Unlock More Content Like This With a Footballguys Premium Subscription
"FBG is the best fantasy football advisory service anywhere."
Nigel Eccles, Co-Founder, FanDuel
The IDP Roundtable Series
This summer, the Footballguys staff will discuss various topics to help you in your IDP leagues.
The IDP Rookies Series
What linebacker(s) do you consider among the elite tier who deserves consideration as the first off the board?
Roquan Smith has long been my favorite linebacker target. The consistency and versatility he plays with grants him massive upside. This year, he'll enter a Matt Eberflus defense that effectively utilized Shaquille Leonard as a chess piece, and the potential for an even bigger there is there for 2022.
DeVondre Campbell's role in the Packers' defense also deserves mentioning. Not only does he wrack up the tackles, but the Packers put him in coverage a decent amount, giving him interception upside and, thus, the ability to be a fantasy superstar.
Fred Warner always deserves to be in the conversation, as well. There isn't a better coverage linebacker in the league, and his 2021 season in which he failed to intercept a ball is unlikely to repeat. He could make the largest jump in 2022.
In most drafts, Roquan Smith or Darius Leonard will likely be the first linebackers off the board, and rightfully so. Both have proven they belong at the top and are in great situations to continue to produce at a high level. For redraft leagues, I have those two, along with Devin White, Bobby Wagner, and DeVondre Campbell, to make up my Top 5. White not only puts up solid tackle numbers but rushes the passer a good amount for an off-ball linebacker, which allows him to give us splash plays along with a nice tackle floor. Wagner is in a great position to continue his elite production with the Rams, and I like Campbell to give us an IDP-rich encore performance in his role once again for Green Bay.
There are two legitimate candidates who deserve to be the first linebacker off the board. The first option is the Footballguys consensus LB1, Roquan Smith. He has eclipsed the 100-tackle mark in all four of his NFL seasons. This includes seasons of 139 and 163 tackles. To boot, he has averaged 15 tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks over his past two seasons, showing an innate ability at getting into the backfield.
The other option I'd consider as the first off the board is Darius Leonard. This comes with a caveat, though, because Leonard has been battling back and ankle injuries since the start of last season. Still, he has averaged 142 tackles and 7.5 for a loss over his first four seasons. He had 15 sacks in his first three, though zero last season. That could be attributed to his loss of explosion with the ankle problem. Leonard has been a turnover machine since entering the league, forcing 17 forced fumbles and picking off 11 passes. Leonard has tremendous upside but comes with injury risk. Smith has the safer floor, and Leonard has an explosive ceiling.
My first linebacker doesn’t necessarily have to be the guy with the highest ceiling. This is not a pick we can afford to miss on, so he has to be as close to a sure thing as there is. This year is kind of whacky in that the guys we have consistently considered the elite tier at linebacker all have some issues. Darius Leonard would be my number one, but injury issues make him a little risky. I love Devin White, but I’m not 100% sure who he is after last year. Bobby Wagner is always a consideration, but changing teams creates a risk factor. Foye Oluokun was on a tier by himself last year, but I don’t know how the move to Jacksonville will impact his numbers.
This year, I am looking at Roquan Smith, Jordyn Brooks, and probably Bobby Wagner. Smith is a proven commodity on a team that will be on the field a lot. Brooks is the next Bobby Wagner and is also on a team that will struggle. And Wagner because he is Bobby Wagner, and after seeing what lesser players have done in that situation, I think the move to Los Angeles might make him even better.
My top tier of linebackers is five deep; any of those five is an excellent foundational piece to build a defense around. Darius Leonard of the Colts has durability concerns, but his IDP ceiling is unmatched. Roquan Smith of the Bears isn't far behind him at all. The last time that Bobby Wagner of the Rams finished outside LB1 territory in 12-team IDP leagues was 2015. Before last year's ACL tear, Blake Martinez had posted 140 or more total tackles in four straight seasons. Jordyn Brooks broke out in a big way last year, and with Wagner no longer in Seattle, the sky is the limit.
Roquan Smith needs to be your target here. I like Bobby Wagner, but a change in scenery will always make me wary that first year. That’s enough for him not to be LB1. The same can be said of his former counterpart Jordyn Brooks who now finds himself without his running mate in the Seattle linebacking corps. The change makes me wary of Brooks being LB1. I’m a Foye Oloukon fan, but he also changed teams. His new team drafted two additional linebackers, so there’s no indication he will be a productive starter. Smith had little to no changes outside of Khalil Mack leaving. But Mack missed most of last year, and Smith finished as LB3. If the Bears figure out his contract situation and keep him, he’s your LB1.
Two players thoroughly check the boxes of talent, situation, and opportunity for 2022. Chicago's Roquan Smith and Indy's Shaquille Leonard are the elite IDPs who pile up tackles and add juice with big plays. Each will play for conservative defenses that keep their safeties back and send their defensive ends upfield. Smith and Leonard are asked to soak up tackles in the middle of the field and do so with premium efficiency. Both are competent coverage 'backers who get their hands on the ball, and each capitalizes on opportunities in the offensive backfield.
I think there are four linebackers I would feel comfortable ranking among the elites this year. Several of them have a history of high-end production and all-around game, such as Darius Leonard and Bobby Wagner, but I'd also include ascending young talents like Roquan Smith and Devin White. Reliable veterans like C.J. Mosley and Blake Martinez are a step below the rest. They have a very high ceiling and floor and could be viable alternatives if you miss out on the first group. If you want to take more of a high-risk, high-reward option, Micah Parsons is another option.
There's not much space among the top several guys, but I still see Dariu-- *ahem* Shaquille Leonard atop the heap. Leonard remained an IDP stud last year, totaling 121 tackles and forcing a stunning 12 turnovers. (As a three-down dominator, he's gobbled up the entire stat line since he was drafted.) But interestingly, he failed to record a sack last season, despite typically high pass-rush and hurry marks. That tells me he'll likely bounce back in that column, and if he does, it will be very difficult to unseat him from the No. 1 spot.
Of course, if his ankle injury keeps him on the PUP list into the season, it's a different story. No linebacker is worth drafting high AND stashing for six weeks. Early reports are optimistic, but anyone drafting right now may be better served snagging tackle machine Roquan Smith instead.
Continue reading this content with a ELITE subscription.
An ELITE subscription is required to access content for IDP (individual defensive players) leagues. If this league is not a IDP (individual defensive players) league, you can edit your leagues here.
"Footballguys is the best premium
fantasy football only site on the planet."
Matthew Berry, NBC Sports EDGE