Heading into the 2014 NFL season, CJ Mosley of the Baltimore Ravens was heralded as the future of the formidable Ravens defense.
Annoited as the natural successor to future hall of famer, Ray Lewis, the first round pick out of Alabama has been faced with high expectations from NFL scouts and fantasy owners alike. Week 4 of the NFL season was the real breakout for the Crimson Tide product, he finished with an impressive stat line of 11 solo tackles (7 solos and 4 assists) and 2 pass break ups. Mosley was a force against the run, clogging up lanes and diagnosing plays with veteran like efficiency, it was however against the pass where he showed a lot of progress in his play, slowing down a Panthers passing game that has done a lot of good work in the middle of the field.
If Mosley continues to grow at the rate he currently is, he will be a consistent, low end LB 1 by the end of the season. As the Ravens coaching staff continues to trust him more, look for him to make more big plays in coverage and as a blitzing linebacker.
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Anthony Barr is to be blunt with you readers, is a complete freak. He possesses the raw skill set of some of the best linebackers in NFL history and he has had a start to his career to match his lofty physical gifts. Barr has registered sacks in each of his last two games and has missed only 2/139 possible snaps in those games. If you take a look at the sack that Barr got against the Atlanta Falcons, it shows two things; his incredible closing speed and the fact that his football intelligence is something that many NFL scouts simply underestimated, Barr noticed a weak spot in the Falcons’ blocking scheme (a mis-read by Jacquizz Rodgers) and closed with a ferocity that few NFL players can match. Barr has a combined 23 tackles to match these two sacks as he has been equally as effective against the run. Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer has always thrived at drawing up creative ways for his linebackers to rush the passer and Barr seems to be a perfect fit as a guy who can rush up the A-gap and off the edge in nickel situations.
Mosley and Barr aren’t the only rookie linebackers thriving, and I will again turn your attention to one of the few bright spots in the Oakland Raiders continued odyssey of obsolescence, Khalil Mack.
The University of Buffalo product was taken No. 5 overall in 2014’s NFL draft and continues to be an every down linebacker for a Raiders defense that simply cannot get off the field. He only put up a total of five tackles in Week 4, playing in the historic Wembley stadium but he looked to be a threat off the edge when the Dolphins dropped back to pass. Mack has as much upside as Mosley and Barr but due to the lack of talent around him, he will take a little longer to reach the lofty LB1 status of his two rookie counterparts. It will also be interesting to see how the Raiders use Mack in the future, now they’ve fired Dennis Allen. Mack rushed the passer on 26/29 passing attempts against Miami, if the Raiders decide to make better use of Mack’s versatility, this will not only increase his weekly tackle floor as he’d be around the ball more if he was used in coverage but it will give offenses more to think about when trying to stop him, thus making him a more valuable weapon as a pass rusher.
To finish up this weeks column we have the second iteration of our new weekly feature; The Rookie Waiver Watchlist, featuring players who owners may not have rostered yet but who should be on their radars;
Prince Shembo, the incredibly named linebacker in Atlanta has ascended to a starting role alongside IDP stalwart, Paul Worrilow and impressed in his debut as a starter against the Vikings. He put up a stat line of four solos and four assists and was used a blitzer by the Falcons’ continually befuddled defensive coordinator, Mike Nolan. Shembo is nearing must-own territory and he’s someone that all owners should monitor.
Avery Williamson, the Titans are a mess on both sides of the ball at the moment and we know what that means, plenty of opportunities for tackles. Williamson, a fifth round pick out of Miami, registered seven tackles on only 26 snaps against the Colts. Titans beat writers seem to think that Williamson will continue to be given more snaps and that should only increase his production for fantasy owners.
E.J. Gaines, one of two Gaines drafted in May, E.J. has locked down a starting job for the Rams and has performed well in his three games so far. Gaines is a solid tackler and possesses DB3 upside as long as he’s on the field for a Rams team who should provide big play opportunity for DBs if their defensive line play can improve.
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