Eyes Of the Guru (AFC East)
By John Norton
July 27th, 2012

Welcome back for part seven of the Eyes of the Guru!

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.

Buffalo Bills

Defensive Linemen

The 3-4 experiment was short and not very successful in Buffalo so they will return to a 4-3 in 2012. To insure better results this year the Bills landed the gem of free agency in defensive end Mario Williams. Williams missed most of last season with a torn pectoral but is healthy entering camp and happy to have escaped the Texans 3-4 scheme. With 5 sacks in five games with Houston last season, it is not as if he struggled to make the switch to outside linebacker, Williams is just more comfortable at his natural position as a 4-3 end. He has not played a full sixteen games since 2009 so there may be just a little injury concern, but Williams' production is not in question. From 2007 to 2009 he averaged about 42 tackles and 12 sacks a season and is one of the game's premier every down ends. He has bulked up a bit over the offseason and after playing at 292 earlier in his career, will enter camp at about 300 pounds this year. Williams hopes the extra weight will help him hold up even better against the run. Let's hope it does not affect his pass rush as there are not many 300 pound ends that produce double digit sacks. The Buffalo defense will take full advantage of Williams strengths and should make him a 40+ tackle and double digit sack guy again this year. He is not on the level of Jason Pierre-Paul and Jared Allen, but Williams is a strong DL1 with top five potential... Williams was not the only free agent addition that is likely to make an impact. Mark Anderson comes over from New England after posting 9.5 sacks as a nickel package pass rush specialist last season. He started just three games on the year including two in the playoffs, but the Bills believe he can be an every down player for them opposite Williams. The coaching staff may be right but based on his history I am a little less optimistic. As a rookie in 2006 Anderson racked up a career best 12.5 sacks for the Bears in basically the same role he held last season for the Patriots. The Bears also though he could be an every down end so in 2007 he became a starter. In fourteen games that season Anderson managed just 25 tackles and 4.5 sacks. He spent the next three years as a part time player in Chicago. Anderson is older, wiser and a bit bigger now. At 255 pounds he is still a little undersized for an every down end, and while we know he can get after the passer, his career best tackle production is still 25. At best I can see Anderson putting up 30-35 tackles and double digit sacks. At worst he should be good for 25-30 tackles and 8-9 sacks. If you pick him up as your third or fourth end you certainly will not be hurt and could have a steal... Chris Kelsay and Shaun Merriman will also figure into the mix. Kelsay is a quality run defender but only above average as a pass rusher. If Anderson struggles on early downs I can easily see the two ending up in a time share at the position. Merriman has a world of potential as a pass rusher but has been healthy for only 23 games over the past four seasons and has played a full sixteen games just once in his seven year career... In last year's third overall pick Marcell Dareus and veteran Kyle Williams the Bills have a formidable duo on the inside. They also have a pair with a good deal of box score potential. Williams missed most of last season with an Achilles injury but was able to take part in minicamp. He will be good to go when training camp opens. In 2010 he piled up 54 tackles and 5 sacks as a nose tackle in the 3-4. In the two seasons prior to that he averaged about 40-22-4 as a 4-3 tackle. Williams is a stout run defender who excels at playing off blocks to make tackles and has enough athletic ability to contribute to the pass rush. Working at end in the 3-4, Dareus managed a strong 32 tackles and 5.5 sacks as a rookie. At a powerful 340 pounds he will be a road block against the run and can push the pocket with a bull rush, but is surprisingly nimble for a man of his size. An educated guess is that Dareus will draw the majority of the double teams up front, allowing Williams to be the more box score productive of the two. That said, both of these players have the potential to be quality starters in tackle required leagues... With Dwan Edwards, Torrell Troup and Spencer Johnson Buffalo has good depth at the tackle positions as well.

Fantasy Outlook

  • DE Mario Williams Quality DL1 with top 5 potential
  • DE Mark Anderson Solid depth at worst, decent DL2 at best
  • DE Chris Kelsay No value
  • DE Shaun Merriman No value
  • DE/DT Spencer Johnson No value
  • DT Kyle Williams Strong DT1 with top 5 potential or depth in leagues that combine the position
  • DT Marcell Dareus Depth at worst with DT1 potential
  • DT Dwan Edwards No value
  • DT Torell Troup No value
  • Linebackers

    Buffalo's linebackers bring us a lot of potential along with some uncertainty. Nick Barnett is the one known commodity of the group. He tied strong safety George Wilson with a team best 78 solo stops in 2011 while adding 4 takeaways and 2.5 sacks. Barnett has missed significant time with injuries in two of the past four seasons, but when healthy has put up good numbers. As an inside backer for the Packers in 2009 and the Bills last season, he averaged right at 80 solo tackles and totaled 6 sacks. The stats crew in Buffalo is among the most generous in the league when it comes to awarding assists. The 52 Barnett was credited with last season went a long way toward supplementing his tackle numbers and helping him finish among the top ten linebackers in total fantasy points. The move to weak side in the 4-3 in not exactly a positive, but it not going to ruin his production by any stretch. Barnett will be on the field in all sub packages and will continue to have plenty of opportunity. If there is a weakness to his game it is marginal big play numbers. In 29 games between 2008 and 2010, he failed to record a single takeaway. The 4 he posted last season were the second most of his nine year career and the most since 2005. While Barnett's high overall ranking in 2011 got a boost from the interception touchdown he scored against the Eagles, he remains a solid and consistent option for us. Even with the position change he should produce numbers worthy of a solid LB2 or excellent third starter... Second year pro Kelvin Sheppard will start at middle backer and veteran Kirk Morrison will get the call on the strong side. The big question he being, who will play in the all important sub packages? Sheppard was a standout as an every down player at LSU. He made his first start as a pro in week eight last year and finished the season in that role, but saw few if any snaps in passing situations. To put some perspective on his potential we can do a little math. Sheppard was on the field for 40% of the Bills defensive snaps in 2011 and totaled 46 tackles with 24 assists. Easy addition tells us that had he seen even 80% of the snaps he would have finished in the area of 92-48 in the tackle columns. Working behind Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus; if this Sheppard lands an every down role and sees 1000+ snaps, he could push triple digits in solo tackles. The problem here is that Morrison is a quality veteran starter who is good in coverage. As a Raider from 2005 to 2009 he rarely came off the field. Over that span Morrison never recorded fewer than 91 solo tackles, totaled 7 interceptions and in 2007, had a career high 10 passes defended. Even if Morrison gets the sub package snaps, I am not sure he will be able to overcome the strong side position and post useful numbers. If Sheppard gets those snaps however, he could push for a spot in the top fifteen. This is one of those situations we will be looking hard at when the preseason finally gets here. At this point I would consider Sheppard as a sleeper with big upside and look to land him as a pinch third or safe fourth linebacker... Bryan Scott is an interesting player and a wildcard. When this guy gets on the field he make plays everywhere, but the coaching staff has not found a starting spot for him. He is a bit too slow to start at strong safety and a bit too small to play linebacker. His niche in recent years has been in the passing down sub packages where he is called a safety but actually lines up as the second linebacker. Scott could continue to serve in that role, which would be bad news for Sheppard, or could settle into a job as the Bills top reserve at linebacker. If there were an injury at one of the linebacker spots the club would likely insert Scott on the weak side and shuffle the others to fill the need... Fourth round pick Nigel Bradham is an interesting long term prospect at outside linebacker. He is a fast and physical player who should contribute mostly on special teams for now but may be the future at one of the outside positions.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • MLB Kelvin Sheppard Somewhere between decent depth and a quality LB2 depending on the sub package duties
  • WLB/MLB Nick Barnett Quality LB2 or excellent third starter
  • SLB Kirk Morrison Minimal value unless he changes positions and earns nickel package snaps
  • WLB Bryan Scott Injury sleeper with significant potential if he can get on the field full time
  • OLB Nigel Bradham Long term dynasty sleeper
  • Defensive Backs

    Buffalo ranked in the middle of the pack in total passing yards allowed in 2011, but their 7.7 yards per attempt was twenty fourth best. Injuries impacted the corner position in particular last season with second round pick Aaron Williams and veteran starter Terrence McGee both missing much of the year. The club appears ready for a youth movement at the position in 2012. Williams started six games a year ago and served as the nickel corner in a few others. He will get the call on one side while tenth overall pick Stephon Gilmore is expected to start opposite him. Prior to 2009 the Bills were a cover-2 team. In that scheme McGee posted 60 or more tackles in five consecutive seasons and as was a very dependable option. The cover-2 is gone and no Buffalo corner has provided more than 53 tackle in a season since. The return to the 4-3 will not bring back the cover-2 as a base defense, but there could be some production from the corner positions this year. Both Gilmore and Williams are physical corners with good size and a willingness to support the run. Being young and inexperienced, offensive coordinators are going to test them both early and often. Gilmore in particular is interesting, not only because of the rookie corner rule, but because he was very productive against top quality opponents in the SEC. Over the past two seasons he recorded 101 solo tackles with 6 interceptions and a handful of other big plays for South Carolina. He has the physical skills to compete with the league's bigger receivers and the speed to stick with the fast ones. With the new defense in place and inexperienced corners in both starting spots it is hard to call, but anytime a rookie is slated to start corner he is worth a shot as your number three... George Wilson finished last season tied for the team tackle lead with 78 solo stops. While that is good production in any situation, it is particularly impressive when you consider that he missed three games with a minor injury. Now add his 28 assists, 7 takeaways and six passes defended. What you have is a player with the potential to be the top defensive back in the fantasy game. There are however, some risks with Wilson. This is a new season and there have been a lot of changes with the team. The Bills front seven should be much improved, the scheme and responsibilities will be a little different for the safeties and there remains at least some chance that 2011 fourth round pick Da'Norris Searcy will challenge for playing time. Wilson is a solid and dependable player for the Bills but his production was as much a result of situation as his individual skills. Ask anyone who doubts that statement why he has only been a starter in two of his eight seasons as a pro. The strong safety in this scheme is going to have ample opportunity. Wilson may not be the top defensive back at the end of this season, but if he hangs onto the starting job he should be a pretty good one. Likewise, if Searcy captures the job, waste no time jumping on him... The player here that I am most apprehensive about is free safety Jairus Byrd. I am seeing him go among the top defensive backs in nearly every draft this summer but fear that he may be this year's version of T.J. Ward. A different scheme, improvement in front of him and the typical limitations of a free safety are all working against Byrd. The last time he played free safety in a similar scheme was his rookie season in 2009. That year Byrd picked off an impressive 9 passes but finished with only 33 solo tackles. While I doubt that his tackle numbers will fall that far, I do not expect much more than 60 solo stops and 7-8 takeaways from him this season. He should still hold some value for us but I would not trust him as more than the third starter... With Searcy behind the starters at safety and Leodis McKelvin, Terrence McGee, Justin Rogers and Ron Brooks battling for the nickel corner job, the Bills have a lot of depth in the secondary. All of these players have some potential to be productive if they fall into the right opportunity.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • SS George Wilson Quality second starter with top 10 potential
  • FS Jairus Byrd DB2 potential but I don't trust him as more than a third starter
  • SS Da'Norris Searcy Sleeper with DB2 potential if he wins the starting job
  • FS Josh Nesbitt No value
  • CB Stephon Gilmore Sleeper with CB2 upside
  • CB Aaron Williams Sleeper with CB3 or better potential
  • CB Leodis McKelvin Injury sleeper
  • CB Terrence McGee No value
  • CB Justin Rogers No value
  • CB Ron Brooks No value
  • Miami Dolphins

    Defensive Linemen

    The big news with Miami is the switch from the 3-4 they have run over the past several years, to a 4-3 under first time defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle. As is often the case when teams make such a switch, the problem the Dolphins face is that they still have a lot of 3-4 personnel. Cameron Wake is hands down the club's biggest weapon up front. He has led the team in sacks over the past two seasons as an outside linebacker and will now be asked to put his hand down and do it again. Having posted 22.5 sacks over the past two years as a starter, Wake brings high expectations into 2012. He is however, far from a sure thing to succeed. History is littered with players who have tried to make the switch between these positions and failed. At 250 pounds Wake is undersized for a 4-3 end and unlike some who were ends in college before moving to OLB in the pros, Wake was a linebacker at Penn State as well. I am optimistic that he will still be effective as a pass rusher with 8-10 sacks, but I could see him struggling at the point of attack against the run. As such his tackle numbers could suffer. Wake is certainly worth a shot as your second starter but if you draft him as such, it might be a good idea to grab a number three with some upside just in case... Jared Odrick will enter camp as the other starter at end. Unlike Wake, Odrick is used to putting his hand down, but he too will be working at a new position. Odrick played end in the 3-4 last season, where his 6 sacks were third best on the team. There is a world of difference between playing end in a 3-4 and end in a 4-3, which is why a lot of 3-4 clubs draft athletic interior lineman out of college to play those positions. This was the case when the Dolphins used a first round pick on the former Penn State tackle in 2010. Odrick played at 304 pounds last season which will help him stand up against the run, but there are not many 300+ pound ends who post double digit sacks. Chances are he will work on trading a little weight for quickness this summer. The 6 sacks last season lend a little reason for optimism and make Odrick a reasonable late round sleeper as your third or fourth lineman... Because he is the only player on the roster who was drafted to play end in a 4-3, Oliver Vernon is another interesting prospect here. With 82 tackles and 9 sacks in thirty games, the former Miami Hurricane did not show great production in college. There were however, some circumstances surrounding his average numbers. His best season came as a sophomore in 2010 when Vernon recorded 39 combined tackles with 6 sacks. He missed almost half of his junior year due to suspension and declared for the draft as an underclassman. He is somewhat inexperienced and raw, but plays the run well and has the potential to develop as a pass rusher. Owners in redraft leagues should probably leave him undrafted and just keep an eye on his progress. Dynasty owners might want to tuck him away on a practice squad for safe keeping just in case... The one position Miami should have no problem filling is defensive tackle. Paul Soliai and Randy Starks are the projected starters there. At 355 pounds Soliai was the nose tackle in the 3-4. He will be the anchor of the run defense and will help keep MLB Karlos Dansby clean by demanding a lot of double team attention, but is unlikely to have much impact in the box scores. Starks on the other hand, has some potential. He worked at end in the 3-4 over the past two seasons, putting up modest tackle numbers and totaling a respectable 7 sacks. It was his 2009 season that catches my eye. That year Starks worked at nose tackle and went 42-14-7. He has 26.5 sacks over his eight year career and is a strong run defender. Working next to Soliai will give Starks a lot of single blocking and opportunity to make plays. Production is very hard to come by at the tackle position. I really like Starks as a sleeper that no one will be thinking about. Pick him up in the last round as depth or a second starter... Veteran Tony McDaniel and rookie Kheeston Randall provide both experienced depth and raw potential at the position. McDaniel should be the third man in the mix and could be worth watching if one of the starters is injured.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • DE Cameron Wake Likely a quality DL2 but comes with considerable risk
  • DE Oliver Vernon Sleeper with long term upside
  • DE Jared Odrick Sleeper with DL2 potential
  • DT Paul Soliai No value
  • DT Randy Starks Likely DT2 with DT1 potential
  • DT Tony McDaniel Injury sleeper
  • DT Kheeston Randall No value
  • Linebackers

    One position where the Dolphins should have no problems with the scheme transition is linebacker. While Both Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett have played in a 3-4 over the past several years, they both worked in a 4-3 earlier in their careers. When Miami first announced that they were changing base defenses there was some uncertainty as to who would lineup in the middle and who would play on the weak side. That was quickly put to rest as Dansby worked in the middle during all the team's offseason activities. He is a complete player who is strong against the run, covers well in both zone and man, packs some big play pop and show good leadership qualities. Dansby has 31.5 sacks and 35 takeaways over his eight seasons in the league, and were it not for him missing the final two games in 2010, would be on a string of four seasons with 88 or more solo tackles. He was reportedly a little out of shape at the beginning of last season which caused him to start slowly, but was a top twelve fantasy linebacker over the final twelve weeks. The Dolphins have a pair of good tackles in front of him that will keep him clean and Dansby should be right there in the area of the top twelve again this season... Burnett was only a few tackles and a few fantasy points behind Dansby last season and has reached the 80 tackle mark in consecutive years. As the Dolphins weak side linebacker he will again have a good amount of opportunity and may even push the 80 tackle mark for a third season. The problem with Barnett has been week to week consistency. Linebackers are the IDP equivalent to running backs, and should provide stability and consistency for your defense. Over the past two seasons Barnett has produced double digit fantasy points in fifteen games. In the other seventeen contests he has totaled 6 or fewer ten times and less than 4 points five times. Last season he racked up double digit tackles in three games, and posted 4 or fewer in nine. Burnett has the skill set to be a very good player for both the Dolphins and fantasy owners. He has good enough cover skills to remain on the field in most sub packages and with 13.5 sacks over the past four season, has proven to be productive on the blitz. However, he makes only a marginal contribution in the big play columns. Burnett has just 4 interceptions and 10 total takeaways over his seven year career. When it comes to that point in the draft when you are looking for bye week options or part time starters who might give you a boost in a given week, Burnett is worth consideration. Starting him every week on the other hand, is like playing Russian roulette with your lineup... Koa Misi seems to be pretty well locked in at the starter on the strong side. He has been a non-factor since joining the team as their second round pick in 2010. Misi should do well on the field at this position but is highly unlikely to make a statistical impact... Former Jets backup Jamaal Westerman and former Patriots backup Gary Guyton provide the depth behind Dansby and Burnett respectively. All I can say here is that Miami had better pray the starters stay healthy.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • MLB Karlos Dansby Lower tier LB1 at best, quality LB2 at worst
  • WLB Kevin Burnett Quality depth or serviceable LB3 in a pinch
  • SLB Koa Misi No value
  • WLB Gary Guyton No value
  • MLB Jamaal Westerman No value
  • Defensive Backs

    If there is a glaring weakness with the Dolphins it is in the secondary and specifically at safety. This is a unit that allowed the eighth most yards per game through the air last season then turned around and let their best safety walk in free agency. Granted Yeremiah Bell may not have been the same player he was a few years back, but the team has no one better to replace him. Reshad Jones and Chris Clemons will enter camp as the starters at free and strong safety respectively. Jones started twelve games in 2011 but played full time in only the first five; after that most of his playing time came on passing downs. Chris Clemons was a starter for most of the 2010 season and proved to be very average. He saw action in just a few games last season. Tyrone Culver has been in the league since 2006 and is a career backup. Tyrell Johnson was unable to keep a starting job with the safety needy Vikings and last year's seventh round pick Jimmy Wilson is a converted corner looking for some way to make the team. Johnson reportedly looked bad during offseason activities. He and Culver are already on the roster bubble and camp has not even opened yet. From this collection of backup quality players the Dolphins must pick two starters at safety? By the end of September Miami fans are really going to be missing Bell. As for potential fantasy production from these positions, I just don't see any... Over my 20 years of IDP fantasy football I can remember no Miami corner who has ever been worthy of even a roster spot. That said, at least the Dolphins have some good football players at those positions. 2009 first round pick Vontae Davis is a very good cover corner but has never posted more than 49 tackles or more than 4 interceptions. He may have slightly topped both of those numbers last season had he not missed four games with injury, but would still have been of very little value to fantasy owners... 2009 second round pick Sean Smith is also a very capable cover man, but is not much of a big play threat. His 52 tackles and 2 interceptions last season were both career highs. Smith may get some competition for the starting job from free agent Richard Marshall. According to reports Marshall is not being considered for a starting job but will see a lot of action as the team's nickel corner. This is an interesting situation. Marshall was a nickel corner in Carolina for a few years before becoming a starter, and held the same position in Arizona last season before getting into the starting lineup in week nine, yet he has somehow managed to total at least 68 tackles in each of his six seasons as a pro, and has 17 career interceptions. The guy simply makes plays. So much so in fact, that it would be no surprise to see him get a look at safety during the preseason. The only issue there being that the team has very little depth behind him at corner. The bottom line here is that if any of the Miami defensive backs are going to have a whiff of fantasy value it will come from Marshall in some form.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • SS Chris Clemons No value
  • FS Reshad Jones No value
  • FS Jimmy Wilson No value
  • SS Tyrone Culver No value
  • SS Tyrell Johnson No value
  • CB Vontae Davis Minimal value as depth in big leagues that require corners
  • CB Sean Smith No value
  • CB Richard Marshall Deep sleeper with a little potential
  • CB Nolan Carroll no value
  • New England Patriots

    Defensive Linemen

    As is usually the case with anything that happens in New England there was never an official announcement, but the Patriots have slowly and quietly shifted to a 4-3 base defense over the past couple of years. I believe this was largely to do with personnel and the club's ultimate failure to find capable outside linebackers to fit the 3-4. Regardless of the reason, they are now a 4-3 club and are still searching for pass rushers. They had two pretty good ones in 2011 but neither Andre Carter nor Mark Anderson are on the roster heading into camp. Anderson took his 9.5 sacks to Buffalo and will be working for the division rival Bills, while the Patriots 2011 sack leader Andre Carter is currently unemployed. Carter led the club will 11 sacks in thirteen games last year before suffering a torn quadriceps in week fifteen. The Patriots have been in contact with him and Carter may well end up back with the roster by the season opener. On the other hand, at age 33 it may be a while before he is fully recovered from that injury. Meanwhile the Patriots are going on with their preparation as if they will not have Carter... Brandon Deaderick started eight games last season including all three of the post season contests. He is a versatile player who saw time at both of the defensive end spots as well as at tackle in 2011. At 6'4" and 305 pounds Deaderick's strength is against the run but he is an above average pass rusher as well. He may be best suited as an early down end that slides inside in passing situations. Deaderick is no threat to reach double digit sacks but on the optimistic side, could post numbers in the area of 35 tackles and 5-7 sacks. Leave him out there on draft day but keep an eye on him if you have a need at the position... The coaching staff will take a hard look at 2010 second round pick Jermaine Cunningham as a potential starter opposite Deaderick As a three year starting end at Florida Cunningham was very productive, recording 18.5 sacks. He was moved to outside linebacker in the Patriots 3-4 and started eleven games as a rookie. The results were not good. Cunningham was very ineffective, recording 27 tackles and just 1 sack. He missed nearly all of last season as he battled a hamstring injury that would not go away, and the word out of New England is that he could be on the roster bubble if he fails to step up this preseason. Cunningham is just another in a long and distinguished list of good college ends who were unsuccessful in the transition to outside linebacker at the pro level. Moving back to end may very well resurrect his career. He is a deep sleeper entering camp but is another player worth keeping tabs on... New England traded up in the first round to take Syracuse end Chandler Jones at number twenty one. Many scouts gave Jones a much lower grade, mostly because he came out after a less than stellar junior season in which he battled a knee injury. His draft stock shot up after a great showing at the combine that proved the knee was healthy. At 247 pounds Jones is undersized for an every down role but will be given an opportunity to win the job anyway. His raw numbers at Syracuse were not impressive (10 sacks in three seasons) but the athletic ability and potential are there. Chances are Jones will end up in a role as a rush specialist this season, possible coming in for Deaderick in those situations. He has a lot of long term potential and is clearly near the top of the list for dynasty owners. For redraft owners he is no better than a late round sleeper at this point... Veteran Trevor Scott and rookie third round pick Jake Bequette fill out the rest of the depth chart at end. Scott displayed some potential with 39 tackles and 7 sacks for the Raiders in 2009 but has done nothing over the past two seasons. Belichick has a way of getting the most out of players like Scott so we shall see. Bequette has a great motor but is not the most talented of players. His strength is versus the run and he will likely be a project... Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love return as the starters on the inside. Between them they totaled 48 tackles and 6 sacks last season. Wilfork has put up 40 or more tackles in half of his eight seasons as a pro, all of those coming as the nose tackle in the 3-4. While he is capable of 35+ tackles, Wilfork is not much of a factor in the pass rush averaging about 1.5 sacks per season over his career. He has limited upside but could have value as a marginal second starter or quality depth in tackle required leagues... Love showed a little potential as a pass rusher with 3.5 sacks last season, but managed only 20 tackles in thirteen starts. Both Love and Wilfork may find themselves on the bench in passing situations this season with Deaderick and free agent addition Jonathan Fanene getting most of those snaps. Fanene is a particularly interesting prospect in that he is a strong interior pass rusher who is also capable of working at end. He stands up well versus the run and over the past two seasons totaled 11.5 sacks for the Bengals. Fanene could end up with a very significant role and should be considered a sleeper in tackle required leagues... Gerard Warren will see action as a backup on run downs and in short yardage situations only.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • DE Brandon Deaderick Depth at best
  • DE Jermaine Cunningham Deep sleeper with DL2 upside if he can return to college form
  • DE Chandler Jones Solid dynasty pick with good long term potential, sleeper with limited upside for this year
  • DE Trevor Scott Deep sleeper at best
  • DE Jake Bequette No value
  • DT Vince Wilfork Serviceable second starter or quality depth in tackle required leagues
  • DT Kyle Love - No value
  • DT/DE Jonathan Fanene Sleeper with low DT1 upside if he lands a significant role
  • DT Gerard Warren No value
  • Linebackers

    Even though Jerod Mayo led the Patriots linebackers with only 58 solo tackles last season, history tells us that there is a lot of box score potential to be found among this group. The problem for us will be figuring out with whom it resides. Mayo battled a knee sprain that cost him two games and slowed him for several others in 2011, but even when healthy he was well off the pace of the 114 solo stops he piled up in 2010. The switch from middle to weak side linebacker was likely the main culprit in his decline. With Brandon Spikes emerging in the middle and the addition of first round pick Dont'a Hightower, it looks as if Mayo has settled into that position for the long term. Mayo is the best pass defender among the team's linebackers and is sure to be their every down guy, but his chances of reaching triple digits in tackles this season are pretty remote. On the positive side, the new position will allow him more opportunity to make big plays. Weak side linebackers often have fewer gap/scheme responsibilities which allows them freedom to flow and take more chances. As a result, Mayo's pair of interception last season were the first of his four year career. Unless Spikes or Hightower land an every down role as the middle linebacker, Mayo will likely be the most fantasy productive of the group. He should be able to put up tackle numbers in the 80 range with a handful of big plays, and will likely be a quality third starter at worst with LB2 upside... Spikes was the Patriots second round pick in 2010. As a rookie he started seven games and played in eleven but saw action exclusively in running situations. It was not until week five last season that he was finally included in the nickel sub packages for a brief spell while Mayo was out. Spikes held those duties for only three games before going down himself and missing several weeks. In those three games we got a glimpse of his potential as he totaled 21 tackles and 5 assists with a pass defended. Spikes returned from injury to play in all three playoff games and put up similar numbers of 20-3-1 despite being on the field for only 80% of the snaps. He is a physical run defender and actually looked decent in coverage when given that opportunity, but does not seem to have won the trust of the coaching staff as a pass defender. If he manages to come out of the preseason with an every down job, Spikes could very well out produce Mayo be a significant margin and might approach the triple digit tackle plateau. However, it seems unlikely at this point that he will have that opportunity. One other interesting note on Spikes is that he will start camp on the PUP as he is still having trouble with the knee. That twist could put a completely different spin on things if he is not healthy by the middle of the preseason... Hightower is also a player with great potential. At 6'4" and 265 pounds he is a beast between the tackles. Hightower can take on offensive linemen at the point of attack, shed them and make a play, often without giving ground. He ran a 4.68 in the forty yard dash at the combine which is very impressive for a man of his size. Indeed the only thing standing in the way of Hightower being a significant fantasy option is his questionable performance in coverage. The Patriots always keep their cards close to the vest and in true Belichick fashion have given us very few clues as to how they plan to use Spikes and Hightower. Knowing that the Patriots like to give every player some role to fill; it would be no surprise to see Mayo as the only every down player among this group. Spikes will likely start in the middle and give way to veteran backup Bobby Carpenter (who is a strong coverage linebacker) in passing situations. Hightower is going to get a long look as a two down starter on the strong side and will likely bump last year's starter Rob Ninkovich into a reserve role. Both Spikes and Hightower have a lot of box score potential if things fall their way but Mayo is the only safe pick heading into training camp.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • MLB Brandon Spikes Somewhere between LB1 and useless depending on his role
  • SLB/MLB Dont'a Hightower Sleeper with minimal value unless he lands an every down role in the middle
  • WLB Jerod Mayo Quality third starter at worst with LB2 potential
  • SLB Rob Ninkovich No value
  • OLB Bobby Carpenter No value
  • Defensive Backs

    The roles of players in the New England secondary may be even more in question than those at linebacker. The only player with a defined position heading into camp is strong safety Patrick Chung. His 2011 season was marred with injury but when healthy Chung is a proven quality option. In nine games last season he exceeded 9 fantasy points seven times. The other two games he left early with the sore knee. Chung missed a couple of games in 2010 as well and still finished at 72-24-0 with 3 picks, 9 passes defended and 175 fantasy points. He is a physical presence in run support, has good coverage skills and will give us a solid helping of big plays along the way as well. There is a little injury risk with Chung but his sprained knee from last season did not require surgery and he will enter camp healthy. If he plays all sixteen games this season he would likely finish among the top twelve defensive backs... After Chung there are some talented players with strong potential but a lot of uncertainty. Free agent addition Steve Gregory is penciled in as the starting free safety entering camp but there is talk that corner Devin McCourty might be a consideration for that job. The team traded up to take free safety Tavon Wilson in the second round because the reportedly "love his versatility". McCourty and Kyle Arrington have both been very productive as the starting corners over the past two seasons, but word is that Arrington could end up covering the slot receiver in the nickel packages with last year's second round pick Ras-I Dowling moving into the starting role. We hear so many possible scenario's out of New England every year that I sometimes wonder if there is an intentional disinformation plot. More likely it is an attempt to stir the pot and create healthy competition among the players. At any rate this is what we need to know; both Arrington and McCourty have reached 60+ tackles in each of the past two seasons and they have had 17 interceptions between them. This is a case of good players in a very good situation. Dowling is also a good player so if he were to actually start ahead of Arrington, Dowling would also have a good deal of potential. Coach Belichick has never been afraid to start young players anywhere so there is a real chance that Wilson could push Gregory at free safety, if not right away then sometime during the season. Call it an educated guess or a gut feeling but I see the Patriots opening day lineup being Chung and Gregory at safety, Arrington and McCourty at corner with Dowling as the nickel back. If that is the case then both corners would be viable options as at least second starters with Chung likely a lower tier DB1. Obviously there is going to be a risk factor with any of these guys but the possible reward could be big.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • SS Patrick Chung Solid DB1 or excellent DB2
  • FS Steve Gregory Depth at best
  • FS Tavon Wilson Sleeper with limited upside
  • SS James Ihedigbo No value
  • CB Devin McCourty Quality second starter with top 10 potential in corner required leagues
  • CB Ras-I Dowling Sleeper with CB2 potential
  • CB Kyle Arrington CB1 is he hold the starting job, quality depth if he becomes the nickel corner
  • CB Alfonso Dennard No value at this time
  • CB Will Allen Injury sleeper with limited upside
  • New York Jets

    Defensive Linemen

    As is the case with most 3-4 teams, the Jets have some quality linemen that will do a good job for them on the field but will not provide great statistical impact. They do have a couple of guys with potential and/or a bit of value in certain situations. Sione Pouha anchors the Jets run defense at the nose tackle position. He is a stout 325 pounder that is not only tough to move, but is also good at getting off blocks to make tackles. As his 3 sacks over the past two seasons would indicate, Pouha's pass rush contribution generally amounts to pushing the pocket into the passer so someone else can get the sack when the quarterback is flushed. He has added a forced fumble and 5 recoveries over the past two seasons, but his most significant fantasy contribution comes in the tackle column where Pouha has posted 41 solo stops in each of the past two seasons. Those are hardly big numbers but when you consider the scarcity of production from the tackle positions league wide, 41 tackles and 16-18 assists are low end DT1 value in leagues that break out the positions... The other players who might be worth a look in deep drafted leagues are last year's first round pick Muhammad Wilkerson and this year's number one Quinton Coples. As a rookie Wilkerson turned in a respectable 35 tackles, 13 assists and 3 sacks. What is particularly interesting is that he was 12-2-2 with a forced fumble over the final three games. Wilkerson is 6'4" 315 pounds and has a great skill set for a 3-4 end. He can eat up blockers and hold ground in the run game but also has enough quickness and athletic ability to surprise some offensive linemen and land some hits on the passer. He reminds me a lot of former Jets starter Shaun Ellis who was one of the more consistently productive 3-4 ends for several years. Muhammad is not likely to be a starter in many leagues but I can see him pushing the 40 tackle mark with 5-6 sacks on a consistent basis over the next few years. Good enough numbers to provide quality depth in most twelve team leagues that start two linemen... Coples is an interesting prospect in that he is a very versatile player with rare athletic ability for his size. Some scouts compare him to Julius Peppers because of his 6'6" frame and freakish ability. He also reminds me of Peppers in that he sometimes goes missing for stretches at a time. Coples will push veteran Mike DeVito for the starting job right away and will likely be on the field opposite Wilkerson in September. He has the ability to put up useful numbers and may be worth a late round flier as depth with a little upside. Devito will likely see time as the third man in the mix at end but is no threat to provide a fantasy splash even if he holds off Coples for a while. Kenrick Ellis was the team's third round pick last year and spent most of the season on IR. He is a 346 pound road grader who could eventually push Pouha for playing time.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • DE Muhammad Wilkerson Potential depth in 12 team leagues that start 2 linemen
  • DE Mike Devito No value
  • DE Quinton Coples Sleeper with limited upside due to the scheme
  • DE Marcus Dixon - No value
  • NT Sione Pouha Strong DT2 or decent low end DT1
  • NT Kenrick Ellis No value
  • Linebackers

    If there is a weakness with the Jets defense it is at linebacker, and particularly at outside linebacker. The success of any 3-4 team ultimately hinges on the ability of its outside backers to make game changing plays. New York outside backers combined for just 13.5 sacks last season with backup Aaron Maybin leading the group at 6. Ten year veteran Calvin Pace is entrenched as one of the starters. He is a very good run defender and a solid contributor on the field, but has never been a great pass rusher. Pace's career best of 8 sacks came in 2009 and the 4.5 he put up last season were his lowest total since becoming a starter in 2007. To his credit Pace added 5 takeaways in 2011 which was the second highest total of his career. The Jets need him to pick up his production this season if they are to make a Super Bowl run and fantasy owners need to look elsewhere for linebacker help... Bryan Thomas has been the starter opposite Pace since the Jets went to the 3-4 several years ago. He has never quite lived up to his first round draft status as a pass rusher and like Pace, has been a solid if unspectacular starter over the years. His best sack total as a 3-4 linebacker was the 6.5 he reached in 2010 and Thomas has not put up more than 41 solo stops since the implementation of the 3-4. He spent nearly all of last season on IR and at age 33, may be in a battle for the starting job this summer... The Bills picked Aaron Maybin at number eleven overall in 2009, then gave up on him after two lackluster seasons. New York was looking for help at OLB and decided to give him a shot last year. He may not have overwhelmed them with impressive play, but did manage to lead the club in sacks despite being on the field for only 240 total snaps. Maybin's production has earned him a spot on the roster for sure and likely a shot at the starting job this summer. Nothing is imminent here but owners in big play based leagues will want to keep an eye on this situation... As an undrafted rookie out of Fresno State Garrett McIntyre not only made the club last year but made a few plays for the team as well. He recorded a pair of sacks in limited action late in the season. With Jamaal Westerman moving on in free agency McIntyre will have a spot as a developmental fourth outside backer... Inside backer David Harris is the only real fantasy option among the Jets linebackers. He totaled a very mediocre 65 solo stops last season and has exceeded 70 only twice in his five year career, but Harris makes enough of a big play contribution to offset the weakness. He squeaked into the top 20 last season on the strength of 5 sacks, 4 interceptions, 9 passes defended and a score. All of those were career highs for him and are numbers that we can't expect him to repeat. He should be good for 65-70 tackles and enough other plays to make him a good third starter or quality depth in most situations... Bart Scott has been a serviceable starter at the other inside position since coming to the Jets in 2009. The only real quality box score production of his career came with the Ravens in 2006 when Ray Lewis was injured and Scott stepped into the lead role. That will not happen in New York as Scott may even be pushed for the starting job by rookie Demario Davis. Davis is a dynasty favorite of my esteemed colleague Jene Bramel and is a player I find interesting as well. He is somewhat raw in NFL terms and has much room for improvement in terms of mechanics, but has a great deal of potential. He is a fast and physical player who excels versus the run and was very productive at Arkansas State. I really like his potential as a player but do not like the situation he would step into. Davis would replace Scott in the "sidekick" role, in a scheme that has not been very box score friendly over the past few years. Even Harris who is a very good player and is in the lead role, has put up modest numbers in this defense. Davis is well worth a late round shot as a taxi squad candidate in dynasty leagues, but I am not as optimistic about his long term value as some.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • ILB David Harris Dependable third starter or excellent depth
  • ILB Bart Scott No value
  • ILB Demario Davis Sleeper with long term potential
  • OLB Calvin Pace Depth in big play leagues at best
  • OLB Aaron Maybin Deep sleeper in big play based leagues
  • OLB Garrett McIntyre No value
  • OLB Bryan Thomas No value
  • Defensive Backs

    The Jets secondary was a good new bad new situation last season. The good news being that they got very strong play from the corner positions, the bad news being that the safeties needed to pack more of a punch. To that end the organization went out and got a pair of big name free agent safeties in LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell. This could prove to be a great move for the club or it could turn out to be a disaster. The whole situation hinges on Landry's troublesome Achilles. When healthy he is among the best safeties in the league, but he has not been healthy since 2009 and has finished each of the past two seasons on injured reserve. Landry will be on the PUP list when camp opens but claims that he will ready for the opener. He has made optimistic claims in the past two years as well and we have seen how that turned out. The reality of it is that until the problem is permanently repaired, this injury is likely not going away. Even if Landry is in the opening day lineup how long will he last? In Washington last season he missed the first two, started seven, missed one, started one then was done for the year. Landry might be worth a very late round flier on the outside chance that he will make a solid contribution, but he clearly should not be counted on. The Jets are not oblivious to this situation by any stretch. That fact is reflected in the contract they signed with Landry that protects them if he continues to be hampered by the injury. They also picked up a very good insurance policy on the field in Bell. At 34 years of age Bell is not the player he once was, but he is still a very capable strong safety. As a Dolphin he recorded 81 or more tackles in each of the past four seasons with a respectable big play contribution as well. If Landry is able to play the expectation is that he will line up at free safety with Bell at strong. That would give the Jets a very dependable and physically imposing tandem at the safety positions. I however, have to believe that former starter Eric Smith is going to see a lot of action while Landry continues to nurse the injury. Bell is unlikely to reach the 80 tackle mark with the Jets but I believe he will lead the secondary in tackles and be the best fantasy option of the group. Look for him to be a decent second or strong third starter in twelve team leagues... Darrelle Revis is among the best cover corners in the game but his value on the field rarely translates fully to the box scores. He is however, another great example of the rookie corner rule at work. As a rookie in 2007 Revis put up a career best 74 tackles with 13 assists, 3 picks and 17 passes defended. Since that time he has not totaled more than 47 tackles in a season, but his big play numbers and passes defended have gone up considerably. With 41 stops, 4 picks, 21 passes defended and a score last season, Revis was a decent option as a second starter or quality number three in corner required leagues. He has provided similar numbers in three of the past four years and that is about what we can expect from him in 2012 as well... Normally playing opposite a cover man with the talent of Revis, means a lot of extra opportunity for a team's second corner. That has not been the case with Antonio Cromartie. He is a very good corner in his own right and is a playmaker for the team, but has only put up more than 40 tackle twice in his six year career... 2010 first round pick Kyle Wilson will fill the nickel corner role and would provide a quality replacement if one of the starters were to go down. He has not shown much box score potential over his two seasons but has not had a lot of opportunity either... A serious injury to any of the top three corners would be a problem for the Jets. Their depth at the position is a collection of undrafted rookie free agents and basement priced street free agents who were discarded by other clubs. They could look to add a veteran once cuts start. Right now Eric Smith would likely be the sixth DB if he is not starting at free safety.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • FS LaRon Landry DB2 potential with a huge amount of risk
  • SS Yeremiah Bell Solid DB3 or quality depth at worst
  • FS Eric Smith Injury sleeper with limited upside
  • CB Darrelle Revis Decent second starter or quality depth in corner require leagues
  • CB Antonio Cromartie No value
  • CB Kyle Wilson No value
  • CB Ellis Lankster No value
  • That does it for the AFC East; just one division to go. The NFC East will be coming your way shortly. Football is just around the corner!

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