At this time of year, it’s important to sift through the mounds of news coming out of organized team activities (OTAs). It provides an upper hand and allows for preemptive waiver moves before the masses catch up. Now that OTAs are complete and training camp is a mere weeks away, I aggregated what I believe to be the most important and relevant news, as well as some additional players we should watch through training camp and the preseason.
Ryan McDowell has taken care of the offensive side of the ball in recent weeks. Here, I’ll take care of the defensive players. I would also note that I started a thread in the IDP forum that tracks relevant defensive player news which will continue to be updated throughout the summer.
The list below, by no means, is complete with everyone that we should be watching, but it includes players who posses the potential to have a meaningful impact on your 2012 and future fantasy seasons.
Let’s start with news surfacing out of OTAs:
Bruce Carter, LB DAL
This news is everywhere, so you probably have seen it. It is pretty difficult not to with rave reviews from defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, head coach Jason Garrett, and executive vice president Stephen Jones. The reports suggest that Carter looks more comfortable will play a role in sub-packages beginning in 2012, and that expectations are high. Carter has a chance to be a special every-down linebacker for the Cowboys and a top linebacker in the league. With this news, it may begin as early as 2012.
Robert Quinn, DE STL
Quinn is slated to start at right defensive end in 2012 and expectations internally within the Rams organization are high. Well-respected defensive line coach Mike Waufle recently noted that Quinn is capable of being a solid every-down defensive end. Many question Quinn’s ability to defend the run, but it sounds like he improved that over the last year per Coach Fisher and Coach Waufle. The proof will come when they put the pads in a few weeks, but recent reports supports Quinn as a likely 2012 breakout candidate.
If you missed it, check out our recent interview of Quinn.
Derrick Morgan, DE TEN
Morgan is two years removed from ACL injury and is coming off a 2011 season where he had 20 quarterback pressures and only two and a half sacks. The quarterback pressures are a good sign, but most importantly defensive coordinator Jerry Gray noted that Morgan is “more consistent” with his stance, which means he is more comfortable. Morgan also said that this is the first time since the ACL surgery that he has not experienced any pain. He also recently shed his knee brace. Being two years removed from the surgery and experiencing no pain should mean that Morgan has regained his explosion. Coach Mike Munchak says he “expects big things” out of him now that the injury is behind him. Morgan remains a great sleeper at defensive end heading in to the 2012 season.
Ray Edwards, DE ATL
Edwards was a huge disappointment in 2011 in his first season with the Falcons. He finished the season with a paltry three and a half sacks. He claims that the 2011 lockout-shortened offseason prevented him from getting completely healthy following off-season knee surgery. Unfortunately, Edwards again had knee surgery during the 2012 offseason, but he now claims that he feels different and is finally healthy. Another source of positive news is that under new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s scheme, Edwards will go back to focusing on rushing the passer. That should result in a spike in sacks for Edwards from the three and a half in 2011. Edwards remains a decent sleeper, but be wary of the consecutive season knee surgeries and the fact that he last produced in Minnesota with Jared Allen on the other side demanding double teams and taking off the pressure.
Alterraun Verner, CB TEN
Verner is playing the Cortland Finnegan role in the Titans defense and is also moving inside in nickel situations. Two years ago, Verner was a top ten corner. By assuming Finnegan’s role in 2012, Verner should again finish as a top corner after a let down season in 2011 when Jason McCourty replaced him in the Titans’ starting lineup.
Ras-I Dowling, CB NE
Ras-I Dowling is likely to replace Kyle Arrington in the Patriots’ starting lineup in 2012. Dowling only started two games in 2011 before missing time due to a hip injury. With the juggernaut Patriots offense and Devin McCourty on the other side, Dowling is likely to get plenty of tackle opportunities in 2011 should he win a starting spot.
Nate Irving, LB DEN
Irving is seeing time outside with second defense and it sounds like he is playing the strong side. Unfortunately, that means he will be Von Miller’s backup. That is terrible news after most of us assumed Irving would soon replace Joe Mays as the Broncos’ starting middle linebacker. Apparently, undrafted free agent Steven Johnson is working as second team middle linebacker. What is not clear is if Johnson is playing the middle in an effort for the Broncos to determine if he is worth a spot on the practice squad or if this is a true move for Irving. This, undoubtedly, is something to monitor heading into training camp. On the surface, this is not good news for Irving and his dynasty prospects.
Sealver Siliga, DT DEN
If you are in a DT required league, Siliga is worth a stash or monitoring depending on your league scoring and roster size. Elvis Dumervil said he had the best camp for the Broncos, while coach John Fox called him “impressive” and noted that he “is stout, he’s strong and he’s good on the inside.” Not only that, but he recently saw reps with the first team in camp. The one thing to consider is that potential starter Ty Warren was not practicing, nor was second round draft pick, Derek Wolfe. Keep in mind that prior to the 2011 draft, Siliga received a mid-round grade before going undrafted. Regardless, Siliga should at least be monitored through training camp to see how this situation shakes out.
Mychal Kendricks, LB PHI
Kendricks came into OTAs and worked his tail off. Coach Andy Reid said, “he improved every day, and we threw a lot at him to give him a solid foundation to go into training camp with.” Kendricks will be an important part of the Eagles’ defense starting immediately. While he’s likely to be positioned at the strong side spot, he should also be an every down player. He is one of the most, if not the most talented linebacker in the 2012 draft class. Reports out of camp are doing nothing to dispel that. Kendricks remains a top dynasty target with the hopes of him ultimately moving from the strongside to the weakside or middle.
Taylor Mays, SS CIN
Mays did not play much for the Bengals in 2011 after being acquired from the 49ers, but he looks like he is the leading candidate to start for the Bengals at strong safety in 2012. Currently, he is seeing the most reps with the first team. Apparently, the starting spot is still unsettled, but Mays has the early upper hand. He is very cheap to acquire in dynasty leagues, so he may be a guy to target given this recent news. Consistency is needed for Mays to stick as a starter, so that must be monitored through camp to ensure he doesn’t lose focus, but acquiring him now may be worth the price.
Let’s now take a look at other players to start targeting and keep a close eye on through training camp:
Matt Shaughnessy, DE OAK
Shaughnessy was another favorite sleeper of many in 2011. His season ended early in week three following a shoulder injury that lead to season-ending surgery. He recently returned to the practice field for the first time since that injury and Richard Seymour said he “thinks he’s the best in the NFL against the run.” That is some nice fluff, but in 2010, Shaughnessy was extremely productive and, as a result, looked to be on the verge of a breakout season. The injury may have only delayed things. Shaughnessy is another great value target at the DE spot with many snake-bitten from last season’s disaster.
MD Jennings / Jerron McMillian, SS GB
Everyone seems to still be riding the Charlie Peprah train, but Jennings and McMillian will be in the mix to be the Packers starting safety in 2012. Most recently, Coach Dom Capers had positive things to say about Jennings’ contributions on special teams in 2011. McMillian was drafted by the Packers in the second round of the 2012 draft and will also be in the mix. It is unclear who will walk away with the starting spot at this point, but given how potent the Packers offense is, this position will net a productive player and should be monitored. My money is on Jennings given Capers comments on his 2011 contributions and his instincts as a football player.
Brandon Taylor, SS SD
Atari Bigby cannot catch a break. In 2011 as a member of the Seahawks, Kam Chancellor beat him out. Now, he joins the Chargers and rookie Brandon Taylor will be chomping at Bigby’s heels to start at strong safety. Taylor is a former LSU safety with a boatload of college experience. Most importantly, he is a hardnosed tackler. Don’t be surprised if he wins the training camp battle in San Diego.
Akeem Dent, MLB ATL
At best, Dent is only going to be a two-down linebacker if he is able to beat out Lofa Tatupu for the Falcons’ middle linebacker position. It sounds like Dent is benefiting from his first offseason program in 2012. When Dent was the perceived starting middle linebacker for the Falcons, his fantasy value spiked. Now, with Tatupu in the mix, his value is junk. With Tatupu’s injury issues, Dent may see increased time this season regardless of how the training camp battle is settled. According to Falcons linebacker coach Glenn Pires, he is “having an offseason, which he didn’t have last year, [and] is fully taking advantage of that. He’s been great in meetings and he’s great to have around.” Dent may possess some limited value as a two-down linebacker if he wins the starting job in camp, but could be a nice pick-up given his current value.
Jets Defense – Front Seven
The Jets are planning to play more four-man fronts than they did in the past. This must be monitored throughout the preseason and training camp, but this could mean increased fantasy value for Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples. I didn’t understand the Coples selection around draft time, but maybe it makes sense after all as Coples is a better fit as a 4-3 end. More four-man fronts may mean the Jets are going to play more nickel too, so it is unclear what impact this will have on the Jets’ linebackers at this point, but is something to be aware of and to monitor.
Haruki Nakamura, SS CAR
Most people believe Charles Godfrey is the strong safety to own in Carolina, but Nakamura should not be discounted. Jon Beason recently said Nakamura reminded him of former Panther safety Chris Harris – that is quite the compliment! Nakamura must have also learned something from Ed Reed in his time with the Ravens over the last four years. Keep an eye on him; Nakamura may end up winning the starting spot in training camp and is a great sleeper.
Pernell McPhee, DE BAL
McPhee will start at defensive end in 2012. Yes, the Ravens play a 3-4 base defense that limits his fantasy upside, but if you are in a deeper league, McPhee is a perfect target. In only 32% of the Ravens snaps as a rookie, McPhee tallied seven sacks and 21 hurries – that’s impressive. With Terrell Suggs out with the Achilles injury, the Ravens expect to move McPhee around to create opportunities. McPhee is a forgotten man, but shouldn’t be. He is worth stashing and watching through camp as his 2011 production and expected 2012 opportunity scream value.