As we sit and reflect on the 2016 fantasy season, including our playoff disappointments and fantasy fizzles, there are a number of questions heading into 2017. As usual, there are plenty of questions to be answered that could swing IDP value within a wide range of outcomes. We have plenty of scheme changes this year, which we addressed in separate articles, but there are also other areas of IDP opportunity to leverage.
We’ll address this in a several part series, but here are some initial questions I’ve contemplated and others have asked about since the end of the regular season.
Should we be concerned with Lavonte David’s 2016 production?
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Yes and no. In David’s first four NFL seasons, he averaged 144 total tackles. In 2016, he only amassed 87 tackles. That’s a 40% production reduction. He finished the year as a low-end LB3 on an average points per game basis in tackle-heavy formats after four seasons of top ten finishes.
I don’t believe there’s an issue with David’s talent or effort. He can still be a top linebacker from both a production and performance perspective. Unfortunately, as we know with IDP, talent doesn’t always rise to the top and directly correlate with production as it typically does on the offensive side.
David’s production declined in Mike Smith’s first season as defensive coordinator, which I don’t believe is a coincidence – the issue appears to be the 2016 scheme change. Smith’s scheme didn’t funnel plays towards David like they did in the past under Lovie Smith and Greg Schiano. David’s role with Smith is less ‘read-and-react’, which is one of David’s best attributes, and more about hitting the line of scrimmage to take on blocks. Unfortunately, this isn’t conducive to production. In a post-game press conference in early November, Smith acknowledged David’s drop off in production was a result of this scheme not funneling plays his way. Not a good fact for IDP purposes.
Kwon Alexander’s breakout is also a factor. With Alexander eating up tackle opportunities, less of the pie is left for David feast. I also believe this is scheme issue as Smith’s scheme appears to funnels plays up the middle allowing Alexander to accumulate tackles. David still needs to be put in a position to make the splash plays we’re accustomed to seeing, though, and the staff appeared to do so late in the season. As long as Smith is around, though, David’s tackle production is unlikely to be what it was in his first four seasons.
To make matters worse for David owners, Smith signed a multi-year extension with the Buccaneers a few weeks ago. There may be a sliver of optimism, though. As mentioned, David finished the season with some decent performances over the last five weeks. So, part of the rough season may be attributable to familiarity with the new scheme. While this leaves some hope, I don’t believe David’s role will change. His production could increase as he becomes more familiar with the scheme and the staff puts him in positions to make big plays, but I don’t see him returning back to a top IDP level without another role change.
I’m typically less patient waiting on talent with IDPs considering how situation and tackle opportunities drive fantasy production, so if I own David, I’m moving him if I can receive value in the LB1/high LB2 range and can’t afford to wait for Smith’s reign to lapse.
Will AJ Klein land in an IDP productive spot and does it matter?
Klein is an unrestricted free agent this off-season. I believe he will land in an IDP favorable spot – and, yes, I believe it matters.
Klein is one of the more underrated linebackers – playing behind Luke Kuechly will do that. In limited action he’s performed in varying capacities. He excels defending the run, has quarterbacked a defense with Kuechly out and possesses the versatility to play middle or outside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme (or inside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme). Only 26 years old in July, Klein still has plenty of seasons of prime production time left.
There are certainly some concerns with his pass coverage ability as he struggled in coverage in relief of Kuechly this past season. He struggled so much that Shaq Thompson eventually replaced Klein in nickel packages.
However, Klein is a free stash in many leagues or a cheap acquisition in those leagues already rostered. He is highly regarded among Panthers’ teammates and is believed to be a hot target in free agency this off-season. He should be stashed and monitored, if not already.
Who is one player to target in defensive tackle required leagues that may see the largest value increase this off-season?
For me, the obvious answer is Sheldon Rankins, who was very solid in the second half of his rookie year and is well on his way to being a long-term elite IDP option. This is an easy and super conservative answer, so I’ll give several more I’m after depending on league depth:
Sheldon Richardson, DE is one of my favorite off-season targets. All indications suggest the Jets will cut their losses this off-season and deal him, finally tired of his antics. A fantastic fit as 4-3 tackle, it’s very possible Richardson lands in a favorable IDP situation, especially for tackle-required leagues. If he doesn’t land in a 4-3, he should see an increase in tackle opportunities, as there’s a high probability he’s a starter with another team in 2017. Of course, there’s always the possibility the Jets don’t get a deal done, but they appear to be motivated to get a deal done.
Another is Adolphus Washington, DE/DT. With the expected scheme change to a 4-3 defense with the hiring of Sean McDermott, Washington should slide into the middle and see a position change to tackle. He’s what you want in your IDP defense tackle – a disruptive pass-rusher. Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus should still be the starters inside, but Williams is contemplating retirement. Either way, it shouldn’t be long before Washington sees consistent snaps.
Also add A’Shawn Robinson to the list. Only 21 years old, as a rookie, he played 40% of the team’s snaps and finished the year with 22 tackles and two sacks. The 22 tackles was good for third on the team among defensive lineman. Robinson should be a starter in 2017 and see an upward trend in both snaps and production. He still needs to improve on his pass rushing ability, but his rookie season showed a lot of promise.
Maliek Collins is another target, as he possesses a sky-high ceiling. Only 21 years old, he needs to continue to develop, but he’s an ideal three-technique tackle. Towards the end of the year, he saw an increase in snap share and produced, especially in the passing game where he accumulated three sacks in the last five weeks of the season.
Digging a little deeper, Dominique Easley is a restricted free agent this off-season. As a former first rounder, the draft pedigree is there. He couldn’t put it together as a Patriot, but he was decent as one of the Rams’ inside rotation men. Finally able to stay healthy for a season, depending on where Easley lands, he could be a nice stash in deeper leagues. There is risk here considering his injury history and the fact that the Rams could tender him and he plays 3-4 defense end with them, but he’s currently at a cheap acquisition cost.
What other questions are bouncing around your head this off-season? Let me know via the comments and/or Twitter and I’ll either incorporate in one of the next parts or provide my thoughts.