It’s always fun to draft and discuss the top names in the IDP fantasy football game, especially linebackers. However, finding those less popular players with an opportunity to inherit snaps and seize a productive role can solidify your IDP roster. The four linebackers discussed in this article are all lower-cost options that could find consistent snaps that inherently lead to production. They also happen to all be in contract years with an opportunity to help themselves out financially. Let’s find out why these motivated linebackers can help your IDP squads this season.
David Long Jr, Tennessee Titans
Of the group of linebackers in this article, David Long Jr has shown the most ability to be the anchor in the middle of his current team's defense. In 2021, Long was inactive for Tennessee's Week 1 game but was immediately inserted as a full-time player upon his return in Week 2. Unfortunately, Long suffered a hamstring injury in Week 10 but had a rock-solid 98% snap share from Weeks 2-9. During those eight weeks, it was apparent Tennessee favored Long over teammates Jayon Brown and Rashaan Evans. For example, in Weeks 3-4 (the only time all three were active together over that span) Long played 121 defensive snaps (98%), as compared to Brown's 29 snaps (23.5%) and Evans' 82 snaps (67%).
The Titans did acquire veteran Zach Cunningham late in the season while Long was unavailable. In four games with Tennessee, Cunningham asserted himself into the mix and carried a 67.5% snap share. Long returned from his injury in Week 17 and logged two games alongside Cunningham to finish the season (Weeks 17-18). Over that two-game stretch, Long played 91 defensive snaps (77.5%) compared to Cunningham’s 77 snaps (65%). However, it’s important to note Tennessee seemingly chose to ease Long back in upon his return in Week 17, as he played just 55% of the snaps. In Week 18, Long returned to his full-time role, playing all 57 defensive snaps.
The biggest takeaway from all this snap-share data is Long was consistently out-snapping the others when healthy. Tennessee's staff viewed Long as the best full-time option and that’s important. Jayon Brown and Rashaan Evans have since moved on, leaving Long and Cunningham as the projected starters. Given what we know from last year, Long seems like a good bet to act as the play-caller and support the coveted green dot.
Long's 75 tackles (46 solos) in ten games last year were a career-high and if you expand his 7.5 tackles/gm pace over a full season, it puts him in the 120+ tackle range. When Long has been given an opportunity he's delivered and this year he has every opportunity to break out in a big way. Cunningham might still have more name value in drafts, making Long a far better value with a potentially bigger role in the Tennessee defense.
Cody Barton, Seattle Seahawks
Unlike the case of David Long Jr, the sample size is very small for Cody Barton. However, the opportunity is certainly intriguing. The Seahawks had two 1,100+ snap linebackers last season and one of those spots has an open vacancy. If you have been keeping up with any offseason news, I'm sure you already know long-time Seahawk and IDP stud Bobby Wagner is now on the Los Angeles Rams roster. Asking anyone to fill shoes that big is ridiculous, but what we are looking for is who will get an opportunity to grab those productive vacated snaps. That's where the appeal for Barton comes in.
While snaps have been hard to come by for Barton, he has had flash games when the opportunity has presented itself. Last season, Barton had a chance to step in the last two games for Wagner after he suffered a knee sprain in Week 17. Barton stepped up in those two outings, playing 138 defensive snaps (99%) and producing a solid 18 tackles (12 solos). The two-game sample size is small, but the strong finish is promising.
Seattle didn't bring in any competition via the draft and has yet to make a substantial free agent signing. The weak depth chart and offseason chatter point to Barton getting the first shot at the open spot next to Jordyn Brooks. Traditionally, Seattle has featured two productive linebacker roles for us IDP managers. However, new defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt is looking to change things up from recent years and our own Gary Davenport covers this more in his article here. A situation to keep tabs on when training camp kicks off.
Barton most certainly won’t put up the stats Wagner did in Seattle and that’s okay! What we are looking for are linebackers with potential fruitful roles for snaps and production—Barton fits that bill. If managers are looking for an upside LB3/4 later in drafts, Barton is a worthy option.
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