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DE Brandon Graham, Philadelphia
Shortsighted drafters are punishing Graham (currently DL26) for a 2016 that saw him deliver just 5.5 sacks. It was a disappointing total, but he did land within just a handful of total points of Ndamukong Suh, who’s currently coming off the board 80 spots earlier. And I’m almost certain we’ll see a sack boost; Graham led the NFL last year with 40 hurries, 10 more than sack leader Vic Beasley Jr and 15 more than Khalil Mack. Let the uninitiated take wild, early stabs at big names like Suh. Graham looks like a borderline DL1 at a virtual free-square cost.
DE Mario Addison, Carolina
The Rodney Dangerfield of DL options still doesn’t have an ADP. Addison is a part-time player and not as statistically dominant as ex-Panthers Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy, but he’s absurdly effective as a situational rusher. Dating back to 2014, he’s notched 22 sacks and 73 combined tackles across just 1,260 snaps. Offseason talk in Carolina suggests an expanded role in 2017, so Addison could be looking at his first season of double-digit sacks and even more splash plays. Drafters required to start multiple linemen would be wise to hold off on their DL2 spot until the final few rounds of their draft, then nab Addison and bask in the glow of a discount Cameron Wake season.
LB Jatavis Brown, L.A. Chargers
He’s no longer anyone’s sleeper, but he’s still coming too cheaply. Currently the LB20 in drafts, Brown offers real LB1 potential after question marks like Vontaze Burfict, Navorro Bowman, and Zach Brown are off the board. Brown broke out majorly as a 2016 rookie, and he’ll likely pace the Chargers’ linebackers in production even after Denzel Perryman returns from injury. Over his 7 games of 48+ snaps, Brown racked up 52 tackles and 2.5 sacks, both well ahead of Perryman’s extrapolated production. When you factor in his playmaking ability, Brown looks like a rising IDP stud. He makes for a fine consolation prize if you miss out on the crop of established high-end LB2 options – and he could easily outdo most of them.
LB Vince Williams, Pittsburgh
Like Brown, Williams is no longer much of a sleeper; he’s become quite well-known among IDP circles. But his ADP remains absurdly low. Dating back to July 1, he’s still not being drafted as a top-35 linebacker, while teammates Ryan Shazier (LB10) and T.J. Watt (LB35) are garnering more respect. But Williams is the far more stable option from a fantasy perspective. He’s locked into Lawrence Timmons’ old Buck spot, and Timmons averaged a line of 118 tackles, 3.4 sacks, 5.3 pass breakups, and a smattering of takeaways from 2010-16. Were Timmons still a Steeler, he’d easily boast a top-15 ADP among LBs; Williams’ value suffers from the element of the unknown. But over his 4 games from last year with 46+ snaps, Williams registered 35 combined tackles and 2 sacks, which extrapolate beautifully into a LB1 season. With no real competition to start – and an inside mate in Shazier that’s perpetually injured – Williams looks like a LB2 lock, at worst.
LB K.J. Wright, Seattle
Bobby Wagner’s 2016 stole the Seattle show, and rightfully so – he was truly phenomenal last year. But few seem to care that Wright has been fairly hot on his heels since 2014:
It’s a tighter shave when we consider the 13-round gap between the two. Wright has generally outperformed his current LB30 ADP thanks to consistently solid tackle numbers and a smattering of splash plays. He’s not an especially sexy LB2 pick, but he’s an inexpensive and dependable one. He doesn’t miss games, and he’s registered six or more tackles in 45 of 55 (82%) of games since 2014 (including playoffs).
LB Kamalei Correa, Baltimore
A second-round pick in 2016, Correa steps into the starting shoes of Zach Orr, who erupted for 133 combined tackles and rolled to a LB6 finish last year. Orr was an every-down player, registering 961 snaps in 2016, and the Ravens “boast” shockingly little depth inside. As a starter, Correa will compete with C.J. Mosley for tackle opportunities, but Orr took on quite a few last year; Mosley’s numbers have dipped in both seasons following his rookie onslaught. The upside isn’t great – it’s unlikely Correa can match Orr’s wild numbers – but the ADP value certainly is. Correa boasts LB2/3 upside and comes significantly cheaper.
LB Ben Heeney, Oakland
Largely a forgotten man after a (truly forgettable) 2016, Heeney should tiptoe back onto your radar. Yes, he was benched early in the year before an ankle injury landed him on injured reserve. But there’s still a ton to like here. He’s an especially intriguing prospect, boasting dynamic athleticism – he was the top linebacker performer at his combine in 40-yard dash, the 3-cone drill – and both shuttles – and extensive college experience. Most importantly, he looks likely to reclaim the green dot in Oakland – assuming his health cooperates – which is a relatively fertile role for statistical production. Malcolm Smith registered 78 total tackles over 12 games in Heeney’s starting spot, and Heeney brings far more dynamism to the table. The Raiders will incorporate more 3-4 this year, and Heeney (or James) will compete for opportunity with athletic ex-Dolphin Jelani Jenkins. But Heeney and his mountains of potential come nearly free to drafters, making him an intriguing end-of-draft play in deep leagues.
S Jahleel Addae, L.A. Chargers
The secret’s mostly out on Addae, but he’s still lasting until DB30, hanging on the board longer than a handful of volatile rookies (Jabril Peppers, Malik Hooker) and cornerbacks (Jalen Ramsey). Addae boasts a fairly sexy path to DB1 value, fresh off a season that saw him post 50 combined tackles and break up 4 passes across 8 games. Addae was fantastic in both coverage and run support last year, cementing him in the Chargers’ lineup. Over a full season, it would be an upset to see him finish below DB2 numbers – and his playmaking chops point to a real chance at a DB1 line.
S Sean Davis, Pittsburgh
Davis was a do-it-all revelation as a rookie, manning everything from slot coverage to dedicated run-stuffing. The stat sheet reflected that, as he contributed across the board in fantasy leagues on a strong DB2/3 level. Davis notched 71 tackles over 13 games, boasting a per-snap rate would extrapolate to 96 over a full, 1,000-snap season. And that’s the kind of workload we should expect for a (hopefully) healthy 2017. Davis averaged 64.4 snaps over the Steelers’ final 10 games (including playoffs), chiming in 3.5 sacks, 3 pass breakups, and 2 takeaways over that span. That diversity points to a true DB1/2 ceiling, and his value really can’t be questioned. His ADP has climbed noticeably, but he remains squarely in the wild-card DB2 range.