We’re past the quarter-pole of the 2017 season. While most teams are beginning to find their identities, those who are struggling may consider turning to the rookies who’ve been learning the system, waiting to have their number called. Some of these rookies will turn out to be IDP contributors.
Our first player is one of these rookies. He received a healthy amount of fanfare this summer. Yet, his promising outlook was overshadowed by his standing on the depth chart. The rookie’s number was called in week four, and he responded with a solid outing. This was the first step in winning the trust of his coaches and earning a IDP-worthy role going forward.
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Damontae Kazee – S, ATL
Kazee is a rookie out of San Diego State. He went through the draft process as a cornerback, but was shifted to safety upon his selection by the Falcons. Atlanta’s coaching staff lauded his efforts throughout training camp and the preseason. Unfortunately, the rookie was lost on the depth chart in a deep defensive back group.
He saw 23 total snaps through the season’s first three games. In week three, Kazee played 18 snaps in relief of Ricardo Allen. With the veteran Allen still in the concussion protocol, Kazee was tapped for the start in week four.
Dan Quinn on Kazee starting for Ricardo Allen as he will be out : "It's his time."
— Kelsey Conway (@FalconsKelsey) September 29, 2017
Kazee played everyone of Atlanta’s 60 defensive snaps against the Bills. His performance earned high marks, with four solo tackles, five assist, and a forced fumble. Playing a Buffalo team with the league’s highest run ratio certainly helped the rookie pad those tackling stats. However, the tackling production is exactly what we want from our defensive backs. It’s far easier to replicate than a high point total propped up by interceptions or passes defended.
[No.27 Damontae Kazee diagnoses the belly and averts a long run.]
Atlanta has a week five bye. Week six brings the Dolphins to “The House that Julio built.” At present, only five teams put the ball in the air more frequently than Miami, who’s currently throwing at a 63% clip. This ratio is driven by game situations, as Jay Cutler has attempted just one pass while the Dolphins have held a lead (a completion to Jarvis Landry which lost 2 yards).
The Falcons are likely to get an early lead, forcing Miami into even more passing situations. Kazee would have a tougher test than he faced in his first start. The problem is, Kazee may be heading back to the bench. As of Friday morning entering week five, Allen had yet to return to the practice field. Odds are, he’ll be back by the time Atlanta returns from the bye, however.
When head coach Dan Quinn told reporters Kazee’s time had come, did he mean for good? This is the issue IDP owners have to contend with. We have a promising young safety prospect who put forth a good performance in his debut. But he’s trapped behind a veteran who will likely retain his job once he clears the protocol.
Kazee’s time will come, but it’s completely dependent on how well Allen acquits himself the rest of the year. From examining all of the minutia around the team, you do not get a sense Allen is locked into this job. He has first crack at it. And that’s something different all together.
Damontae Kazee – S, ATL
Week 4 Grade: B+ (Active defender who got involved in the second level.)
2017 Outlook: C+ (Will push for time, but needs an injury or poor play from the starters.)
Dynasty Outlook: B- (Talented player, who’s time will come. Top-24-36 potential when it does.)
Josh Jones – $LB, GB
There is no better find in IDP than the “Money Linebacker.” The safety whose physicality and size allow him to wreck shop inside the tackle box. The Green Bay Packers have had success playing Morgan Burnett in this role for a couple of years, while getting only moderate production from their full time ILBs. At times, the Packers have even slid Clay Matthews into the middle, taking him away from what he does best — rushing the passer.
It appears the Packers have found themselves a new toy for defensive coordinator Dom Capers to scheme into a cruise missile. Josh Jones — the team’s second round pick in 2017 — took 100% of the snaps at inside linebacker in the Packers’ week three comeback victory over the Bengals. Meanwhile, ILBs Blake Martinez and Joe Thomas saw just 77%, and 23% of the snaps, respectively.
Jones was impressive in his first full-time stint inside. His coverage skills were naturally on par with an underwhelming Bengals’ tight end group. Against the run, however, is where Jones explosiveness showed up the most.
[No.27 Josh Jones slips a blocker and cuts down Joe Mixon.]
Jones didn’t get the start in week four, but played 75% of the snaps overall. A back injury eventually forced him from action against the Bears. He appears set to return for the Packers’ week five tilt with the Cowboys. It’s a match-up where Jones should see a ton of work in defense of the run game.
As mentioned earlier, Green Bay hasn’t been able to field a solid solution at ILB in several seasons. We’ve seen Burnett become an elite IDP safety while spending time in the box to cover the Packers’ deficiencies at linebacker.
Jones — depending on his designation in your league — is most likely still listed as a safety. There are sites who’ve already changed listed position to LB, but those changes shouldn’t affect your league in-season.
The Packers seem to have no issues placing him in such a crucial position for their defense. Still, asking Jones to help keep Zeke Elliott under wraps this Sunday will be a huge test. If he comes up big in week five, the sky is the limit.
The value of hybrid S/LBs can’t be overstated in a league where the line between running backs and receivers gets blurrier every year. For Jones to earn the trust of a veteran DC like Capers — in just his first four pro games — speaks volumes. Even if the Packers scale back his snaps in 2017, this is a player dynasty owners need to have in their pipeline for the future.
Josh Jones – $LB, GB
Week 4 Grade: B- (Playing time trumps production in this one, as Jones gets a vote of confidence from his coaches.)
2017 Outlook: B+ (Jones is close to locking in a premier job on a team in need of his talents.)
Dynasty Outlook: A- (As encouraging as his start has been, he’s likely to see his IDP position designation switched in the future, putting a damper on his production relative to other linebackers.)