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IDP SLEEPERS: Veteran Values at the Linebacker Position

As we move deeper into Individual Defensive Player (IDP) draft season, you’re going to notice a recurring theme with my IDP articles here at Fantasy Sharks. Given the relative lack of fantasy depth on the defensive line in 2015, I’m going to continue to beat the drum on hitting that position early in drafts this year.

Now, the flip side of that coin is the hole it could potentially leave IDP owners in at linebacker. However, whereas the depth is lacking along the defensive front in 2015, there are a number of veteran options at linebacker available late in early-summer fantasy drafts who could provide savvy IDP owners with viable weekly starters at a deep discount.

Options like this trio of players, all of whom rank outside the top 50 in average draft position (ADP) in IDP drafts conducted as of June 24th at My Fantasy League.

Jerrell Freeman, Indianapolis Colts (ADP: LB55)

At this time a year ago, Freeman was being drafted as a top-20 fantasy linebacker on the heels of back-to-back 125-plus tackle campaigns. However, the 29-year-old struggled with injuries in 2014, missed four games and wound up finishing outside the top-50 fantasy linebackers in Fantasy Sharks Default IDP Scoring. That down year, in turn, has given many IDP owners cold feet about drafting Freeman this season.

Not only is Freeman healthy in 2015, but Kevin Bowen of the team’s website recently wrote that a second offseason of preparation with batterymate D’Qwell Jackson should pay dividends for both inside linebackers this year.

“At inside linebacker, D’Qwell Jackson and Jerrell Freeman are getting another offseason of work together,” Bowen said. “This is crucial when you hear defensive coordinator Greg Manusky stress the need to have better communication throughout the unit.”

Freeman may have finished outside the top 50 last year, but on a points per game basis he ranked well inside LB3 territory. The year before that, Freeman was a top-10 IDP option. Even if the former is a much more likely outcome than the latter this year, Freeman is still a great target for IDP owners looking for late value at linebacker.

Stephen Tulloch, Detroit Lions (ADP: LB56)

The injury bug got Tulloch too in 2014 – in the most embarrassing manner imaginable. During a Week 3 win over their NFC North rivals from Green Bay, Tulloch brought down quarterback Aaron Rodgers for a loss. An elated Tulloch then celebrated that sack with a dance – during which the 30-year-old tore his ACL, ending his season.

No, seriously. He tore his ACL celebrating a sack.

Tulloch recently told Dave Birkett and Carlos Monarrez of The Detroit Free Press that his knee’s OK, and that he’s ready to put last year’s debacle squarely in the rearview mirror.

“I’m back, I’m healthy, I would be out there practicing if they let me,” Tulloch said. “I do drills. You see me out there running. I’m sure you got footage. I’m back, 2014’s over. I’ll be in the middle again this year and we’ll have a great defense and a great team.”

Tulloch finished as a top-25 fantasy linebacker in his last full season (2013), and ranked 12th in fantasy points at the position heading into that fateful matchup with Green Bay last year. Assuming the knee is OK, the 10th-year veteran will all but surely, vastly outperform his modest ADP this season.

Thomas Davis, Carolina Panthers (ADP: LB67)

Davis is a real-life feel-good story – a Movie of the Week waiting to happen. The first player to ever successfully return to action after suffering three ACL tears, Davis (who is the reigning Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year) recently signed a contract extension that all but insures the 32-year-old will finish his career where it started.

Davis told Joseph Person of The Charlotte Observer he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I’m extremely excited about being a part of this defense,” Davis said, “and I’m looking forward to doing my part to make sure that we become the No. 1 defense in the league.” However, despite three straight seasons of 100-plus stops, a move to the strong side and the arrival of rookie Shaq Thompson has IDP owners very skittish about adding Davis to their rosters in 2015.

Given Davis’ virtually non-existent ADP, it would appear that many think Thompson will supplant Davis in subpackages. However, given that Davis tied Denver’s Brandon Marshall for the best grade among 4-3 OLB in pass coverage in the entire NFL last year per Pro Football Focus (ranking fifth overall at the position) I would beg to disagree. Thompson may well be the future in Carolina, but Davis remains the present.

A present that IDP owners can unwrap with glee on draft day.

With IDP draft season heating up, Fantasy Sharks has you covered. Whether it’s 2015 player rankings and projections, waiver wire targets, rookie analysis for dynasty leagues or strategy tips, IDP Staff Writer Walton Spurlin and IDP Senior Staff Writer Gary Davenport have all the information you need to dominate your IDP league in 2015.Also, for the latest IDP news and player updates follow IDP Sharks on Twitter.

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 a seven-time FSWA Award finalist and two-time winner who was named the organization's Fantasy Football Writer of the Year for 2017. 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.