Three Linebackers You’re Probably Overlooking
I believe there are at least three rookie linebackers who have three-down ability, and most importantly you can take them deep into your rookie drafts.
Last year I suggested bypassing the big names at linebacker in your rookie drafts and instead draft a linebacker such as Kwon Alexander much later. I even told you to sign Kwon for five years and if you followed my advice you’re sitting pretty at linebacker right now. Kwon Alexander was a fourth-round draft pick that wasn’t even being picked in the top 10 at his position this time last season, yet he finished as the 20th ranked NFL linebacker in tackle-heavy scoring and that was with him missing the last four games due to suspension.
What made Alexander such a bargain was the appearance of being buried on the depth chart. Alexander came in with some elite athleticism at the combine for an outside linebacker as well as being the youngest linebacker in the class. He appeared to be a depth player behind Danny Lansanah who had emerged in 2014 and was the assumed starter.
While I don’t think this class features a player with Alexander’s athleticism and age combination, there are some athletes that have had enough of a college profile and demonstrated athleticism at the NFL combine to believe they could return similar value.
Perry was my pre-draft round one draft pick in the IDP Only Pre-draft Rookie Mock at Dynasty League Football.
When I made the pick I said this about Perry: “Perry actually had a better combine and pro day than Ragland. He was more productive in college, comes cheaper, and there are quite a few teams looking for an upgrade at ILB. If he can handle passing downs he’ll be solid.”
Have a look at the previous season’s statistics and combined NFL combine and pro day for Reggie Ragland and Joshua Perry.
Now that we know that Perry actually landed in a good spot with San Diego I feel better about recommending him because he will have the perception as a non-starter and therefore will go later than the top offensive talent. The two players above him on the depth chart are Manti Te’o and Denzell Perryman. Perryman had a solid rookie campaign but I think Te’o versus Perry could get interesting.
Perry gets referred to as a thumper which I think is also driving his cost down. Rotoworld referenced his coverage during their draft coverage: “In addition to the pure size advantage he has over others, his production is nothing to sneeze at, either. For the past two seasons combined, he graded out with a top-20 coverage grade by PFF’s metrics.” So there’s some optimism that he can handle pass coverage duties which will give him a chance to become a three-down player.
Perry is at worst going to be one injury away from starting and possesses all the ingredients for early and sustained success at the linebacker position.
While Perry is a good target, he’s varying in terms of how soon he is being drafted. Sometimes it’s just too soon. In situations where you need to dig deeper, I’d gladly pivot to B.J. Goodson. Goodson landed in a very similar position to Perry and actually I like the Giants as a landing spot a little better. Kelvin Sheppard is really the only guy he has to eclipse. With a good camp Goodson could close in tightly on that spot, as Sheppard was signed for peanuts as a free agent. The team has very little invested in his services.
Goodson ran a very good forty of 4.69 at the combine. According to the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective, that is the prime predictor for success at the inside linebacker position. But Goodson was actually classified as an outside linebacker during the NFL combine, where the three-cone is identified as the most predictive statistic. Well, Goodson ran his three-cone in the 69th percentile, which is another checked box for the Clemson linebacker. Other than being a little on the short side, Goodson has a nice profile from the NFL combine which drew a comparison to IDP stud Navarro Bowman.
Pro Football Focus made a note regarding B.J. Goodson’s abilities during their draft analysis: “Goodson’s +16.4 grade against the run ranked 11th in the class and he showed well in coverage with only a handful of negatively-graded games.” This gives me some confidence that Goodson has three-down ability in the NFL.
Keenan Robinson is set to be the anchor for the Giants at inside linebacker and behind him Goodson simply needs a good camp to get on the radar. The Giants spent a fourth-round pick on Goodson so he’ll get a good look in camp.
As noted during the final Defensive RSI, Pro Football Focus mentioned on that edition’s big board that Nick Kwiatkoski was fourth in the draft class as a run defender and fifth in coverage. Also noted in that RSI was that Kwiatkoski’s athleticism showed similarities to Kiko Alonso. He ended up with a landing spot that isn’t as ideal as the other linebackers in this article. The top two inside linebacker spots for the Bears are filled by elite players. Despite investing a fourth-round pick on Kwiatkoski during the draft, this off-season Vic Fangio got much needed upgrades at the position by signing Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman. It’s worth noting Kwiatkoski only has to get past Christian Jones to be the heir to either of those stud linebackers, which shouldn’t be a problem considering Jones has had multiple chances to lock down the position but failed to deliver last season.
Let’s be real about Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan, though. Freeman is 30 years old, he’s not played more than 13 games in the last two seasons, and it’s been three years since he got over 80 solo tackles. Trevathan is a beast when he’s healthy but his violent style of play seems to keep him nicked up enough to give the players behind him opportunities for spot starts throughout the season. Kwiatkoski is definitely a play for 2017 in dynasty leagues but he has a chance to see the field some in 2016. Should either starting linebacker be injured, Kwiatkoski is likely a plug-and-play for redrafts.
How to Play it during your Rookie Draft
In this draft, get beyond the third round before beginning to take shots at these three linebackers. If Myles Jack, Reggie Ragland, Darron Lee or Deion Jones are still there when you’re ready to draft linebackers, take them first as their roles are far more secure at the moment. Target the time of your draft in which both Tyler Ervin and Wendell Smallwood are off the board when you begin taking these linebackers, and try to take two of the three or three of three. According to the average ADP in MFL rookie-only drafts, Joshua Perry is being taken as the 68th rookie just after Daniel Lasco and Vernon Adams. B.J. Goodson is being selected as the 121st rookie overall. Kwiatkoski isn’t being considered in many drafts at the moment and is a good final pick flier, but I’d take him earlier if you have the roster space.
Because most IDP rookie drafts are combinations of offensive and defensive players, I don’t think in a dynasty league you can afford to give up early-round picks on the next big thing at linebacker such as Reggie Ragland. There is much more replacement-level talent at linebacker since they can be productive for a fantasy team even if they aren’t necessarily an effective player on Sundays.
If you hit on one of these guys, you’ve greatly improved your team versus the owner that takes one of the big four linebackers. You could be drafting promising offensive players such as Tyler Ervin or Chris Moore and potentially the next Kwon Alexander while others develop a more fragile roster by passing on less replaceable offense positions and selecting a linebacker early.