NFL Draft News & Analysis

Fantasy Football: Linebacker IDP rankings for the 2024 NFL Draft

2NM34XD Michigan linebacker Junior Colson (25) during the Orange Bowl NCAA College Football Playoff semifinal game, Friday, Dec. 31, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (Ryan Kuttler/South Florida Stadium via AP)

Michigan’s leader on defense leads this year’s class: Junior Colson was one of the top defenders on the best defense in the country in 2023 and is primed for an IDP-relevant career as he heads into the NFL draft.

Prospects with traits and potential make their way up the board: See where combine risers like Trevin Wallace and Jordan Magee rank pre-draft.

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The NFL draft is right around the corner and with so much draft content available and plenty of film having been watched to this point, it’s time to finally solidify some pre-draft IDP fantasy rankings for this year’s class.

IDP gamers love their linebackers, and there are plenty with potential in this year’s class as we head into the NFL draft. These dynasty IDP rookie rankings will take into account each player’s college career, production profiles, projected draft capital and personal bias for what I think about these players after watching their tape while combining everything else to sort them out.

Check out some of the other fantasy-related work on this year’s quarterback class:

1. Junior Colson, Michigan

Colson is one of the most proficient all-around linebacker prospects in this year’s class, which should translate to relatively strong draft capital and increase his opportunity for overall playing time once he gets into the NFL. It’s always going to be difficult to get ideal playing time in Year 1 for rookie linebackers, but Colson has the experience as a starter, as well as the leadership qualities and ability to run a defense that is going to be something NFL coaches should love. He just helped lead the best defense in the country to a national championship in 2023 and is more than capable of winning a starting job right out the gate depending on where he lands.

Part of what makes him such a great option is his reliability, committing zero penalties this past season while consistently improving his overall missed tackle rate year-over-year. As a freshman playing over 500 defensive snaps, he was already able to deliver a strong 8.2% missed tackle rate but then built on that with more snaps and responsibility the next two seasons, culminating in an excellent 4.7% missed tackle rate which tied for second-best in the entire FBS among linebackers with at least 500 snaps.

In coverage, Colson’s continues to be as sound as they come, especially in 2023 where he finished with a career-high 83.4 PFF coverage grade. While he didn’t have an interception in his college career, he’s done a nice job limiting the glaring negative plays as a coverage defender, which a lot of the time is the most we can ask out of that position. Colson could very well get second-round draft capital and put himself in a position to be an immediate IDP contributor, if not this season then as soon as Year 2.

Colson’s 2023 coverage ranks versus this 2024 LB class:
Metric Value 2024 LB prospect rank
Coverage grade 83.4 5th
Completion rate allowed 69.4% T-4th
First down/touchdown rate allowed 25.0% T-3rd
Yards allowed per coverage target 5.1 3rd
Explosive (15+) play rate allowed 0.6% 4th

2. Payton Wilson, North Carolina State

Wilson is the closest competition for that top IDP linebacker spot in my rankings, and there’s always a chance that an ideal landing spot versus a poor one for Colson will allow the flip to happen, as there is a lot to like about the 2023 Butkus and Chuck Bednarik awards winner. PFF’s top-ranked linebacker on the big board is an electric playmaker for the position, as he always seems to find himself around the ball in order to rack up tackles, deliver sacks and even come up with interceptions. 

Wilson led this class in tackles in 2023 (130) while coming up with six sacks and three interceptions. It’s important to not get too caught up in box score production for college linebackers as it is full of unstable metrics when translating to the NFL, but instead just knowing that a player was completely inefficient is a red flag we’re looking to avoid, and Wilson easily clears that.

Wilson’s aggressiveness and willingness to be around the ball make him a high-end playmaker, but there are times when that can work against him and put him well out of position on a regular basis. The 2023 season is going to be the lone reason he’s ranked as highly as he is, as the rest of his college work isn’t as encouraging, but what he accomplished this past year was a significant upgrade worth investing in. He delivered an 89.9 overall grade to go along with an 83.7 PFF run-defense grade and a 90.4 PFF coverage grade while tying Colson for that excellent 4.7% missed tackle rate — all of which were top-three marks for this class.

3. Edgerrin Cooper, Texas A&M

Cooper is another one of the more “fun” linebacker prospects to watch because, much like the previously mentioned Wilson, he’s a high-end playmaker for the position and it’s hard not to fall in love with that no matter how unstable those plays could be going from college to the NFL. In 2023, Cooper was utilized a lot in a QB spy role on passing downs as he stayed close to the line of scrimmage with the option to chase down quarterbacks either as a blitzer or if the pocket was broken, and he was really effective. Cooper managed a career-high 85.5 PFF coverage grade (11th in the FBS) to go along with 27 pressures and 10 sacks as he thrived in that new role this past season.

Cooper also found a lot of comfort as a run defender, getting around second-level blockers with quickness and agility and consistently putting himself in the right position to make a play and help him be productive at a high rate. There are still some areas to clean up like missed tackles, which have improved year-over-year, while also getting more work as a traditional coverage linebacker, but Cooper is trending toward Day 2 draft capital, which is going to help his case. However, depending on the roster he lands on, he won’t be a lock to establish himself in a starting or full-time role as a rookie.

4. Jeremiah Trotter Jr., Clemson

Similarly to Cooper, Trotter is an aggressive linebacker who does a nice job of winning against blockers with quickness to avoid getting locked up. However, he doesn’t have great size, which can be a recurring issue when it comes to wrapping up the ball carrier. He missed 15 tackles in 2023 and 27 over the past two seasons.

Even with the missed tackle issues, Trotter delivered a strong 80.7 career PFF run-defense grade over three seasons and a 10.2% run-stop rate, both of which are sixth-best in this year’s class. Most importantly, Trotter was the top performer across all key stable metrics for the position over the past two years, including the best overall PFF coverage grade (92.1), the best PFF coverage grade from the slot (89.9) and the second-best forced incompletion rate (12.5%).

5. Cedric Gray, North Carolina

Gray is an exciting player with a lot of IDP potential and if not for more inconsistencies in his game than others, he’d probably be a lot higher on this list. As good as Gray is at reacting to plays and making tackles at a high rate, there are also a lot of plays where he makes the wrong read and puts himself way out of position, which is something that can at least be coached up and fixed over time.

During his college career, Gray was the best in this class in first contact rate (12.2%), helping him deliver a top-five career tackle efficiency (14.9%) for his position, but also 57 missed tackles over the past three years — the third-most in this class. For Gray, being able to read offenses more consistently could be a big help in developing into one of the better linebackers to emerge from this class, especially for IDP. With that consistency and coaching at the next level, Gray still has enough experience and potential to earn a rotational role early in his NFL career leading to an eventual starting role down the road.

6. Trevin Wallace, Kentucky

Outside of the top five is where rankings start to vary wildly, as draft capital and landing spots become more important. Wallace was one of the top risers at this year’s combine, which included running a 4.51-second 40-yard dash time at 240 pounds, which is 93rd percentile for the position, and a 127-inch broad jump, which ranks among the 92nd percentile for his position. His athleticism is a clear asset watching him on the field, as he is quick to put himself in the right position and if not, he’s quick to recover and still find his way to the ball carrier. 

With more experience and coaching, Wallace could potentially clean up a lot of the play recognition concerns that kept him from earning strong coverage and run-defense grades for most of his career. Specifically in zone, Wallace is often late to recognize receivers entering his coverage area, which can lead to easy completions, but again, his recovery and speed allow him to at least make the tackle. Wallace is undoubtedly a work in progress for the position, but there are a lot of desirable traits evident to make him a moldable piece of clay worth investing in for an NFL team looking to buy into the long-term potential of a highly athletic prospect

7. Jordan Magee, Temple

Magee, much like Wallace, isn’t highly ranked on the PFF big board, but there are a number of redeeming factors to put him in consideration with better draft capital and a future IDP-relevant role. For Magee, size and strength are the biggest concern when translating to the NFL, as he ranks 11th percentile in weight and 33rd percentile in wingspan. What he lacks in size, though, he makes up for in athletic ability, earning a 9.32 relative athletic score after his performance at the combine.

Magee also earned a strong showing in PFF’s stable metrics for the position over the past two years, headlined by his 83.6 PFF run-defense grade since 2022 (third) and 10.1% run-stop rate (tied for seventh). His strength in run defense allowed Magee to post an 11.3% first contact rate for his career (fourth in the class) and a top-10 career tackle efficiency (13.4%). The hope for Magee is that an NFL team is willing to look past his size and bet on his athleticism and recent body of work to become an eventual NFL and IDP contributor.

8. Edefuan Ulofoshio, Washington

Similar to Magee, Ulofoshio is also not a big player for his position, but his athleticism and traits make him an enticing prospect who may earn higher draft capital than initially expected after a strong combine. Ulofoshio posted one of the better relative athletic scores (9.65) for his position on top of a strong collection of positive showings in PFF’s stable metrics over the past two seasons. Unfortunately, with size concerns and an injury history already in his career that includes a torn ACL in 2022, there might not be enough to push him into a more desirable Day 2 draft capital spot while also being an older prospect at 24 years old.

9. Tommy Eichenberg, Ohio State

Rounding out the top 10 with two highly-ranked linebackers on the PFF big board, Eichenberg comes in as the sixth-ranked player at his position as a fifth-year senior who wasn’t quite able to finish his college career strong after a great 2022 campaign for Ohio State. Eichenberg went from earning a great 86.8 overall PFF grade, which included a 90.1 PFF run-defense grade in 2022. That dropped to just a 61.5 overall PFF grade and a 66.6 PFF run-defense grade in 2023, and the reason for that is clear when watching him consistently get washed out in the run game and taken out of position by offensive linemen on a regular basis. Eichenberg doesn’t project as a strong coverage player, and his ceiling is likely going to be capped as an early-down linebacker in the NFL with a good ability to wrap up as a tackler, but there isn’t enough promise in him as a coverage defender right now to expect more than that at this point.

10. Marist Liufau, Notre Dame

Lastly, Liufau comes in as the fifth-ranked linebacker on the PFF big board, but not someone I’m likely to be high on regardless of landing spot. He is one of the most tentative tacklers in this class, which shows in his class-worst 6.2% first contact rate and 7.8% career tackle efficiency —the worst in the class. Adding to the concerns is that he also posted a very poor 18.9% missed tackle rate in 2023, leaving way too much production on the table. There is a better chance that he will be a more valuable NFL linebacker than he will be for IDP purposes.

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