Justin Varnes and Tom Simons are covering every major defensive transaction from the 2021 off-season in our Off-season Tracker articles. We broke down all the important free agency signings and trades from a fantasy perspective in articles sorted by position. The articles are ordered by players changing teams ("New Homes") and by players sticking with their 2020 teams ("Staying Put"). The players are also ordered by their potential fantasy impact for the 2021 season in each section.
Benardrick McKinney (Mia) — The veteran was traded from Houston to Miami to help shore up their off-ball LBs and help replace the loss of Kyle Van Noy.
Fantasy Points: When McKinney went down with a season-ending shoulder injury last year, Tyrell Adams stepped up and played well next to newly-re-signed Zach Cunningham. This trade is more good news for Cunningham than good news for McKinney. Miami’s defensive scheme tends to put a damper on LB fantasy production. Van Noy posted just 69 tackles in 14 games last season and while McKinney should see more snaps than fellow ILB Jerome Baker (116 tackles last season), he’s likely to top out as a solid LB2 if all goes well.
Anthony Walker (Cle) — The 26-year-old heads to Cleveland on a one-year, $3.5 million deal.
Fantasy Points: Walker was struggling to keep a full-time role in Indy, and now should get a shot at being the man in Cleveland. The Browns LBs were a mess last season, and Walker still has the skills to be an every-down player. His main competition is an inconsistent B.J. Goodson and aging veteran Malcolm Smith. Walker will have a solid chance to best his 2020 tackle total of 92. He crossed triple digits in each of the previous two years before losing some snaps to Bobby Okereke last season.
Jarrad Davis (NYJ) — Davis escapes Detroit on a one-year/$5.5 Million deal to join the Jets.
Fantasy Points: I’m fascinated by this pickup for the Jets. Davis was on his way to a promising career until HC Matt Patricia rolled into the Motor City. With Patricia’s arrival, Davis’ stock plummeted. It’s no secret that many Detroit defenders had issues with Patricia. Could a fresh start with defensive wizard Robert Saleh be his ticket to redemption? Davis racked up 196 tackles and 6 sacks in his first two seasons, but his role, playing time, and on-field play collapsed over the last two seasons under Patricia. Don’t be surprised if Davis finds his groove again on an LB-needy Jets team.
Denzel Perryman (Cle) — The 28-year-old lands in Carolina on a two-year deal.
Fantasy Points: The Panthers didn’t get what they wanted out of Tahir Whtehead, so they will turn to Perryman to help fill the gap next to Shaq Thompson. Both Thompson and hybrid S/LB Jeremy Chinn are likely to out-produce Perryman, but he should have a less-crowded field than he had as a Charger. Hopefully he can eek out LB3 production for IDPers. Perryman has yet to eclipse 75 tackles in a season, but then again he has yet to eclipse 14 healthy games in a season.
Christian Kirksey (Hou) — Kirksey signed a one-year, $4.5 million deal with Houston.
Fantasy Points: Kirksey has spent much of his career injured and was a disappointment in Green Bay last season. After starting strong in 2020, his injuries and ineffectiveness led to losing snaps to the inexperienced Krys Barnes. Houston has Zach Cunningham but also recently signed a host of players like Kevin Pierre-Louis, Joe Thomas, Kamu Grugier-Hill and Tae Davis to compete with Kirksey, plus there’s still a chance they will bring Tyrell Adams back.
Nick Vigil (Min) — Vigil moves to this third team in three years as a depth signing in Minnesota.
Fantasy Points: Vigil’s fantasy value couldn’t have taken a worse hit (not that he had much value in the first place). After not being able to stick in LB-needy Cincinnati, Vigil couldn’t keep a starting gig with the Chargers. Now he moves to a team that features one of the better LB combos in the game in Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr. Both were injured last season, so Vigil’s presence adds some insurance. But a lot of bad things would have to happen for Vigil to become fantasy relevant in Minnesota.
Lavonte David (TB) — The Super Bowl champs keep their defensive leader and Pro-Bowl LB to the tune of 2 years/$25 Million.
Fantasy Points: David has long been the cornerstone of the Tampa Bay D. Even at 31, LD continues to play at an elite level. While his fellow off-ball LB Devin White finished as the #1 LB for fantasy (and damn-near walked away with the SB MVP), David finished as the #10 LB with 116 tackles and 28 big plays. That type of balanced production has been David’s calling card and we expect to see more of the same next year. Age may slow him down a bit, but he’ll still be near that LB1/LB2 border if all goes well.
Matt Milano (Buf) — Buffalo locked up one of their best defenders on a 4-year, $44 million extension.
Fantasy Points: Milano spent much of last season fighting through injuries, but don’t let the lowered stats fool you: the 26-year-old is one of the best cover LBs in the game. With 5 INTs and 21 PD in just 54 games, Milano boasts the big-play stats that pair nicely with his triple-digit tackles he averages over a full season. Look for Milano to regain his stout LB2 status next season (with a boost in big-play leagues).
Jayon Brown (Ten) — The Titans keep their ILB on a one-year, $5.25 Millon deal.
Fantasy Points: Brown was having a strong season before an elbow injury took him down. He had 76 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 forced fumbles, and 8 PD in just 10 games. Hopefully he can bounce back to be the borderline LB1 he was last season. With Rashaan Evans and David Long ascending, it’s not a lock Brown will be the every-down player he was in 2020, but he’s got a good shot to retain the title.