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Complete 42 Player Rookie IDP Rankings with Commentary

There’s still a lot of uncertainty with how many of these rookie IDPs will be utilized, but we’ve gotten some insight from beat writers and post-draft comments from coaching staffs. Here are my rookie IDP rankings based on what we know currently.

Note: Rankings are based on IDP league scoring with a sack-to-tackle ratio of 3:1 or less. Thus, a certain number of the rush linebackers and sack specialists will be ranked lower in this list as compared to big-play leagues. The targets also assume a 12-team league.


1. Luke Kuechly, MLB CAR

While it hasn’t been decided yet, Kuechly will likely play the middle in the Panthers’ defense. He’ll immediately be inserted in the starting lineup and Jon Beason will likely slide to the weak side. We should also expect to see Carolina run some 3-4 packages going forward as they did in 2012, which would place both Kuechly and Beason in the middle. However, that really won’t impact things much unless we hear of a base defense change from the coaching staff. Regardless of whether he plays the middle or weak side, as an every-down linebacker from day one, Kuechly’s opportunities will be plentiful. He’s clearly the top IDP and linebacker in this draft.

Target: Many will target Kuechly at the end of the 1st round, but I would rank him in the early to mid-2nd. That will probably mean missing out on him because there’s bound to be a Kuechly fan in every league, but this draft is too deep at other offensive positions to take him target him in the 1st. Keep in mind that I typically wait on selecting IDPs; I’d prefer holding out for a guy like Bobby Wagner later on.

2. Mark Barron, S TB

Barron is another guy who landed in a perfect situation. Like Kuechly, he’ll start immediately. The Tampa defense doesn’t have a great number of solid tacklers, which should leave this aggressive in-the-box safety with plenty of tackles starting immediately in 2012. He’s also in a conference with Cam Newton and Drew Brees–led offenses, which again cements him for a large number of games every season that will result in positive tackle opportunities.

Target: Mid 2nd Round

3. Bobby Wagner, MLB/WLB SEA

It’s not clear whether Wagner or KJ Wright will take the starting middle linebacker position, but whether it’s in the middle or on the weak side, Wagner will see tackle opportunities immediately as a starter in 2012. Pete Carroll did say that he will get the opportunity to take David Hawthorne’s role and compete with Barrett Rudd, which is great news for Wagner. He’s also a fit for an every-down role. He’s a top- notch linebacker option.

Target: Late 2nd – Early 3rd Round

4. Andre Branch, DE JAX

Jacksonville is a great spot for Branch. If all goes well in OTAs and camp, Branch will see meaningful snaps and potentially a starting spot beginning as early as 2012. Playing out of the 4-3, he has nice fantasy upside as a natural speed pass-rusher who should reach double-digit sacks in the future. Aaron Kampman is the current projected starter opposite Jeremy Mincey, but he’s coming off of three surgeries in three years related to an ACL injury. It may take some time for Branch to consistently produce since he’s still raw and not a power rusher, but he has the upside to be one of the solid pass-rushing defensive ends in the league.

Target: With Branch the top fantasy defensive end and the sacredness of the defensive end position, he ranks above the following group of linebackers and I would target Branch in the late 2nd – early 3rd round.

5. Lavonte David, WLB TB

Coach Schiano won’t specify whether David will play the weak or strong side at this point, but given Mike Mayock’s comments that Adam Hayward should be nervous, I’d guess the weak side. Like Wagner, David is a candidate to play every down and start immediately. If it comes out that David will instead take Quincy Black’s spot at the SAM, that will knock David down as his fantasy potential would be capped on the strong side.

Target: Late 2nd – Early 3rd Round

6. Harrison Smith, S MIN

Smith is in a similar situation to Barron and is positioned to start immediately. The great thing about Smith is that he is versatile and will be all over the field. He can cover the tight end and he can support the run game as a sure tackler. His ability to cover tight ends combined with their increased use will likely result in an opportunity for Smith beginning in 2012.

Target: Early 3rd Round

7. Mychal Kendricks, SLB/WLB PHI

I’m between Kendricks and Wagner as the second-best linebacker in this draft from a talent perspective. However, with DeMeco Ryans in the picture, playing the middle is currently out of the question for Kendricks. Not only that, but based on Andy Reid’s press conference, it sounds like Kendricks will start off competing with Jamar Chaney for the strong side linebacker spot. However, he’s also likely to be an every-down linebacker and the ultimate incumbent to Ryans’ middle linebacker position at some point. I was hoping to see Kendricks on the weak side beginning in 2012, which would bolster his fantasy value, but the move to the strong side is a killer in the short-term, as he’ll max out as a 3rd linebacker. If he moves to the weak side at some point over the next few months as many are speculating, I’d push him up into my top five rookies ahead of David.

Right now I have him in-between due to the possibility that he moves to the weak side and the long-term likelihood that he moves to the middle, but it’s certainly a risk. If you’re convinced he’s moving to the weak side in the near term, you might as well take him a few picks earlier than I’m currently suggesting. His draft stock is volatile.

Target: Mid-3rd Round

8. James-Michael Johnson, MLB/WLB CLE

According to some of the Browns’ beat writer reports, JMJ will be the backup middle linebacker behind D’Qwell Jackson. While that makes sense considering he played middle linebacker at Nevada, JMJ has stated that he’s comfortable playing any of the linebacker positions. With the mediocre Chris Gocong the current starter on the weak side, JMJ should soon take over that starting spot. He’d be a perfect fit there and also has the potential to be an every-down linebacker for the Browns.

Target: Early 4th Round

9. Vinny Curry, DE PHI

Jason Babin and Trent Cole are firmly entrenched as starters, but the Eagles routinely run a rotation as both of these guys play roughly 60-65% of the team’s snaps in an average game. He’s a fantastic pass rusher and should fit the Eagles scheme perfectly. You’ll need to be patient as he develops, but he has nice upside in this scheme.

Target: Early 4th Round

10. Chandler Jones, DE/OLB NE

Belichick was awed by Jason Pierre-Paul all season and in the Super Bowl. The Patriots traded up to select Jones and there are MANY similarities between the two. Jones said he heard the comparison to Pierre-Paul throughout the draft process. Jones, like Jason before him, needs time to develop, but he’s a freakish, raw athlete. If a Willie McGinest clone is the plan for Jones and he’s listed as an outside linebacker, I’d bump him down unless he keeps the defensive end position tag. With the addition of Dont’a Hightower and Jake Bequette, I’m betting Jones sticks with most of his time at end and also playing in a two-point stance at times.

Target: Mid-4th Round

11. Shea McClellin, DE CHI

Since being selected, there’s been a question of whether McClellin will pay defensive end or strong side linebacker. Lovie Smith already stated “he won’t be a linebacker.” Now the question is whether you believe he’s up to the task of beating a right tackle in the NFL since he’s a little undersized. I like McClellin quite a bit and think his high motor and fighting attitude will carry him. He’ll be part of a rotation and used in passing situations initially, but Israel Idonije has been put on notice. McClellin will be pressing for his starting spot.

Target: Mid 4th Round

12. Olivier Vernon, DE MIA

Vernon has both pass rushing and run defending skills. He has all the physical tools to be dominant, but needs to be coached through that development. He was suspended at Miami, which raises some red flags, but the natural ability puts him at this spot on my list. With reports that the Dolphins are going to switch to a 4-3 base defense, Vernon is a perfect fit and the depth chart is in his favor.

Target: Mid – Late 4th Round

13. Quinton Coples, DE NYJ

I was looking for Coples to be drafted by a 4-3 defense, but that’s obviously not the case with the Jets. I initially thought maybe Rex Ryan would stand Coples up and use him like Terrell Suggs, but Rex confirmed that Coples will play with his hand in the dirt and move to defensive tackle to rush the passer on passing downs. Coples’ upside is stunted playing in the Jets 3-4 defense, which will limit his fantasy value. I’d expect a number two defensive lineman as long as Rex can get the most out of him. Coples’ motor is a question mark, but he should start right away.

Target: Mid-Late 4th round

14. Zach Brown, WLB TEN

I’m not a big fan of Brown. Given where he was drafted and his measurables, you would think he should be drafted higher. However, Mike Mayock said it best – Brown is allergic to contact. Even though he’s likely to replace Will Witherspoon at the weak side linebacker spot in the near future, the fact that he doesn’t like contact is a concern. At least he has solid coverage skills, I guess. He’s worth a shot given that he’s the projected starter on the weak side, but buyer beware. It may be a short-lived stint unless he becomes a more physical player. His problem is tackling effort. If the Titans staff can get him to take on contact, look out.

Target: Mid-Late 4th round

15. Demario Davis, ILB NYJ

Davis will ultimately take over for Bart Scott as the team custodian in the Jets 3-4 base defense. He’s fast, can cover tight ends, and is a fantastic tackler who makes plays in space. The Jets have already said that they expect Davis to play in their sub-packages ultimately. You’ll have to be patient with Davis, but given his projected every-down role at some point in the near future, he’s worth a draft pick.

Target: Mid-Late 4th round

16. Sean Spence, ILB/S PIT

Seemingly, there’s an opening next to Lawrence Timmons inside, however, the Steelers’ linebacker coach stated that Spence will back up Timmons. That other inside spot looks to be reserved for Stevenson Sylvester once he’s ready to take over for Larry Foote, which could be as early as 2012. While Spence has sideline-to-sideline ability making him a great candidate to play in passing situations and one of the many Steelers’ sub-packages, his upside will be limited behind Timmons if he’s going to stay at linebacker. The only way Spence can climb in these rankings is if Sylvester is no longer the plan inside, or if he changes positions. Reports are that Carnell Lake of the Steelers is also talking about a move to safety for Spence. Interestingly, Lake made a similar transition from a college linebacker to safety. There’s also discussion that he’ll play an in-the-box safety role in certain packages too.

Target: Early 5th round

17. Melvin Ingram, OLB SD

Ingram will be an every-down linebacker for the Chargers beginning in 2012 as he immediately enters the starting lineup as an outside linebacker. Unfortunately, he’s more of a factor in big-play leagues with his pass rushing ability and playing the outside in a 3-4 base defense.

Target: Early 5th round

18. Courtney Upshaw, OLB BAL

Upshaw is similar to Ingram. He’ll be more valuable in big-play leagues given the Ravens’ scheme. However, he’ll immediately start giving him some immediate value. His fantasy upside is limited in neutral or tackle heavy leagues, though.

Target: Early 5th round

19. Dont’a Hightower, LB NE

I love his talent, but hate the situation for Hightower. New England is packed with linebacker options that are fantasy-worthy. With Brandon Spikes cemented in the middle and Jerod Mayo on the weak side, the only spot open for Hightower is the strong side. That’s the best-case scenario for him. It appears Belichick is looking to use Hightower situationally – that doesn’t help his fantasy value. Hightower will also be used in certain 3-4 packages, but the bottom line is that Hightower’s snaps will be limited with the veterans already there, as well as the additions of Chandler Jones and Jake Bequette.

Target: Early 5th round

20. Brandon Taylor, S SD

Atari Bigby is the current starter in San Diego, but Taylor should be in the running for the starting gig through training camp. He’s improved in run support after moving from corner at LSU. This is a great destination for Taylor.

Target: Mid 5th round

21. Malik Jackson, DE DEN

This one may come as somewhat of a surprise ahead of Bruce Irvin. Jackson is a defensive end with above-average athleticism who needs some time to still develop. He’s currently sitting behind Robert Ayers on the Broncos depth chart, but he’s raw with solid long-term upside. I like this situation.

Target: Mid 5th Round

22. Tyrone Crawford, DE DAL

Crawford still can grow into a 5-technique defensive end and has an opportunity in Dallas to take over for Kenyon Coleman. Playing in a 3-4 scheme will, again, limit his potential in fantasy, but he can be a number two or three defensive lineman.

Target: Late 5th Round

23. Bruce Irvin, DE SEA

Pete Carroll said he plans to use Irvin like he used Clay Matthews at USC. That role is a pass rusher who occasionally drops in coverage. Irvin is going to have very few tackle opportunities and is looking at a role similar to Raheem Brock’s in 2011. Not only that, but Irvin still needs some time to develop his pass rushing skills and his skills defending the run. In 2012, he’s likely to see roughly 25-30 snaps per game on average until (and if) he develops. He does look like the eventual replacement for Chris Clemons. That’s not a great fantasy option unless it’s a big-play league. With the character question marks (he dropped out of high school and was involved with various activities on the street) and being a pass rusher, he’s a bit too limited for me to take a risk on and hope he develops and becomes a more rounded defensive end. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that he’ll ever be a three-down player.

Target: Late 5th Round

24. Jared Crick, DE HOU

Crick has had medical issues recently, but he’s the perfect complement to JJ Watt. He’s a perfect boom/bust guy. He’s a first round talent that fell due to injury concerns.

Target: Late 5th Round

25. Nick Perry, OLB GB

Perry played defensive end at USC and will now stand up as an outside linebacker in the Packers’ 3-4 base defense. He’ll play the right side and is only worth a pick in big-play leagues as he’s a pass rush specialist. The tackle opportunities are likely to be limited with his run defense vulnerability and his position as a right outside linebacker. The only positive spin is that he’s now a front-runner to be a starter in 2012.

Target: Early 6th Round

26. Fletcher Cox, DT PHI

He won’t start immediately, but he’s a great pass rusher. Cox is the best defensive tackle in the draft and should be a defensive tackle starter for years in those leagues that require it. There is also a ton of talent surrounding him in Philly, which should free Cox up to work one-on-one with an offensive lineman.

Target: Early 6th Round

27. Michael Brockers, DT STL

Brockers is solid against the run, but is unlikely to start immediately. He’s worth a look in defensive tackle required leagues or leagues where defensive tackle performance is inflated.

Target: Early 6th Round

28. Dre Kirkpatrick, CB CIN

Kirkpatrick is arguably the best tackling corner in the draft, but the depth chart is crowded with Nate Clements and Leon Hall. I wouldn’t necessarily draft him this year, but with his tackling ability, he’s a guy to keep an eye on going forward.

Target: Early 6th Round

29. Stephon Gilmore, CB BUF

Gilmore looked miserable on draft night knowing he was headed to Buffalo, but he’s a solid tackler. He isn’t nearly as good in coverage as some of the other guys in this draft, so he should have tackling upside long-term. He’s the projected starter across from Aaron Williams in the future, but I wouldn’t expect him to start immediately in 2012 with Terrence McGee around. McGee will likely get injured, though. He always seems to.

Target: Mid 6th Round

30. Miles Burris, OLB OAK

I love Burris as a sleeper. Oakland has Aaron Curry and Philip Wheeler as starters right now. Those two are nothing special. Burris played the right outside linebacker spot at San Diego St., but claims that the Raiders told him he’ll play all over the field. He’s a good pass rusher, but I love that he’s an explosive player with a great motor. He could fit nicely on the weak side. He’s worth a stash with decent talent and a mediocrity ahead of him.

Target: Mid 6th Round

31. Josh Kaddu, LB MIA

Another favorite sleeper of mine. Kaddu possesses speed and is solid in coverage. He can ultimately be a starter and he’s a perfect fit as a weak side linebacker.

Target: Mid 6th Round

32. Keenan Robinson, ILB WAS

Jim Haslett said he’ll play inside linebacker and will likely work the middle with Perry Riley after London Fletcher retires. That should be in another year or so, which makes Robinson a wait and see stash.

Target: Mid 6th Round

33. Antonio Allen, S NYJ

He’s a liability in pass coverage, but Allen is a nasty tackler and perfect in-the-box safety. With Landry’s injury issues and little depth otherwise, Allen may be looking at opportunity at the strong safety position earlier than expected.

Target: Late 6th Round

34. George Iloka, FS CIN

Iloka is a solid run defender who’s a big safety. The best thing about him is that he has great range as a big guy. Initially, he’ll back up Reggie Nelson, but he’s his eventual replacement. At his size, Iloka could potentially move to strong safety or even weak side linebacker. With Reggie Nelson locked up for four years, it’s a good bet Iloka will get a shot at strong safety at some point.

Target: Late 6th Round

35. Whitney Mercilus, OLB HOU

Similar to Nick Perry, Mercilus will convert to and play out of a two-point stance in the Texans 3-4. With Brooks Reed and Connor Barwin drafted in 2011 and their competent play, this reeks of a rotation. A 3-4 OLB and a rotation player? No, thanks. I would have preferred to see him land as a 4-3 defensive end. At that point, he would have at least had decent fantasy value, but not in this situation.

Target: I would bump him considerably in big-play leagues, but in this format: Late 6th Round

36. Josh Robinson, CB MIN

Robinson is great tackler and walks into a great opportunity. Antoine Winfield is ancient and will retire in a year or so. Other than Winfield, the other starting spot is wide open. Simply put, Robinson can tackle and that’s worth something in a tackle-heavy league.

Target: Early 7th Round

37. Morris Claiborne, CB DAL

He’s the best corner in the draft and will likely be targeted early in his career, making him a great short-term cornerback option. However, once he gets accustomed to the NFL game, teams will throw the other way limiting his opportunities.

Target: Early 7th Round

38. Kyle Wilber, OLB DAL

As an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme (like many of the others), his fantasy value in this format is capped. The Cowboys want him to play opposite Demarcus Ware in the place of Anthony Spencer. Spencer recently signed a one-year deal, so Wilber will be starting in 2013 the latest. Wilber will probably be a linebacker 3 or 4 in this scheme.

Target: Early 7th Round

39. Audi Cole, MLB MIN

He underperformed at the combine, which led to his draft stock dropping, but if Jasper Brinkley doesn’t work out, Cole will get a shot. He’s worth a stash.

Target: Early 7th Round

40. Ronnell Lewis, DE DET

Coach Schwartz called him a tweener, so he may line up in a two-point stance on occasion in certain packages, but he’s likely to be a situational pass-rusher for the Lions. There are plenty of bodies ahead of Lewis on the roster. Coach Schwartz also referred to him as a special teams guy, but that seems to be more of an initial plan.

Target: Mid 7th Round

41. Nigel Bradham, OLB BUF

With Arthur Moats as the long-term answer on the strong side once Kirk Morrison moves on, it looks like Bradham could be looking as the eventual replacement for Nick Barnett on the weak side, though he will probably only be a two-down linebacker.

Target: Mid 7th Round – FA

42. Brandon Hardin, S CHI

Hardin can play either safety spot or even corner. He’s versatile, which should lead to tackle opportunities. The Bears’ safeties are weak and if Hardin wins the strong safety starting spot, his value will instantaneously boom.

Target: Mid 7th Round – FA

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10 years ago

Harrison Smith… way too high for me. I agree the Kuechly will get over drafted in just about every draft. Kuechly was playing WLB in the first couple days according to reports.

10 years ago

I’ll bet Smith ends up at FS playing center field and not in the box, which is why I think he 20+ slots too high. He is likely an immediate starter, but I just doubt he’s racking up tackles in the box. Smith is a 4th or 5th round pick in an IDP draft to me.

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