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 NFC East.
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“What are reasonable expectations for Jaylon Smith after a full year recovered from his gruesome knee inury?”
Anything less than first team All-Pro and NFL Defensive MVP is a bust. I’m kidding of course. By now we all know the story of Jaylon Smith and the ugly knee injury suffered playing his final game at Notre Dame against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. He tore the ACL and LCL in his knee and suffered nerve damage. The final hurdle is getting the nerve to “wake up” much like Peyton Manning went through in his throwing arm. Smith is leg pressing over 600 pounds and squatting over 400 pounds on the knee and intense workout videos can be found on YouTube and Twitter. Strength wise, his knee looks to be back to normal. He’s making very decisive cuts in the videos and sprinting at full speed.
When he returns to the field he’s penciled in as the team’s starting middle linebacker with Sean Lee manning the weak side. The MIKE linebacker position in this defense is an IDP gold mine, it made a stud out of Rolando McClain, and if Smith looks good throughout the summer he has legitimate LB1 potential. On the flip side, if he can’t get cleared for training camp or misses part of the preseason then it’s fair to wonder if he’ll see more than sub level snaps in 2017. I’m still trying to buy him if the price is reasonable.
New York Giants
“How long will the Giants ignore their need for a true difference making linebacker?”
I can’t think of another NFL team who has gone as long as the Giants have without a difference-making linebacker. Keenan Robinson, Jonathan Casillas, Devon Kennard and Mark Herzlich are the least inspiring unit in the league and a major weakness on a team which has invested so heavily on the defensive line and defensive backfield. With free agency coming and going without any serious run at upgrading the middle of this defense, the attention now shifts to the NFL draft.
It’s unclear if the Giants would be willing to take Alabama inside linebacker Rueben Foster in the first round over an offensive lineman should he slip in the draft, but he would resoundingly fill this hole for many years. The more likely scenario is for the Giants to use day two and three selections to fortify this underwhelming unit. For some reason I can’t stop picturing Clemson’s Ben Boulware in a Giants uniform. He just has that look.
“Will Mychal Kendricks finally be traded this offseason?”
I feel like I am the President of the Mychal Kendricks fan club. For some reason defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has planted Kendricks into the doghouse with no signs of him ever escaping. It’s no secret he doesn’t really fit Schwartz’s 4-3 scheme, or any other 4-3 scheme to be honest, so why not trade him to a team running the 3-4? More and more teams are transitioning and looking for players of Kendricks’ caliber. The team which makes too much sense for it to happen is the Baltimore Ravens with Zach Orr’s unexpected retirement. He would look phenomenal next to C.J. Mosley. Kansas City, who is looking for an heir apparent to Derrick Johnson and his troublesome Achilles, makes a lot of sense as well.
If he stays in Philadelphia he’ll be relegated to strong side linebacker and a two down role as an IDP afterthought. Jordan Hicks seems to have the MIKE linebacker job locked up with Nigel Bradham manning the more IDP friendly WILL linebacker spot. As an IDP guy, this frustrates me to no end. I keep hearing whispers he’ll be moved on draft weekend so I have my fingers crossed and my shares held tight.
“What does the signing of Zach Brown mean for Will Compton and Mason Foster?”
Zach Brown turned in one of the most surprising IDP seasons of 2016 this side of New Orleans and Craig Robertson. He completely flourished in Rex and Rob Ryan’s 3-4 defense in Buffalo and then was allowed to walk in free agency. The 143 total tackles he amassed last year were more than 50% better than his previous career high so the big question is, did the light suddenly pop on for the 27 year old linebacker in his fifth season, was it a perfect match with player and scheme or was 2016 an outlier? The Redskins appear to be asking the same question as they signed him to a one year “prove it” deal worth up to $4.65 million.
He’ll have the inside track to be a three down linebacker in this defense and leave incumbents Will Compton and Mason Foster to battle it out to be “the other guy”. I think Compton’s skill set pairs better with Brown but Foster seems to make fewer mistakes. Ultimately, the Redskins need to be thinking about 2018 and beyond because the long term answer isn’t currently on the roster.
Follow me on Twitter @OlingerIDP.