2021 Free Agent Positional Preview: Linebacker (non-EDGE)
I researched the available free agent lists in late-Feb./early March in order to get a feel for the marketplace and identify key players likely on the move; players that could shift teams fortunes under-the-radar if a team landed/grabbed a bunch of them. We have the obvious names, the under-the-radar, and the trap doors to look at.
Here’s my take on 2021 NFL free agency…the players I’m really watching for fantasy, handicapping, etc., on where they might land.
The Top 3 Available According To NFL Analysts:
1) Lavonte David, TB – The best linebacker on the field in the 2020 season among all the non-EDGE linebackers, so he’s easily everyone’s fave. The problem is, he’s going to be 32.5+ years old during the season – are the Bucs going to give him a 3-year deal for a lot of money at that age? I’m sure the Bucs will have no problem landing some other aging, talented linebacker on a 1-year deal who will take a discount to play with Brady/the defending champs.
David is likely to want big money that the Bucs don’t want to give.
2a) Jayon Brown, TEN – Was on his way to another nice season but got hurt and missed games, and thus lost a little media momentum here. Plus, the Titans defense stunk so that doesn’t help Brown’s name either.
2b) Matt Milano, BUF – Milano missed a few games midseason and tight ends then went off on the Bills defense. He’s a critical piece for Buffalo. I think the Bills would like to retain him but I’m not sure he’s an absolute priority with tight money this year.
The Top 3 Talents Available/To Target If I Were an NFL GM:
1a) Eric Wilson, MIN – I could go with Wilson or Brown or Milano, but I put Wilson here because he’s going to sail right under the radar because he was buried for years by Mike Zimmer and no one is paying attention to it or they fear the lack of attention would mean they’d look stupid if they pursued it with enthusiasm. A great bargain here as a jack of all trades linebacker who is better in pass coverage and pass rushing, in an era where the pass is king. Run stuffer, throwback ILBs are not the order of the day/decade.
I go Wilson here at #1 due to his likely cost being a fraction of Brown or Milano.
1b) Jayon Brown, TEN – As good as Wilson, similar skill sets, but Brown has more attention so his price tag is more expensive…so why not just go Wilson and save MILLIONS (insert Dr. Evil look here)?
1c) Matt Milano, BUF – A little lesser version of Brown and Wilson, to me. Great in coverage but lacking otherwise.
These 3 guys are 26-27 years old whereas Lavonte David and other ‘recognizable’ names are 30+.
The Top 3 Values/Sleepers According to FFM:
1) Dennis Gardeck, ARI – You know this is my lovechild…likely never to be fulfilled, but I kept up hope for Eric Wilson for several years…so, I’m not inclined to fold my beliefs here. AND we all got to see a glimpse of his talent late last year as a key pass rusher filling in for Chandler Jones a few snaps a game.
The thing is, Gardeck could be a legit starting ILB (I think) but he’s been pigeonholed…while other total zeros (a list of which you’ll see in the next segment below) get chance after chance, despite outright sucking – but they went to big name schools and were highly ranked/drafted and therefore they are still ‘special’/hopefuls and Gardeck probably isn’t known to be a player in the league to 50%+ of the NFL GMs.
PLEASE LEAVE ARIZONA! But I don’t know where he could go where he’d get the time of day anyway.
2) Dylan Cole, HOU – Everything I said about Gardeck has some truth for Cole…except Cole is older and now has a leg injury on the books. His peak time may have past, but he’ll definitely be a bargain.
3) Tyus Bowser, BAL – A former 1st-round ranked prospect for some in 2017, was a 2nd-round pick ultimately. Can work as a pass rusher and can play the pass as an OLB as well – 3 INTS last season as a part-time player/backup AND 14 QB hits (but just 2.0 sacks) in limited time. He had 5.0 sacks as a part-timer in 2019. There’s some raw clay to work with here and he’ll be just 26 years old this season.
The Top 3 Problems According to FFM:
1) Jarrad Davis, DET -- the #21 pick overall in 2017, and as I predicted back to his pre-draft…a bust. Guaranteed his past rankings gets him a gig somewhere. The NFL is so ridiculous.
2) Denzel Perryman, LAC – Another guy everyone said was going to be great and he ended up a bust. I think he cost the Chargers just by being on the field he was so bad, but Anthony Lynn is a genius and that’s why he’s the successful coach of the LA Chargers still…I mean…
Perryman makes a few tough hits in the middle, and it makes the highlights, and everyone gets all excited…but then the Chargers are terrible against the run, statistically, so does he even matter? Very weak covering the pass as well.
Enjoy reuniting with Lynn in Detroit. He’s a perfect new-Lions mentality player.
3) Raekwon McMillian, LV – Another ‘best LB in the draft’ proclamation from analysts a few years ago. Why? He went to Ohio State, so he has to be great, right? Too bad I can’t put Reggie Ragland on here too…he’s a free agent and is the epitome of ridiculous ‘where they went to school matters most’ scouting.
-- Lavonte David is not re-signed by the Bucs. They might tag him, but I think (coming off a Super Bowl) they can make the move to not invest the money in a player about to fall off based on age. If the Bucs don’t sign him, he will take a nice deal to go to like Las Vegas (Gruden). Possibly goes to Buffalo if they flip him and let Milano go.
-- Jayon Brown is 50/50 to stay with the Titans. They have some space but they also have depth at linebacker so they may save money here to deploy elsewhere. Where would he go? Miami is my first guess.
-- Matt Milano stays in Buffalo is my guess on him, but not 100% confident…and he isn’t back if Buffalo inks Lavonte David. D-C Leslie Frazier knows David from his time as D-C of the Bucs years back.
-- Look for Eric Wilson to be grabbed by Denver, where the new GM is the old top personnel guy for the Vikings.
-- The perfect linebacker pairing…new Lions HC Dan Campbell and FA LB Dennis Gardeck.
College Football Metrics (CFM) 2021 Season – For Dynasty Rookie Drafts, NFL Drafts, Handicapping, etc.
It’s going to be a scouting NFL Draft season like no other – some top prospects opting out of their final college season, a unique schedule for CFB teams to have played, a different type of bowl season…a whole new backdrop to scout against. An experienced, talented scouting eye is going to rule. I have 10+ years of successful CFM scouting and analytics to lean on – I’m ready for the challenge.
I know the mainstream football analysis is going to butcher this year’s class even worse than normal – because they are going to blindly favor big school prospects more than ever, because those schools will have the only names they are truly familiar with, and it’s just the ‘name’ they are familiar with not their ‘game’. They’ll ‘hive mind’ run with whatever names the collective seems to be buzzing about – because they don’t put in the work, they just echo things they’ve heard. I’m not saying that to be a jerk – it’s the open window of opportunity (their failure) that I was able to build my career/business upon.
I spend many hours each offseason day/week/month researching the current class of top 100+ prospects individually as well as all the smaller school and ‘lesser named’ prospects our computer models start to identify. I study and compare prospect’s tape, and I input the performance data (weighted with our secret, proprietary scouting formulas) to get a firsthand feel for it so I can analyze and test/challenge all our analytics. I get to know these prospects on the field, statistically, and do character background research as well -- so I can boil it down to reports so my private clients and subscribers (from serious fantasy players, to professional handicappers, to agents, to NFL war room personnel) can know these prospects by description and statistically – for NFL purposes, for Dynasty Rookie Draft purposes, for Fantasy Best Ball/Redraft purposes in the preseason, and for handicapping and prop betting purposes.
If you love Fantasy Football, if you love the NFL Draft process – I guarantee you’ll never look at the process the same way again with a CFM subscription.
As the regular season football ends, a whole new season of football discovery begins with our ‘CFM’ subscription and study or current and past rookies (offense and defense) – and material flows daily all offseason January to September (NFL season start), leading us to using the material to our advantage for the NFL regular season.
Go to our College Football Metrics or Fantasy Football Metrics subscription pages for more information.
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