As IDP enthusiasts we fall in love with prospects every year. Annually my summer ends with cutting one, two or three of the rookie safeties I have collected on a hunch in the hopes that they will start. Inevitably I cut the wrong guy (i.e. Budda Baker). So yeah, we all make mistakes. This series of articles is meant to help you avoid doing the same.
In 1989 Guns N Roses released a pretty awful ballad entitled “Patience”. The song professed; “Sugar make it slow and we’ll come together fine, all we need is just a little patience”. This was a far cry from their rowdy breakthrough anthem “Welcome to the Jungle”, yet it shows maturity through time in the limelight. Surely if even Izzy, Slash and Axl Rose can grow up and be slightly more mature, we too can exude a little patience when it comes to our dynastic approach (yeah, yeah)! Why must we continuously betray our drafted IDP rookies for literally greener prospects?
“As I lay in bed at night, I am just tryin’ to get things right, all I need is just a little patience”. – Axl Rose (and also me)
The moral of this metaphor is to treat your drafted IDP rookies like children who are not quite ready to leave the house. With that in mind let’s take a look at 6 second-year LBs that are primed to come alive in 2018.
Chase Allen, Miami Dolphins – What? No Raekwon McMillan love?! Nah, Allen is an impressive blue-collar worker with the tools necessary to succeed. Many LBs are so much sexier, but Allen could rise as 2018 progresses. This may be a longshot but any time Allen saw extra snaps he found production. Miami needed him to play just 24% of the snaps in weeks one and two in 2017, and he responded with 10 total tackles in his first two NFL games! The undrafted 6-foot-3 240 pounder out of Southern Illinois is just one of those great stories of rookies coming out of nowhere to make an impact. He was a longshot to even make the team and Miami, fortunately, made a smart decision. Remember Allen’s name when the Dolphins don’t draft an LB in the first five rounds and maybe he will find production for you too.
Dylan Cole, Houston Texans – Dare I say Zach Cunningham might be better served as an outside backer? Not to mention current SLB Brian Cushing is older than sin (or 32). Cole is 6-foot and 235 pounds which is a more natural size at ILB. The kid from Missouri State has fluid instincts inside and playing next to a guy like Benardrick McKinney could certainly enhance those instincts. On just a 21% snap percentage Cole recorded a tackle percentage of 14%. It is safe to view Cole as an LB2 even if he is a two-down backer, as long as he gets a plus-50% snap share.
Jayon Brown, Tennessee Titans – Who doesn’t love this kid? Starting ILBs Avery Williamson (free agent) and Wesley Woodyard (32 years old in July) could both be gone! Williamson is unrestricted and if the Titans cut Woodyard it would save them 4.2 million greenbacks. Brown has 4.7 speed and he will turn just 23 on February 26th. On a 45% snap share Brown recorded 52 total tackles in 2017. His tackles numbers certainly could have been better. However, he was asked to play plenty of pass coverage snaps. New HC Mike Vrabel could make him the centerpiece/attack backer in his 3-4 scheme. At the very least Brown should see more early down snaps and that will help his tackle production.
Haason Reddick, Arizona Cardinals
Let’s be honest, things did not click for Reddick during his rookie season. Those of us that spent a mid-second on him expected so much more. Reddick saw a 42% snap share and made 36 total tackles, 5.5 TFLs, and 2.5 sacks. That is respectable production for any rookie but not for the 13th overall draft pick.
‘Zona felt more comfortable using the converted DE (he was a converted DB prior to that) at OLB. Reddick’s main issue last season was competing for snaps with the elder Karlos Dansby. Also, once he got healthy Deone Bucannon was the preferred option in sub-package. New HC Steve Wilks may see things differently as he instills his 4-3 scheme. It’s likely that Chandler Jones will slide from his SAM spot (in the 3-4) to DE. Regardless if he plays inside or on the edge, Reddick will see a snap increase. Markus Golden, who missed most 2017, should return to his SLB/speed rusher role. Bucannon seems likely to take on the MLB spot. That would make Reddick the WLB full-time. Which should get his snap percentage over 60%. #opportunity
Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Detroit Lions – The upcoming 2018 season should give us a 100% healthy JRM. His 25 total tackles (21 solo) were achieved on just a 22% snap share (that’s just 17.1 snaps per game during the 14 games he was available). His tackle percentage was a salty 13%. The 2017 4th-rounder dealt with a nasty shoulder injury during the 2016 season, his last year at Tennessee. Prior to that, he recorded back-to-back 100 tackle seasons for the Volunteers. Fellow 2017 rookie LB Jarrad Davis and JRM are the only current Lion LBs under contract. Tahir Whitehead is the biggest name possibly on the move, and he would be the domino in JRM’s way to a plus-70% snap share next season. New HC Matt Patricia may attempt to lure former Patriot and current free agent speedbacker Marquis Flowers to Motown, which could hurt JRM’s snap share. Although it is also likely that Patricia will fall in love with JRM’s tackling and fearlessness.
Patricia will also have to address the pass rushing situation, as both Ziggy Ansah and Dwight Freeney are pending free agents. With both the free agent market and draft classes being slightly weak Ansah is likely to be retained. However, if JRM can develop as a pass rusher (8 sacks in two years as a full-time starter at Tennessee) he could find himself on the field more often in sub-package.
Carl Lawson, Cincinnati Bengals – I loved this kid in college, quite possibly more than anyone else. I honestly believe his health issues prevented him becoming a top 20 overall pick. He is a sack-dependent player. However, his 8 sacks on 42% of snaps were very impressive. What was not impressive was Lawson’s 15 total tackles which include his 8 sack, while 9.5 of those tackles were TFLs. All of this means that Lawson had a very specific role within the Bengal scheme. New Cincinnati DC Teryl Austin has a history with younger players and helping them make progressive strides. Austin has been especially good in developing LBs and making them more well-rounded players. If he can turn Lawson into a strong side edge setting player we could have a consistent LB2/3 on our hands.