I believe that to properly analyze the 2017 IDPs you need to have an idea of how they’ll ALL perform so you can benchmark and compare them effectively. So I built a model using past performance, efficiency, scheme information and coaching tendencies to predict what will happen in 2017. I’ve applied that to my best estimates for how teams will use players this year which gives a projection and ranking for all IDPs. You can read more about what I did and how here.
I recently completed all 32 team previews, as I hope you’ve seen. In those, I worked to NPLB scoring which is pretty excellent. But, like many other scoring systems, it does not adequately reward pass-rushing outside linebackers commensurately with their value in the NFL as game-breaking weapons. Because I know many of you do play in leagues where they are valued highly, I wanted to go into detail about how they come out in my system.
You’ll notice that a lot of these are included as pairs of players. A lot of the production in IDP terms of these players comes from sack numbers. In the real NFL consistent pressure is important as well as actually finishing the play. If your presence causes the quarterback to make a mistake it’s nearly as good as driving him head first into the turf, so someone with a lot of pressure but only a handful of sacks is still an excellent player. Contrary to that we generally don’t record pressures in IDP. Sacks and TFLs: yes, but does anyone play in a league where hurries get points? I doubt it.
The problem is that a sack is a very volatile and granular stat. A player can be just as effective in beating his blocker and walk away on a day with two sacks or no sacks depending on the QB’s mobility and release. It’s tough to predict. So, to bring it back to my earlier point, in the spots where I’ve included two players it’s generally because although I expect at least one of the to be excellent it could easily be either player – or because the hierarchy is unclear and we need to see camp and pre-season to be really sure.
Without further ado, here are my top 12 OLBs:
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1. Justin Houston, LB KC
It’s tempting to forget how recently it was that Houston was one of the very best players in the NFL. He had 22 sacks in 2014. I think he can come back fit and well and take advantage of a very good defense around him to rack up the stats again.
Key stats: 875 snaps, 41 solo tackles, 10 assists, 11 sacks, 4 passes defended, 1 interception.
2. Von Miller, LB DEN
Miller might actually be the best pass rusher on this list And no one will be surprised for a nanosecond if he tops the list in reality. But we also know that Justin Houston has 20-sack potential. He’s done it before. I have the two really, really close (look at the stats) and would be equally happy to own either.
Key stats: 804 snaps, 42 solo tackles, 17 assists, 11 sacks, 2 passes defended.
3. Khalil Mack, LB OAK
Mack is a monster – he’s proved it and it’s clear to see he has a defensive MVP-type season in him. A technical move to OLB on MFL will not hamper him in NFL terms and I expect another dominant year.
Key stats: 845 snaps, 40 solo tackles, 17 assists, 10 sacks, 1 pass defended.
4. Robert Quinn / Connor Barwin, LB RAM
I hate myself for this pick, because I’m really not a Quinn fan. I don’t think we’ve seen exceptional pay from him for a good while now, but Wade Phillips is in charge and we know he can get the best out of his edge rushers. I see a renaissance for at least one of these players and I won’t be surprised at all if one of them goes over ten sacks.
Key stats: 922 snaps, 45 solo tackles, 11 assists, 9 sacks, 2 passes defended.
Key stats: 698 snaps, 31 solo tackles, 14 assists, 7 sacks, 1 passes defended.
5. Tyus Bowser / Terrell Suggs, LB BAL
I know it is ambitious to even talk about a rookie here, but it’s a fantastic opportunity. Suggs has been a great player but is clearly nearing the end of his career and the Ravens defense has consistently produced excellence. Often from unlikely corners. Bowser is a fantastic athlete (he compares very similarly to Mack) and although he’s not going to be as good (especially not in the run game) Bowser is a great stash in big play leagues.
Key stats: 811 snaps, 36 solo tackles, 24 assists, 9 sacks, 3 passes defended.
Key stats: 612 snaps, 22 solo tackles, 11 assists, 8 sacks, 1 pass defended.
6. Jabaal Sheard, LB IND
Sheard was excellent for the vast majority of his time in New England. He had a blip last year when he wasn’t even taken on one road game trip but he game back to play well, so it’s weird the IDP community has basically consigned him to the dump. Defensive coordinator Ted Monachino comes from the Ravens coaching tree and although it’s not going to be a top five front-7 defensive unit it could easily be much improved from last year.
Key stats: 811 snaps, 36 solo tackles, 24 assists, 9 sacks, 3 passes defended.
7. Clay Matthews / Nick Perry, LB GB
I know, I know. Clay looked a shadow of his former self. And Nick Perry had a great year. I expect that to equalise a little bit this year. As above, sacks are granular and really I expect both players to record 6-7 of them.
Key stats: 735 snaps, 31 solo tackles, 19 assists, 10 sacks, 4 passes defended.
Key stats: 548 snaps, 24 solo tackles, 11 assists, 5 sacks, 2 passes defended.
8. Jadaveon Clowney / Whitney Mercilus, LB HOU
Everyone thought Clowney was going to wreck the league, then he was a big bust, now people think he’s a truly elite player. News flash: the truth is somewhere in between. I think his designation will be DE before the season starts, but if he is an OLB it’s worth noting that he’s an elite run-stopper and merely a very good pass rusher. I can’t have him higher than this until he proves he can play at the top level for a full season.
Mercilus is also a fashionable name but we know he’s the sort of player who can put in less than 100% effort. He’s proved it before. He could end up higher on this list but it’s a risk for me.
Key stats: 829 snaps, 40 solo tackles, 21 assists, 6 sacks, 4 passes defended
Key stats: 700 snaps, 32 solo tackles, 18 assists, 4 sacks, 1 passes defended
9. Leonard Floyd, LB CHI
Floyd certainly didn’t set the league on fire as a pass-rusher as a rookie but he clearly has talent and as we know playing on the edge is often a slow adjustment. The pass-rushers who rack up double-digit sacks as rookies are very much the exception to the rule.
I think Floyd can kick on significantly this year and eight sacks seems very realistic.
Key stats: 705 snaps, 36 solo tackles, 10 assists, 8 sacks, 4 passes defended, 1 interception.
10. Chandler Jones, LB ARI
He’s slightly lower down this list than his talent implies because the Cards like to bring the heat from both sides. There will be a lot of sacks but Markus Golden will also have a big share in them.
Key stats: 778 snaps, 31solo tackles, 8 assists, 10 sacks, 2 passes defended.
11. Dee Ford / Tamba Hali, LB KC
I prefer Hali as a player, even now. He’s flexible and can dominate the run whilst so far Ford seems like a specialist pass-rusher to me. But I won’t be surprised at all if that changes this year, and I expect whoever gets the most playing time to be very effective opposite Houston.
Key stats: 588 snaps, 34 solo tackles, 5 assists, 8 sacks, 1 pass defended.
Key stats: 299 snaps, 10 solo tackles, 2 assists, 4 sacks, 1 pass defended.
12. Ryan Kerrigan, LB WAS
Kerrigan has averaged over 11 sacks a season for the last three years. He had a combined 17 in the two years preceding that. He’s had 58.5 sacks in the last five years which is fifth most during the period. Yet he’s still underrated. I think he’s a very solid buy and clearly excellent value.
Key stats: 791 snaps, 29 solo tackles, 13 assists, 5 sacks, 2 passes defended, 1 interception.
Please take these with a pinch of salt. As I said earlier, sack numbers are really tough stats to predict and I don’t think these will be exact. But hopefully this will give you a framework of players who realistically are going to be in and around the eventual top performers at the position.
Those are my predictions as of right now. Obviously things will change as we get a better idea of who will play and how going towards the season. If you disagree with any assertions here feel free to leave a comment or contact me on Twitter (@TomDegenerate) and I’ll be happy to discuss.
Thanks for reading.
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