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2014 IDP DRAFT REVIEW: Linebackers

The NFL draft is in the books, and last weekend rookies across the league got their first taste of life in the National Football League at minicamp.

Among those newcomers were many at the position that’s most of interest to fantasy owners in IDP leagues. However, much like with the defensive linemen (who we looked at
last week here at Fantasy Sharks

) for every linebacker that landed in a good situation there were two who got the short end of the fantasy stick.

This isn’t to say there weren’t “winners”. Iowa’s
Christian Kirksey

went from third-day prospect to third-round pick and probable starter at WILB for the Cleveland Browns. The Denver Broncos were “thrilled” to land LSU’s
Lamin Barrow

(according to
Troy Reuck of The Denver Post

), and the fifth-round pick could see significant playing time as a rookie in the middle.

Let’s take a look back at the linebackers featured in the
IDP Draft Preview Series

at IDP Manor and examine how their landing spot has affected their fantasy prospects for 2014 and beyond.

(Right after this video breakdown of the top 10 rookie linebackers of 2014, that is.)


Khalil Mack – OLB, Buffalo


(Oakland Raiders – Round 1, Pick 5)

There was some talk leading up to the draft that Mack might be the first overall pick in 2014, but the 6’3”, 248-pounder fell to the bottom of the top five before being snatched up by the Oakland Raiders.


Gil Brandt of NFL.com

expects the Raiders to take advantage of Mack’s versatility. “Oakland defensive coordinator Jason Tarver is one of the best in the business at devising schemes that take advantage of opponents’ weaknesses,” Brandt said. “I think he’ll be creative with where he lines up Mack, who can do all kinds of things for the defense, from making plays in space to bringing down the quarterback.”

 

Mack’s is Brandt’s early pick for Defensive Rookie of the Year, and while his role as a rush linebacker (and the fantasy variance that comes with it) makes Mack a risky pick as this year’s top fantasy linebacker he also the best shot on this list to hit his
Von Miller

-type, IDP LB1 ceiling in relatively short order.




C.J. Mosley – ILB, Alabama



  (Baltimore Ravens – Round 1, Pick 17)

Mosley was one of the more surprising picks of the first round. Not that the former Alabama star wasn’t worthy of a Day 1 selection, mind you, but that a Ravens team that had been talking up second-year pro
Arthur Brown

as a potential starter in 2014 would go the inside linebacker route early a second season in a row.

Well, from the sounds of things not only will Brown not start, but he’ll be lucky to see the field at all. The Ravens have talked up Mosley as a three-down starter, with
ESPN’s Jamison Hensley

writing that “Mosley was ranked among the top 10 prospects in the draft by the Ravens. This season, they see him as an immediate starter and an every-down linebacker.”

If that proves to be true, then an argument can be made that Mosley will possess IDP LB2 upside out of the gate and be a strong candidate as 2014’s top rookie IDP. However, Brown proved to be a capable nickel defender in 2013, and that combined with concerns about Mosley’s shoulder is enough for me to slot Mosley just behind Mack and Ryan Shazier among this year’s rookie linebackers.



Ryan Shazier – OLB, Ohio State


(Pittsburgh Steelers – Round 1, Pick 15)


Much like Mosley, Shazier was something of a curious pick. Just like Mosley, it has very little to do with Shazier as a player. However, at just 237 pounds, Shazier would seem an iffy fit in the WILB role he appears slated for in the Steel City.

Of course, many said the same thing about Daryl Washington a few years ago.


As
Scott Brown of ESPN

reported after the draft, for Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin it had less to do with Shazier’s size and more with his ability to get sideline-to-sideline in a hurry. “When we took Ryan, we talked about a defensive playmaker over anything else,” Tomlin said. “He fit the bill in that regard.”

There are legitimate concerns about Shazier at the point of attack of the NFL, but his speed means a three-down role in a defense schemed to afford him the chance to make plays. That’s good enough to make Shazier one of this season’s top rookie linebackers in all formats, and the early leader to be the top-scoring fantasy rookie in 2014, especially in tackle-heavy scoring systems.



Anthony Barr – OLB, UCLA

(Minnesota Vikings – Round 1, Pick 9)

 You’re going to start noticing a trend with the players on this list. Many of this year’s top linebacker prospects were “rush” types, and more than one of those landed with 4-3 teams where they will play a “hybrid” SLB/DE role. Mack is one such player, as is the newest first-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings.

Barr, of course, is also an incredibly raw prospect, having only played defense for two years. However, head coach Mike Zimmer talked Barr up at Vikings minicamp, according to the Associated Press via the Houston Chronicle .

“The things he’s done defensively he’s done pretty well. Like today, we just lined up and ran some plays,” Zimmer said. “He played behind the line of scrimmage some, we didn’t blitz him. Just learning coverage and run responsibilities, where to be. Actually he did that really, really well. Watched him a lot today. I don’t think it’s going to be an issue whatsoever.”

Barr is undoubtedly talented, and he’s shown enough skill as a pass-rusher to believe he could at least develop into a
Justin Houston

-type IDP LB3. It’s just not likely to happen right away.



Chris Borland – ILB, Wisconsin

(San Francisco 49ers – Round 3, Pick 77)

You know how we said earlier that some of this year’s linebackers didn’t exactly land in the most ideal of IDP landing spots? Well, that’s the case with Wisconsin’s Chris Borland, in a way that reminds us all that the fantasy gods have a twisted sense of humor.

Borland could actually some real IDP value right out of the gate, and 49ers general manager Trent Baalke raved about Borland while speaking with
Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle



.

“How can you not love him as a football player?” Baalke said. “Not tall enough. Not fast enough. Arms are too short. You hear all of that. We just love the makeup. We love the player. He’s everything you’re looking for from a DNA standpoint. He loves the game. He’s a smart football player.”

Of course, as soon as NaVorro Bowman returns from a torn ACL, Borland will also be stuck behind two of the NFL’s best inside linebackers. It’s great news from the standpoint of learning the game, but rotten as hell from an IDP standpoint in the short-term.



Yawin Smallwood – ILB, Connecticut


(Atlanta Falcons, Round 7, Pick 253)

It wasn’t that long ago that Smallwood was considered a potential Day 2 pick. But, a hamstring injury and terrible 40 time at February’s combine only added to concerns about Smallwood’s speed, and the 246-pounder ended up barely being drafted at all.

Smallwood’s defensive coordinator at UConn thinks the Falcons got a steal. Hank Hughes told
Vaughn McClure of ESPN



, “He will show that he’s a good football player when he gets to Atlanta. They are not going to be disappointed with the guy that they drafted. They’re going to get a good football player who is going to be athletic in all avenues.”

Granted, the odds of Smallwood making any real dent in IDP leagues as a rookie ain’t good. However, it’s worth pointing out that the linebacker situation in Atlanta isn’t exactly settled, and there weren’t any fistfights breaking out for the right to draft
Paul Worrilow

last year, so Smallwood at least merits a spot on the watch list entering training camp.



Jordan Tripp – OLB, Montana

(Miami Dolphins, Round 5, Pick 171)

Tripp wasn’t featured in the IDP Draft Preview Series per se, but rather in Kilroyz Koma Ward as a potential deep IDP sleeper. In many respects, nothing has changed in that regard, as Tripp needs to first make the team before he can start worrying about a starting job.


Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com

thinks special teams may be Tripp’s best bet early on. “He’s really fun to watch. “He can really run, sideline to sideline,” Jeremiah said. “Last year, we saw some more edge rush from him. He is a very versatile guy. Tripp can be outstanding on special teams.”

If Tripp does stick with the team though, he’ll be behind some linebackers in Miami that the team wasn’t happy with a year ago, especially given their salaries. We may not hear from
Jordan Tripp

for a while, but don’t be surprised if we’re talking about him again at some point.



Shayne Skov, ILB, Stanford


(San Francisco 49ers, UDFA)

Despite leading the Cardinal in tackles in tackles three times and finishing 2013 as a Butkus Award finalist, Skov went undrafted. Blame the injuries during the pre-draft process that only added to concerns about his durability, or the 5.11-second 40-yard dash in an April workout that did nothing to disavow the notion he’s slow.

According to
Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle

, Skov remains undaunted. “I don’t know,” Skov said. “It’s not my job to speculate. It’s my job to play. So what happened happened. And now it’s time for me to playfootball. I’m not a speed demon, but I know I’m fast enough. You can turn on my game tape and it’s never been a question for me.”

Regardless of how fast Skov thinks he is, he ain’t fast enough to outrun all the players ahead of him on the depth chart in San Francisco, and a lot of things are going to have to happen before we’ll reach a day where Skov sees enough snaps to be IDP-relevant.



Christian Jones – OLB, Florida State



(Chicago Bears, UDFA)

Like the aforementioned Skov,
Christian Jones

didn’t hear his name called on draft day. However, where it was injuries and poor workouts that did Skov in, Jones’ draft stock tanked after it was revealed he failed a drug test at February’s combine.

Where they know they will be tested. Months in advance.

Jones, who signed with the Bears shortly after the draft, intends to use the whole thing as motivation, according to
Larry Mayer of the team’s website

. “It’s a lot of motivation,” Jones said. “It’s the competitive side. You see guys getting drafted above you … everybody thinks they’re better than somebody. But that’s how it is. It’s going to help fuel me, [but] I believe that things happen for a reason. I really feel like I belong here and I’m just making the best out of this opportunity.”

If there’s a silver lining with Jones from an IDP perspective, it’s this. Lance Briggs,
James Anderson

and
D.J. Williams

are all the wrong side of 30, and Jon Bostic looked lost at times as a rookie. If Jones gets his head on straight and makes the team, he could get some playing time sooner than many think.



Preston Brown – ILB, Louisville


(Buffalo Bills – Round 3, Pick 73)

Where many linebackers fell farther than most draftniks predicted, there were also those for whom the opposite held true. Among the “early birds” was Preston Brown of Louisville, who was a surprise pick of the Buffalo Bills early in Round 3.

Brown had the reputation of a hard-hitting run-stuffer at Louisville, and he intends to carry that right over to Western New York. “I think tackling is one of the best things I do. It’s one of the main parts of the game,” Brown told
Anna Stolzenburg of the team’s website



. “You’ve got to be able to tackle, especially if you’re going to be a linebacker. I try to be around the ball as much as I can and get forced fumbles anyway I could when I was around the ball.”

The presence of
Brandon Spikes

ahead of him at middle linebacker caps Brown’s IDP upside severely in 2014, but
Mike Mayock of NFL.com

wrote that “The more I watched of Brown, the more I thought he could play three downs. He’s a bit of a throwback type of player.”

It may take Brown a while to get the snaps he’ll need for IDP value, but there’s enough upside there to merit a late look in deeper IDP dynasties.


Now here’s a look at the top 10 rookie fantasy linebackers in 2014 for the video-averse (and no, I’m not cutting my hair, so there), but first a quick note.

You’re going to see a lot of variance in rookie IDP rankings this season, and for good reason. There just aren’t any “slam dunk” type players this year, and even the youngsters with a good shot at contributing early carry significant question marks. That only magnifies the importance the “little things” like league scoring and tolerance for weekly variance can have on an individual’s rankings set.

Consider what impact those factors will have in your league, as it could cause some shuffling in the pecking order.

1.) Khalil Mack – OLB, OAK:
There’s some risk, but his talent wins out.

2.) Ryan Shazier – ILB, PIT:
Likely Day 1 three-down starter at WILB.

3.) C.J. Mosley – ILB, BAL:
Could move up if he earns every-down role.

4.) Jadeveon Clowney – OLB, HOU:
Think
Aldon Smith

’s rookie year for 2014 ceiling.

5.) Christian Kirksey – ILB, CLE:
Prime landing spot as likely starter opposite Dansby.

6.) Anthony Barr – OLB, MIN:
Will play “hybrid” SLB/DE role for Vikings.

7.) Telvin Smith – OLB, JAX:
Needs to add some weight but lightning-quick.

8.) Kyle Van Noy – OLB DET:
Same role as Barr for Van Noy in the Motor City.

9.) Chris Borland – ILB, SF:
Could open season starting in place of injured Bowman.

10.) Lamin Barrow – ILB, DEN:
Could be starter at MIKE sooner rather than later.

As IDP Draft Season gets underway in earnest, Fantasy Sharks has you covered. Whether it’s player rankings for Redraft and Dynasty leagues, projections, player spotlights, sleepers and busts or strategy tips, IDP Staff Writers Walton Spurlin and Mike Woellert and IDP Senior Staff Writer Gary Davenport have all the information you need to dominate your IDP league in 2014.

Also, for additional IDP information be sure to check out
IDP Manor

, and for the latest IDP news and player updates follow
IDP Manor on Twitter

.

Gary Davenport is the IDP Senior Staff Writer at Fantasy Sharks and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and Pro Football Writers of America. Gary’s IDP work has been featured in a number of national print publications and on both satellite and terrestrial radio, and he was a finalist for the FSWA Web Article of the Year in 2013.

About Fantasy Sharks

FantasySharks.com launched in 2003, disseminating fantasy football content on the web for free. It is (or has been) home to some of the most talented and respected writers and content creators in fantasy football.