As rookie drafts inch closer, many are profiling offensive rookies and projecting the impact they will have on fantasy leagues. Owners in IDP leagues are left saying, “What about us?” No longer! Today, I’ll walk you through some of the traits I’ve seen in film study of the top options for your IDP drafts.
Bradley Chubb, N.C. State
Thoughts: Chubb is a prospect who may go in the first five picks of the Draft and will get every opportunity to be a starter on day one. He will undoubtedly be an impactful player for IDP, perhaps even immediately if the scheme fit is right. I feel he’ll fit best for fantasy and for a team’s tactical value as a 4-3 defensive end. Chubb can do it all-- he is an edge setter, a pocket disruptor, and a superb pass rusher. His relentless motor is his calling card. His rip move and up-and-under move are deadly. Chubb’s strong hands redirect blockers’ attempts. His biggest drawback is that he sometimes gets too caught up in taking on blockers and forgets where the ball carrier is - a very correctable issue.
Harold Landry, Boston College
Thoughts: Some are worried about his lack of height, but incredibly long arms balance out the equation. Burst around the edge is a great trademark skill for a pass rusher and Landry has it. He consistently seems to have a step on whoever is assigned to pick him up. Landry angles well and makes it tough for blockers to get a square target. He can use bends, dips, rips, and he can power his blocker into the quarterback. The knocks against Landry are that I believe he is raw and needs some refinement. I would like to see him become better with his hand usage and stop relying so much on speed. Because of this, I do not see Landry making an instant impact in IDP leagues; but with a couple of years of development, I see a player with the tools to be a factor.
Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech
Thoughts: Edmunds’ father played tight end in the NFL, so the bloodlines are there. It also doesn’t hurt his stock that many in the scouting community are comparing him to Brian Urlacher. He has the size and speed combination that gets folks like me that love athletic freaks drooling. Edmunds has quick feet and moves effortlessly from one sideline to the other. He’s fast enough to cover running backs and strong enough to take down big tight ends that he may be asked to cover. Edmunds is versatile enough to play all three spots, another boon to his value. On the down side, Edmunds’ instincts are not on par with those of Roquan Smith or Leighton Vander Esch. In my film study, I saw that he was slow to react and prone to get fooled by the play more than I would have liked. I’m hopeful with NFL repetitions and practice that his diagnosis skills will improve from where they are now. Despite some minor issues, Edmunds is the second linebacker on my board for IDP and is likely to be among the top producers at the position for years to come.
Roquan Smith, Georgia
Thoughts: Smith is the player in whom I have the most confidence in terms of becoming a force immediately in IDP leagues. He is scheme versatile and can thrive in either a 4-3 or 3-4 defense. Though considered by some to be undersized, we must remember that the game is changing and that smaller, faster linebackers are the direction the NFL is heading with the position. His standout trait on film is his instinctiveness. His ability to diagnose the play and react appears over and over again. Smith is fantastic in coverage, which will mean three-down work. On the negative side, Smith has a tendency to get washed away if a bigger blocker gets his hooks into him. Smith will need to learn how to engage bigger men or use his speed to avoid them. Smith also can overrun tackles at times and will have to do a better job of putting on the breaks when it’s time to make a stop.
Leighton Vander Esch, Boise St.
Thoughts: Leighton Vander Esch reminds me of Zach Thomas, except Vander Esch can also drop into coverage. That comparison should pique your interest in him as a valuable IDP linebacker. Instinctive with a high motor, he is always around the ball. Vander Esch is especially adept at defending the run. Though he’s not as great in coverage, he won’t be a liability there. I also see that Vander Esch could be an effective blitzer at the next level, adding more intrigue to taking him in leagues in which sacks are more highly valued. Vander Esch has the versatility to line up in any of the three linebacker spots and do well, something that will attract the attention of teams who need stability in their corps. In considering his weaknesses, I would say that Vander Esch needs to improve when it comes to taking on blockers. There were times as I watched him that I saw him get forced out of the play because he failed to use proper hand technique or because the guy in front of him was stronger. Many in the scouting community believe he can improve his functional strength, so this is probably nothing to deter you from taking Vander Esch in your rookie drafts.
Rashaan Evans, Alabama
Thoughts: Evans had to wait a while to be in the spotlight in the crowded Alabama talent pipeline, but he made the most of his opportunities and will likely go in the late first or early second round. Teams might see him as an outside linebacker due to him having more experience there in college, but he also has a shot to be cast as an inside guy. Being on the inside would probably be better for his tackle opportunities. Evans is agile and has good foot quickness. He can make up ground quickly and can play sideline to sideline. He has been used as a blitzer in college and could find the same utility in the pros. He can stack and shed with ease. Evans is a punishing tackler that leaves a mark on his target. As far as things that could hold him back, Evans can be a little slow to diagnose things at times. He has also had some issues with a nagging groin injury that may continue to be bothersome.
Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
Thoughts: Fitzpatrick is a lock for the first round of the Draft. He’s slightly smaller than Derwin James, but don’t let that fool you. Fitzpatrick is marvelously versatile-- he can be used in run support, to blitz, to cover slot receivers, or to play nickel linebacker. I don’t see him being as effective in tackle heavy formats as James. However, in leagues where turnovers and scoring off turnovers get big points, you’ll want to opt for Fitzpatrick. This is because he is a ballhawk who will come up with interceptions and take them back the other way for the score. In terms of limitations, I question whether Fitzpatrick can match up and win against bigger receivers consistently. I also see a player who can get too excited and overrun his tackle at times. As long as a defensive coordinator understands his coverage limitations, Fitzpatrick should have success. If you can’t select James first, Fitzpatrick is a nice consolation prize.
Derwin James, Florida State
Thoughts: Metrically, James is everything you want in a versatile safety prospect. He’s got the prototypical build and is fast and athletic. He can line up all over the field, and has even gotten hybrid linebacker duty in college. James is both a great run and pass coverage defender. He has also shown he can be effective when sent in on the safety blitz. James does need some work when it comes to reaction. Sometimes, it seems like he gets too locked in to what he is doing on his side of the field and misses cues that would clue him in to where the ball is headed. Still, I think unless James ends up with a poor team fit, he is a great choice for the first defensive back off the board in your league.