If you’ve been a long-time reader of my work here at Fantasy Sharks (Hi, Mom!) then you know that most years I’m a proponent of loading up on linebackers early in your IDP draft. They are far and away the most consistent fantasy options on the defensive side of the ball in most scoring systems. The backbone of a successful IDP squad.
However, given the dearth of truly reliable weekly starters at the position in 2015, it’s the defensive linemen who have taken precedence. Getting at least one top-eight or so lineman is a virtual must. Grabbing two from the top 10 (if your league starts two or more) isn’t a bad idea at all.
Of course, if you burn those early defensive picks on linemen, then much like going WR/WR to start a draft and then searching for backfield help, you’re going to need to find value later at the linebacker position.
And in that regard there is hope in 2015, of intrepid IDP drafter. Because there are a number of linebackers who are presently being selected outside the top 30 in IDP drafts at My Fantasy League who have the potential to become not only viable weekly starters but also big-time contributors.
Preston Brown, ILB, Buffalo Bills (ADP: LB34)
Brown’s second NFL season brings with it loads of new responsibilities, as it will fall to him to man the middle in Rex Ryan’s new “hybrid” front in Buffalo. The former Louisville standout told Tyler Dunne of The Buffalo News he’s well aware that the pressure will be on to read plays quickly. “First thing,” Brown said, “you have to see the formation. Because you check off of 3 by 1, 2 by 2, 2 back, whatever it is, you have to be able to check and if they motion, shift, trade, you have to be ready to go with it. So, it’s all moving parts and you have to be the head of the defense — taking control of it.”
With these new responsibilities is also going to come plenty of opportunity for fantasy production — playing behind arguably the most formidable defensive line in the NFL. That line is going to keep blockers off Brown, who could easily be the steal of IDP drafts this season given his low-end LB3 price tag.
Karlos Dansby, ILB, Cleveland Browns (ADP: LB35)
After three straight seasons of triple-digit tackles, Dansby’s first season in Cleveland brought with it four missed games and a disappointing 93 stops. Still, the 33-year-old told Scout’s Andrea Hangst he expects bigger and better things in 2015. “It takes a lot when you have a new scheme in play,” Dansby said. “Like I said, I think everybody in the locker room on the defensive side of the ball is more comfortable in the scheme. Even the coaches with the personnel that we have, they are doing a better job of putting us in position and putting guys in position to make plays. That shows growth and maturity within the scheme.”
Yes, Dansby’s per-game fantasy production last year wasn’t especially good, and the veteran is much closer to the end of his career than the beiginning. However, someone is going to have to make tackles for a Browns defense that figures to be on the field a lot this season. Provided he stays healthy, Dansby’s going to out-perform his current asking price. The only question is by how much.
Danny Trevathan, ILB, Denver Broncos (ADP: LB39)
Trevathan’s 2014 season was an injury-marred mess, and the 25-year-old has spent more of the offseason than not watching from the sidelines as he recovered from surgery to repair a fractured kneecap. However, new Denver defensive coordinator Wade Phillips told the team’s website (via 247 Sports) that he expects both Trevathan and batterymate Brandon Marshall to be on the field for Denver’s season opener as three-down inside linebackers.
“Both inside linebackers practiced the whole practice today, so that’s a good sign as far as where they are,”Phillips said. “I think Brandon has probably practiced a little more than Danny, but both of them are in a good situation as far as being able to play once the season starts.”
Trevathan is expected to make his preseason debut this weekend, and provided his recovery continues on schedule the fourth-year veteran is going to a fair sight better than LB4 numbers in 2015.
Avery Williamson, ILB, Tennessee Titans (ADP: LB44)
Much like Preston Brown, Williamson’s second NFL season brings with it additional responsibility, as he will call the defensive plays for the Titans this year. Veteran defensive end Jurrell Casey told Adam Sparks of The Tennessean he has every confidence in the youngster’s ability to do the job. “He’s our middle linebacker, so we go out there and listen to his word. He’s just got to demand that type of respect when he speaks,” Casey said. “No matter what year he’s in this thing, we have to respect him because he is our shot-caller. You can be a leader no matter what year you’re in.”
Williamson doesn’t appear to have shied from the role even a little bit in training camp or the preseason, earning praise from Hall-of-Fame defensive guru Dick LeBeau. The praise from teammates and coaches is all well and good — but it’s the boatload of tackle opportunities and questionable competition for those tackles that should have IDP owners bullish on Williamson this year.
Christian Jones, ILB, Chicago Bears (ADP: Not Ranked)
A failed drug test last year led to Jones falling out of the 2014 NFL draft altogether, but the former Florida State star showed flashes in spot duty for the Bears as a rookie. Now Jones has a chance to emerge as a defensive leader for Da Bears — a chance Jones told Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune he intends to take full advantage of. “It’s an aggressive style of defense,” Jones said. “And we have one of the best coaches in the league coaching us and that’s exciting. We have great players here right now. We have veterans plus some young guys who can all contribute and help out. You put a guy like coach Fangio with that, we can do some special things if we continue to go out here and work hard.”
Jones has indeed been working hard, drawing praise from Fangio and likely a three-down role in his sophomore season on a Bears defense that has all the makings of a dumpster fire in 2015. There’s legitimate top-20 IDP upside present with Jones — upside that can be had for a song late in drafts.
With IDP draft season in high gear, Fantasy Sharks has you covered. Whether it’s 2015 player rankings and projections, waiver wire targets, rookie analysis for dynasty leagues or strategy tips, IDP Staff Writer Walton Spurlin and IDP Senior Staff Writer Gary Davenport have all the information you need to dominate your IDP league in 2015.Also, for the latest IDP news and player updates follow IDP Sharks on Twitter.