The dust is starting to settle on position battles and roster spots now that we’re just a week away from the kick-off of the 2014 season. Injuries have already plagued the IDP landscape, even before the pads were put on. Some positions are locked up; however, there are still some decisions yet to be made. In some cases, it might be a hunch and gut call.
Here’s my take on what’s happening in the AFC
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Kiko Alonso was one of the first elite IDPs to go down with a season-ending injury. Who’s the IDP target at LB in Buffalo? I thought Nigel Bradham was going to be break-out candidate last year; however, he appeared in just 288 defensive snaps. Brandon Spikes is leader of the pack at one of the ILB spots, and could see nickel-snaps, giving him IDP appeal with an every-down role. Outside of Spikes, it’s hard to trust anyone else. Bradham is ahead of the depth-chart at WILL, while Keith Rivers is lining up on the strong-side. Bradham is worthy of some looks in deeper leagues, but keep an eye on rook Preston Brown, who’s backing up both MIKE and WILL spots.
Jerry Hughes is a contract year IDP to watch. The light has clicked on for Hughes over the last few seasons, compiling 13.5 sacks, including a career high 9.5 in 2013. WGR 550 says Hughes is having a monster camp and his move from 3-4 OLB to a 4-3 DE gives him more IDP appeal. Hughes graded positively as a pass-rusher, according to PFF, as he got to the QB in over 18% of his rush snaps. He carries DL3 value with DL2 upside if he can improve upon his 2013 campaign.
Aaron Williams will man the FS with Jairus Byrd now in New Orleans. His speed and ball skills will be beneficial when it comes to making plays on the ball. Williams managed 82 tackles and 4 INTs. Williams recorded a tackle in just 10% of his snaps and saw 53 balls thrown in his direction. I like him as a DB3, even with Da’Norris Searcy valued a little higher.
Will Chandler Jones stick as a DE? Or will fantasy managers convert him to LB? That’s what his IDP owners will have to track through the remainder of the preseason. Jones has seen 47 snaps at OLB and 0 at DE. His IDP value will take a serious hit if there’s a switch. He’s an elite DL1; however, I consider him an LB3 in big play scoring formats.
Looking for value at LB? Miami Dolphins are converting Koa Misi to MIKE and could see a 3-down role in an IDP-friendly position. Misi is going undrafted in most leagues and could put up over 100 tackles. Dannell Ellerbe, who Misi could replace, compiled over 100 tackles but struggled at times, hence the switch. As of now, Misi is dealing with a shoulder injury, but it shouldn’t impact his Week 1 status.
For those looking at Dee Milliner as a CB play in Week 1, might want to have other options ready. Rich Cimini states that the Jets are noncommittal on his status in the opener. Milliner’s dealing with a high-ankle sprain.
Arthur Brown has really taken a free-fall amongst IDP’ers. Last season’s rookie darling, Brown appeared in just 211 defensive snaps and now finds himself battling for the back-up role at ILB. Daryl Smith and rookie, CJ Mosley, appear to be starters. At this point, I might let someone else gamble on Mosley as an LB2. I still think Smith is going to swallow up most of the tackles in Baltimore. Brown is barely worth holding on to, unless it’s a deep dynasty league.
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I’m more than willing to roll the dice on Christian Kirksey, no matter the depth chart and Craig Robertson sticking around. Kirksey is adjusting, but has been outstanding at his pass coverage assignments. Thus, PFF, is grading him much better than Robertson through the pre-season. If he gets the nod as starter, IMO, he becomes a high-ceiling LB1.
Tashaun Gipson might not be a one-year wonder. I thought he’d be over-valued headed into 2014, but with the departure of TJ Ward, and even addition of Donte Whitner, that might not be the case. Gipson, last season, had a 8.5% tackle rate and appeared in over 1,110 snaps. I don’t see any reason why Gipson shouldn’t be able to match last seasons’ 95 tackles. I’m not, however, expecting 5 INTs. He had an elite 51.5% Play On Ball rate which, I believe, is unsustainable. He does make a decent DB3 in tackle heavy formats.
Could Ryan Shazier be this year’s Luke Kuechly/Kiko Alosno? He’s definitely a candidate to be one of the NFL’s leading tacklers, even with Lawrence Timmons on the other side. Even though he’s grading negatively, Shazier is the future for the Steelers. In 105 preseason snaps, Shazier is producing a 14.3% tackle rate. In dynasty leagues, he’s probably one of the first LBs off the board and has LB2 upside in re-draft leagues.
DJ Swearinger is a solid sleeper at the DB position, but he’ll need to check his attitude. He’s a hard hitter, but could be someone who misses some time due to missed games. He has top-20 upside since the Texans, outside of Brian Cushing, don’t have much run stopping ability. He’ll play all-around the field and will see time in the box. 100+ tackles are his ceiling in 2014.
Will Jerrell Freeman and D’Qwell Jackson be able to play nice and share tackles? Both can rack up the tackle numbers, however, Freeman might be the more efficient ‘backer. Both are good bets for 100 tackles, however, I like Freeman slightly more because of familiarity of the system. Good news for their IDP owners, neither of them are leaving the field.
Zach Brown and Wesley Woodyard appear to the Titans’ starting ILB in their 3-4 scheme. Brown has tremendous IDP appeal at a reasonable ADP (a few rounds later than Woodyard). Brown has compiled 90+ tackles in his first two seasons and brings big plays to the table, as he’s notched 9.5 sacks and 4 INTs in that span. He’s not going to rush the passer often, but he’s efficient with his rush snaps. Woodyard dealt with injuries last season in Denver, but should maintain a 3-down role and still has LB2 value.
Derrick Morgan falls off the IDP radar with his move to OLB next to Kamerion Wimbley. He’s playing well at the OLB spot and should maintain a role in most packages, leading to an increase in sacks. The tackles may not be there, so his IDP value is tied to leagues favoring the big plays, as opposed to tackles.
Are you looking for a deep league sleeper (and I mean Jacques Cousteau 20,000 leagues deep)? It could be Nate Irving. I can’t believe I actually typed this. Danny Trevathan is slated to miss a few games, so Irving could see a majority of snaps. However, upon Trevathan’s return, he could be relegated back to the bench for nickel/sub-package snaps.
Keep an eye on Manti Te’o and his aching foot. He should be ready for Week 1 and carries sleeper appeal with his increased role in the defense and subpackages.
AFC IDP Predictions
IDP Stud: Jerod Mayo, NEP
IDP Dud: Jamie Collins, NEP
IDP Break-out: Koa Misi, MIA
IDP Rookie to Own: Calvin Pryor, NYJ
IDP Stud: Vontaze Burfict, CIN
IDP Dud: Karlos Dansby, CLE
IDP Break-out: Cameron Heyward, PIT
IDP Rookie to Own: Christian Kirksey, CLE and Ryan Shazier, PIT
IDP Stud: Paul Posluszny, JAC
IDP Dud: Robert Mathis, IND
IDP Break-out: DJ Swearinger, HOU
IDP Rookie to Own: Jadaveon Clowney, HOU
IDP Stud: Derrick Johnson, KCC
IDP Dud: DeMarcus Ware, DEN
IDP Break-out: Manti Te’o, SDC
IDP Rookie to Own: Khalil Mack, OAK
Grading/Targeting Data Courtesy of Pro Football Focus