By the time I was able to get back to work from my IR adventure it was too late to squeeze in the AFC and NFC articles; my apologies. I will work in a little extra on those teams in this column where it is needed.
These are my notes and/or thoughts on the preseason games and a few other important happenings since the opening of camps. As usual the first round of games answered as few questions and confirmed some things, while throwing a curve or two as well. There are still plenty of important jobs up for grabs.
One interesting observation; league wide there were a lot of teams running with two three-down linebackers. At the end of last season those guys were becoming a rarity. I think a big part of it is the vanilla defenses most teams run during the preseason. Others were probably because coaches want to see what they have in some new starters. If the trend continues into the regular season linebacker is going to be a very deep position.
Since I missed the AFC West let's start with Oakland. At linebacker it was Malcolm Smith lining up on the weak side as expected, with Ben Heeney in the middle and Bruce Irvin on the strong side. To make room for Irvin Oakland has moved Khalil Mack to defensive end in the 4-3 base package and nickel situations. He is still at outside linebacker when a 3-4 is called. Against Arizona Mack played on eleven snaps by my count. His hand was in the dirt on nine of those snaps. This is particularly important news for those who use MyFantasyLeague, as they have not yet switched him from outside linebacker. Many of the other league hosting sites have already moved Mack to end. Check out the situation in your league. As a linebacker Mack was anywhere from an LB4 in tackle heavy leagues to an elite tier one in big play based scoring. As a defensive end he would be second to J.J. Watt. The positional tweak may shave a handful of tackles off Mack’s 2015 totals but it should not have much effect on his sack total.
Ben Heeney is flying under the radar in a lot of leagues but is a guy people will be very familiar with soon. He looked good over the second half of last season and has continued to improve. Not only is Heeney playing all three downs, he is wearing the communications helmet and calling plays. Against the Cardinals he was quick and disruptive. I will stop short of calling Heeney a better option than Smith, but will not be shocked if both finish in the top twenty.
Karl Joseph is one of my favorite rookie players this year. He looks like the perfect replacement for Charles Woodson. Joseph is probably the best big play safety to come out of college in the last decade and he loves to tackle. The Raiders are lining him up at strong safety with free agent addition Reggie Nelson at free. One important consideration he is the Raiders scheme does not call for the same safety to stay deep on every play. This is what allowed Woodson to make the tackle at the line of scrimmage on one play and intercept a deep pass on the next. Nothing is certain here but Joseph looked fast and fluid on the field and made some good plays against Arizona.
The other part of this equation is Nelson. He too is a playmaker coming off a big season and is worthy of fantasy consideration. He is not as physical or aggressive when it comes to tackling but is sound. Nelson will have his share of opportunity near the line and has a good shot to finish with 60+ tackles and 5-7 turnovers.