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Linebacker Value Mining: Reverse Rookie Derangement

Ryan Shazier

Of all the IDP positions, I put the most emphasis on linebacker analysis as it has always been the easiest for me to game and this season is no different.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you to draft Luke Kuechly or Lavonte David in the fifth round to win your league as plenty of those articles exist elsewhere.  Please use that round to draft your flex wide receiver or your first zero RB depending on your starting lineup requirements.

If you read my article on divisional schedules that will affect tackle opportunities, you may be wearing the “They Live” shades of IDP value hunting.  In that article, I pinned David and Kuechly’s excellent seasons on feasting on Tackle Disneyland AFC East. In fact, I have been working on a later piece to further nail the point home and yes, the NFC South studs had great games vs. NYJ, NE, and Buffalo just as every other middle linebacker does that faces them. This year as I go through my rankings I am factoring in the schedules of each LB as well as any changes in coaching philosophies that could lead to increases or decreases in tackle opportunities.

Reverse Rookie Derangement Syndrome

As I was pondering the rookie derangement ADP trends of the offensive side of the house, I thought of how I’ve almost had the IDP rookies all to myself. I then plugged through my troves of spreadsheets and found some interesting numbers.

Impressive Rookie and Sophomore Player Performances 2011-2013

Year

Player

Exp

ADP

Finish

2013

Kiko Alonso

Rookie

N/A

LB5

2013

Danny Trevathan

Rookie

N/A

LB11

2013

Alec Ogletree

Rookie

N/A

LB13

2013

Paul Worrilow

Rookie

N/A

LB26

2012

Luke Kuechly

Rookie

18

LB2

2012

Lavonte David

Rookie

N/A

LB6

2012

Bobby Wagner

Rookie

N/A

LB11

2012

Zach Brown

Rookie

N/A

LB26

2011

Rolando McClain

Rookie

N/A

LB29

2011

Navarro Bowman

2nd Year

N/A

LB4

2011

Sean Weatherspoon

2nd Year

N/A

LB17

2011

Pat Angerer

2nd Year

N/A

LB9

Over the last three seasons if you simply paid attention to which rookie or second-year LB was in line for a three-down starting role and waited to select that player fairly late in my redrafts, you would have been rewarded with a LB1 and highly serviceable LB2s almost every one of those seasons.  MFL ADP data goes 25 LBs deep, so that’s some knee deep value in a fantasy draft. The rookie talk of the town on the defensive side of the ball has been for Jadeveon Clowney and rightfully so as he’s an absolute freakish athlete. However, I do think a fine group of IDP-relevant LBs may have been overlooked. According to this data, they usually are overlooked as everyone is chasing that sure thing. Again, remember that LB is super deep.

Last year 71 LBs averaged at least seven points per game in a balanced scoring system and many of those could have been effectively streamed for some competitive results. In my leagues I’m going to wait and target the second-year players and the rookies. I like players with talent and opportunity but believe players earlier in their career represent an exploitable inefficiency. Of the second-year players that I wanted to target, one was going to be Kevin Minter but he has strained his pectoral muscle and is sitting out the preseason. I’m quite certain that I won’t get him with a price tag that reflects this risk so I will probably pass.

Jamie Collins is playing in Tackle Disneyland and projects to a potential three-down role but I want a bargain on him on draft day as well.

Young Linebacker Strategy

My full strategy is to draft as many of Collins, CJ Mosley, Khalil Mack, Ryan Shazier, Kevin Minter, (if discounted) and Christian Kirksey as I can. All of these guys are projected to have a three-down role in a tackle scoring position. Mack is in the mold of Von Miller so he has the sack and big play upside. Two-to-three of them will probably break out, and that’s all that I need to win the value game while still grabbing the high upside offensive studs. Shazier and Mosley have slightly above average tackle matchups. Kirksey’s tackle schedule is a little better and Collins and Mack have the best. Oakland’s first four games should give Mack a significant opportunity to jump out to a big lead for rookie of the year.

A key factor when I looked at the rookie LBs that didn’t pan out is that their camp performances leading up to their rookie seasons. Most either included mixed reviews in terms of picking up the defensive scheme or an injury that caused them to get behind in OTAs. Mack, Kirksey, Mosley, Shazier, and Collins are all having fine camps and will have every opportunity to shine. Also monitor Telvin Smith of Jacksonville as he may get a three-down role but we won’t get the full indication until Week 1. He’s having a phenomenal camp and is also free at the moment. In two drafts over the weekend I was able to pull Shazier extremely late. Kevin Minter went undrafted and may be worth a very late pick due to him being cleared to practice. Collins and Mosley went one round before I could get to them and Mack was undrafted in both leagues.

The Firewall

The reverse rookie derangement LB value strategy isn’t for everyone, but I’m going for it this season. If you are just too uncomfortable with the risk of the rookies and second-year players I recommend selecting LBs from the AFC East or AFC West. Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, and Nick Roach both fit the mold and are both MLBs whom I believe will outperform their ADPs. Spikes is insanely cheap and is expected to be used in pass coverage. I can’t stress enough how valuable he will be in a three-down role with the schedule the Bills have this season. The NFC North draws the AFC East so look at DeAndre Levy, Stephen Tulloch, and Chad Greenway to get a boost in production at a price that is tolerable. By going after the rookies and the second-year players, you can avoid paying for a volatile position while benefiting from cheap option players who could finish at the top of the pile by the end of the season.

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