Youth is a thing of beauty, but when your profession is intentionally slamming into other men while you’re both running at full-speed, youth is priceless. As dynasty leagues grow in popularity, it’s essential to know which young players need to be targeted in trades and start-up drafts.
IDP (Individual Defensive Player) Dynasty Leagues are no different. The added challenge of knowing defensive players and offensive players makes Dynasty IDP leagues the pinnacle of fantasy football. So, if you’re reading this, welcome to the nerdiest corner of the fantasy football realm.
The following is a breakdown of my top 5 fantasy football Linebackers (LB) under 25. If you’re interested in how this Top 5 Under 25 series has panned out for the other fantasy positions, please see the following articles:
Let’s get to the Linebackers!
5. Patrick Queen (BAL): Age 22
Queen endured a roller-coaster second season with the Ravens. Drafted early in the 2020 draft, Queen has been targeted in many dynasty leagues as the premier ascending LB to roster. A 2021 breakout campaign was expected of Queen; however, his year-over-year stats were disappointing and remained largely the same from his rookie to sophomore season.
He had 65 tackles and 40 assists in his rookie season. This past year, he had 68 tackles and 30 assists. You may see those stats and see a player that’s stuck on a plateau, but the truth is less statistical. Around Week 5 of 2021, Queen was replaced as the team’s middle linebacker by veteran Josh Bynes. Per multiple reports throughout the season, Bynes brought a much-needed calming presence to the Ravens defense. Queen lost out on some stats and playing time, but he made fewer mistakes over the rest of the season, indicating that he’s still developing and could benefit from less pressure.
Queen is only 22 years old but has played two full seasons. His quality of play improved drastically this season due to less responsibility. Queen, whether he moves back to the middle linebacker role or not, will be statistically sound. He certainly has a chance to put up career numbers in 2022. And if not… he’s young enough that he’s worth the long-term hold. Sometimes a step back is the best way forward.
4. Isaiah Simmons (ARI): Age 23
Simmons has a talent problem. It’s not that he’s not talented. It’s the opposite. The man can do it all, which is not exactly to his statistical advantage. He’s played on the ball, off the ball, in the slot, and matched against TEs. No matter where he lines up, he’s stout in coverage, which makes him a real-life boon for the Cardinals. Still, it means he’s often pulled away from the most statistically advantageous middle linebacker position.
Regardless of that general positional inconsistency, Simmons put up some solid numbers in 2021. 68 tackles, 34 assists, seven pass deflections, 1 INT, and four forced fumbles. Furthermore, he jumped from playing 34% of offensive snaps his rookie season to 92% his sophomore season. The man can ball.
At only 23 years old, just two seasons of wear and tear, high draft capital invested in him, and his indispensable value as a Swiss-army knife, he’s sure to keep putting up numbers like he did this year. However, keep in mind that the Cardinals drafted Zaven Collins in 2021. He didn’t play much, but he could quickly become “the man” on Arizona’s defense, meaning Simmons might have a hard time bucking his versatility narrative.
3. Micah Parsons (DAL): Age 22
I genuinely feel bad for not ranking him at the top, but he’s only had one year of NFL experience, and he wouldn’t be the first player to be crowned king too soon. Nearly the defensive player of the year, Parsons was a monumental catalyst for the Cowboys’ defense. He still took home plenty of hardware, too: Rookie of the Year, Defensive Rookie of the Year, All-Pro First Team, and the Butkus Award for top LB in pro football.
All that being stated, the rookie wasn’t a pure linebacker. He shifted around the defense and was used as a mismatch piece more than a steady cog in the machine. He lined up most consistently at linebacker and defensive end, ultimately tallying a Cowboys rookie record of 13 sacks. He also tied as this season’s league leader in tackles for loss with 20. In total, he had 64 tackles and 20 tackle assists.
He’s only 22 and has the potential to build on a great rookie season. He needs to spend more time as a true middle linebacker, and the Cowboys need to keep defensive coordinator Dan Quinn around as long as possible, but Parsons is pure magic.
2. Devin White (TB): Age 24
White is coming off a down year, which is odd to say since he was still one of the top fantasy IDP options in 2021. In a nutshell, he was a revelation in 2020 but experienced some regression this season.
He went from 97 tackles and 43 assists in 2020 to 87 tackles and 41 assists in 2021. Not a massive drop, but he also declined from 9 sacks to 3.5 sacks. Many of us thought White might improve on his 2020 numbers, so anything less was always going to be a letdown. The loss in production is understandable. Most of the Buccaneers defense spent time injured in 2021, and White was forced to maintain the defense rather than take advantage of mismatches.
He’s 24, coming off his 3rd season, already a Super Bowl champion, and one of the surefire guys to put up monster stats every year. He’s got some red flags, though. In particular, Tampa Bay may undergo some coaching changes shortly. With Tom Brady retiring, it is anyone’s guess how long head coach Bruce Arians and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles will stick around, not to mention the big-name players who took discounts to chase a ring. The only thing that can stop White is the other 21 starters he has to put up with.
1. Roquan Smith (CHI): Age 24
Smith turns 25 in April, so he doesn’t top this list by the start of the 2022 season. He deserves this spot, though. What makes him the top LB under 25 is that he’s just 24 years old and has been delivering top-notch IDP performances for multiple seasons in a row. He tallied 95 tackles and 68 assists, which was the 6th highest total tackles in the league.
He’s the unquestioned head of the fantasy-friendly Chicago defense and is guaranteed to continue delivering league-leading performances for years to come. He’s a true middle linebacker, and he’s getting a new head coach who happens to be defense-oriented. While he doesn’t typically churn out sacks and interceptions, he’s a tackling machine, making his value more consistent than guys like Isaiah Simmons and Micah Parsons. He’s the top… for now.
If you want to dive deeper into fantasy football, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Football Tools as you navigate your season. From our Start/Sit Assistant – which provides your optimal lineup, based on accurate consensus projections – to our Waiver Wire Assistant – that allows you to quickly see which available players will improve your team and by how much – we’ve got you covered this fantasy football season.