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Eyes of the Guru Preseason, Part 6: NFC South

An overview of defenses in the NFC South with an emphasis on individual defensive players and their fantasy value.

Atlanta Falcons

Defensive Linemen

Soon as Dan Quinn took over as head coach the Falcons began transforming their long neglected defense into a near mirror image of the one Quinn coached in Seattle. The team's first pick under Quinn in 2015 was pass rushing outside linebacker Vic Beasley. They also landed corner Jalen Collins and tackle Grady Jarrett in that draft. In year two of the Quinn regime it was safety Keanu Neal in the first round followed by middle linebacker Deion Jones and weak side backer De'Vondre Campbell. All six of these players were starters for the Falcons in 2016. This spring Atlanta added another chess piece in first round selection Takkarist McKinley at defensive end. With the exception of Jarrett who is a big body that anchors the run defense, what all these players have in common is speed, athleticism and tenacity. In three seasons the Falcons defense has gone from an underachieving patchwork of late round picks and free agent veterans, to a highly talented unit full of fast young athletes.

Grady Jarrett was the most fantasy productive of Atlanta's front four last season. His totals of 20-27-4 are not attention grabbers but they were enough to land Jarrett among the top twenty interior linemen. He is an aggressive big man with a combination of power and wiggle that give centers and guards problems. Jarrett just turned 24 in April so his best football is probably yet to come. His production could get a big boost from the presence of free agent addition Dontari Poe. Poe is a 346 pound space eater that will likely be plugged in at nose tackle, allowing Jarrett to slide into the 3-technique role, making him a solid DT2 target with a little upside in 2017.

Dontari Poe had a couple of strong fantasy seasons with the Chiefs in 2013 and 2014 but his numbers fell of sharply over the past two years. There is at least some chance he could rebound with his new team but I would not count on it. The one issue that continues to come up with defensive linemen under Quinn is a lack of opportunity. Just as when he was with the Seahawks, the Falcons shuffle a lot of players through the front four to keep everyone fresh. The approach seems to work great on the field but it does fantasy owners no favors. With an average of 39 snaps per game, Jarrett played the most of any Atlanta interior lineman in 2016 while Adrian Clayborn saw the most action among defensive ends at 45 plays per game. What we may end up seeing is a Poe and Jarrett rotation at nose tackle while Ra'Shede Hageman and Courtney Upshaw take turns as the 3-technique tackles. Regardless how they approach it, Jarrett likely remains our best/only viable fantasy option on the inside.

Takkarist McKinley is a talented pass rusher but he may not start as a rookie, indeed he may never be a three down end, but he should have a vital sub package role right from the start. He is somewhat raw in terms of technique as a pass rusher and at 250 pounds he is a little small to hold up as a point of attack or edge defender versus the run. No one questions his toughness, work ethic or effort so McKinley could eventually overcome those issues. One good sign is a highly productive senior year at UCLA which included 50 solo tackles, 10 sacks, 6 batted passes and 4 turnovers on fumbles. I have no concern with McKinley when it comes to sack potential; even as a rookie he could have good numbers in that area. The reason I am avoiding him is the probable lack of matching tackle production. Between the limitations of his current skill set and the rotation of four or five players at the position, McKinley will be hard pressed to record more than 25 tackles this year. He is a player I will continue to keep a close eye on when the preseason starts but at this point I see him as no more than a taxi squad stash for dynasty owners in 2017.

Adrian Clayborn has proven his ability to be a productive three down end. What he has not proven is an ability to stay healthy. As a rookie with Tampa Bay in 2011 he finished 27-13-7.5 with 3 forced fumbles. Clayborn's second season was washed out by injury. In 2013 he was 44-20-6 with a pair of forced fumbles for the Buccaneers. In 2015 he played one game before landing on IR. Clayborn made it through a full slate of games as part of the Falcons rotation in 2015 but he played slightly under half the defensive snaps; the result being 14 tackles and 3 sacks. Last season his workload was increased substantially and Clayborn was looking great. He was on a roll over a six game stretch starting in week four, going 15-1-4.5. In week ten Clayborn suffered a knee sprain that basically ended his regular season. He returned for the playoffs only to suffer a torn biceps in the second round. If he can manage to stay healthy and continues to play around forty five snaps a game, Clayborn could be a fantasy factor as a matchup based second starter or quality depth with upside. He will go undrafted in most leagues so we can afford to pass on draft day and pick him up if he looks good in September.

Brooks Reed, Jack Crawford and Derrick Shelby complete the rotation at end. Crawford is the best run defender of the trio and is likely to earn the starting spot opposite Clayborn. As part of the rotation in Dallas over the past two seasons Crawford recorded 27 tackles and 7 sacks on roughly one full season's worth of plays. Reed has been a big disappointment since coming over from Houston in 2015. He is penciled in as a starter entering camp but will have a tough time holding off Crawford. Shelby was a 2016 free agent addition that was injured before getting to show much. He was fairly productive as a nickel package rush specialist for the Dolphins in 2014 and 2015. Shelby has also been known to play some tackle in sub packages and could see time in that role this season. Unless the number of bodies rotating is reduced by injury, none of these guys are likely to get enough playing time to make much box score impact.

DE Adrian Clayborn - Injury risk with DL2 potential when healthy
DE Brooks Reed - No value
DE Jack Crawford - Marginal value
DE Takkarist McKinley - Dynasty target with high sack potential
DE Derrick Shelby - No value
DT Ra'Shede Hageman - Marginal value at best
DT Grady Jarrett - Potential DT2
DT Dontari Poe - Marginal value at this point
DT Courtney Upshaw - No value


Heading into last season the Falcons wanted to get faster and more athletic at the linebacker positions. They had already taken the first step by adding Vic Beasley the year before; they finished the project with Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell. Jones was targeted as the Falcons version of Bobby Wagner. With excellent speed, athleticism and a knack for the big play, the only real difference between the two is size. Wagner checks in at around 245 pounds while Jones played his rookie season closer to 222. Jones is only twenty two years old and will undoubtedly add a few pounds of muscle as he matures into the role. When it comes to play and production it is already difficult to tell the two apart without the uniforms. Jones missed week five and did not play full time in a few other games. In all he participated in about 85% of Atlanta's defensive plays but still managed to finish number six among linebackers with an average of 13.7 points per game. In 2017 we can count on him seeing action on 95% or more of the snaps. Jones is not the proverbial tackling machine. Instead his 75-33-0 was supplemented by 4 turnovers, 11 passes defended and a pair of scores. We obviously cannot count on touchdowns to boost his value every year but another hundred or so snaps should go a long way toward replacing those points. Jones is set to be the centerpiece of the Falcons defense for the next decade. I expect we will see several top ten finishes from him over than time.

De'Vondre Campbell was far less impressive as a rookie but there is reason for optimism. He is working in the K.J. Wright role at weak side linebacker which has historically been slightly less productive but still provides plenty of opportunity. A glance at Campbell's rookie numbers will have a lot of owners moving right past him on draft day. If we take a closer look, many of us may decide to pick him up late. Campbell is bigger than Jones while being faster than any linebacker on the roster before the duo arrived. The Falcons opened last season with both rookies as starters. Campbell was injured late in the week one contest, making his next start in week six. Both Jones and Campbell had their share of growing pains and were in and out of the lineup for a few weeks. While Jones settled into a more regular three down role, Campbell spent much of the year as a part time option. By the end of the season Campbell had played close to every down in only three games. In those three contests he totaled 18-6-0 with a forced fumble, and interception, 4 passes defended and an average of almost 15.5 fantasy points. On the year Campbell was 35-13-0 with 2 turnovers and 7 passes defended on 547 plays. If we do the math to figure Campbell's points per snap and average it over the same number of plays Jones had (898), Campbell comes in at 12.3 fantasy points per game, which would have made him a top fifteen linebacker last year. The point being Campbell has the potential to be a solid LB3 or better if he has a full time role in his second season. The team jettisoned nearly all the veteran linebackers at the end of 2016 leaving Campbell without a lot of competition. The only way he could seemingly lose snaps this year is if the coaching staff elects to play converted safety Kemal Ishmael as a nickel linebacker. In short Campbell gives us plenty of potential surrounded by some uncertainty. The good news is he can be picked up cheap in the waning rounds of most drafts. Stick him on your roster as an LB5 or even LB6 but do not be shocked if he becomes your third starter before long.

Jones and Campbell are still working to be good as Wagner and Wright but Vic Beasley is already proving to be better than the original. He is what Dan Quinn envisioned Bruce Irvin to be for the Seahawks. Beasley is the strong side linebacker in the base defense but will move to end in many sub package situations. He is an outstanding talent and one of the league's premier outside pass rushers. Unfortunately the nature of his role is one that will seriously limit tackle opportunity and subsequently his fantasy value. In 2016 he finished with 15.5 sacks, 7 turnovers and a score, but Beasley managed 32 solo and 7 assists in the tackle columns. Such production makes him a top shelf LB1 in big play based leagues but limits his value to depth at best in balanced formats.

The Falcons picked up Duke Riley in round three this year. He is a developmental weak side backer defensively but excelled as a special teams ace at LSU. Scouts were impressed by how much Riley improved in his final college season but ultimately tagged him as an over achiever with an average skill set. What that usually means is a really good football player with average measurable traits. If Campbell fails to take the next step, Riley could be the next man up. Keep an eye on the situation as the preseason moves along.

MLB Deion Jones - Low end LB1 with top five potential
SLB Vic Beasley- Quality LB1 in big play formats
WLB De'Vondre Campbell - Late round sleeper with LB3 potential
WLB Kemal Ishmael - Injury sleeper
WLB Duke Riley - Special team ace with dynasty potential
MLB LaRoy Reynolds - No value

Defensive Backs

Like Kam Chancellor in Seattle, Keanu Neal is the enforcer in Atlanta's secondary. He is not as big as Chancellor but is faster, arguably better in coverage, and pound for pound is just a physical. Neal hits like a truck and has a knack for separating the ball from the runner. After missing the first two games as a rookie all Neal did was finish 71-33-0 with 5 forced fumbles, a recovery and 8 pass breakups. Even missing two games Neal was a top ten defensive back and his average of 11.9 points per game ranked fourth. He will be 22 years old when the season starts so his best football is probably ahead of him. The only concern I have in fantasy terms is the same thing happening to Neal that happened to Chancellor. Chancellor's first two years as a starter were his most box score productive. As the Seahawks front seven continued to improve, his opportunity and production slipped. While the evolution of Atlanta's defense could eventually take a bit out of Neal's tackle production, he is likely to remain more productive in the big play columns than Chancellor. For 2017 I am targeting Neal as a top five defensive back. We will have to see how things go from there.

At 5'9" 186 pounds Ricardo Allen is the smallest starting safety in the league. As a free safety playing deep most of the time, size is not so much a factor. There is no comparison to Earl Thomas here but Allen is strong in coverage, has the speed to make up for the mistakes of others and does a good job getting ball carriers on the ground. After coaching Thomas who is one of the league’s best big play safeties, I am sure coach Quinn would like to get more splash play production from the position. Allen is still young entering his third season as a pro, and improvement in front of him may allow for more aggressive play going forward. If he fails to make more impact in that area, free safety may be the next position targeted for improvement. For 2017 Allen is the man at free safety. He was 61-29-0 with a pair of picks and 3 passes defended last year. I would not expect an increase in tackles but we may see a few more big plays from him this year. Even if that is the case he remains no more than a marginal fantasy option providing bye week depth in most situations.

Atlanta has a quality group of corners but there is not much here for fantasy owners to get excited about. Desmond Trufant is their number one cover man. He is yet another example of the rookie corner rule with his first season (2013) still his best box score production. Trufant was on pace for about 44 tackles, 5 turnover and 9 passes defended last year when he was lost for the season. That is about what we should expect from him going forward.

Jalen Collins was suspended at the beginning of last season and was left off the game day active list for a few more games. When Trufant was injured, Collins had a chance to get out of the dog house and finished strong. In seven games he was 28-3-0 with a pair of interceptions and 10 passes defended. Going into training camp the 2015 second round pick is expected to compete with 2013 second round selection Robert Alford for the starting job opposite Trufant. Chances are Alford will hold onto the job with Collins landing the slot corner role in sub packages. Brian Poole was the nickel corner last year and could also be in the mix for playing time. He will likely be the sixth DB in dime packages and could see some work as the backup at free safety. All in all the Atlanta secondary is both talented and deep, but beyond Neal no one here is likely to put up much more than 50 tackles and 3-4 turnovers.

SS Keanu Neal - Quality DB1
FS Ricardo Allen - Bye week depth at best
FS/CB Brian Poole - No current value
CB Desmond Trufant - No value
CB Robert Alford - Marginal CB3 value
CB Jalen Collins - Sleeper with marginal upside
CB C.J. Goodwin - No value

Carolina Panthers

Defensive Linemen

The Panthers defensive line accounted for an impressive 35 sacks in 2016 but there was surprisingly little fantasy value to be found there. A big part of the problem was the sack numbers being spread among nine players. The rest of the issue being that Kawann Short was the only lineman to exceed 22 solo tackles. At 30-25-6 Short was the fantasy game's number five interior lineman last year. This was on the heels of a number two finish in 2015 at 35-18-11. At a powerful 315 pounds Short is one of the league's biggest 3-technique tackles. He is a load to move at the point of attack in the running game yet possesses the quickness and range of players 45 pounds lighter. With Star Lotulelei eating up blockers at nose tackle and a rotation of quality pass rushers on the outside, the job of blocking short on passing downs often falls to one unlucky offensive lineman. The Panthers rotate interior linemen enough to keep their starters fresh and effective but Short is still seeing action on about 75% of the plays, while Lotulelei played about 68% last season. Lotulelei is an excellent player in his own right but his contribution to the team often shows up in the box score of those surrounding him. After the breakout in 2015 there was concern Short would be a one year wonder. His numbers slipped a little but last year's production proves neither season was a fluke. It would be surprising to see him reach 40 tackles or repeat the double digit sack total but 35 tackles and 6-7 sacks are reasonable expectations for Short in 2017. He is a safe bet to repeat the top ten finish with a good shot at a third consecutive top five.

Last year's first round pick Vernon Butler could be a bigger part of the rotation in 2017. He missed some games with an injury as a rookie, working on 225 snaps in eleven contests. The 325 pound Butler is capable of filling in at either tackle spot, providing outstanding depth at the position. With Lotulelei entering the final year of his contract, Butler also provides a cushion in the event Carolina is not able to resign him. Kyle Love is a solid veteran contributor who fills out the depth chart at tackle.

With 22 sacks from the defensive end position in 2016 there is clearly potential for someone to step up here. Mario Addison was the best fantasy option of the group last year at 22-5-9.5 with 3 turnovers. When Kony Ealy left in free agency there was a short period when Addison's stock was looking way up. Then the Panthers signed Julius Peppers to fill the slot in the rotation and we were right back where we started. In 2016 Ealy played 60% of the Panthers defensive snaps. That was the most by any of the team's defensive ends with Charles Johnson's 52% a distant second and Addison's 41% ranking third. There is some hope of a of a productive fantasy target coming from this group. Prior to his injury early in 2015, Johnson was on a string of five seasons with at least 8.5 sacks. He exceeded 30 tackles in three of those seasons as well. Entering his eleventh year Johnson has a lot of miles on him but he has just turned 31 years old. If he can get on the field for 60-65% of the plays we could see some useful production even if it is only as bye week depth or a matchup bases spot start.

The best chance of quality production comes from Addison. Johnson is pretty well set as one of the starters and most people expect Peppers to be the other. I am not so sure that will be the case. Peppers may be a fan favorite in Carolina but he is 37 years old and is not the same player that left the Panthers after the 2009 season. In fact when his signing was first reported I half expected it to be a one day deal so he could retire a Panther. Peppers is actually going to play though I expect he will be on the field less than half the time as a rotational or sub package contributor. If this is the case and Addison moves into the role Ealy held last year, it would mean roughly 30% more opportunity. Addison has 22.5 sacks over the past three seasons in the lesser role, so we know he can get after the passer. I like his chances of reaching 30+ tackles and double digit sacks in 2017 and currently have him slotted as quality depth with low DL2 upside.

DE Charles Johnson - Potential bye week depth
DE Mario Addison - Sleeper with low DL2 upside
DE Julius Peppers - 37 years old with marginal value at best
DE Daeshon Hall - Deep dynasty sleeper to keep an eye on down the road
DE Wes Horton - No value
DT Star Lotulelei - No value
DT Kawann Short - Top ten DL1 with top five potential
DT Vernon Butler - No value at this time
DT Kyle Love - No value


There is no mystery when it comes to the Panthers linebackers, but there is plenty of concern. If Luke Kuechly stays healthy he is arguably the best active middle linebacker in the NFL, and the second level of Carolina's defense is a strength. If Kuechly suffers another concussion his career might be over and the Panthers lack of depth would leave them thin at best. Kuechly is a do it all linebacker and a fantasy stud. He is outstanding versus the run and is one of the better coverage linebackers in the game. He forces turnovers at a healthy rate and can even be effective on the blitz. To put Kuechly's production into perspective all we have to do is look at his career averages. Per every sixteen games played he has produced 99-57-2 with 5 turnovers and 8 passes defended. If his last two seasons had not been cut short by concussions Kuechly would have exceeded 90 solo tackles every year of his career. Through ten games in 2016 he was on pace for a career best 114 solo stops and his usual splash play totals. Unfortunately the concussions have become a serious concern. They have caused Kuechly to miss nine games over the past two seasons and prompted the team to shut him down late in 2016 even though he had actually been cleared to play. When anyone in the organization is asked about Kuechly's concussion issue they tell us there is no concern. That may be the company line publicly but surely they are not sticking their heads in the sand behind closed doors and pretending there is nothing to be worried about. For fantasy owners there is no bigger gamble in 2017. To land Kuechly we would have to take him as one of the first defensive players off the board, despite the fact he is one hard hit away from retirement. The only advice I can give on this situation is to say Kuechly will probably not show up on any of my teams. He may be the best at the position but there are too many excellent linebackers in the top tiers to justify the gamble in my opinion.

Kuechly is not the only point of concern at linebacker in Carolina. Thomas Davis has been an iron man in terms of injury over the past few years but he is 34 years old and in the final year of his contract. Davis has shown no signs of decline and says he has no plans to retire. He and the organization are both interested in getting a new deal done that would allow him to retire as a career Panther in a couple years. On the field and in the box scores Davis was good as ever in 2016. He is one of the few base down strong side linebackers to overcome the limitations of the position and consistently be a fantasy factor. As is the case with all fantasy friendly strong side backers, his numbers are helped greatly by shifting inside on sub package downs. Davis has exceeded 80 solo tackles a couple times over his thirteen year career and has averaged 74 since recovering from his last knee injury in 2011. The tackle totals alone are respectable but it is Davis's big play production that pushed his point totals into the top thirty in four consecutive seasons and into the top ten in 2015 and 2016. Over the past two years Davis has accounted for an impressive 15 turnovers and 8 sacks. If he continues in the same role there is no reason to expect less than quality LB2 production from him in 2017. There have been some whispers about a possible role reduction in the future however. That point may be part of the discussion as the two sides negotiate a contract extension but it does not seem imminent for the upcoming season.

The Panthers used their first round pick in 2015 on outside linebacker Shaq Thompson. Most analysts saw this as a move to prepare for life after Davis and indeed that may have been the thought process of the organization at the time. With Davis seemingly aging like fine wine however, Thompson has been stuck waiting in the wings to some extent. He has been starting on the weak side for the past two seasons but has only been on the field in sub packages for a few games while Kuechly was out. The part time starting role has allowed Thompson to gain experience while his opportunity to play in sub packages late last season allowed him to prove he is ready for that role when the opportunity comes as well. Thompson is basically a younger version of Davis; a somewhat undersized linebacker with good speed and cover skills that can play either outside position. As a preview to his long term fantasy value we can look back to last season when Thompson played virtually every snap in four games. In those games he was 22-8-0 with an interception and 4 passes defended. At this point Thompson is only roster worth in dynasty leagues but that could change at any time or on any give play.

The Panthers thought they had an adequate backup plan at linebacker last season. When Kuechly went out they plugged in A.J. Klein at middle linebacker only to discover he was not the player they had thought. Klein is off to New Orleans where they have not yet learned this lesson, and the Panthers have moved on to David Mayo, Jeremy Cash, Ben Boulware and Jared Norris as their depth. Mayo is the elder statesman of this group with three years of NFL experience and they have 24 career tackles between them. There could be a good player in the group but the organization hopes they will not have to find out this year.

MLB Luke Kuechly - Elite tier LB1 with considerable injury risk
SLB Thomas Davis - Solid LB2 if he continues in three down role as expected
WLB Shaq Thompson - Future fantasy starter waiting for an opportunity to play full time
SLB David Mayo - Deep injury sleeper at best
MLB Jared Norris - No value at this time
SLB Jeremy Cash - No value
MLB Ben Boulware - No value

Defensive Backs

There are many that will point to the Panthers secondary situation as a big part the reason there is a new general manager in Carolina. After making the Super Bowl at the end of the 2015 season, their top three veteran corners were all allowed to walk including all pro Josh Norman. Instead the coaching staff was forced to roll with a pair of rookie starters and a free agent hand me down (Leonard Johnson) in the slot. We all know what the result was, though it was certainly not all the fault of the secondary. This is not a knock on last year's second round pick James Bradberry or third round selection Daryl Worley who both looked like NFL starters most of the time as rookies, and seem likely to be a quality tandem going forward. Worley started thirteen games on the season and played in fifteen while Bradberry started thirteen and finished twelve, missing three with injury. While Worley can be found much higher on the final rankings, the per game production was nearly equal and both were quality starters in corner required leagues. Normally I would point to the rookie corner rule here but with both starters in their first year it is hard to say how it would apply. What I like about these guys is their physicality and willingness make tackles in run support. With Bradberry at 6'2" 210 pounds and Worley 6'1" 205, both corners have the size and demeanor to be physical both in press coverage and against the run. Worley's 63 solo tackles were tied for second among corners in 2016 and he lead the position with 25 assists. Had Bradberry played three more games he would not have been far behind. Three more starts will likely off-set any second season decline we might have seen from either of these players in the tackle columns and the year of experience should translate to a few more big plays for them both. All things considered I expect Worley to continue producing numbers worthy of a low end CB1 or priority second starter in 2017 with Bradberry somewhere in the mid CB2 to priority CB3 range. The Panthers brought back long time starter Captain Mannerly to handle the nickel role. He will not have any fantasy value but will go a long way toward solidifying the secondary.

Sometimes I really have to wonder what teams are thinking when they make certain personnel decisions. The Eagles picked up Kurt Coleman as an undrafted free agent in 2010. In 2011 he started several games producing 56 tackles and 5 turnovers. Coleman started at strong safety in 2012 going 70-23-0 with 3 turnovers in fourteen games. He looked as good on the field as he did in the box scores but that did not stop the team from benching him in 2013, despite the fact their starters that year struggled greatly. Then the safety needy Eagles cut Coleman after the season. He signed with Kansas City in 2014 as a stop gap while Eric Berry was out, producing 5 takeaways in a part time role. At the end of the season Coleman was cut lose again. He finally found a home with the Panthers in 2015. In his first year with the team Coleman lined up at free safety where he produced 54 tackles, 35 assists, 7 interceptions (second most in team history), a sack, 7 passes defended and a score, placing among the fantasy game's top ten defensive backs for the first time. Last season Coleman shifted to strong safety where he went 66-26-1 with 5 takeaways, 7 passes defended and a score, in fifteen starts and was the fantasy game's number three DB. Needless to say the Panthers are going to keep him in their lineup for a while. With the addition of Mike Adams, Coleman will go back to free safety in 2017. The position change likely means a few less tackle opportunities but he should once again be at least a quality second starter with top ten upside.

The organization signed Mike Adams to take over at strong safety. He is a good player who should provide a quality short term answer for the Panthers, but I am not sure the change of scenery will be good for his fantasy status. Over the first eleven years of his career Adams had spotty fantasy value at best, never recording more than 60 solo tackles in a season while exceeding 3 turnovers three times. That changed when he signed with the Colts in 2014. Over the past three seasons Adams broke the 60 tackle mark twice while averaging nearly 8 takeaways. He is 36 years old entering the fourteenth season of his career and is playing with arguably the best defense he has ever been a part of. Working behind the front seven in Carolina, Adams will not have the volume of tackle opportunity he had in Indianapolis. He is surrounded by ball hawking playmakers so his big play production is likely to take a step back as well. There is always a chance Adams will pick up right where he left of last season but I will not be one to take that bet, even if he falls to the last round.

SS Mike Adams - Depth in twelve team leagues starting three DBs
FS Kurt Coleman - Quality DB2 with top ten potential
FS Colin Jones - Injury sleeper at best
CB James Bradberry - Low end CB2 with some upside
CB Daryl Worley - Low end CB1 or priority second starter
CB Captain Mannerly - Nickel corner with marginal upside
CB Corn Elder - No value at this time
CB Zach Sanchez - Injury sleeper at best

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Defensive Linemen

The Buccaneers defense is going to surprise people this season and it is going to start up front. Over the past few years they have dealt with some setbacks, mostly on the injury front. Going into 2017 everyone is healthy making this a deep and talented group. The last time Gerald McCoy was completely healthy for a full season was 2013. That year he set career marks in both tackles with 35, and sacks with 9. The former third overall pick is one of the league's premier interior linemen. He plays all three downs and is equally talented as a run defender or pass rusher. Despite missing a game here and there over the past three seasons and playing through nagging injuries at times, McCoy has recorded at least 5 sacks each season since 2012 while averaging better than 7.5. From the fantasy perspective it would be nice to get more than his average of 27 solo tackles per season, but 27-10-7.5 from a defensive tackle is usually top ten production. If everyone stays healthy the quality of play around him should help McCoy to a better than average season. Target him as a mid range DT1 with top five upside.

McCoy is not the only Buccaneers interior lineman with a high ceiling. In fact Tampa Bay may give us three tackles with fantasy value. Clinton McDonald is a greatly under rated player on the inside. One big reason is his struggle to stay healthy. McDonald has missed 22 games in the last six seasons including ten in 2015 and four last year, but when he is right, the production is there. In his first year with the Buccaneers (2014) McDonald played thirteen games, finishing as the number four defensive tackle on the strength of 35-12-5.5 with 3 turnovers. In twelve starts last season he was 26-11-3.5 with a points per game average ranking eleventh. The free agent addition of former Redskins starter Chris Baker could push McDonald out of the starting lineup but it also gives Tampa one of the best interior line rotations in the league. All three of these guys are going to see enough action to be productive. McDonald is one of those players that is widely overlooked and can usually be picked up in the last round. For owners in tackle required leagues he could be the steal of your draft.

With 57 tackles, 45 assists, 10.5 sacks and 7 takeaways over the last two seasons, Chris Baker was the most productive defensive end in Washington since they went to the 3-4 scheme several years ago. At 320 pounds Baker will likely see most of his action at the nose tackle position, allowing McDonald to float back and forth spelling both Baker and McCoy. Sure there is some difference between the 4-3 nose tackle position and playing end in the 3-4, but Baker's skill set should transition well between the two. He may even prove to be best suited to the nose tackle spot. He can hold ground at the point of attack as well as anyone and can crush the pocket with a powerful bull rush, but Baker is not a one trick pony when it comes to rushing the passer. He will set up blockers and use techniques normally left to smaller players that rely more on quickness and mobility than raw power. There is no guarantee Baker will put up strong numbers but 25-30 tackles and 4-5 sacks are certainly a realistic expectation. I have Baker as a low DT2 or priority DT3 target.

The Buccaneers have had a player with double digit sacks since Simeon Rice in 2005 but the trend may be broken by the end of this season. The organization has that kind of expectation for last year's second round pick Noah Spence. He was a fairly raw talent as a rookie and spent most of first season in a sub package pass rush role. Spence also battled a bad shoulder for most of his rookie campaign and had a torn labrum repaired in January. There is still some question about him landing a full time three down role but his work load is expected to increase. Spence was 17-6-5.5 with 3 forced fumbles in 2016. A year of experience, coaching and hard work to improve his overall game will go a long way. It is not safe to expect a huge jump in tackle totals until we know Spence will see three down action but he should push the double digit sack mark in his second season. I am currently projecting him at 26-9-9 with 4 turnovers and have been targeting Spence as an upside DL3 in early drafts.

For those who prefer sticking to known commodities, Robert Ayers is going to be the safer target. Ayers is another under rated Tampa Bay lineman that generally gets little love from the fantasy community. As a former first round pick of the Broncos in 2009, he failed to live up to expectations early in his career. The production has come around but staying healthy has been his issue of late. Despite missing time in each of the past five seasons his numbers have been on a steady upswing. Ayers’ best totals to date came with the Giants in 2015 when he recorded 30 tackles and 9 sacks in twelve games. Entering his first season with the Buccaneers in 2016, he set a personal goal of double digit sacks. After going 2-0-1 in the opener, Ayers missed five games with an ankle injury. He returned to the field on a limited basis for a couple of games before stepping back into the three down role in week ten. In nine healthy starts Ayers was 18-6-6.5 with a forced fumble. Averaged over a full season we get 32-11-11.5 so it is possible for two Tampa Bay ends to hit double digit sacks in 2017 if everyone stays healthy. There is plenty of injury risk with him but Ayers recent production has been quality DL2 level. He is a player that can be picked up cheap in the late rounds and is even going undrafted in some twelve team leagues that start two. Unless he is injured again Ayers will not be on the waiver wire for long in those leagues. Pick him up as a third or even fourth lineman but do not think twice about making him a starter if he opens the season strong.

Unless Spence comes a long way versus the run this summer, William Gholston will continue as a base package starter. He is an excellent run defender that makes a ton of tackles for the number of snaps, but Gholston is not going to give us much in the sack or turnover columns. In 2015 he was a highly respectable 47-20-3 on 677 plays, followed by 37-13-3.5 on 557 snaps last season when he missed three games. For owners in tackle heavy scoring Gholston is an excellent target. For everyone else he is a dependable spot start or bye week contributor that will almost always give you 7-10 points but rarely more.

DE Robert Ayers - Solid DL2 production that comes with plenty of injury risk
DE Noah Spence - High upside DL3 target
DE William Gholston - Dependable low end DL2 or quality DL3 with marginal weekly upside
DE Jacquies Smith - Backup third down specialist with marginal upside
DE George Johnson - No value at this time
DT Gerald McCoy - Quality DT1 with top five potential
DT Clinton McDonald - Solid DL2 with DL1 potential if he stays healthy
DT Chris Baker - Low DL2 target with a little upside
DT Sealver Siliga - Injury sleeper at best


With the emergence of Kwon Alexander in the middle Tampa Bay has as good a 1-2 punch at linebacker as anyone. The 2015 fourth round pick exploded in his second season, leading the league with 109 solo tackles while adding enough big play production to finish as the fantasy game's top linebacker. Alexander's dominating performance outpaced number two finisher Bobby Wagner by nearly a point per game. The important thing to realize here is it was not a fluke. Alexander is the next generation of linebacker. At 227 pounds he is smaller, faster and has better cover skills than the prototypical old guard middle backer. From the fantasy perspective there is nothing to dislike. With his outstanding consistency Alexander will never cost you a game but he can definitely win you a few. He fell short of nine points twice in 2016 never scoring fewer than seven, and he exceeded twenty points four times. He is a tackling machine that will also make a significant big play contribution. Last season Alexander totaled 3 takeaways, 3 sacks, 7 passes defended and a score. There is simply nothing to dislike about him. If Luke Kuechly stays healthy for sixteen games he will probably be the number one backer in 2017 but Alexander is likely to be right on his heels; especially is Alexander can muster a few more splash plays which is possible if not probable. Considering Kuechly's concussion issues, no one could argue with making Alexander the first linebacker off the board.

Things change quickly in the NFL. In 2015 Lavonte David was an even more dominating fantasy star, outscoring number two linebacker D'Qwell Jackson by more than a point and a half per game. David reached triple digit solo tackles in each of his first three seasons as a pro, including a career best of 112 as a rookie in 2012. As the Buccaneers improved on the field, David's tackle totals slipped a few each season but his outstanding big play production has remained constant. Even with the gradual decline of tackle numbers and the emergence of Alexander, there is something fishy about David's 2016 totals. The drop from 84 solo stops to 67 is a pretty steep but the plummet from 60 assists in 2015 to 19 last season is just wrong. This is where the inconsistencies of NFL stats crews come into play. In 2015 Buccaneers defenders were credited with 280 assists. Granted the team was better in 2016 but not enough to drop that total all the way to 190 last season. There is no way to anticipate year to year changes in score keeping, but it is not so hard to figure out where we are with David. He is still the same outstanding player of years past but is on a better team with more competition for tackles around him. His days as a top ten fantasy stud with triple digit tackles are probably gone but I believe a little bounce back from last year's number twenty two ranking is likely. I expect to see David's solo tackles in the mid to upper 70s with a few more assists along with his normal 7 turnovers and 4 sacks. At worst he should continue to be a quality LB2 with top twelve potential.

The Buccaneers have moved on from Daryl Smith who was their strong side linebacker last season. Second year players Devante Bond and Adarius Glanton will compete the job this summer with rookie third round pick Kendall Beckwith possibly being in the mix as well. Beckwith is recovering from an ACL tear late in his final year at LSU where he was a productive middle linebacker. Smith was on the field for 455 plays last year which was well short 50% of the snaps. So whoever plays on the strong side is not going to have enough opportunity to garner fantasy consideration.

WLB Lavonte David - Solid LB2 with top twelve potential
MLB Kwon Alexander - Elite tier LB1
SLB Devante Bond - No value
MLB Kendell Beckwith - Injury sleeper
WLB Adarius Glanton - No value

Defensive Backs

Tampa Bay has added a lot of talent at the third level in the last two drafts. In 2016 it was corner Vernon Hargreaves III at eleven overall, and this year it was safety Justin Evans in round two. Hargreaves pairs with veteran Brent Grimes to give the Buccaneers an excellent tandem of outside cover men. Hargreaves is not the biggest or fastest of corners but he possesses exceptional instincts and a willingness to put a hard shoulder on a ball carrier. His 68 solo tackles as a rookie was second most in the league by a corner and resulted in a final ranking of sixteenth at the position. A big part of the reason Hargreaves was drafted so high is ball skills. He had 10 interceptions and 27 passes defended in three years as a starter for Florida. That part of his game failed to show up last year as he contributed 1 interception and broke up 9 passes. If the rookie corner rule holds true as expected, we should see a few less tackles from him in year two with a potential big play breakout. The Buccaneers corner positions have a fairly strong heritage of quality fantasy production dating all the way back to the days of Ronde Barber. It looks like Hargreaves is going to keep the tradition going. Target him as a mid range CB2 but we should not be surprised if he lands in the top ten in year two.

Brent Grimes turned 34 in July but is coming off one of the best seasons of his long productive career. At 51-6-0 with 5 takeaways, a whopping 24 passes defended and a score, Grimes was the fantasy game's number four corner in 2016. These numbers are not a fluke for the veteran cover man who has exceeded the 50 tackle mark four times and 20 assists twice since 2009. Over that same span of time he has averaged 55 tackles, 17 passes defended and 4.5 turnovers per sixteen games. Grimes has even scored in three of the last four seasons. Technically Grimes is the Buccaneers number one corner but he may be passing that off to Hargreaves in the near future. He has so far shown no sign of decline and might well be in line for another top ten finish.

One weakness that could be trouble for the Buccaneers is depth at corner. Jude Adeji-Barimah held the nickel role much of last season with Josh Robinson and Alterraun Verner also seeing time at the position. Verner has been replaced on the roster by seasoned veteran Robert McClain who will be in the mix with an open competition to determine the pecking order behind the starters. If everyone stays healthy all will be well but if a starter goes down for any length of time it would make for a rather average group.

Bradley McDougald led the Bucs secondary with 78 solo tackles from the strong safety position in 2016. With him moving on and the team drafting Justin Evans, there will be a new look at safety for sure. The problem for us in late July is we have no idea what that look will be. This quote from defensive coordinator Mike Smith back in May pretty well sums it up "There’s a whole bunch I like. We were just really excited that he was available for us when we picked. He’s very athletic, he’s got very good range and he also can get down in the box. He’s what I call a hybrid safety, he’s not a strong safety, he’s not a free safety. He can play both and that’s going to give us a lot of flexibility."

Chris Conte played free safety last year and did an adequate job. He too has the versatility to play either safety spot. Keith Tandy was the third safety last year and is a better fit at strong safety, while the team also added former Dallas free safety J.J. Wilcox who will likely factor somewhere. At this point the coaching staff may not know who will be playing what role come September. What we do know is all three veterans have had their opportunities and none have been very fantasy friendly. Evans has the most upside of the group based on skill set and the fact he is the only unknown commodity. I have picked him up in the late rounds of some dynasty rookie drafts this summer and see him as a good taxi squad target in those leagues. Evans is probably worth a late/last round flier in redraft leagues based on upside and the fact someone here should be at least fairly productive.

SS/FS Chris Conte - Potential depth in twelve team leagues starting three DBs
FS/SS Justin Evans - Dynasty target who could be productive as a rookie if things fall right
FS J.J. Wilcox - Marginal value at best
SS Keith Tandy - Deep sleeper with limited upside
CB Brent Grimes - Solid CB1
CB Vernon Hargreaves III - Quality second starter with top twelve potential
CB Jude Adeji-Barimah - Marginal value at best
CB Josh Robinson - No value
CB Robert McClain - Marginal value

New Orleans Saints

Defensive Linemen

The Saints were a historically bad defense in 2015, finishing last versus the run, last against the pass, last in scoring, thirty first in total yards and twenty seventh in sacks. The only thing they did fairly well was take the ball away (22 turnovers). Even though they were still bad in 2016, there was actually a fair amount of statistical improvement in some areas. The organization has emphasized defense over the past two offseasons. There are still some holes and a few questionable situations but they have begun to build a foundation that should turn their fortunes around over the next year or two.

After improving to fifteen versus the run last year the Saints took a big hit with the news Nick Fairley will miss 2017 with a potentially career ending heart condition. This was a different defense with Fairley and last year's first round pick Sheldon Rankins on the field together over the second half of the season. Rankins is a special player that seems destined to be a perennial top ten tackle. At 6'1" 299 pounds he has a rare combination of power, quickness and athleticism, but he is also instinctive and polished for a young player. In many ways his play and skill set remind me of Aaron Donald. When we look at the box scores after this season, Rankins may remind all of us of Donald. After opening his rookie season on short term IR, Rankins saw his first NFL action in week nine. When all the numbers were in he was 15-5-4 with a forced fumble on 336 snaps or about thirty three percent of the defensive plays. Rankins will have a much bigger role right from the start this year and will probably see 65-70 percent of the defensive snaps. I am currently projecting him as a priority DT1 at 35-16-8 with a couple turnovers and a batted pass.

Tyeler Davidson was a big part of the rotation in 2016 and is expected to take over the starting job vacated by Fairley. The 2015 fifth round pick is a strong run defender with a good motor but he is not in the same class as Rankins or Fairley in terms of natural athletic ability or big play production. Davidson is not a lock to hold the job come week one. The Saints have last year's fourth round selection David Onyemata and added former Seattle starter Tony McDaniel to fill Fairley's roster spot. All three will be in the mix for the starting job and will have roles in the rotation. They should be able to do a serviceable job between them but there is no one in that group with the potential to replace Fairley's production of 29-14-6.5 or his on field presence.

The Saints have a cornerstone at defensive end in Cameron Jordan. The 2011 first round pick landed a starting job in his second season and has been the team's best pass rusher over the last five years. When Rob Ryan was running the defense, Jordan showed his versatility by successfully making the transition to outside linebacker. Regardless of the scheme he has put up similar numbers. Over his five seasons as a starter Jordan has consistently recorded respectable tackle totals and has never fallen short of 7 sacks. His career best of 12.5 sacks came in 2013 and Jordan's best tackle production of 40 came last season when he added 18 assists, 7.5 sacks, a forced fumble and 6 batted passes to finish as the number eleven defensive lineman. He is a 28 year old iron man that has never missed a game and is a safe target as a low end DL1.

The team has tried a lot of players opposite Jordan but so far no one has been able to stick for long. Hau'oli Kikaha had 33 tackles and 4 sacks in 2015 when the Saints were using a lot of 3-4. He could see some snaps as a situational pass rusher but at 246 pounds, is more likely to work at strong side linebacker on early downs. Third year man Obum Gwachum had 2.5 sacks in limited action as a rookie then spent last season on IR. He could will some looks this summer but there are no grand expectations for the former sixth round pick. Veteran journeyman Darryl Tapp provides depth at end and could see some action as an inside pass rusher in sub packages, but is not an option to start. The most likely starter opposite Jordan this year is Alex Okafor. He was a fourth round pick by Arizona in 2013 and spent the first four years of his career as an outside linebacker in their 3-4. Okafor had 27 tackles and 8 sacks in 2014 but the emergence of Markus Golden and trade for Chandler Jones relegated Okafor to spot duty as the third man over most of the past two seasons. He is happy to be back playing end in a 4-3 as he did throughout his college career at Texas.

The Saints are calling it an open competition among several players but it really comes down to Okafor and rookie Trey Hendrickson as the two with long time starting potential and possible fantasy value. Hendrickson is one of my favorite late round dynasty sleepers this year. His college stats were nothing short of impressive. As a three year started for Florida Atlantic Hendrickson racked up 29.5 sacks, forced 7 fumbles and recovered 2. When he was taken by the Saints in round three, Mike Mayock talked about how impressed he was by Hendrickson at the East-West shrine game. He is a high effort player, has good quickness and athleticism off the edge, tested well at the combine and has an excellent history of production albeit against somewhat lesser competition. There is no doubt Hendrickson will see significant action in the rotation. If he can show well as a run defender he will be a serious contender for the starting job.

DE Cameron Jordan - Dependable low end DL1
DE Alex Okafor - Sleeper with DL3 or low DL2 upside
DE Trey Hendrickson - My favorite dynasty sleeper at the position
DE Obum Gwachum - Deep sleeper at best
DE Daryl Tapp - No value
DT Sheldon Rankins - Quality DT1 with top five potential
DT Tyeler Davidson - Marginal value at best
DT Tony McDaniel - No value
DT David Onyemata - No value at this time


Linebacker is still a major position of need for the Saints. A lot of people have grand expectations for free agent addition A.J. Klein. Those people and the Saints organization are going to be disappointed. Klein is expected to get the first shot at the middle linebacker job. If the coaching staff will just watch the film of Klein as the Panthers MLB when Luke Kuechly was out last year, they will move on from that plan and save a lot of time. Klein is a big tough physical two down thumper that is best suited for the strong side position where he can blow up blockers at the point of attack and make a few plays against the run. That is what he did best in Carolina and is why he was a strong side backer for them before a lack of depth forced their hand in 2016. Klein is not fast, has below average cover skills and generally looked lost at times when playing in the middle last season. Even if he opens the season at middle backer, by mid October he will be back on the strong side where he belongs or at best will be seeing action only on early downs.

The team also added Manti T'eo in free agency. His injury plagued four year stint with the Chargers was a huge disappointment for the former second round pick but if he can stay healthy T'eo is a much better fit in the middle. He plays the run well and is a far better option in coverage than Klein. T'eo is not a great player by any stretch and is clearly not a long term answer, but he does have the skill set and potential to be a decent stop gap.

If my expectations prove to be correct, neither Klein nor T'eo will be in the middle for long. If he can stay healthy I believe the job will eventually belong to rookie third round pick Alex Anzalone. He has the size, speed, athletic ability and all the other traits of a starting middle linebacker at the pro level. If not for a long injury history at Florida that saw both of his first two seasons with the Gators end due to shoulder injuries and his final season with a broken arm, Anzalone would not have lasted late into round three. In seven full games and part of an eighth last year, he totaled 53 combined tackles with 3 sacks, a fumble recovery and a couple of pass breakups. If there is a long term answer at middle linebacker on the Saints current roster, Anzalone is it.

The organization thought the middle backer position was filled when they used a first round pick on Stephone Anthony in 2015. After a forgettable rookie season as the starter he was shifted to the strong side in 2016. He struggled with injuries last year and missed several games, but played enough to tell the strong side was not the right answer either. Anthony's biggest downfall has been his struggles to take on and shed blockers at the point of attack. He tends to get swallowed up or blown out by guards and sometimes even blocking tight ends. The team recently put Dannell Ellerbe on IR with the expectation he will be released once healthy. At about the same time they announced Anthony will play on the weak side in 2017. He was not good as a rookie starter but did show some promise both on the field and in the box scores. Anthony's tackle numbers of 69-42 were subpar but he contributed 2 forced fumbles, a recovery, a sack, 5 passes defended and a score. The former Clemson star has the physical traits to be successful at the pro level, maybe he will be a good fit on the weak side where he will not have to take on so many big blockers.

The impending release of Ellerbe mean Anthony will compete with veteran Craig Robertson for the starting job. While we are still trying to find out what Anthony can bring to the game, we have seen enough to Robertson to know exactly what can be expected. He is a marginal NFL starter that can be counted on to hold down the fort until a better option comes along, but is not a special player or long term answer. The best production of Robertson's five year career came with the Saints last season when he was 70-45-1 with an interception and 4 passes defended in fifteen games. If he earns a three down role on the weak side Robertson should provide good depth for IDP owners but he is not a player we want to count on as a starter. He is better versus the pass than against the run so there is at least some chance he will be used as a sub package specialist as he was in Cleveland when Robertson split time with Christian Kirksey. We could see a similar situation with Robertson and Anthony in 2016.

Hau'oli Kikaha will be in the mix for sub package snaps at defensive end but his best chance to start is at strong side linebacker. He is more of a playmaker than A.J. Klein, and stands to benefit from the coaching staff trying to force Kline into the MLB role. Kikaha can be a big play contributor and is an interesting chess piece for defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, but it is unlikely he will have a fantasy friendly role.

MLB Manti T'eo - Sleeper with low LB3 upside at best
MLB/SLB A.J. Kline - No grand expectations even if he wins a three down role at MLB
MLB Alex Anzalone - Sleeper/dynasty target with strong long term potential
WLB Stephone Anthony - Sleeper worth tracking after move to WLB
WLB Craig Robertson - LB4 at best
SLB Hau'oli Kikaha - Marginal value

Defensive Backs

The Saints pass defense improved from 8.7 yards per attempt in 2015 to 8.1 per attempt last season but they were still dead last in the league. Thus the team made a major investment in their secondary this offseason. With the eleventh overall pick they landed corner Marshon Lattimore then they came back in round two and took free safety Marcus Williams. They also used some free agent money to add depth at strong safety by bringing back veteran Rafael Bush.

Lattimore was the first corner taken in this year's draft. Mike Mayock expressed his surprise that the Ohio State star lasted to number eleven. The Saints were sure happy to see him there. The only real concerns with Lattimore are a lack of experience and the chronic hamstring issues he dealt with early in his college career. Due to the hamstring problem he was a one year starter for the Buckeyes, coming out after his sophomore season. What he did on the field in that one season was most impressive. Lattimore is an exceptional athlete with blazing speed and the kind of natural football ability that simply cannot be taught. Even with his lack of experience he does the little technical things well. The most impressive statistic from Lattimore's 2016 season was his 14 passes defended and 4 interceptions on a mere 35 passes thrown his way. His tackle totals from last season were nothing to get excited about but that is not unusual for a corner at the college level. Lattimore should be a starter from day one so the rookie corner rule will be in play here. Take advantage of it while you can because he will likely be an elite shut down corner in a year or two.

Delvin Breaux is expected to start at the other corner spot. After he missed most of last season with leg and shoulder injuries, it will be like having two new starters for the Saints in 2017. Breaux came from nowhere to win the starting job as an undrafted rookie in 2015. He finished that season with a marginal 37 solo tackles but broke up a team high 19 passes and picked off 3. Never mind the undrafted status, Breaux belongs in an NFL lineup. His measurable traits are not great but he has a knack for being at the right place when the time comes. The 37 tackles he put up as a rookie will have most fantasy owners looking the other way, and with a rookie likely lining up on the other side, we might not see as many passes going Breaux's way this year. On the other hand if Lattimore becomes the next great corner in a year or two, whoever works opposite him is going to get a lot of extra work. The other thing to consider here is Breaux's production from last year. He was only healthy for three complete games last year and was 13-3-0 with a pass defended on 196 snaps in those games. It is highly unlikely he will be drafted so there is no need to invest a pick or roster spot on Breaux before the season starts. Just keep in mind if he starts hot it is probably not an illusion.

Sterling Moore and Ken Crowley were the starters for most of last season. That experience will go a long way, especially for Crowley who was an undrafted rookie in 2016. The two will compete for the slot corner role along with rookie free safety Marcus Williams. Williams was added to replace Jairus Byrd as the third safety behind starters Kenny Vaccaro and Von Bell. He is not particularly physical or strong in run support but the Saints welcome his big play ability. Williams was a ball hawk at Utah where he totaled 11 interceptions, forced 4 fumble and recovered 2 in three years as a starter. Excellent speed and cover skills along with the big play ability should make Williams a deep safety option. All three of the Saints safeties produced more than 50 tackles in 2016 but chance are Williams will fall a little short in the box scores to be a fantasy factor.

The best fantasy target of this trio is Kenny Vaccaro. His overall numbers from last season leave a little to be desired and will have some owners undervaluing him. Keep in mind Vaccaro missed week three with a minor injury and was suspended for the final four contests of 2016. His overall totals were 51-18-1 with 5 takeaways and 4 passes defended but his career best of 11.4 points per game ranked seventh among defensive backs. He is an intimidating physical strong safety that will line up in the box often and will likely continue to see some time as the nickel linebacker as he did at times last season. With the situation at the second level of this defense, Vaccaro is going to have plenty of opportunity and should land solidly in the top ten.

Vaccaro may be the top target but we should not overlook second year pro Von Bell as a later round option. As a rookie in 2016 Bell did not play in week one and made his first start in week four. When all the numbers were in he was 59-26-1 with 3 turnovers and 4 passes defended on 88% of the defensive snaps. Barring injury Bell will be on the field for virtually every play in 2017. With Williams likely in the deep safety role, the versatile Bell could be working from a strong safety alignment in a lot of sub package situations. We can also expect to see a few more splash plays from him in year two. Bell should at least be a decent third starter or quality depth with some upside.

SS Kenny Vaccaro - Solid DB1 with top five potential
FS Von Bell - Decent third starter or priority DB4 with upside
SS Rafael Bush - Injury sleeper with DB3 upside if called upon
FS Marcus Williams - Marginal value
CB Delvin Breaux - Potential CB2
CB Sterling Moore - No value
CB Marshon Lattimore - Rookie corner rule
CB Ken Crawley - No value

That will do it for part six of this year's offering. I will be back in a week or so with the AFC East.