In the vast majority of IDP leagues, the linebacker position is the backbone of successful teams. Linebackers are both the highest and most consistent scorers, and having a deep and talented LB corps is absolutely essential if you want to vie for a championship.
Of course, none of this is exactly a state secret. Everyone knows how valuable a player like Indianapolis Colts linebacker Darius Leonard is—and he has a sticker price on fantasy draft day to match that value.
However, as important as having a stud like Leonard can be to IDP success, it can be just as crucial to find value later on draft day—to identify players who have an outstanding opportunity to out-produce their modest asking prices in IDP drafts.
That’s the case with these linebackers. Admittedly, there isn’t a can’t miss, slam-dunk fantasy option among them—each faces questions in 2019.
But none of these linebackers were among the first 100 players chosen in the latest Getting Defensive IDP Mock Draft—and all have some potential as an IDP “sleeper” of sorts in 2019.
Zach Brown, Philadelphia Eagles
Per Justin Grasso of Inside the Iggles, Brown appears slated to start for the Eagles at middle linebacker after joining the team late in free agency on a one-year deal.
“With Brown in the picture,” he said, “that probably means the Eagles will keep Bradham exclusively on the outside where he’s been when the unit is healthy, which means Brown will be their official Jordan Hicks replacement as the middle linebacker. While his strength is one-hundred percent in the run game, he’s no weasel in coverage either. According to 94WIP’s Eliot Shorr-Parks, Brown allowed only 27 catches in coverage last season and didn’t allow a single touchdown. That happened during a total of 347 snaps where he had to drop back into coverage. Not bad at all.”
Brown didn’t exactly light up the stat sheet a year ago in Washington, tallying 96 total tackles in just over 700 snaps. However, as a three-down player in Washington in 2017 and Buffalo in 2016, Brown averaged 138 total tackles a season—including an AFC-leading 149 stops with the Bills in 2016. In each of those seasons, Brown was a top-15 fantasy option in Fantasy Sharks Default IDP Scoring.
Vontaze Burfict, Oakland Raiders
As Raiders general manager Mike Mayock told ESPN’s Paul Gutierrez, it was current Raiders (and former Bengals) defensive coordinator Paul Guenther who convinced Oakland to roll the dice on signing Burfict in the offseason.
“Paul became one of his best friends, earned his trust, showed him how to become an NFL player and kind of unearthed the fact that on top of being this incredibly tough, physical guy, he was also smart and instinctive,” Mayock said. “When he was in shape, when he was healthy … he was as good as any off-the-ball linebacker in football. Paul knows this guy better than any of us. Paul banged the table for him. Hard. And I challenged him a little bit. ‘He’s getting older, he didn’t have a great year last year, but there’s still talent there — Paul, how are we dealing with this?’ When your defensive coordinator feels that strongly about something, and it’s a position of need and he’s only 28 years old, let’s go. Vontaze Burfict is a Raider and I’m all-in.”
It’s been a while since we saw the best Burfict has to offer on the playing field—Burfict hasn’t topped 100 total tackles since 2016 and hasn’t played in all 16 games in a season since 2013. However, Burfict’s reportedly healthy and will wear the “green dot” helmet communicator as a three-down MIKE in Oakland. Back in 2013, he piled up a jaw-dropping 115 solos and was a top-five linebacker. In 2016, Burfict was fourth among all linebackers in fantasy points per game.
Mason Foster, Washington Redskins
The Redskins have made some changes this offseason, including the addition of a new inside linebackers coach in Rob Ryan. Foster told Andrew Breitfelder of the team’s website that he likes what Ryan’s brought to the meeting room so far this offseason.
“He’s a great dude, man, great coach, great person,” Foster said. “I think what he brings to the room, you know, is energy and his knowledge of the game is showing a lot already. He’s bringing little things that he’s used and it’s big for us. It’s big to have a coach like that who’s been around and seen a lot of football, so I’m just trying to be a sponge and listen to everything he says.”
Of course, it’s not Ryan’s arrival that will make the biggest impact on Foster’s IDP potential—it’s the season-ending ACL tear suffered by fellow inside linebacker Reuben Foster in workouts. That injury locks Foster into an every-down role inside, and as he showed with a career-high 131 tackles (and top-15 fantasy finish) in 2018, Foster’s more than capable of taking advantage of such an opportunity.