Reading the Defense - Week 13
Posted 12/2 by Jene Bramel, Exclusive for Footballguys.com
Congratulations to those of you who have already earned a playoff slot and best of luck to those who need a win this week to get there. Next week, we'll review many of the best and highest upside matchups if you need a lineup boost. Over the next few weeks, we'll also revisit our yearly reviews of coming defensive trends, preview some major upcoming free agent movements and potential coaching changes and run through some scouting thoughts for those new to dynasty leagues and wondering how to best identify the collegiate talents most likely to translate to strong NFL box score value. This week, we're wrapping up our five part, position-by-position look at the young defenders most likely to have future dynasty impact.
Future Watch - Safeties
- Darcel McBath (DEN)
McBath has the scouting report of a free safety rather than a strong safety, but he's been the first player off the bench this season when either SS Brian Dawkins or FS Renaldo Hill has missed time with injury. Both veteran safeties are signed long term, but McBath has flashed strong potential in his limited time. Neither veteran is a lock to remain durable through 2010. McBath is worth keeping on your short list if he gets a chance at extended duty.
- Chris Clemons (MIA)
Clemons quickly impressed the Miami coaches during the offseason. Though Gibril Wilson was signed to a big money, long term deal this offseason, Clemons began eating into his playing time midseason before moving back to a special teams role. With the continued mediocrity at ILB, both safeties in Miami should have good value. Another strong offseason could push Clemons into the lineup over Wilson in 2010.
- Kevin Ellison (SD)
A number of more highly drafted safety prospects attracted attention after last April's NFL draft while Ellison flew under the radar. Ellison has already begun taking base defensive snaps in rotation with Steve Gregory and should be considered the favorite to start and play every down next year. With Eric Weddle's knee injury likely to keep him out a couple of weeks, we're likely to get a preview of how well Ellison can produce as the every-down strong safety now.
- Michael Mitchell (OAK)
Mitchell was ticketed for the production we're now seeing from Tyvon Branch early this offseason. NFL rules delaying him from minicamp repetitions, then multiple hamstring issues kept him from a legitimate chance at a starting job and he's been languishing as a dime defensive back for much of the year. Hiram Eugene and Michael Huff may not be able to keep him out of the lineup next season, however, and it's possible that Mitchell could bump Branch over to free safety and take the primo in-the-box Raider SS role.
- William Moore (ATL)
Moore, like Michael Mitchell, lost time in training camp to injury and couldn't displace a veteran from the starting lineup. Further injury issues landed him on injured reserve. Moore has the scouting report of a strong tackling, in-the-box safety and has a good chance of moving Erik Coleman out of the lineup next year.
Line Scores, Damn Line Scores and Statistics
- Anthony Spencer (6-2-2, PD)
Spencer will likely remain inconsistent, even in big play leagues, for the rest of the season, but his 21 total tackles (16 solo) and two sacks are a strong sign that he may be finally coming into his own as an all-around OLB. Spencer has the athleticism to grow into a good strong side 3-4 OLB and will continue to benefit from having Demarcus Ware on the other side of the defense. He's worth considering against better matchups if you need a high upside playoff lineup option.
- Donte Whitner (7-3, INT, 2 PD)
Whitner is now rotating with Jairus Byrd, taking all the non-passing situation snaps at FS. He's picked up where he left off from earlier in the season, with solid tackle numbers and good coverage stats. It's possible that Byrd could move back into an every-down role if his hernia issue settles down. That appears unlikely however, and Whitner should be a reliable safety option against good matchups down the stretch.
- Jordan Babineaux (12-1, INT, 2 PD)
With the Seattle OLB struggling in the box scores, Babineaux has been the beneficiary. He's been getting a lot of strong safety snaps in the Seahawks' interchangeable defense and cashing in on snaps as the slot corner in the nickel defense at times. Babineaux is a strong play against better passing teams and another week or two of consistency in run support would earn him consideration as a DB2 during the playoff weeks.
- Mario Williams (2-0-1, 2 QH, PD)
Rumors continue to persist that Williams is still having trouble with the shoulder that limited him during the middle third of the season. Williams has been productive in recent weeks and he was more disruptive than his already strong stat line against a tough Indianapolis matchup would suggest. Those who held him through his struggles should be rewarded as his matchups in coming weeks are much more favorable than they've been.
- Justin Smith (3-2-1.5, FF/FR)
- Manny Lawson (1-1-1, PD, FR)
- Parys Haralson (2-2-1.5)
This is a strong instance of how examining the paper matchups for a high upside play can sometimes make the difference between a win and a loss in the playoffs. The pass rush matchup against Jacksonville, particularly when the Jaguars are on the road, is very strong and something we pointed out in the IDP Matchups column last week. The Niners pass rush had been nonexistent in recent weeks, with only one sack in their last two games and just six in their last five. However, taking a flier on any of these guys was the kind of smart, calculated risk that can pay off big when you're an underdog this time of year.
The Raiders are shaking up their linebacker establishment yet again. This time, however, Kirk Morrison isn't the one losing snaps. Trevor Scott, who had previously shown promise as an edge rushing defensive end, replaced Thomas Howard in the lineup at WLB against Dallas last week. Post-game quotes suggested that the Raiders aren't happy with Howard's play and felt that Scott was the better option at LB, despite the questionable depth behind Greg Ellis at DE and the suspect coverage options for Jason Witten with Michael Huff the usual deep safety in the Oakland Cover-1. Howard got less than 40% of the team's snaps, and didn't come into the game until midway through the second quarter. Howard saw more playing time (over Sam Williams) in the second half and Greg Ellis had some swelling in his knee after the game, so it's possible this may have been just a one game blip in the radar but it makes Howard an extremely risky start this week.
The Jets benched Kerry Rhodes last week for Eric Smith as FS. The team noted Rhodes' inconsistent play in coverage as a primary reason for the benching and reportedly wanted Smith's aggressiveness in the lineup. Rhodes responded with two interceptions of Jake Delhomme in limited time. There was speculation that the benching was meant to be short-lived if Rhodes responded to the message. Though the interceptions came on poor throws from Delhomme and not necessarily a sign that he's back in good coverage form, Rhodes could be back in the lineup this week.
Two injuries at linebacker deserve close attention this week. Karlos Dansby left a close game due to the shoulder injury that had been bothering him over the past two weeks. Lance Briggs was forced out with a knee sprain after briefly trying to return. Both are still being evaluated, but it looks unlikely that Briggs will play and Dansby is likely to miss much of this week's practice. Should both miss their games, Gerald Hayes and Hunter Hillenmeyer move from inconsistent LB3/LB4 options to the LB2 with upside tier. Keep an eye on how the Bears replace Briggs. Either Nick Roach or Jamar Williams could also have value if you're in a pinch.
Those in redraft leagues who passed over the futures section above may have missed the note on Kevin Ellison. With Eric Weddle expected to miss at least two weeks with a knee sprain, the Chargers are likely to move Steve Gregory to FS and give Ellison every-down duty at strong safety. Add Ellison to the long list of midseason replacements with value at the safety position this year. The snaps at ILB in San Diego aren't so clear. This week, it was Brandon Siler who started at WILB and took the bulk of the defensive snaps, with Kevin Burnett playing a complementary role. Though he played most downs, Stephen Cooper disappeared in the box scores again. This situation should be avoided, unless you're an underdog in a big play league and want to risk Burnett for his pass rush ability.
The injury to Shaun Rogers is devastating to the Cleveland run defense. Both inside linebackers could see an increase in value, but unfortunately the Browns have begun to rotate Jason Trusnik and Kaluka Maiava inside, limiting the upside of both. The big box score winner here may be Abram Elam. Though Elam continues to miss tackles and take bad angles, expect the ILB group to face many more blockers and allow more running backs into the secondary. Elam's environment may be so target rich that he may approach 5-6 solos per week down the stretch whether he increases his tackle percentage or not.
Both James Anderson and Geno Hayes performed well in their first week as every-down WLBs in defenses that use lots of Tampa-2 coverage. Hayes put up big numbers after the Bucs changed their defensive playbook last week and Anderson assumed the WLB job vacated after Thomas Davis and Landon Johnson were lost to injury. Both are reasonable upside LB3 options against good matchups down the stretch.
The dual returner-defender threats are mostly status quo this week with two notable exceptions. Tramon Williams looked like a potential goldmine after Al Harris was lost for the season with an ACL injury. Williams did get the call as the starting corner opposite Charles Woodson and put up a strong five solos with an interception. Unfortunately, the Packers pulled him from return duty in favor of Jordy Nelson. The news was much better for Lardarius Webb, who moved into the starting lineup at corner and stayed on as the Ravens' primary kickoff returner. Along with Danieal Manning, Webb becomes the highest profile returner-defender for the rest of the year.
Remember to check out our weekly all-IDP podcast on the Audible on Wednesdays and be sure to stop by the IDP Forum for the latest and most accurate IDP news and analysis, including our Sunday morning post and discussion of the week's inactive players. Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to email@example.com.
Best of luck in Week 13.