For reference, when I mention where guys finished in the rankings last season, my model will be the standard Footballguys scoring system. This is basically 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 Eyes of the Guru 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.
The Colts are entering their second season using a 3-4 scheme and are still transitioning from the 4-3. As such they continue to depend on a collection of free agent castoffs from other 3-4 clubs and former 4-3 linemen trying to fit the new scheme. Nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin is a journeyman who has played for the Ravens, 49ers, Saints and Chargers over the course of his career. He is a serviceable and experienced option at the position. His career best of 38 tackles came in 2010 while with San Francisco but Franklin's ten year career has produced a total of only 5 sacks. End Ricky Jean-Francois spent the first four years of his career as a backup in San Francisco. He has a total of 33 tackles and 3 sacks on his career resume. Corey Redding spent the early part of his career as a 4-3 tackle with Detroit before going to Baltimore where he made the transition to 3-4 end. Of this group only Redding offers any box score potential and even that is minimal. As a starter for Baltimore in 2010 he totaled 29 tackles and 4.5 sacks. Simply put, there is no one here who is going to overcome the limitations of the scheme. This group should be passed over on draft day.
- NT Aubrayo Franklin - Minimal value at best
- DE Corey Redding - Possible depth in large leagues
- DE Ricky Jean-Francois - No value
- NT Josh Chapman - No value
- DE Ricardo Matthews - No value
- DE Lawrence Guy - No value
There is plenty of uncertainty surrounding the Colts linebacker positions. Jerrell Freeman is the safest bet of the group. With Pat Angerer injured last preseason, Freeman moved into the starting lineup. He soon emerged as the Colts three down inside backer, going on to finish with 90 tackles, 55 assists and a handful of big plays. It is not a sure thing that Freeman will be the Colts long term solution at the position but with Angerer continuing to have problems with his foot, Freeman seems a safe bet for at least this season. In many ways he reminds me of former Colt starter Gary Brackett who was a steady but underrated performer for several years. Average big play production will keep Freeman from becoming a top 10 linebacker but 85-90 tackles and high assist totals will make him a dependable LB2 or an excellent third starter.
A healthy Pat Angerer would likely push Freeman for the starting job, but Angerer continues to struggle with the foot injury that cost him much of last season. There are some who contend that he is not a good fit in the 3-4 scheme anyway, but I do not necessarily agree with that presumption. Angerer was productive as the middle backer in the Colts 4-3 in 2011 and was slated to be the starter last season prior to his injury in the preseason. I will agree that he is not a fit at the strong inside linebacker position, thus there is little chance that Freeman and Angerer will be on the field together. I will also agree that Angerer is going to have a tough time getting his job back at this point. Dynasty owners may want to sit tight on Angerer for a while just to see how this all pans out. If he can get healthy, Angerer is a starter quality middle linebacker who will find a way back onto the field in the future, be it in Indianapolis or elsewhere.
The question now becomes who will hold the other starting inside linebacker job come week one? Kavell Connor opened last season in that role but the coaching staff never seemed to embrace him as more than a place holder. AS the season progressed his playing time diminished until he was sidelined by a hamstring injury in week fourteen. Connor will be in the mix during training camp but it seems likely that free agent addition Kelvin Sheppard will be the front runner. Sheppard was the third round pick of the Bills in 2011 and stared 15 games for them last season. A change of philosophy in Buffalo made him expendable and his skill set would seem to be a good fit as a two down strong inside linebacker for the Colts. I expect Sheppard will earn the starting nod but I do not expect much from him when it comes to box score production. When the organization decided on the change to a 3-4 last season, the initial thought was that Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney could successfully make the switch from end to outside linebacker. Mathis made the move more successfully with 8 sacks in 12 games, while Freeney was less successful and elected to take the free agent road out of town in the offseason. A second year in the scheme should make Mathis even more productive as a pass rusher, but like most who play the position, his lacking tackle numbers will seriously curtail any fantasy potential. With 22 tackles in 2012, Mathis averaged less than 2 per game in his 12 starts.
To replace Freeney the Colts used their first round pick on Florida State defensive end Bjorn Werner. He will join the ranks of those who will try to make the position change along with the jump to the NFL. Werner was one of the best pass rushers available in this year's draft but history tells us that this is about a 50/50 proposition. For every success story there is one of struggle or failure. Werner will compete for the starting job right away but the club also added free agents Lawrence Sidbury and Erik Walden who will throw their names into the hat as well. Sidbury is a former end who failed to make an impact while with Atlanta and is looking for a new opportunity. Walden has experience at the position having seen considerable time there over the last two seasons with the Packers. The experience will be a big plus but the fact that he recorded only 6.5 sacks over those two years leads to marginal expectations. The Colts hope to generate a strong pass rush with this group and they may be successful from that perspective, but there is little fantasy potential to be captured here.
- ILB Jerrell Freeman - Underrated low end LB2 or excellent LB3
- ILB Kelvin Sheppard - minimal value at best
- ILB Pat Angerer - Deep sleeper with long term potential
- ILB Kavell Conner - No value
- OLB Robert Mathis - Second starter or depth in big play based scoring
- OLB Bjoern Werner - Sleeper with long term upside in big play leagues
- OLB Lawrence Sidbury - No value
- OLB Erik Walden - Minimal value at best
The Colts have some depth issues in the secondary and are still looking for someone to step up as their number two corner, but the addition of strong safety LaRon Landry will go a long way toward solidifying a somewhat questionable unit. Landry seems to have moved beyond the Achilles problem that threatened his career from late 2010 through 2011. The Jets rested him from practice at times last year to help, and he was able to play every game. Coincidentally Landry and Colts free safety Antoine Bethea finished last season with identical numbers of 75 tackles and 25 assists. The difference however, is that Landry contributes more in the big play columns. At 6'0" and 220 pounds, he will bring a physical, intimidating presence to the Colts secondary. Landry will likely get most of the run support opportunity but it is noteworthy that the Colts have been known to go with right and left safeties rather than strong and free. Regardless of how they line up, Landry is a solid bet to finish with 75+ tackles, a hand full of takeaways, and 7-8 passes defended. Consider him a quality DB2 with top 12 potential.
In each of the past five seasons Bethea has reached or exceeded the 70 solo tackle mark. When the Colts were horrible two years ago, his career best of 80 solo and 59 assists made him the number two fantast safety in the game. The only thing keeping Bethea from being a perennial top 15 DB has been a glaring lack of big play production. His best seasons in that aspect was 2009 when he totaled 7 takeaways, including 4 interceptions. Since then Bethea has just 1 pick and 5 total takeaways in three seasons. The addition of Landry will take a bite out of his tackle totals but Bethea should still hold value as a decent third starter or quality depth.
History tells us that Colts corners tend to be productive as tacklers but generally marginal in the big play columns. Last year's addition of Vontae Davis may give us the best of both worlds. During his three years with Miami Davis was never much more than a bye week fill in for corner required leagues. At a glance his numbers from last season with the Colts look no better. However, when we take into consideration that Davis played just 10 games, his 46 tackles and 3 interceptions take on a different light. Averaged over a full schedule Davis would have been somewhere in the area of 74 tackles, 4-5 interceptions and a dozen passes defended. Such production would made him a top ten corner and top twenty DB overall last season.
The question of who will line up at corner opposite Davis and in the nickel, is yet to be answered. In Greg Toler, Darius Butler and Cassius Vaughn the Colts have a trio of veterans who all have experience as starters. What they do not have is a clear cut number two corner. All of these guys are decent corners but would be best used as a team's nickel or dime backs. Vaughn started twelve games for Indianapolis last season, finishing with 58 tackles and 9 passes defended, but with only 1 takeaway. He will likely be the favorite entering camp but will feel plenty of heat from former Cardinal Greg Toler. Toler missed all of 2011 with an injury and started only two games last season, but prior to the injury he was a sixteen game starter for Arizona in 2010. That season his 82 solo tackles, 6 takeaways and 9 passes defended helped Toler to a top ten finish among corners. The bottom line here is that whomever wins this job is likely to be at least a decent CB2 for us. We will be watching in July and August to see how it all pans out.
- SS LaRon Landry - Solid DB2
- FS Antoine Bethea - Tackle consistent third starter or excellent depth
- CB Vontae Davis - CB1 that many owners will overlook
- CB Greg Toler - Sleeper with strongCB2 potential CB Darius Butler - Deep sleeper
- CB Cassius Vaughn - Sleeper withCB2 potential but likely no more than quality depth
- S Sergio Brown - Injury sleeper with limited upside
In what can only be described as a team effort, the Titans were tied for ninth in the league in 2012 with 39 sacks. I say team effort because defensive end Derrick Morgan led the club with just 6.5 while fellow end Kamerion Wimbley added 6 and the starting outside linebackers also contributed 6 each. There is no reason to believe that the Titans will move away from using all their pass rush weapons, but they do expect more from both defensive ends going forward. Morgan was the team's first round selection in 2010 but suffered a serious knee injury early in the season. He was able to get back on the field in 2011 but was not completely healthy. Morgan's totals of 35-24-6.5 last season were not exactly a breakout season, but they do leave plenty of room for optimism. He has the potential to be a 40+ tackle and double digit sack guy this season but 35-40 tackles and 8-9 sacks are more safe expectations.
When the Titans signed Kamerion Wimbley last offseason there was a lot of optimism that he could come in and have a big season. His 6 sacks were a contribution for his team but a total mark of only 16-14-6 fell well short for ours. With Wimbley seeing action on over 900 snaps, lack of opportunity was clearly not to blame. The toe injury he played through on the other hand, likely had something to do with it. Regardless of where the blame lies, it looks as if there will be a different approach this season. Free agent addition Popati Pitoitua is expected to be part of the equation and will likely see many of the early down snaps. Pitoitua has shown little as a pass rusher with just 3 sacks in his two seasons as a pro, but at 310 pounds he can be a difference maker against the run. This situation and the fact that tackle Karl Klug is also seeing time at end, is enough to raise a big red flag for fantasy owners.
There are no big names among the Titans interior linemen but for owners in leagues that break out the positions, there is at least one good reason to look here. As a second year pro in 2012, Jurrell Casey finished with a mark of 34-20-3, adding a pair of forced fumbles. He is a strong run defender who is only slightly above average as a pass rusher, but in a year that gave us a scarcity of production from the position in general, Casey's 34 solo stops were third best in the league. Heading into his third seasons Casey is established as an important part of the part of the Titans defensive foundation. The fact that his numbers as a rookie were very similar (actually slightly better) is a strong sign that the quality production will continue.
The other starting tackle position is up for grabs this summer. Former Lions backup Sammy Lee Hill has been penciled in heading to camp but he will face competition from last year's third round pick Mike Martin and former Colt Antonio Johnson. Karl Klug has moved to end for the most part but is a better inside pass rusher that any of these guys. He may see a lot of snaps inside on passing downs. There is some potential for one of these guys to step up for us, but none of them are worthy of a draft pick.
I want to talk a little more about Klug as I find him an interesting prospect. As a rookie in 2011 he worked solely on the inside, recording 18 tackles and an impressive 7 sacks despite limited playing time. Last season he was used sparingly and remained nearly invisible through the first eleven games. In week 12 against Jacksonville he played all of four snaps. On one of those however, Klug got to the quarterback for his first sack of the season. By seasons end he would add 2.5 more. Klug has been move to end this year where I believe he could excel if given an opportunity. I am not sold on Kamerion Wimbley or Ropati Pitoitua, and will be keeping a close eye on this situation into the season.
- DE Derrick Morgan - Solid DL2 or excellent
- DL3 DE Kamerion Wimbley - Depth at best
- DE Ropati Pitoitua - Minimal value unless proven otherwise
- DT Jurrell Casey - Quality DT1
- DT Sammie Lee Hill - Minimal value
- DE/DT Karl Klug - Interesting prospect to keep an eye on
- DT Mike Martin - Deep sleeper
Entering last season many owners had grand expectations for middle linebacker Colin McCarthy. Unfortunately an ankle injury in week one took him out for several games. McCarthy attempted to return but was clearly never healthy. He struggled through a few games before landing on IR with a concussion late in the season. McCarthy had a procedure on the ankle over the offseason and the coaching staff has been taking it easy with him this summer. He has however, been a full participant in the team's offseason practices and activities. I am among those who were sky high on him entering 2012. He exploded over the second half of 2011 and I believe that if healthy, could be a triple digit tackle guy and a top 10 linebacker this season. The risk however, will keep me from drafting him that high. There are simply too many safe picks at the top of the linebacker list. I will be looking to grab McCarthy somewhere between linebacker 15 and 20 on draft day.
A look at Zach Brown's point total from last season will have a lot of fantasy owner fooled. Before drafting this guy, be aware that he totaled a mere 69 solo tackles last season, and that nearly a quarter of his fantasy points were scored in week 17 when he recorded a sack and returned a pair of interceptions for scores. Brown scored 48 of his 206 points in that game, and he did it despite recording just a single tackle. The return of a healthy McCarthy and the addition of Bernard Pollard at safety are going to mean more competition for tackles. The man Mike Mayock once described as being "somewhat alergic to contact", will not be totally without value, as Brown has proven to be a big play threat. 65-70 tackles with a repeat of the 6 takeaways and 5.5 sacks he posted last season, would make Brown a good third starter or quality depth in 2013.
Strong side linebacker Akeem Ayers finished last season with a respectable 65 tackles, 37 assists, 6 sacks and a couple of takeaways. As the season went on and attrition took its toll, a lot of owners picked up Ayers as a bye week fill in or even a third starter in some situations. Unless you are in a deep drafted league, he should not get much consideration on draft day this year. Ayers benefitted last season by becoming a three down player when McCarthy was injured. Barring more injuries this year, Ayers will return to a two down role. He will be hard pressed to reach 60 tackles and 5 sacks in 2013.
Veteran journeyman Moise Fokou was picked up to add depth behind McCarthy in the middle. There are rumblings of a competition for the starting job, but unless McCarthy is still bothered by the ankle injury the competition will be short. The one backup to keep an eye on is rookie Zaviar Gooden. He is blazing fast, has good cover skills and is most definately not allergic to contact. After leading the team in tackles as a junior, Gooden missed time with a hamstring injury during his senior year at Missouri. He still finished with 61 combined tackles and an interception in seven games. It will be no surprise to see him push for the starting job on the weak side at some point in the near future.
- MLB Colin McCarthy - Top 10 potential with injury risk
- WLB Zach Brown - Third starter or depth
- SLB Akeem Ayers - Depth in large leagues
- WLB Zaviar Gooden - Dynasty sleeper
- MLB Moise Fokou - No value
The Titans secondary has been a goldmine of fantasy value over the past several years. Former starter Cortland Finnegan, Jason McCourty (twice) and Alrerraun Verner have all finished among the top five corners over the past three years, and twice Tennessee has given us two guys in the top 12 at the position in the same season. In his two seasons as the starter McCourty has averaged 79 tackles, 14 passes defended and 5 takeaways. Last season he was the number five corner and a top twelve DB overall. The history of production from the position along with back to back top five finishes make McCourty as close as it gets to a sure thing at the position.
As a rookie in 2010 Verner stepped in as an injury replacement early in the season and went on to rack up 85 solo stops, 11 passes defended and 6 takeaways. He returned to a nickel role in 2011 before getting back into a full time role last season when Finnegan moved on. His production was not as great the second time around (rookie corner rule in play) but he was still able to produce 64 stops, 9 passes defended, 4 takeaways and enough fantasy points to break the top 15 at corner. Verner should give us similar production in 2013 and is worthy of a CB2 slot on our draft boards.
At 6'1" and 195 pounds third round pick Blidi Wreh-Wilson fits the Titans mold as a physical press cover corner who can alter a receiver's rout and then stick with him if he escapes the jam. He will likely see action as the team's nickel corner as a rookie but is one injury away from a big statistical season. We do not have to imagine what a rookie corner in that situation would be capable of, all we need to do is look back at Verner's top five finish in 2010.
Productive as the corners have been in Tennessee, it is Bernard Pollard that I am the most excited about for 2013. His resume includes an average of 5+ tackles per start dating back to 2007, 25 takeaways and 9 sacks over the past six seasons and five finishes among the top fifteen safeties. We can even look at last season when he was on pace for 87 solo tackles before missing the final three games with an injury. All that adds up to a great deal of optimism for Pollard in any decent situation. Now take a look at the history surrounding the Titans strong safety position. In 2006 Chris Hope piled up 89 tackles and finished as the top defensive back in the game. He was on pace for similar numbers before being injured in 2007. He hit 87 in 2010 and was off to a good start in 2011 when injury struck again. That season he and Jordan Babineaux combined to post 95 tackles, 6 takeaways and 8 passes defended. Last season a trio of players saw time at the position, combining for 88 solo stops and 43 assists. Pollard is not the best cover safetyr in the league but at 6'1" and 225 pounds he is like having a linebacker running around in the secondary. He hits like a train and brings a level of intimidation to the position that has been missing in Tennessee for a while. Not only is he a tackling machine, he poses a significant big play threat, particularly in the forced fumble column. There are those who will claim that I am overly optimistic about Pollard but I will not be surprised if he is the top DB in the fantasy game this season.
Michael Griffin had a career year in 2010 when the Titans were a complete disaster. That season he exceeded 85 tackles and was the number two safety in the fantasy game. Unfortunately he has fallen short of 60 tackles in each of his other five years as a pro and has finished higher than 27th among safeties only one other time. His big play contribution is usually enough to boost Griffin's total point to a level of usefulness and a backup in deep drafted leagues.
George Wilson is an interesting prospect here. He was basically discarded by the Bills after a couple productive seasons. I have long been of the opinion that Wilson's quality numbers were more a result of a target rich environment in Buffalo than a sign of his being a particularly talented player. He is a smart, hard working player that is dependable as a tackler and a perfect backup for this situation. Wilson is likely to have a role in some sub packages and would be highly productive if Pollard were to go down, but we should avoid using a draft pick on him at this point.
- SS Bernard Pollard - Quality DB1 with top 5 potential
- FS Michael Griffin - Bye week depth in 12 team leagues that start 3
- CB Jason McCourty - Consistent CB1 with top 5 potential, likely a top 15 DB overall
- CB Alterraun Verner - Quality CB2
- CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson - Injury/dynasty sleeper with CB2 or better upside
- CB Tommie Campbell - No value
- S George Wilson - Injury sleeper
68 tackles (44 for loss), 12 assist, 20.5 sacks, 6 takeaways and 16 passes defended. Those would be stellar totals for any linebacker. It is simply mind boggling that they were put up by a 3-4 defensive end. No one needs me to tell them that J.J. Watt is far and away the top defensive player on this year's draft board. Heck he is probably the top player on either side of the ball in many leagues. He is number one on my board as well but I will say this; after last year there is no place for Watt to go but down. In 2011 Jared Allen put up over 265 fantasy points and Jason Pierre-Paul 254. Last season those two came in at 153 and 169 respectively. In any other season owners would have been pleased with Pierre-Paul's number six finish, but not after taking him as the first or second defender off the board. Watt gave us over 300 points last season. He will be a stud in 2013 but anyone who expects numbers similar to last season is setting themselves up for major disappointment. disappointed.
Antonio Smith played off all the attention Watt was getting and picked up a career best 7 sacks last season. He is a solid run defender and an above average pass rusher for a 3-4 end, but his tackle production tends to be much closer to the norm for players at his position. At 24-8-7 Smith was no better than marginal depth in most leagues last season. There is no reason to expect bigger things in 2013.
Earl Mitchell rounds out the starting lineup for the Texans. His ability to hold ground and eat up blockers is significant to the overall success of the Texans defense. Like many at the nose tackle position, Mitchell's contributions often fail to translate to the box scores.
- DE J.J. Watt - Top defender in the fantasy game
- DE Antonio Smith - Depth at best in large leagues
- NT Earl Mitchell - No value
- DE Jared Crick - No value
- NT Terrell McClain - No value
The Texans have some questions at their linebacker positions, particularly on the inside. Brian Cushing is the centerpiece of the defense but he is coming off a serious knee injury that shut him down in week five last year. Playing on the weak side of the Texans 4-3 as a rookie in 2009, Cushing put up excellent numbers and landed among the top five linebackers. The three seasons since have been less fruitful. Cushing has played in 33 games over the past three seasons, including 21 at inside backer in the 3-4. At that position he has averaged fewer than 5 solo tackles a game. Big play production supplemented his tackle totals enough in 2011 to keep him in the top 20. Cushing was on a similar pace through four games last season so it would be safe to expect a repeat top 20 finish from him if completely healthy. Cushing believes he will be cleared for practice by late July and expects to be ready for the regular season. History tells us that players often take two years to fully recover from major knee injuries. Hopefully we will get a look at Cushing during the preseason but at this point I would advise caution and suggest dropping him down your draft board to the lower LB3 range.
Cushing is not the only question at inside linebacker. The other one is who will start next to him? last season the Texans brought in Bradie James as a place holder until they could better address the position. James ended up assuming Cushing's role after the injury. James signed a one year deal and has not been mentioned since the season ended. In all five different players made starts at inside linebacker for the Texans last season. Besides Cushing and James, Tim Dobbins, Darryl Sharpton and Barrett Ruud all got their chances but none of them stood out. Sharpton was the team's fourth round pick in 2010 and the club has tried to work him into the lineup a number of times. Unfortunately he has not been able to stay healthy long enough to keep the job. In all Sharpton has been active for 27 of 48 games over his three year career. He may be the favorite to get the first shot but at this point but there is no reason to have much expectation.
Dobbins is a veteran journeyman who has made several starts over the course of his seven year career. He has even shown flashes of quality box score production, but has never managed to sustain a long term starting job. His name is in the hat but Dobbins is a long shot at best.
There is one other candidate that is very interesting. During offseason activiites the coaching staff had Brooks Reed taking snaps on the inside. This may have been in preparation for emergency service but it may well have been a search for options. Reed was drafted in the second round two years ago with the intent that he would be the long term answer on the outside. His production of just 8.5 sacks in 28 starts could be a contributing factor to the ILB experiment. There has been no word on how well Reed performed during his "tryout" or is he will continue to see work there when camp opens, but I have to believe the coaching staff is looking at this as a serious option. As an outside backer Reed has been only marginally successful and holds no fantasy value. A move inside however, would at least make him a sleeper with some upside. Stick Reed on the bottom of your sleeper list and watch this situation when camp opens.
The problem with moving Reed inside is that with the loss of Connor Barwin to free agency, it would seemingly leave the defense thin on the outside. That is a situation the organization may have already prepared for. They drafted Whitney Mercilus in the first round last year then added Sam Montgomery in round three and Trevardo Williams in round four this year. Mercilus spent most of his rookie season as the third man in the rotation. By the end of the year he had seen action on about 47% of the Texans defensive snaps, and had recorded 20 tackles with 6 sacks. A year of experience and a full time job should mean something like 45 tackles and low double digit sacks for Mercilus in 2013. Solid production for a 3-4 outside backer and numbers that would be useful in big play based leagues.
Montgomery is an interesting prospect. He was a defensive end at LSU and totaled 17 sacks over his final two seasons there. The club has not made it clear that they drafted him with the intent to make him a linebacker, but at 262 pounds he is undersized for a 3-4 end. There is also the fact that he worked at OLB with the first team during off season activities while Reed got a look inside. The coaching staff would undoubtedly prefer not to start a rookie at this spot if they could avoid it, but if Montgomery shows well they could make an exception.
- ILB Brian Cushing - LB2 with considerable injury risk
- ILB Darryl Sharpton - Dark horse sleeper with a little upside
- OLB/ILB Brooks Reed - Sleeper with LB3 potential
- OLB Whitney Mercilus - Second starter in big play based leagues
- OLB/DE Sam Montgomery - Sleeper with upside in big play based leagues
- ILB Tim Dobbins - Minimal value at best
- OLB Trevardo Williams - No immediate value
Houston has assembled a strong secondary by NFL standards but there is not much to get excited about in fantasy terms. With the addition of free safety Ed Reed, Daniel Manning will move to strong safety replacing Glover Quin. Manning has shown flashes of fantasy production as a strong safety in the past. The fact that Quin led the secondary in both tackles with 65, and fantasy points last season is something else to consider. Manning is a sturdy tackler with a little big play potential. Reasonable expectations for him this year are 65-70 tackles and 3-5 takeaways. Manning could be a much as a decent third starter or as little as a bye week fill in.
Reed is one of the best big play safeties in NFL history and will be in the Hall of Fame some day. If he can get/stay healthy Reed will be a difference maker for the Texans and a plus for fantasy owners in team defense leagues. That said, unless something highly unexpected happens, Reed's perennially low tackle numbers will remain pretty much the same with his new team. Reed has not reached 50 tackles in a season since 2006.
Both Jonathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson are talented cover men. Together they give Houston one of the best corner tandems in the league. As for box scores however, Jackson has never reached 50 tackles or recorded more than 4 takeaways in a season, and Joseph has averaged about 43 tackles and 3 takeaways over the past three years.
There is no history of quality production here but there is a player worth keeping an eye on. Versatile safety D.J. Swearinger was the Texans second round pick. He made starts at both strong and free safety for South Carolina during his career there and even saw time at corner last year. Swearinger became a leader for the Gamecocks and totaled 160 combined tackles with 5 interceptions over his final two seasons. He is eventually expected to replace Reed at free safety but if he shows well Swearinger could get a shot at playing next to Reed for a while.
- SS Daniel Manning - Depth in 12 team leagues that start 3
- FS Ed Reed - Minimal value
- CB Johnathan Joseph - Depth at best in corner required leagues
- CB Kareem Jackson - No value CB Brice McCain - No value
- CB Brandon Harris - No value
- S D.J. Swearinger - Sleeper with long term potential
For what seems like a decade the Jaguars have been in search of a pass rush. With a league low 20 sacks last season it is obvious that the search has not gone well. The club addressed other needs via the draft but it is not as if they did nothing up front. The first change was the coaching staff and the hiring of defensive coordinator Bobby Babich. The former Chicago linebacker coach and DC will bring a more aggressive style that will call for more blitzing as well as the use of some 3-4 fronts. Step two will be the switch of tackle Tyson Alualu to end. Surprisingly Alualu led the club in sacks from the interior line with 4 last season. Alualu has battled sore knees in the past and the new coaching staff hopes the move will help him stay healthy. They also expect that he will provide a strong run defense and an improved pass rush on early downs. If they elect to move him inside on passing downs as I expect they will, AluAlu could be a 40+ tackle guy with 6-7 sacks.
Jeremy Mincey is expected to start opposite Alualu. In 2011 Mincey was a top 10 lineman with 40 tackles, a team high 8 sacks and half a dozen takeaways (4 forced fumbles). Last season his numbers tumbled to 35 tackles, 3 sacks and 3 takeaways. Mincey stands up well against the run and is an above average pass rusher. The new scheme should help to take better advantage of his athleticism. Mincey may not return to the top ten in 2013 but his numbers should rebound to some useful point. 40+ tackles and 8-9 sacks is a legitimate possibility. Consider him a sleeper with DL2 potential.
The wildcard here is Jason Babin. This is a player that a lot of people have written off, but keep in mind that he racked up 18 sacks in 2011 and has 37 in the past three years. Babin was cut lose by the Eagles during the second half of last year and was claimed by Jacksonville. He played through knee and groin injuries in 2012 which probably contributed to his falling numbers, but not as much as the Eagles general defensive collapse. Babin is going to have a significant role at the least and there remains a real chance that he could be on the field full time. The coaching staff is planning to use some 3-4 fronts and they see Babin as the guy who can handle the outside linebacker position when they do so. He played there early in his career so a few snaps a game would be no problem. Having a player with the versatility to stay on the field in both situations is a big plus for the team. Babin is a hit or miss player this year but if he hits, he could hit big.
There will be an open competition for the starting tackle jobs with Roy Miller, Sen'Derrick Marks and D'Anthony Smith battling to establish the pecking order. All three of these guys are serviceable players who will likely end up in a rotation, but none of them give much reason for fantasy expectation.
- DE Jason Babin - Depth at worst, top 12 at best
- DE Jeremy Mincey - DL2 potential
- DE Tyson Alualu - Sleeper with limited potential
- DT Roy Miller - No value
- DT Sen'Derrick Marks - No value
- DT D'Anthony Smith - No value
In NFL terms, the Jaguars are not exactly loaded with talent at linebacker. Fantasy wise however, they are the only team in the league with two players that exceeded triple digits in solo tackles last seasons. Paul Posluszny is probably not going to the Hall of Fame, but he is a highly productive and dependable player for Jacksonville to build around. Along with being a physical run stopper Posluszny is smart, has the cover skills to succeed in all the sub packages, and provides the leadership this club will need to turn things around defensively. Statistically Posluszny ranks right up with the elite middle linebackers in the game. Since becoming a starter in 2008 he has averaged over 6 solo tackles a game, or 98 for every 16 games played. Posluszny can also be counted on for 3-5 takeaways and a couple of sacks each season. He will likely land outside the top five but is a safe bet to finish among the top 12. Outstanding Week to week consistency adds to Posluszny's value as well. In 2012 he reached double digit fantasy points in 15 games.
Every year we see an example or two of a decent player landing in just the right situation and putting up big numbers. In 2012 Russell Allen was one of those guys. Other than owners who picked him up last year, most people will be a bit surprised when they realize he was fourth in the league with 108 solo tackles. After three years as a backup Allen got his chance when Darryl Smith's health issues kept him on the sideline all year. Allen made the best of the opportunity, playing well enough for the club to let Smith go and leave the position unaddressed over the offseason. The only knock against Russell from a fantasy perspective was an almost complete absence of big plays. In sixteen starts he added only 1 fumble recovery and half a sack. He is likely to continue as a three down weak side backer throughout 2013 but unless he can become more of an impact player, Russell is probably not going to be the long term answer. That said, Jacksonville has a long way to go defensively. They should show some improvement but in the end, there is still going to be a lot of opportunity for Russell.
Geno Hayes will compete with Brandon Marshall for the starting job on the strong side. Hayes has become a journeyman over the past few years but has some starting experience from his time in Tampa Bay. He is probably best suited to play on the weak side and could have some value if either Posluszny or Allen go down. Marshall had a quiet rookie year but should get a chance to prove himself during the preseason.
- MLB Paul Posluszny - Dependable low end LB1
- WLB Russell Allen - Quality LB3 for the foreseeable future
- OLB Geno Hayes - Injury sleeper at best
- OLB Brandon Marshall - No value at this point
The Jaguars used a total of five draft picks to improve their leaky secondary, including a second on safety John Cyprien and a third on corner Dwayne Gratz. Both are expected to make an immediate impact. Cyprien is a thumper that Mike Mayock called an "enforcer in the box". He will likely spend a lot of time in that role. Last season Dawan Landry racked up 81 solo stops from the position. His fantasy value was held in check by low assist totals and seriously lacking big play production. Meanwhile, as a senior Cyprien recorded 93 combined tackles on his way to becoming Florida International's all time leader in that category, adding 4 interceptions and a forced fumble as well. He is every bit the physical presence that Landry was if not more, and seems to pack the big play punch that Landry lacked. Cyprien fits all the criteria to have a monster rookie season. Size, attitude, high IQ, good fit in the scheme with a history of quality production and on a team that is not very good right now. In short, there are plenty of reason for high expectations.
There is no clear cut starter at free safety where veteran Dwight Lowery, 2010 fourth round pick Christopher Prosinski, second year pro Antwon Blake and maybe even sixth round pick Josh Evans could all get a look. Last season Prosinski started seven games at the position while Lowery started nine. Neither distinguished themselves either on the field or in the box scores. In fact the free safety position in Jacksonville has been void of fantasy potential for as long as I can remember.
For that matter there has not been much value from the Jaguars corner positions in recent years either. There may be a little reason for optimism though. Mike Harris made his way into the lineup for the final ten games last season. In those games he recorded a healthy 45 solo stops. Harris could be in the mix for one of the starting jobs this year but even if he is not the solid numbers show some potential for the position in general. What we do know is that Gratz has been inserted as one of the starters heading into camp. The rookie corner rule is in play here so consider Gratz a sleeper in corner required leagues.
When the Jaguars added Marcus Trufant in free agency, they made clear the intention to use him as their nickel back. Once they get into camp that plan could go out the window. Several players will get a look during the preseason including Mike Harris and rookies Jeremy Harris and Demetrius McCray. This one could go in any direction so owners in corner required leagues might want to keep up with this battle.
- SS John Cyprien - All signs point to a strong year
- FS Christopher Prosinski - Minimal value at best
- FS Antwon Blake - No value
- FS Dwight Lowery - No value
- CB Dwayne Gratz - Rookie corner rule
- CB Marcus Trufant - Minimal value
- CB Alan Ball - No value
- CB Jeremy Harris - Deep sleeper for corner required leagues
That does it for the AFC South. Next up the NFC South.
More from John Norton:
Eyes of the Guru: Part 8 - July 30
Eyes of the Guru: Part 7 - July 25
Eyes of the Guru Preseason: Part 6 - July 17
Eyes of the Guru Preseason: Part 5 - July 14
Eyes of the Guru Preseason: Part 4 - July 7
Eyes of the Guru Preseason part 3 - July 1
Eyes of the Guru Preseason: Part 2 - June 23
Eyes of the Guru Preseason: Part 1 - June 9
Eyes of the Guru: Week 17 - December 27
Eyes of the Guru: Week 16 - December 18