IDP leagues can be won with preemptive pickups or trading for players who are on the rise based on training camp and preseason events. However, there is so much information out there during this time related to role changes, roster moves or injuries and because of information overload, it’s often difficult to spot these things quickly to capitalize.
To help identify these players, we’ve sifted through much of the training camp observations, press conferences and beat writer tweets. Based on that, here are some notable players to keep an eye on this preseason:
Christian Jones, ILB CHI
Another IDP article… another opportunity to beat the Jones’ drum. Early reports suggest Jones is a key piece to Fangio’s blueprint to rebuild the Bears’ defense, which makes sense considering Jones has exhibited versatility, agility in coverage and athleticism thus far – basically everything Fangio wants in his inside linebackers. Jones also put on weight in preparation for playing inside and, according to Ryan Mundy, 30 pounds (!). That must be an exaggeration, but, the added weight bodes well for the physicality he’ll face inside. Knowing what Fangio likes in a linebacker and what Jones possesses, I’m expecting big things from Jones in 2015. Specifically, him being named the starter followed by a breakout year. While he was undrafted in the 2014 NFL Draft, don’t forget he was a highly regarded NFL prospect prior to off the field issues. He just may be Vontaze Burfict 2.0 without the injury concerns.
Other news out of Chicago is the Bears’ staff is still impressed with Shea McClellin’s play. Throw up a little in your mouth? I know Mr. Breeze did. It’s becoming more apparent this staff likes what they see from McClellin after the offseason move to inside linebacker, but so far this praise only comes out of practice. McClellin is still far from a guaranteed starter. We’ll see how it translates in actual preseason games this month. Mason Foster (and his IDP owners) will be furious if he ends up being a situational player.
Some bang their fist on the table claiming Foster is guaranteed a starting spot. After all, they just signed him this offseason through free agency. I wouldn’t be so quick to hang my hat on the contract considering he’s on a one-year contract for $800 thousand. He was essentially brought in for ‘back-up’ money and roughly the same as Jamari Lattimore (Jets), Brad Jones (Eagles) and Jasper Brinkley (Cowboys). This contract guarantees nothing, folks. He needs to earn it. Foster’s phsyicality may ultimately win him the job over McClellin, but like I said, he needs to earn it.
Packers’ Starting Inside Linebackers
[am4show have=’g1;’ guest_error=’sub_message’ user_error=’sub_message’ ]
Early on, Sam Barrington is the only consistent body at inside linebacker for the Packers. It seems to be a certainty he’ll occupy one of the two starting inside linebacker spots. The question is what happens next to him. Coach Mike McCarthy isn’t thrilled with Carl Bradford or Jake Ryan thus far, so it appears Clay Matthews may stay at inside linebacker until someone else can be consistently relied on. Matthews will still rush from the outside in passing situations, but his tackle production will spike with snaps inside. In turn, his IDP value will also see a nice bump. If you’re looking for a production baseline, take a look at Matthews’ stats from late last year where he played a similar role.
Geno Atkins, DT CIN
It sounds like Atkins is truly back to pre-injury form. Now roughly two years removed from an ACL injury, some are calling his play thus far ‘dominant’ and all indications are he is consistently disruptive again. If this is true, and it very well may be since it typically takes two years to recover from an ACL tear, Atkins is severely underrated based on a 2014 lackluster performance.
Malcolm Butler, CB NE
Butler is best known for the game-clinching interception to end last year’s Super Bowl, but he may begin to become better known across the league in 2015 if his stellar camp reviews are any indication. Allegedly, when the pads come on, Butler turns it up a notch and is uber-competitive. Read any insight from beat writers or summary of camp practices and you’ll undoubtedly see references to Butler breaking up passes and logging interceptions. The downside from an IDP perspective is he’s fairly solid in coverage, so the long-term tackle opportunities may not be as high as you’d like. However, if you’re league awards points for passes defended, he’s a bit more valuable. For 2015, though, regardless of how solid his coverage was through limited snaps last year or how solid it appears to be in camp, he’ll be tested as a first year starter. That should mean tackle / pass defense opportunities and fantasy points. He’s a fantastic 2015 option in corner-required leagues.
Duke Ihenacho / Jeron Johnson, SS WAS
The Redskins released former 2013 second round pick Philip Thomas this past week providing a little clarity in the battle for the Redskins’ starting strong safety spot. Right now, Ihenacho and Johnson are rotating with the first team in a very fluid situation. While Ihenacho often struggles in coverage, Johnson has limited game experience after playing behind Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor for the last four years. With Johnson’s recent Legion of Boom tutelage and Ihenacho’s struggles in coverage, despite his limited NFL snap experience, I believe it’s reasonable to assume Johnson has a leg up at this stage. It’s ultimately about how they perform in the preseason, though. Keep an eye on this situation – there is value to be had.
Leon Hall, CB CIN
Hall is seeing regular time at safety in the early days of camp after dabbling there in OTAs. The majority of his time is still at corner, but this should be monitored, especially given the Bengals’ potential corner depth. If he does eventually transition to or play a versatile role at both corner and safety, Hall could be a sneaky play in corner-required leagues with his cornerback designation as it would likely result in increased tackle opportunities. A position switch is far from a certainty, though, as Hall publicly stated he doesn’t want to play there.
Mario Williams, DE BUF
After initial IDP panic due to MFL’s position eligibility change from defensive end to outside linebacker, Williams is back to defensive end eligibility. So, great news for Williams’ owners, especially those who may have taken advantage of the drop in value on the early off-season change. This defensive end position designation should hold now, especially considering how Rex Ryan is likely to use Williams in across his multiple front defense. Ultimately, this makes a lot of sense since Ryan’s base defense is, for all practical purposes, a 4-3 under.
Khalil Mack, LB OAK
Sticking with position designations, if things continue to trend as they have thus far, it’s possible we see Mack’s position eligibility change prior to the start of the season. He’s played a significant amount of defensive end through the early part of camp and is listed as a defensive end on the Raiders’ unofficial depth chart. If this position change occurs, he would immediately vault into the top five, and my top three, IDP defensive ends – this also would also throw cold water on the Mario Edwards owners’ hope for immediate playing time in 2015. Regardless of where Mack sees most of his time, though, he’s liable to be moved around and play various roles including linebacker.
Jabaal Sheard, DE NE
Sheard has played well thus far exhibiting a solid burst and effective pass rush moves in one-on-one drills. Once viewed as a top IDP defensive end, Sheard should find himself in a three-man rotation with Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich in 2015. Unfortunately for Sheard and his career progression, he was a mismatch in Cleveland’s 3-4 scheme as an outside linebacker and never really fit in. The signing with the Patriots and the move to a multiple front defense should bring plenty of opportunities for Sheard to play with his hand in the dirt. The benefit of the change is already apparent in his early camp successes.
The talent’s there with Sheard as he’s shown thus far in his career, he just needs the snaps. It appears he’ll get them as part of a rotation in 2015. Sheard is very underrated right now, but admittedly, he’s a better deep league option barring injury to Jones or Ninkovich.
Aldon Smith, OLB SF
Smith joins Josh Gordon in the ‘ten-cent head’ club. After five arrests in three years and struggles with alcohol, Smith’s NFL career should be finished after the 49ers’ released him following last week’s latest incident. Corey Lemonier or Aaron Lynch should assume Smith’s starting spot with rookie Eli Harold fighting for snaps. In tackle-heavy, this news doesn’t have much bearing. In big-play leagues, however, Harold is someone to watch with a long-term lense considering his pass rushing abilities.
I’m going to spend the last portion of this article on the Seahawks. The nuggets from camp this past week really piqued my interest – I have to share even though some are only going to be relevant to those in much deeper leagues:
Cassius Marsh, DE SEA
Marsh reported to camp fully recovered from his rookie season foot injury. Over the past week, when Cliff Avril took the day off this past week, Marsh ran with the first team. While he is versatile and can play anywhere on the line, Coach Pete Carroll said he’ll spend most of his time in LEO role. So, he’ll be focused on rushing the passer and carry more value in big-play leagues. Considering the gutter price he currently carries, he’s worth a stash in deeper leagues regardless of scoring.
The difficulty is Marsh may struggle to see consistent snaps since Avril was just extended through 2019 this past December. Right now, he’ll serve as depth on the outside of the Seahawks line, but early indications are he’s standing out in practice. If that continues, he’ll find his way on the field. Be on the lookout for how he fares during the preseason.
Frank Clark, DE SEA
Coach Carroll was specific this past week on the role they expect rookie Frank Clark to play. He’ll play end in their base defense and kick inside in passing situations. So, he’ll play a similar role to Michael Bennett. However, defensive coordinator Kris Richard cautioned optimism saying Clark will have an uphill battle as a rookie. Carroll seems exited about Clark, so he’s someone to watch through the preseason to see how he fares.
Ahtyba Rubin, DT SEA
In defensive tackle required leagues, keep an eye on Rubin with the release of Tony McDaniel earlier this week. There’s an open starting spot with this move. Both Carroll and Richard have praised Rubin’s play thus far. In addition, like Sheard, he’s a much better fit in a 4-3 base defense as he showed in 2010 and 2011, so Rubin has an opportunity to excel in Seattle in 2015. Richard did also mention Demarcus Dobbs as a potential replacement, but Rubin’s talent is superior.
Kevin Pierre-Louis, LB SEA
With Bruce Irvin getting the day off around mid-week, Pierre-Louis replaced him in the first team lineup. Carroll, typically enthusiastic, borderline gushed about the second year player noting, “He is so fast and he plays so quick. He’s a real smart player. He studied really hard so he knows his stuff. What he has been able to do is he makes things happen. He gets off blocks really well. He’s got great speed to chase the football he also has good instincts in the throwing game. If we were playing today, we would get him into the rotation and have him playing some. Spell the guys who have to play so many snaps. We wouldn’t hesitate at all. It’s good to see him go with the first group.” While he’s on the second team and a stash for deeper leagues, if this trend continues, Pierre-Louis may make his way into the starting lineup next year with Irvin reportedly set to leave in free agency. I want to stress that even as a starter, he’ll continue to be a deeper league play only. The reason being he’ll play on the strongside with KJ Wright and Bobby Wagner on the weakside/middle limiting his tackle opportunities.