There is no position where IDP managers more desperately want to find a breakout value than at linebacker. In the vast majority of IDP leagues, linebackers are the backbone of a successful defensive roster. Your team will go exactly as far as your linebackers take you.
Of course, that can create a problem. A logjam of linebacker lust. With every manager in a league searching for the next big thing at linebacker, hot names can see their price tags skyrocket with dizzying speed. Ernest Jones of the Los Angeles Rams is a prime example of this—with Bobby Wagner no longer in Los Angeles, every IDP pundit and his mother has predicted that Jones will explode in 2023. That has driven his ADP up in the IDP mocks at IDP Guys all the way to LB21.
Now if Jones isn't at least a lower-end fantasy LB2, instead of a breakout, he's a bust.
When everyone expects a breakout, it rather sucks the value out of said breakout.
With that in mind, we're going to establish a pair of ground rules for these breakout linebackers. The first is that any player who has posted a top-24 fantasy season is out—they have already broken out. The second is that any player being drafted among the top 30 at their position is excluded.
It's why you won't see the aforementioned Ernest Jones here. Or Nakobe Dean of the Philadelphia Eagles. Or Josey Jewell of the Denver Broncos. Jones and Dean are both being drafted inside the top-25 at the position, and Jewell was third in fantasy points per game among linebackers last season.
You won't even see Kyzir White of the Arizona Cardinals, who has the potential to be an IDP league-winner in 2023. But while White's ADP lies outside the top 50 at his position this year, his 144 total tackles with the Chargers in 2021 landed him 11th in fantasy points among linebackers.
Rules are rules—and White already broke out, even if it was for a different team.
However, if you look a little farther down the list, there are several names for whom a big 2023 could be in the cards who carry reasonable price tags in IDP drafts this summer.
Azeez Al-Shaair, Tennessee Titans
For most of Al-Shaair's career, the fifth-year veteran played in the shadow of Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw in San Francisco. Now, the 25-year-old will get his chance to be a full-time starter after signing with the Titans in free agency. Zoltan Boday of Pro Football Focus hailed the signing as one of the biggest bargains of 2023.
"Signing Al-Shaair to a one-year deal might have been one of this offseason's best free-agent additions when it comes to value and price," he said. "Al-Shaair managed to improve his PFF grade every year he was with the 49ers and ended up being the 18th-highest-graded linebacker in the league in 2022. Although he didn't get on the field much behind Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw, Al-Shaair impressed during his limited playing time, as he finished with the eighth-highest run-defense grade among linebackers."
Boday isn't the only pundit excited about Al-Shaair in 2023—if I beat the drum any more for him this summer, my arm's going to fall off. He has shown he can be productive in a three-down role, tallying 102 total tackles in 13 games for the Niners in 2021. Now in line to be Tennessee's No. 1 off-ball linebacker, Al-Shaair is on the cusp of a career season—and of potentially being the biggest IDP bargain of 2023 at the game's most important position.
Troy Andersen, Atlanta Falcons
A second-round pick of the Falcons last year out of tiny Montana State, it's not especially surprising that it took Andersen a little time to acclimate to the NFL. But in each of the Falcons' final four games of the 2022 season, Andersen was on the field for over 80 percent of the defensive snaps, and per a Daniel Flick of Falcons report, new defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen told reporters he expects Andersen to take a major leap forward in 2023.
"He has the skill set, he's big, and I know talking with Troy, I'm excited about this particular player," Nielsen said. "There is definitely a place - he does a lot of things. His skill set allows him to do a lot of things that fit certain things that we want that position to do."
Over that four-week span to end the 2022 season, Andersen's stats were relatively modest—just 21 total tackles. But after leading the team in stops last year the Falcons made no effort to bring back veteran linebacker Rashaan Evans, which would appear to set Anderson up for a three-down role in the middle of a Falcons defense that could be spending a lot of time on the field this year. If Andersen is close to the talent the Falcons thought he was last year, then his second NFL season could be something.
Jamin Davis, Washington Commanders
Davis' first two seasons were an up-and-down affair. The first year was mostly downs—Davis looked confused and out of his depth for much of his rookie year. However, by the culmination of his second season, the ups were poking through, with Davis finishing 2022 as the team's leading tackler with 104 stops. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio told reporters that he expects Davis to continue to grow as a player in 2023.
"We had more splash plays (from Jamin Davis) and less what the heck are you doing plays (last year)," Del Rio continued when talking about the expectations for his other defender in a critical career season. "And we need that trend to continue. Year three now, we should expect him to be at his best, and he's going to be challenged...So when Jamin gets back, the key for him is going to be eliminate some of the what the heck plays from his game and have some more of those splash plays."
Cole Holcomb is no longer in the nation's capital after signing a free agent deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and while the Commanders brought in Cody Barton as a replacement, he's not the caliber of player that Holcomb or even Davis is, and he lost snaps last year in Settle due to struggles in coverage. Davis is going to be an every-down player this season—and he's going to have the best year of his career by a fair margin.
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