We are midway through the preseason and there are still numerous starting jobs up for grabs. I'm going to take a look at the IDP side of things and attempt to sort through some of the most pertinent position battles taking place that have IDP implications.
DL: The injury to Terrell Suggs has created a massive hole in the Ravens defense. They are in bad need of a pass rusher and that creates an opportunity for players such as Paul Kruger and rookie Courtney Upshaw. This is a little tricky because some leagues have Suggs listed as a defensive end and some have him as an outside linebacker. The same holds true for Upshaw and Kruger. There is minimal upside for either Upshaw or Kruger if they are listed as an outside linebacker, but if your league lists either as a defensive end, there could be value. As of this writing, Upshaw has not secured a starting job, but he probably has more upside than Kruger. Remember, Upshaw is a rookie and it's not a surprise to see rookie pass rushers struggle early in the season. Keep Upshaw on your radar even if he does not start the year as a starter. I am not nearly as high on Kruger, but he is still worth monitoring. Once again, this only applies if Upshaw or Kruger are listed as a defensive end.
DL: Carlos Dunlap is hurt and could miss some action early in the season. Prior to being hurt, Dunlap was expected to play a significant role this year, so this may not be a bad time to look into trading for Dunlap if your league has drafted or in dynasty leagues. If you haven't drafted yet, Dunlap could have some nice value later in drafts. There is little if any IDP value behind Dunlap.
LB: The season ending injury to starting linebacker Chris Gocong has given impressive rookie linebacker James-Michael Johnson a huge opportunity to enter the starting lineup. With starting strong-side linebacker Scott Fujita suspended for the first three regular season games, it is likely that Johnson and Kaluka Maiava will start at the two outside linebacker spots while Fujita is out. Once Fujita returns, one of Johnson or Maiava will remain in the starting lineup. My money is on Johnson.
LB: There are no important preseason battles with fantasy relevance in Pittsburgh, but there is some concern regarding James Harrison. He has been banged up quite a bit in recent years and had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee last week and his status for week one is in question. Jason Worilds is also hurt and seems unlikely to be ready for week one and that means there are a couple of possibilities related to replacing Harrison in the starting lineup. One is to insert Chris Carter into the lineup and should that happen, Carter could be a decent matchup-dependent fill-in early in the year. The other is to move Lawrence Timmons outside temporarily and insert impressive rookie Sean Spence into the lineup at inside linebacker and like Carter, Spence could have some short-term value. This is all dependent on whether Harrison returns for week one and that is up in the air right now.
LB: Kirk Morrison was expected to start at strong-side linebacker but he has been pushed hard in training camp and preseason by Arthur Moats. I don't expect this battle to have any significant IDP implications, but those of you in deeper leagues may want to keep an eye on it.
DB: Vontae Davis, who was benched for a short time last year, was replaced in the starting lineup in last week's preseason game in favor of Richard Marshall. This could have significant fantasy implications because of Marshall's exceptional run defense. Marshall has been among the league leaders in tackles among cornerbacks even when playing nickel back. Marshall probably has fantasy value even if he doesn't start but as a starter there is top-20 upside.
New England Patriots
DL: Chandler Jones has arguably been the most impressive rookie in preseason. He had a sensational effort in week one with five quarterback pressures in just 14 passing plays. That came against Saints starting left tackle Jermon Bushrod, so it's not like he beat some 3rd string stiff; he beat one of the better left tackles in the league. Jones also drew a pair of holding penalties and held up very well against the run. Jones is still a bit under-the-radar but he should be rocketing up draft boards as we speak. I have Jones listed as a borderline DL2 and it is possible he could move up higher depending on what happens in the week three preseason game.
New York Jets
LB: There's not much in the way of major fantasy news regarding the Jets, but keep an eye on Demario Davis. He was drafted to eventually replace Bart Scott and I won't be surprised if that transition happens at some point this year. I do expect Scott to begin the year as the starter.
LB: There is not much change expected in Houston with respect to fantasy implications, but those in big play leagues should keep an eye on impressive rookie outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus, who has been impressive since training camp began.
LB: With the injury to Pat Angerer that will likely sideline him for a minimum of six weeks, there is a short-term opening inside next to Kavell Conner. I'm not overly excited about any of the in-house candidates, but should the Colts add a linebacker via a trade or free agency, take notice.
DB: The cornerback spot opposite Jerraud Powers is probably going to have solid fantasy value as none of the candidates are very good and whoever starts is likely to be attacked relentlessly by opposing quarterbacks. Justin King is the leading candidate for the job right now and although he is not all that good of a cornerback, he posted top-20 numbers in the first month last year when he started for the Rams and was a CB1 in that same time period in leagues that separate cornerbacks from safeties. This is just another reminder that solid fantasy players are not necessarily the best football players, especially at defensive back. This could be an important battle and is very under-the-radar right now.
DL: With Austen Lane being injured and missing both preseason games, rookie Andre Branch has started both preseason games and had a pair of tackles and a half-sack in last week's game against the Saints. Branch could be a mid-level DL3 with upside should he earn the starting job. Lane would probably be no more than depth if he won the job.
LB: Will Witherspoon is still listed as the starter at weak-side linebacker for the Titans and while it's possible that he begins the season as the starter, I think it's just a matter of time before Zach Brown takes over. Brown has been very impressive in preseason, racking up ten total tackles in two games, including six solos last week. Witherspoon is a marginal talent and the Titans didn't spend a second-round pick on Brown to sit him on the bench. Should Brown earn the starting job and play all three downs, there is LB3 potential. Witherspoon would be a depth linebacker at best if he holds onto the job.
LB: With D.J. Williams suspended for the first six games (possibly more due to a conviction for driving while impaired), Wesley Woodyard is expected to replace him in the starting lineup. Woodyard has been a spot starter in the past and has posted borderline LB3 numbers while starting, so there is some potential short-term value here. Joe Mays continues to play with the starters at middle linebacker but he could be pressured by Nate Irving. I expect Mays to begin the year as the starter, but he is likely to only play on running downs so his value is probably limited to a depth player in deeper leagues. I would keep an eye out for any Irving news throughout the season.
Kansas City Chiefs
DB: There is very little preseason news with respect to IDP battles in Kansas City, but one thing to note is that Eric Berry looks to be close to 100% and should be one of the top fantasy DBs this year.
LB: Aaron Curry is still out with a knee injury and not only could that cost him a chance to start, it could cost him his roster spot as well. Rookie Miles Burris would likely get first crack at the starting job. There could be some fantasy potential here if Burris plays all three downs so keep an eye on this.
San Diego Chargers
DB: Atari Bigby is currently starting at strong safety for the Chargers, but he will have to hold off rookie Brandon Taylor to win the job. Bigby has posted strong fantasy numbers in the past, but has largely been irrelevant in the fantasy world for several years. Bigby is not very good in coverage and even if he were to win the starting job I can't see him keeping it for the entire season. If Taylor earns the starting spot, he would probably be a DB4 with DB3 upside. I would guess Bigby begins the season as the starter because of his experience, but I fully expect Taylor to start at some point this year.
LB: Much like the situation in Carolina, this is just a short-term item and it has much less potential fantasy relevance. Brian Urlacher is tentatively expected to be ready in week one, but that is not etched in stone. Should Urlacher not be ready, Nick Roach would probably move to middle linebacker with Geno Hayes replacing him on the strong side, as was the case in the second preseason game. The only IDP value here would be for the linebacker that plays on passing downs in Urlacher's absence.
DB: With Amari Spievey struggling and battling injuries since training camp began, Erik Coleman has been running with the starters and has been very impressive in preseason. Coleman is not the best safety in coverage but he is a solid run defender and has been a top-20 DB four times in his career. Right now he is outplaying Spievey by a wide margin and should that hold up, Coleman could have significant IDP value. I would not expect more than borderline DB4 value for Spievey should he win the job back. I consider this one of the most important IDP battles to track right now. If I was a betting man, I would give the edge to Coleman. He is probably on the waiver wire in most leagues and is worth picking up right now because of the upside.
Green Bay Packers
LB: With the injury to Desmond Bishop that will likely sideline him for the season, D.J. Smith will step into the starting lineup. Smith had 19 solos, 8 assists, and 1 interception in three starts last year. Smith should be a solid LB3 with LB2 upside.
DB: Charles Woodson was formally moved to safety following the release of Charlie Peprah. This is not as big of a deal with respect to Woodson's production as he lined up at safety quite a bit last year. In terms of just his numbers, I don't expect much of a change. The biggest loss here is for leagues that separate cornerback from safety and allow for changes in position. Woodson was arguably the top fantasy cornerback and with his position change, Woodson's owners all of a sudden have a big hole in their lineup.
DB: Harrison Smith is locked in as one of the starters and the only question is which safety position he lines up at. Either way, I don't expect a great deal of fantasy value as safeties have generally not fared well in this defense because it funnels running plays towards the cornerbacks. Smith's fantasy value is probably depth at best right now, but with him being a rookie, there is always the possibility for him to outperform his current ranking.
LB: The starting inside linebacker spot next to Sean Lee is still up in the air as Dan Conner and Bruce Carter battle for the job. Carter is the more talented player and should he earn the job, Carter would likely be a three-down linebacker. Conner is not good in coverage and thus would likely be limited to playing only on running downs. There is a chance that Conner could play on running downs with Carter entering on passing downs. I see limited IDP value here unless Carter earns the every-down job and should that happen Carter would probably be a LB4 with LB3 upside. Conner could have value as depth in deeper leagues, but the upside is limited.
New York Giants
DB: Terrell Thomas was initially thought to have suffered a significant ACL injury but reports suggest is is not season-ending. A healthy Thomas has posted DB1 numbers in the past, but it's hard for me to recommend him as anything more than a DB4 right now. There is just too much uncertainty regarding this injury to rank him any higher.
LB: Mychal Kendricks has been very impressive thus far. The only question (and it's very important) is whether Kendricks will be a three-down linebacker. This is something to keep an eye on because Kendricks probably has LB3 potential if he plays every down and little if any of he doesn't. My gut says he will. The week three preseason game should give us a clue.
DB: There are battles going on for both starting safety jobs in Washington. The strong safety job appears to be Brandon Meriweather's to lose, assuming his injury doesn't keep him sidelined. The starting free safety job is likely to be won by either Tanard Jackson or Madieu Williams. I don't see much more than depth here.
DB: William Moore is currently the strong safety and at times he has been very inconsistent in the past. The Falcons signed safety Chris Hope for depth and he was a starter for several years with the Titans. The thought here is that Moore has struggled in the past and has been bench in favor of lesser talented player and therefore, you should at least monitor this situation throughout the year. While I'm not expecting Moore to lose his job, it certainly would not shock me if he was benched at some point.
LB: Although this situation is probably short-term, it warrants a mention. As of this writing, Jon Beason is considered questionable for week one due to a hamstring injury. Beason said that he hurt his hamstring overcompensating for his Achilles tendon, which he tore last season. That should be a reminder that serious injuries like a torn Achilles affect other part of the body and this could be an ongoing problem for Beason, especially early in the year. Should Beason not be ready to start in week one, Thomas Davis, if healthy, would probably start at weak-side linebacker with rookie Luke Kuechly moving to the middle. Davis is also coming off a serious injury, a third torn ACL in his right knee and has yet to appear in preseason, but he could play in the third preseason game. While Beason is almost certain to start if healthy, Davis could have some short-term value if Beason is not ready to start. This is important because the weak-side linebacker spot in this defense has been very productive in the past. I would definitely try to watch the Panthers game this week if Davis plays.
New Orleans Saints
LB: The Saints have some short-term injury concerns at linebacker. Curtis Lofton has a high-ankle sprain, David Hawthorne is out with a hip flexor, and Chris Chamberlain was placed on injured reserve with a torn ACL. With both Lofton and Hawthorne being questionable for week one and Chamberlain out for the year, the Saints made a move to shore up their depth by acquiring Barrett Ruud from Seattle. Ruud could have some short-term value if Lofton misses any action but beyond that I don't see Ruud having much value.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
LB: The starting defensive lineup for the Buccaneers appears to be set and the only question of importance that remains for us IDPers is which linebackers will play in the nickel. As of this writing, Mason Foster and Quincy Black have been playing in the nickel with rookie Lavonte David relegated to being a two-down linebacker. This seems like a situation where the rookie has to earn his way on the field and part of it could be the extra time it takes to sort things out in coverage at the pro level. David is much too athletic to remain on the sidelines in passing situations and I think it is just a matter of time before he plays every down. My gut says it will be sooner rather than later.
LB: Paris Lenon has a real battle on his hands as he attempts to hold off Stewart Bradley for the starting spot at inside linebacker next to Daryl Washington. Although Washington figures to eat up the bulk of the available tackles, there is still some IDP value here. Lenon finished last season as a LB4 and my guess is either of these LBs could be in that same tier this year. Right now I'd probably give a slight edge to Lenon keeping the job, but Bradley has played well enough in preseason to warrant being considered for the job. Another important note is that Bradley is probably on the waiver wire in a lot of leagues so keep that in mind.
St. Louis Rams
DL: The Rams are reportedly going to work out free agent defensive end Andre Carter. Carter would give the Rams solid depth behind starters Chris Long and Robert Quinn but keep in mind that Jeff Fisher likes to rotate his defensive linemen so there could be DL3 value here should Carter eventually sign. Carter proved last year that he still has elite pass rushing skills so keep your eyes open for news regarding a potential Carter signing, be it here or with another team.
LB: Mario Haggan is tentatively slated to start at one of the outside linebacker spots opposite Jo-Lonn Dunbar. Should that happen, Haggan would have little if any fantasy value. The player to keep an eye on here is former Redskins linebacker Rocky McIntosh. While McIntosh is not the greatest linebacker around, he has posted borderline LB3 numbers in the past. Should he win a starting job, there could be some fantasy value if he were to play all three downs.
San Francisco 49ers
LB: There is very little relevant new IDP fantasy information about the 49ers right now, but as a reminder, outside linebacker Aldon Smith is expected to be an every down player this year. In big-play leagues, Smith has an outside chance to crack the LB1 tier. Consider Smith a borderline LB3 with upside in standard scoring leagues.
LB: With the trade of Barrett Ruud to the Saints, it makes official what many of us have expected all along; that Bobby Wagner would be the starting middle linebacker for the Seahawks. The only question that remains is whether Wagner will play on passing downs. Up to now, he has not been in on most passing situations that I was able to see. Instead, Leroy Hill and K.J. Wright were in on the nickel. Wagner is plenty athletic enough to be a three-down linebacker, but like Lavonte David, Wagner is a rookie and sometimes the mental aspect of playing in coverage slows rookies down a bit and that can make a big difference. My gut says Wagner will be a three-down linebacker this year, but probably not right away.
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