Eyes Of the Guru: Preseason Part 1 (AFC West)
By John Norton
July 5th, 2012

Welcome back for year 18 of the Eyes of the Guru! This year we have a full offseason of football so the EOTG will be complete with all the bells and whistles. In years past I have always started with the East divisions. This season I am going in reverse and starting out west.

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For reference, when I mention where guys finished in the rankings last season, my model will be the standard Footballguys scoring system which is nearly identical to the North American Fantasy Football Addicts (NAFFA) league I have run for the past 17 years. Feel free to check it out. Defensive scoring in this league is the standard stuff but keep in mind that rankings will vary a bit from league to league. From time to time I will reference the "rookie corner rule". Those of you who are familiar with the EOTG know what that is. For those who are new, the rookie corner rule is basically the fact that in the NFL, starting a rookie at corner is like throwing chum to the sharks. Offensive coordinators will target young and inexperienced players as weaknesses, thus these guys have an accelerated number of opportunities. Most often these guys are the cream of the crop at the position (which is why they are starting so soon) and their numbers will begin to drop sharply after their rookie seasons. When I mention tackle numbers, I do not lump assists and solo tackles together. Unless I make a reference one way or the other, I am talking about solo tackles. When I talk about a total number of takeaways for a player, I am counting interceptions, fumble recoveries and fumbles forced since all of these score very similarly in most scoring systems.

Denver Broncos

Defensive Linemen

The 3-4 experiment in Denver was a short one as the club returned to a 4-3 in 2011. For fantasy owners this was particularly good news as it meant a return to defensive end for Elvis Dumervil. After spending all of 2010 on IR, Dumervil got off to a very slow start last season. He sat out the first three games all together and was eased back into action starting in week four. By mid season however, Dumervil looked like the same guy who racked up 16.5 sacks in 2009. Over the final nine games he totaled 24-10-9.5. Those numbers projected over a full season would be approximately 43-16-17. With his final overall ranking being in the mid twenties, many owners will undervalue Dumervil. Don't let yourself miss the boat on this guy. If he can stay healthy, Dumervil could very well be in the mix for a sack title in 2012. He should be close behind guys like Jared Allen and Jason Pierre-Paul on your draft board... 2009 first round pick Robert Ayers projects to continue starting opposite Dumervil. Ayers been a bust thus far in his career and may be looking at his last opportunity to prove himself in 2012. On the positive side, he did post a career high sack total in 2011. Unfortunately that didn't take much as the three sacks he posted last season brought his career total to four. Leave Ayers off your draft board but don't overlook his draft status and potential if he gets off to a hot start. The fact that there is really no one behind him means that Ayers will get plenty of opportunity. Jason Hunter is basically a leftover from the 3-4 scheme. He is a solid run defender but not much of an outside pass rush threat. His experience and the lack of competition at the position should guarantee a spot on the roster, but his production potential is very limited... Injuries to Ty Warren and Kevin Vickerson forced Brodrick Bunkley and Marcus Thomas into the starting lineup for most of last season, with Ryan McBean getting a lot of snaps on passing downs. Both Bunkley and Thomas have moved on leaving Warren, Vickerson and second round pick Derek Wolfe to compete for the starting jobs. These guys are solid players but keep in mind that none of the Broncos interior linemen posted more than 33 tackles in 2011, and McBean accounted for all the sacks from the tackle positions with 4. Being the new guy in the mix and an early draft pick makes Wolfe an interesting prospect for those in tackle required leagues. On the other hand, it has been a long time since we have seen quality production from the interior line in Denver.

Fantasy Outlook

  • DE Elvis Dumervil Quality DL1 with top 5 potential
  • DE Robert Ayers Former first round pick that has not panned out thus far
  • DE Jason Hunter Leftover from the 3-4 scheme with little value
  • DT Ty Warren Minimal value at best
  • DT Kevin Vickerson Minimal value at best
  • DT Derek Wolfe Rookie second round pick with some potential for tackle required leagues
  • DT Malik Jackson Developmental rookie
  • Linebackers

    Heading into training camp the Denver linebacker position gives us more questions than answers. At weak side linebacker, D.J. Williams is a former fantasy stud with big potential. After moving from the inside where he played in 2010, his production was down a bit last year; not to mention that he is on the shelf with a six game suspension to start the 2012 season. In both NFL and fantasy terms, Williams has been an outstanding player in years past. He is very good in coverage, has the range to make plays all over the field and the size to plug the hole when teams run right at him. His 69 tackles in 2011 were actually decent numbers when you consider that missed the first three games. What I didn't like was the uncharacteristic inconsistency as Williams had seven games with four or fewer tackles. That may have been nothing more than a fluke but it is some reason for concern. If your league has tight rosters, leave Williams off your list and look to pick him up the week before you think the competition will make that move. If you can spare the roster space early on, grab him in the early middle rounds and sit on him for the stretch run. He will be there for us when it counts... At middle linebacker, second year pro Nate Irving was a favorite of dynasty owners during last year's rookie drafts, but he is not a lock to start ahead of Joe Mays when the season opens. Even if he does beat out Mays, there is a real chance that Irving will sit out the passing down sub packages just like Mays did last season. If Irving can land an every down role he could be a 90+ tackle guy, but that is a big if. He is a physical run stuffer with good anticipation and range but is only average in coverage. Chances are good that he will start at some point this season and I would be surprised if he is not there for the opener. I would not be surprised however, if he is on the bench in passing situations, especially after Williams returns. With everyone available I would expect to see Williams and Wesley Woodyard as the nickel backers with Miller working from a rush position on the outside. Woodyard has been fairly productive for us when given an opportunity to play full time. He will get the call on the weak side while Williams is out, but his role will likely be greatly diminished once Williams returns. There is a great deal of production potential among this group but the only guy we know what to expect from is Von Miller. He is a playmaker for the Broncos but his fantasy value is largely dependent on scoring system. Even though Miller plays in a 4-3, he produces much like an outside backer in a 3-4. Working from the strong side limits his opportunity to post quality tackle numbers but his big play ability is huge. He finished the 2011 season with only 51 solo tackles, adding 11.5 sacks and 3 takeaways. In a big play based scoring system he could be high as an LB1. In most leagues however, Miller is no better than a decent LB3 or quality depth... The Broncos have good talent and plenty of versatility at the linebacker positions so the coaching staff may elect to use a lot of different players in various packages. One youngster to keep an eye on is outside backer Danny Trevathan. He is unlikely to make much short term impact but is a natural weak side linebacker who put up stellar numbers at Kentucky. If he gets a chance in a year or two he could be very productive in the Denver system.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • WLB D.J. Williams Solid LB2 with potential LB1 value after suspension
  • SLB Von Miller Decent LB3 or quality depth in balance leagues
  • MLB Joe Mays Deep sleeper with marginal upside
  • MLB Nate Irving Sleeper with good upside if he can land an every down role
  • OLB Wesley Woodyard LB3 or quality depth when playing full time
  • OLB Danny Trevathan Possible long term sleeper
  • Defensive Backs

    The Broncos finished in the bottom half of the league in pass defense last season so there are some new faces in the secondary. Brian Dawkins has moved on, leaving the safety position to youngsters Quinton Carter, Rahim Moore and veteran free agent addition Mike Adams. Carter was the club's fourth round pick last season and started at strong safety for most of his rookie year. He played pretty well behind a strong front seven but was unable to make much of a box score impact. Moore was a starter early in the season but was unable to hold the job and played sparingly after week five. Adams adds a veteran presence but has been a marginal starter or backup for most of his eight NFL seasons. Among this group there are no standouts talent wise to get excited about, but even more telling is the fact that over my 20 years of playing fantasy football with defensive players, only one Denver safety has ever held any serious fantasy value. That was Brian Dawkins when the Broncos defense was horrible in 2009. Even former Denver great Steve Atwater was never more than depth for a fantasy team. With a very strong front seven and the history of lacking production from the position; there is no reason to consider a Denver safety on draft day... After years of putting temporary bandages on the corner position opposite Champ Bailey, the club has finally invested in some real answers. Tracy Porter will start opposite Bailey with Drayton Florence likely to be the nickel corner. This may be the most talented trio of cover men Denver has fielded in more than a decade. Even at age 34 Bailey is among the league's best cover corners. There was a time when garnered a good deal of fantasy attention as well. Unfortunately he has not recorded more than 62 tackles or more than 3 interceptions in a season since 2007, and has not reached 45 tackles in either of the past two seasons. His numbers could bounce back a little with Porter on the opposite side as teams may not be so set on throwing the other way. That said, he is not worthy of much attention from us. Porter is a quality corner but has battled nagging injuries for much of his four pro seasons. After recording a career best of four picks in 2009, he has just one in each of the past two years. Chris Harris led the Denver secondary in tackles last season as an undrafted rookie. He played admirably under the circumstances but will likely be the team's fourth corner this year.2 The bottom line here is that we need to look elsewhere for defensive back help in 2012.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • SS Quinton Carter Minimal value at best
  • FS Mike Adams No value
  • FS Rahim Moore No value until proven otherwise
  • CB Champ Bailey Depth at best in corner required leagues
  • CB Tracy Porter Depth at best in corner required leagues
  • CB Drayton Florence - No value
  • CB Chris Harris - No value unless someone goes down
  • Kansas City Chiefs

    Defensive Linemen

    The Kansas City defense has plenty of room for improvement but there were some positives to their 2011 performance. They were the 26th ranked run defense and were tied for 27th in sacks, but the Chiefs boasted the 6th best pass defense and were tied for the 6th most interceptions in the league. The front three accounted for 7.5 of the team's 29 total sacks. While that may not sound like much, it is actually pretty respectable for a 3-4 scheme. Fantasy owners need to keep in mind that, by design, the 3-4 scheme severely limits the production potential of its defensive line. The biggest responsibilities of the front three are to eat up space, command multiple blockers and keep the linebackers free to make plays. As a result, the value of these players often goes unrewarded in the box scores. This is the case with the Chiefs, who have certainly not neglected their defensive line. In Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey they have a very solid pair of former top five picks at end, and they used the eleventh overall pick in this year's draft on nose tackle Dontari Poe. Jackson managed to lead the team's defensive line with 37 tackles in 2011, while Dorsey added 31. Unfortunately they totaled just 1 sack between them. Neither Tyson nor Dorsey are the kind of player who will consistently overcome the limitations of the scheme and produce in the box scores, but it is worth mention that Dorsey put up 51 tackles and a pair of sacks in 2010. In very deep leagues or leagues that break out the defensive line positions, one of these guys might have a little value as depth based on decent tackle numbers. That said, neither of them are worthy of much consideration in most situations... Poe is an interesting addition. At 346 pounds, he has the size and power to hold the line against the run and is surprisingly athletic. Mike Mayock compared his skill set to that of Haloti Ngata. Personally I think comparing Poe to Ngata is a pretty big stretch but history does give us several examples of nose tackles in 3-4 scheme that manage to put up strong tackle numbers. Owners in tackle required leagues may want to take a shot on him in the very late rounds just in case... Last year's third round pick Allen Bailey provides depth at end. He played very sparingly as a rookie but has the ability to hold down the fort if one of the starters is lost. Nose tackle Jerrell Powe was looking pretty good last summer before being injured and missing his entire rookie year. He may earn some playing time on early downs and is a solid fit for the scheme, but is very unlikely to play every down or put up much production.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • DE Tyson Jackson Depth in tackle heavy scoring systems
  • DE Glenn Dorsey - Depth in tackle heavy scoring systems
  • DE Allen Bailey No value
  • NT Dontari Poe Deep sleeper in tackle required leagues
  • NT Jerrell Powe - No value
  • Linebackers

    Todd Haley may be gone but credit him with turning Derrick Johnson into a fantasy stud. Over the first five years of his career Johnson never recorded more than 83 tackles and was never any better than a second or third starter. In 2009 Haley benched him for Demorrio Williams in what appeared to be a motivational ploy that worked to perfection. Johnson regained his starting role in 2010 and has been a significantly better player ever since. He has always made a fairly strong contribution in the big play departments and continues to do so, but over the past two seasons Johnson has piled up 198 solo tackles (104 last season) and 24 passes defended. He is the centerpiece of the defense, is a great fit in the scheme and is likely to repeat his top ten finish in 2012. Because he is not a high profile guy and a center of attention, Johnson tends to slip a little in many drafts. Most owners do not think of him among the elite fantasy options at the position but the numbers say we should. Let someone else use an early pick on Patrick Willis then sit back and grab Johnson a round or two later... Beyond Johnson, the Chiefs have very little to offer in term of fantasy production at the linebacker position. Jovan Belcher started opposite Johnson on the inside in 2011, and did an admirable job in NFL terms. Unfortunately for us he was rarely part of the passing down sub packages and produced no big plays at all. The 61 solo tackles he recorded last season were a career best for Belcher, but there is no reason to believe he will improve significantly on that total in 2012. In fact, he might even have stiff competition from Brandon Siler for the starting job. Siler has made a few starts in his career but was mostly a backup for the Chargers before coming to Kansas City last year. He was expected to challenge for the starting job in 2011 but was lost to injury during training camp. If he emerges from the preseason as a starter, I believe Siler will be more box score friendly than Belcher was. That said, we should not expect much from either of them... As 3-4 outside linebackers go, Tamba Hali is among the best in the game. His 26.5 sacks over the past two years are right up there with guys like LaMarr Woodley and Brian Orakpo. Unfortunately so are the mere 85 solo tackles he has totaled over those two seasons... Last year's third round pick Justin Houston made a nice contribution as a rookie. His 46 tackles and 5.5 sacks were very respectable for a first year player and the club expects much more from him going forward. Both Hali and Houston could have good value in big play based scoring systems. For everyone else they are bye week depth at best.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • ILB Derrick Johnson Strong second tier LB1 with top 5 potential
  • ILB Jovan Belcher - No value
  • ILB Brandon Siler No value
  • OLB Tamba Hali - Good value in big play leagues, depth or a bye week fill in at best for the rest of us
  • OLB Justin Houston Good upside in big play leagues
  • OLB Cameron Sheffield No value
  • OLB Andy Studebaker No value
  • Defensive Backs

    As a rookie in 2010, Eric Berry was sensational. After totaling 77 tackles, 5 takeaways, a pair of sacks, 10 passes defended and a touchdown in his debut, he was the top rated defensive back on most draft boards heading into last season. Unfortunately for both the Chiefs and fantasy owners alike, Berry became the first of a long list of casualties in Kansas City when he blew his knee out in week one. Berry is close to being cleared for practice and is expected to be in the lineup when the season opens. It is safe for us to expect a return to glory for him at some point, but it is hard to say if he will be 100% right out of the gate this year. Even if he is not all the way back, Berry will be productive. However, the uncertainty of the injury and the potential for a slow start are probably enough to keep him out of the top DB slot in redraft leagues. I still see Berry as a top 10 prospect and would likely slot him in the top 5, but there are a handful of guys with less risk that I would have to pick ahead of him at this point... With Berry out, Kendrick Lewis led the Chiefs secondary with only 48 tackles last season. Lewis chipped in 5 takeaways and did an adequate job overall, but did not provide an intimidating physical presence. Lewis will compete with free agent addition Abram Elam for the starting FS job this year. Elam is a more physical player and a very dependable tackler, but is a minimal threat when it comes to providing game changing plays. Either way the Chiefs go here, there is going to be limited production from the free safety position... Brandon Flowers is a perfect example of the rookie corner rule in action. As a second round pick in 2008 he posted a career high 62 tackles with 5 takeaways and 13 passes defended. In each season since, his tackle numbers have declined. In 2011 he totaled 47 stops with 4 takeaways and 20 passes defended. Flowers is a very good NFL corner and his big play potential offsets the declining tackle production enough to give him some fantasy value as well. For owners in leagues that break out the defensive back positions, he is a quality CB2 or excellent depth. Even in leagues that lump the positions together Flowers makes enough plays to be considered a decent bye week fill in... With Brandon Carr moving on, the Chiefs will start free agent addition Stanford Routt opposite Flowers. Routt brings good cover skills and blazing speed to the mix, but has never been known for his prowess as a tackler. He was the Raiders nickel corner for most of his career before becoming a starter in 2010, and has never recorded more than 49 tackles in a season. His 42 tackles, 4 picks and 15 passes defended last season might be enough to warrant some consideration as depth in large leagues that require two starting corners... Javier Arenas will likely continue to work as the nickel corner with Travis Daniels seeing a little time against multiple receiver sets, but an injury to either starter would be a major blow to this unit.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • SS Eric Berry Potential to be the top DB in the game if healthy
  • FS Kendrick Lewis Minimal value at best
  • SS/FS Abram Elam Possible depth in tackle based scoring systems
  • FS Donald Washington - No value
  • CB Brandon Flowers - Solid CB2
  • CB Stanford Routt Depth in corner required leagues
  • CB Javier Arenas No value
  • CB Travis Daniels - No value
  • Oakland Raiders

    Defensive Linemen

    It is believed that the Raiders are contemplating a switch to a 3-4 scheme in the future. While that may be true, it seems more likely that they will just add a 3-4 sub package for this season. From a personnel perspective they have the players up front to run either scheme. Lamarr Houston, Richard Seymour and Desmond Bryant all have the skill set to work as 3-4 ends, and Tommy Kelly would likely make a very good nose tackle if they decide to go that way. This is a situation that we will be keeping a close eye on over the summer, but for now it looks as if Oakland will continue with a 4-3 base front. 2012 was somewhat disappointing for the Raiders in that their defensive ends made very little contribution. Matt Shaughnessy was one of my favorite sleepers heading into last season, and was off to a good start before being injured in week three. In 2010 he put up 43 solo stops, 7 sacks and forced a pair of fumbles despite never officially being named a starter. Shaughnessy is 6'5” and 270 pounds with a huge wingspan and a knack for getting to the passer. When he first caught my eye late in 2009, he reminded me of a young Jason Taylor. The shoulder has healed and he should be back on track for those 45+ tackles and double digit sacks that I projected for him in 2011. He is a pretty well kept secret at this point and can be picked up in the late rounds of most drafts as a third lineman with big upside... After recording 31 tackles, 5 sacks and 3 takeaways in 2010, Houston took a big step backward last season. His tackle total was about the same (36) but he was only able to get to the quarterback once. What we need to keep in mind here is that Houston played mostly tackle at Texas. He did a good job as a rookie starter but at 305 pounds, may be best suited to move back inside. With that in mind, the free agent addition of Dave Tollefson is very interesting. The former Giant was stuck behind a stellar trio of defensive ends in New York, but still managed to record 55 tackles and 10.5 sacks over the past four seasons in limited action. He was 13-8-5 with a pair of takeaways last year. I can easily see a scenario where Houston works at end on early downs then shifts inside in passing situations, allowing Tollefson getting the pass rush opportunities. In fact, it would not be a big surprise to see Houston inside full time with Tollefson as a three down end. Last year's totals are enough to make me very leery of Houston, but I see Tollefson as a deep sleeper candidate that not many owners will be paying attention to... Owners in tackle required leagues can find some value with the Raiders interior line. Last year's rotation of Tommy Kelly, Richard Seymour and Desmond Bryant accounted for 18 sacks and 5 takeaways. With 67 tackles and 14 sacks over the past two years, Kelly is the best option of the group. His tackle total dipped to 27 in 2011 but he has put up at least 36 in four of the past six seasons, with a career best of 54. Kelly is a perennial top ten among interior linemen, including a top 5 finish in each of the past two seasons... Richard Seymour was a big name addition for Oakland a couple of years ago and at age 32, remains an important part of the plan going forward. His total numbers were way down last season when nagging injuries seemed to slow him a little. Over the three seasons prior to 2011 however, he averaged 34 tackles and recorded 16.5 sacks. At age 32 there is a little risk but I see Seymour as a solid DT2... The wildcard up front for the Raiders is Desmond Bryant. A versatile player who saw time at tackle and end in 2011, Bryant finished the season with 30 tackles and 5 sacks. He will certainly have a significant role this season and could find his way into the starting lineup somewhere. Keep an eye on this guy during the preseason.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • DE Matt Shaughnessy - Strong sleeper with big potential
  • DE/DT Lamarr Houston Sleeper with DL3 potential at best
  • DE Dave Tollefson Deep sleeper with good upside if he lands an every down role
  • DE Jack Crawford No value at this point
  • DT Tommy Kelly Perennial top 10 DT, decent depth in leagues that lump the DL positions together
  • DT Richard Seymour DL2 with upside and risk
  • DT Desmond Bryant Sleeper with long term potential
  • Linebackers

    When the Raiders took Rolando McClain with the 8th overall pick in 2010, many fantasy owners thought he would be the next Patrick Willis. That has certainly not been the case to date. A very disappointing rookie season netted just 59 tackles, a pick, 6 passes defended and half a sack. 2011 started with a near goose egg in the opener, and had some owners ready to dump him right out of the gate. Those who resisted that knee jerk reaction eventually reaped the benefit of patience. McClain's numbers bounced back nicely until he was hit by an injury. He showed toughness and leadership by playing through the injury for several weeks, but it took a toll on his production. In the end McClain's overall numbers were a pedestrian 77-22-4, but those numbers are very deceiving. If we look at the final six games of the 2011 season when he was healthy, we get a completely different picture. Over that span McClain averaged 7-1 with 4 sacks. Up to that point in his career I had been very apprehensive about his value and potential. While I am still not convinced that he will ever be a perennial top ten linebacker, I am much more optimistic about him as a player. Heading into the 2012 season there is another black cloud hanging over McClain. In May he was sentenced to 180 days in jail over a variety of charges including assault. The legal process continues in the case but there is a very real chance that even if he manages to stay out of jail, he could miss part of the season over the issue. Once he gets on the field, McClain has the potential to be very productive. Unfortunately he comes with a great deal of risk at this point... McClain's listed backup is 2010 sixth round pick Travis Goethel. He played very little as a rookie and spent the entire 2011 season on IR after blowing out his knee during training camp. Goethel is an unknown commodity at best and could be passed over for playing time by rookie 4th round pick Miles Burris. Burris is a versatile athlete who may end up being Oakland's top backup at all three linebacker positions in 2012; and has the potential to earn a starting job at some point... The free agent addition of strong side backer Phillip Wheeler allows the coaching staff to move Aaron Curry to the weak side where he belongs. The fourth overall pick of the Seahawks in 2009, Curry has been a major disappointment to fans and fantasy owners alike thus far in his career. The position change gives him a real shot at shedding the bust tag; especially if he can land an every down role... If there is one problem the Raiders have at linebacker, it is a lack of pass coverage across the board. Curry was never able to gain an every down role in Seattle due to questionable coverage skills. The one knock on Burris heading into the draft was his average cover skills, and Wheeler was a two down player for the Colts. Even McClain has conceded that coverage is an area of his game that he needs to improve. A healthy (and free) McClain would be the leader of this unit and an every down player. Beyond that, this is a situation that we need to be watching as the summer unfolds.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • MLB Rolando McClain Quality LB3 with LB2 upside if he is not in jail or suspended
  • SLB Phillip Wheeler - Potential depth if he plays every down
  • WLB Aaron Curry Probable depth with LB3 potential if he lands an every down role
  • MLB Travis Goethel Injury/suspension sleeper at best
  • OLB Miles Burris Deep dynasty sleeper with long term upside
  • Defensive Backs

    After finishing as the league's 27th ranked pass defense in 2011, the Raiders clearly needed a face lift in the secondary. There are some new names at the corner position but I am not so sure that the overall talent of the group has improved all that much. Strong safety Tyvon Branch is the foundation of the group and is hands down the best fantasy prospect. In fact, having totaled 80 or more solo tackles in each of the past three seasons, he is one of the most productive and dependable defensive backs in the game. The one area where Branch could use some improvement is big play production. His best season in that area was 2010 when he totaled 5 takeaways, recorded 4 sacks and scored once. In his other two years as a starter he combined for only 4 takeaways and 2 sacks. Branch does not get credit for many passes defended either. His three seasons as a starter have produced a total of just 15. There is some room for improvement and there are a few defensive backs that should be taken ahead of him, but Branch is easily a top 12 safety and a quality DB1 in balanced or tackle heavy scoring systems... In 2010 free safety Michael Huff put up the best numbers of his six year career with 77 tackles, 4 sacks and 5 takeaways. Just when it looked as if he would finally start living up to the expectations of a top ten overall pick, he spent the entire 2011 season battling a hamstring injury that had him in and out of the lineup. Huff is healthy now but there are rumors swirling that cover everything from his being a potential cap casualty to the coaching staff contemplating a position change to corner. Looking at the team's roster, the later might be the best move for the team. A healthy Huff will likely be the starting FS once again in 2012. If that becomes the case, he could post numbers very similar to those from 2010; especially when you consider the uncertainty at the linebacker positions. Consider Huff a deep sleeper with DB2 potential, who can probably be picked up with the last pick in your draft... Questionable coverage skills at the linebacker position have forced the Raiders to use extra safeties on a lot of passing downs in recent years. Matt Giordano took advantage of this (and Huff's hamstring issue) to put up 56 tackles and 5 picks last season. He will battle Jerome Boyd and Michael Mitchell for playing time in those passing down packages this season. If Huff is moved to corner, there would likely be a training camp battle between the three for the starting free safety job. The bottom line here is that the free safety position in Oakland brings some potential fantasy value for us. This is a situation to monitor through the summer... Corner has been a problem for the Raiders dating back several years. Even when Nnamdi Asomugha was there, they had a void opposite him. Free agent additions Ronald Bartell, Shawntae Spencer and last year's third round pick Demarcus Van Dyke are currently the top three corners on the roster, with former Packer Pat Lee possibly in the mix for the nickel job as well. Bartell and Spencer are solid players who bring starting experience to the mix, but neither of them are going to strike fear into opposing offenses. As a starter for the Rams from 2007 to 2010, Bartell put up respectable tackle numbers for a corner, but he has not intercepted a pass since the 2008 season. After spending the 2011 season on IR, Bartell should be good to go physically. He has the potential to be a starter in corner required leagues but I would wait until he shows us something before investing a valuable roster spot... Spencer had a couple of productive seasons early in his career but has been no more than a backup or marginal starter for the 49ers since 2006... Van Dyke could evolve into a quality player at some point, as with Bartell, let him show us something first.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • SS Tyvon Branch - Consistency and production make him a top 10 DB
  • FS Michael Huff Depth with DB2 upside in large leagues
  • SS Michael Mitchell - Injury sleeper at best
  • FS Jerome Boyd - Injury sleeper at best
  • FS Matt Giordano Potentially a decent DB3 or quality depth
  • CB Ronald Bartell Possible CB2 or quality depth in corner required leagues
  • CB Demarcus Van Dyke No value unless proven otherwise
  • CB Shawntae Spencer - No value
  • CB Pat Lee - No value
  • CB Chimdi Chekwa - No value
  • San Diego Chargers

    Defensive Linemen

    As is often the case with 3-4 defenses, the Chargers will not get a lot of box score production from their ends. That however, is no reflection of their ability. Corey Liuget was San Diego's first round pick in 2011 and saw significant playing time as a rookie. He is a 300 pound space eater who will likely step into a starting role in 2012. Liuget will likely be paired with this year's second round pick Kendall Reyes while long time starter Luis Castillo returns from injury and could figure into the mix as well. This group should perform well on the field and will help make the inside linebackers solid prospects for us. What they will not do is post quality fantasy numbers. In 2011 no Chargers end totaled more than 27 tackles, and they combined for 2 sacks. In fact, no San Diego end has given us even minimal fantasy value since Castillo went 37-12-3.5 way back in 2005. The nose tackle position on the other hand, was relatively productive last season and has a history of being a gold mine (or at least a silver mine) of production for tackle required leagues. Jamal Williams able to exceed 40 tackles three times in four the seasons between 2005 and 2008. He was followed by Antonio Garay who has combined for 75 tackles, 30 assists and 8.5 sacks in his two years as a starter. Garay may have some competition for the starting job from Cam Thomas this summer, but will likely come out of camp with the job for a third season. For most owners he will be a non factor. For those in tackle required leagues, Garay will likely be a low end DT1.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • DE Luis Castillo No value
  • DE Corey Liuget - No value
  • DE Kendall Reyes No value
  • DE Jacques Cesaire - No value
  • NT Cam Thomas - No value
  • NT Antonio Garay Low end DT1 in leagues that break out the DL positions
  • Linebackers

    The Chargers inside linebacker position has a long tradition of quality box score production that goes all the way back to Donnie Edwards. Even a pretty average player like Stephen Cooper was able to put up good numbers from the position for a couple of years. The dilemma for us at this point, is figuring out which of the contestants at ILB will have the most value. As I have said a number of times this offseason, Donald Butler was the best two down linebacker in the game in 2011. He managed to lead the Chargers with 76 tackles despite sitting out on passing downs for most of the season. Likewise, Butler was no stranger to the big play as he added 4 takeaways, a pair of sacks and a score to his totals as well. There is no doubt that he will continue to start in 2012, and will continue to be at least a decent LB3 or excellent depth. If Butler can work his way back into the nickel sub packages, he could push triple digit solo tackles and land among the top ten at the position... Last year Butler was paired with Takeo Spikes on early downs, with Spikes getting most of the nickel snaps. Despite the big edge in playing time, Spikes was only able to muster 64 tackles and a minimal big play contribution. The fact that he tallied 43 assists to Butler's 19 should be enough to tell us that Spikes was consistently the second player to the ball. He will turn 36 in December and is not the player he once was. He will face a strong challenge for the starting job opposite Butler and will continue to be a minimal value even if he managed to hold on. Chances are that either Jonas Mouton or Demorrio Williams will get the call, with Spikes possibly becoming a veteran cap casualty. Both Mouton and Williams are very interesting prospects. Mouton was the Chargers second round pick last year and was expected to push for a starting job before an early shoulder injury eventually landed him on IR. Williams is particularly interesting in that he started and was very productive (95 solo tackles) in the Chiefs 3-4 back in 2009. I believe that Williams is a serious threat to win this job because he has experience in a similar scheme and is good in coverage. Butler is clearly the favorite to have the most value of this group but he is certainly not a lock to do so. This will be a very important situation for us to keep an eye on as the season draws nearer... Shaun Phillips has established himself as one of the better 3-4 outside backers in the game today. He missed several games with injury in 2011 but had put up at least 7 sacks in each of the previous seasons dating back to 2005. Like nearly all the other quality players at this position, Phillips marginal tackle production will hold his value in check with the exception of big play based leagues... Since the departure of Shawn Merriman, the Chargers have been looking for a star to bookend Phillips. In first round pick Melvin Ingram they hope to have one. Ingram is the next in a line off early picks to get a shot at the job. The Chargers hope he will fare better than Larry English who has basically been a bust. The move that I find confusing here is the signing of former Raven Jarrett Johnson. While the Ravens are known as a 3-4 team for the most part, Johnson actually saw a great deal of his playing time at strong side linebacker when the Ravens called a 4-3. His sack production has been average, with a career high of 6 coming in 2009 and just 4 over the past two seasons combined. Johnson is a solid player who will likely be a situational contributor but will have very little box score value.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • ILB Donald Butler Decent LB3 at the least, with top 12 upside
  • ILB Takeo Spikes Depth at best if he even makes the team
  • ILB Demorrio Williams Deep sleeper with LB3 potential if things fall right
  • ILB Jonas Mouton - Deep sleeper with strong long term potential if he can surpass Butler and take a leadership role
  • OLB Shaun Phillips - Dependable LB2 in leagues that emphasize big plays
  • OLB Melvin Ingram Rookie sleeper with good long term big play potential
  • OLB Jarrett Johnson Minimal value at best
  • OLB Larry English No value until proven otherwise
  • Defensive Backs

    Free safety Eric Weddle is the lone fantasy mainstay from the Chargers secondary. With at least 68 solo tackles in each of the past four seasons, and a career best of 105 back in 2008, Weddle is a favorite of many owners. My only issue with him is consistency, both year to year and week to week. In 2008 and 2010 Weddle combined for 185 tackles. His 2009 and 2011 numbers add up to 138. In 2011 his overall point total was very good, but he recorded 4 or fewer tackles in a whopping nine games. His owners were saved by a career best 7 interceptions, but in his previous four seasons as a starter Weddle had just 6 total. The bottom line is that we never know which Weddle we will be getting. He could be a top five safety this season, or he could end up with 70 tackles and 2 picks. If you can get him late enough Weddle could be a great value, but chances are some owner who loves him will make that move pretty early... Free agent addition Atari Bigby is the early favorite to start at strong safety. He had one decent season as a starter for the Packers a few years back but once the adrenalin wore off, he proved to be very average. Injuries have been an issue as well over the past several years. Experience may land Bigby the job for the short term but I have to believe rookie Brandon Taylor is the long term answer. He is a potential fantasy stud as well. Taylor was a very productive in the box strong safety as a three year starter at LSU. He is tough, has a good skill set, and brings a physical presence in run support. It will be a surprise if he is not starting and producing at some point this season... In Quentin Jammer, Antoine Cason and Marcus Gilchrist the Chargers have a very competent trio of corners. Jammer turns 34 in June and is coming off his worst statistical season since 2002. He recently blamed a divorce for his lack of focus last season, but at 34, he is on the verge of decline anyway. Like Jammer, Cason is a former first round pick of the club and is a quality NFL corner. Unfortunately, the Chargers corners have a long precedent of very average box score production. At best Jammer or Cason might be considered depth in large leagues that break out the DB positions.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • SS Atari Bigby Dark horse sleeper with limited upside
  • FS Eric Weddle Somewhere between a lower tier DB1 and a quality backup, tough to call
  • SS Brandon Taylor Dynasty special with good long term value
  • SS Darrell Stuckey - No value
  • CB Quentin Jammer Depth with a little upside in corner required leagues
  • CB Antoine Cason Potential depth in corner required leagues
  • CB Marcus Gilchrist - No value
  • CB Shareece Wright - No value
  • That is a wrap for part one. If all goes according to plan I will be putting out a division as soon as possible until I get them all covered. I will be back with the NFC West. Meantime, best of luck with those early drafts.

    As always, feel free to provide comments or suggestions to norton@footballguys.com.

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