Whether it’s simply to add depth or upside to an IDP bench or to compensate for early picks spent on the defensive line, just about every fantasy owner is looking for late value at the linebacker position. Perhaps a young player set for a much bigger role in 2016. A role that at the very least could make that linebacker an excellent bye week or injury fill-in, if not a weekly IDP starter in his own right.
And when it comes to those sorts of value picks, the green dot can be money.
That green dot signifies the player on defense who wears the helmet communication device, allowing him to hear the calls from the coaching staff and then relay those calls to his teammates on the field.
For the Oakland Raiders in 2016, that player will be second-year pro Ben Heeney, who has elevated himself all the way from fifth-round draft pick to part-time player and now full time starter at middle linebacker.
Defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr. told Jerry McDonald of The San Jose Mercury News that Heeney has earned the additional responsibility. “He’s smart, he’s fast and he’s relentless,” Norton said. “He has a nose for the ball, very instinctive. He’s always getting better. You can’t get him out of the film room.”
Heeney, who had 38 tackles and 2.5 sacks as a reserve and three-game starter as a rookie, told Vic Tafur of The San Francisco Chronicle that he intends to show Norton’s confidence isn’t misplaced. “Last year I was all over the place, not really knowing what I was doing,” Heeney said. “I feel really secure in knowing what to do. There were times where I was overaggressive last year, and that was one of the knocks on me coming out of college. I was supposedly a guy who missed a lot of tackles. I play aggressive, but I have a bunch of good coaches who have brought me along.”
Heeney isn’t wrong that there were scouts who questioned his ability to play at the NFL level. Entering last year’s draft on NFC scout told Lance Zierlein of NFL.com, “I’m not saying he doesn’t have instincts or work hard, but he guesses way too much. He’s always around the ball, but he’s also missing too many tackles to play in our league.”
Apparently a year of being coached up by Norton and Raiders head man Jack Del Rio has improved Heeney’s angles and pursuit. As he told McDonald, ““You definitely want the game to slow down as far as seeing your reads, but I like to play fast, go get the ball and make plays.”
The former Kansas standout’s motor was never in question. In fact, new teammate Bruce Irvin said Heeney only knows one gear — high.
“It’s only practice, so I can only imagine what he’s like in a game,” Irvin said. “He’s not the biggest guy, but he plays bigger than he is.”
Now that Heeney has worked his way into the starting lineup and earned play-calling duties, he told Tafur he isn’t about to slack up now. “It’s been the goal the entire time,” he said. “I’m happy to be there, and I’ll do whatever I can to keep the spot.”
That Norton and the Raiders would give Heeney the helmet communicator despite a career season from Super XLVIII MVP Malcolm Smith in his first year in Oakland is either the motivational technique to end all motivational techniques (the ultimate “Tatum Bell”) or it speaks to the faith the Raiders have both in Heeney’s ability to take a step forward in Year 2 of his NFL career and his coverage skills.
Because the green dot he’ll most assuredly plays in subpackages.
So, it would appear that we have in Heeney a young, three-down middle linebacker playing for a rising Oakland defense who is barely a blip on the draft-day radar in most IDP leagues. A player who can be drafted as a fifth (or even sixth) option at the position late. A linebacker with a real shot at LB3 fantasy production — at least.
That work for you?