“The Amateur Ward” Top Rookie Linebackers and Defensive Linemen to Target
After a nice break from writing, it feels good to have the honor of writing the first fantasy football piece for Major League Fantasy Sports for 2016. Free agency was a circus as usual with players trading teams, and one team (Cleveland Browns) being left with scraps after their entire team nearly left them via free agency. Surprisingly, at the last moment, Josh Norman was de-franchise tagged, and then signed a whopping 5 year 75 million buck contract with the Redskins, meaning receivers will now run rampant in the NFC South. Free agency moves, however, will be covered later on. For now, let’s focus on rookies, particularly The Front Seven. This group definitely has a ton of talent, with some names that come with knee and injury concerns. Does that mean you shouldn’t draft them? NO! If anything, you should be the one willing to gamble on some of these names as they could be huge impacts from Day 1.
1.) Myles Jack (LB-JAX)- We are all well aware of his knee injury and degenerating knee meniscus, but this guy would have been the top overall pick had he not missed most of his 2015 campaign with UCLA. He is the most complete package of speed, power and finesse at linebacker from the entire linebacker class and his upside is astronomical. In Jacksonville he will make a scary combo with Telvin Smith playing opposite him, and he will rack up the tackles quickly and furiously. The Jaguars will keep a close eye on the knee situation, but make no mistake about it, Jack is a stud in the making, and will be a nightmare on the defensive end. He may take a little while to adjusting to covering NFL slot receivers, but his range and instincts are elite and he reminds some of Navorro Bowman coming out of college.
2.) Darron Lee (LB-NYJ)- Some may be surprised to see Lee this high, but he is the perfect fit for Todd Bowles scheme and will be able to take advantage of his speed in the Double A Gap blitz, meaning he will have the most direct shot at the quarterback, when the Jets play the blitz. The whole reason the Jets did not make the playoffs last season was because they lacked a pass rush, something that Lee will contribute immediately. Additionally, Lee possesses good coverage skills and can drop into coverage and bring running backs and receivers down. Bowles will be creative with Lee, whether he uses him on 3rd down blitzes, off the edge as a defensive end, or as a disguised pass rusher who drops into coverage. Lee will be a difference maker for the Jets from Day 1 and needs to be on your radar.
3.) DeForest Buckner (DE-SF)- Ducks reunited! When the 49ers selected Buckner seventh overall, they officially reunited him with former coach Chip Kelly and former teammate Arik Armstead. For once, Chip got it right at the pro level! The 49ers needed help on the edge badly, and Buckner will step in and be a cornerstone at defensive end for years to come. He is excellent against the run and has very active hands in swatting balls down. One thing that he will need to watch is his pad level off the snap, as he tends to play too high and then become vulnerable as he loses his power advantage setting the edge when he gets too high. After posting 10.5 sacks last season at Oregon, Buckner will use his size/speed/power combo to improve a 49ers unit that finished 29th in pass rushing last season. Bottom line is he is going to wreck offensive lines the way Calais Campbell has done for Arizona, and is an emerging stud at DE for the 49ers. Fantasy owners should draft him as their DE1 as he is a sack and tackle for loss machine.
4.) Shaq Lawson (DE/LB-BUFF)- Lawson disposes of blockers like trash off the snap and then gets to the ball carrier or quarterback extremely quickly. He is relentless, fearless and will provide instantaneous help in the pass rush game for the Bills after they finished 31st last season. He is not the pass rusher Buckner is, but Lawson is down right filthy versus the opponent. He is relentless and smart. He diagnoses plays very well and can change direction. He is never out of the play, and if he doesn’t make the play, he enables another player to make the play because of his diagnosing ability. The Bills will use him as an outside linebacker mostly and let him have a field day versus opposing tackles, before pursuing the ball carrier. He is not a pure pass rusher, but he could post a nice sack clip and rack up the stuffs, where he finished second in the category last season at Clemson. He needs to refine his technique some and develop a quicker first step, but he has considerable upside and should be on fantasy owners radars.
5.) Reggie Ragland (LB-BUFF)- Ragland is the most NFL ready linebacker, and he will be a Day 1 starter for the Bills on the inside. While he does not have the upside of some other linebackers, or former Tide backer C.J. Mosley, he is a huge hitter, with good quickness, tracks running backs and is a field general. During his senior season, he showed that he could cover tight ends in coverage and track running backs out of the backfield, something NFL scouts worried about with him, and polished up his open field tackling skills. When the Bills nabbed him in the second round, they got it right as they added one of the most physical linebackers in the draft, and one who will not only help in the run game, where he excels, but will also limit the effectiveness of opposing tight ends and make huge hits in the open field. Fantasy owners should view Ragland as an LB2, with upside to be a lower end LB1.
6.) Joey Bosa (DE-SD)- Personally, I would not draft Bosa, but that is because I do not like how he fits with the Chargers and I think he is overhyped. True, he has the highest floor of any defensive end on the board, but also limited upside. He is not, and I will repeat, he is not going to be a J.J. Watt like player, and he is a questionable fit on the Chargers 3-4 base scheme. They have Melvin Ingram and Jerry Attaochu at OLB and are solid with Reyes and Liuget at DE. So the Chargers are planning to use Bosa in a bunch of subpackages and positions on the defensive line to take advantage of his pass rushing and coverage skills. There is no denying he is going to have a great NFL career and be a difference maker for the Chargers. He will wreak havoc. I am just a bit leery of the fit. He would be higher if he had gone to a more traditional 4-3 defense. Granted, throughout the season, the Chargers do play some 4-3 in games, depending on the opponent, Bosa will be on the field a bunch whether in a 4-3 formation or subpackages in 3-4. His value to fantasy owners is somewhat diminished in a 3-4 defense, but he will still contribute some sacks, tackles for loss, passes defensed and stuffs.
7.) Su’a Cravens (LB/S-WSH)- I am bullish on this guy, and there is a reason for that. He is an absolute ballhawk and should contribute right away for the Redskins. Some experts expect he will only he on the field 12 percent of the snaps, because he is a tweener linebacker/safety, but that is a load of crap. The Redskins linebacking core is definitely solid. But, do not be surprised if they use him as an extra rusher off the edge, as he did post 11 sacks the past two seasons at USC from the strong safety position. If one of their outside linebackers gets hurt, Cravens would be considered for an extended look at the position by the Redskins as he matches tight ends and safeties off the line, and he has shown blitz ability. Monitor him going into draft day as he is a name to keep tabs on. Long-term, he profiles better as an outside linebacker, but he would be a mighty fine strong safety as well.
8.) Kamalei Correa (DE/LB-BAL)- The Ravens next pass rusher is a bit of an unknown coming out of Boise State, but he has a great motor, gets to the QB and can get to running backs and receivers in space. The downside: he is not a defensive end for the Ravens. He will be an outside linebacker and rely upon his pass rushing skills and motor to disrupt QBs and help set the edge for the Ravens defense. For an outside linebacker, he has good speed and can chase down players down field, if need be. He is very raw and the upside is immense. He played in a non-power 5 conference, but still blew up Pro Football Focus’ rankings across the board going into the draft and collected eight sacks, twelve hits and sixteen hurries last season at Boise St. Huge sleeper fantasy wise.
9.) Noah Spence (DE-TB)- Spence’s game is purely based on pass rushing, and he could quickly become an elite pass rusher, but he has to stay on the field. During his 2015 campaign, he was a man amongst boys as he flat out dominated his level of competition to the tune of 11.5 sacks, 22.5 tackles for loss, 15 quarterback hurries and three forced fumbles. Where he will need to be careful is his susceptibility to be bumped off his path by strong left tackles, and he will need to develop a secondary move in his pass rush repertoire to keep tackles honest. If he can do those two things and improve his hands in the rush game, he will be an impact for the Bucs from Day 1 as a defensive end. From a fantasy perspective, he should be considered as a DE2 and will contribute sacks, tackles for loss and a few deflected passes.
10.) Sheldon Rankins (DT-NO)- No secret, the Saints needed defensive help, badly and pass rushing help on the interior, and that is exactly what Rankins will bring. The Louisville product is a massive human being, and splits gaps incredibly quick for a defensive tackle. He also offers New Orleans flexibility as he can play any of the three defensive positions on the interior line and be a force. Teams may try to double him, but he is so explosive, they will likely be thrown aside as Rankins bowls into the quarterback or running back. He is a DT1 for any league and will be a top notch source of tackles for loss and sacks for a defensive tackle.
11.) Kentrell Brothers (LB-MIN)- Some of you who watched the draft are scratching your heads saying, “He wasn’t a pick in the first two days. Who is he?” Brothers, the Vikings fifth round pick is a deep sleeper and an absolute steal for the Vikings. When asked about him, Mike Zimmer stated that he would be open to moving Eric Kendricks to weakside linebacker and give Brothers time to develop as their middle linebacker. Brothers’ best attributes are that he is quicker than he is fast and he is always in a position to take down the ball carrier. He may never be an elite fantasy option, but he will be a damn good one for the Vikings and will add more value as he will also be used on special teams- where he blocked three field goal attempts last season. Owners should be excited about this kid and I am definitely going to be taking a flier on him as he just oozes with potential.
12.) Deion Jones (LB-ATL)- Apparently the Falcons’ approach to the draft was speed, speed and more speed. That is exactly what Jones will offer off the edge for the Falcons, who are dying for pass rush help. Running a 4.38 40 yard dash, Jones is definitely fast and should start day one at outside linebacker for the Falcons- across from 2015 first round pick, Vic Beasley. Make no mistake about it, this guy is a tackle extraordinaire and could play middle if the Falcons need him to, as he is also a dependable defender against the run and can get to the quarterback. If the Falcons groom him properly as a linebacker, he could be special as he is a speed demon and more than capable of picking off passes in coverage. He is worth a look as an LB3/high-end LB4, but he could surpass that category in his rookie season as the Falcons will need to keep him on the field.
13.) Kevin Dodd (DE/TEN)- Dodd is exactly what Tennessee needed: a pass rusher, but he is a bit of a one-trick pony in that he relies upon a devastating wiper move that blows up blockers hands before they get to your body. That’s great as it allows him to then get after the quarterback or running back. But he will need to develop a second move at the next level because not all blockers throw their punches when he expects them to, and then he gets pickled at the line of scrimmage and isn’t free to get into the backfield. He is still raw as a pass rusher, with good instincts and can read screens. But he still struggles to use his top speed consistently when pursuing. This may limit him at the next level to a 2 down end initially, but there is enough upside for him to potentially develop into a 3 down end. From a fantasy perspective, his rookie season should see him produce a decent sack and tackle for loss total and worth a shot as a DE 3/4.
14.)Robert Nkemdiche (DT/ARZ)- If not for off-field issues, he would be much higher than this. He lands in a spot where he will be groomed and be able to reach his full potential. Arizona has a knack for taking players who have character issues and bringing out the best in them, and it looks to be the same with Nkemdiche. The Cardinals need more pass rush, and he will fill that role, and the Cardinals will work with him on his technique, and getting him to keep his eye on the ball after initial contact with blockers. If he pans out, he will be a force from the defensive tackle position for the Cardinals, if not, he will be relegated to a backup role. Take a look at him late as your backup DT and see how he does.
15.) Leonard Floyd (LB/CHI)- Floyd is like a Swiss Army knife on the field, he can beat ya with all sorts of moves, can drop into coverage and beat you with finesse, but does not have a ton of pop. Widely viewed as a reach on Day 1 by the Bears, he will improve a unit that needs to start getting after the quarterback. He needs to beef up his frame and develop more pop to be an every down backer, or he could be relegated to sub packages and blitzing schemes. Expect to see him on the field a ton this season for Chicago and for him to make plays all over the field, leading to a stat line with a decent tackle clip, along with sacks, passes defensed and a pick or two. He is an LB4 to begin the season, but has the upside to be much more. He reminds some of Aldon Smith (the good one).
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Major League Fantasy Baseball Weekly: Join Lou Landers and Kyle Amore live on Thursday May 5th, 2016 from 8-10pm EST for episode #12 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Weekly. This will run every Thursday as a live broadcast that will take live callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. Our Thursday night show will do some weekly recaps, player updates, and preview the coming week end games.
Our guest this week is Eric Paulen. Eric Paulen is an Emmy and Peabody Award winner with significant experience leading large film/video production projects spanning all genres of television with A&E, ESPN, HBO Sports, CBS Sports, Sports Illustrated, The Travel Channel, WWE Network, The NBA, NHL Productions, NFL Films, and NCAA.
You can find our shows on I-Tunes. Just search for Major League Fantasy Sports in the podcasts section. For Android users go to “Podcast Republic,” then download that app, and search for “Major League Fantasy Sports Show”
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Major League Fantasy Baseball Show: Join Corey D Roberts on Sunday May 8th, 2016 from 7-9pm EST for this week’s episode of the Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show. We are a live call in radio show so we encourage callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. Every week we will do a quick recap of Fr-Sat games, and a forecast of Monday through Thursday’s games.
Our guest this week is Marc Foster. He is a former writer with MLFS, a two-time MLFB champ, and frequent guest on the shows this year.
“You can find our shows on I-Tunes. Just search for Major League Fantasy Sports in the podcasts section. For Android users go to “Podcast Republic,” then download that app, and search for “Major League Fantasy Sports Show”