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IDP BARGAIN BIN: Late-Round Linebackers

The 2012 fantasy football season was a valuable lesson for fantasy owners where having adequate depth at the linebacker position is concerned. Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens, Sean Lee of the Dallas Cowboys and Brian Cushing of the Houston Texans were just a few of the prominent names that lost significant time to injuries last year, sending their fantasy owners scrambling for replacements.

Those owners would have breathed a little easier if they already had a viable in-house replacement at the ready. That brings us to the handful of young players listed here. These linebackers are hardly among the first at their position to be drafted, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have fantasy value in their own right.

These upside picks may not be locks to make a huge fantasy dent in 2013, but given their paltry price tags each could become huge IDP values if things break right in the preseason.

Sio Moore, Oakland Raiders

The rookie from Connecticut was the Raiders’ third-round pick in April, and the team has apparently has big plans for Moore. The 6’1”, 245-pounder has run with the starters from day one. Moore has not only held his own but excelled, making play after play and drawing rave after rave from the coaching staff. A punishing tackler with a nose for the big play, Moore now appears to have the inside track on a three-down role with the Raiders. As low-risk, high-upside IDP plays go, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Nigel Bradham, Buffalo Bills

Many fantasy experts are expecting something of a breakout from Bradham in 2012, with the second-year pro moving into a larger role opposite rookie Kiko Alonso at inside linebacker for the Bills. However, Bradham’s asking price in IDP drafts has remained very low, due mostly to uncertainty about whether or not Bryan Scott will poach subpackage snaps. That’s an answer that we may not have until later in the preseason given the Bills’ defensive overhaul this year, but if Bradham locks up an every-down job there’s an excellent chance he’ll crush his current draft slot.

Akeem Dent, Atlanta Falcons

Fantasy Sharks IDP Staff Writer James Elvins has beating the drum on Dent for over a year, but the three-down role many expected for Dent last season just never developed. However, Stephen Nicholas was a liability in coverage down the stretch last year, and D. Orlando Ledbetter of
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently reported that Dent is once again pushing Nicholas for subpackage snaps. If the third-year pro can bump Nicholas out of the nickel then there’s IDP LB3 upside with Dent that can be gotten on the cheap.

K.J. Wright, Seattle Seahawks

Despite the fact that K.J. Wright nearly hit the 100-tackle mark last year and is considered an up-and-coming young linebacker there’s been next to no IDP buzz around Wright entering his third NFL season. Perhaps there should be though, as this year the 24-year-old will flip to the weak side. The WILL linebacker in a 4-3 “under” defense (which Seattle runs) is generally a slot that’s conducive to IDP production, and while middle linebacker Bobby Wagner represents significant competition for tackles there’s a lot more fantasy upside with Wright than he’s being given credit for.

Craig Robertson, Cleveland Browns

It’s gotten somewhat lost in the shuffle given all the changes on defense in Cleveland in 2013, but Craig Robertson quietly enters his second NFL season as a three-down starter in Ray Horton’s 3-4 defense. Robertson tallied over 90 tackles last year and averaged eight total stops a start, including a 12-solo effort against the Denver Broncos. The 25-year-old told Matt Florjancic of the team’s website that Horton’s ultra-aggressive scheme “is fun for a linebacker to be in,” and given Robertson’s IDP upside relative to his non-existent asking price it could be fun to have Robertson on your fantasy squad in 2013 too.

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