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Reading the Defense: Week 17

A weekly look at IDP trends with a mix of metrics, film study, and matchup strategy

Congratulations to those who won fantasy championships last week. If you're involved in a Week 17 championship game, best of luck. I'll be dedicating this final inseason RTD to 2017 roster construction but you can email questions about this week's matchups to bramel@footballguys.com.

Roster Tuneup

This is a week to clean up your roster with an eye toward 2017. Redraft owners would also benefit from a hard look at every team's roster before coaching changes, free agency, and the draft start changing the landscape again. Here are my team-by-team thoughts on prospective free agents, possible coaching changes, injured players expected to return, reserves to monitor carefully, and offseason needs.

Arizona

Likelihood of coaching change: Low
Notable free agents: Calais Campbell, Chandler Jones, Kevin Minter, Tony Jefferson
Injured players expected to return: Deone Bucannon, Tyrann Mathieu
Players worth adding: Robert Nkemdiche (watch list)
Offseason needs w/ fantasy implications: 

Could be lots of turnover here if Kevin Minter and Tony Jefferson move on. The Cardinals should get a healthy Tyrann Mathieu back. If you can find a frustrated owner, make an offer for him. He'll likely slot into the Elite Safety tier again next year.

Atlanta

Likelihood of coaching change: Low
Notable free agents:
Injured players expected to return: Desmond Trufant
Players worth adding:
Offseason needs w/ fantasy implications: Edge Rusher

Deion Jones and Vic Beasley made huge strides this year. DeVondre Campbell and Keanu Neal look like playmakers and potential tackle stars. Add another edge rusher to the mix with the return of Desmond Trufant and this defense could be dominant -- hopefully not dominant enough to restrict its own opportunity.

Baltimore

Likelihood of coaching change: Low
Notable free agents: Lawrence Guy
Injured players expected to return:
Players worth adding:
Offseason needs w/ fantasy implications: 

The emergence of Zach Orr blunted the disappointment that was C.J. Mosley this year. Expect a healthier Mosley to rebound next year but he's not likely to be a 85 solo player.

Buffalo

Likelihood of coaching change: High -- Rex Ryan / Rob Ryan already fired
Notable free agents: Lorenzo Alexander, Zach Brown
Injured players expected to return:
Players worth adding: Reggie Ragland, Shaq Lawson (deep, big play leagues)
Offseason needs w/ fantasy implications: Safety

Both Preston Brown and Zach Brown played better than expected. But don't forget about Reggie Ragland, who impressed the Bills' coaches with strong preseason play. The Bills could be in for another scheme change with Rex Ryan fired. There are a number of viable fantasy options here but this group may be the most sensitive to scheme change in the league.

Carolina

Likelihood of coaching change: Low
Notable free agents: Charles Johnson, Mario Addison, Kawann Short
Injured players expected to return: Luke Kuechly
Players worth adding: Shaq Thompson
Offseason needs w/ fantasy implications: Edge Rusher, Safety

Thomas Davis finally seemed to slow a bit this year but the Panthers didn't seem willing to trust Shaq Thompson after Luke Kuechly's concussion. There's a need for edge rushers and safety talent here, so Thompson's role isn't the only development to watch this offseason.

Chicago

Likelihood of coaching change: Medium - Low
Notable free agents:
Injured players expected to return: Danny Trevathan, Kyle Fuller, Eddie Goldman
Players worth adding: Nick Kwiatkowski
Offseason needs w/ fantasy implications: Edge Rusher, Safety

I don't expect to see Danny Trevathan healthy at the start of 2017. Nick Kwiatkowski has the inside track to start alongside Jerrell Freeman. Watch the progress of Leonard Floyd carefully. If he blossoms as Danielle Hunter has, there's 60-10 upside in him.

Cincinnati

Likelihood of coaching change: Low
Notable free agents:
Injured players expected to return: Will Jackson
Players worth adding: Will Clarke (watch list), Nick Vigil (deep leagues)
Offseason needs w/ fantasy implications: Edge Rusher, Linebacker, Safety

The Bengals trust Nick Vigil more than they ever did Paul Dawson. If Vigil proves himself game plan ready this offseason, he could begin working his way into more playing time next year. I'm not sure the Bengals are ready to move on from the veteran trio of Rey Maualuga, Karlos Dansby, and Vinny Rey but Vigil has a chance to force their hand.

Cleveland

Likelihood of coaching change: Low
Notable free agents: Jamie Collins
Injured players expected to return: 
Players worth adding: Carl Nassib (watch list) 
Offseason needs w/ fantasy implications: Everything

Carl Nassib showed more than I expected and Emmanuel Ogbah was developing well by season's end. But this defense has a long way to go -- even if they sign Jamie Collins.

Dallas

Likelihood of coaching change: Low
Notable free agents: Barry Church
Injured players expected to return: Jaylon Smith?
Players worth adding: Randy Gregory, Jaylon Smith
Offseason needs w/ fantasy implications: Edge Rusher, Linebacker

I didn't see anything in the past six months that makes me optimistic for a return to form for Jaylon Smith. But his upside if healthy is too good not to roster. Randy Gregory's first step and ability to play the run is better than anything the Cowboys have on the current depth chart. If he can avoid any further knucklehead episodes, he could become a DE1.

Denver

Likelihood of coaching change: Low
Notable free agents: Demarcus Ware
Injured players expected to return:
Players worth adding: Justin Simmons, Shane Ray
Offseason needs w/ fantasy implications: Inside linebacker

Brandon Marshall couldn't stay healthy this year and was losing snaps at times when active. The team doesn't fully trust Todd Davis or Corey Nelson either. We'll see exactly what they think of Marshall this offseason. If the Broncos invest in another inside linebacker, he'll fit into the upper tiers.

Detroit

Likelihood of coaching change: Low
Notable free agents: Devin Taylor
Injured players expected to return:
Players worth adding: Miles Killebrew (watch list)
Offseason needs w/ fantasy implications: Linebacker, Safety, Edge Rusher 

You might find a frustrated DeAndre Levy owner this offseason. It's worth sending a feeler out. You're even more likely to find a frustrated Ezekiel Ansah owner. If you can get the not-very-durable Ansah at a bargain, it's a worthy flyer. Nothing motivates a player to produce like the possibility of a big second contract.

Green Bay

Likelihood of coaching change: Low
Notable free agents: Julius Peppers, Nick Perry
Injured players expected to return: Sam Shields
Players worth adding: Blake Martinez
Offseason needs w/ fantasy implications: Inside linebacker, Edge Rusher

The Packers seemed to have fallen in love with Blake Martinez by the end of the preseason -- then used him in the base defense only. His progress, and the decision on whether to re-sign Nick Perry, are the two most interesting offseason stories for fantasy owners.

Houston

Likelihood of coaching change: Low
Notable free agents:
Injured players expected to return: J.J. Watt, Kevin Johnson
Players worth adding: K.J. Dillon
Offseason needs w/ fantasy implications: Safety, Inside linebacker

I expect J.J. Watt to spend all offseason regaining core strength and returning to health. I'm also interested to see how the Texans approach Jadeveon Clowney this offseason. If he's transitioned to a full time 3-4 base end with passing down pass rush responsbilities -- and classified at defensive end -- he could easily finish as an elite fantasy defensive end.

Indianapolis

Likelihood of coaching change: Low - Medium
Notable free agents: Mike Adams
Injured players expected to return: Clayton Geathers
Players worth adding: Henry Anderson (deep leagues)
Offseason needs w/ fantasy implications: Inside linebacker, Edge Rusher

I'm hoping for a return to form from Henry Anderson, the fulfillment of the potential of Clayton Geathers, and for Edwin Jackson to have a productive offseason. Move D'Qwell Jackson if you can -- the cliff is coming.

Jacksonville

Likelihood of coaching change: High -- Gus Bradley already fired
Notable free agents: Johnathan Cyprien
Injured players expected to return: Aaron Colvin, Jared Odrick, James Sample
Players worth adding: Myles Jack
Offseason needs w/ fantasy implications: Safety, Edge Rusher

I believe the new coaching staff will find a suitable place for Myles Jack, who was miscast at strong side linebacker this year. There's development needed with Jack but his elite all-around upside remains. It's possible, and maybe even likely, that the Jaguars move on from Johnathan Cyprien this offseason.

Kansas City

Likelihood of coaching change: Low
Notable free agents: Eric Berry
Injured players expected to return: Derrick Johnson?, Jaye Howard
Players worth adding: 
Offseason needs w/ fantasy implications: Inside linebacker

Derrick Johnson has a tough rehab from his second Achilles tear ahead and the Chiefs haven't been happy with his potential replacements. Josh Mauga and Justin March may still be around but it's a depth chart grouping to watch carefully. Justin Houston will be another year removed from knee surgery and hopefully more consistently healthy.

Los Angeles

Likelihood of coaching change: High -- Jeff Fisher already fired
Notable free agents: 
Injured players expected to return: 
Players worth adding:
Offseason needs w/ fantasy implications: Safety, Edge Rusher

I'll be trying to add Robert Quinn as often as possible this offseason. His better days may be behind him but a new coaching staff and a full offseason to recover from back surgery makes him an attractive add for his age 27 year.

Miami

Likelihood of coaching change: Low
Notable free agents: Jelani Jenkins
Injured players expected to return: Reshad Jones
Players worth adding: 
Offseason needs w/ fantasy implications: Edge Rusher, Linebacker

Don't forget about Reshad Jones. And I think there's room for a young edge rusher to develop and a more consistent group of linebackers here, too.

Minnesota

Likelihood of coaching change: Low
Notable free agents:
Injured players expected to return: 
Players worth adding: 
Offseason needs w/ fantasy implications: 

Danielle Hunter is going to get to 600 snaps this year -- and will have at least 12 sacks. The solos will come if he's trusted with more base snaps, which means there's more upside in his stat line. Anthony Barr just isn't the same player he was before his chronic knee issues struck.

New England

Likelihood of coaching change: Low
Notable free agents: Jabaal Sheard, Dont'a Hightower
Injured players expected to return: 
Players worth adding: Trey Flowers, Elandon Roberts
Offseason needs w/ fantasy implications: Edge Rusher, Inside linebacker, Safety 

This season was a bust for statistical production in New England. That's disappointing because of the favorable stat crew and opportunity. Two of the primary disappointments -- Jabaal Sheard and Dont'a Hightower -- could move on. I like Sheard's potential replacement (Trey Flowers) much better than Hightower's (Elandon Roberts).

New Orleans

Likelihood of coaching change: Low
Notable free agents:
Injured players expected to return: Hau'oli Kikaha, Delvin Breaux
Players worth adding: Vonn Bell
Offseason needs w/ fantasy implications: Linebacker, Edge Rusher

I'm not sure Hau'oli Kikaha will return to form but he's likely to have DE eligibility next year and deserves a roster spot on that upside alone. Craig Robertson and Dannell Ellerbe are replacement level talents that showed how valuable this depth chart can be.

New York Giants

Likelihood of coaching change: Low
Notable free agents: Jason Pierre-Paul
Injured players expected to return: 
Players worth adding: Darian Thompson (watch list), B.J. Goodson (watch list)
Offseason needs w/ fantasy implications: Linebacker

I look forward to another offseason of hoping the Giants draft an every-down linebacker only to be disappointed during free agency and the draft. I don't expect them to let Jason Pierre-Paul get away. There's not much fantasy upside for a safety opposite Landon Collins, but this linebacker group is weak enough to allow Darian Thompson to have some value.

New York Jets

Likelihood of coaching change: Low
Notable free agents:
Injured players expected to return:
Players worth adding:
Offseason needs w/ fantasy implications: Edge Rusher, Safety

Darron Lee needs an offseason of development but will likely be the lone back seven player of note here next year. A once dominant front line is being disrupted by injury (Muhammad Wilkerson) and knucklehead factors (Sheldon Richardson). It doesn't seem likely the Jets will bring more than one -- if that -- back next year.

Oakland

Likelihood of coaching change: Low
Notable free agents: Malcolm Smith
Injured players expected to return: Ben Heeney, D.J. Hayden
Players worth adding: Mario Edwards, Jihad Ward (deep DT leagues)
Offseason needs w/ fantasy implications: Linebacker

Ben Heeney, Cory James, Perry Riley, Malcolm Smith. None are above replacement level talents. Smith likely has the best chance of holding value into 2017 but don't invest heavily here. Karl Joseph is easily the most attractive tackler in the back seven right now.

Philadelphia

Likelihood of coaching change: Low
Notable free agents:
Injured players expected to return: 
Players worth adding: 
Offseason needs w/ fantasy implications: 

The Eagles will be fairly boring this offseason. My eyes are on Mychal Kendricks, who I hope works his way into a career renaissance with another team next year. If you're in a deep roster league, stash and hope.

Pittsburgh

Likelihood of coaching change: Low
Notable free agents: Lawrence Timmons
Injured players expected to return: Cam Heyward
Players worth adding: Vince Williams, Bud Dupree (big play)
Offseason needs w/ fantasy implications: Edge Rusher, Safety

The Steelers need to add edge rushing help despite Bud Dupree's late season flashes. Lawrence Timmons played well enough to keep Vince Williams on the bench down the stretch but it's not clear whether Pittsburgh will bring him back. With Ryan Shazier's durability concerns, the Steelers may have to bring all three back again.

San Diego

Likelihood of coaching change: Low
Notable free agents: Melvin Ingram, Manti Te'o, Jahleel Addae
Injured players expected to return: Jerry Attaochu, Jason Verrett
Players worth adding:
Offseason needs w/ fantasy implications: Safety 

Jatavis Brown should cement himself as the anchor at inside linebacker this offseason. Denzel Perryman again showed his tackle upside in the final month of the season and could get another shot at an every-down role if Manti Te'o isn't re-signed.

San Francisco

Likelihood of coaching change: Low - Medium
Notable free agents:
Injured players expected to return: NaVorro Bowman?, Arik Armstead, Eric Reid
Players worth adding: Jaquiski Tartt (watch list)
Offseason needs w/ fantasy implications: Edge Rusher, Inside linebacker 

This depth chart has more potential than Cleveland's but it's equally ugly right now. DeForest Buckner, NaVorro Bowman, and Jaquiski Tartt could all be elite level fantasy options, but all have question marks. I think there will be at least one edge rusher and one inside linebacker worth targeting next year who are not currently on the Niners' roster.

Seattle

Likelihood of coaching change: Low
Notable free agents:
Injured players expected to return: Earl Thomas
Players worth adding: Frank Clark (big play)
Offseason needs w/ fantasy implications: 

Not much to see here. Earl Thomas should return to health and his usual production next season.

Tampa bay

Likelihood of coaching change: Low
Notable free agents: Bradley McDougald
Injured players expected to return: Jacquies Smith
Players worth adding:
Offseason needs w/ fantasy implications: Edge Rusher, Safety

Noah Spence was better than expected this year. That bodes well for his development and production next year. I'm still hoping he can be more Robert Mathis than Dwight Freeney in the tackle columns.

Tennessee

Likelihood of coaching change: Low
Notable free agents: 
Injured players expected to return: Kevin Dodd
Players worth adding: 
Offseason needs w/ fantasy implications: Inside linebacker, Edge Rusher, Safety

The Titans were solid enough this year but could use a little of everything this offseason. Sean Spence isn't listed as a notable free agent, but his presence or absence/replacement will impact the value of Avery Williamson next year.

Washington

Likelihood of coaching change: Low
Notable free agents:
Injured players expected to return: 
Players worth adding: Su'a Cravens
Offseason needs w/ fantasy implications: Edge Rusher, Safety

I'd love to see Su'a Cravens get a full time Deone Bucannon like role next year -- or moved to safety and allowed to dominate like Kam Chancellor

Subscribe to The Audible on iTunes or download our weekly IDP podcast here every Thursday for injury updates, player analysis, and matchup discussion. Follow and ask questions on Twitter @JeneBramel.