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FREE AGENCY FIVE: Sleeper LB Targets for IDP Leagues

We’re about two weeks into free agency across the National Football League in 2017, and already we’ve seen big changes to the IDP landscape. Long-time IDP stalwart Calais Campbell took his talents east, following the big money to Jacksonville where he’ll switch schemes at defensive end for the Jaguars. A handful of prominent defensive backs have new mailing addresses, with Barry Church (Jacksonville Jaguars), Johnathan Cyprien (Tennessee Titans), Tony Jefferson (Baltimore Ravens) and Antoine Bethea (Arizona Cardinals) all landing contracts with new teams.

However, it’s the linebacker position where some of the most interesting moves have happened. And I’m not talking about big names either. Sure, linebackers like Lawrence Timmons have moved on this offseason, but the signings that should be of the most interest to savvy IDP owners (the ones who read these sorts of articles in March, for instance) are those involving linebackers who were either barely rosterable or waiver wire fodder not that long ago — players who could be available on the cheap whose fantasy value just got a sizable boost.

Linebackers like this quintet.


Jelani Jenkins, Oakland Raiders

The 25-year-old Jenkins, who had 29 tackles in nine games for the Miami Dolphins in 2016, told Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle that he’s eager to help the Oakland defense take the next step this season. “It’s definitely a team that’s getting better and better every year,” he said. “They have a defense with a lot of talent on it. They play with a lot of energy. You can tell by looking at film that they have a lot of fun. That’s something that I pride myself on, is energy and just enjoying the game.”

Since piling up 110 tackles and 3.5 sacks for the Dolphins in 2014 (while finishing as a top 20 fantasy linebacker in Fantasy Sharks Default IDP Scoring), Jenkins hasn’t come close to approaching those numbers again — largely due to injuries.

However, with Malcolm Smith now in San Francisco and Perry Riley (as of yet) still a free agent, the path to a three-down role appears clear for Jenkins in Oakland. If the four-year veteran can just stay healthy in 2017, Jenkins has the makings of a sneaky value play.


Kevin Minter, Cincinnati Bengals

Like Jenkins, Minter told Geoff Hobson of the Bengals’ website he’s eager to help his new club after inking a one-year to come to the Queen City. “I think I’m a guy that can come in and play every down for them. That defense doesn’t need much. I feel like you can plug me in and I can be another element,” Minter said. “It’s very stout. Geno Atkins up front. Vontaze (Burfict). Pacman (Adam) Jones. I’m not looking to get in the way, either. Great front four. Great in the back end. I just want to be a part of it.”

Unlike Jenkins, Minter is coming off arguably the best season of his four-year career, an 81-tackle, 3.5 sack effort for the Arizona Cardinals in 2016 that saw the 26-year-old finish among the top 15 inside linebackers in the NFL in pass coverage per the graders at Pro Football Focus.

Minter has never cracked the top 35 fantasy linebackers for a season, despite playing over 85 percent of Arizona’s snaps each of the past two years. Still, three-down linebackers available for pennies on the dollar don’t grow on trees, and perhaps a change in scenery will goose Minter’s production.


Malcolm Smith, San Francisco 49ers

Smith didn’t move far in free agency, but the gap in record between the Oakland Raiders and 49ers in 2016 was a large one. The 27-year-old told Jerry McDonald of the San Jose Mercury-News that’s been the story of his time in the NFL.

“It’s kind of been a theme for my career, I guess, going to Seattle when they weren’t necessarily any good, then the Raiders,” Smith said. “I think those kinds of things can happen when everybody is moving in the right direction. I know there’s talent and my familiarity with (defensive coordinator Bob) Saleh was a big factor. It’s one of those people where I’m trusting the right people being in he right place,and from what I’ve seen, I think that’s the case.”

The 49ers are putting more than a little faith in Smith as well, giving him a five-year, $26.5 million contract to help the team transition to a 4-3 “Under” front similar to the one he played in in Seattle. Smith’s numbers were down last year after a top-10 IDP finish the year before, but even then he finished as a middling LB3 and topped 100 stops for the second year in a row.

Given the opportunities he’ll likely see in 2017, that could be Smith’s fantasy floor this season.


Sean Spence, Indianapolis Colts

After missing all of his first two seasons with knee and hand injuries, a starting job has been a long time coming for Sean Spence. And the 26-year old told Kevin Bowen of the Colts’ website he intends to take full advantage of this opportunity with his new team.

“Having to sit out two years, that could slow anyone down,” Spence said. “It feels like I’m catching up and I have a lot left in the tank. It definitely saved me some wear and tear on my body and I’m just ready to go to work. I definitely think I am a tough player and I am hoping we can just change the atmosphere.”

Spence saw the most extensive playing time of his career in 2016 with the Tennessee Titans, amassing 54 tackles and three sacks in around 500 snaps. The cupboard at inside linebacker was thin for the Colts even before veteran D’Qwell Jackson hit free agency, so it would appear that Spence’s snap count is about to increase significantly.

And with it, his opportunities for IDP production.


Paul Worrilow, Detroit Lions

Over Worrilow’s first three NFL seasons from 2013-2015, the former undrafted free agent started 43 games for the Atlanta Falcons. However, that playing time fell way off a year ago, so as Tim Twentyman of the Lions website wrote now Woorilow is looking for a fresh start (and the chance to start) with a new team.

“Just an opportunity to come in and compete,” Worrilow said. “That’s all I want. Not being promised anything. I want a chance to go play good ball. I improved (last year), I know that for a fact. I got better at watching film — at practice. Being on the scout team I had numerous reps against one of the best offenses to work my game and work my craft and see how good I can get. There’s no doubt my game is the best it’s been in my four years.”

Let’s be honest — Worrilow’s proclamations aside the 26-year-old isn’t an especially good NFL player. There’s a reason he lost his starting job a season ago to a pair of untested rookies. However, the Lions are thin at linebacker after releasing DeAndre Levy — so thin that at present Worrilow looks headed for the starting lineup.

The last time started and played in all 16 games, Worrilow piled up 142 tackles and finished inside the top 10 in fantasy points.

Just sayin’.

About Gary Davenport

A member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and Pro Football Writers of America who resides in Columbus, Ohio, Gary has been featured on a number of fantasy websites and in nationally circulated publications. These publications include the USA Today Fantasy Football Preview and the magazines distributed by Fantasy Sports Publications Inc., for whom Gary is a both a contributing author and associate editor. Gary is an nine-time FSWA Award finalist and three-time winner who has been a finalist for that organization's Fantasy Football Writer of the Year award each of the last four years. He won the honor in 2017 and 2019. Gary also appears regularly on Sirius XM Radio (including live from Radio Row at Super Bowl XLIX) and over-the-air stations across the country. Gary was one of the co-founders of, and Head Writer at, Fantasy Football Oasis before joining Fantasy Sharks as an IDP Senior Staff Writer in 2011. He knows football. Or so he's heard.