Finding the difference between an LB2 in IDP leagues and a top-five option isn’t easy. There are a lot of factors to consider including scheme, personnel, and more. The five linebackers below will typically be viewed as LB2s heading into the season but, because of those factors noted above, could catapult to a top-five finish.
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LB2s With Top-5 Potential
Here are linebackers with upside to target in IDP leagues.
If not for an injury that kept Pete Werner out of most of the second half of the 2022 season, he might already be a top-five fantasy linebacker. Through just 12 games of his sophomore campaign, Werner totaled 78 tackles – well on his way to over 100 – plus three passes defended and two forced fumbles all while primarily playing only on first and second down. Fast forward to 2023 and his ankle injury is completely healed and he seems to have the confidence of the Saints brass behind him. New Orleans didn’t draft a linebacker with any of their seven picks nor did they spend any substantial resources in free agency on one. Werner will, once again, team up with three-down linebacker Demario Davis to lead the Saints’ defense, a fact that may keep Werner under the radar in some IDP drafts. But should he stay healthy all season, Werner could be the better fantasy linebacker.
Frankie Luvu may win the award for most unlikely to finish as a top-five IDP linebacker but he deserves it. The former undrafted free agent started his career way back in 2018 with the New York Jets and played sparingly, specifically never more than 45% of the snaps and only once more than 28% of the snaps between three seasons in New York and one in Carolina. Bur Luvu broke out in 2022, playing nearly 92% of the defensive snaps which allowed him to turn in career-highs across the statistical board – 111 total tackles, seven sacks, four passes defensed, and even a pick. Quite simply, Luvu was all over the field both inside and out.
In 2023, he and the rest of the Panther defense will be coached by former Bronco defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero who led Denver to a top-11 finish in defensive DVOA. That’s a far cry from the Carolina defense that ranked 25th and should help everyone including Luvu.
It hasn’t been the smoothest road for Willie Gay in the NFL but he’s gotten better in each of these three seasons and is primed to take it to the top level. Drafted in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft, Gay was expected to make an immediate impact coming out of Mississippi State but his rookie season results were mixed, at best, starting in just half the season’s games and totaling just 39 tackles while playing just 25% of the Chiefs defensive snaps. His sophomore season was better, seeing the field for 57% of snaps and upping his tackle count to 48.
But 2022 was a semi-breakout for Gay. He played 69% of the defensive snaps and set career-highs with 88 tackles – nine of those for losses – and added an impressive eight passes defended. The 2023 season is a contract year for Gay so he’ll be extremely motivated to outperform even those numbers. And while the Chiefs drafted depth for the linebacker room and signed veteran Drue Tranquill, don’t expect Gay to be coming off the field a whole lot – he’s a playmaker who the Chiefs will need if they’re going to repeat.
Of all the linebackers on this list, Nicholas Morrow may be walking into the best situation around him. Coming off a career year in 2022 with 116 tackles, Morrow signed as a free agent with the defending NFC Champion Eagles. And while much has been made of the additions Philadelphia made via the draft in the form of Jalen Carter, Nolan Smith, and more, Morrow will get the nod to start the year.
And what is Morrow stepping into? The top two tackle totals on the Eagles’ defense last year belonged to linebackers T.J. Edwards (159) and Kyzir White (110). Both left in free agency with Edwards joining Tremaine Edmunds in Chicago and White signing in the desert with the Cardinals. Between them, that’s 269 tackles unaccounted for. Last year’s first-round pick, Georgia pick Nakobe Dean is expected to step into a starting role but Morrow will have the other. If Morrow can land the Edwards role, that was good for 94% of the defensive snaps last year. Even if Morrow draws the White role, that’s a healthy 76% of the snaps and plenty of opportunity to fill the stat sheet.
Eric Kendricks has never been the sexiest IDP pick in his eight-year career. He’s been a constant 100-tackle player and good pass defender, totaling at least a half dozen passes defended in six of those eight seasons. He’s been the epitome of an LB2 when it comes to fantasy scoring.
So what makes him have the top-five potential now? Kendricks was that reliable LB2 in Minnesota but has now moved on to Los Angeles. He’ll see at least 90% of the snaps, as last year’s Chargers linebacker Drue Tranquill did, so opportunity won’t be a problem. More importantly, he’ll be parachuted in between superstars on defense. Between Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack on the edges and Derwin James in the secondary, Kendricks will be fairly low on the priority list of opposing offenses and will have plenty of space in the middle to roam free.