Every year there’s a lot of movement in IDP. Players come from nowhere to post great seasons while stars are massive disappointments. Defense is reactive by nature, so volatility is much higher than for offense. On offense, a given coaching staff might easily just keep focusing on the same player from season to season but defensive players are subject to the whims of 16 different oppositions.
Along with that volatility come big changes in player value. It’s human nature that we want to think the best. Players who were good this year will probably be good again next year, right? This article is here to disabuse you of that notion.
IDPs who had excellent years in 2018 often did so on the back of factors unlikely to happen again; they avoided injury, another key player missed time, they converted a high percentage of opportunities. The list is long, but the point is that the players at the top were the ones who benefitted most from the vagaries of chance. Compounding this issue is that we’re all desperate for the guy who just did really well to keep doing it. It would benefit us most if the player stayed at the level, so we convince ourselves it’ll happen.
Let’s look at which treasured assets are likely to fall back for 2019.
DeForest Buckner, SF
Buckner is clearly a really good player, but he managed 12 sacks in 2018. That’s not the sort of thing that happens very often. More specifically, he had a very high sack:pressure ratio. I.e. for all he was causing havoc as a pass rusher (and he was), he got home on a very high percentage of those total pressure plays. This is not a very sticky stat across years so expect a drop in sacks for 2019.
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Denico Autry, IND
Autry is a poster child of overvaluing IDPs. He had a breakout season in 2018 and is being valued highly by the owners who benefitted. The reason he did so well was (compared to other DTs) is because he played on the edge for around half his snaps. Where the ability to rack up tackles and sacks is much higher. The Colts were forced into some strange line usage this year because of the lack of a nose tackle they trusted. This is unlikely to be true in 2019. If Autry plays a more orthodox position, he’ll be less useful. Also, he managed ten sacks from just 41 total pressures – a very high proportion.
Javon Hargrave, PIT
We know what Hargrave is. Year to year, he plays around 450 snaps as a nose tackle which frees up Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt to make plays. Not this year. This year he managed to rack up 49 total tackles (he’d never managed over 32 before), six and a half sacks (he had two in the past two seasons), a tackle efficiency of 10.8% (his previous best was 7.1%) and a sack efficiency of 1.4% (previous best of 0.5%) – all of this while playing fewer snaps than in 2017. Hargrave is a good NFL player but all of his numbers were massively efficient this season. He looks like a slam-dunk to fall back across the board. You shouldn’t be trusting a player who will very likely not even play 500 snaps.
Chandler Jones, ARI
Chandler Jones leads the whole NFL in sacks from 2013 onwards with a monstrous 71. He’s had four straight years with 11 or more sacks and has managed that total in five of the last six seasons. He’s coming off another season where he was immensely valuable as an IDP.
However, his 2018 season was somewhat misleading. He racked up his 12 sacks from just 42 pressures. As a comparison, Cameron Jordan also had 12 sacks but needed 66 pressures to get there. Of edge players with five or more sacks, Jones had the second-highest ratio of sacks. He simply got home more than he can be expected to.
2018 was his second-lowest ever season in terms of tackles (worse than 2014 when he played in just ten games), he’s going to be 29 in February and he’ll almost certainly be moving back to an LB designation on MFL. Jones has been great but this is the time to cash in.
Sam Hubbard, CIN
Hubbard had an excellent rookie season with six sacks. From 2013 onwards, only Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Ansah, Yannick Ngakoue and Myles Garrett have managed more than that as rookies. Unfortunately, he’s going to be struggling for playing time. Carlos Dunlap is nearly 30 but still an elite player and Carl Lawson will be fit again. Hubbard played about 500 snaps this season and is unlikely to play more next year.
He’s also another example of a player who had a high sack:pressure ratio. Hubbard had the same amount of 2018 pressures (29) as fellow rookie Frankie Luvu. And nobody is excited about his prospects even though Luvu did it from fewer snaps.
JPP was surprisingly effective in 2018 after he managed to play 933 snaps (only three other ends played more). The facts stack up against him though; he’s 30, he’s due $14.5m in 2019 but can be cut with no penalty and he does not fit into new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles’ scheme. It’ll be a shock if he’s not cut.
It’s possible a 30-year old pass rusher free agent manages to land in a great spot but not likely. His trade value right now is likely at its’ peak.
Roquan Smith, CHI
Darius Leonard, IND
Leighton Vander Esch, DAL
In early drafts and auctions this (fantasy) off-season these three players have been massively valued. Leonard, in particular, has been priced as the LB1. They’re all quality players and good assets but this article is about reality and we need to be realistic about what we can expect.
Leonard, Vander Esch and Smith were (in that order) the three most targeted LBs in the NFL in 2018. They were targeted as a group on 16% of their snaps in coverage. Average for an LB is about 11-12%. Among LBs who played more than 150 coverage snaps, Vander Esch was targeted more per snap than any other player. Darius Leonard came in at fifth. Leonard’s 90 targets were the 13th-most among all NFL players. Vander Esch came in 17th and Smith at 25th. These three players were being targeted more than most corners.
We know there’s a strong correlation between targets and tackles. We know rookies are targeted more than other players. We know these three players were targeted unusually heavily even for rookies. We know they all posted fantastic tackle numbers. They can all still be good players in NFL terms but it’s extremely optimistic to not expect a statistical dip in production next season.
Linebackers are a fairly homogenous group in IDP terms. These three players are currently being valued as though they’ll be perennial top five players. This is not going to happen. They may get there on occasion. It won’t be consistent.
Kyler Fackrell, GB
Fackrell was the most absurdly efficient pass rusher in the NFL. A ridiculous 47.8% of his total pressures ended up being sacks. For the five other players in the NFL to manage 11 sacks this year that number was an average of 17.8%. Turning one of five pressures into a sack is good in the NFL. If Fackrell maintains the same level of pressure and playing time and regresses to 20%, he’ll have four sacks next year. The things that have to happen for him to get close to producing the same again are ridiculously unlikely. He’s the one player in the NFL most assured of regression.
Devon Kennard, DET
Devon Kennard managed five sacks in the first five weeks of 2018 and just another two in the 11 subsequent weeks. His early production has convinced people he has some value but he really doesn’t. He plays the Dont’a Hightower role in Matt Patricia’s defense which is dire for IDPs.
T.J. Watt, PIT
There might be no less stable defensive player in the NFL. Watt has 20 sacks after two seasons in the NFL. Ten of those sacks have come in just four games (2.5 sacks per game) with the other ten spread across his other 28 career games (0.35 sacks per game). On top of that, five of his 20 have come in week one games.
Watt has had some huge games and is a decent pass rusher but these huge weeks of concentrated sacks are unsustainable and he has yet to prove he can be a consistent force.
Kareem Jackson, HOU
Jackson was supposed to play free safety this year but due to injury issues was forced to play corner most of the season in a Texans’ scheme that always generates high corner tackles. His 82 tackles were good for third among all corners with his 73 solos good enough for second. Expect him to change position next season and lose a lot of his value.
Denzel Ward, CLE
Donte Jackson, CAR
Ward and Jackson were prime examples of rookie corners who generated good IDP numbers through volume. Both played well over 800 snaps, drew heavy targets (73 for Jackson, 82 for Ward), recorded around 60 solo tackles, and hauled in a handful of interceptions. Unfortunately, as we see time and time again, rookie corners often regress in their second season as they become much better players. Both these two players are talented but raw and should follow the established curve.
Steven Nelson, KC
Nelson played a huge 1,164 snaps in 2018. That led all defensive players in the NFL with the second-highest total 45 snaps (a whole game some weeks) behind on 1,119. In fact, since 2007, that 1,164 snaps rank eighth among all players. Of the seven players above him, three were under Chip Kelly (whose rapid offense created absurd defensive volume) and the other three were all 2010 Titans. Nelson led the NFL in targets as a result but on a per snap basis, he was unimpressive. 117 other cornerbacks had a higher tackle efficiency than Nelson.
Xavien Howard, MIA
Howard had a decent IDP season based on his seven interceptions which tied for the league lead. Interceptions are not a reliable stat across years, but even more than normal Howard had some freak numbers. 47% of his cover players were interceptions. Average for players with ten or more combined PDs and INTs) is 22.3%. 1.5% of his coverage snaps ended up in picks for him. Only five other corners since 2007 have bettered that mark. Howard has approaching zero chance of repeating his interceptions.
Jessie Bates, CIN
Bates is a deep safety who happened to play a huge amount as a rookie. His 1,114 snaps were second among all safeties. It’s vanishingly unlikely he plays that much again, and he has nowhere near the sort of tackling efficiency to produce well on lower snap volumes.
Jamal Adams, NYJ
Adams was the only safety to play more than Jessie Bates with 1,114 snaps. On top of his 1,100 snaps in 2017, this is a Herculean effort. Especially with his physical, impact play-style.
Weirdly though, Adams has a fairly unimpressive tackle efficiency. In 2017 he managed just 8% (which is what you’d expect of a deep safety) and even in 2018, it was just 10.1% (lower than average for a strong safety). Playing in Gregg Williams’ scheme is unlikely to help given the typical tackle-hogging his linebackers manage and the risk of Adams’ playing time dropping off is very significant. Adams is a fine player but don’t be shocked if he takes a step back in 2019.
Damontae Kazee, ATL
Damontae Kazee was the closest thing the Falcons had to a top safety after Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen were both injured in 2018. Unfortunately, Kazee is very likely to be benched again in 20-19 with both of the regular starters back.
Even if he somehow does win a job it’s only going to be the deep role he mostly played this year. That comes with a paltry tackle efficiency of around 7%. Kazee actually only had 65 solos tackles and 19 assists this year (albeit both were higher than Ricardo Allen has ever managed).
The reason he was a useable IDP was his seven interceptions (which led the league). For safeties with ten or more coverage plays (PDs and INTs), 38% of them are normally picks. For Kazee this year, 70% of his cover plays were him hauling in the ball. This is the joint third highest mark since 2007 for this stat. The four players with a mark that high combined for 31 picks in the seasons they set those records. In their subsequent seasons, they combined for four.
Thanks for reading.