In this article, I will be taking a look at how the rookie linebackers have been performing through the first four weeks of the season and their potential outlook. I’ve stated prior to the season that this LB class can be special once they all get their opportunity and we’re seeing a handful of that talent early on. Many of the rookies have already seen your starting lineups and made a weekly impact to help you get those victories.
Will their early success continue? How about those who haven’t gotten much run yet? When will they get a shot? Should I be buying low on some of the rookies or should I sell and continue to build my depth? These are questions you’re probably asking yourself already and I’ll chime in throughout this article.
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Darius Leonard, IND
Leonard has been nothing short but amazing through the first four weeks of the season. He’s currently the LB1 on the season and has nearly 70 points more than the LB12. He was a value pick in rookie drafts for those who were able to get him in the third round and on. Leonard not only leads the league in tackles but has four sacks already, just one less than Khalil Mack.
When I see this start, I think of the stellar 2012 season former Cardinals LB Daryl Washington had – he posted nine sacks. Continue to plug in Leonard as a weekly starter. However, if you have owners in your league willing to pay a premium price for him, go ahead and listen to offers because it wouldn’t hurt to see what’s out there. Leonard has continuously risen up my rankings and he’s going to make his presence felt in tier one.
Leonard is a little banged up right now but that ankle would be the only thing slowing him down. He seems to be meshing well with MLB Anthony Walker, who is having a breakout season of his own. Nobody else will really threaten their jobs or tackle opportunities.
Fred Warner, SF
With Reuben Foster serving a suspension and Malcolm Smith not fully back yet, Warner was plugged into the starting lineup in week one and is not looking back. In his first start, he ended the game with 12 tackles and one forced fumble and was flying to the ball-carrier and showcasing his sideline-to-sideline speed. Early on, it’s looking like the Niners got themselves a steal in the NFL draft and a solid duo at LB for years, as long as Foster can stay on the field.
Warner has provided double-digit tackles in all four games this season and Foster’s return hasn’t hurt him – nor did Smith’s – because Warner earned his snaps and his way to staying the starting MLB job. I don’t see Warner slowing down either and as the season goes on and he gets comfortable playing alongside Foster, the sky is the limit. He could find his way into LB1 territory.
If you’re able to trade for him, I would advise to do so. All leagues are different but I’ll give you an example where I traded for Warner: in one of my superflex leagues, I traded away Blake Bortles for Christian Kirk and Fred Warner. There’s rarely any IDP who’s untouchable. Everyone has a value and as long as both owners come to an agreement, you can trade for anybody. Just don’t completely shred your roster.
Tremaine Edmunds, BUF
The youngest of the bunch is getting a quick learning curve on playing MLB in the NFL. Edmunds has all the skills and talent to become a very good MLB and it seems like the Bills are giving him every chance to do so. He has started and played every snap through the first four games of the season, doesn’t have anybody threatening his job, and his best days are coming.
Edmunds has to clean up his tackling though, as he has six missed tackles on the season. He’s going to improve in coverage as he’s shown flashes already that he can. One thing I wish and hope the Bills do more though is let Edmunds blitz the quarterback. He had ten sacks and 33 TFL in college but the Bills have to realize this and utilize his versatility.
Although owners might have used a late first or early second in rookie drafts on Edmunds, there could be some impatient owners out there and it wouldn’t hurt to inquire. Edmunds would be a solid buy-low candidate being that he hasn’t met some owners’ expectations yet. I believe he’s doing fine though because he’s just 20 years old and learning to put it all together. Now, if you’re an owner, just continue to ride the wave and take the hits. His big day is coming.
Roquan Smith, CHI
Smith had a late start to his off-season with his contract holdout and was eased into the season. In week one, he had just eight snaps but on his first, he sacked the QB. In the following weeks, he started and played right above 80% of the snaps and as the season goes on, I’m expecting him to hit full snaps.
He’s having a quiet start to his career as well with just 18 tackles so far but he’s surrounded by a lot of talent. Many of us invested a late first or early second on Smith and like Edmunds owners, we just have to ride it out. Though it wouldn’t hurt to listen to offers. I still believe he has LB1 potential (top 12) so be smart about trading him, if you do.
Like Edmunds, Smith should start to get things going and have a strong second half of the season. His value will increase if Danny Trevathan misses any time. He has played 12 and nine games the last two seasons. Be patient with Smith. His time is coming as well.
Kenny Young, BAL
Young has landed in a good situation. His only competition is Patrick Onwuasor and he has already shown flashes of what he’s capable of. In the first two games of the season, he split snaps with Onwuasor in one, then C.J. Mosley got injured in the other. Young answered the call in his first start by putting up nine tackles and getting five stops. He’s also started in week four and it’s looking like he’s going to play over Onwuasor as long as his play keeps up. It might not be full snaps but he’s going to get more opportunity.
Young has been a pleasant surprise early on and it’s unknown when he’ll be productive, so he’s nothing more than a spot starter for now. He’s currently the LB42 on the season and has a chance to finish around the LB35 range which would exceed my expectations this season. I have Young stashed on my taxi squad and will only activate when Baltimore unleash him fully.
Leighton Vander Esch, DAL
Vander Esch has played sparingly in the first three games of the season. Then Sean Lee got injured and Vander Esch made his first start of his career in week four. He seems to be around the ball at all times, reminiscent of a younger Lee. Has a PFF grade of 83.6, showcasing he’s an efficient tackler – with zero missed tackles so far. He’s going to be a tackle machine now and for the next handful of seasons and will be a good complement to Jaylon Smith.
The window to buy Vander Esch is still open and could strike up a good deal to get him if you’re looking for a LB. He was already spelling Lee off the field, this could be the beginning of the end for Lee as Vander Esch could take this role and run away with it. Jaylon does put a small cap on Vander Esch’s ceiling but nonetheless I wouldn’t mind him as my LB2 in dynasty.
Kyzir White, LAC
White has gained some traction during training camp as defensive coordinator moved him to LB, has the measurables that mirror Telvin Smith, who Bradley coached in Jacksonville and thrived as a WLB. I have no doubt that’s the road White can head down once he gets accustomed to playing LB, the tackles will come.
He has earned the starting job from week one and has played nearly 80% of the snaps before suffering an injury prior to week four which will keep him out indefinitely. This is just another setback for an even better comeback, the Chargers need some stability at LB.
White has outplayed a once favorite of the IDP community, Jatavis Brown who has fallen off when Bradley came in as the defensive coordinator. Now is the time to discuss some trading options with the White owner, if you’re in a deep league searching for some depth at a key position. The great thing about White is most host sites have him listed as a DB still (he was a safety converted to LB in NFL) so anytime we can slot in a LB in the DB slot, it’s a plus.
I don’t think White has the ceiling of Telvin but he can sneak inside the top 25 in dynasty and if the Chargers do commit to him then the arrow will continue to point up.
These are my thoughts on a bunch of LBs through the first quarter of the season, will check back on these guys plus others in the next check-up because injuries are starting to pile up and other rookies will get their chance and we’ll check the temperature on those guys.