At this point of the NFL off-season there tend to be a lot more questions than answers. Nowhere is this truer than on the defensive side of the ball. I always say the two most nerve racking times for IDP owners are the week after the regular season ends and Draft weekend. The week after the season ends, or “Black Monday” as it has come to be known, leads to coaching changes, which leads to defensive scheme changes, which can turn a legit IDP squad into a hot mess overnight. Draft weekend can also wreak havoc on IDP rosters when players are unexpectedly drafted to teams who weren’t expected to add talent at the position. Usually this only affects the fringe talent at the linebacker position, guys like Paul Worrilow.
In the “32 Teams, 32 IDP Questions” we’re going to break down each NFL division, team by team, and ask the most pressing IDP questions facing each club. It may deal with overall scheme changes, position battles or draft related strategy. Today’s focus is the AFC West.
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“With the retirement of DeMarcus Ware, is this the year Shane Ray or Shaq Barrett breakout?”
It’s never easy to replace someone as talented or dominant as DeMarcus Ware, but the Broncos have drafted well enough to prepare for this day. Shaq Barrett was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2014 and proved to be a solid sub-level player. Shane Ray on the other hand has a much stronger pedigree. He was selected 23rd overall by the Broncos a year later and appeared to be coming into his own in 2016 with eight sacks on the year, including a nasty three sack game against the Bengals in week three.
The truth of the matter is, playing across from Von Miller grants you a ton of leniency and one-on-one matchups to exploit. Ray will undoubtedly win this job and I expect him to register his first double digit sack campaign. I also expect to see Barrett rotate in to keep him fresh or maybe even on the field at the same time as Miller and Ray in obvious pass rushing downs. Ray should be rostered in all leagues, especially sack heavy scoring, but Barrett is probably only in consideration for ultra deep leagues or best ball.
Kansas City Chiefs
“Who will be the most fantasy relevant Chiefs inside linebacker in 2017?”
Since the Chiefs drafted him 15th overall in the 2005 NFL draft the answer to this question has been Derrick Johnson, minus injury ruined seasons in 2009 and 2014. Entering 2017 is going to be a different story as he recovers from a torn Achilles tendon in his left leg at age 34. The Chiefs are woefully thin at inside linebacker with Ramik Wilson and Justin March the most likely players on the roster to be asked to step up. March picked up some steam in IDP circles last fall as he had an impressive camp but struggled to put up reliable IDP scoring in five appearances before going down for the year with a broken hand in week six. Ramik Wilson benefited the most as he saw extensive playing time and totaled 75 tackles in 11 appearances. Not bad for a guy who was expected to win the starting gig, cut prior to week one to make room for a waiver wire pick-up and then re-signed and asked to play a lot.
So where do we place our bets for 2017? Ramik Wilson seems to have gotten out of the doghouse and looks to be the player currently on the roster to benefit the most but I wouldn’t get too excited until draft weekend comes and goes. The Chiefs select 27th overall this year and the draft’s top inside linebacker, Rueben Foster, will be long gone by the time they get on the clock, even with his bone-headed display at the Combine. They could look at Zach Cunningham of Vanderbilt. At 6’3” and 234 pounds he’s a beast of a run defender and plays the pass very well. He has the look of a true three down linebacker at the NFL level and could bolster this unit right away. Jarrad Davis of Florida, Raekwon McMillan of Ohio State and even Haason Reddick of Temple could be other names to watch for Kansas City.
Los Angeles Chargers
“Is Jatavis Brown the real deal and can he be a dynasty IDP asset next to Denzel Perryman?”
Full disclosure: I love Jatavis Brown. He has scheme versatility and can stay on the field in all situations. The Chargers selected him in the fifth round, 175th overall, in last year’s draft out of Akron and he proceeded to rack up 79 tackles in 12 games with 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. He did miss four games with a knee injury suffered in week eight but finished strong with 23 tackles over the final three weeks. Denzel Perryman gets a lot of the IDP attention in drafts but I really believe Brown offers exponentially more value as someone you can get multiple rounds later and receive very similar production and a higher ceiling in big play leagues. In my opinion the Chargers got a steal with Brown and I expect him to take another step forward in 2017 and have LB2 production.
“What is Khalil Mack’s IDP value now he’s been switched back to outside linebacker?”
This is probably the only thing I dislike about IDP leagues. Every year players like Khalil Mack yo-yo back and forth from championship delivering defensive end to ho-hum outside linebacker. With J.J. Watt out with a back injury, Mack ascended to the to uber-elite tier of IDP defensive ends as the unquestioned DE1 in 2016. He scored nearly 30% more points than Oliver Vernon who finished as the DE2 and over 50% more than Cliff Avril, the DE12. He quite literally brought league championships home in 2016 and will now shift back to outside linebacker on MyFantasyLeague and there’s nothing we can do about it. I guess we can write a letter to our Congressmen but I doubt it’ll do any good. We need to recalibrate the value of Mack and the closet comparable player in the NFL is Von Miller. The easy answer to this question is to value Miller and Mack equally. He is not IDP trash. He remains a big time IDP asset but unfortunately he no longer offers a weekly “cheat code” of sorts. At the end of the day he’s still a blast to watch.
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