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Overlooked Three-Down Linebackers Who Are Going to Rack Up 100+ Tackles

The days of NFL teams keeping three or four linebackers on the field for whole drives are long gone. With offenses running three-receiver sets, defenses are responding with extra defensive backs. Defenses play nickel and dime sets about three-quarters of the time.

Most defenses only have one linebacker—usually the play-caller with the green dot on his helmet—playing over 90% of the snaps. A few defenses have two linebackers getting 90% of the snaps for the season. Some, like Baltimore and New England, utilize rotations that don’t even have a single every-down linebacker.

The guys like Shaquille Leonard who force fumbles get all the attention, but the guy standing next to him 90% of the time, Bobby Okereke, still put up 132 combined tackles in his first year as a fixture on the field. Oftentimes, it takes a few years or a change of teams for a LB who used to be a role player to move up from rotational to the every-down starter. These new starters can make a big impact in IDP, but they often get overlooked, especially if they don’t make sacks and impact plays. The following are six more every-down linebackers who are being neglected in fantasy drafts.

 

David Long, Titans

David Long stepped into the green dot role in 2021 after Jayon Brown suffered an injury. Now Jayon Brown and Rashaan Evans are gone, solidifying Long’s place as the quarterback of the Titans defense in 2022. Long made 66 combined tackles in his first eight games before he, too, suffered an injury and missed the next six games. He was back for the final two games of the regular season, finishing the year with 75 combined tackles, four tackles for loss, and two interceptions. If he could produce like that over the course of a season, Long would be a top-five LB. He’s going as the #55 LB in fantasy drafts.

 

Lavonte David, Bucs

For each of the past three seasons, the Buccaneers have had two linebackers both on the field for over 90% of the snaps in Lavonte David and Devin White. White is the one calling the plays, but David was still out there for 96% of the snaps when healthy. (He missed the final three games of the season with a foot injury before returning in the playoffs and making 11 combined tackles in the NFC Championship.) In the 12 games he did play, David averaged 8.1 combined tackles per game, top 20 numbers, but he’s being drafted as the #32 LB.

 

Christian Kirksey, Texans

Kirksey joined the Texans after six years in Cleveland, in which he was an impact IDP player for two of them and one in Green Bay. While he struggles in pass coverage and doesn’t grade well, the Texans' LB corps is so weak as to lack much competition. Kirksey’s spot as the top LB in one and two-LB sets is secure. He called the plays last year and is expected to do so again for a team that will be trailing often and facing run heavy teams like the Colts and Titans twice a year. He put up solid numbers in 2021: 7.2 combined tackles and 0.6 passes defended per game, better than a handful of linebackers going ahead of him (LB #50) in Sleeper drafts.

 

Matt Milano, Bills

Buffalo is another team that consistently uses two-LB sets, and Milano is the overshadowed contributor standing next to the green dot. Neither Milano nor Tremaine Edmunds has been elite, but Buffalo hasn’t brought in many free agents or drafted linebackers who could be a threat to their jobs. Milano has been much better in pass coverage than Edmunds, allowing half as many receiving yards in each of the past two seasons, so he should have a secure role on the field. While he only made 86 combined tackles in 16 games last season, he also was used on blitzes a few times a game and made 3.0 sacks and 15 tackles for losses. Going at an ADP of #60 LB, he’s a value in deeper leagues.

 

Josey Jewell, Broncos

Jewell played 93% of the snaps for the Broncos in 2020 and made 113 combined tackles and 2.0 sacks, ranking as the #45 LB. He was off to a good start, grading at 77 or higher in both the first two weeks of 2021, but then he injured his chest and missed the rest of the season. Now Jewell is back and expected to start the season as the defensive playcaller.

Broncos' second-year LB Jonas Griffith also played well during his rookie year and is slated to start next to Jewell in two-LB sets, but Jewell is out there for one-LB sets. There is some concern Jewell could be overtaken partway through the season. Still, given where he’s going in Sleeper drafts—not even in the top 60—he’ll be a value to fantasy managers every week he starts at #1, and Griffith will be available on waivers if he ever takes the green dot from Jewell.

 

Quincy Williams, Jets

Last year, in his first starting for the Jets, Williams made 110 combined tackles and 9 TFL while playing 78% of the snaps. He actually played over 90% of the snaps in ten games, including the final six, but he played limited snaps in some midseason games, having to leave the game early against the Patriots due to a concussion. The Jets typically keep two linebackers or more on the field for most of their snaps, however, and they think Williams is the future. According to Connor Hughes of The Athletic, the Jets believe, “He’ll be a Pro Bowler if he accomplishes what the Jets believe he is capable of.”

 

Other overlooked three-down LBs to consider:

Drue Tranquill, Chargers

The replacement for Kyzir White who left the Chargers for the Eagles.

Cody Barton, Seahawks

New starter in Seattle taking the place of departed Bobby Wagner

T.J. Edwards, Eagles

My pick for #1 LB. Took over as the Eagles’ playcaller halfway through the season and ended up with 130 combined tackles despite only playing as the #1 LB for the second half of the season.



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