We are neck-deep in Individual Defensive Player (IDP) draft season now. In less than two weeks, Green Bay and Chicago will kick off the 2019 NFL season at Soldier Field — and with it another year of fantasy football.
It’s almost go-time, folks. The pressure is mounting.
You’re welcome for that.
Many IDP drafts have already taken place, but there are still a lot of (wise) fantasy drafters who like to wait. To see how the preseason plays out so that injuries can be avoided (a moment of silence for Derwin James). To get a feel for how drafts play out over the summer so that they can target players at a position of value.
At this point in draft season, I have participated in approximately all the drafts ever (don’t ask me how many — I legitimately don’t know). And as I’ve worked through all those drafts, it’s become apparent that there are some linebackers flying under the radar who could easily become weekly starters.
If you aren’t looking for cheap production at the linebacker spot, then maybe IDP isn’t the hobby for you.
I hear good things about badminton.
All of these linebackers fit that bill — and each was available after the 20th round in a recent experts’ draft I took part in.
Fred Warner, San Francisco
After showing flashes of considerable talent as a rookie, Warner’s locked in as a three-down starter next to Kwon Alexander in San Francisco. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh told Chris Biderman of the Sacramento Bee that Alexander’s arrival has brought out the best in Warner.
“Fred’s coming into his own,” Saleh said. “He wanted to, obviously, last year as a rookie, but having Kwon with him, because Kwon’s very vocal, it’s bringing out Fred. Fred’s very confident and just a good football player, so they do what a linebacker group is supposed to do, so I won’t pump them up for doing what they’re supposed to do. It’s a good group, though.”
For the life of me, I don’t understand why Warner’s falling as far as he is in IDP drafts this year. Sure, Alexander’s the top dog among the San Francisco linebackers — at least so long as he stays healthy. But we’re talking about a player who posted 124 total tackles in 2018 and finished inside LB3 territory last year in Fantasy Sharks Default IDP Scoring.
If you attack the defensive line in IDP drafts or just wait to draft defensive players, Warner’s a great target late as an upside LB3.
Preston Brown, Cincinnati
Brown’s first season in the Queen City was an injury-marred mess. But as Jay Morrison wrote for the Athletic, Cincinnati hasn’t lost faith in the 26-year-old. Quite the opposite, in fact — the team expects Brown to be a defensive leader in 2019.
“Because he does such a good job of getting us organized and making the calls. In an ideal world, that’s the guy you want to be on the field as much as possible,” linebackers coach Tem Lukabu said. “He does a great job of commanding our defense. He’s our quarterback. He’s done a really good job of being inside the playbook. He’s on schedule with every single thing he’s doing as far as camp goes.”
Brown isn’t being drafted like a three-down middle linebacker for a bad Cincinnati team whose defense could be on the field a ton in 2019. Or like a player who racked up four straight 100-tackle seasons while with Buffalo — including 144 total stops two years ago.
Take advantage of all the other drafters who can’t look past Brown’s struggles last year. Live in the now.
Matt Milano, Buffalo
Last season in Buffalo, it was rookie Tremaine Edmunds who stole all the headlines among the team’s off-ball linebackers. But as Stephen White reported for SB Nation, Milano’s not exactly a scrub as he gets ready to begin his third NFL season.
“As well as he has played in his first two seasons, I believe Milano is really going to take things to another level in his third year,” White said. “He was on his way to playing like one of the top linebackers in the league before an ankle injury ended last season abruptly. Milano will almost certainly put up the kind of stats normally associated with Pro Bowlers and other awards lists. And if (Buffalo starts) winning just a tad more, I expect fans around the league will take a lot more notice of his play.”
Much like Warner, Milano’s going unnoticed in many drafts largely because of the presence of Edmunds in Western New York. But Milano’s shown the ability to be productive in spurts and will play in subpackages in front of arguably the most generous stat crew in the National Football League.
If you like upside with your depth picks at the linebacker position, Milano should be on your late-draft radar.