In many more IDP leagues than not, linebackers are the running backs on the defensive side of the ball. As both the highest-scoring and most consistent position on defense, linebackers are easily more valuable than either defensive linemen or defensive backs.
Simply put, if you don’t have a solid stable of linebackers, your IDP squad is dead in the water.
The thing is, that’s hardly news. Among defensive positions, linebackers are usually the first treasure chest to be looted by a horde of bloodthirsty drafters. In a recent IDP draft I participated in, there were more linebackers taken in the first half of the draft than defensive linemen and defensive backs combined.
Savages, the lot of them.
Given how quickly linebackers can sometimes fly off the board, there are going to be drafts when you desperately need to hit on a late dart-throw at the position—to find a lottery ticket linebacker late who blossoms into a weekly starter ala Alexander Johnson of the Denver Broncos in 2019.
Now, none of the linebackers listed here are anywhere close to a sure thing. It’s entirely possible that by the time Halloween rolls around, these players could be sitting on the waiver wire—many play on teams with highly unsettled situations at the position, and with an entire summer’s worth of workouts wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic and now no preseason games on top of it, it could be well into the regular season before we have clarity on some of them.
But these guys also aren’t going to cost much of anything in most IDP drafts—and each has the potential to provide a sizable return on their meager investment.
Sione Takitaki – ILB, Cleveland Browns
As Mary Kay Cabot reported for Cleveland.com, Cleveland Browns linebackers coach Jason Tarver has been clear with his young linebackers that no starting spots are guaranteed. But he also told Cabot that he’s been impressed with the growth he’s seen from second-year pros Mack Wilson and Sione Takitaki.
“They’re very competitive, and they really attack the playbook,‘’ he said. “They want to be good. Mack was on the field enough to where he knows what he can do and what he needs to work on, and the same with Sione. Sione had the early season injuries, but Sione for example, his field work that he’s doing right now is awesome. He put his helmet on and just got better and better at moving and running. Very competitive young men. We’re excited to see what they do when we get to practice.”
After starting 14 games in place of the injured Christian Kirksey in 2019, Wilson is the first Browns linebacker being selected in most IDP drafts. But his production last year was underwhelming and then some, especially in the big-play column—much like much of his career at Alabama. It was a different story for Takitaki (who has the inside track to the starting job at middle linebacker) at BYU. He has more upside than Wilson for a lower price tag.
Micah Kiser – ILB, Los Angeles Rams
If Cleveland’s LB spots are a competition, then the Rams are an all-out brouhaha—with Cory Littleton now in Las Vegas both starting spots inside are wide open. Cameron Da Silva of Rams Wire singled out third-year pro Micah Kiser as a potential breakout candidate if he can win one of those spots.
“Kiser’s best trait is his tackling, which showed up on his tape at Virginia,” he said. “In college, he had three straight years with at least 117 tackles, including 33.5 for a loss. He was also capable of rushing the passer on inside blitzes, recording 19.0 sacks. Kiser could break out if he wins the starting inside linebacker job, which typically requires the player to play almost every single snap – just as Littleton almost did last year. If he can pull that off, he’ll be in line for 100-plus tackles and possibly a few sacks.”
Kiser has all of four career defensive tackles in his professional career, and he missed the entire 2019 season with a torn pectoral muscle. But before sustaining that injury last year, he was penciled in as the starter opposite Littleton inside. His familiarity with the Rams’ scheme matters in this strangest of offseasons.
If you’re going to roll the dice on a Rams linebacker, Kiser’s the target.
Cole Holcomb – ILB, Washington Football Team
There isn’t a team in the NFL with a more unsettled linebacker situation than in the nation’s capital. Whether it’s free agent addition Thomas Davis and holdovers Jon Bostic, Cole Holcomb and Reuben Foster, which players are going to slot where remains up in the air. As Mark Bullock reported for the Athletic, Holcomb is the most inexperienced player of the lot—but he also might have the most potential.
“The potential for Holcomb is there,” he said, “but he still needs some development. The encouraging sign is how far he came in terms of his progress from the start of his rookie season to the end of it. The athleticism is a huge plus, but mentally transitioning in terms of how to fit certain run plays and determining which receivers might be a threat to him in the passing game has been challenging.”
Given his experience playing for Ron Rivera in Carolina, Davis is probably the safest bet of the lot to earn a sizable role—and his ADP in IDP leagues reflects that. But with Foster rehabbing a major injury and Bostic being, well, Jon Bostic, Holcomb has a legitimate shot to win a starting job—and become a viable IDP asset.