Since moving to the 3-4 in 2013, the Colts defensive line has been mostly pedestrian both on the field and in the box scores. Kendall Langford's 7 sacks in 2015 are the most by a lineman since the switch but he could muster just 23 tackles. David Perry was 33-13-3 last season, making him a good second starter at tackle but he is really the only member of this group to be roster worthy in any situation over the past four years. That could change in 2017 however. This year's Colts have more talent and fantasy potential than their predecessors. Langford is back after missing much of last season with an injury. He was 36-13-5 in 2013 and has exceeded 30 solo tackles a few times over his nine year career. With better surrounding talent it is not a big stretch to expect 34 tackles and 5-6 sacks from him.
The talent infusion comes from the additions of Johnathan Hankins who will take over at nose tackle, Margus Hunt who will compete for a starting spot at end, and a finally healthy Henry Anderson. Anderson was the Colts third round pick in 2015 and is a player the organization has high expectations for. He got off to a strong start going 17-8-1 over the first five games of his career but finished the season on IR with a devastating knee injury. Anderson was back on the field last year but limited to a part time role most of the season. While I am not buying into all the hype that came with him as a rookie about how Anderson is going to be the next great 3-4 end in fantasy. I will agree he is a talented player that should add an element of toughness to the Colts defense. Anderson is a strong and athletic run stuffer who at 6'6" and 300 pounds can generate penetration as a pass rusher. In his final season at Stanford (2014) he put up rather impressive numbers of 40-25-8. For him to match that production would be a shock but expecting 30+ tackles and 4-5 sacks from a healthy Anderson is not unreasonable.
The wildcard at end is Margus Hunt. The former Bengal is a physical specimen who showed flashes as the Cincinnati coaching staff tried to develop him into a starter, but was never able to put it all together. Some of the problem was Hunt being a tweener. He is athletic enough to play end and can set the edge as a run defender but lacks the quick twitch and up field burst of an edge rusher. When they moved him inside the 6'8" Hunt had a hard time staying low enough and often lost the leverage battle. The Bengals finally gave up on him after four seasons and the Colts jumped on Hunt in free agency. In short his skill set is exactly what 3-4 teams look for at end. If the Indianapolis coaching staff can unlock the talent and potential, Hunt could be their third end this season and may eventually push for a starting job. If the light does not go on Hunt could be in the unemployment line after the season.
Second year pro Hassan Ridgeway is another good reason to expect a better Colts defensive line going forward. As the rookie the fourth round pick was a rotational contributor producing 8 tackles and 13 assists with a sack and a half. The experience will make Ridgeway a better player in his second season as he competes for time in the rotation. At worst he provides the Colts with better depth than they have had in the past.
Anderson and/or Langford could provide IDP owners with decent depth at end, but the player with the best fantasy potential of the group is Johnathan Hankins. As a second year pro in 2014 he put up 30 tackles, 21 assists and 7 sacks for the Giants. Following an injury shortened 2015, Hankins returned last season to go 29-16-3.5. Those numbers are hardly impressive but they were good enough to rank seventeenth at the box score challenged tackle position. Hankins is bigger, quicker, and more mobile than David Parry who finished three slots ahead of him from this spot last year. Watching Hankins reminds me in many ways of the Bills Kyle Williams who has been a quality DT1 in most seasons over his career. Simply put, I think Hankins can squeeze more box score production out of the position than Parry did. I have Hankins projected in the low DT1 or priority DT2 range at 35-14-4.5 with a turnover and a couple of batted passes.
NT Johnathan Hankins - Priority DT2 with some upside
NT David Parry - Injury sleeper
NT Al Woods - No value
DE Henry Anderson - Potential depth in twelve team leagues starting two DE
DE Margus Hunt - Deep sleeper worth keeping an eye on
DE Kendall Langford - DL3 upside
DE Hassan Ridgeway - No value at this time
For many years the Colts inside linebacker positions had given fantasy owners a pair of productive three down options. As recently as 2015 both Jerrell Freeman and D'Qwell Jackson were putting up starter numbers from the spots. That all came to a crashing halt last year when Freeman signed with Chicago the coaching staff started pulling Jackson from sub packages. As a result no Indianapolis linebacker recorded more than 52 solo tackles or finished among the top fifty five in 2016. Much has changed since 2015, including the Colts defensive coordinator. Former coordinator Greg Manusky nearly always kept both inside backers on the field in nickel sub packages. Current coordinator Ted Monachino has already shown the willingness to sub more freely. It is hard to say if last year's situation with Jackson was an effort to keep the 34 year old fresh as the spin doctors suggested, or a message from Monachino that his cover skills were slipping. Either way the result was the same, no three down inside linebackers in 2016. The question is was this by design or simply a result of trying to milk the most from what was there to work with? Unfortunately we may not be able to answer that question for sure until September, though we might get a hint when the preseason starts.
At this point we are not even certain who the starters will be in week one. D'Qwell Jackson is gone, the team signed free agent Sean Spence then drafted Anthony Walker in the fifth round. They will compete with incumbents Edwin Jackson and Antonio Morrison who finished last season as starters. We could see any combination of these four players on the field come week one, including the potential for all of them to see situational playing time. The Colts could even take a page out of the Green Bay playbook and have no three down inside backers. The only reason I seriously doubt we will see that option is the shortage of strong safety depth.
Edwin Jackson and Sean Spence are expected to get the first shot at the starting jobs. Spence was a third round pick of the Steelers in 2012 when he entered the league carrying high expectations from the organization. A major knee injury ended his rookie season before it started and threatened to end his career. Spence got back on the field in 2014 and served as a backup for the Steelers for a couple seasons. He signed a free agent contract with the linebacker needy Titans last season and was initially expected to start. By the time week one came Spence was working mostly as a nickel linebacker and getting on the field for less than half of defensive plays. I am not sure what the Colts thought they were getting with Spence but if he is their best inside backer and week one starter it will not be a good sign for their fans. I expect little from him in terms of box score production with the biggest fear being Spence will poach nickel package snaps from someone that might otherwise be a fantasy friendly starter.
Jackson is the early favorite to be both a three down player and the best fantasy target of the group. If he can win a starting spot Jackson will become one to the NFLs great stories. He is undersized at 5'11" 230 pounds, is not particularly fast running the forty at 4.8 at Georgia Southern's pro day in 2015, and was not even invited to the combine. Jackson signed with the Cardinals as an undrafted free agent then landed on the Colts practice squad after Arizona cut him. He started last season as a practice squad player and ended it as a starter. Jackson had a significant role over the final nine games which included three down duties in the final four. Over those nine games he was 42-20-2, falling short of eight fantasy points only once. In the limited body of work we have seen thus far he has looked good and put up respectable numbers. What we have not yet seen from Jackson is an ability to make splash plays in the passing game. This is not to say he is a liability in coverage rather that we have not yet seen enough to know. I guess the good news is in nine games and around 500 plays he made no glaring mistakes.
When the organization invested a fourth round pick in Antonio Morrison last year it was widely speculated he would eventually be a starter. He had a limited role in a few early games so everything seemed to be progressing as expected. Then Jackson was activated from the taxi squad and passed Morrison on the depth chart. That was our first sign Morrison may not be the guy. Then the Colts signed Spence and drafted Walker which may also be seen as signs they are not counting on Morrison to step up. Over the years we have seen a lot of player make a big jump in their second season, so a year of experience could be just what Morrison needed. As of mid July he remains an underdog but no one has ruled Morrison out of the mix yet.
Scouting reports say Anthony Walker lacks flexibility and is not athletic as NFL teams would like him to be. They said the same thing about Zach Thomas and we know how that went. The numbers tell us Walker was a highly productive middle linebacker as a two year starter for Northwestern. Over those two seasons he compiled 125 solo tackles, 100 assists, 6 sacks and 14 turnovers. Physical traits may factor into coverage schemes if he were to earn a three down role but Walker has been successful in zone coverage at the college level. He misses some tackles but has the speed, determination, work ethic to become an NFL starter. Walker also brings leadership and high character to the locker room. He will be in the thick of the competition as a rookie and could climb the depth chart quickly. At this point I would make Walker the number two target in this mix behind Jackson.
The Colts have neglected their defense for the better part of the last decade, investing no more than middle to late round draft picks and occasionally throwing a free agent Band-Aid on a gushing wound. Nowhere is this more evident than the outside linebacker positions. Most 3-4 teams put an emphasis on these positions. Since turning to the 3-4 in 2012, Indianapolis has used one first round pick on an outside rusher; that was Bjoern Werner in 2013. He did not work out and was gone after two seasons. The next highest draft pick used at the positions was this year's round three where they took Tarell Basham. The former Ohio University stand out has good long term potential but has a lot of work to do refining his pass rush technique. He is tough and physical versus the run which should help Basham earn time as a rotational sub this season.
The organization finally parted ways with longtime starters Robert Mathis and Trent Cole who will have a combined age of 71 come October. To replace them the team signed journeyman Jabaal Sheard, former Texans starter John Simon and former Browns first round bust Barkevious Mingo. Sheard is a good player with six years of starting experience in Cleveland and New England. He has 35.5 career sacks including 8 in thirteen games with the Patriots in 2015. Sheard saw his role reduced considerably in his second season with New England and was no longer in the team's plans. He was a good addition for the Colts and will buy them some time to better address the position but Sheard is not the long term answer as a number one pass rusher. On a good year he will give them 30-35 tackles and 6-8 sacks but there is not much upside beyond that.
John Simon is another serviceable addition with limited potential. As a first time starter for the Texans in 2015 he totaled 39 tackles and 5 sacks. Simon was on pace for slightly better numbers last year before a week eleven injury ended his season. He is a dependable run stopper that does everything well but is not the kind of game changer a 3-4 defense needs on the outside. This duo is an upgrade from last year's over the hill gang and will help the Colts defense improve as a whole, but it will be a real surprise if they total more than a dozen sacks between them. Fantasy owners need to look elsewhere, even those in big play based leagues.
ILB Edwin Jackson - Sleeper with solid LB3 potential if he lands a three down role
ILB Sean Spence - Sleeper with LB4 or better potential
ILB Antonio Morrison - Dark horse sleeper
ILB Anthony Walker - Sleeper/dynasty target with good long term upside
OLB Jabaal Sheard - Marginal option in big play based leagues
OLB John Simon - Minimal value
OLB Akeem Ayers - No value
OLB Tarell Basham - Dynasty sleeper
OLB Barkevious Mingo
The Colts used free agency to plug holes at linebacker so they could concentrate on a depleted secondary in the draft. First round pick Malik Hooker will start at safety right away and second round selection Quincy Wilson will compete for the corner job opposite Vontae Davis. Mike Mayock called Hooker the best center fielder in this year's draft. He is not particularly fast but is instinctive, diagnoses plays quickly, makes good decisions and has excellent ball skills. From a production standpoint Hooker was a mixed bag at Ohio State. Playing deep safety it is no surprise he was light on tackle totals for the Buckeyes with 43, while his 7 interceptions and 3 scores look great on a resume. There is some down side here to beware of. Hooker had one year of starting experience before leaving school after his sophomore season, so he is raw. He was also credited with 17 missed tackles in 2016 which is a big problem for a free safety. There will be growing pains with Hooker as he adjusts to the pro game but his flaws can be fixed with coaching and experience. In the end he is expected to be the Colts free safety for a lot of years. In the short term however, Hooker could be plugged in at strong safety. The team is short on depth at that position and starter Clayton Geathers is recovering slowly from neck surgery, putting his early season availability in jeopardy. As a strong safety Hooker would have time to work on his shortcomings without giving up a score every time he misses a tackle. If his big play production carries over to the next level Hooker will have some fantasy potential even as a free safety. If he ends up playing strong for a while he could have a lot of early value.
Clayton Geathers is a big physical in the box safety that the coaching staff is counting on heavily as a long term fixture. The 2015 fourth round pick stepped into the starting role at strong safety in week two last season and performed admirably both on the field and in the box scores right up to the injury in week eleven. At 6'2" 220 pounds he is like having an extra linebacker on the field that can cover. With uncertainty at the inside linebacker positions the coaching staff would love to have him available and so would fantasy owners. In his nine game stint last season Geathers produced 50 tackles, 9 assists, 5 passes defended and a forced fumble, averaging slightly over ten points a game. The injury is not believed to be career threatening but the team will be extremely cautious with Geathers. He is not expected to participate in camp and could open the season on the PUP. This makes it tough on fantasy owners that draft before late August to pin a value on him. At this point I am treating Geathers as a half season starter and targeting him as a priority DB4 with upside. If you have room to stash him or can put him on IR until he is ready, Geathers could prove to be an excellent investment for a late playoff run. In dynasty situations I consider him a top shelf DB2.
Hooker may get a look at strong safety this summer but for now T.J. Green is running with the first team at the position. Green was a second round pick last year and saw a good deal of action as a rookie. He played strong safety in a lot of sub packages right from the start with Geathers sliding up into a nickel linebacker alignment. Somewhat surprisingly, Green kept the same role after Geathers was injured and did not move up to every down duty. The Colts strong safety position has been fantasy friendly for a long time so whoever starts there will probably provide some value.
To create some depth at safety the Colts re-signed Darius Butler and have moved him to free safety. He was working there at the end of last season as well and could be an option if the coaching staff elects to move Hooker to strong safety for a while.
Vontae Davis settled in as the Colts number one corner soon after being drafted in 2009. He falls short of elite shutdown status but is an excellent corner by NFL standards and the anchor of this unit. Davis's career has followed the course laid out by the rookie corner rule. The 49 tackles of his rookie season remain a career high and have steadily declined into the upper 30s range while his big play production and passes defended reached a career high in 2014. Davis can be counted on for 35-40 tackles, 4-5 splash plays and 15+ pass breakups but he is not going to be much of a fantasy factor.
The Colts other corner position will be the prize in an open competition with fourth year man Rashaan Melvin and second round pick Quincy Wilson as the early favorites. Melvin is a former undrafted free agent that has stuck with the team. He earned the starting job last season and went on to lead the Indianapolis secondary with 52 tackles. Melvin has become a dependable veteran cover man but offers nothing as a playmaker. He has a couple forced fumbles in three years of service but is still looking for his first interception as a pro. Unless Wilson struggles this battle may be over before it starts.
Quincy Wilson is a big physical press corner who likes to stuff receivers at the line and disrupt or sometimes completely shut down their rout. He was a two year starter in the SEC so Wilson is used to covering talented receivers and has excelled at it. His numbers at Florida are a little misleading unless you know the rest of the story. In twenty seven games as a starter Wilson recorded 31 solo tackles. No, that is not a misprint though it is shocking for a player that does not shy from run support. The rest of the story is Wilson allowed completions on less than 40% of the passes thrown his way, so he did not have a lot of tackling opportunity. He also contributed 6 career interceptions, 14 passes defended, a forced fumble and a defensive score during his time with the Gators. The coaching staff knows they are going to take some lumps if they start two rookies in the secondary but they really have no choice considering the other available options. Chances are Wilson will be thrown to the wolves as the week one starter. At the pro level his willingness to tackle will be called upon much more often in both run support situations and after completions. Playing opposite a corner the caliber of Davis just means that much more opportunity. Traditionally the Colts are not a place we go for fantasy production at corner. This year could be an exception and may be the beginning of a new trend.
SS Clayton Geathers - Priority DB2 is healthy
FS Malik Hooker - 2017 value will depend on how he is used
SS T.J. Green - May open the season at strong safety
FS/CB Darius Butler - Marginal value
CB Vontae Davis - Marginal value
CB Rashaan Melvin - No value
CB Quincy Wilson - Rookie corner rule
CB Nate Hairston - Project player
The Titans gave up a lot of passing yards last season but their run defense was second in the league at 88.3 yards per game and their 40 sacks ranked sixth. The organization would like to get more pass rush contribution from the front line but all in all this is a solid group that performs their duties well. Defensive end Jurrell Casey is the only viable fantasy option of the group. He is a stout run defender who not only holds ground but gets off blocks quickly to make plays. In three seasons at the position he has averaged 36 solo tackles. Casey is also one of the league's better pass rushing 3-4 ends, averaging nearly 6 sacks a season in the scheme. In 2014 he checked in as the fantasy game's number fifteen lineman on the strength of a career best 45 tackles and 23 assists. Casey has slipped a little in both those columns over the past two seasons. He came in at twenty eight in 2015 and would probably have squeezed into the top thirty in 2016 had he not missed a game. With at least 31 tackles and five sacks in every season since 2012, there is no concern for Casey being a one year wonder. In most situations he is not a player we want to count on as an every week starter, but he can be used as a matchup based spot play or an excellent bye week option.
DaQuan Jones is the starter opposite Casey with Karl Klug as the third end and Angelo Blackson also seeing some time in the rotation. Jones is a wide body space eater who does a god job jamming things up but he does not make many plays that show up in the box scores. Klug has collected 20.5 sacks over his six years in the league including 4.5 in 2015, and is the biggest pass rush threat behind Casey. He suffered a torn Achilles late last season and will at least be limited early in camp. There is some concern Klug could miss time early in the regular season as well.
In 2016 Al Woods was the nose tackle with second round pick Austin Johnson as his backup. When the Titans let Woods walk in free agency the thought was Johnson would move into the lineup. Then Tennessee signed former Broncos starter Sylvester Williams. The two will likely rotate with Austin seeing more time than he did as a rookie. Austin is also a candidate to see some work at end until Klug is ready. The Titans are one of the teams that pull the nose tackle in many sub package situations so there is no threat any of these guys will be roster worthy beyond Casey.
This is the franchise that once gave us perennial top ten linebacker in Keith Bulluck. When he retired after the 2011 season Zach Brown took over as the middle backer and was a quality fantasy option for a couple years. Brown never turned in big tackle totals like Bulluck, but he made up for it with nineteen splash plays (sacks or turnovers) in two seasons. As the team made the switch to the 3-4 in 2014 they added free agent Wesley Woodyard to pair with Brown on the inside and drafted Avery Williamson in round five to play special teams and provide depth. Brown was lost to injury in week one that season and Williamson has been a starter ever since. Brown returned to the field in 2015 but was not the same player as he recovered from knee surgery. He was released after the season leaving Williamson and Woodyard as the inside backers. Williamson has done a serviceable job since taking over the lead role in 2015. He plays sound football rarely making mistakes either mental or physical but is simply not a great talent; a fact that shows strongly in the box scores. In 2016 Williamson's average of 9.3 points per game ranked forty seventh among linebackers, with only David Harris averaging less among three down inside backers. Because he missed no time Williamson's final rank was thirty seventh last year after finishing thirty first in 2015. If you are looking for a silver lining, his tackle totals have increased every year and the two turnovers from last season were a career best. Williamson is not without value. We can count on him as a quality LB4 or marginal third starter with limited upside. As long as the expectations are reasonable; which means 70-75 tackles, 30-35 assists, 2-3 sacks and a turnover or two, Williamson will not disappoint.
Wesley Woodyard is set to start next to Williamson again in 2017. Other than one solid season with Denver back in 2012, he has never amounted to more than a marginal NFL starter or held fantasy value in twelve team leagues. Last season Woodyard played about 60% of the defensive snaps, giving way to an extra safety in many situations.
Rookie fifth round pick Jayon Brown is a wildcard here who could push Woodyard to the bench or at least claim the nickel linebacker snaps. Brown took over as the starter for UCLA when Myles Jack was injured in 2015. In nine games that year he rose to the top of the team's tackle rankings then went on to lead the Bruins again as a senior. His skill set is that of a weak side linebacker which includes speed, strong cover skills and the range to run down plays all over the field. The big knock against him on scouting reports is a lack of size. One scout called him "very small, built like a strong safety". Hello Mr. Scout, have you not seen all the "strong safeties" working as starting linebackers in the NFL these days? Telvin Smith of the Jaguars is 218 pounds and made 99 solo tackles last year. Brown is 6'0" 231 pounds which is what we are seeing with a lot of starting weak side and weak inside linebackers. He was a two year starter in a division one program, putting up 121 tackles and 86 assists in 21 starts. Brown can also contribute in the big play columns. In his senior season he recorded 3 picks, 2.5 sacks and recovered a couple fumbles. Had he gone to a different team Brown would be much less interesting. With only Williamson and Woodyard ahead of him on the depth chart however, Brown becomes a sleeper worth keeping a close eye on.
Outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan accounted for a solid 19.5 sacks between them in 2016. Both players are excellent edge rushers who do a good job against the run and are set in stone as three down starters. The problem for fantasy owners is the same as will most 3-4 outside backers, a general lack of tackles. Morgan recorded a career high of 45 solo stops in 2014 but has not exceeded 35 in any other season. He can be counted on for at least 7 sacks every year with the potential to put up a dozen. Orakpo has never fallen short of 35 tackles in a non-injury season with a career best of 43 in 2013. He led the club with 10.5 sacks a year ago, with a final mark of 39-8-10.5. Both players have value in big play based leagues with Orakpo being a solid LB3 and Morgan supplying quality depth, but the lacking tackle totals severely limit their value in other formats.
Last year's second round pick Kevin Dodd was banged up much of his rookie season and saw little action before landing on IR. The coaching staff hopes he will eventually develop into a starter but for now he and seventh round rookie Josh Carraway will provide the depth on the outside.
ILB Avery Williamson - Marginal LB3 or quality depth
ILB Wesley Woodyard - No value
ILB Daren Bates - Special teams ace
ILB Jayon Brown - Deep sleeper worth watching
OLB Brian Orakpo - Quality third starter in big play based leagues
OLB Derrick Morgan - Depth in big play based leagues
OLB Kevin Dodd - No value at this time
OLB Josh Carraway - Project player with pass rush potential
You would not know it from last year's numbers but the Titans secondary has been a fantasy gold mine for a long time. This unit has produced a number of top ten defensive backs over the past decade, most recently in 2014 when it gave us two. That season Jason McCourty was number six with an average of 11.3 points per game, with Michael Griffin right on his heels at number eight averaging 11.2. Both players came back with one more solid season before leaving the team. In 2015 Griffin averaged 9.5 points a game and after an injury washed season McCourty averaged 9.4 last year. The point being there is quality production to be had here if someone is good enough to step up and claim it. In 2016 Tennessee's safety positions combined to produce 147 tackles, 42 assists, 2 sacks and 5 turnovers. Unfortunately the numbers were spread among four players because no one won a full time role.
When the Titans added Da'Norris Searcy in 2015 I and many others though he would be the next fantasy star. He had shown flashes of big production during his time in Buffalo but has been no more than a marginal part time player in two years with Tennessee. Last season's free agent fix was former Cardinals starter Rashad Johnson. He too failed to make an impact and is not even with the team this summer. The Titans looked to free agency once again this offseason. This time they landed a proven player with a long consistent history as an NFL starter and fantasy stud. Johnathan Cyprien is an in the box strong safety who does not make a lot of big plays but is a force against the run. If not for a couple of missed games in 2015 he would have at least 80 solo tackles in each of his four seasons with the Jaguars, and is coming off a career best of 97 in 2016. At 217 pounds Cyprien is like having an extra linebacker on the field. Coverage is not his strong point but he is more than adequate and should be in no danger of losing sub package snaps. If anything the Titans might move him up next to Avery Williamson at linebacker in those situations. Anytime a successful player changes teams or schemes there is always a risk it will ruin his value. I am not expecting 90+ tackles from Cyprien in his new environment but another season of 80+ seems likely. Add in his usual 2-3 splash plays and a few passes defended, and you get a quality low end DB1 or priority DB2.
Searcy is penciled in as the starting free safety entering camp but he may be pushed by last year's third round pick Kevin Byard for the job. Byard was a part time role player early in his rookie campaign but his playing time increased significantly starting in week eight. He is best suited to play strong safety so his role in 2017 may be as a sub package safety allowing Cyprien to line up at linebacker. Byard was 42-12-1 on roughly 60% of the defensive snaps last season. If he can get on the field full time he will probably have some value even if it is at free safety.
When a corner makes a lot of tackles it is sometimes hard to determine if it is the player, the situation, or a combination of the two. From 2011 through 2016 Jason McCourty averaged 71 tackles, 4 turnovers and 13 passes defended per every sixteen games played with the Titans. While it was too long ago to really matter, before McCourty, Alteraun Verner also had a couple of big years there. After leaving Tennessee Verner had one decent season in Tampa Bay but basically faded into mediocrity. We have not yet seen McCourty's production with a different team but it is easy to see how the signs point to one of the Titans corners being highly productive going forward. Logan Ryan is expected to be the team's number one corner in 2017. He comes to the team after two years as a productive starter for the Patriots. Ryan followed a solid 2015 campaign with a career best 74 tackles for New England last year. He has shown a knack for the big play since coming into the league as well. In four seasons as a pro he has 16 takeaways, 3 sacks and 40 passes defended. This is a player with history of quality production coming to a position with a history of quality production. I like the chances of Ryan continuing the Tennessee tradition and finishing among the top fifteen corners this year.
The Titans will host an open competition at the other corner position with veteran Brice McCain as the early front runner. McCain spent his first five seasons as a sub package defender for the Texans and has been a journeyman, playing for three other teams, since leaving Houston in 2014. He may keep the seat warm for a while but is not the long term answer for Tennessee. Second year pro Leshaun Sims and free agent addition Demontre Hurst will be in the mix at the position but the organization expects rookie first round pick Adoree Jackson to eventually rise to the top of the depth chart. On draft day Mike Mayock called Jackson a developmental player. While that may be true, players taken in round one are always expected to develop quickly and are often thrown into the fire to speed up the process. As a junior at USC last year Jackson accounted for 55 combined tackles, 7 turnovers (5 on picks), and 11 passes defended. The Titans are going to want his playmaking ability on the field so he should at least be the slot corner when the season opens. Jackson's fantasy value has another dimension as well, at least if your scoring allows special teams and offensive production to count for defenders. He was arguably the best returner in this year's draft class with 8 touchdowns over his college career. He even had 39 interceptions and 6 offensive scores as a Trojan. The coaching staff wants Jackson to concentrate on defense for now but he could eventually see time at receiver.
SS Jonathan Cyprien - Low end DB1 or priority DB2
FS Da'Norris Searcy - Marginal value at best
FS Kevin Byard - Sleeper with DB3 potential
FS Brandon Trawick - Special teams contributor
CB Logan Ryan - Solid CB2 with top ten upside
CB Adoree Jackson - Rookie corner rule may be in play
CB Leshaun Sims - Marginal value at best
CB Brice McCain - Marginal value
CB Demontre Hurst - No value
Anyone that does not know about J.J. Watt has no business playing fantasy football; especially in an IDP league. There may be a few players closing the gap a little but when healthy Watt is the clear choice as the number one defender to target. From 2012 through 2015 he was on a tier above the IDP elite all by himself. He may be there again as the only issue to consider here are injuries. In 2015 Watt played through a litany of nagging issues including hand, groin, abdominal and back problems. Last season the back issue got bad enough to require surgery that shut him down for the year. There was even a second surgery in September. Everything coming out of the Texans camp about Watt has so far been positive. He has recovered from the surgeries and has been a full participant in offseason activities. Barring a setback he should be the same Watt we saw a couple of years ago. All that sounds good but experience tells me back injuries are hard to completely get over on a permanent basis. He is still the top IDP on my board but I am less likely to step up and invest the early round pick it would take to get him until I see a full year of service.
The Texans lost the best defensive player in football three weeks into last season but you would not have known it by watching them. At the end of the year they were second against the pass, number twelve versus the run and eleventh in points allowed. The breakout season by Jadeveon Clowney was a major part of that success. He missed most of his rookie campaign in 2014 due to a knee injury and had microfracture surgery in December of that year. Clowney played in 2015 but was limited while working his way back to full health. In 2016 we got to see what a healthy Clowney could do. His final stat line read 40-12-6 with a turnover and a couple of batted passes in fourteen games, but his impact on the field is not justified by those numbers. A healthy Watt will demand a lot of attention which will take some pressure off Clowney and likely lead to bigger production across the board. Indeed the Texans may be the first 3-4 team in NFL history to have a pair of defensive ends reach 50 solo tackles and double digit sacks in the same season. The question for fantasy owners is not Clowney's stats but rather his position. He started his career in Houston as an outside linebacker but Watt's injury basically forced the coaching staff to play Clowney at end over much of last season. The Texans and most fantasy management systems are still considering him a defensive end heading into 2017. This is actually an accurate designation considering he is expected to line up opposite Watt most of the time. However defensive coordinator Mike Vrable plans to take a page out of Bill Belichick's book and move Clowney around a lot. He could be a 3-4 end on one snap and a 4-3 strong side linebacker on the next according to Vrable who knows all about such a role having played it under Belichick. Make sure you know what Clowney's designation will be. As a lineman he has top ten written all over him. As an outside linebacker Clowney's value will be limited considerably in balanced or tackle heavy leagues.
With Clowney expected to move around a lot, third year pro Christian Covington is probably going to see a fair amount of action. Neither he nor nose tackle D.J. Reader are likely to be on the field enough to make a fantasy impact though. Covington is a good fit as a base down run defender but has little upside as a pass rusher. With Vince Wilfork gone, Reader is set to take over the starting job at nose tackle. The Texan are among those teams that often pull the nose tackle in sub packages so they can leave four linebackers on the field. When they do leave three linemen on the field for passing downs, rookie Carlos Watkins could be the guy at nose tackle. He is an active and athletic interior lineman who had 10.5 sacks as a senior at Clemson.
DE J.J. Watt - Number one defender in fantasy football if he can stay healthy
DE/OLB Jadeveon Clowney - Rising star with big upside
DE Christian Covington - No value
DE Brandon Dunn - No value
DE Joel Heath - No value
NT D.J. Reader - Minimal value at best
NT Carlos Watkins - Part time player as a rookie
There is a changing of the guard in the works at Houston's inside linebacker position. In his second season Benardrick McKinney took over as the three down backer and leader of the Texans defense. With this year's selection of Zach Cunningham in the second round, the writing is on the wall for long time starter Brian Cushing. Cushing had a great rookie season that had everyone thinking he would be a perennial pro bowl candidate and long time fantasy stud. Unfortunately he was not able to stay healthy long enough to accomplish much. He missed four games in his second season but even when he was on the field Cushing's production was down. He had a decent 2011 production wise. Since then he has played a full slate of games once (2015) and even then his on field presence was unimpressive at best. This could be Cushing's last year as a starter and possibly even his last year with the team if Cunningham works out as well as McKinney has. There is even a chance Cunningham claims the starting role as a rookie. Regardless how it works out, Cushing is going to be no more than a two down player with no fantasy value in 2017.
With 77 tackles, 51 assists and 5 sacks McKinney quietly slipped into the top twenty in 2016. He was the first Texans linebacker to do so since 2009. At 260 pounds he is the biggest inside linebacker in the league. As we might expect, McKinney is a beast versus the run. While his five sacks are evidence of his effectiveness on the blitz, they are also a product of his coverage abilities. It is common for defensive coordinators to mask coverage limitations by having the player rush. This is where my only concern about McKinney comes in. In two years as a pro including one as a three down starter, he has not created a turnover and has broken up 2 passes. I can easily see him continuing to put up strong tackle totals with a handful of sacks each year so long as he continues in the three down role, but he will never take the next step as a fantasy star until/unless he can start producing some turnovers. Heading into 2017 I see McKinney as a solid LB2 but I am not sure there is much upside beyond that.
The other thing that creates some concern for McKinney's long term value is the presence of both Cunningham and free addition Sio Moore; both of whom excel in coverage. Pairing Cunningham with McKinney on the inside will give the Texans a scary 1-2 punch. With McKinney's size, pass rush prowess and ability to stymie blockers he is the perfect strong inside backer while Cunningham's instincts, quickness and knack for flowing through traffic make him a great fit at the weak inside position. The first thing to catch my eye when reading Cunningham's scouting report was the comparison to Alec Ogletree. The second thing that grabbed my attention was his college production. As a two year starter at Vanderbilt Cunningham produced 130 solo stops with 83 assists and 6 sacks. He forced 6 fumbles and recovered seven. Despite his speed, athleticism and cover skills, Cunningham never intercepted a pass for the Commodores. Still there is no questioning his big play production. The Texans let McKinney get a year under his belt before making him a starter. With Cushing and Moore in the equation they may do the same with Cunningham. Once his chance comes however, Cunningham may surpass McKinney in box score production.
Sio Moore is a strange and unique issue. When he gets on the field all the guy does is produce, yet no one keeps him around for long. Moore started ten games for the Raiders in 2014, averaging nearly 7 tackles and 2 assists while adding 3 sacks and a pair of turnovers. At the end of the season he was cut. He was with the Colts in 2015 but battled injuries most of the season and played little. Moore opened 2016 as a starter in Indianapolis going 25-5-0 in four games before mysteriously being cut by the linebacker needy team. After a cup of coffee in Kansas City he was picked up by Arizona where Moore was 24-10-0 with 2 forced fumbles over the final four games. He was again released at the end of the season. When given the opportunity Moore is productive, excels in coverage and makes big plays. There has to be more to the story than what we see on the field. There does not seem to be room for Moore as a long term fit in Houston but he could see some action this year as an insurance policy behind Cushing if Cunningham is not ready to take over.
The Texans are gushing with talent up front and at the inside linebacker positions but they have some questions at outside backer; especially if Clowney is not going to be there every down. In Whitney Mercilus Houston has a good dependable player on one side. He is not among the league's elite 3-4 outside backers but is a strong edge setter versus the run and will make a healthy contribution as a pass rusher. Mercilus had a career best of 11.5 sacks in 2015 while averaging just over 6 in his other four seasons as a pro. With both Watt and Clowney for offenses to deal with, we could see a surge in sack production from Mercilus in 2017. He may even reach 40 solo tackles for the first time. Like most outside backers in similar schemes, Mercilus will have fantasy value only for owners in big play based leagues. In most years he has been a decent LB3 in those leagues. I think his sack total will get a boost this year and like his chances of reaching double digits for the second time in three seasons.
John Simon was the other starting OLB last season but has moved on to the division rival Colts. The Texans made no significant additions at outside linebacker this offseason, leaving them with a collection of inexperienced young players and rookie free agents to choose from. Brennan Scarlett, Tony Washington and Eric Lee are all former undrafted free agents in their second or third years. Scarlett saw some rotational time as a rookie last season but spent much of the year sidelined by a hamstring injury. He is the early favorite to win the starting job but does not project to hold much fantasy value. That said with all the talent around him, Scarlett will have plenty of opportunity against single blocking. For most owners he is not worth investing a draft pick or roster spot at this point, but he is worth keeping an eye on in the preseason.
ILB Benardrick McKinney - Quality LB2
ILB Zach Cunningham - 2017 value to be determined but big long term potential
ILB Sio Moore - Injury sleeper
ILB Brian Cushing - No value
OLB Whitney Mercilus - LB3 in big play based leagues
OLB Brennan Scarlett - Deep sleeper for big play owners
OLB Tony Washington - No value
OLB Eric Lee - No value
The Texans have through a lot of starting safeties in their fourteen year history but none of them have provided a sniff of fantasy value. Some of that can be blamed on the team's consistently strong play in the front seven and some can be put off on the various defensive coordinators such as Vic Fangio, Wade Phillips and most recently Romeo Crennel. Fantasy friendly safeties have been a rarity under any of these coaches. Ultimately though, most of it comes down to the fact Houston has never made a commitment to having a great player at safety. In the fourteen year history of the team they have drafted one safety earlier than round five. That was D.J. Swearinger who was taken in round two in 2013. Swearinger produced a best of 52 solo tackles in his two season stint before washing out and becoming a journeyman.
The trend continues in 2017 with veteran Eddie Pleasant in line to start at strong safety and a competition at free safety between Andre Hal, Corey Moore and K.J. Dillon. The team signed Pleasant as an undrafted free agent in 2012. Having earned his keep on special teams for the past five seasons, he has one career start and 66 career tackles on defense. The Texans are not a team that likes to put a safety in the box regularly and with the quality of players in front of him, Pleasant will be hard pressed to exceed 50 tackles even if he plays every snap. Heck, Quintin Demps fell short of 40 from the position in each of the past two seasons. The competition at free safety could be heated but it carries no fantasy relevance.
While the Texans have gotten by with horribly neglecting the safety positions over the years, they have put an emphasis on corners. Kareem Jackson (2010) and Kevin Johnson (2015) are both former first round selections by the team while Johnathan Joseph was a first round pick by Cincinnati and collected a big payday from the Texans in free agency. This trio along with free agent defector A.J. Bouye made the Texans pass defense number two in the league last season, but their fantasy relevance is marginal. Joseph put up big numbers for a corner in 2014 going 70-5-0 with 5 turnovers, 11 passes defended and a score. Unfortunately that has been a career outlier for him. His next best totals in five seasons with Houston is 53-5-0 with 2 picks and 11 passes broken up. Jackson has consistently put up 50+ tackles over the past four seasons but his splash play totals are wanting and he rarely reached double digit pass breakups. With Bouye moving on Johnson is set to have a bigger role in 2017. He looked good on the field as a rookie in 2015 but missed most of last year with injury. In twenty two games, mostly as a slot corner, Johnson has 61 career tackles, 1 interception and 12 passes defended. These three are all excellent NFL corners but there is no reason to expect enough box score production for any of them to me more than marginal bye week depth in leagues starting two corners.
SS Eddie Pleasant - No value
FS Andre Hal - No value
FS Corey Moore - No value
SS Treston Decoud - Special teams
CB Johnathan Joseph - Marginal value at best
CB Kareem Jackson - Marginal value
CB Kevin Johnson - Marginal value with a little upside potential
CB Denzel Rice - No value
Statistics rarely tell the whole story but when it comes to the Jaguars they provide a pretty good synopsis. In 2017 Jacksonville was sixth against the run at 3.8 yards per attempt, second versus the pass at 6.6 yards per attempt, and sixth in yards per game. On the other end of the spectrum only seven teams allowed more points per game, no one collected fewer interceptions while two teams had fewer total turnovers, and they were nineteenth in sacks. In other words the offense gave opponents too many short field opportunities while the defense failed to make nearly enough big plays. The numbers also tell us this unit is close to being pretty good.
The Jaguars have made some major investments on the defensive side over the past three off seasons with no group getting more attention than the front four. They started by taking Donte Fowler Jr. third overall in 2015 and put the icing on the cake by luring free agent diamond Calais Campbell to town this spring. On paper this duo has the potential to be one of the best three down defensive end tandems in the league, but that is far from a sure thing.
Fowler never played a snap as a rookie after suffering a torn ACL early in camp. He was back in action for the 2016 season but while working the knee back to 100%, he battled a nagging shoulder injury all year along; the end result being a modest stat line of 23-9-4 with five batted passes. Fowler is healthy entering year three but may have found yet another way to disrupt his career as recent reports of a misdemeanor arrest for assault could invoke some league discipline. Apparently he blew up at a man who criticized his driving. Subsequent reports revealed Fowler has accumulated more than ten traffic tickets since 2015. At this point there are some things we know about Fowler and some things we do not know. We know he is not a good driver. We know he has some anger issues as this is not the first incident where that has shown up. We know he is an exceptionally talented football player that had 14.5 career sacks and 7 takeaways in three years at Florida. What we do not know is if he will self destruct before he can put it all together and be a great pro.
Since it is his first serious off field offense, any discipline by the league is unlikely to have a big impact on Fowler's fantasy value. He would probably be fined and at most miss a game or two. At this point few fantasy owners should be counting on Fowler as an every week starter anyway. The focus here for IDP owners is on his health, which all seems to be good. With a bad shoulder and a knee recovering from major surgery, he was able to produce 23 tackles and 4 sacks on 570 snaps in 2016. A healthy Fowler should see around plays as a three down end and has the potential to be a 40 tackle and double digit sack guy. Target him as a priority DL3 or a risk reward DL2 in a pinch, and keep your fingers crossed.
For the past several years Calais Campbell has been the 3-4 end by which all other 3-4 ends are measured. From 2011 to 2015 he put up at least 46 solo tackles every season while averaging almost 7.5 sacks over six years in the scheme. At 6'8" and 300 pounds, he was the perfect fit in that scheme and is the only defensive lineman to finish in the top twelve every year since 2011. Indeed many people fail to remember Campbell was in Arizona for three seasons before Ray Horton brought the 3-4 to town. In two years as a starting 4-3 end Campbell averaged about 42-13-6. The point here being, while he is an outstanding player that can excel in either scheme, Campbell is not your typical 4-3 edge rusher. Where many of those player win with a quick twitch up field burst to get around blockers, Campbell will use power, technique and a variety of moves to go through them. Anyone that thinks moving to a 4-3 is going to make Campbell a double digit sack guy is probably mistaken. What he will do is manhandle blockers at the point of attack and make a lot of tackles in the run game, while providing a solid pass rush element that will contribute to the sack totals. Outstanding consistency are also a big plus when it comes to ranking Campbell; when all the numbers are in we will probably see little difference from recent years. He is not on the elite tier of fantasy linemen but may well be the top player on tier two.
Depth is the thing that often makes the difference between good NFL defenses and great ones. If everything goes according to plan both Fowler and Campbell will play around 750-800 snaps. That leaves roughly 500 for the rest of the defensive ends. While that is not enough to give anyone fantasy value, it is certainly enough to make a contribution on the field. When the Jaguars drafted Yannick Ngakoue in the third round last year they envisioned him as a third down rush specialist. Circumstances forced him onto the field a lot more than the original plan. Ngakoue ended up playing almost 70% of the defensive snaps and leading the team with 8 sacks. He is that quick twitch, up field burst, speed rusher that Campbell is not, but at 252 pounds Ngakoue struggles to set the edge versus the run. He will see a lot of action as a sup package rusher and may allow the coaching staff to shift Fowler or Campbell inside once in a while to get the best rushers on the field together.
The team also added a high potential developmental player in third round pick Dwayne Smoot. His production at Illinois was not particularly eye catching (15.5 sacks in four years) and Smoot will need to improve as a point of attach defender, but he has the physical traits and motor to be a part time contributor as a rookie.
Tackle Malik Jackson was the Jaguars free agent gem last year. After helping Denver win a Super Bowl he cashed in with a big free agent deal. Unlike many players who capitalize on a championship season then proceed to flop, Jackson gave the team everything they paid for. He started a little slowly but came on strong over the second half of 2016. In the final eight games Jackson recorded 17 solo tackles, 5.5 sacks and knocked down 3 passes. With nose tackle Arby Jones on one side eating up double teams, and Calais Campbell on the other side eating up everything, Jackson could be in for a 40 tackle, 8 sack season. He was a top ten interior lineman last year and may slide into the top five in 2017.
In Sheldon Day and Michael Bennett the Jaguars have a pair of good young tackles developing behind the starters. With Roy Miller and Sen'Derrick Marks both gone, the team will be counting on Day and Bennett to contribute in a spot/rotational role. Charles Stefan will backup Jones at nose tackle.
DE Calais Campbell - Quality DL1
DE Donte Fowler Jr. - Big upside DL3 target
DE Yannick Ngakoue - Injury sleeper with marginal potential
DE Dwayne Smoot - Developmental prospect
DE Chris Smith - No value
DT Malik Jackson - Quality DT1 with top five potential
DT Michael Bennett - Injury sleeper at best
DT Sheldon Day - Injury sleeper
DT Arby Jones - No value
DT Charles Stefan - No value
Dynasty owners sitting on Paul Posluszny were disappointed by the news of his move to strong side linebacker. With Myles Jack waiting in the wings we all knew it was coming though. As one of those Posluszny owners I was holding out hope they would release or trade the veteran. There are certainly some teams out there that could use him. With 97 solo tackles in 2016 the soon to be 33 year old proved he can still play; which is undoubtedly why the organization wants to keep him around. Having too many good linebackers is a problem Jacksonville has never had before. The other factor Posluszny can still contribute is leadership. From a fantasy perspective the move to a two down role on the strong side will all but ruin his value. For those still sitting on him my advice is to hold on as long as possible before making the cut. An injury can happen at any time and there is still time for a trade. Posluszny is a class act and a team player but you know he would relish an opportunity to keep playing middle linebacker somewhere.
Myles Jack is set to be the new fantasy stud in Jacksonville. He is two years removed from the knee injury that ended his final season at UCLA and has a year of NFL experience under his belt, though he played sparingly last year. It would be easy to assume Jack will pick up right where Posluszny left off in the tackle columns while adding a handful of big plays; but we all know what happens when you assume. Jack is the prototypical 4-3 middle linebacker. He is big at 6'1" 247 pounds, athletic, fast and mean. There was in interesting article last spring by Pete Prisco of CBS sports, calling Jack a "faster version of Ray Lewis". We will have to see about that comparison but Prisco makes some good points in the article. Jack is certainly bigger, faster and more athletic than Posluszny who is simply a tough, hardnosed football player. If Jack is that too, look out fantasy world, there is a new sheriff in town. There is no real body of work for us to look at. Jack was injured three games into his junior season with the Bruins. He did not play enough last year for us to get a feel and when he did play Jack worked on the strong side. On the other hand he is taking over a position that has been fantasy gold for most of the past decade. I am approaching Jack like a high potential rookie going to a great situation. Most owners will hesitate to gamble on him as an LB1 because he is unproven. While I cannot argue with that, I fully expect a top twelve finish.
Weak side linebacker Telvin Smith is the one second level starter in Jacksonville that will see nothing change in 2017. Smith is an interesting player; at 6'3" 218 pounds he is smaller than several safeties yet he was tied with Alec Ogletree and Tahir Whitehead for the second most tackles in the league last year at 99. He is fast, reacts quickly, has a knack for avoiding blockers while flowing to the ball, and rarely misses a tackle. It would be nice to get a few more big plays out of Smith who has averaged slightly over 3 takeaways over three seasons as a starter, but it is hard to argue about the 197 tackles he has produced in the last two years. There are some who believe the presence of Jack at middle linebacker will have a big effect on Smith's production. I would have to ask those people if they realize Posluszny had 199 tackles over the last two seasons and safety Johnathan Cyprien had 176. It sure looks like there is plenty to go around for the top three guys. Smith average 12.2 points per game and was a top ten linebacker in 2016. I expect his numbers to slip a little just because the Jaguars should be a better team, but still see him as a 90 tackle guy and a priority LB2 target.
Lack of depth at linebacker has been a problem for Jacksonville in years past. It should not be an issue in 2017. Audie Cole and Josh McNary are solid veterans with some starting experience. Cole is not the most graceful of players but is a big strong run stuffer who did a good job in a relief role for the Vikings a few years back. McNary made some starts on the weak side for the Colts in 2014 and proved to be a serviceable fill in. The most interesting addition to Jacksonville's depth however, is rookie fifth round pick Blair Brown. Brown was first team All-MAC as a senior at Ohio University where he recorded 128 combined tackles and 4.5 sacks in 2016. He is not particularly fast or athletic and at 5'11", Brown is short by NFL standards. While he does not win any support with measurable traits, Brown's production speaks volumes about him as a football player. He is instinctive, physical and smart with an impressive ability to recognize and react before blockers can lock him up. One scouting report called Brown a great technician and compared him to former Colts starter Gary Brackett. There is no room on the field for Brown at this point but if he gets a shot somewhere down the road he might prove to be a productive player for us.
SLB/MLB Paul Posluszny - Former stud relegated to fantasy purgatory as a 2 down SLB
WLB Telvin Smith - Quality LB2
MLB Myles Jack - Unproven but all signs point to big production
MLB Blair Brown - Dynasty/injury sleeper with upside
MLB Audie Cole - No value at this time
WLB Hayes Pullard - Special teams contributor
OLB Josh McNary - No value
In twenty five years of IDP fantasy football I do not recall any team with three players in excess of 95 solo tackles in the same season; at least not before the Jaguars of 2016. Last year Johnathan Cyprien joined Posluszny and Smith in that exclusive club with a mark of 97-31-1. Most of the time when team's let players like Cyprien walk in free agency it is about money. They let the older, more expensive players move on and go with a younger cheaper version. In this case the Jaguars let the 26 year old sign elsewhere at a little more than half what they paid 29 year old Barry Church to lure him away from Dallas. This is a strange move considering the two are virtually the same player on the field. Both are big hitting in the box safeties that make a lot of tackles while providing a limited contribution in the big play department. Church may be a slight improvement on the coverage side but probably not three million plus dollars worth of improvement. While the personnel decision is a head scratcher, the results should remain about the same for IDP owners. In 2013 Church exploded for 107 solo stops and was the fantasy game's top defensive back. In the three seasons since he has continued to be a quality option, consistently putting up tackles totals in the high 70s with 2-3 splash plays. Last season Church was on pace to finish 81-32-0 and had 3 turnovers in twelve games. With the anticipated improvement of the Jaguars as a team and especially their front seven defensively, Church may not have quite the volume of opportunity Cyprien had last year, but there is no reason to expect less than 80 tackles and his usual big play presence. Church should continue to be a quality DB1 for us.
If the Jaguars were going to spend eight million dollars on a safety they should have brought in a playmaker at free safety. The organization though they had done that heading into last year with the addition of Teshaun Gipson. As a three year starter for the Browns Gipson had 13 interceptions and 21 passes defended between 2013 and 2015. Unfortunately he left all that production in Cleveland when he moved. With 1 pick and 2 passes defended over a full sixteen games as Jacksonville's starter, Gipson was a major disappointment in 2016. It would cost over eight million in dead money to move on from him after just one season, so the cap situation basically forces the organization to give him another shot. That said it does not mean they have to keep Gipson in the starting lineup. Unless he start making some plays the coaching staff may take a look at 2015 fourth round pick James Sample or third year man Peyton Thompson. Sample has missed most of his two seasons as a pro due to a chronic shoulder problem while Thompson is a former undrafted free agent that has earned his pay on special teams.
At some point we have to start pointing fingers at the scheme for Jacksonville's lack of interceptions. It is certainly not from a lack of investment in talent. The Jaguars secondary as a unit accounted for 3 interceptions in 2016 with fifth overall pick Jalen Ramsey making two of them in December. When it comes to Ramsey there is good reason for optimism both on the field and in the box scores. The former Florida State star has an impressive combination of size, speed and athleticism. At 6'2" 211 pounds he can match up with any receiver one on one and hold his own against the best. It is too early to say but we may well be talking about Ramsey as one of the league's elite shutdown corners over the next few years. In the box scores his rookie numbers of 55-10-0 with a pair of picks and 14 passes defended are more than respectable at a glance; but the way Ramsey finished the season was nothing short of impressive. His tackle totals stayed mostly consistent throughout the season while Ramsey's final five games produced 13 passes defended, both interceptions, a forced fumble and a score. Maybe the December breakout was a fluke but more likely it was a case of him reaching a comfort zone and starting to play more aggressively. If Ramsey follows the normal path of a young corner his tackle total will never be higher but his big play production and pass breakups will jump over the next couple seasons. I like his chances of becoming at least a quality CB2 in 2017.
Free agent addition A.J. Bouye steps right in as the number two corner. Bouye proved himself as a big part of the Texans secondary over the past three years and became available only because Houston could not keep everyone. With Ramsey entering his second year and the 25 year old Bouye entering year five as a pro, the Jaguars have a fine young tandem of cover men to anchor their secondary. Bouye has been on the cusp of fantasy relevance in two of the past three seasons. His best totals coming in 2014 at 52-7-0 with 5 turnovers and 10 passes defended. In 2016 he finished 48-15-1 with an interception and 16 passes defended. As a full time starter opposite a rising star, Bouye could be a CB2 candidate in 2017.
Aaron Colvin and Josh Johnson will compete to fill out the rest of the pecking order at corner. Colvin served as the slot corner for a few games last year before an injury shut him down. The 2014 fourth round pick is probably the favorite for that job this year.
SS Barry Church - Solid DB1
FS Teshaun Gipson - No value
SS James Sample - Deep sleeper with limited upside
FS Peyton Thompson - Special teams contributor
CB Jalen Ramsey - CB2 with top 12 upside
CB A.J. Bouye - Sleeper with CB2 potential
CB Aaron Colvin - Injury sleeper at best
CB Josh Johnson - No value at this time
That does it for this offering. Next up the NFC South