This is it, folks. Preseason is coming to a close and we are only a handful of days until the games start to actually matter. As depth charts begin to solidify, we will go through each division and examine some of the more notable rankings and their possible implications in IDP leagues this season.
For the sake of this series, I will be using the depth charts provided by Rotoworld, AKA the end-all-be-all site of all things fantasy related.
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Justin March – #4 ILB for Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs have struggled to find a worthy compliment to stud inside linebacker Derrick Johnson over the past few seasons – it is perhaps their biggest weakness on an otherwise stout defense. The team had begrudgingly given the job to Josh Mauga the last two seasons after no one else stepped up, but he has since been exposed as a sub-par athlete who is out of his depth as a starter.
Perhaps mercifully, Mauga has been ailing from an injured groin this preseason, forcing the team to reevaluate the position and consider alternatives for the job. Originally expecting Ramik Wilson to take most of the first-team snaps, the team has been pleasantly surprised by the performance of Justin March, who has played well enough to leap-frog Wilson onto the first-team defense. His spot alongside the starters was all but confirmed when the coaches decided to give him the starting nod during the team’s second and – most importantly – third preseason games.
It is still unclear when Mauga will return from his injury, but even when he returns the team would be wise to continue giving March the starting reps next to Johnson during the regular season. Make no mistake, March is very much in the IDP discussion this season despite his current spot on Rotoworld’s depth chart.
Editor’s Note: It was recently reported that Josh Mauga is out for the season due to a shoulder injury. Justin March is still behind Ramik Wilson on the depth chart, but be sure to keep an eye on him as the season continues.
Shaq Barrett – #3 OLB for Denver Broncos
Undrafted out of Colorado State last year, no one would have expected Shaq Barrett to play over 500 meaningful and productive snaps in 2015. But here we are, and now Barrett has earned himself a spot ahead of draft classmate and first-round pick Shane Ray on the team’s depth chart.
Granted, Barrett is still behind veterans Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, but in reality he seems likely to out-produce the aging Ware. Heading into his age-34 season and coming off an injury-plagued year, the team hopes to limit Ware’s snaps to around 500 on the season to keep him fresh and healthy. That leaves Barrett to pick up the slack, and he was equally impressive both during the five games Ware missed due to injury (22 tackles, 2.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble) and the 11 games where he was healthy (32 tackles, three sacks, one forced fumble).
Barrett’s snaps may not see a drastic uptick this season, but he has earned himself a substantial slice of the pass-rushing pie in Denver. Beyond this year, Ware’s contract will expire and it is unlikely he will return to the team, making Barrett a clear candidate for the starting job opposite Miller in 2017 and beyond.
Cory James – #2 MLB for Oakland Raiders
Oakland Raiders middle linebacker Ben Heeney has been talked up in many IDP circles as one of this year’s breakout candidates and a strong bet to surpass 100 tackles in his sophomore campaign. I’m here to not only pump the brakes on that notion, but also talk up the player who could prevent Heeney from achieving the lofty goals set forth by the community.
Cory James is a sixth-round rookie out of Colorado State (no, I am not a Colorado State alum, having two players from that university is purely a coincidence that I just now realized). Since being drafted, not a peep has been made about him all off-season. But it may come as a surprise that James rotated with Heeney on the first-team defense during the team’s third preseason game. When asked about James and his playing time, head coach Jack Del Rio had the following to say:
“Yeah, we’ll see how that plays out. I felt like we’re developing a good young player there in Cory. You saw Ben [Heeney] last year come on and play well as the year went on and he got opportunities. I think both guys are guys we’ll count on to play a good amount for us this year.”
That kind of statement isn’t one you give if you are confident in your current starting middle linebacker. And the Raiders shouldn’t be comfortable with Heeney. While he has made a few splashy plays this preseason, he has too often been swallowed up by offensive linemen and unable to shed blocks on his way to the ball carrier. This hasn’t been lost on the coaching staff, and it is the primary reason why James is seeing time with the first-team defense.
Proponents of Heeney will point to his impressive combine stats last year an athletic specimen at last year’s combine, but at his pro day this year, James shared an identical 40-yard dash time while also posting a better broad jump and vertical jump.
Any way you slice it, it is clear that James is giving Heeney a run for the starting job that many thought would unquestionably be his.
Jahleel Addae – #1 SS for San Diego Chargers
Jahleel Addae – unlike every other player on this list – has no depth chart climbing to do. He is already firmly entrenched as the team’s starting strong safety. And yet, hardly anyone in IDP circles seems to be talking about him.
Perhaps it is because they think Addae is injury-prone, having missed eight games the last two seasons. Or maybe it is because he was often overshadowed by the stellar play and production of Eric Weddle (which is something Addae no longer has to deal with).
Aside from that, however, Addae is everything an IDP owner would want in a strong safety: he plays close to an every-down role, plays closer to the line of scrimmage and is a hard hitter.
With Weddle gone, Addae is also the leader on the back end of the defense and will likely see more opportunities for tackles and big plays. Of course, Addae wasn’t lacking for those opportunities to begin with, considering he was on pace for 80 tackles to go along with his one sack, one forced fumble and four passes defended.
Addae is a likely candidate for DB2 numbers in 2016, and he is someone worth rostering in most IDP leagues, despite his lack of fanfare.