IDP Stakeout: NFC Edition

Eric Olinger

wareIn an earlier article I gave you some things I am keeping my eye on in IDP leagues this summer in the AFC. Today, I am going over the NFC depth charts and covering what catches my eye. The good news is I wasn’t slapped with any restraining orders for stalking/spying on the AFC guys… yet!

On to the NFC rosters!

How Fantasy Friendly Will Dallas’ Switch to a 4-3 Be?

Very. Even though DeMarcus Ware gets all the attention on Dallas’ defense from coordinators and fantasy players alike, there are multiple IDP assets on this team, especially since they transitioned away from the 3-4 and into a 4-3 defense. Ware goes from a big play gamble every week as LB3 to a bona fide DE1 in IDP leagues. Bookending Ware is Anthony Spencer and even though he doesn’t get the attention Ware does, he will put up very similar numbers from the defensive end position. He played defensive end at Purdue, so this will be a welcomed homecoming of sorts for Spencer. He can be drafted as a mid to low DE2 but could easily put up DE1 numbers by season’s end. With Sean Lee and Bruce Carter now healthy, look for both to excel in Monte Kiffin’s Tampa-2 defense. In most cases the MIKE linebacker in a 4-3 is the player to own, but in the Tampa-2 defense everything flows to the WILL linebacker, in this case Bruce Carter. I can’t even begin to tell you how high my expectations are for Carter this year. Anything less than elite LB1 numbers will disappoint me. Sean Lee can comfortably be drafted as LB2 with fringe low LB1 possibilities. Also, look for Barry Church to excel at strong safety after recovering from his Achilles injury.

What Ever Happened to the Giants Pass Rusher?

At this time last year we were all talking about Jason Pierre-Paul in the same way we’re talking about J.J. Watt right now. We said JPP should be the first IDP off the board at the end of round three or top of round four and then forget about all IDPs for a couple rounds. He burnt everyone by finishing with 6.5 sacks. Now he’s recovering from back surgery and we don’t know if he’ll be 100% by the time week one rolls around. He wasn’t the only disappointing lineman for the G-Men, Justin Tuck finished with just four sacks, his lowest total since 2006. Taking the place of the departed Osi Umenyiora will be Mathias Kiwanuka who has yo-yoed back and forth between defensive end and SAM linebacker since being drafted. I’m still drafting JPP as a DE1 based on freak-like ability and the value attached to his injury. Tuck will likely get drafted higher than he deserves based on his name recognition. He’s a mid level DE2. Kiwanuka is a player I would actually rather have over Tuck. He’s a high motor player who can chase down runners and quarterbacks. Plus, Tuck often moves inside to play defensive tackle on obvious passing downs to put as many pass rushers up front as possible.

Who Will Start at Middle Linebacker for the Giants?

As of right now it’s a two man battle between Mark Herzlich and Dan Connor. Anyone who knows Herzlich’s story roots for this guy. He’s a cancer survivor and a genuinely good guy. Prior to his illness he was a sideline-to-sideline predator for Boston College. Unfortunately, the leg surgeries have sapped his explosiveness. Dan Connor is looked lost in Dallas’ 3-4 last year, but looked fairly stout in Carolina’s 4-3 in 2011. This is a battle not likely to be decided prior to the preseason.

What are the Eagles Thinking?

I will never understand why teams think they can switch to a 3-4 defense overnight. The Eagles had one of the better 4-3 defensive lines in the league talent wise last year and now they’re forcing square pegs into round holes at outside linebacker. Trent Cole has never played a down at linebacker. His value takes a harder hit than anyone’s, going from low DE1 / high DE2 to LB4 if he’s lucky – the best case scenario dor him is a trade this summer or during camp. I’m less concerned for Brandon Graham as I think he can handle the transition and Connor Barwin has 3-4 experience. The strong point of this defense will be the inside linebackers, DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks. Even though Ryans plays better in a 4-3, playing next to Kendricks will benefit him. He won’t be relied on to be “the man.” Kendricks has the opportunity to put up really solid LB2 numbers this season. Ryans also should stay around the LB2 value. Look for the starting safety battles to go deep into camp too. At free safety, Nate Allen and Kenny Phillips will battle while Pat Chung and rookie Earl Wolff fight over the starting strong safety gig. I expect Chung and Phillips to win these jobs and have been drafting accordingly.

London Fletcher is Incredible

At 38 years young, Fletcher is still performing at an incredibly high level. He finished tied for eighth in the NFL in total tackles in 2012 with 139. While this year could be his last, (how many times have we said that?) Fletcher still has LB1 ability in fantasy leagues. The better long term prospect would be his running mate in the middle, Perry Riley. Riley finished 2012 with 129 total tackles. Both of these players benefitted greatly from Washington’s home score keeper handing out assisted tackles like candy corn on Halloween. Riley is a personal favorite of mine and when/if Fletcher slows down and retires, it’ll be Riley’s team.

Who Replaces Brian Urlacher?

For the first time in a very long time, Brian Urlacher is not the face of the Chicago Bears. The Bears signed D.J. Williams in free agency and drafted Jon Bostic from the University of Florida to replace the future Hall of Famer. Whoever wins this job will have some really solid IDP value. The battle is already being called an open competition, which tells me the Bears want Bostic to show enough to start him week one. Barring Bostic falling on his face, I wouldn’t waste your time with Williams as anything more than veteran insurance.

Can a Rookie Replace Cliff Avril in Detroit?

When the Lions drafted Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah fifth overall it sent a clear message they intended to get after the quarterback. Having spent three recent very hign draft pick on defensive linemen shows Coach Jim Schwartz has quite a bit of personnel say in this organization. Ansah is raw and will undoubtedly make mistakes, but playing along side Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley will draw enough attention for the athletic freak to pin his ears back an attack. He should achieve double digit sacks as a rookie in Avril’s old role.

The MIKE Linebacker in Minnesota

It looks like Erin Henderson will be moved back to the weak side linebacker for the Minnesota Vikings, after Desmond Bishop was signed to take the place of his departed brother, E.J. Henderson in the middle. Bishop should be an every down linebacker along side SAM linebacker Chad Greenway and provide great value as a decent LB3 or better for the immediate future. Bishop’s signing also moves Marvin Mitchell to the bench. It still shocks me the Vikings didn’t address this position in the draft, but they did well to pick up Bishop.

No More John Abraham for Atlanta

John Abraham: OUT. Osi Umenyiora: IN. Abraham posted ten sacks in 2012 and was promptly shown the door. Now the Falcons will use Osi Umenyiora in his old role. Osi is nothing more than a strict pass rusher at age 31, but could rebound into the double digit sack territory in 2013. Playing opposite Osi is Kroy Biermann, a player defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has talked up recently. Keep an eye on how he’s being used in the off-season. He could see a lot of snaps at SAM linebacker or as an outside linebacker in occasional 3-4 sets. Any player with a defensive end designation getting that many tackle opportunities as a linebacker is worth a flier.

The Panthers Secondary

What the heck is going on here? Supposedly the only spot secured in Carolina’s entire secondary is free safety Charles Godfrey. The strong safety battle is between career special teamer Haruki Nakamura, Michael Mitchell and undrafted rookie Robert Lester. The Panthers need to keep their fingers crossed Lester catches on quickly because Nakamura is a train wreck as a safety. This could end up being a situation to avoid totally. If they both struggle we could end up seeing a rotation and then they’ll both be useless.

The Health of the Bucs

Everyone will have their eyes on the high dollar cornerback Darrelle Revis when the pre-season rolls around, but I’ll be watching the defensive ends, Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers. Clayborn tore his ACL in week three last season and is on track to be ready for training camp. It sounds like the Bucs will take a gentle approach with him though. On the other side, Bowers says he feels 100% healthy for the first time as a professional and “anything less than double digit sacks in a failure.” I like hearing that out of players. Still just 23 years old with an elite defensive tackle playing next to him in Gerald McCoy, Bowers has the opportunity to recover some of his dynasty luster. We should definitely keep an eye on these players.

The Inside Linebackers in the Desert

Depending on how your scoring system is in your IDP leagues, Daryl Washington should have been a top three linebacker in your league last year. Now thanks to an unforeseen knuckle head factor, Washington will sit the first four games of the season for a violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Doubling down on his knucklehead factor, he also allegedly choked his baby mama. The NFL frowns on that too, by the way. This led the Cardinals to bring back a familiar face in Karlos Dansby and draft Kevin Minter to man the middle while Washington serves his suspension(s). The battle to watch will be Minter and Dansby during Washington’s absence because one will eventually go to the bench upon his return. Dansby will have to really outplay Minter to stick. If the rookie is playing near Dansby’s level the Cardinals would be crazy to pull him off the field. If Washington screws up again and is either suspended indefinitely or even released, these two could make up an exciting tandem on the inside.

Seattle’s Rebuilt D-Line

Rarely do the free agency winners translate their success on to the field. The Seahawks though are different because they didn’t overhaul their roster, they just supercharged it. As a Niners fan, it pains me to see the Seahawks build a roster like this. Adding Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett to second year player Bruce Irvin and veteran Chris Clemons was huge – especially since Irvin will sit the first four games on 2013 for violating the league’s policy on performance enhancing drugs and Clemons is recovering from a torn ACL suffered in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. Look for Clemons to start the season on the PUP list. Once they are all back on the field, Avril, Bennett, and Irvin will all have big DE1/DE2 upside in the way the Giants used Osi, JPP, and Tuck.

Where Will Ogletree End Up Playing?

The Rams defense cannot support three fantasy relevant linebackers and the bona fide stud of this group is middle linebacker James Laurinaitis. The battle for second fiddle will come down to rookie Alec Ogletree and Jo-Lonn Dunbar. Dunbar came out of nowhere last season to record 114 total tackles and 4.5 sacks, but don’t expect him to repeat those numbers. Ogletree is a former safety who only slipped in the draft because of well documented knuckle head tendencies. You know, the kind of players Coach Jeff Fisher has a history of maximizing. It will be a major upset if Ogletree isn’t the every down linebacker next to Laurinaitis week one. Sell high on Dunbar if you still can.

The Rams Strong Safety

There is no way the Rams will go into the season with rookie T.J. McDonald starting uncontested at strong safety… will they? McDonald, a third round pick out of USC, lacks great coverage skills but can really fly around the line of scrimmage with above average athleticism. I expect the Rams to bring back last year’s starter, Quintin Mikell, on a cheap team friendly deal at some point this off-season, if for nothing more than experienced depth. It’s an important battle to watch because Jeff Fisher’s starting strong safety is always fantasy relevant.

eric olinger
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