2020 NFL Draft: Top Ten IDP Rookie Linebackers
Although edge players tend to have more IDP value because of the relative scarcity and the production drop-off curve, LBs still make up the bulk of the value in many leagues – certainly in leagues where scoring is the same across positions.
With the 2020 NFL Draft in the books, here are the top ten players you want on your roster:
1. Isaiah Simmons, LB ARI
The Cardinals say they are going to use Simmons primarily as an LB. He’ll still get to do some things most LBs can’t (cover the slot, rush the passer as a legitimate edge player, drop into deep zone…) but it’s good news for his IDP value that he’ll be used in a more orthodox manner. His strength is, of course, his athletic profile and that should translate into him being asked to play a lot of coverage – especially on this Cardinals team who play a lot of defense due to their offensive philosophy.
Rookie LBs normally take some time to adapt to the NFL (2018 was an anomaly) so you should not expect fireworks immediately but Simmons absolutely has the potential to finish as a top-12 LB multiple times in his career.
He’s also a big name so he’ll go off draft boards relatively early. Expect him to be taken as a top 16 pick in most IDP rookie drafts. You’re giving up the chance to pick a potential impact offensive weapon at this stage so be very careful with committing that sort of capital to Simmons.
2. Patrick Queen, LB BAL
Queen was taken 20 spots later than Simmons and was actually only the fourth LB selected – but he walks into a fantastic spot. The difference between Simmons and Queen is actually very small and they form a tier together.
As a player, he’s small, light and mobile. Telvin Smith is the obvious comparison (on-field only of course). He’s firmly in the modern linebacker mold which means he can play reliably on all three downs.
Queen will be expected to walk in and take over the middle LB spot that CJ Mosley (and Zach Orr for one memorable season) inhabited so productively. And frankly, it’s not going to be hard for him to win the spot. The only competition is journeyman veteran LJ Fort, disappointment Chris Board (who was relegated to special teams only in 2019) and fellow rookie Malik Harrison.
Expect Queen to play full-time from week one. He’s the favorite to be 2020’s top rookie LB in IDP terms.
3. Kenneth Murray, LB LAC
Surprisingly, the Chargers traded up into the first round to take Murray at 23rd overall as the second linebacker off the board. It’s surprising because he’s very much a downhill player who has not yet shown the ability to be positive in coverage against NFL talent. The other factor is Gus Bradley’s insistence over the past three years of using multiple LBs each week. Taking Murray this high suggests he wants to move away from that, but we’ve been burned before in thinking Bradley had decided on making LBs full-time starters.
Murray is a plus character player as well as an exceptional athlete so it would be great to see him succeed but there are two concerns here that drop him out of the top tier this year.
4. Willie Gay, LB KC
Gay was the fifth inside LB selected at the bottom of the second round. This speaks volumes. The Chiefs have been screaming out for a more mobile LB for a couple of years. Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson just are not up to the job in today’s NFL. The Chiefs tried Darron Lee, Dorian O’Daniel and even Reggie Ragland (who moves like a truck doing a three-point turn) but couldn’t find their man. Gay has every opportunity to win a full-time job immediately.
He had some discipline issues in college, and he played less than 1,000 snaps in football but there’s a big potential return for picking Gay, especially if you can get him in the middle of the third round.
5. Jordyn Brooks, LB SEA
Brooks is another tier below Kenneth Murray. It’s odd to be the third LB selected and a first-round pick whilst also being a third-tier option but that’s the Seahawks for you.
The biggest problem is that Brooks is likely the number three LB on the roster.
Bobby Wagner is one of the best LBs (and any player to be honest) in the NFL. KJ Wright is someone the Seahawks still like enough to keep on the roster at a $10 million cap hit in 2020.
They did use three LBs a lot last year but there was a clear difference. Wagner and Wright both averaged around 65 snaps per game. Mychal Kendricks averaged just 47 and played over 350 snaps fewer than the other two over the season. There are not three full-time jobs here.
Brooks has the ability to be an excellent run-stopper, but he is not ready to play 100% of snaps yet – and there are better options on the roster. Long-term, he’s likely to be a productive player but there are issues to overcome.
6. Davion Taylor, LB PHI
Like the Chiefs, the Eagles are another team that desperately needed more mobile LB play. Nigel Bradham and Zach Brown started last season, and both are simply too immobile. Nate Gerry and Kamu Grugier-Hill both played too, and they have the athleticism – but just are not good enough to rely on as starters.
Taylor comes in as a spectacular athlete (sub-seven-second three-cone drill!) who has not really played much traditional linebacker. He’s certainly a project but a very exciting one with a sparse depth chart to contend with. He’s a bit of a boom/bust IDP prospect. If he does not turn into a starter, he’s going to look like a poor use of your mid-round pick. If he does make it, then he’ll be a steal.
7. Jacob Phillips, LB CLE
The Browns invested a third-round pick into Phillips to join what has suddenly become a position of need. Just two years ago, they had plenty of experienced options but now Phillips will be competing with Mack Wilson, Sione Takitaki, BJ Goodson and Tae Davis.
Wilson is the frontrunner there and he was a fifth-round pick this time last year.
He has a chance to win a job but it’s by no means assured or even likely. Phillips is worth a late pick in your draft but carries a lot of risk.
8. Malik Harrison, LB BAL
Harrison was the Ravens’ second selection at inside LB, and he benefits from the same things that make Queen such a tantalizing prospect – a scheme and coaching staff that can maximize potential, and relatively few veteran options to contend with.
Harrison is a far more limited player than Queen (he compares to fellow Ohio State LB Raekwon McMillan) but there’s no reason he cannot start games at some point for the Ravens. He’s more of a taxi squad candidate than an impact rookie though so be wary.
9. Logan Wilson, LB CIN
The Bengals had the worst LB corps in the NFL in 2019 and it’s been a while since it was much better. Wilson was their pick at 65th overall and he comes in with a good chance of winning a significant role.
Last year’s rookie Germaine Pratt was shockingly bad early on but improved later and should be better in year two. He’s the favorite for one of the jobs. Wilson will battle Jordan Evans, Josh Bynes and fourth-round pick Akeem Davis-Gaither for the other. Those aren’t brilliant odds but they’re worth a bet in deeper leagues.
10. Zack Baun, LB NO
The Saints had a very limited draft class but still spent a relatively early selection on Baun. He’s a fascinating player who played mostly on the edge in college but will expand his role as a pro. We’ve seen that go both ways. Joe Schobert has turned into a good NFL starter, while Haason Reddick has bombed out. Baun should move into the Sam role that AJ Klein has been playing for the Saints. It’s not a productive one for IDP purposes but it should mean he racks up enough snaps to be occasionally useful. And if he transitions well he could feasibly move into Demario Davis’ inside role too.
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