Written by Jesse Shaw Follow me on Twitter @Jesse_DFW
Value is the name of the game when building a dominant dynasty team through trades and waiver wires and what better way than to get your guy before he blows up and commands top dollar? It’s fairly common knowledge that the key to fantasy is finding the perfect combination of talent and opportunity. When looking for breakout players it is good to remember that most players make their biggest jump in production in years two and three as it takes time to adjust to the NFL game.
For the linebackers I look for consistency. The linebacker position needs to be the base of your IDP squad therefore I don’t like to take risks on pass rushing OLBs. I understand the league has shifted to a more pass happy approach leading to an emergence in value of pass rushing LBs like Von Miller and Aldon Smith, and WLBs such as Wesley Woodyard and Zach Brown, but I only like to integrate these guys with a solid, consistent MLB core in leagues where I can start at least 3 LBs. Additionally, I also think it is just as important to be able to play all 3-downs as it is to be in that coveted MLB or ILB role.
Here are my guys to target this year that are primed to have breakout seasons. Depending on how deep your league is, you may be able to pick a couple of these guys off of waivers. If not, all are worth targeting for trade while their value is still good.
Mychal Kendricks: Philadelphia Eagles, 22 Years Old, Year 2
A former Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, there is a lot to love about Kendricks. He is tough, possesses insane speed for a LB (4.47 40 yd. dash), and is extremely athletic. Kendricks was productive at The University of California and displays a nice balance of skills allowing him to be a 3-down LB in Philadelphia. I also like that the Eagles drafted Kendricks in the 2nd round last year with the intent of having him as their future MLB and there is little doubt he will get the opportunity to be a complete stud this coming year. Not only did the Eagles draft Kendricks in the 2nd round to be their future MLB, Chip Kelly is familiar with him from their Pac-12 connections and has raved about Kendricks, leaving me little doubt that he will be a 3-down starting ILB in the new 3-4 system put in place.
Another reason I love Kendricks is the reports that this new system will allow him to run free and allow him to use his speed and athleticism to roam the field and make plays. Overall, the sky is the limit with Kendricks and I expect him to put up LB1 numbers this year and many years to come.
Vontaze Burfict: Cincinnati Bengals, 23 Years old, Year 2
Leading up to his final college season Burfict was projected as a first round talent and spawning comparisons to the one and only Ray Lewis. Burfict was talented but reckless LB at Arizona State and his off the field issues leading up to the 2012 draft were well document and not the type you want to be associated with. Never-the-less, Burfict got a chance with the Bengals and ran with it in his rookie season. Burfict was able to regain his college form and manage his aggressiveness well enough to become a tackle machine at WLB for the Bengals last year.
Based on skill and experience, Burfict fits best at the MLB position and it is very possible that he makes that transition this coming year. Whether he moves or not Burfict looks to be a productive IDP LB, but if he does I would expect his production to increase from his 127 total tackles last year and would be comfortable projecting him as a solid LB2 with LB1 upside in tackle heavy leagues.
Colin McCarthy: Tennessee Titans, 25 years old, Year 3
Coming out of college McCarthy was praised for his top notch instincts and his ability to shed blockers. He also possesses enough speed and athleticism to be a player at the next level. A productive LB in his final two seasons at Miami, McCarthy landed in Tennessee as a 4th round draft pick, and after the departure of Stephen Tulloch, McCarthy landed himself in a good situation.
McCarthy was able to grab significant playing time his rookie year and displayed enough talent and ability that many thought he was in for a breakout season in 2012. Unfortunately, injuries limited him to just 7 games last season and he wasn’t able to solidify himself at that MLB position. McCarthy is now healthy and is the leader to grab that starting MLB position this coming season, making him a solid LB2-LB3 prospect. It is important to note that McCarthy’s upside could be limited by his noted struggles in pass coverage, and unless he improves he may be only a 2-down player. My recommendation is to keep an eye on his development in camp this year because if he is able to improve enough in coverage to stay on the field on 3rd down his upside jumps him to a high LB2 and he would be a great young LB to solidify your IDP lineup.