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Breakouts, busts, and getting the boot: Second year linebackers

In this next series from @IDP_Baumer, we take a look at second year linebackers. Should they stay, or should they go?

The 2021 Class of Linebackers was highly anticipated. With six being drafted in the first two rounds (three in the first), many managers were excited to add these players to their rosters. Many also expected immediate fantasy production from several of them. Unfortunately, only Micah Parsons (selected 1.12) managed to play the whole season as a starter. Everyone else played in reserve/rotational role or only began to see playing time due to injuries to the starters.

I’ll be going through these second-year players in order of when they were taken in the draft. We’ll look at whether they have a chance to break out this season or if you should cut them from your team to make room for incoming rookies.

Disclaimer

**All rankings and ADPs will be based on Sleeper stats, and scoring is based on IDP123 scoring. I’ll also be focusing on a fantasy metric that I think is one of the best indicators of fantasy consistency – Point Per Snap (PPS). This metric will show how effective/efficient they were on the field. This can help us determine a player’s value, even if they didn’t play much. Having a PPS above 0.25 is pretty solid, while anything above 0.30 would be considered elite.**

Zaven Collins, ARI

  • 2021 Draft Position: 1.16 (ARI)
  • 2021 Defensive Snap Share: 20%
  • 2021 IDP123 Points: 48
  • 2021 PPS: 0.22

Another year, another bald-faced lie from the Cardinals GM, Steve Keim. In 2020, we were promised a dynamic playmaker in Isaiah Simmons, who was taken eighth overall. Keim called him a “swiss army knife” and promised he would play early and often. He ended up playing only 34% of defensive snaps in 2020.

We heard the same story about Collins. Keim again said, “[We] expect him to play inside linebacker, and they expect him to play soon.” Again, this was a lie. Collins played 20% of defensive snaps and only racked up 21 combined tackles. Many fantasy managers were likely counting on him being an LB2 on their rosters, but it wasn’t the case.

This is likely due to the Cardinals deciding to keep Jordan Hicks on their roster for another year. Hicks had one of his better seasons, and Simmons finally played >90% of the snaps. Fast forward to 2022, and Hicks is now a Viking. Hopefully, this opens the door for Collins to emerge as the top LB in Arizona. He’s a more traditional MLB than Simmons’s hybrid role, which often puts him out of position to make a fantasy impact.

I see Collins putting up solid LB2 numbers this season, and I would either hold him or try to acquire him at a discount while his value is low. His 0.22 PPS is not something to be overlooked. He did make the most of his limited playing time.

Jamin Davis, WAS

  • 2021 Draft Position: 1.19 (WAS)
  • 2021 Defensive Snap Share: 56%
  • 2021 IDP123 Points: 141
  • 2021 PPS: 0.24

After an explosive 2020 college season, many people (myself included) thought Davis had the potential to be the top-scoring LB in the 2021 class. His landing spot seemed to be better than even Micah Parsons’. It was his job to win, and even in preseason games, we saw Davis calling plays. However, when the season got into full swing, veteran Cole Holcomb took the reigns of the defense. Even when even more seasoned veteran Jon Bostic went down with a season-ending pectoral injury, Davis couldn’t find the field consistently.

Bostic is now officially off the roster, but Holcomb is still there. Davis will hopefully see more playing time this season, especially considering Washington didn’t add any competition in the offseason.

I would hold on to Davis and hope he gets the starting LB role this season, but I’m not entirely optimistic about it, considering how Holcomb played in 2021.

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, CLE

  • 2021 Draft Position: 2.52 (CLE)
  • 2021 Defensive Snap Share: 65%
  • 2021 IDP123 Points: 161
  • 2021 PPS: 0.27

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (JOK) was another player similar to Simmons who came out as a “Swiss army knife” type hybrid linebacker/safety. This type of player seems to be highly sought after in recent years as NFL defenses continue to evolve.

JOK slid down to the second round after receiving a first-round draft grade by most analysts. This was allegedly due to a heart condition. He, too, landed in an ideal spot. The Browns didn’t have an identity on defense, but they did add Anthony Walker in the off-season. He continued his high level of play from his time on the Colts.

Of the players I’ve mentioned, JOK had the best season in 2021. From Week 5 on (apart from a brief injury hiatus), JOK averaged over 80% snap share and found his stride towards the end of the season.

He’s another player I’m holding onto or trying to acquire. I see him being a potential LB2 this season, and JOK has a knack for impact plays.

Nick Bolton, KCC

  • 2021 Draft Position: 2.58 (KC)
  • 2021 Defensive Snap Share: 60%
  • 2021 IDP123 Points: 161
  • 2021 PPS: 0.36

Now we’re spicing things up! Nick Bolton was our first LB off the board to hit 100+ combined tackles last season. I know it’s hard to believe Parsons didn’t hit that mark, but he only racked up 84 combined tackles.

Fantasy managers everywhere are hoping the Chiefs find some consistency on defense. Not a single LB in KC played 100% of defensive snaps in a given week. Compared to several teams with one or two 100% snap share LBs. Anthony Hitchens is now off the team, but Willie Gay and Ben Niemann played significant roles on defense. Then KC drafted yet another early-round LB, Leo Chenal (2022, 3.103).

Bolton did play out of his mind when given a chance. With 0.36 PPS, he was the highest of rookie linebackers outside of Parsons. I would hold on to Bolton and pray KC figures out their LB rotation before fantasy managers lose all of their hair.

Pete Werner, NO

  • 2021 Draft Position: 2.60 (NO)
  • 2021 Defensive Snap Share: 40% (47% ST)
  • 2021 IDP123 Points: 104
  • 2021 PPS: 0.17 (including ST snaps)

Werner spent most of his rookie season playing special teams. He did get some significant playing time when Kwon Alexander was injured. Alexander missed six games, and Werner got 10+ tackles during three of those games.

Alexander is no longer with the team, and it’s not looking like 2020 draftee Zach Baun is breaking out any time soon. The Saints also didn’t add much competition in free agency or the draft, so it looks like Werner will be the team’s LB2 behind Demario Davis.

I still consider Werner a hold for now. Hopefully, he catches on this season and is worthy of an IDP flex-start here and there.

Chazz Surratt, MIN

  • 2021 Draft Position: 3.78 (MIN)
  • 2021 Defensive Snap Share: 40% ST only
  • 2021 IDP123 Points: 0
  • 2021 PPS: 0

Surratt was a non-factor in 2021, and Minnesota added Jordan Hicks in the off-season, so it seems like he’s getting pushed further down the depth chart. It’ll take a lot for him to see the field in any significant fashion.

Surratt is 100% droppable to make room for 2022 rookies.

Divine Deablo, LVR

  • 2021 Draft Position: 3.80 (LVR)

With him having dual eligibility as a DB, I’ll hold off on discussing him for now.

Monty Rice, TEN

  • 2021 Draft Position: 3.92 (TEN)
  • 2021 Defensive Snap Share: 27%
  • 2021 IDP123 Points: 53
  • 2021 PPS: 0.29

For about four weeks, we saw that Monty Rice might have a glimmer of hope as an NFL LB. He stepped into a starting role due to injuries and played well. But then he, too, missed time due to COVID protocols and his injury.

Tennessee added 2020 top LB Zach Cunningham from waivers in late 2021 and still has David Long listed as a starter. Rashaan Evans is no longer on the team, so at least Rice is roughly in the same spot on the depth chart as last season. He’s still unlikely to start, barring injury.

I consider Rice droppable in most formats.

Ernest Jones, LAR

  • 2021 Draft Position: 3.103 (LAR)
  • 2021 Defensive Snap Share: 43%
  • 2021 IDP123 Points: 137
  • 2021 PPS: 0.30

This is where things get tricky. Jones played +80% of defensive snaps from Week 8 through Week 15, when he injured his ankle and went on short-term IR. He averaged 16 points per game in those seven weeks, with a couple of big splash weeks.

He returned from IR for the NFC Championship and Super Bowl, where he out-snapped starter Troy Reeder 93% to 34%. Jones made a significant impact on the game’s biggest stage with a sack, two QB hits, two TFLs, and a PD. If that was an award given, he could’ve easily won defensive MVP for the Super Bowl.

Then comes the 2022 off-season. Seattle parted ways with veteran elite linebacker Bobby Wagner, and the Rams signed him soon after that. The Rams let Reeder go in free agency, but having a presence like Wagner there might negatively affect Jones. This depends on whether or not Wagner and Jones can be used in tandem like Wagner and Jordyn Brooks were in 2021. If that’s the case, Jones could easily vault into a high-end LB2 candidate and possibly LB1.

You’ll want to hold on to Jones and try to acquire him if you can get a decent deal. I doubt many managers will want to part ways with him just yet.

Baron Browning, DEN

  • 2021 Draft Position: 3.105 (DEN)
  • 2021 Defensive Snap Share: 60%
  • 2021 IDP123 Points: 100
  • 2021 PPS: 0.19

Browning was another LB out of Ohio State who had a decent college career and found himself in a decent position in Denver. Denver’s two starting MLBs (Josey Jewell and AJ Johnson) are essentially JAGs (just another guy), and both went down with injuries in 2021. Browning played well enough, but not great.

The Broncos also added Alex Singleton in free agency, who can rack up tackles but is a less than stellar player on the field. We’ll have to see how the Broncos’ LB corps pans out this season to know whether or not Browning is worth a roster spot.

If you can afford to hold Browning, then do so. However, if it’s between him and another player, he might be able to be released.

Conclusion

I will end my discussion of second-year linebackers in the third round. A couple of other players might be worth mentioning, but they’re deep in their team’s depth chart and can be dropped in most formats. Players like Jabril Cox, Garrett Wallow, and Nick Niemann can likely be released.

Derrick Barnes is the only player after the third round that I would hold. I’m not quite sure what Detroit is doing on defense. He’s currently listed as DL/LB on Sleeper, but that might soon change. If they truly do move him to middle/inside linebacker, I could see him winning a starting role. Hold onto him for now.

That covers the 2021 Rookie LBs and how I see them improving in 2022. I hope this helps you make those tough roster decisions after your rookie drafts or helps you snag some good value in the late rounds of your startup drafts. You could draft this year’s Logan Wilson or Jordyn Brooks.

I plan on continuing this series with either Defensive Linemen or Defensive Backs here in the coming days… or weeks, so STAY TUNED!

Thanks for reading! Please give me feedback in the comments here or on Twitter! Follow me  @IDP_Baumer for more IDP content year round!

Use this link to receive a 15% discount on your Dynasty Nerds membership! Use promo code “IDPBaumer.”

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