Who is 2023's Frankie Luvu?
Let's examine some zero-to-hero LBs sitting on our waiver wires.
The rise of Frankie Luvu as the LB1 in Carolina caught us all by surprise in 2022. There was some chatter that he could be an interesting piece in the offseason, but I don't believe any of us saw him rise from the one series he played in the preseason to the overall LB5 last season. Luvu went from an unknown to a league winner.
Before we look forward, let's look back at Luvu’s 2022 season. Luvu (at 26 years old) put up 111 tackles, 7 sacks (in 6 games), 1 forced fumble, 1 INT, 4 pass breakups, and 19 TFLs. His PFF numbers: an overall grade of 74.8, a run defense grade of 90.1, a tackle grade of 56.1, a pass rush grade of 72.2, and a coverage grade of 51.6.
So here’s an interesting question: Who will be 2023’s version of Frankie Luvu? This isn’t an article about sleepers. A sleeper is already on our radar. I want to analyze the potential for some zero-to-hero candidates that are sitting on our waiver wires as we speak. I want to look at players that few people have rostered in deeper leagues. While many of these players will never take off in 2023, one of them could catch us by surprise, become a weekly starter, and maybe even win us some titles.
Darrian Beavers, New York Giants
Beavers was a 6th-round selection by the New York Giants in 2022 that saw his season cut short by an ACL tear in the preseason. But the Cincinnati Bearcat was on track to make a splash as a linebacker in a depleted linebacking group for the Giants in 2022. Beavers has impressive size and athleticism: 6’4, 255 lbs., and a RAS of 9.75. Beavers’ senior season in Cincinnati, he recorded 98 total tackles, 11 TFL, and 4 sacks. So those are the college stats and his metrics, but why could he be relevant in 2023?
While everyone is paying attention to the signing of Bobby Okereke to a 4-year, $40 million contract this offseason, I wonder if Bobby O might not be the team’s lead LB in 2023. I can’t get it out of my mind that Okereke was benched in October of last season in favor of E.J. Speed. Micah McFadden is still there, but with PFF grades of 38.7 overall and 30.0 in coverage, I’m not sure he’s much competition.
Early reports on Beavers from OTAs and minicamp are that he is healed and moving well. I believe Beavers will be the LB2 for the Giants early in the season. My somewhat not-so-farfetched belief is that by Week 8, he will be the LB to roster for the Giants. Keep an eye on reports about Beavers in training camp.
Andrew Van Ginkel, Miami Dolphins
I can hear the groans already, and I am plugging my ears. This selection is an ode to my favorite IDP analyst, Adam Marcum, who mentioned that Van Ginkel might have a bigger opportunity in 2023. Multiple reports have said that new DC Vic Fangio has moved Van Ginkel to inside linebacker in OTAs, and I don’t hate it. Van Ginkel didn't play a lot in 2022, but he did put up a PFF run defense grade of 83.5.
I know that Jerome Baker is the team’s LB1 and the team brought in David Long from Tennessee. Long has shown the potential to be a great producing linebacker in IDP, but he’s also missed 12 games over the last 2 seasons. He also only signed a 2-year $11 million contract this offseason, so the Dolphins like his potential but understand the inherent risk involved with Long. I do like Baker in best ball, where he’s going as the LB48 (Long is LB36), but he has one skill: rushing the passer. With average PFF grades across the board, Baker’s pass rush grade of 87.9 is an obvious bright spot.
So, the question must be asked: does Fangio know the risk involved with Long and know that the upside of using Baker as a pass rusher leaves Van Ginkel to sit and mop up tackles? This might be a bit far-fetched, but nothing is off the table when a new defensive coordinator comes into a broken system.
Henry To’oTo’o, Houston Texans
Yes, To’oTo’o is a rookie, but I don’t see the level of excitement for him that we’ve seen for Drew Sanders, Jack Campbell, or Daiyan Henley. The Texans took the Alabama linebacker in the 5th round, and while the 5th round isn’t impressive draft capital, the fact that Daniel Jeremiah had To’oTo’o as one of his highest-rated LBs means the Texans might have gotten a steal in the fifth. Jeremiah stated that To’oTo’o is fluid in coverage, has great awareness, and reminds him of Matt Milano.
This argument starts with the new head coach, DeMeco Ryans. Ryans had a great start to his career, coaching LBs Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw in San Francisco—a couple of LBs I would define as fluid in coverage and having great awareness.
The LBs in Houston are Denzel Perryman, Christian Harris, and Christian Kirksey. I’d argue these guys aren’t lightyears better than To’oTo’o. After a season of struggle from Harris, I could see early reps from To’oTo’o alongside Perryman. We will need to keep an ear to the ground during training camp to see how that linebacking room is shaking out because, as it stands now, it is ripe for the picking.
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