We’re in the heart of training camp, which means frequent news updates and plenty of ensuing questions. It also means we’re only a few weeks until rosters and depth charts are set for week one. On the IDP side, we’re analyzing all 32 teams separately to address a related question about each team.
There are position battles and injury concerns in the AFC East with potentially significant IDP implications. Today, we will take a look at four of those situations and assess the IDP impact.
After the season ending knee injury to rookie Reggie Ragland, who will lineup next to Preston Brown at the other inside linebacker position?
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The Bills defense has taken a number of significant hits over the last month in the form of injury and short term substance abuse suspensions, but the season-ending ACL injury to Reggie Ragland will undoubtedly have the largest impact on the Bills defense. Prior to the injury he was drawing praise from coaches and media alike. There was even some talk about him being the front runner for Defensive Rookie of the Year, but that all changed on August 5th when he partially tore his ACL. He’ll join fellow rookie linebacker Shaq Lawson on injured reserve and won’t play a snap for the Bills.
So who will step into the vacant role next to Preston Brown? The competition is between Zach Brown, Brandon Spikes and David Hawthorne with the early front runner being Brown. He is the most complete linebacker among the three and is capable in the passing game, whereas Spikes is much better against the run and needs to come off the field on passing downs. He also sat out the entire 2015 season which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but something to take note of. Hawthorne hasn’t been anything noteworthy since leaving Seattle in 2011. He has spent the last four seasons plodding around on the historically awful Saints defenses but has experience in the Ryan family defense. He’s nothing but depth on a team severely lacking it. I expect this job to be a time share between Spikes and Zach Brown with Brown being the more valuable of the two. He’ll be on the field for passing downs and offers more versatility. Spikes will see his opportunities on early downs and in obvious run situations.
Who will win the cornerback competition to line up across from Byron Maxwell?
The Dolphins made a splash this off-season by trading for Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxwell from the Philadelphia Eagles by sending the eighth overall selection in the draft for the two players and the thirteenth overall pick. Alonso will man the middle and be the every down linebacker as the defensive signal caller. Maxwell steps in as the team’s number one cornerback, that much is known. The question is who will line up across from him because that person will have some IDP relevancy as a heavily targeted player.
The team is currently dealing with a slew of injuries at corner and the de facto starter so far has been Tony Lippett, a 2015 fifth round pick who has been talked up by Coach Adam Gase throughout the off-season but has recently been losing first team reps to Chimdi Chekwa. Chekwa played the previous four seasons with the Raiders and is a replacement level sub package player. The other players competing for the job are Bobby McCain, another 2015 fifth round selection, Xavien Howard, a promising 2016 second round pick out of Baylor who has been dealing with a knee injury he suffered at minicamp, and Chris Culliver who is coming off a torn ACL and MCL suffered in late November. Culliver may open the season on the PUP list as he recovers from his knee injury so the odds he’s in uniform for week one are slim.
This competition will likely go down to the wire between Howard, Chekwa and Lippett. My guess is whoever “wins” this competition will only be a place holder until Howard learns enough of the defense to be trustworthy. For anyone who streams cornerbacks like they do kickers, this position should be one you keep an eye on throughout the preseason.
What in the world are the Patriots doing with Shea McClellin?
Shea McClellin is the text book definition of “a jack of all trades, a master of none”. Selected by the Chicago Bears in 2012, he was drafted as a defensive end coming out of Boise State but has spent the last two years as a linebacker. Signing with the Patriots as a free agent this off-season will do absolutely nothing to clear up what he is in the NFL. Belicheck will use him as a Swiss Army knife, lining him up at multiple positions. He’s listed as the team’s starting strong side linebacker but spent most of the off-season lining up at defensive end, and that was before Rob Ninkovich went down with a torn triceps.
The best case scenario for IDP purposes would be for McClellin to be listed as a defensive end because value wise, a defensive end that plays linebacker snaps is much better than a linebacker who plays defensive end snaps. The likelihood of this happening is pretty slim though, especially with the way Chris Long has been playing this preseason. It will leave McClellin at the SAM linebacker position on paper but it’ll be like a “Where’s Waldo?” every other play and lead to some inconsistent weekly fantasy outputs. He’ll be best left alone outside of deep IDP leagues or best ball setups.
What role will rookie Darron Lee play for the Jets this season?
The Jets are being very cautious with their plans for rookie Darron Lee. After using the 20th overall selection in this year’s draft to take the linebacker from Ohio State, the Jets coaching staff was expected to use him in sub-packages to replace Erin Henderson next to every down linebacker David Harris. But the rookie’s work ethic and ability to pick up the defense has accelerated the team’s plans. Even though Henderson finished 2015 as PFF’s 14th-ranked inside linebacker, he only totaled 44 tackles and failed to record a single sack or turnover of any sort.
Inserting the off-the-charts athleticism of Lee should change all of that. His Combine numbers were well publicized, and with good cause, he lit it up with a 4.47 second 40-yard dash, 11’1” broad jump and 35.5” vertical, they were incredibly impressive. The former Buckeye has hustled his way into getting first team reps at practice at both the weak and strong inside linebacker spots this week. The Jets are quickly figuring out their defense is going to be much better with him on the field and they’re going to see how much the 21 year old can handle. He’s the future of the position for the Jets and the future might be here even sooner than they realized. At the very worst he’s going to see plenty of situational opportunities to start the season but I’d be shocked if we exit September without him getting starter’s snap at Erin Henderson’s expense. I really like his IDP outlook for 2016 but his 2017 value and beyond is where he’s really going to pay dividends.
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