the lead inside linebacker role from Brian Cushing. This defense could be on the verge of something incredible if they can get McKinney, J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney all on the field at the same time. However, if they’re able to do that will it make the defense more efficient and lead to fewer opportunities? It’s a Catch-22 but at 24 years old he has the look of a long term IDP stud.

Doug Green: LB35

I was not a fan of McKinney coming out of college and have not seen much on the pro level to change my mind. He’s slow and he gets taken off the field on third down.

Jatavis Brown, LB SDC – DLF Composite Rank: LB25

Steve Wyremski: LB11

On an average points-per-game basis in 2016, Brown finished as a LB2 on a LB1 pace in the eight games he started. Most importantly, he played well from a general football perspective. There were certainly games he struggled as expected for a rookie, but overall, he was effective. That bodes well for his sticking probability, especially considering he was only a rookie last year. With Gus Bradley as the Chargers’ defensive coordinator  and a shift to a 4-3 scheme in 2017, Brown should play the Telvin Smith role on the weakside. His potential is massive. Keep in mind, my ranking doesn’t suggest I would pay LB11 prices. You can (and should) acquire him cheaper. I would overpay his current market price to acquire, though.

Travis May: LB38

Jatavis Brown had a fantastic 2016 season as a rookie for the San Diego Chargers.  When healthy he averaged just over five solo tackles per game with an assist or two on the side.  That’s fantastic for any rookie, let alone a fifth round pick.  However, those numbers aren’t elite by any means (around LB30 in points per week in many formats).  In order for me to rank Jatavis inside the LB2 discussion I’d like to see what the Chargers do in the draft and free agency (with Manti Te’o especially).  Everyone wants to find the next Kwon Alexander or Telvin Smith.  Maybe Jatavis will explode like both of those guys.  I’m just not going all in on a fifth-round talent after 12 games and only seven real starts.

Shaq Thompson, LB CAR – DLF Composite Rank: LB31

Eric Coleman: LB16

Thomas Davis will turn 34 before the 2017 begins. Recently Davis said, “My plan is to finish out my contractual obligations.” While that confirms he may be in the way of Thompson for one more year, it does not sound overly excited about punishing his body one more season. Thompson is essentially the same age as hyped draft linebackers such as Haason Reddick and Kendell Beckwith. Except that Thompson is one of the best coverage linebackers in the NFL and has shown that he is solid in run support at the NFL level. When Thompson saw a full complement of snaps the last two games he averaged 6.5 solos and pass defended per game. I am happy to take this discount on future top five dynasty linebacker.

Bill Latin: LB38

As high as I am on Hicks, Shaq Thompson has faded in my rankings.  The primary reason is his snap count.  He only played in 50% of the snaps in 2016. Thomas Davis is a cheap option at 3.25 million in 2017.  I do not see his snap count going down.  It is possible that in 2018 he could get his chance.  I am just not willing to pay that price a year in advance.  I believe he is best suited as a sub package guy and is an LB3 at best at this stage.

Tahir Whitehead, LB DET – DLF Composite Rank: LB34

Travis May: LB24

Tahir Whitehead wasn’t even a sure starter for the Lions until just weeks before 2016 season.  I didn’t rank Tahir that high near the beginning of last season because I thought he would probably just be a temporary fixture for the Lions.  However, after last season’s performance the 27-year-old linebacker will very hard to take out of the lineup.  I don’t know what a linebacker has to do to get more respect.  Tahir averaged over 6.5 solo tackles per game and added 33 more assists.  He doesn’t force turnovers like you want to see, but he’s a steady asset for a defense that really needs some consistency.  Ranking him at the back end of LB2 discussion is truly pretty tame.  If he has another season like 2016 many will finally come around.

Eric Coleman: LB53

Before the season began, I was recommending acquiring Whitehead everywhere due his huge opportunity and he paid off to a tune of 98 solos and 30 assists. Now it is time to cash out. If you look deeper than the box score, you will see his on field play was lackluster. Pro football Focus ranked him as the 86th off ball linebacker, which is Paul Worrilow bad. I think Worrilow is a good comparison for this situation. While Whitehead could produce one more year, he is just an early round linebacker draft pick away from becoming irrelevant.


eric coleman
Latest posts by Eric Coleman (see all)