IDP Question Marks

Steve Wyremski


As we sit and reflect on the 2015 fantasy season, including our playoff disappointments and fizzles, there are a number of questions heading into 2016. It seems the volume of questions this offseason are a heck of a lot larger than they were over the last few years. We don’t have all that many scheme changes this year, but the other areas of IDP opportunity to leverage are plentiful.

Here are some questions I’ve been kicking around since the end of the regular season:

What’s happening with Mario Williams?

Williams and Rex Ryan fell out of favor in 2015 with differences of opinion in defensive philosophy and utilization. Williams’ worst NFL season in his 10-year career certainly helps to fuel an explosive relationship with Ryan. In fact, his 2015 season was on par, if not worse, than his 2011 season when he was put on injured reserve after tearing his pectoral muscle in week five. That season was also his first year as a 3-4 outside linebacker. The comparison to his 2016 finish shows just how poorly Ryan used Williams coupled with Williams’ lack of effort. Expect Williams to be cut this offseason and move on to a 4-3 base defense to leverage his skills. Despite his age (31), a return to a double-digit sack season with a new team in 2016 is not unlikely. He’s worth a cheap acquisition if short-term production is your goal.

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Is it time to be concerned about Robert Quinn’s inconsistency and injuries?

I’ll tell you this – I’ve owned Quinn in several dynasty leagues since his rookie season and I’m starting to get a little concerned, but I’ve taken a step back. It’s easy to get caught up when you’re missing a stud option for much of the year.

To recap – he broke out in 2013, but only had 10.5 sacks after a slow start in 2014 and missed much of 2015 with a back injury. The last two seasons aren’t what you want from your IDP cornerstone. He still finished in the Top 10 in 2014, but he wasn’t the dominant option he was the year prior. Quinn owners are frustrated and concerned, but we shouldn’t get carried away. In fact, this may present an opportunity to acquire Quinn with the perceived added risk. Despite the injury riddled 2015, he had five sacks in six games. That’s a tremendous pace and in-line with his 2013 production. The 2014 production was just due to a slow start – he’s still a stud option.

Will Deone Bucannon maintain safety position eligibility in Arizona? Does it even matter?

The Cardinals have limited talent at linebacker – Kevin Minter is a capable thumper, but struggles in coverage. Sean Weatherspoon is still recovering from major injuries while continuing to suffer other nagging injuries. Daryl Washington may never play football again. With capable bodies at safety, the Cardinals staff decided to move Bucannon to from safety to inside linebacker. He played more of a hybrid position as a rookie in 2014 spending time at both safety and linebacker, but with a hole among the linebackers in 2015, he shifted inside and is now listed on the Cardinals’ depth chart as an inside linebacker. He’s only 6-foot-1, 211 pounds, but he comes with everything you want – speed, physicality, coverage and blitzing.

He finished 2015 as the Cardinals’ leading tackler with 112 total tackles – 93 solos and 19 assists. He was a top five safety among IDP leagues this season and if he were a linebacker, he would have still placed in the top ten to fifteen in most formats. So, from a position finish perspective, there isn’t much of a difference, however, there are fewer top options at safety, so he’ll lose some IDP value should he receive linebacker designation in 2016.

How will the return of Alec Ogletree impact Mark Barron’s value, his position eligibility and his free agency value?

Unlike Bucannon, his snaps going forward aren’t guaranteed. With Ogletree out in 2015, the Rams used Barron – a safety – to fill the void. While there was a bit of a transition period in week five, after the Rams’ week six bye, Barron played close to 100% of the team’s snaps on a weekly basis as the team’s weakside linebacker. He excelled finishing with 69 tackles, 15 tackles for a loss and 24 assists over the 11-week period. In a full 16-game season, this pace would project him for over 100 tackles. Reshad Jones was the only safety to finish 2015 with more 100 or more tackles.

With Barron a free agent in 2016 and Ogletree returning to the lineup, while the Rams would love to have Barron back, it’s unlikely to be Barron’s best landing spot. He’d see a snap share cut unless the Rams were to keep him on the weakside, shift Ogletree to the middle and phase James Laurinaitis out. That’s unlikely.

With the Rams and Cardinals both finding success with in-the-box safeties at linebacker on a full-time basis, a trend may be starting. The Jets are reportedly considering experimenting with the idea in 2016. This could make Barron a valuable free agent and land him a starting gig in 2016. The problem is – if he becomes a full time starting linebacker, he’ll lose some value much like Bucannon would. He’d still be a top 15 linebacker, but his value would diminish.

Is the Jaguars’ Dante Fowler a forgotten man?

It seems so. He’s starting to climb back up the IDP ranks, but he’s an afterthought to many after tearing his ACL in his first NFL practice. Prior to the injury after the 2015 NFL draft, most had Fowler pegged as a top IDP rookie. Now, many are gun-shy because of the injury and are slotting him anywhere from a low DE2 or lower. This presents an arbitrage opportunity.

Fowler is currently on track to be available for the start of the Jaguars’ OTAs. He’s up 10 pounds from the time he entered the league, adding strength as he continues to recover from the torn ACL. Jaguars’ new defensive coordinator, Todd Walsh, expects to move Fowler around creating mismatches and putting him in situations where he’ll face one-on-one match ups. Quite simply, Walsh expects to use him as a disruptive pass rushing force.

His sack potential is tremendous with the possibility for a DE1, high DE2 finish in 2016.

What scheme changes are expected and what are the related impacts?

The only true scheme change appears to be in Philadelphia. They hired Jim Schwartz who runs a 4-3 base defense and is notorious for incorporating ‘Wide 9’ philosophies. This will have significant implications as the Eagles convert from a 3-4 base defense under Chip Kelly.

For the linebackers, it’s not completely clear yet, but those best fit for a 4-3 base defense are Kiko Alonso, Mychal Kendricks and Jordan Hicks. Strong indications are Alonso will play the weakside, which will result in a value increase. He was lost in 2015 as an inside linebacker losing snaps to Hicks before Hicks went down with an injury. The biggest question mark is Kendricks. He’s best suited to play on the weakside, but from his time in Buffalo and familiarity with Schwartz, early murmurs suggest Alonso will take it. Kendricks can play any of the 4-3 linebacker positions, but may be relegated to the strongside. This would be a huge hit to his value and is concerning to say the least. Hicks would assume the middle. I don’t see DeMeco Ryans being anything other than depth and a situational player at this point in his career.

On the defensive line, Fletcher Cox should slide inside and receive defensive tackle designation immediately placing him in the top five at the position. This will result in a big value bump, particularly in defensive tackle leagues. He’s a better fit as a 4-3 defensive tackle than a 3-4 defensive end and his 2016 numbers should reflect that.

Brandon Graham owners can rejoice with a favorable shift to defensive end. He’s officially a favorite sleeper heading into 2016. Vinny Curry would also be a huge winner, but he’s a free agent. He was drafted as a 4-3 defensive end and whether he re-signs with the Eagles or goes elsewhere, he should land in a 4-3 scheme and see a nice healthy bump in value. He’s another end who should be a sleeper and see a value increase in 2016. The other question is Connor Barwin who could either play defensive end or may also be an option on the strongside. If Curry doesn’t re-sign with the Eagles, Barwin will be a bit more valuable.

Will Muhammad Wilkerson be back with the Jets in 2016?

It seems a good possibility the Jets bring Wilkerson back for at least another year with the franchise tag. I’m not concerned with the broken leg as Wilkerson should be ready for the start of next season.

The most significant byproduct of Wilkerson returning would be the impact to Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams. Williams finished 2015 with a very successful rookie year, but he’ll only possess moderate value with Wilkerson still in the picture. The same goes for Richardson. One of the three needs to move on for Richardson and Williams to have short-term IDP value. I believe 2017 will be the year we see a significant increase in value for Richardson and Williams. Should the Jets place a franchise tag on Wilkerson, both he and Richardson will be a free agent in 2017. The Jets won’t be able to sign both because of salary cap reasons, which should spark IDP value increase for Richardson and Williams at that time.

Is the Demario Davis slump something to be concerned with?

I’m concerned. He struggled mightily in coverage and lost snaps to Erin Henderson in 2015. The Jets are looking to extend Henderson already, meaning Davis should find a new home in free agency as an unrestricted free agent. The big question will be where, but it’s a viable concern to be worried about his shaky coverage in the flats. It could keep ultimately him from playing every down with a new team. Rumors have already begun to surface that Rex Ryan may be interested in bringing Davis to Buffalo given his familiarity with his scheme. It makes sense considering the success Davis had under Ryan.

So, in summary, his value is contingent on where he lands, but his struggles in coverage raise a red flag for me, which will keep me from targeting Davis this offseason. If he lands in a favorable situation, I would be looking to cut my losses and cash-in with hopes of acquiring a linebacker with enough versatility to offer more long-term upside as a perennial three down linebacker. I don’t have enough confidence in Davis as a long-term three-down linebacker unless he improves in coverage.

Is Jabaal Sheard a legitimate long-term option at defensive end?

Yes, there’s no question.

2015 was a phenomenal year for Sheard despite the modest production. He proved he was completely miscast as a 3-4 outside linebacker in Cleveland. In a rotational role with the Patriots, he finished with his best season since his 2011 rookie season. He’s only 26 and signed through 2016 with the Patriots. He’ll still rotate with Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones in 2016, but Sheard finished 2015 with four sacks and 11 tackles over the last four weeks of the season finishing the year with eight sacks and 28 tackles. Towards the end of the year, Sheard split snaps 50/50 with Ninkovich, which is a positive sign for his long-term value. He’ll remain a deeper or match-up play in 2016, but he should continue to eat into Ninkovich’s snaps. I’d be willing to bet the Patriots re-sign Sheard after 2016, but let Ninkovich walk in free agency.

Will Jason Pierre-Paul ever return to top five defensive end status following his firework incident?

I believe he can, but I don’t believe he’ll ever be the same player.

This past season was a disaster, but he did appear a bit more comfortable towards the end of the year. His club made his pass rushing technique super awkward, which contributed to the reduction in his box score activity. The good news is he still accumulated quarterback pressures and hits, but he wasn’t able to convert those to sacks. More importantly, though, he recently underwent another hand surgery to get more flexibility in his fingers and allow him to wear a glove in 2016, as opposed to the massive club that hindered him for much of 2015. With a glove, Pierre-Paul should migrate closer to his former self in 2016 with the upside potential to be a top five to ten defensive end.

The knee jerk is to say Pierre-Paul’s career is ruined, but he was still able to get to the quarterback and this recent hand surgery could get him to where he’s more effective allowing him to accumulates sacks. It will be interesting to see who takes a shot on Pierre-Paul in free agency, but if you can acquire at a discount, he’s worth taking a shot.

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Is Paul Worrilow a future starter in Dan Quinn’s rebuilding Atlanta defense?

As Bart Scott once told me, “tackles aren’t the hardest thing in the world. Anybody can get tackles. Who cares if you lead the league in tackles and you’re defense is 25th, 26th or 30th in the league.” That’s exactly how I feel about Worrilow and the Falcons. He’s a man in the right situation as the Falcons’ middle linebacker, but he’s struggled in coverage and struggled to shed blocks throughout inconsistent play over the last two years. If the Falcons defense is going to get to where Dan Quinn wants it to be, it’s unlikely Worrilow will be a building block or a fixture in the linebacker group. He needs a strong athletic every down middle linebacker if he wants fast and physical. Worrilow doesn’t fit that skill set and, because of that, I expect Quinn to address this need in free agency or the 2016 draft.

Follow Steve on Twitter @SteveWyremski