Sunday - Jan 17, 2021

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IDP SLEEPER ALERT: (Way) Under-the-Radar Linebackers

The calendar has turned to June, the kids are out of school, barbecue grills across America are working overtime, and OTAs have given way to the mini-camps that will soon give way to training camp.

It’s summertime, folks.

Like I’m ever going to pass up a chance to post some off-the-wall music video that has nothing whatsoever to do with fantasy football.

Summer means something different for IDP enthusiasts – draft season is getting closer by the day. Many dynasty IDP leagues have already had or will soon have their rookie drafts. Before you know it, you’ll be getting e-mail notifications that your favorite IDP league has fired up for 2018.

If that favorite league just so happens to be Deathmatch, don’t worry – I’ll get around to it.

Draft day may still be a while off, but savvy fantasy owners have already begun to prepare – monitoring the latest news from mini-camps and OTAs in an effort to gain an edge over the competition.

That’s what we’re here to do. Each of the linebackers listed here has an Average Draft Position in the early-going that’s essentially non-existent. None were among the 240 players chosen in the latest completed PDW Getting Defensive IDP mock draft – and that league is as deep as deep gets where individual defensive players are concerned.

However, each is in a situation where it wouldn’t be an earth-shattering surprise if they wind up producing at a level that would make them a weekly starter in IDP leagues that start three or more players at the position.

If not more than that.

Cory Littleton – ILB, Los Angeles Rams

Per Cameron DaSilva of Rams Wire, Los Angeles head coach Sean McVay said recently that Littleton’s play in limited action last year was one of the reasons the team was comfortable trading Alec Ogletree in the off-season.

“When he played last year, he’s the type of guy that you’re creating certain packages just to get him on the field when you’ve got two really good players inside like an Alec Ogletree and like a Mark Barron,” Sean McVay said. “So, Cory’s made plays over the course of his career when he’s gotten opportunities on defense. He’s a guy that’s got a lot of just little nuances to his game, but you see the athleticism and the instincts show up.”

The 24-year-old Littleton, who had 36 tackles, a sack, an interception and a forced fumble last year, said he’s doing his best to adjust to a role as the defensive play-caller. “Mike ’backer is basically the quarterback of the defense. It’s a new role for myself — it’s something I’ve never done before,” Littleton said. “But, just trying to get better every day.”

There’s no guarantee that Littleton will hold the job all the way into the season – he faces competition from the likes of Ramik Wilson and Bryce Hager. But the Rams saw enough in Littleton to hand him “green dot” duties, and reports from OTAs have been universally positive. If Littleton can hold onto that three-down role, there a potential for grand larceny on draft day.

Tyler Matakevich – ILB, Pittsburgh Steelers

As Joe Rutter reported for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Matakevich isn’t especially happy that he got hurt last year just moments after teammate Ryan Shazier suffered the spinal cord injury that has already wiped out his 2018 season.

“It’s very frustrating because these opportunities don’t come around too often,” Matakevich said. “That’s why when you get an opportunity, you have to make the best of it and run with it. I felt at a little disadvantage. I knew I was going to get an opportunity, but I knew I was just going to do it with one arm. The good news is we got it fixed, and we’ve got a new season (ahead).”

It’s Matakevich, who played mainly on special teams last year, who has been running with the ones next to Vince Williams in OTAs. But even he allowed that it’s too early to say definitively that will be the case in Week 1. “Everyone knows you don’t earn a spot in OTAs,” Matakevich said. “You know it happens in Latrobe. It’s nice now, but when everyone gets the pads on, that’s when the real camp starts.”

Matakevich is spot-on with that assessment – he faces a stiff challenge in camp in free-agent acquisition Jon Bostic, who many IDP owners have already penciled in as the second ILB with Williams in 2018. But Matakevich has experience in Pittsburgh’s scheme and piled up an eye-popping 138 total tackles in his last year at Temple. At the very least, the third-year pro bears close monitoring as the summer moves on.

Anthony Walker – ILB, Indianapolis Colts

The Colts were awful defensively last year, but Walker told George Bremer of the Anderson Herald-Bulletin that he views that season as a valuable learning experience. “A lot of growing pains,” he said. “A lot of just learning, learning, learning, learning. From the time I stepped in the building last year at this time until the end of last year, it’s just a lot of learning. Even though we weren’t successful as a team, I think being able to learn from the older guys in the linebacker room really prepared me for this year. … Just getting my feet wet a little bit out there the last couple games. But right now, just trying to take it one day at a time until we get to this new season.”

This year, there are changes galore in Indy, among them a new 4-3 scheme under DC Matt Eberflus. He told Bremer he’s been happy with what he’s seen from Walker so far. “At the end of the day, it’s about playing fast and playing physical,” Eberflus said. “The more stimuli you give somebody, they slow down. And the less you give them and the more you drill them in the same things over and over again, the faster they play.”

It’s Walker, and not Antonio Morrison, who has been lining up in the middle of the Colts new scheme. It’s also been the second-year-pro, who amassed 22 tackles in limited duty last year, who has been making the play calls. If that continues, the linebacker for the Colts IDP owners will want is the one no one’s paying attention to at present.

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.