My previous article, covered the Preseason Top 10 linebackers and how they fared this past season. In this article, we’ll cover those linebackers who weren’t projected very high or projected at all in some cases that far exceeded expectations. There were vets who many thought would lose their roles to incoming rookies, there were still others who just made the best of a bad situation, and then there’s Micah Parsons, but we’ll get to him later as we continue our “IDP Year in Review” series with this year’s surprises!
**All rankings and ADPs will be based on Sleeper stats, and scoring is based on IDP123 scoring.**
- Preseason Rank: LB28
- End of Season Rank: True LB1, technically 5 points behind TJ Watt (DL/LB)
- IDP123 Points: 368
Oluokun had a decent 2020 season but wasn’t even projected to be the top LB on his team (Deion Jones – LB23/LB15), let alone the top-scoring true LB of the season. He broke the single-season combined tackle record (192) by 18, which means he still would’ve beaten the record by 5 without the extra game. He did have the second-highest snap count of any defensive player but still managed a respectable 16.71% tackle rate. He’ll likely either get a huge contract with the Falcons or find himself on a team that is desperate for decent linebacker play. Oluokun is a tackling machine and will continue to be a low-end LB1, but I wouldn’t count on another 190+ tackle season.
- Preseason Rank: LB57
- End of Season Rank: LB3
- IDP123 Points: 339.50
Second-year player Jordyn Brooks looks poised to take over the helm in Seattle’s defense. I had him ranked higher than his preseason ADP, but I never thought he’d emerge as one of the top 5 LBs this past season. It’s looking likely he’ll be a high-end LB1 from here on out.
- Preseason Rank: LB16
- End of Season Rank: LB5
- IDP123 Points: 314
|2021*+||22||DAL||LB||11||16||16||3||3||0||0||0||13.0||84||64||20||20||30||18||AP DRoY-1, AP DPoY-2, AP1, PB|
I can’t talk about linebackers in 2021 without mentioning Micah Parsons. Parsons met and exceeded every expectation for a rookie linebacker. He was the unanimous AP Defensive Rookie of the Year and received a vote for DPoY. He will be a staple in the Cowboys defense for a long time. That being said, I’m not quite ready to crown him LB1 in fantasy. There were several games where he was called upon to play defensive end, and he played well when asked to do so. Parsons will likely be called on to rush the QB more next year if Dallas doesn’t address their pass rush issues. This might negatively impact Parsons’ point floor due to a heavy reliance on sacks and other impact plays. I have him in the LB5-10 range going into 2022, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he were a top 3 player.
- Preseason Rank: LB76
- End of Season Rank: LB42
- IDP123 Points: 216
I know he didn’t finish in the Top 20, but Logan Wilson was a player I was very high on coming into 2021. He was a late-round sleeper people overlooked because his rookie season was cut short by injury. Logan entered this season as the Bengals 3-down linebacker and played very well. Unfortunately, his 2021 season was also shortened because of a shoulder injury. He did manage to return to the field for the playoffs and was a crucial part of his team’s run to the Super Bowl. He recently had surgery to fix a torn labrum but is expected to be ready for the start of the 2022 season. Wilson is excellent in coverage and a sure tackler. He will be a solid LB2 with an LB1 upside… as long as he can stay healthy.
Other welcome surprises…
Here’s a list of other linebackers who surprised us this season, but who might be able to hold on as LB2s.
- De’Vondre Campbell (Preseason: LB77; End of Season: LB6; IDP123 pts: 314) was a late-round flier who far-surpassed any expectations. Based on preseason indicators, many people thought Krys Barnes would step into the starting role. But again, we were fooled. Campbell played very well in 2021 and made a case for him to continue to be a viable fantasy option. Maybe he’s just a late bloomer or needed the right scheme to excel.
- Eric Kendricks (Preseason: LB21; End of Season: LB7; IDP123 pts: 303) wasn’t a preseason top 10 but had the best fantasy year of his career in 2021, registering career-high tackles and sacks. He showed he is a sneaky LB1 who won’t cost you a lot of draft capital in a startup and will continue to be for a few more years.
- CJ Mosley (Preseason: LB39; End of Season: LB8; IDP123 pts: 303) should’ve gotten “Comeback Player of the Year,” but hard to pass on Joe Burrow for that award. Mosley returned to his former glory after missing nearly two full seasons due to injury and COVID opt-out. He showed that he still has a lot left in the tank, and I can easily see him being a low-end LB1 for at least a few more seasons.
- Cole Holcomb (Preseason: LB33; End of Season: LB12; IDP123 pts: 290) is another player many people thought would lose his starting role to an incoming rookie (Jamin Davis). The third-year vet retained his starting role and performed very well. Jamin Davis is still waiting in the wings and showed promise when given a chance. That being said, Holcomb made a solid case for his continued role in the Commander’s defense and could be a high-end LB2… bordering on LB1.
- Kyzir White (Preseason: LB100+; End of Season: LB13; IDP123 pts: 284) has been that player who has shown flashes of potential but has always managed to find himself missing time with injury. 2021 was his first full season, and he showed us what he was capable of. He was only on the radar of managers in really deep leagues, especially with sophomore returning starter Kenneth Murray (I’ll get to him later).
- Jordan Hicks (Preseason: LB57; End of Season: LB17; IDP123 pts: 267), who many people thought would be traded before the start of the regular season, ended up being the 3-down linebacker for the Cardinals all year. Many people in the IDP community, myself included, believed the GM, Steve Keim when he said Collins would start next to Isaiah Simmons in 2021. That was not what happened… It was Hicks (1114 snaps), then Simmons (1024 snaps), with Collins only playing occasionally (220 snaps). I do imagine the Cardinals will play Collins more this season, and Hicks will probably end up playing for another team. Either way, Hicks still has high-end LB2 value.
- Azeez Al-Shaair (Preseason: LB100+; End of Season: LB31; IDP123 pts: 229) was a relatively unknown player coming into 2021. San Francisco’s LB2 Dre Greenlaw went down with an injury in Week 1. Al-Shaair stepped in next to Fred Warner but was less than stellar until Fred Warner missed a couple of weeks (12-14) with an injury. Al-Shaair shined in a starting role until he injured his elbow. He returned for the playoffs and played well enough to get consideration for a starting role in 2022. Keep an eye on what the 49ers do this offseason… Al-Shaair might find himself in a starting role somewhere.
One Hit Wonders
Here are some linebackers you might think are the new hot thing, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves… I’m willing to be wrong on these guys, but their true quality of play on the field might have them riding the pine this season.
- Denzel Perryman (Preseason: LB100+; End of Season: LB10; IDP123 pts: 287) ame out of nowhere… literally. I tried to scroll as far as I could to find him the 2021 ADP rankings and gave up after a while. If you were lucky enough to snag him up when it became clear that he would be Las Vegas’ 3-down linebacker in 2021, you probably did pretty well. He spent six seasons with the Chargers with varying degrees of success. He was often injured and just never quite clicked. He could be the Raiders’ guy again in 2022, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they went another direction. Rookie Divine Deablo played well in the last couple of weeks of the season, so he might surpass Perryman in the depth chart.
- Alex Singleton (Preseason: LB41; End of Season: LB23; IDP123 pts: 255) started the season with a question mark because of incoming 2020 darling Eric Wilson. By the middle of the season, both players were in the hot seat. Eric Wilson was waived, and Singleton relegated to special teams. Second-year player Davion Taylor and third-year player T.J. Edwards took over starting roles. In week 11, Taylor went down with a season-ending injury, which allowed Singleton to regain his starting role. Most mock drafts have the Eagles taking a linebacker in the first round, so I don’t imagine he’ll keep his role in 2022.
- Kamu Grugier-Hill (Preseason: LB100+; End of Season: LB22; IDP123 pts: 256) is another player who capitalized on a messy situation. A career journeyman linebacker, Grugier-Hill, wound up in Houston, which was a bit of a dumpster fire on both sides of the ball last season. Grugier-Hill did well as a starter, but I don’t see him producing much in 2022. See what you can get in trade value while you can.
- Quincy Williams (Preseason: LB100+; End of Season: LB25; IDP123 pts: 241) was a bit of a wildcard this past season. Much to the delight of fantasy managers, he had dual designation as a linebacker and defensive back but played as a linebacker. He played quite well alongside CJ Mosley, but the Jets have been slated as targeting a linebacker in the 1st round. It’s possible he’ll have a role with the Jets next year, but I’m not counting on it being a 3-down role.
Put a bow on it…
Like with any surprise, you never know if it’s something long-lasting or just a flash in the pan. I feel pretty confident that the players I said would continue being valuable players on your roster will do so for at least another season. These players are also solid players you can look to move this offseason while their trade value is probably as high as it’s going to be.
Players I mentioned as being “One Hit Wonders” are definitely players you want to trade away ASAP. Get what you can, and I hope you can turn that draft capital into a solid rookie prospect. In the next installment, we’ll take a look at some players who simply disappeared from fantasy relevance in a segment I’m calling “Where are they now?”… Stay Tuned!
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