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Fantasy Football: Top 5 breakout linebackers, including Ernest Jones and Nakobe Dean

2MAJT3Y Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Nakobe Dean (17) during the second half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions in Detroit, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Each season there are players who take their game to another level and significantly improve their fantasy production along the way. For the linebacker position, often times all that is needed is an increase in playing time. Each player listed here is in for such a role in 2023, but also considered is said player being able to sustain their success for multiple seasons for those fantasy managers looking to invest in dynasty leagues as well.

Ernest Jones, Los Angeles Rams

The Rams’ defense is almost completely depleted, as multiple pieces have signed elsewhere in free agency, have been traded or released, including Bobby Wagner, whose absence in the middle of the defense opens up a significant opportunity for Jones. As a 2021 third-round pick, he has played just one regular season game in his two-year career where he exceeded 90% of the team’s defensive snaps. Wagner, who played all 17 games for the Rams last season, averaged 99% of the team’s defensive snaps, which will be the expectation for Jones as he steps into the primary linebacker role for this team heading into the year.

Jones has proven to be a reliable IDP in his first two seasons in the NFL by being a competent tackler and solid producer, even in a part-time role. He recently posted an 84.3 tackling grade (seventh) with a 5.2% missed tackle rate (eighth) in 2022, racking up over 100 tackles on just 66% of the team’s defensive snaps. As just one of three linebackers in the entire league to hit triple-digit tackles while playing less than 70% of the team’s defensive snaps, he becomes one of the more intriguing IDP linebackers this season, as he is expected to see a significant snap share increase in 2023.

The Rams’ defensive scheme has also been one of the better defenses for linebacker tackle production as they typically play more zone coverages, which have historically yielded much better tackling opportunities for the linebacker position. Jones also greatly improved his run defense ability from his rookie season, going from a 46.2 grade as a rookie to a 78.8 last season, which ranked inside the top 20 at his position. The increase in snaps will be key for every breakout candidate at linebacker, but for Jones, it could be enough to vault him into a potential top-10 IDP linebacker this season.


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