As we begin to settle into this off-season, our team here at DFF has decided to tackle a list of sleepers at each position. As you’ve probably already noticed, this isn’t just offensive sleepers; this 7-part series will consist of IDP sleepers as well. We know not every league is offense-only so we’ve got you covered. In case you missed it, we’ve already looked at the wide receiver, defensive back, defensive line and running back positions, but today we’ll look at linebackers.
LB Shaq Thompson, Carolina Panthers
Drafted 25th overall by the Carolina Panthers in 2015, Thompson has yet to make a name for himself in the league. He’s a bit undersized at 6’0″ 228 lbs, but he is explosive and his versatility allows him to be used in the front seven and in the secondary. It’s likely in his third season he could develop into a hybrid linebacker.
According to a recent article by Brian Strickland of Panthers.com, the Panthers are looking to use Thompson much more in 2017. What is extremely intriguing is how he finished the 2016 season. Thompson had a total of 11 tackles vs Atlanta in week 16, and finished the season with a four game QB pressure streak. Finding the players that finish hot at the end of the season can often result in them starting hot the next year. It is worth taking a gamble on Thompson.
LB Tyler Matakevich, Pittsburgh Steelers
Matakevich played mostly on special teams this year. He was given limited opportunity to show his competitive toughness and his ability to be a tackling machine. His college production at Temple was impressive, as he recorded 100-plus tackles in all four years there. He counters his lack of speed and lateral agility with outstanding play recognition and fast mental processing.
The crystal ball for what he could be on the Steelers defense came in week six vs the Dolphins. Playing only 26% of defensive snaps and 73% of special teams’ snaps, Matakevich recorded seven solo tackles and two assisted tackles. If he is given a starting opportunity in Pittsburgh, his return on investment will be well worth it.
LB BJ Goodson, New York Giants
With only 13 defensive snaps in 2016, this isn’t a promising start to BJ Goodson’s career on a linebacker needy Giant’s team. The optimistic outlook for 2017 is that there will be an opportunity for him to be a starter. With Keenan Robinson and Kelvin Sheppard both free agents this offseason, Goodson could be plugged right into a starting role.
Goodson is a physical linebacker with a hit ‘em hard, old-school mentality. He can come downhill quickly to stuff the run, shredding lineman at the point of attack. Time will tell if his redshirt rookie year allowed for enough progression for him to start for the Giants in 2017.
LB Joshua Perry, Los Angeles Chargers
Joshua Perry was one of my favorite linebackers to come out of the 2016 NFL Draft. When you watch him play, you can tell he loves the game. Coaches and teammates will tell you the same. In his last season at Ohio State he recorded 105 total tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks and 4 pass deflections.
Perry is very smart, able to identify the play with very fast mental processing. He is very quick, with light feet and has the speed to get into the backfield quickly. Standing at 6’4” and 255 lbs, his physicality was evident every time he was on the field.
Jatavis Brown drafted one round later than Perry,and stole the show in 2016. Brown is fast and athletic, but he is undersized at 5’11” and 227 lbs. He lacks the functional strength to hold up at the point of attack and has a tough time recovering from redirected blocks. As impressive as Brown was with his opportunity, Perry is one to keep on your radar.
LB Myles Jack, Jacksonville Jaguars
One of the most athletic and versatile players to ever hit the football field, Myles Jack has nothing but potential and upside in his favor. After his lateral meniscus tore off the bone in his last season at UCLA, it was uncertain whether Jack would play for the Jaguars in 2016. Well, he would get the opportunity but the production was underwhelming. With Doug Marone now taking over as the Head Coach in Jacksonville, one would think that he would find a way to get Jack more playing time and opportunity.
Bonus: Injury Reminder-
LB Reggie Ragland, Buffalo Bills
Ragland is an instinctive linebacker with an old-school, blue-collar play style. He plays with a relentless nature and has the functional strength to be considered a hard hitter. Unfortunately for Ragland, his rookie year ended early when he tore his ACL in Bill’s training camp. Ragland was poised for a big role in the Bill’s defense in 2016. This will be the same scenario for him in 2017. He’s a tackling machine, and will have a very good opportunity to put up near LB1 production.
Every new NFL season brings with it millions of predictions and projections for real life and for fantasy. 2017 will be no different. With the 2016 fantasy season over and the draft and free agency yet to come, every move will impact multiple players across all positions. This list is a work in progress, but as of today, these are a few players to keep an eye on during the off-season and might be worth grabbing when draft day rolls around.