If you’ve never played in an IDP league you probably have one major question. When do you start taking defensive players in your draft? With July’s arrival the fantasy draft season starts to ramp up and we can take a look at early ADP. The linebacker position is your bread and butter when it comes to consistent fantasy scoring and finding value here can allow you to take a top defensive lineman early in your draft.
On the offensive side one of the major questions this year is if you should go against the age old advice of waiting on a quarterback and take either Mahomes or Jackson early. On the IDP side, there is one clear cut option to take early and that’s Darius Leonard. The problem with taking him at his ADP is that you will be doing the same “damage” to your team as taking one of the QBs does. Leonard’s ADP on MyFantasyLeague is currently 67.55 in 12 team leagues. Considering it’s the 6th round, you could conceivably have a stable of RBs and WRs, and taking Leonard will not significantly hurt your offensive side of the ball. The next defensive player off the board is Nick Bosa at 95.18. So while everyone else is taking offensive depth, you will be behind in that respect.
How good is Leonard and is he worth taking the first defensive player off the board a full two rounds ahead of the next one? Leonard broke out in his rookie season in 2018. His combined 163 tackles was the 10th highest total over the last 20 years and he missed a game. Last season he had 121 despite missing 3 games which projects out to 150 for a full season and tied for 3rd in the league.
The reason Leonard is such a special player for fantasy is that he also adds a big play element. He had 5 interceptions, 5 sacks and 7 passes defensed in 2019. In 2018 he added 2 Ints, 7 sacks and 8 PDs. In leagues with scoring that rewards big plays this adds to his appeal. My home league is big play oriented and he led the per game scoring by a full point last year. In 2018 he outscored the next highest defensive player by 27 points. Now that doesn’t sound like a lot but for perspective there were 30 players within 27 points of the second leading scorer. This brings me to my next point.
Everyone says to draft linebackers first as they are the most consistent scorers in the IDP format. In 2018 in my league of 14 where we start two LBs, if you had Corey Littleton, the second leading scorer and Erik Kendricks, the 28th, you combined for 196.5 points. If you had #14 Telvin Smith and #15 Leighton Vander Esch they netted you 182 points. A difference of less than a point a game.
The difference in defensive linemen is more pronounced. In 2018 the top 3 averaged 107 points and DL 26-28 averaged 57. This 50 point difference is why I advocate taking defensive linemen before linebackers. Was this unique to my league? I checked last year based on Fantasy Data’s scoring system and the difference was 53.33 points. Having the 28th ranked LB was worth 36 points more than the 28th ranked DL.
Now that we’ve established that if your scoring system or league setup doesn’t scream take Darius Leonard before anyone else does, let’s look at some of the linebackers that could be available AFTER you take Danielle Hunter or Aaron Donald or Joey Bosa or two of them if possible. I’m using MyFantasyLeague ADP data and just want to note that TJ Watt, Chandler Jones, and Shaq Barrett all carry the LB designation. There is a movement to change players like this to an edge rusher and count them as a defensive lineman instead. My rankings count them as linebackers this year and I will include them in this category for now so I’ll start with two of them.
Chandler Jones LB20 ADP 175
Shaq Barrett LB24 ADP 196
Jones finished as LB3 last season largely due to his 19 sacks and 8 forced fumbles. Is this repeatable? Probably not as most are projecting some regression in these numbers but the opportunity to benefit at this ADP is great. The Cardinals are expected to be improved on the offensive side of the ball with the addition of DeAndre Hopkins, a full year of Kenyan Drake, and the maturation of Kyler Murray. This may force opposing teams to throw the ball more giving Jones more opportunities to rush the QB and upping his chances at matching last year’s sack total. Taking Jones as your LB2 is a huge upside play.
Basically the same can be said of Barrett who finished as the LB2 in Fantasy Data scoring. With his ADP almost 2 rounds later, he poses even more upside than Jones. If you take a linebacker with a solid floor/high tackle rate as your LB1, the upside of Barrett and Jones is what I would be targeting at this point in the draft.
Demario Davis LB26 ADP 203
Davis was a first team all-pro in 2019 in his second season with the Saints. He matched his 2018 total tackles with 111 in 2019 but increased his passes defensed to 12 from 4. A model of consistency, he has had over a 100 combined tackles in 5 of the last 7 seasons and had at least 90 in the other 2. Is he that different from the bigger “names” going earlier in drafts? Last year he finished at LB14 and getting him in the 17th round has value written all over him. The earliest he’s been taken is at 122 so you don’t even have to worry about him going off the board until round 11.
Todd Davis LB31 ADP 225.67
Scoring systems play a huge role in IDP rankings and if you are in one that is very tackle dependent, Todd Davis should be on your target list. He finished 8th in the league in total tackles in 2019 with 134 but contributed little in the big play department. In 12 team leagues he’s going as an LB3 which is where he finished last year. Davis upped his tackle total from 114 to 134 despite missing two games and can reach 150 if he plays all 16. He’s not a sexy pick, but he can add some serious floor to your linebacker position.
Christian Kirksey LB34 ADP 239.75
With the departure of Blake Martinez to the Giants, the Packers filled his spot on the roster with free agent Christian Kirksey. Kirksey has missed large portions of the last two seasons in Cleveland, but Green Bay is counting on him to return to form. Martinez leaves over 1000 snaps for Kirksey to fill in and if he stays healthy, Kirksey has the ability to match his production from his healthy seasons. In 2016 and 2017 he played 100% of the snaps for Cleveland and averaged 142 total tackles. The ability and opportunity are there for him to come close to Martinez’s tackle total of 155 last year. At LB34, I’m buying at this reduced price. Is there risk? Of course, but as your LB3, his replacement cost won’t be high if it doesn’t work out.
These are some of your potential bargains examining early ADP. I’ll keep an eye on the ADP as the draft season progresses and revisit this topic in a few weeks. As always, keep safe and I can be found on twitter @gasdoc_spit for questions.