There’s still a lot of uncertainty with how many of these rookie IDPs will be utilized, but with some indications from beat writers and coaching staff post-draft comments, as well as some initial reports from early OTAs, here are my current rookie IDP rankings.
Note: Rankings are based on IDP scoring with a sack-to-tackle ratio of 3:1 or less (i.e., tackle heavy formats). Because of that, rush linebackers and sack specialists will be ranked lower in this list as compared to big-play leagues due to their low ceiling and uncertain dependability on a weekly basis.
Take the target timing with a grain of salt as it’s highly dependent on the specific offensive / defensive scoring. These are to be used as a general guideline. I’ve assumed a 12-team league, with a cornerback and defensive tackle requirement and 3:1 sack-to-tackle scoring.
- Myles Jack, MLB/SLB JAX
In case you were swimming in the Baltic for the past month, the red flags surrounding Jack’s knee killed his draft stock. The initial pessimistic reports surfaced early the week of the draft and they were ugly. They suggested a degenerative knee condition with cartilage breaking away from the bone. Microfracture surgery was reported as a realistic possibility in the near term with one source labeling Jack a ‘time bomb.’ That may have all been conjecture as several other doctors including Dr. James Andrews were consulted and the doomsday view was not shared. In fact, the Jaguars publically stated their doctors felt Jack’s knee was fine. If interested, Emily Kaplan at MMQB published an interesting article on the whole fiasco.
Putting the draft week slide aside, Jack is athletic freak and he fits the mold of the modern day linebacker perfectly. He is the unquestioned top pick in rookie drafts with the versatility to play all three downs and line up at multiple positions along the defensive front. He even played a bit of running back at UCLA early in his career if that puts his athleticism in perspective. The potential for him to be a top five IDP linebacker is clear. There is a belief he’ll play the OTTO role (strongside linebacker) in 2016 due to Posluszny’s role in the middle. While that may be the case in the short-term, Jack should ultimately settle in the middle and it wouldn’t be a surprise for it to happen as early as 2016.
Target: Early to Mid 2nd
- Darron Lee, ILB NYJ
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Lee’s ability in space coupled with his speed, range and quickness make him a nice fit as one of the Jets’ starting inside linebackers. He should immediately play in subpackages, but he’ll have to fight with Erin Henderson for snaps early in camp and potentially into the 2016 season. With only a few years of linebacker play on his resume, Lee still has potential to improve. That and the bonus of his blitzing ability drive his ranking, though the bust factor is certainly there as an unfinished product. Given his athleticism, pass-rushing ability and his potential to be a three down linebacker, Lee should be a long-term fixture in tackle heavy leagues.
Target: Early to Mid 2nd
- Deion Jones, MLB ATL
As expected, Jones landed in a favorable IDP position. He’s a speedy run-and-chase linebacker with sideline-to-sideline ability. While many view him as a perfect fit as a 4-3 weakside linebacker, early reports suggest he’ll start out in the middle relegating Paul Worrilow to a reserve role. My love for Jones is based on a few factors. First, speed linebackers, regardless of size, are becoming coveted assets in today’s game. Second, he should be a three down linebacker immediately. Lastly, Jones fits Dan Quinn’s scheme vision. Quinn wants a fast and physical defense and that’s exactly what Jones is. He may not have the most long-term success of this class, but don’t be surprised to see Jones lead IDP rookies in scoring in 2016 with the immediate opportunity.
Target: Mid 2nd
- Jaylon Smith, WLB/MLB DAL
Like Jack, Smith would have been a top pick in this year’s draft if not for a significant knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl in January. Speculation is he would have been a top five pick prior to the injury. As a prospect, he possesses elite athleticism with the ability to cover, blitz and defend the run. He’s best in space, but can play any linebacker spot.
Many speculated Smith would slip to either the third or fourth round because of his medical concerns. With the Cowboys’ early second round selection of Smith, I see his medical situation in a more positive light. It’s clear the Cowboys’ medical staff is comfortable enough with Smith’s long-term prognosis to take a shot so early in the draft, especially considering Smith is certain to miss the 2016 season. If Smith returns to form, or close to it, he has the potential to be an elite linebacker. While I was skeptical early with the comparisons to Marcus Lattimore, I’m reassured by Smith’s early NFL Draft selection.
Target: Mid to Late 2nd
- DeForest Buckner, DE SF
Buckner sits above Joey Bosa, primarily due to his sack ceiling, scheme fit and overall long-term potential. He’s tall, long and athletic, i.e., an ideal 3-4 defensive end. While Buckner will play on the interior line, he still has double-digit sack potential with the ability to play any position along the defensive line in multiple fronts and in any situation. The beauty with Buckner is his versatility and ability to defend the run and rush the passer. In terms of IDP upside, think Muhammad Wilkerson and Calais Campbell.
Target: Early 3rd
- Noah Spence, DE TB
Banned from playing at Ohio State after failing multiple drug tests, Spence checked himself into a drug treatment program last year and appears to have straightened himself out. He spent 2015 at Eastern Kentucky and flashed first round talent and now plays with an enormous chip on his shoulder.
On the field, there are some concerns about Spence’s size and functional strength as a 4-3 defensive end, but he possesses a non-stop motor and is believed to be a top ten talent. With double-digit sack potential and a favorable depth chart in Tampa, Spence is a top option for the Bucs. He certainly owns the highest IDP ceiling among their players, but there is also more risk which puts him a notch below Buckner. He may have been better situated for a 3-4 outside linebacker role from a scheme fit perspective, but with the lack of 4-3 defensive ends in the overall pool, he should be a sought after IDP asset.
Target: Early 3rd
- Su’a Cravens – S/LB WAS
Think Deone Bucannon, Thomas Davis or Shaq Thompson. He’s an undersized player who spent time at both safety and linebacker in college. Some believe he’ll be molded into a Troy Polamalu type of player and be used in a variety of ways. Right now it’s unclear as the Redskins haven’t decided how they’ll use him. Reportedly, the Redskins initially told Cravens he was their dime linebacker, while Jay Gruden said he’ll wait to see him on the practice field. While Cravens was given a defensive back jersey number in recent weeks, Gruden stated, “He can play in the box at linebacker, we think he might be able to play some safety. Once we get him in the building, we’ll figure out where to put him on the field.” Now that he’s in the building, he’s starting out learning the linebacker position, but is also spending time at safety. He’s currently listed as a Safety over on MFL, but depending on how he’s used leading up to the season, his eligibility may swap to linebacker. Alternatively, he could be a Mark Barron / Deone Bucannon type of value as a safety. It’s a situation to keep a close eye on.
Target: Mid 3rd
- Joey Bosa, DE SD
Bosa is arguably the top defensive player in this year’s draft, if only he landed in a 4-3 scheme. I believe he’s miscast in a 3-4 defense and will struggle. He still possesses the ability to rush the quarterback and defend the run, so he’s likely to have some value, but I’m not touching him at this current ADP. The question is whether the Chargers staff will be able to get him in enough situations to excel. There’s also the question of what weight he’ll play at since the Chargers expect him to add. If he does, will the weight hinder his strengths? Ultimately, his value will hinge on his use, but at this point, there is enough uncertainty to hold at this spot. I would expect a change in value as we gain clarity on his use.
Target: Mid 3rd
- Reggie Ragland, ILB BUF
Ragland will be Rex Ryan’s Buffalo version of Bart Scott. He’s slated to start at the weakside inside linebacker spot immediately. The important thing to remember about this role is this is the ‘trash man.’ His primary role is to take on blocks and blow up anyone in his way to clear a lane for his fellow inside linebacker (Preston Brown). He’s the tone-setter – this could mean lower box score activity for Ragland as compared to Brown. In fact, Brown may benefit from Ragland’s presence.
Regardless, Ragland is a meat and potatoes old-school linebacker and an ideal fit for Ryan’s 3-4 base scheme. There are some questions about his coverage abilities and whether he’ll be relegated to a two-down thumper role, though. This is concerning long-term, but that apprehension is tempered by Ryan’s post-draft pick comments where he noted Ragland’s cover skills are underrated. So, it’s apparent Ryan expects him to play in subpackages, which bodes well for Ragland’s immediate IDP value. If he’s kept in zone coverage, he may be able to maintain a high volume of snaps. Rex has shown a propensity to be able to make sub-par coverage linebackers appear adequate in coverage – see Demario Davis.
Target: Late 3rd
- Karl Joseph, SS OAK
Joseph is a physical safety who can play in the box and cover. He’ll start from day one and won’t leave the field. He’s clearly the top safety in this draft class.
Target: Late 3rd to Early 4th
- Sheldon Rankins, DT NO
Rankins should start in 2016 and be a cog in the Saints’ defense. He has the potential to be a top IDP defensive tackle with the ability to defend the run, rush the passer and stay on the field in subpackages.
Target: Early 4th
- De’Vondre Campbell, WLB ATL
I wouldn’t take Campbell this early, but I believe he’s worth a price higher than his current ADP. The Paul Worrilow experiment is over – he’s an average player with limited ability. He should be a situational player because of it. Both Deion Jones and Campbell bring the exact attitude and skill set Dan Quinn wants, so they both should play early. Campbell is raw, but he can cover tight ends and running backs, which was an area of weakness for Atlanta in 2015. Early reports from rookie camp suggest he’ll play on the weakside. With Paul Worrilow and Sean Weatherspoon his only competition, it’s conceivable Campbell starts on the weakside in 2016. He’s underrated right now.
Target: Early 4th
- Josh Perry, ILB SD
Perry will need to wait a year for consistent snaps, but he can do everything – defend the run, blitz and cover. Currently, he’s slated to provide depth behind Manti Te’o and Denzel Perryman at inside linebacker, but with Te’o a free agent in 2017, he has a clear path to a starting role in 2017. Patience will be needed here, but Perry should quickly find himself on IDP target lists.
Target: Early 4th
- Blake Martinez, ILB GB
With Clay Matthews headed back outside, there’s an open spot next to Jake Ryan inside. Sam Barrington will be back after missing the 2015 season with a foot injury and is likely the favorite to start. However, considering he’s coming off a major injury and Martinez’s versatility in the pass and run game, Martinez has a good shot stealing meaningful snaps from Barrington as a rookie. He may even win the role outright in camp.
Target: Early to Mid 4th
- Sean Davis, SS PIT
The Steelers lack starting talent at the back end of their secondary making Davis a prime candidate to start in 2016. Robert Golden is currently atop the depth chart, but that’s unlikely to last. With experience at corner, Davis possesses the coverage skills needed in today’s game, but is extremely physical and aggressive to mix it up close to the line of scrimmage.
Target: Mid 4th
- Robert Nkemdiche, DE ARI
There are character flags following his marijuana possession arrest during bowl season earlier this year, but Nkemdiche is a top ten talent who is a disruptive force on the interior line. There are some concerns about his consistency and effort, as well as his play against the run, but he possesses the ideal traits you want in a defensive line prospect – size, speed and power.
He will get an immediate opportunity for snaps in a battle with Frostee Rucker opposite Calais Campbell, which bodes well for Nkemdiche. Coach Bruce Arians compared him to former Cardinal Darnell Dockett, but clarified that Nkemdiche is, “a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger and a little bit faster.” A top ten talent, Nkemdiche should find his way inside to rush the passer in subpackages, but his lack of production at the collegiate level is a red flag keeping him down in these rankings.
Target: Mid to Late 4th
- Keanu Neal, SS ATL
Similar to Joseph, he’s a physical safety who can hit and cover. He’ll be the backbone to Atlanta’s evolving new defense in a role very similar to Kam Chancellor in Seattle. He should be a productive IDP asset long-term.
Target: Late 4th
- Nick Vigil, OLB CIN
Both Paul Geunther and Jim Haslett stated they see similar qualities in Vigil and Luke Keuchly. That may be a stretch, but Vigil is a perfect candidate to play in subpackages as he’s best in space. The question is whether he’ll be able to hold up in run support. It appears Paul Dawson will settle on the weakside behind Vontaze Burfict and Vigil in the middle behind Rey Maualuga. With Maualuga long overdue for a situational role as a long time underachiever. Vigil could be the catalyst for a change. He’s a later option with long-term three down potential.
Target: Late 4th
- Antonio Morrison, ILB IND
With the departure of Jerrell Freeman, D’Qwell Jackson is the only entrenched started inside. Sio Moore, Nate Irving and Morrison will battle is out for the other spot. Moore is the most compelling of the bunch considering his early success with the Raiders, but Morrison is a close second. He’s a high effort intense linebacker who may be used to turn around the Colts’ defense and bring a demeanor they’ve lacked. Even if he loses out to Moore in 2016, Jackson is only signed through 2017 and could be a release candidate next year if Morrison proves himself.
Target: Late 4th to Early 5th
- BJ Goodson, MLB NYG
Keenan Robinson was signed in free agency to assume responsibilities in the middle, but the addition of Goodson in the draft could change things, especially considering Robinson’s injury issues throughout his career to date. There is some concern about Goodson’s coverage ability, but he could see significant playing time as a rookie with the Giants’ defense in dire need of linebacker physicality.
Target: Late 4th to Early 5th