I believe that to properly analyze the 2017 IDPs you need to have an idea of how they’ll ALL perform so you can benchmark and compare them effectively. So I built a model using past performance, efficiency, scheme information and coaching tendencies to predict what will happen in 2017. I’ve applied that to my best estimates for how teams will use players this year which gives a projection and ranking for all IDPs. You can read more about what I did and how here.
The Texans were maybe the best defense in the NFL in 2016. Certainly they were in terms of multiplicity of the unit. They showed loads of types of front, their pass-rush was consistently excellent, their secondary was good… And they did all of this without their Hall of Fame pass rusher. They lost a couple of pieces in the off-season but most of the coaching staff and philosophy remains in place (even if Mike Vrabel and Romeo Crennel switched job titles) so it should still be a fantastic unit and I can’t wait to see how it shapes up. It’s also worth remembering that Vrabel is the only defensive coordinator in NFL history to have had ten receiving touchdowns as a player.
The Texans are one of the more generous team in the NFL for assists. They ranked sixth in 2016 for assists per opportunity. Normally this means that inside linebackers and safeties generally get a bump in productivity and that’s still true but the outside linebackers also tend to be rewarded in Houston. That’s worth knowing given their general excellence.
JJ Watt, DE
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He’s my #1 end this season. Yes, I’m concerned by the back injury, but I’m not a doctor. I’ve seen Watt do so many seemingly impossible things that simply making a full recovery seems humdrum.
Putting him into a defense that was this good without him is simply scary. It’s become trendy to criticise Watt for his media persona among other things but let’s say it again; he’s a Hall of Fame player already and even with a significant decrease in productivity he’s one of the best defenders in the league.
Key stats: 938 snaps, 56 solo tackles, 19 assists, 14, sacks. seven passes defended.
Kevin Johnson, CB
Johnson has only played 1,089 defensive snaps in his two-year career but I think he’s primed for an excellent IDP season. He was decent as a rookie and started the 2016 season fantastically before injury struck. I think he’ll come into a team that benefits from exceptional pass rush and manage to make lots of plays on the ball just like AJ Bouye did last season. I think he’ll be as high as the #6 corner.
Key stats: 823 snaps, 53 solo tackles, eight assists, 16 passes defended, two interceptions.
This is a great example of how being a “starter” isn’t necessarily a great thing. McKinney is the best linebacker in Houston and he’s my #48 for 2017.
Because Watt and the other pass rushers hoover up so much production the Texans linebackers just don’t have as many opportunities to take advantage of. 2016 was actually an abnormally high year for Texans linebackers. Don’t expect it to happen again. McKinney can be a useful player for you in deep leagues but don’t rely on him.
Key stats: 837 snaps, 56 solo tackles, 35 assists, two sacks, three passes defended.
DJ Reader, DT
Normally I wouldn’t list the #63 defensive tackle but given he’ll be inheriting Vince Wilfork’s old job I wanted to bring him up. Wilfork was a great player in IDP leagues because someone else in every league would waste a decent pick on him leaving you a little bit more opportunity. He was a great NFL player of course – fairly poor IDP.
Reader might also suffer from a decrease in assisted tackles. I think the Texans crew gave Wilfork a few extra of those per season based on name recognition.
Key stats: 504 snaps, 14 solo tackles, 15 assists, one sack, one pass defended.
Although I don’t really like Covington as a player this is a great spot. Simply being a Texans player who is not JJ Watt or Jadaveon Clowney means opposing teams are very likely to target you – meaning additional tackle opportunities. Covington is my #36 end for 2017.
Key stats: 663 snaps, 25 solo tackles, 14 assists, six sacks, three passes defended.
To quote Bruce Robertson, “same rules apply”. Texans linebackers are simply not that productive. Whoever wins the job of second linebacker (I’d love to see more Cushing camp call-outs) I don’t expect them to be amazingly effective. They could well switch around so it’s worth keeping an eye on but they’re my #96 and #140 ranked linebackers.
Cushing key stats: 519 snaps, 37 solo tackles, 23 assists, one pass defended.
Cunningham key stats: 281 snaps, 20 solo tackles, 11 assists, one sack, one pass defended.
I haven’t been mentioning many pass rushing linebackers but Clowney is clearly a special case – not least because he’ll be DE-eligible in some leagues. He’s also a major candidate to beat the numbers below. He’s clearly come into his own as a very good pass rusher and an elite run-stopper. He’s my #63 linebacker.
Mercilus should also return to a more standard outside role. He was used inside a lot in 2016 with John Simon being effective outside but with Simon departed and Watt back that should happen less. I have him at #94 linebacker.
Clowney key stats: 829 snaps, 40 solo tackles, 21 assists, six sacks, four passes defended.
Mercilus key stats: 700 snaps, 32 solo tackles, 18 assists, four sacks, one pass defended.
Kareem Jackson, CB
I like Jackson quite a lot as a player. He’ll likely be the number two corner and shift to the slot in sub packages to accommodate an ageing Jonathan Joseph. Martin will have a healthy number of tackles given the strength of the Texans is clearly inside. He’s my #43 corner.
Key stats: 739 snaps, 49 solo tackles, seven assists, nine passes defended, one interception.
As much as I love the Texans defense, their safety use is horrible for IDPs. They use both of them interchangeably and both starters generally put up similar numbers. I don’t expect that to change with Vrabel as the named coordinator. So although these two are likely to be the starters, they’re both fairly down the ranks. There are even some dedicated free safeties I’d rather own. I have Hal at #49 and Dillon at #62.
Hal key stats: 834 snaps, 45 solo tackles, 23 assists, eight passes defended, two interceptions.
Dillon key stats: 845 snaps, 40 solo tackles, 15 assists, six passes defended, three interceptions.
JJ Watt looms above this team like the Eye of Sauron. How healthy he is, how effective he is and how that affects everyone else is the key question here. Simply because Watt at 100% just hoovers up stats from everyone else. You won’t be able to obtain him at anything like good value because any owner has already held him for almost a full season of injury with the hopes he returns to all-pro form. If you are one of those owners I think you’ll have a top asset –but maybe not the match-winning superstar of past seasons. Either way it’s a great until and they should be really fun to watch in 2017.
Those are my predictions as of right now. Obviously things will change as we get a better idea of who will play and how going towards the season. If you disagree with any assertions here feel free to leave a comment or contact me on Twitter (@TomDegenerate) and I’ll be happy to discuss.
Thanks for reading.