Many owners struggle to differentiate between IDP prospects once the well known targets are off the board. They get caught in the trap of checking the waiver wire for the past week’s top scorers and wind up adding a player whose performance in the previous game was an outlier, not a sign of sustainable future success. The result of this “dart-throwing” approach is often a disappointment with the new player’s performance and even worse, losing games.
DLF’s IDP Report Card will attempt to aid owners who wish to see beyond the box score and focus on trends rather than events. Understanding when to avoid a pickup because the player’s perceived value is based more on circumstance than skill will help you improve your scoring efficiency and stack up wins. So, with a special thanks to our very own Dan Meylor, proprietor of the offensive version of DLF’s Dynasty Report Card, here is the defensive version.
Player Evaluation #1
Jatavis Brown, LB SD
[am4show have=’g1;’ guest_error=’sub_message’ user_error=’sub_message’ ]
It’s odd to start off an article by telling you the player in question is injured and likely will not suit up this weekend, but that is the case with Jatavis Brown. A pulled hamstring cut short his first exposure to extended playing time at inside linebacker after roughly two quarters of action last weekend. The reason this story begins with the bad news is because it highlights how encouraging Brown’s day truly was.
This rookie linebacker out of Akron got a re-do of sorts, on the turf in Indianapolis, where he had been snubbed by the NFL in last February’s combine. Sunday’s game provided Brown the chance to showcase his skills that he was denied of in the pre-draft process. Unfortunately, his opportunity came at the expense of a fallen teammate.
With 4:51 remaining in the first quarter of last week’s Charger vs. Colts game, San Diego inside linebacker Manti Te’o ruptured his achilles while changing direction on a routine drop into zone coverage. San Diego placed Te’o on its “Reserve/Injured” list, ending what may have been a make or break season for the fourth year pro.
The Chargers turned to Jatavis Brown to fill in for their injured starter. Prior to assuming the inside linebacker job, Brown was primarily a special teamer. He had logged 50 snaps on defense in the first two games, but most of those came on third downs, where Brown’s exceptional speed shines through in pass coverage. If the rest of the teams in the NFL knew how versatile Brown’s game was, he likely would have been selected much higher in April’s Draft.
You see, Jatavis Brown wasn’t invited to the actual NFL Combine in Indianapolis, despite being named the MAC Defensive player of the year. Instead, he participated in the NFL’s Houston Regional Combine, along with other small school players who didn’t get an invite to the big show in Indy. He ran a 4.47 in the 40 yard dash and teams began to take notice. Some had reservations about whether Brown could hold up at middle linebacker standing just 5’11” and weighing in at 227 lbs. Despite his lack of prototypical size, Brown’s athleticism was enough to convince the Chargers to select him in round five of the 2016 Draft.
Back at Lucas Oil Stadium, where the combine is held each year, Brown would step in to replace T’eo and put on a show in his first real chance to run with the starters. He was highly active in run defense, slicing through the line, shedding blocks and taking down Frank Gore with ease. Jatavis showed his range, chasing backs out in the flat and defending tight ends down the seam. He even ran stride for stride with T.Y. Hilton down the sideline, using his body to keep the receiver from getting loose. It was an impressive display of his talents.
In the end, Jatavis Brown would finish with five solo tackles, one assisted tackle, two tackles for loss, a sack, a forced fumble and two passes defended. It would have been a solid stat line for four quarters of play, except all of this damage was done in only two quarters. Brown’s day was cut short by a pulled hamstring in the third quarter which forced him out of the contest.
Going forward, Jatavis Brown is the odds on favorite to replace Manti Te’o as the Bolts starting inside linebacker playing opposite Denzel Perryman. The only issue is that he may need to miss week four to allow his hamstring to recover before he assumes the job. Dynasty owners should take advantage of Brown’s relative obscurity and snatch him off waivers now before the vultures get a whiff of his talent. He is the sought after “hybrid” linebacker with three down capability, who can fill all columns on the stat sheet. Depending on how well he performs in 2016, Te’o may have just gotten “Wally-Pipped.”
Student Name: Jatavis Brown Grade: (Instructor’s Notes)
Player Evaluation #2
Jalen Mills, CB PHI
Disciplinary issues kept Jalen Mills from being drafted earlier than his eventual slot at pick number 233 in the seventh round last April. The Eagles got a steal, finding a player with second or third round talent waiting for them in the final round of the draft. The Eagles had a crowded, yet uninspiring defensive back group entering training camp, yet Mills managed to shine through and place himself in the conversation at slot corner.
Prior to the Eagles losing their starting outside cornerback Leodis McKelvin, Jalen Mills was the fourth corner in their rotation behind the starting nickel corner Ron Brooks. Once McKelvin went down, Mills was thrust into the spotlight, playing 83% and 88% of the snaps in games two and three, respectively.
Unsurprisingly, opposing quarterbacks have taken notice of the rookie’s presence on the field, frequently targeting the receiver Mills is assigned to cover. Against Chicago, Mills gave up a long reception to Alshon Jeffery as the Bears attempted to climb their way back into the game. There were similar breakdowns in the Eagles’ game against the Steelers last Sunday. In the second quarter, Mills allowed Sammie Coates to haul in a 41 yard bomb down the right sideline after a half-hearted attempt in bump-and-run coverage. If not for Coates falling to the ground on the catch, the receiver would have had a chance to challenge the lone safety, Rodney McLeod, for the endzone. Later, Antonio Brown faked a bubble screen and pivoted to run a drag route, leaving Mills in the dust for a ten yard gain. These are just two examples where Mills could better use his size and strength at the line of scrimmage to re-route wide receivers and give himself a better chance to stay in their hip pocket.
In the second half, the Steelers came out with a more focussed attack directed at Mills, who remained on the left side of Philadelphia defensive alignment for most of the day. Brown lined up opposite Mills almost exclusively in the second half. Mills managed to contest a few throws, but Brown always won in the end. Mills was also called for pass interference penalty on Brown. In the end, Mills, like most NFL cornerbacks, proved to be no match for the league’s best receiver. He did manage to keep Brown out of the endzone all day – a small, but valuable victory.
What’s important to remember is that Mills was slated to be the Eagles inside nickel corner, not play on the outside on all day. There is reason to be concerned with Mills’ ability to change direction. He was a safety in college, who is making a transition to playing cornerback full-time. For Dynasty purposes, Mills makes a decent fill in for owners in a pinch at DB simply because of the number of times he will be targeted and have a shot at making the tackle.
His long term outlook is less clear. Like Eric Rowe before him, Philly has chosen to use Mills as a corner rather than at his native safety position. Mills length makes him an intriguing project to defend the league’s taller wideouts, yet his play leaves something to be desired. A better fit for Mills may be in zone coverage, or allowing him to cover the oppositions tight ends. On the outside, against the league’s elite receivers, Mills is a liability who will continue to get picked on until finds a way to use his size to his advantage.
Once Leodis McKelvin returns from injury, Mills will likely return to playing just 25% of the snaps and cease to be a roster worthy player for this season. Next year, he could be one of the team’s top defensive backs, making him worthy of your watch list for the future.
Student Name: Jalen Mills Grade: (Instructor’s Notes)