At this point of the NFL off-season there tend to be a lot more questions than answers. Nowhere is this truer than on the defensive side of the ball. I always say the two most nerve racking times for IDP owners are the week after the regular season ends and Draft weekend. The week after the season ends, or “Black Monday” as it has come to be known, leads to coaching changes, which leads to defensive scheme changes, which can turn a legit IDP squad into a hot mess overnight. Draft weekend can also wreak havoc on IDP rosters when players are unexpectedly drafted to teams who weren’t expected to add talent at the position. Usually this only affects the fringe talent at the linebacker position, guys like Paul Worrilow.
In the “32 Teams, 32 IDP Questions” we’re going to break down each NFL division, team by team, and ask the most pressing IDP questions facing each club. It may deal with overall scheme changes, position battles or draft related strategy. Today’s focus is the AFC North.
“Who replaces Zach Orr at inside linebacker?”
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Zach Orr was a huge waiver wire breakout for IDP owners last season. He won the inside linebacker job last summer and proceeded to turn in 133 total tackles in his first year as a starter while registering double digit tackles in eight of 15 games. He suffered a herniated disk in his neck in week 16 and decided to retire shortly after. The player expected to get first crack at replacing him is second year player Kamalei Correa.
Correa was the 42nd pick of the 2016 Draft by the Ravens and was expected to be a pass rusher by draft analysts but the Ravens wasted no time shifting him inside but he only played 48 snaps as a rookie. Even though you have to take coach speak with a huge grain of salt, Correa appears to have the coaching staff behind him this offseason as they talk him up as Orr’s replacement but this is a prime example of holding your breath through draft weekend. Adding another inside linebacker via the draft or by trade would make sense. I would love to see them send a mid round pick to Philadelphia for Mychal Kendricks. It probably makes too much sense to happen though.
“With Rey Maualuga finally out of the picture, who benefits most?”
For years I’ve never understood why Marvin Lewis continued to stand by Rey Maualuga like he did. Outside of 2012 when he totaled 122 tackles he has totaled 75 tackles twice and 88 once while players like Vincent Rey outproduce him from a reserve role. Rey was signed to a three year contract last offseason and has proven to be a blue collar “lunch pail” kinda guy. He’s not a flashy player but he gets the job done when given an opportunity. He has led the Bengals in tackles for two of the past three seasons, he finished third last year.
His main competition will come from 26 year old former Cardinals linebacker Kevin Minter who signed a one year contract in free agency this offseason. Minter was once a promising player coming out of LSU but has plateaued as an average player at best. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rey beat him outright for the job.
“What does the transition to a 4-3 defense under Gregg Williams mean for IDP purposes?”
The Browns seem to finally be building this team the right way and I know that sounds ridiculous, but I like what they’re doing on both sides of the ball. With the first pick in the upcoming draft they are expected to draft Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett to add to this defense. His addition would be huge for Emmanuel Ogbah and Carl Nassib on the other side. I am really excited to see what Nassib can do as a 4-3 end and he’s someone I’ve tried acquiring on the cheap this offseason.
Christian Kirksey had a breakout 2016 at inside linebacker and will most likely play the weak side linebacker in Gregg Williams’ defense. His production shouldn’t be impacted a bit. He’ll remain an every down linebacker. Demario Davis will need to make it through draft weekend to keep his starting job. He’s a replacement level player but is penciled in as the starting middle linebacker. So until someone takes his job he is going to see a ton of tackle opportunities, albeit in a two down role. The other every down role is locked in by Jamie Collins. Collins is the best defensive player currently on the roster and can do it all. He signed a four year contract this offseason worth $50 million. He’s a beast.
“Can Vince Williams replace Lawrence Timmons for both the Steelers and IDP owners?”
Historically, the Steelers have rarely overpaid to keep free agents but I was still a bit shocked to see Lawrence Timmons walk in free agency. He is a lot like Clay Matthews of the Packers in the way he is a jack of all trades, do-it-all linebacker who has filled whatever hole has popped up over the last few years. With his departure to Miami, Vince Williams will step in next to Ryan Shazier and into many IDP lineups.
When Shazier missed weeks four, five and six last season with a knee injury, Williams was a monster racking up 31 tackles and two sacks in what was clearly an aced audition for 2017. Even though Shazier is back and the lead dog on this defense he has proven he has a problem staying on the field. In his three year career he has played nine, 12 and 13 games respectively. Williams can probably still be acquired for LB3 prices but could flash LB1 numbers from time to time. He’s a guy whose floor I see as mid-LB2 at worst. I don’t expect the Steelers to add a big name to this group in the draft either my confidence level in Williams is pretty high for 2017.
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