The 2019 NFL season got off to a blazing start in free agency. It’s a little like Christmas for fans all around the world as we continuously hit refresh our Twitter app or webpage on incoming news. There were excellent moves on the IDP side and I’ll take a look at the linebacker signings.
Jordan Hicks, LB ARI
I believe this will turn out to be one of the best values as we head into the new season. Hicks signed with the Arizona Cardinals on a four-year, $36m deal to become their new leader at inside linebacker. With the release of Josh Bynes and Deone Bucannon finding a new home in Tampa Bay, the Cardinals were in the hunt for a new LB as they shift back to a 3-4 defensive scheme.
Hicks is in his prime and is solid in coverage and against the run. He is one of the underrated linebackers in the league and if he can stay on the field (only played 16 games once through four seasons), then he’ll definitely become one of the top LBs in IDP land. Hicks totaled 91 tackles last year with three sacks and I believe he’ll finally break through the 100-plus tackles barrier this season and be well on his way to a career year.
I would still try to discuss a deal with the Hicks owner though, he could’ve burned the bridge with the injuries and missed games. If it all goes right I will not be surprised if Hicks finishes next season as a Top 12 LB in IDP.
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Kwon Alexander, LB SF
This news came out of nowhere because I really thought Alexander would re-sign with the Bucs. The 49ers signed Alexander to a four-year, $54m deal but it’s very team-friendly and he’s betting on himself with the incentives included in the deal.
What he brings to the 49ers is speed recognition (he can find the football) and violent attacks. It’s true he missed a bunch of tackles but the tools are there and we should think he will be coached to improve in that area. Prior to his ACL injury last October, he averaged about 100 tackles per season (79 solos) and has six interceptions, seven sacks and 22 pass deflections in his young career.
Both he and Fred Warner can co-exist and be productive for IDP owners. If the Niners believe Warner is their middle linebacker now and the future, then Alexander will be playing weakside linebacker and he can still succeed there. They’re going to make for a fun duo and I believe both LBs are the top of tier two going forward. Alexander does take a small hit but is still a weekly starter long as he comes back healthy from his ACL injury.
CJ Mosley, LB NYJ
The Jets made a big splash during the opening hours of free agency by prying Mosley away from the Ravens with a massive five-year, $85m deal. This move clearly shows they’re going to move on from Darron Lee and pair Mosley with Avery Williamson.
Since he came into the NFL, Mosley has pretty much been a mainstay in tier one of the LBs in IDP. The good thing is he goes from one physical defense to another so his value won’t change and there’s a chance IDP owners will see a glimpse of 2017 when he racked up 130 combined tackles. If you’re a Williamson owner, I wouldn’t worry. He’ll still flirt with 100 or more tackles again. Mosley has averaged 116 combined tackles throughout his career with 2016 being his only season held under a 100. Like Williamson, his strength is stopping the run but he is better in coverage.
Since the Jets new defensive coordinator is Gregg Williams, my early take is that Mosley takes on Joe Schobert‘s role and Williamson takes the Chris Kirksey role. Even if this is interchanged, both LBs will see the field a ton because Williams doesn’t take his LBs off the field. In 2017 when Williams was with the Browns, Kirksey and Schobert had over 130 tackles each. That’s a lot – but if the Jets don’t find any pass rush there’s a good chance this new duo in New York can mirror that.
Thomas Davis, LB LAC
It looks like Davis will be around for another year or two – but now with the Chargers. He signed a two-year deal early on in free agency and will be a great leader for the young LBs in Los Angeles. The Chargers have suffered injuries at the LB position year in, year out it seems like. With very little depth, Davis helps here. I don’t expect him to be a full-time player anymore but with whatever left he has in the tank, he will make an impact on the field, especially in coverage.
He’ll be one of the reliable LBs for the Chargers and is versatile enough to play MLB or WLB. I don’t think he’ll be relevant enough for IDP anymore though. He’s had a great run for us but I’ll be looking forward to watching him on the field and seeing if breakout candidate Kyzir White learns a thing or two from the veteran.
Preston Smith, LB GB
This was one of the moves I was hoping for before free agency kicked off and now the Packers have an edge presence on defense. Smith is underrated but he brings pressure and puts the heat on the opposing quarterback – he had a career-high 53 QB pressures last season with the Redskins. Although he’s never hit double-digit sack totals yet in his young career (had eight twice), he could be on his way to hitting that mark this season.
The thing with Smith in IDP world is that he’s an edge, so he’s not really worth owning unless your league scores edge players well. He’s not going to compete with the inside linebackers’ tackle volume. Smith will get you the sacks and big plays but this is why I’d love to see more leagues add QB hits to scoring so you can get more value out of the edge players.
Would I target a player like Smith in my IDP leagues? Yes, I would because I love using big-play LBs as my LB3 or LB4 starter. In any given week, they can have a huge game (three or four sacks) and put up some serious numbers.
The same thing I said above can be said about Green Bay’s other outside linebacker addition, Za’Darius Smith. Both will be solid for the Packers and Za’Darius brings the pressure as well (had 61 QB pressures last season). Their values both depend on how you like to build your LB unit – we all have our own flavor.