In case you missed it, here are the divisions we’ve covered in previous installments:
In our fourth and final stop in the AFC, we take a look at three players poised to take over for starters who were either ineffective last year or who were lost to another team in free agency.
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Jahleel Addae, S, SDC
Jahleel Addae has flirted with IDP sleeper status for a few years now, always on the cusp of fantasy relevancy but never quite getting there thanks to injuries and competition for snaps. This year may finally be the year he emerges as a legitimate option at the safety position, if only because the opportunity will be there for a substantial role.
For the last year or so, the San Diego Chargers and all-time great safety Eric Weddle have gone about trying to burn more bridges between each other than there are within the entire city of Pittsburgh – a town famously known for having too many bridges. It’s safe to assume Weddle won’t be playing for the team next year, which means someone is going to have to replace his nearly 60 snaps per game. Seeing as how Addae is currently the only rostered safety with any significant experience in the team’s defensive scheme, it is likely he will assume a good portion of those snaps (the rest will be given to newly-signed Dwight Lowery). All things considered, the fourth-year safety is looking at the possibility of a 1,000+ snap season next year.
Addae is known for his hard-hitting tendency – a trait which IDP owners covet. That, along with the increased snaps, means triple digit tackles are well within reach. He has also shown a penchant for big plays with three sacks, two fumble recoveries, two force fumbles, and seven passes defended over the last three years. Expect him to significantly add to those numbers and earn a spot within the top 20 fantasy DBs in 2016.
Neiron Ball, LB, OAK
You know what it takes to sell the idea of a second-year LB who only played 54 snaps last year as a possible IDP breakout? It takes brass balls.
Glengarry Glen Ross quotes aside, Neiron Ball isn’t exactly the first player that comes to mind when thinking about defensive players who could help your team in 2016. In fact, he probably isn’t even the first fifth-round sophomore LB from Oakland that fans think of: that title belongs to Ben Heeney. After all, it was Heeney who started the final few games for the team last season, racking up 38 tackles, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble.
What people forget, however, is that Heeney didn’t start the last few games in place of an ineffective Curtis Lofton. Rather, he came in to replace an injured Ball, who in fact was the first man up to replace Lofton. It was only after he injured his knee that Heeney took up the mantle at inside linebacker. Clearly, the coaching staff was more impressed with what they saw from Ball early in the season, otherwise it would have been Heeney as the first man up.
The coaches seemingly made the right call, as Ball had played admirably prior to the injury. The stats were lacking, but in just 54 snaps last year he received a better overall grade from Pro Football Focus than Heeney did in 315 snaps.
Obviously, Ball’s health is a concern moving forward. But if he can regain his form and continue to impress the coaches, there is no reason to believe he couldn’t take on a significant role on the inside of the defense in 2016 and beyond.
Todd Davis, LB, DEN
If ever there was a team that truly was “all in” for just one season, it would be the 2015 Denver Broncos. Since winning the Super Bowl, the team has seen their HOF quarterback retire while also losing key free agents, including inside linebacker Danny Trevathan. Fortunately, the team seems to have a knack for developing quality inside linebackers (Trevathan, Brandon Marshall and Wesley Woodyard).
Todd Davis could be the next name on that list.
In an article from the Denver Post prior to the start of free agency, it is speculated that the team could turn to Davis in the event that Trevathan walks. Well, Trevathan has indeed walked, and so could Marshall if another team is willing to offer up a second round pick and a contract that the Broncos don’t want to match.
That leaves Davis at or near the top of the ILB totem pole in Denver, and if last year is any indication he should be just fine as a starter. While earning an overall PFF grade of +1.3, Davis impressed coaches on only 134 snaps last year. Considering the holes the team now has on both sides of the ball, it wouldn’t be surprising if they use free agency and the draft to reinforce other positions while letting Davis run as a starter in 2016. Should that be the case, Davis could come close to the 110 tackles that Trevathan racked up last year.