Eyes of the Guru (NFC East)
By John Norton
August 27th, 2011

Finishing up the series.

Dallas Cowboys

Defensive line

I have somewhat mixed emotions about Kenyon Coleman now that he is in Dallas. To his credit he put up 50 solo stops in the Browns 3-4 last year, and has put up 44 or more in three of the last four seasons. On the other hand, no Dallas lineman recorded more than 23 solo tackles or more than 3.5 sacks in 2010. If you are in a tackle heavy scoring system Coleman might be worth a late round flier as your third or fourth DL but I just can't bring myself to expect much of him here.

Linebacker

DeMarcus Ware is hands down the best fantasy value on this entire defense. Sadly that is not necessarily saying much. As 3-4 outside backers go he is among the elite in NFL terms, but unless your scoring is geared to the big play, Ware's meager tackle production brings his status way down. He totaled just 56 solo stops last season and his career best of 69 came back in 2008 when he also racked up a career best 20 sacks. Ware is a great bye week start or a decent LB3 in a pinch, but someone in your league will likely draft him too high... In recent years Bradie James has been a decent bye week play or late season injury replacement. He has reached the 80 tackle mark in three consecutive seasons and will make a few big plays along the way, but has very limited upside. There is also the fact that Dallas seems poised for a changing of the guard at ILB. Last year's second round pick Sean Lee is expected to eventually replace soon to be 36 year old Keith Brooking. In fact he started to do so late last season when Lee began seeing tine in nickel packages. I don't know if the coaching staff is considering that move now but it seems inevitable. When it happens Lee will become an every down player and could have pretty good value. James is also looking over his shoulder. The organization used this year's second round pick on Bruce Carter. Carter is a talented and physical ILB who will almost certainly be in the mix for the job next season.

Defensive Back

The 77 tackles and five picks that corner Terence Newman put up last season was the best production by a Cowboys defensive back since Roy Williams went big back in 2002. Newman generally makes a pretty strong contribution in the big play columns but 2010 was by far the best tackle production of his career. In fact Newman hadn't reached 55 tackles since the '05 season. He is worth a shot in deep corner required leagues but there is a strong chance that he will prove to be a one year flash. 50 tackles and about half a dozen big plays are more realistic expectations... The Cowboys signed Abram Elam to upgrade their safety position. While Elam is probably a step up from what they had last season, there is no reason for us to get excited about him. As the starting SS on a couple of bad Browns teams, Elam was very average both on the field and in the box scores.

New York Giants

Defensive line

The Giants front four has been a hot spot for news since before the lockout ended. The Osi Umenyiora saga continues even now. No one is really calling him on the carpet for it but it sure looks to me like he was trying to hide his knee issue until after the team gave him a big new contract. That didn't work and he was finally forced to admit that he's not healthy. Now he's trying to rehab his way back into the mix. Unfortunately for Umenyiora, the door has been opened for Jason Pierre-Paul who has looked very good. If Umenyiora can get healthy enough to contribute the coaching staff will certainly find a role for him, but at this point we can't be sure it will be as a starter. Meanwhile Pierre Paul is racing up the rankings with every report and preseason game. At this point neither guy is a sure thing, and both of them have a ton of potential. If I were going to choose between them I would definitely go with the healthy guy. Grab him as your second or even third DL but don't be surprised if Pierre-Paul blows up and finishes in the top ten... There is not a lot that needs said about Justin Tuck. He and Jared Allen are 1 and 1A at the position. We have Trent Cole as a close #3 then a considerable drop off to everyone else.

Linebacker

Middle linebacker has been a position of need in New York for some time now. For some reason the Giants refuse to make a serious commitment to landing a quality player at the position. There were some very good inside backer available on the free agent market but the club made no effort at all to land one of them. As of this writing Kirk Morrison and Lofa Tatupu are out of work. Either would be a considerable upgrade but the Giants seem content to keep throwing middle and late round draft pick at the position in hope that someone will stick. 2008 fifth round pick Jonathan Goff is currently first on the depth chart, followed by 2010 fourth round selection Phillip Dillard and rookie Greg Jones who was this year's second round pick but has so far been very quiet. We have already seen that Goff is nothing special and Dillard was unable to make an impression playing behind him last season. The Jury is still out on Jones who may eventually stand out but has thus far been a victim of the lockout. Dynasty owners may want to take a shot on the rookie but redraft owners should avoid this mess all together until someone steps up. Michael Boley was very productive when he was in Atlanta but has been unable to recapture that glory since coming to the Big Apple. Even though he was probably their best linebacker, Boley was not even an every down player for much of last season. Boley has not reached the 70 tackle mark since 2007 and doesn't seem likely to do so this year... The best value among Giants linebackers may well be SLB Mathias Kiwanuka. Not so much because he will post great numbers for a linebacker, but because some of the league management systems will probably be behind the curve on his position change. If you can pick the guy up and play him as a defensive end he could be a steal.

Defensive Back

Terrell Thomas was the fantasy game's #1 corner last season and a very strong play even in leagues that don't break out the positions. Even before the knee injury I was not so sure he would repeat that kind of production. Having already lost Prince Amukamara and Brian Witherspoon, the Giants find themselves very thin at corner. Aaron Ross will now join Corey Webster as the starters with a cast of unknowns battling for the next spot in the pecking order. Recently resigned Deon Grant could factor in as the 5th DB in nickel packages with former corner Antrel Rolle covering the slot receiver. Neither Webster nor Ross have ever made much of a splash in the box scores so don't look for either of them to step up. Rolle on the other hand, was the clubs second leading tackler last season with 76 solo stops, and is the favorite to carry the most fantasy value in the Giants secondary. If he can muster a few more big plays this season he could be a pleasant surprise as a dependable DB3 and should be good for quality depth at the worst... When Kenny Phillips came into the league in 2008 he was the top DB in most IDP drafts. Unfortunately he has never lived up to those expectations. That said, he is now two years removed from the serious knee injury, the Giants are still hurting at linebacker and last year's leading tackler (Thomas) just landed on IR. Someone has to make some tackles for the Giants. Phillips may just have a breakout season. I would still target Rolle first though.

Philadelphia Eagles

Defensive Line

DE Trent Cole is one of the elite defensive ends in both the NFL and fantasy football worlds. Over the past four seasons he has averaged about 52 solo tackles and 11 sacks a season. Adding to his value is his uncanny consistency. In each of those four seasons he has recorded at least 49 tackles and his lowest sack production over that span was 9 back in 2008. Interestingly enough, that was the season he posted a career best 59 tackles. The bottom line is that Cole is easily one of the top three players at the position and an argument can be made for him to be the first DL off the board. The DE position opposite Cole has produced good numbers as well. The problem being that the Eagles have consistently shuffled multiple players in an out of games, resulting in the numbers being spread between several guys. Jason Babin was one of those guys in 2009 when he stopped in Philly for a cup of coffee and recorded 8 tackles with three sacks over a three game span, then all but vanished. After exploding for 44 tackles and 12.5 sacks in Tennessee last year, the Eagles were happy to bring him back. The problem for us is trying to determine if they will allow him to play every down or will continue to rotate players. Juqua Parker started the first preseason game with Babin starting the second. They also have Darryl Tapp who looked pretty good last season as part of the rotation. Hopefully the third preseason game will shed some light on this situation for us. What I do know is that Babin is very capable of putting up big numbers if they give him the opportunity. I can also say that he has been falling way too far in nearly every draft that I have seen. There is some risk but the payoff could be huge.

Linebacker

The linebacker position in Philly has been a rollercoaster ride for fantasy owners this offseason. First it was Jamar Chaney, who looked real good down the stretch at MLB last season. Then we learned that he would move to WLB so rookie Casey Matthews could start in the middle. Matthews has struggled greatly through two games and we are now hearing that he will lose snaps to Brian Rolle in nickel situations. What a mess this has become. Never mind what the organization is telling us. This is what the eye ball test tells me. Matthews has been pushed around like a blocking dummy through two preseason games. I don't think he laid a hand on a ball carrier for the first 20 plays in week two. He may develop into a good middle backer but at this point it looks like he will need to spend a lot of time in the weight room before that happens. Meanwhile Chaney has looked pretty good. The Eagles were in a dime package for a number of plays against Pittsburgh and Chaney was the linebacker in that package. Dynasty owners should be patient with Matthews but anyone drafting over the next two weeks needs to drop him down the draft board significantly. Meanwhile Chaney looks like a good late round sleeper as your 4th or 5th LB.

Defensive Back

For the past three seasons Quintin Mikell has been a very solid contributor for us. The Eagles let him walk in free agency and drafted Jaiquawn Jarrett to be his replacement. Jarrett however, doesn't seem to be ready to step into the starting roll just yet. Thus far the coaching staff has felt compelled to move last year's FS Nate Allen to SS and give Kurt Coleman the starting nod and FS. The way offenses have plowed through the Eagles front seven in the first two preseason games, I would have to think that one of these safeties is going to have good value. That said, Allen doesn't look physical or aggressive enough to be that guy and Coleman has not impressed either. Dynasty owners need to be patient with Jarrett. As for the rest of us, I suggest looking elsewhere. None of these guys are being drafted in any of the leagues I have seen, so keep an eye on the situation move on the first one who shows signs of life... Philly has assembled the best trio of corners in the game. Unfortunately that doesn't mean that any of them are going to have big stats. If the coaching staff can't solve their problems up front versus the run, no one is going to need to pass against them anyway.

Washington Redskins

Defensive line

The Redskins have made some improvements in their front three and have a pretty solid group up front. Like many of the teams that run a 3-4, none of them have much box score value or potential.

Linebacker

London Fletcher is 36 years old and fell short of 90 solo tackles for the first time in his long career in 2010. He still managed a very solid 87 and will still be a quality contributor for us this year, but the sun is setting on his hall of fame fantasy career... For a while it looked as if second year man Perry Riley would get a chance to start alongside Fletcher at ILB. Apparently the coaching staff was not impressed enough with him to follow through on that. Late in the free agent frenzy they resigned Rocky McIntosh. McIntosh is not going to light up the score board but has proven to be a decent option as depth in twelve team leagues that start three LB... Brian Orakpo successfully made the transition from college end to OLB at the pro level. Just like most of the other really good 3-4 outside backers, his strong big play production is not quite enough to make up for his very weak tackle numbers.

Defensive Back

If he can get healthy, LaRon Landry is the favorite to lead all defensive backs in tackles in 2011. He was on pace for a monster 117 when he came up lame last season. The sore Achilles has kept him on the shelf throughout camp and preseason action but the Redskins are holding out hope that he will be ready for the opener. There are a handful of very good safeties who rank just below Landry. With the risk that he could battle this injury all season, I would have to pass on the upside and take a safer player like Tyvon Branch or Yeremiah Bell as my top DB... DeAngelo Hall is one of the few corners who is perennially a quality play in corner required leagues. He has put up 60+ tackles in three of the past four years and has averaged five picks a season since 2005.

That is going to do it for this year's preseason offering. I will catch my breath next week, update my rankings and projections a few times and be back for week one. Best of luck to you all in your drafts over the next two weeks!

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