The NFL pre-season has finally come its conclusion, without too many surprises. It’s also the last week of drafting before the kick-off of the 2014 season. All of the talk, strategy and rumors are finally over. The news and surrounding the defensive side of the ball is always changing, so here’s the latest notes as I see it, from the NFC, that could have IDP implications.
A look at the NFC
On the offensive side of the ball, it’s the RBBC. In IDP circles, there’s now the LBBC (Linebacker by committee). That could be what’s happening in Dallas. Sean Lee’s season-ending injury and the lack of faith in Bruce Carter, has sent the LB position in Dallas in a tizzy. According to ESPN Dallas, Justin Durant is the only assured of a three-down role, and that’s not even guaranteed. Carter, Anthony Hitchens and Rolando McClain will all compete for snaps. At this point, Durant is the only one I trust in deeper leagues and Hitchens is a solid dynasty target. Otherwise, don’t chase the tackles.
Not only are the Cowboys thin at LB, but also on the defensive line. George Selvie is dealing with a shoulder injury and Jeremy Mincey is a shell of his former Jaguar self. I still think of Selvie as a DL3 even with the injury.
I usually don’t count on defensive backs to repeat previous year’s performance, but Barry Church is a prime candidate to do so. The front-seven seems paper-thin and Church will called on to contribute all over the field. While his tackle rate of nearly 13% could be hard to duplicate, the lack of playmakers up front, make him a prime candidate to notch 100+ tackles.
Jason Pierre-Paul is the healthiest he’s been in a few seasons. JPP has appeared in over 100 snaps and has been effective getting to the QB, without getting a sack. He’s getting to the QB around 10% of his rush snaps and has DL1 upside.
For those looking for value at the DB position, Stevie Brown is one of those value picks. Brown missed all of 2013 due to an ACL injury, after hawking 8 INTs and 76 tackles in 2012. Keep in mind, Antrel Rolle is still manning SS, but Brown is a ball-hawk and makes a solid DB3 for depth.
It’s going to be hard to keep Vinny Curry off the field in 2014. Curry finished a solid pre-season that saw him grade positively according to PFF. He got the QB in just over 10% of his rush snaps and has a chance to build on his 4 sack campaign from 2013. Cedric Thornton is a solid run-stuffer, but if opponents find themselves down, Curry could see more of the field in passing situations.
In news that should be shocking to no one, Brandon Meriweather will miss the first two games of the season for violating league safety measures. How he continues to skirt serious punishment is beyond me. That means, Bacarri “John” Rambo will man strong-safety and, if he can make a positive impression, could keep the job. Rambo has improved his game, after a disastrous rookie season. Rambo has received a positive grade and has missed just one tackle this pre-season. He should be on free agent watch list.
IDP sleeper Keenan Robinson has made the most of his pre-season. Robinson has recorded 10 tackles in just 79 snaps, but needs to remain on the field to retain his IDP value. After appearing in 11 games in 2012, he missed all of 2013. I consider him an LB4 at this point, with LB3 upside.
Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston are going to anchor a solid defensive line. Houston is big-time run stuffer, while Allen is out to prove he has a little more in the tank as a rusher. Houston was involved in 46 rush snaps and recorded 6 QB hurries. If Houston can record 6-8 sacks, to go along with his tackle numbers (60+ tackles in last two seasons), he’s going to carry DL2 value.
Jon Bostic just hasn’t done enough to separate himself from DJ Williams at MIKE. Both graded negatively during the pre-season, and it looks like Williams has the edge as starter. Bostic should get his chance, as Williams has never been the pinnacle of health. I’m not buying Bostic in drafts, but is someone to watch on waiver wires if the time should arise.
Chris Conte survived roster cuts after suffering a concussion, but Brock Vereen is the guy I’d want at FS. While he didn’t start in the pre-season, he did record 10 tackles in 99 snaps and didn’t play in the final pre-season, which I think is a telling sign.
After failing to reach at least 70 tackles in his career, James Ihedigbo recorded 101 in 2013 and parlayed that into a deal with the Lions. He might find reaching that mark tougher with a solid front-seven in the Motor City. He did appeared in just 1,100 snaps in 2012, so there’s something to like as Detroit’s every-down safety. I’m not chasing his career year stats, as he also notched 3 INTs last year, after failing to record one in his previous five seasons.
Between Brad Jones propensity for injury and AJ Hawk’s poor play and missed tackle rate, it’s only a matter of time before Jamari Lattimore carves out some playing time. Definitely a name to keep in the back of your mind.
It might take the next few days to determine the winner at FS between Micah Hyde and Ha-Ha Clinton Dix. The latest depth chart (8/24) had Hyde the projected starter. However, I don’t think the Packers used a first-round pick on him to sit him, or at least split snaps. HHCD did appear in slightly more snaps than Hyde this pre-season. I’ll update as news breaks.
Everson Griffen is being drafted ahead of Brian Robison, but that’s okay. Both could be in line to produce 10+ sacks. Griffen has produced 13.5 sacks in the last two seasons, but hasn’t compiled the tackles. I attribute that to his role as a situational pass rusher. He could see an increase to the 900+ snap range in his new role. I do like Robison’s value and track record slightly more.
Robert Blanton. Who? He’s the Vikings starter at strong-safety. No, you’re not doing to draft him ahead of Morgan Burnett or even among the top 30 safeties, but he’s a name to watch if you’re in a deeper league or all IDP league. He was dealing with a hammy injury, but showed enough in his 60 pre-season snaps that he was best man for the job.
Joplo Bartu might be running alongside Paul Worrilow, but Prince Shembo has shown that he’s more than capable of running the defense. If Bartu struggles or incurs an injury, Shembo is next man up and may not look back. He appeared in the most snaps (109) than any other Falcon LB this pre-season. Shembo’s dynasty stock is limited by a crowded LB corps in Atlanta.
Star Lotulelei appears to be on verge of a break-out sophomore campaign. Star graded among the top 10 defensive tackles and that was as a rookie. He appears to be carrying that play over into the pre-season and could be a DT1 in those that are playing in DT-required IDP leagues.
Greg Hardy may skirt NFL suspension. The NFL instituted stricter penalties for those committing domestic abuse. Hardy is set for trial in November and the NFL is looking at each retroactive case on an individual basis.
Mason Foster is firmly on the IDP radar now that he’s established himself as a three-down player. Foster appeared in 73 defensive snaps over the pre-season, recording 10 tackles, missed just one tackle and received positive grades from PFF. He’s looking like a solid LB2.
I wouldn’t be too concerned about Kevin Minter’s lack of snaps. He received 34 snaps in the final pre-season game and recorded 4 tackles. He’s entrenched as starter, but there could be some rotation alongside him. Desmond Bishop, even though he missed on 4 tackles, received positive grading in 94 defensive snaps. Larry Foote is on the wrong-side of his 30s and may not hold up.
If I was an Aldon Smith owner, I’d be looking to replace him with Corey Lemonier if I’m in a deeper league. Lemonier stood up well during the preseason, getting to the QB in just 13% of his rush snaps, resulting in two sacks. He’s worth a look in deeper, big play scoring formats.
Chris Borland and Michael Wilhoite were neck and neck this pre-season. Borland, however, nearly doubled the number of snaps of Wilhoite and graded out much more positively, as well. As much as I like Borland, there still could be an LBBC situation along-side Patrick Willis. I would take my chances with Borland, as I think he has better instincts to the ball.
There may not be a more talented or dangerous defensive line than the one formed in St. Louis. Michael Brockers is already a top defensive tackle and they added Aaron Donald, who’s going to push Kendall Langford right out of the gate.
For those in CB-required leagues, Trumaine Johnson is expected to miss 6 weeks. Opposing QBs could shy away from Janoris Jenkins and target Brandon McGee or EJ Gaines on the other side. Jenkins is still a desirous target in CB-leagues, though he might not get targeted as often.
My NFC IDP Predictions
IDP Stud: Mychal Kendricks, PHI
IDP Dud: Jason Hatcher, WAS
IDP Break-out: Stevie Brown, NYG
IDP Rookie to Own: Anthony Hitchens, DAL
IDP Stud: Chad Greenway, MIN
IDP Dud: Brad Jones, GBP
IDP Break-out: Ziggy Ansah, DET and Everson Griffen, MIN
IDP Rookie to Own: Brock Vereen, CHI
IDP Stud: LaVonte David, TBB
IDP Dud: Thomas Davis, CAR
IDP Break-out: Kenny Vaccaro, NOS
IDP Rookie to Own: Prince Shembo, ATL
IDP Stud: Robert Quinn, STL
IDP Dud: Kam Chancellor, SEA
IDP Break-out: Kevin Minter, ARI
IDP Rookie to Own: Deone Bucannon, ARI
Grading/Targeting Data Courtesy of Pro Football Focus