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Young LBs Primed for Opportunity

Oren Burks

Training camps are underway and the fight for playing time has begun for all 32 teams around the NFL. Those of us that play IDP fantasy football are sifting through all the reports coming out of camp trying to find the next break out stars at linebacker. Most IDP leagues generally start 3-4 linebackers, so depth and strength at the position is crucial.

In this article, I have discussed three ascending players that have a chance to make a major leap this year and can be acquired for a reasonably cheap price right now. As owners, we are always looking to acquire players before they start to break out and become more expensive. Without further ado, let’s dive into these three potential breakout candidates who can help bolster your linebacker core.

Oren Burks – LB – Green Bay Packers

The Green Bay Packers moved up 13 spots to 88th overall in the 2018 NFL Draft to select linebacker Oren Burks out of Vanderbilt. The idea was to hopefully find a counterpart for their rising star Blake Martinez in the middle of their defense. As a converted safety, Burks possesses great speed and athleticism at the position with his 4.59 40 yard dash and 39.5’’ vertical. At 6’3’’ and weighing 233 pounds, while possessing a 94th percentile SPARQ score for off-ball linebackers, Burks fits the new age three-down linebacker in the NFL.

Burks’ rookie year got off to a rocky start after he suffered a shoulder injury in the preseason and then struggled at times when he finally got on the field. Burks failed to make a big impact in his rookie season only logging 122 total snaps last year. It’s tough for rookies to come in and produce right out of the gate and suffering a nagging shoulder injury in the preseason didn’t help Burks’ cause at all.

Enter the 2019 season. The Packers depth chart at linebacker is wide open and bare to say the least. Previous starter Jake Ryan has moved on from the team and the job next to Martinez is up for the taking. With his outstanding athleticism, excellent coverage abilities, and strong off-season, Burks is already running with the ones to start training camp. Primed for a second-year leap, Burks should easily deliver LB3 numbers as I expect him to lock down a three-down role in Green Bay.

Rashaan Evans – LB – Tennessee Titans

Coming out of Alabama, linebacker Rashaan Evans had to wait his turn behind a stout linebacker group that included the likes of Reuben Foster and Shaun Dion Hamilton. When he finally got his chance to start at middle linebacker for the Crimson Tide as a senior, he did not disappoint. Evans led the team with 74 tackles (13 for loss) and added six sacks, thus showing he had a knack of getting into the backfield from all over. His big senior season, plus athleticism, and natural instincts were big reasons why the Tennessee Titans selected Evans in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft.

In his rookie season, Evans once again found himself stuck behind two high-quality linebackers in veteran Wesley Woodyard and second year man Jayon Brown. Evans suffered an off-season hamstring injury and then started off the season poorly when he was on the field. He really picked things up though in the second half of the year. In fact, Evans showed out so well in the second half of the season that he was named one of Pro Football Focus’ “Second Half Stars”, boasting a grade of 83.2 from weeks 10-17 per PFF.

While the Titans linebacker core is still crowded with Woodyard, Brown, and Evans all still there, it will be hard for the Titans to keep their young up and coming star off the field. Evans has proven to be stout against the run and his coverage ability improved vastly last year as he graded out as one of PFFs top coverage linebackers the second half of the season. I fully expect Evans to take over as the lead man of the Titans linebacker unit and produce solid tackle numbers along the way.

Chris Board – LB – Baltimore Ravens

After going undrafted in 2018, Chris Board decided to sign with the Baltimore Ravens, a team that has produced ultra productive UDFA linebackers such as Zach Orr and current player Patrick Onwuasor. A converted safety out of North Dakota State, Board showed his plus athleticism at his pro day posting a 4.60 40 and 6.80 three cone.

Pro Bowl linebacker CJ Mosley is gone via free agency and he leaves behind 875 snaps from last year. Some of those snaps will be inherited by returning starter Patrick Onwuasor, but there is a starting job up for the taking next to him. While Board is a prime candidate for the starting gig, he faces some competition from second year man Kenny Young who showed well at times last year.

Board has thoroughly impressed during off-season workouts and minicamp, which has resulted in him running with the starters during the beginning of training camp. Early reports out of camp have already stated that Board has been outshining his competitor Young for the open starting spot. The coaching staff has been particularly impressed with Board’s speed on the field. With Board out-playing his competitor so far and impressing the coaching staff with his play, I expect him to win the starting job to begin the year and easily produce LB3 numbers weekly with the possibility for more.

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