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Ear To the Ground - Week 3

  Posted 9/18 by Bob Magaw, Exclusive to Footballguys.com


"The cosmos speaks in patterns" - Roger von Oech (paraphrase of Heraclitus)

"Luck is the residue of design" - Branch Rickey (Brooklyn Dodgers GM - integrated baseball)

"Our business is winning" - Bill Parcells (Ex-Giants/Patriots/Jets/Cowboys HC, MIA grocery picker and future HoFer)

The subject matter of ETTG is IDP with an emphasis on Dynasty leagues. Ear To The Ground was chosen for this column's title to convey a sense of detecting rumblings in the distance... an ability essential to project a prospect from college to pro and rookie to veteran. It will consist of three sections: Team Reports (Watchlist), a Defensive Rookie of the Year Meter and an IDP Spotlight. The emphasis here will be on the impact positions of LB, DE and S... exceptional DTs and CBs will be noted for leagues that differentiate DE/DT and S/CB. Dynasty content is geared towards youth. Like most successful working rosters that employ a blend of production and potential, there will be a balance of rookie and veteran coverage in the mix. While by the nature of much IDP coverage new names will bubble up to the surface from week to week, ETTG will try to identify key players early on and provide a synoptic overview for the whole season as it unfolds.

Welcome to season number five of ETTG, and best of luck this season (but see the middle quote that heads this column above)...

Team Reports

Full NFC Coverage (league-wide coverage resumes next week)

Arizona Cardinals

Despite Kurt Warner and Anquan Boldin's heroics (Warner was the offensive player of the week with 3 TDs, all to Boldin) causing the Dolphins to quickly abandon the run game, rangy and multitalented ILB Karlos Dansby was all over the field and managed an impressive defense-pacing 7-1 box score. Big things were expected this season from SS Adrian Wilson after an injury-plagued 2007, but the big plays have yet to materialize. If the Warner/Boldin/Fitzgerald-led offense continues to shine, though, Wilson has the freakish athleticism and talent to capitalize on the opportunities that should start to come his way. Former CB Antrel Rolle (2-0) made a highly anticipated move to FS but that hasn't translated to an impact in the box score so far.

Atlanta Falcons

Geezerrific SS Lawyer Milloy's defense pacing 7-1 box score showed that he still has something left in the tank. While he doesn't have a ton of upside in dynasty leagues, he could remain useful a bit longer for redraft purposes. The Falcons generated a lot of excitement with their unexpected season opening victory (spearheaded by spectacular debuts for prized rookie signal caller Matt Ryan and coveted free agent RB Michael Turner), but in retrospect, beating the lowly Lions may not have been representative in terms of the typical level of competition they will face in the NFL from week-to-week, particularly once they get into the expected to be fiercely contested NFC South divisional schedule against the Bucs, Saints and suddenly resurgent Panthers. Controversial, underachieving DE Jamaal Anderson (high 1st round pick in 2007) has had to contend with rumblings that he is a bust after failing to garner even one sack in the first 18 games of his career, but he may have gotten somewhat untracked with 6 solo tackles. DE John Abraham had 1 solo, 1 sack (his 4 sacks tops the NFL) and 1 FF, but the Falcons were unable to stop the Bucs when it counted. Good looking rookie MLB Curtis Lofton could have a hard time vying for the DROY award as a two down LB, but has the instincts and open field tackling prowess to emerge as one of the top LBs from the class of 2008. His 5-3 box score bested the nickel LBs, WLB Keith Brooking (3-4) and SLB Michael Boley (3-1).

Carolina Panthers

The resurgent Panthers improbably have shot out to a 2-0 record sans star WR Steve Smith not only on the shoulders of a now healthy post-Tommy John surgery Jake Delhomme and good looking, 1st round bruising RB Jonathan Stewart, but also on some timely defensive play. Stud second year MLB Jon Beason (8-3) is off to the races and doesn't look like a candidate for a soph slump season. It soon will no longer be necessary to use qualifiers in describing him as one of the best young LBs in the game. Like Patrick Willis and DeMeco Ryans, he is one of the top LBs in the game, period! New WLB and former SLB/SS Thomas Davis lit up the box score with a Beason-like 8-1, and flashed the kind of performance he is capable of once he settles into the new position. He is an emerging talent with the pedigree and athletic versatility to become one of the best in the league at the WLB position (similar upside to the likes of fellow ascendant players such as Ernie Sims, D.J. Williams and Derrick Johnson). Opportunistic CB Chris Gamble (7-1) teamed up with hard hitting FF-making SS Chris Harris for his second FR in as many weeks could be playing with a chip on his shoulder all season in a contract year, and with protean talent Richard Marshall looking over his shoulder. Gamble is a gifted athlete who had a Charles Woodson, Champ Bailey-like two way collegiate career on offense and defense at Ohio State. He has flashed above average coverage and ball skill at times, but has not always been a physical presence in run support. The subdued 2-2 box score Harris had doesn't accurately reflect the magnitude of impact he has had early in the season. He showed last year's elite DE-like 8 FFs (led the NFL overall) was not a fluke with FFs in consecutive weeks, including the huge play week one when the ball he dislodged was scooped up for a Gamble FR TD and turned out to be instrumental in the eventual last second win against the Chargers. Best off all, the fourth year Harris is just 26, could conceivably still have some upside and is evolving into a defensive leader for a stop unit that has become younger with the departures in recent years of DE Keith Rucker, DT Kris Jenkins, MLB Dan Morgan and SS Mike Minter. DT Damione Lewis had 2 solos and 1 sack, and it will be interesting to see if he can fulfill some of the potential STL saw in making him a 1st round pick, before later abandoning him as an injury prone bust. DE Julius Peppers (2-1) is disturbingly still without a sack. Owners may soon have to begin asking themselves if he has the prototypical athletic and physical tools to be a dominant NFL DE, why isn't he getting the results of ascendant players like Mario Williams and Justin Tuck.

Chicago Bears

CB Charles Tillman (6-0 & 1 INT) is rebounding nicely from an injury plagued 2007. Kevin Payne (5-1) was surprisingly named the SS over Brandon McGowan and could put up some good numbers almost by default if he can maintain hold of the starting gig throughout the season, based on some of the scoring that has come from the Bears SS position in recent years. MLB Brian Urlacher (2-1) had an uncharacteristically quiet game and needs to be watched carefully to see if the back problem that flared up last season will be a lingering condition and recurring theme.

Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys were shredded by the Eagles in the second highest scoring first half in MNF history, but survived as the last man standing in the historic shoot-out. For the most part, the DAL scheme hasn't generated widespread IDP production, but the exception has been OLB DeMarcus Ware (4-2 & 1 sack). The former alumni of emerging football factory Troy State (with the Giants IRed star DE Osi Umenyiora and the Bills coveted high first round CB and gifted returner Leodis McKelvin) is an ascendant player that has the kind of talent to be the Defensive Player of the Year at some point. ILB Zach Thomas made a brilliant play in downfield coverage that made it transparently clear he hasn't lost his wheels or playmaking instincts, and may not be as close to his last legs as some feared based on missing about two thirds of the 2007 season with post-concussion symptoms. He won't be in nickel situations at times, but if he can continue to put up robust box scores (5-2) could have some upside. Same with FS Ken Hamlin, with a similar 5-2 box score. As pointed out recently by John Norton, he will be deployed as LB in nickel a lot, which will give his tackle numbers a nice boost, and could catapult him much higher in the year-end DB standings. Hamlin is a vicious tackler that nearly decapitated then-Saints WR Donte Stallworth in a memorable NFL films highlight shot a few years ago. SS Roy Williams will miss some time, but was already increasingly in the process of being relegated to an afterthought.

Detroit Lions

The Lions have gotten off to a Rams-tying 0-2 (think how far the Lions have sunk to be compared to the Rams). The Sunday's contest was a bizarre tale of three games in which GB raced out to a 24-0 lead, DET got off the ropes by reeling off 25 straight points, after which the Packers improbably responded with 24 consecutive unanswered points (for the second time in the game!) on their way to an easy victory beating up on the Norris division's ugly, red headed stepchildren. The catastrophic second half meltdown had nothing to do with the defense in the final reckoning, but came about from three ill-advised INTs by QB Jon Kitna leading directly to three TDs in the span of about as many minutes, the last two walked in by a toe injury-hampered CB Charles Woodson and FS Nick Collins. The Drew Stanton countdown has officially commenced. DE Dewayne White (3-1, 1 sack & 1 FF) has teased/threatened to emerge as an IDP force for seemingly forever, and maybe this will be the year he finally puts it all together. If the Lions O continues to wander around aimlessly in the desert waiting to find their way, DET defenders like banged up WLB Ernie Sims (3-2) and MLB-of-the-future/present Jordon Dizon could be on the field early and often and their IDP production boosted accordingly.

Green Bay Packers

Not only did DBs Woodson (2-0 with 2 INTs in the contest) and Collins (0-2) score the momentum turning and game deciding TDs, but the highly pedigreed and talented WLB A.J. Hawk (5-2 and 2 sacks) also enjoyed a breakout game after a lackluster soph slump-type year and a preseason clouded by a painful chest injury. Oddly, MLB Nick Barnett (1-1) barely dented the box score, but that could speak to the general ineptness of the Lions offense getting behind big in the first half, as well as all the turnovers in the second half (a positively Martz-like mere 12 run plays in the entire game). If the new Rodgers-led passing attack continues to improve, the Packers secondary should be afforded many more opportunities throughout the season.

Minnesota Vikings

The biggest news coming out of Minnesota this week of course is that HC Brad Childress has pulled the plug on the Tarvaris Jackson experiment for the balance of the season, and who can blame him after Super Bowl dreams have coalesced into a nightmarish 0-2 start heading into a Sunday tilt with the suddenly resurgent Panthers. The percentages for a playoff appearance after an 0-3 start are vanishingly small and yield a bleak forecast, and the Childress regime could be coaching for their football lives during the remainder of 2008. IF newly installed starting QB Gus Frerotte can move the team more consistently and score TDs with greater frequency (that shouldn't be too hard), that could help the vaunted DL play downhill. Prized trade acquisition DE Jared Allen (2-1) got his first sack of the season, and MLB E.J. Henderson (5-1 & 1 sack) and SLB Chad Greenway (6-0) spearheaded what has become one of the stoutest run support units in the league (IND RB Joseph Addai was held to a shockingly scant 20 yards in 15 carries). Good looking rookie safety Tyrell "Nexus-7 Series" Johnson had 5 solos, and even after FS Madieu Williams returns to health and the playing field, Johnson will be groomed as heir apparent to ancient SS Darren Sharper, and has an extremely bright future. He is definitely a keeper in dynasty leagues. Young DE Ray Edwards (3-2) could also be a beneficiary of more stable play from the offense. CB Antoine Winfield (3-0) complemented muted tackle numbers with an INT. Second year CB Cedric Griffin (5-1) continues to be a prolific tackler and nice complement hammer in run support to the similarly voracious Winfield.

New Orleans Saints

Newly acquired MLB Jonathan Vilma looks very comfortable back in the saddle, easily pacing the team with 16 tackles (including DD solos... currently leads the NFL in tackles). Some preseason concerns and rumblings that his knee injury could be lingering appear to be unfounded. Don't forget that immediately prior to being miscast as a 3-4 ILB the past two seasons in Jets HC Eric Mangini's transplanted Belichick scheme, he led the NFL in tackles in 2005 and was the most productive player in IDP leagues. Having a talented front four in front of him should help a lot, including highly motivated DE Will Smith (3-1 & 1 sack) playing for a contract, already extended bookend Charles Grant (1-2) and coveted top 10 rookie DT Sedrick Ellis (3-1). Diminutive fellow rookie CB Tracy Porter (5'11" 185) is already starting over the disappointing 2007 free agent Jason David, and could be counted on heavily in the Saints resurgent playoff aspirations. He lit up the box score with a LB-like 8 solos and 1 assist, but also contributed to the defense's seemingly chronic breakdowns and omnipresent collapses in coverage (the main reason David was shunted to the bench). At some point they have to do a better job of maintaining the leads handed to them by an explosive offense and therefore preserving victories, which are expected to be hotly contested in the evenly matched NFC South.

New York Giants

The Giants pulverized the abysmal Rams, and spearheading the damage was emerging star DE Justin Tuck (3 solos, 2 sacks, 1 INT and a TD). If fellow ascendant star Mario Williams isn't the top DE in the game soon, Tuck might be, and the absence of bookends Michael Strahan (to retirement) and Osi Umenyiora (to a season-ending ACL injury) has not only failed to have a negative impact on his IDP production, but may if anything be fueling a surge... he is tied for 2nd in the league with 3 sacks. The slow start so far by MLB Antonio Pierce wasn't allayed by a quiet 3-1 box score, but he did add a sack. The Rams general ineptness on offense may have contributed to the suppressed tackle numbers, as with good looking 1st round FS Kenny Phillips (2 solos). The Giants have toyed with the first two week opponents WAS and STL, and should enter the week four bye 3-0 after facing the suddenly toothless Bengals attack, but will know a lot more about where they stand in their Super Bowl defense after a brutal stretch near midseason when they face PIT, DAL and PHI in consecutive weeks.

Philadelphia Eagles

Jim Johnson's vaunted pressure scheme failed to generate a sack against Tony Romo, which was one of the differences in the game (DAL does have one of the top OLs in the game). CB Sheldon Brown was kept busy during all the aerial fireworks (8 solo tackles). MLB Stewart Bradley (2-2) came back to Earth after a torrid start to the season, but that was a function of the Cowboys waging much of the battle through the air. The promising new LB corps is one of the most athletic Johnson has had during his tenure with the Eagles, and could emerge as one of the best, as the season progresses. SS Quentin Mikell (3-2) was a popular waiver wire pickup last week, based on his outstanding week one effort, but perpetuated the recent PHI trend of a vulnerable secondary Achilles heel in Romo's liberal scorching. The Eagles broke the bank to lure coveted free agent CB Asante Samuel (2-0) to Philadelphia for precisely this reason, and he made his presence felt with an INT.

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks had an amazing 8 sacks against current Martz pinata J.T. O'Sullivan, but improbably managed to lose in OT due to the secondary struggling mightily in coverage. This was a reversion to pre-2007 Achilles heel form, before SEA appeared to have shored up the position with the addition of the free agent safety tandem of Deon Grant and Brian Russell, who were responsible for far fewer big plays in the passing game last season. The DEs led the charge in the sack department. The still frisky and spry Patrick Kerney had a 5 solo, 1 assist and 2 sack box score (sustaining his momentum from a RIDICULOUS number of multi-sack games to close out the second half of the 2007 season with a white hot finish... he is tied for 2nd in the league with 3 sacks). A much bigger surprise was the double barreled sack assault turned in by surprise rookie 1st round starter Lawrence "Lo-Jack" Jackson (4-1). The FBG Seattle Team Report turned in postdraft alluded to Jackson, a four year starter at dynastic collegiate powerhouse USC, being talented enough to sneakily take some snaps from DE Darryl Tapp (a meager 1-0) and possibly relegating him to more of a situational role, but not many could have anticipated his starting and looking so good this early (surging to #3 in the Defensive Rookie of the Year Meter below). SLB Julian Peterson (5 solos and 1 sack) is still one of the best in the business at his position, and the rare strong side LB who can produce at a level as high as all but the top MLB/ILBs and WLB/OLBs in IDP leagues. MLB Lofa Tatupu turned a quiet 4-1 as he plays through injury. CB Marcus Trufant (2-0) was the top CB and maybe DBs overall in many scoring systems last season, but highlights the volatility at the CB position, generally heavily dependent on hard-to reproduce from year-to-year big plays.

San Francisco 49ers

After a slow start week one, ILB Patrick Willis (8-0, 1 INT & 1 TD) returned to form as perhaps the most dominant defensive player currently in the NFL at any position, with a highlight reel-worthy weaving INT and return TD in which he flashed latent RB-like open field running skills (and may have been one of the most impressive run backs on an INT return TD for an ILB/MLB in league history). Stud CB Nate Clements picked up where he left off in recent seasons as one of the top two way DBs in the NFL with 7 solo tackles and a FF. SS Michael Lewis augmented an otherwise quiet 3-2 box score with an important sack. He is an impressive athlete that could be turned loose in this capacity more often as the season progresses. OLB Parys Haralson was recently identified as a pretender (and not a defender) by Jene Bramel in his week two install of Reading the Defense. He followed up a huge week one 2 sack effort with a paltry 1 solo, and is a case in point on why having a knowledge of IDP positional lore and arcana can help one to avoid chasing last week's stats.

St. Louis Rams

The Rams stock is going south faster than Wall Street's monumental implosion. The STL roster has more holes than a pasta colander on both sides of the ball. Years of drafts doomed by overdependence on measurables at the expense of getting physical, battle tested in big time program FOOTBALL PLAYERS, shortsighted free agency acquisitions and negligent roster architecting, cap management and depth development have caught up with the franchise in a big way. We are witnessing the unfolding (upchucking?) of a full blown organizational reverse peristalsis. HC Scott Linehan has deservedly become a focal point of ire and derision, but it would be remiss and ultimately suicidal for the new ownership to not trace the root of the sickness back to its logical conclusion at the source. The late Georgia Rosenbloom was a hands off owner, and ostensible front office lead and President John Shaw doesn't even live in St. Louis. As local journalist Bryan Burwell pointed out in a series of scathing indictments of the pathetic state of the product being put on the field, hopefully it won't escape the attention of new owner Chip Rosenbloom that the Rams recent regression into league laughing stock and punchline to a nightmare for fans has coincided with some highly questionable decisions made by GM Jay Zygmunt (he needs to ultimately be accountable for the hiring of Linehan and some of the recent blown draft/free agent opportunities). Rosenbloom in a Captain Obvious announcement noted that immanent improvement was needed or changes would soon be forthcoming. To simply make the admittedly incompetent looking Linehan the scapegoat without the addressing the deeper, underlying cracks and faultlines tearing the once high-flying organization apart would be like slapping a Band-Aid on a patient undergoing the final stages of septic shock and systemic organ failure. On a cheerier note, second overall pick in the 2008 draft, DE Chris Long (3-1) got the first of what will be sure to be many future sacks in a career that only catastrophic injury can stand in the way of being long and distinguished. The absence of possibly their best defensive player, DE Leonard Little, with a hamstring injured contributed to a lack of pressure up front and enabled QB Eli Manning to surgically carve up a STL secondary which has been way out of their depth in the first two weeks against the likes of Donovan McNabb and Manning. It was good to hear that Little launched an enraged post-game chair-throwing and profanity-laced tirade in the locker room, which is the only rational response to the perception that some Rams are quitting on the team and just there to cash a paycheck.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The big news was DE Gaines Adams (3-3 & 2 sacks) coming out party with easily the best game of his still nascent and developing career. He was one of the top overall picks in the 2007 draft, the first defensive player off the board and scouts generally viewed him as the best pass rushing prospect in his class (with prototypical agility, feet, quickness and long arms for the position). Adams got off to a slow start (nearly an axiom for young DL), but flashed promise in the second half of the season. He could soon have a lot of cache in big play leagues. MLB Barrett Ruud (5-3) remains on track to have a good season after starting 2007 so promisingly, before having his final numbers blunted by injury. CB Aqib Talib (2008 1st round pick) paid early dividends with an INT, and looks like he will be groomed as the heir apparent to aging Ronde Barber.

Washington Redskins

MLB London Fletcher tumbled to a 4-3 box score after leading the league in solo tackles in the first week (he is still second behind only Jonathan Vilma). Those huge outbursts are a nice consolation for the occasionally "clumpy" nature of his scoring distribution over the season. WLB Rocky McIntosh had a quiet 3-1 box score, but flashed his explosiveness (when his knee is healthy) with a FF. The tragic passing of Hall of Fame-caliber SS Sean Taylor had a corollary fraught with IDP implications in that coveted 2007 1st round safety LaRon Landry (2-1) has been forced to reprise Taylor's center fielder role and probably won't be as active around the LOS (where he would be better positioned to unleash his fearsome striking ability in run support) than his IDP owners had hoped. Hopefully the Redskins defensive brain trust will devise more schemes to better leverage Landry's explosive athletic and physical gifts and multifaceted skill set. In the right situation he has the talent to be one of the top young safeties in the game (potentially a young Adrian Wilson with better ball skills), and hopefully his NFL career arc and trajectory will more closely resemble a healthy Troy Polamalu than an increasingly IDP-marginalized Ed Reed. DE Jason Taylor (2-2) had his first sack of what could be many more in the nation's capitol. If that scenario plays out, it will certainly help bookend Andre Carter (1-3). SS Chris Horton's 2 INTs look suspiciously like a one week wonder.


Defensive Rookie of the Year Meter

Top 10 DROY Candidates

  1. Keith Rivers, WLB, CIN, 1.09, USC (6'2" 240)
    13 Solo Tackles, 5 Assists (#16 LB Overall, Top Rookie LB)
  2. Jerod Mayo, ILB, NE, 1.10, Tennessee (6'1" 240)
    13 Solo Tackles
  3. Lawrence Jackson, DE, SEA, 1.28, USC (6'4" 270) RISING
    5 Solo Tackles, 2 Assists & 2 Sacks
  4. Curtis Lofton, MLB, ATL, 2.06, Oklahoma (6'0" 250)
    7 Solo Tackles, 5 Assists
  5. Chris Long, DE, STL, 1.02, Virginia (6'3" 265)
    5 Solo Tackles, 1 Assist & 1 sack
  6. Brandon Flowers, CB, KC, 2.04, Virginia Tech (5'9" 190)
    8 Solo Tackles, 1 Assist
  7. Tyrell "Nexus-7 Series" Johnson, SS, MIN, 2.12, Arkansas State (6'0" 210)
    7 Solo Tackles
  8. Derrick Harvey, DE, JAX, 1.08, Florida (6'5" 270)
    1 Solo Tackle, 1 INT, 1 PD & 1 PD
  9. Kenny Phillips, FS, NYG, 1.31, Miami (6'2" 210)
    5 Solo Tackles
  10. Glenn Dorsey, DT, KC, 1.05, LSU (6'1" 300)
    3 Solo Tackles & 2 Assists

Standing on the Verge...

  • Jordon Dizon (Falling)
  • Antoine Cason
  • Sedrick Ellis
  • Kendall Langford
  • Vernon Gholston
  • Leodis McKelvin
  • Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
  • Tavares Gooden
  • Dan Connor
  • Shawn Crable
  • Cliff Avril
  • Philip Wheeler
  • Beau Bell
  • Xavier Adibi
  • Phillip Merling
  • Calais Campbell
  • Quentin Groves
  • Jason Jones
  • William Hayes
  • Kentwan Balmer
  • Trevor Laws
  • DeJuan Morgan
  • Charles Godfrey
  • Tom Zbikowski
  • Aqib Talib
  • Mike Jenkins
  • Tracy Porter
  • Terrence Wheatley
  • Terrell Thomas
  • Chevis Jackson
  • Reggie Smith
  • Antwaun Molden
  • Tyvon Branch

IDP Spotlight

This section will draw from and point back to preseason content, such as Spotlights, Face-offs, Value Play and Sleeper articles, Team Reports and Player Pages, as well as new content as in-season events dictate.

Freddie Keiaho, WLB, IND

(signed a four year rookie contract which runs through 2009... tick... tick... tick)

A few keys in disentangling the pros and cons with Keiaho, and attempting to decode his likely projection for the 2008 season...

His upside is vast, not so much from any intrinsic talent (though he has flashed impressive ability in relatively limited action, and appears to have the combination of physical tools and natural talent to transcend being just a "scheme player"), but due primarily to the momentous role he plays as starting WLB for the Colts. Over the past half decade or so it has been a star making position, first for current Jaguars MLB Mike Peterson, than for Titans SLB David Thornton and immediately preceding Keiaho, Bucs OLB Cato June (coming full circle, widely thought to be the heir apparent to Derrick Brooks, "prototype" of the Cover Two WLB and the physical embodiment template that Dungy brought with him from Tampa Bay to Indianapolis).

Downside is probably more limited, and is specifically related to the simple question of whether he can stay healthy... which after last season's checkered medical history is still very much an open question.

For a more detailed breakdown of pros and cons:

Positives

  • Keiaho is a tremendous athlete, who rushed for over 4,000 yards and 57 TDs as a star CA prep RB.
  • He is very active in run support and has a nose for the ball, with outstanding instincts, first step, playing speed and open field tackling ability (if he hadn't missed five games and played hurt in a few others due to injury, Keiaho was pacing for about 95 solo tackles in 2007, which would have been in the top 10 LBs, near stud MLBs Kirk Morrison and E.J. Henderson... he needs to track for that kind of tackle production to avoid disappointing, as thus far in his still nascent NFL career he hasn't exactly been a big play maven).
  • The Colts WLB position has been a fantasy gold mine in recent years, with his predecessors Mike Peterson, David Thornton and Cato June all lighting it up (albeit over the course of more complete seasons - hard to put up massive numbers missing nearly a third of the season).
  • At just 25, he should get nothing but better with more experience.

Negatives

  • Keiaho is far from proven or entrenched, with less than a season as the starting WLB under his belt.
  • He was banged up a lot with multiple injuries in his first extended action, and needs to prove he is robust and resilient enough to absorb the physical pounding and withstand the extreme punishment an NFL LB is subjected to.
  • Keiaho is typically "undersized" for a classic Cover Two WLB at a near safety-like 5'11" 225, which could add to his injury risk.
  • For longer range dynasty purposes, the Colts change WLBs like most people change cell phones... because they don't require a prototypical size/strength/speed physical specimen to play LB at a high level within their scheme, it makes it easier for them to identify and develop replacements and reload when needed (Peterson had the highest pedigree coming from the 2nd round and Keiaho also a day one pick going in the 3rd, Thornton went in the 4th and June carried a pedestrian 6th round grade, for what its worth).

Final Thoughts

To sum up, Keiaho's current FBG staff consensus ranking is LB27, right behind D.J. Williams and A.J. Hawk and ahead of Thomas Howard and Chad Greenway. If he misses a third of the season again he could plummet all the way out of the top 60 LBs... if he stays healthy and improves with experience, he has the kind of potential and upside to penetrate the top 20 LBs.

Prediction is a dark art, especially when it involves forecasting unknowables such as injuries (except for Dan Morgan, who got hurt with the precision and regularity of the atomic clock). The above projection tries to strike a balance between pessimistically assuming something approximating last season's five DNPs, but also not necessarily taking a complete 16 game season as a given. The fact that Keiaho had multiple injuries and did miss a substantial part of the season in his very first year getting a crack at the starting gig is a little ominous, and should arouse at least a minimal level of skepticism about his ability to stay healthy (until he gives cause over a more extended period to think otherwise).

To extend some dynasty thoughts in the negatives section above, Keiaho is almost caught in a kind of pincer movement between a few different but ultimately negative forces relating to the probability of a long term future with Indy. A corollary of the fact that the Colts different requirements for a LB in their scheme makes it easier for them to find replacements (than perhaps other teams with more exacting and demanding requirements) is that LBs just aren't valued as much as some other positions within the Colts defensive positional hierarchy... such as DL. Peterson, Thornton and June were all allowed to walk rather than re-upping.

Adding to that, even if the Colts were so inclined to uncharacteristically make a financial commitment to a WLB, they would be in a difficult position to do so (especially if Keiaho plays well, increasing the chance he effectively prices himself out of the Colts market). For years the IND defense were treated like the ugly, freckled, redheaded stepchildren in contract matters, with such a disproportionate amount of the cap locked up in offensive super stars like Manning, James, Harrison and Wayne. But now, with the Colts somewhat surprisingly extending defensive anchors Dwight Freeney and Bob Sanders (at or near the top of the food chain in salaries for their respective positions), they would be even less able to squeeze a high priced WLB under the cap.

So enjoy the production while you can, because it may not last for long. David Thornton had his value blown up BEFORE becoming a free agent, when he was shunted to SLB to accommodate Cato June (though Thornton is a bigger 235 lbs, and the possibility of a similar scenario with Keiaho unfolding is probably more remote). Lastly, just as it paid off to scope out who was waiting in the wings when, most recently, June was the incumbent, so to with Keiaho. Is an up and coming young player like Clint Session the possible heir apparent, or is it a prospect not currently on the roster?

Thanks for reading Ear to the Ground. Any comments or questions are invited - Magaw@Footballguys.com.

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