Welcome back, fellow IDP Nerds; we continue with the IDP Devy series. Next up is the top 12 at the linebacker position. As college football season is rapidly approaching, IDP managers must know the players they will be watching this fall. The LB position in IDP fantasy football is one of the most crucial because of how consistent they can be as fantasy scorers. Let’s get into the top linebackers for the 2022 college football season.
Noah Sewell, Oregon
- 251 lbs
Sewell is a stud at the LB position who is destined to be making plays on Sundays after his last year at Oregon. He wants to join his brother as a first-round pick in the NFL Draft. Penei Sewell was the seventh overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. The Oregon Ducks LB has averaged 7.7 tackles per game in his first two seasons. Sewell finished #1 in the PAC-12 in assisted tackles and #2 in the PAC-12 in total tackles last season. He finished with a PFF grade above 70 in his first two seasons. He was named Preseason All-American and All PAC-12 teams in 2022.
Sewell turned in an amazing season in 2021, starting all 14 games and finishing with at least five tackles in all but one game. He also became the first Oregon Ducks player ever to be named a semifinalist for the Butkus Award. He recorded double-digit tackles in six of his fourteen starts last season. In those games, he averaged 22.6 fantasy points per game.
Sewell is a special LB; he has the athletic ability and instincts to find himself around the ball on nearly every play. If your dynasty team needs a youth movement at the LB position, look no further than the Ducks’ defensive enforcer this season.
Trenton Simpson, Clemson
- 225 lbs
The Clemson Tigers defense is making a trend out of these athletic and versatile defenders at the linebacker position. The next man up is Simpson, who was handed the torch after Isaiah Simmons headed to the NFL in 2020. Simpson had a nice breakout in 2021, recording 65 tackles, including 12.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. He is no stranger to rushing the passer. As a Senior for Mallard Creek High School in Charlotte, North Carolina, he recorded 20 sacks. Last season, Simpson created 31 pressures and 13 hits on opposing quarterbacks. The Clemson playmaker turned in his best performance of the season against Louisville with ten tackles, three TFL, and two sacks posting a 35-point fantasy performance.
The difference between Simpson and Simmons is that Simpson fits the LB role much better. No shade at Simmons because he’s a great player but was more of a hybrid than Simpson is. Simpson offers significant upside in coverage. According to Pro Football Focus, he played 225 of his 569 snaps in the slot and another 20 snaps at cornerback or deep. The Clemson LB can benefit from another year of off-season workouts to bulk up and add to his frame. Simpson does so many things very well. Another season to perfect his craft should almost guarantee him a chance to be a first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Henry To’oTo’o, Alabama
- 228 lbs
To’oTo’o was a four-star recruit from De La Salle High School in California, where he played both LB and RB. He spent his first two seasons at Tennessee, where he played in 22 games, compiling 140 tackles and 12.5 tackles for loss. After the 2020 season, To’oTo’o transferred to Alabama, where he helped lead the Crimson Tide defense to another Nation Championship appearance. He would lead the Alabama defense in tackles (111) in his first season with the team. He recorded six games of nine tackles or more, including three double-digit tackle games.
The tackle numbers the California native has posted throughout his career have been extremely consistent. In a short time, To’oTo’o stepped up as a true leader for Nick Saban’s defense, and that’s not easy to do. The jury is still out to see if the Alabama LB can improve his pass rushing and coverage skills. As of now, I believe those will keep him as a day two pick rather than being a first-round talent. To’oTo’o will have the chance to showcase his skills on the biggest stage. We likely will see Alabama competing for a National Championship again this season.
Justin Flowe, Oregon
- 235 lbs
Flowe is two years removed from being a 5-star prospect and recruited by all the major division I programs. Flowe was the number six player in the 2020 class and the number one overall ILB. After a very productive high school career, he is the second highest-rated recruit to put on the Ducks’ uniform. The highly recruited defender has suffered injuries in his first two seasons, allowing him only to play two games. Flowe has played one full game for Oregon since arriving on campus, and in that contest, he was named Pac-12 Freshman of the week. Flowe recorded 14 stops and a forced fumble to score 22 fantasy points.
Unfortunately for dynasty managers, all we have to go on is two collegiate games. Many dynasty managers are still believers in his talent. The Oregon LB brings versatility as a run defender and is very good in coverage. If you’re unfamiliar with how Flowe tackles, you’re in for a treat. He needs to stay on the field. This man brings the wood and makes ball carriers pay every time they touch the ball. Although he hasn’t seen much action on the collegiate level, it’s not out of the question with one productive season that Flowe could enter the NFL draft at the season’s end. Players as talented as Flowe don’t come around that often. I believe NFL general managers would take a chance on him becoming a key piece to their defense.
Jack Campbell, Iowa
- 243 lbs
The Cedar Falls, Iowa native is one of the most exciting LBs heading into this season. For me, Campbell comes in as LB5; he’s been named to preseason All-American and All-Conference teams. Campbell has the best size of any of his counterparts and has developed into a tackling machine heading into his senior season. The leader of the Hawkeyes’ defense had a breakout season in 2021, posting 140 tackles and two interceptions while taking one back for a defensive touchdown. He led the NCAA with 83 assisted tackles and finished with 11 tackles or more in five games as a Junior. Campbell averaged ten tackles per game last season and allowed a passer rating of 85.3 in coverage, according to nfldraftbuzz.com.
Dynasty managers will be intrigued by the Iowa LBs tackling numbers. This gives him a safe floor and potentially an easier path to more snaps as a rookie in 2023. Campbell possesses excellent leadership skills and a winning attitude; he excelled in both football and basketball in High School. He nearly tackled everything that crossed his path a season ago, but he’s a player who has the versatility to cover RBs and TEs when asked. It’s common for taller LBs to criticize them at times for playing a bit too high, but my most significant area of improvement would be his awareness when in coverage. I’d like to see Campbell use his size to his advantage more; I’m confident he will improve this part of his game in 2022.
Jeremy Banks, Tennessee
- 224 lbs
Banks has had a rollercoaster college career at Tennessee, from being recruited as an RB to a program dismissal for an off-the-field incident in 2019. He now enters the 2022 season as a senior playing for a new head coach and has been named to the preseason Butkus Award watch list. The Tennessee LB had a career year in 2021, posting 128 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and 11.5 tackles for loss. He averaged 9.8 tackles per game as a Junior, which ranked second in the SEC. Banks finished in the top four in the SEC in solo tackles and assisted tackles last season. He recorded double-digit stops in six of his last seven games, including a monster ten solo tackle performance with a sack and two passes defended against Purdue in the Music City Bowl.
Banks comes in as the preseason LB6 for me in this class. I may have him ranked a bit high, but I like his play style and think he can transition into a consistent player at the next level. He can play fast and explodes into ball carriers when making a tackle. Banks uses his experience as a former RB to manipulate offensive lineman and create havoc in the backfield. He recorded four games of multiple tackles for losses in 2021. There’s no doubt that a repeat season for Banks from a production standpoint will have him ranked as a top five LB heading into next year’s draft.
Merlin Robertson, Arizona State
- 240 lbs
Robertson returns for his fifth season at Arizona State. The veteran LB leads a Sun Devils defense that will need to be very good in 2022. Since arriving on the Arizona State campus, Robertson has collected 235 stops, seven sacks, and six interceptions. As he’s shown over his career, Robertson has the flexibility to play multiple positions. His ability to take away passing lanes in coverage with his size will help him tremendously as a prospect at the next level. While he is a versatile player on the Sun Devils’ defense, he lacks some athletic ability that can limit him in the eyes of pro scouts. He posted a career-high in interceptions (3) last season and led the Pac-12 in interception return yards (98).
The Sun Devils’ LB regressed as a tackler in 2021, posting his lowest total (64) of his career outside of the shortened 2020 season when he only played three games. The 2021 season will be a big one for Robertson, and he can make a jump up NFL draft boards with a productive season. He will need to improve his tackling and angles of pursuit to fill up the stat sheet more. Robertson has a nose for the football and is likely an LB who will get his start on special teams in the NFL, but he can turn into a productive player if given the opportunity.
Ventrell Miller, Florida
- 226 lbs
Miller returns as a sixth-year senior for the Florida Gators under new head coach Billy Napier. He’s coming off a frustrating 2021 campaign where he appeared in only two games before tearing his bicep and missing the remainder of the season. Miller was a crucial piece in the middle of the Gators’ defense; he collected 141 stops and 6.5 sacks in the 2019 and 2020 seasons. The former three-star recruit has attacked his rehab aggressively and looks to be the leader of the Florida defense again this season.
Miller will be a 24-year-old rookie next season, which hurts his value in the minds of some dynasty managers. Miller’s play on the field isn’t up to question, but his age and injury history surely will be topics of conversation. The Florida LB is limited with his size, but his instincts and football IQ give him a significant advantage as a defender. He brings toughness to the LB position and can be a welcome addition to any NFL team. His coverage ability will have to improve in 2022 for him to be more than a late-round pick in the 2023 NFL draft.
Drake Thomas, N.C. State
- 238 lbs
Thomas is an undersized LB for the Wolfpack and is coming off a monster year. Thomas was all over the field for the Wolfpack last season and showed how effective he could be in every phase of the game. He seemed to be in the right spot more often than not, and his dedication to studying film was on display. He’s not the biggest or fastest LB and appears on film to be a player who can get lost, but he diagnoses plays very well pre-snap, allowing him to know where to be to make the tackle. Thomas reminds me of former Miami Dolphins LB Zach Thomas with his ability to play at a smaller size but make a significant impact.
The leader of the Wolfpack defense led the team in tackles and tackles for loss last season while playing the WILL and MIKE linebacker positions. Thomas averaged over eight tackles per game and finished one tackle shy of 100 for the season. He ended the 2021 season with six sacks, all collected in three games. In another season as productive as 2021, and it won’t matter his size, NFL scouts will have to take notice and give Thomas a look in the middle to late rounds of the NFL draft.
Bumper Pool, Arkansas
- 230 lbs
There is zero debate on who has the coolest name of all the linebackers in the 2023 class. Pool is a highly productive LB for the Arkansas Razorbacks, compiling 320 tackles over his last three seasons. The Arkansas LB has been a high-volume tackler for three straight seasons with 90+ tackles, including back-to-back 100+ tackle campaigns. Pool’s fantasy production is tied to his effectiveness as a tackler. He averaged nearly ten stops per game in 2021 and, at his current pace, will be the Arkansas leading tackler by the end of next season. The Texas native doesn’t fill up the stat sheet in many other areas, but his reliability is tremendous for him. He logged over 500 snaps last season for the Razorbacks.
Pool can boost his stock by improving his game from a pass rushing and coverage aspect. He’s not going to improve his speed. He’s a bit of a question mark as to what position he can play in the NFL, but improvements in those two areas will surely help his case. I fear Pool is a backup LB or special teams player at best in the NFL, but only time will tell. It will be difficult for NFL GMs to look past him with a third consecutive 100+ tackle season. He’s also playing in one of the toughest conferences (SEC) in all of college football.
Mikel Jones, Syracuse
- 220 lbs
Syracuse LB Jones was a three-star recruit from IMG Academy in the 2018 class. He has improved his tackles, tackles for loss, and sacks in each of his first three seasons. Jones had his best season as a sophomore collecting 109 tackles and three sacks for the Orange. He was named All-ACC and team captain in 2021. Jones recorded double-digit tackles in six of his twelve games last season while posting a tackling percentage of 92.9. He finished 2021 second in the ACC in solo tackles (59) and total tackles (109).
The obvious concerns for Jones are his ability to improve in coverage. He’s athletic enough to spy mobile QBs and bring them down, as we saw with his big performance against Malik Willis last season. Jones is a former DE who loves to use his hands to play his aggressive attacking style of defense. Jones is the player I have ranked the lowest who I believe may make the biggest jump by season’s end.
Ivan Pace Jr., Cincinnati
- 239 lbs
Pace finished his career at Miami of Ohio, being named 2021 MAC Defensive POTY by Pro Football Focus. He joins his brother Deshawn Pace at the University of Cincinnati to finish his college career with a chance to play on a much bigger stage. Pace finished first in the MAC with 125 tackles last season. He finished with PFF grades of 91.2 in pass-rush and 88.6 in coverage in 2021.
The former two-star recruit has become a good football player and a defensive leader. He averaged close to ten tackles per game in 2021. Pace recorded multiple games of three tackles for loss or more. His ability to sell out to stop the run is admirable, and Pace is not shy about getting physical with opposing blockers to make sure he creates havoc at the point of attack and finds the ball carrier. He’s no stranger to making a game-changing hit but it can be troublesome at times if he isn’t able to get to the runner. The 2022 season will be interesting to see how Pace fairs against much better competition and if he can maintain his high production.
There you have it, Nerds, my top 12 linebackers who are likely to enter the 2023 NFL draft. These rankings may likely be a disaster by the end of the college football season, but the important thing was putting names out there for the IDP community to watch. Even if you’re only a boxscore type of dynasty player, knowing the names of these players posting these big games will pay off.
I look forward to wrapping up with the top 12 defensive backs by the end of this week. I hope you all enjoyed the write-up and, as always, use the team of Dynasty Nerds for all your favorite fantasy football content to keep you ahead of your league mates.
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