This is it, folks. We’ve entered that dreaded period between the end of OTAs and the start of training camp. It’s a time saturated with unfounded speculation and starved of any real, impactful fantasy news.
And while most offensive depth charts have already been heavily scrutinized to unearth training camp battles to watch and even the deepest of sleepers, many IDP depth charts have yet to enjoy the same attention. This prolonged downtime provides us the perfect opportunity to give the defensive side of the football a little love and examine each division’s IDP depth chart in detail.
For the sake of this series, I will be using the depth charts provided by Rotoworld, AKA the end-all-be-all site of all things fantasy related.
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Zach Vigil – No. 2 MLB for Miami Dolphins
By all accounts, sophomore linebacker Zach Vigil is squarely behind Kiko Alonso on the depth chart. But as an unabashed Philadelphia Eagles fan, I can tell you that Alonso is a poor bet to regain the 2013 rookie form that made him into an IDP sensation. ACL injuries have sapped his speed and ability to cover, and he isn’t big enough to shed tackles.
Also, there is this fallacy that the Dolphins are committed to Alonso. Sure, he was part of the trade that saw the team give up the eighth overall pick, but also included in that trade were Byron Maxwell and the 13th overall pick – essentially making Alonso a throw-in. He is also on that last year of a rookie deal which pays him just under $1M, which is just slightly more expensive than peanuts in today’s NFL.
Prior to the trade, the team reportedly felt comfortable enough with Vigil that they were prepared to give him first-team reps. While that certainly doesn’t mean he was locked in to the starting job, it spoke volumes about how the team felt about the UDFA’s limited performance during his rookie season. With a full season under his belt, Vigil could conceivably wrestle the job away at some point this season from Alonso – a player whose commitment from the team only extends as far as his good play (or likely lack thereof) takes him.
Erin Henderson – No. 2 ILB for New York Jets
When the Jets selected Darron Lee in the first round of this year’s draft, it was widely assumed that he would step into a starting role right away. But let us not forget that the team also invested in veteran Henderson this offseason as well, giving him a two-year, $3.1M contract after he impressed them with his play over the course of last season. While that isn’t a lucrative contract, the fact they re-signed him speaks well to his standing within the organization.
From Week 12 on, Henderson averaged a healthy 5.7 tackles per game as a two-down thumper. He should enjoy a similar role this season, while Lee will likely see the field on obvious passing downs. He likely won’t be more than a LB3 in fantasy given his limited role, but Henderson is the clear early-down starter over Lee for at least this season. Similarly, this timeshare makes Lee a risky bet as well for consistent production during his rookie year.
Robert Blanton – No. 3 S for Buffalo Bills
Aside from the 2014 season where he notched 105 tackles in 15 games with the Minnesota Vikings, Blanton has had a rather nondescript career. Now he is with the Bills behind starters Aaron Williams and Corey Graham, which on the surface seems like all you need to know about him and his IDP relevance. But based on spring practices, head coach Rex Ryan seems eager to use three-safety looks in 2016.
Blanton appears most likely to fill that third safety spot, ahead of the likes of Jonathan Meeks and Duke Williams – a player many IDP owners were high on but ultimately has yet to live up to expectations his first three years in the league. While it remains to be seen just exactly how he will be used, Blanton figures to see the field far more often than he did last year with the Vikings. His playing time could warrant stashing in deeper leagues as someone to fill in if your team is in a bye week bind.
Jabaal Sheard – No. 2 DE for New England Patriots
With Chandler Jones getting handed his pink slip and sent packing to the desert, Rob Ninkovich is listed as the de facto No. 1 DE for the Patriots. But while he may be listed as the team’s top option, make no mistake about it: Sheard is the preferred DE, both in real life and in fantasyland. Let us compare:
|Name||Snaps/Game||Sacks||QB Hits||QB Hurries||Total Pressures|
Sheard had more hurries than Ninkovich had total pressures, and this was despite playing in the three less games and averaging 13 less snaps per game. Ninkovich is very much a jack of all trades, master of none, and for a few seasons now has received steady snaps despite underwhelming on field play. With Sheard in line to start at RDE, it would hardly be surprising if Sheard took over as the team’s dominant pass-rusher, with the snap distribution turning in his favor. He is a near-lock for double-digit sacks this season and is ready to truly breakout as a DE1 in IDP leagues.