IDP Upgrades/Downgrades - Week 1
Posted 9/4 by Aaron Rudnicki, Exclusive to Footballguys.com
Each week, we will note several individual defensive players at each position who merit an upgrade based on their current playing time and upcoming potential.
Conversely, we will also note several players who deserve a downgrade.
- DL Mathias Kiwanuka, NYG
With the retirement of Michael Strahan and season-ending injury to Osi Umenyiora, the Giants were forced to move Kiwanuka from SLB back to his natural position of DE. He performed very well in the middle of the 2006 season while filling in for Umenyiora and could have a shot at double digit sacks and a top-10 season.
- DL Justin Tuck, NYG
The same news that helped Kiwanuka should also help Tuck. Although he will draw some added attention from blockers this year, he also figures to see a lot more playing time. He managed to record 48 solo tackles and 9.5 sacks last year as the Giants #3 DE, so he should be able to improve on those numbers as their #1 DE.
- DL Paul Spicer, JAX
The Jaguars paid a steep price on draft day to upgrade their pass rush and many thought that Spicer would see a significant reduction in playing time as a result. The long holdout of rookie Derrick Harvey, however, could make it tougher for him to contribute right away. Meanwhile, the Jaguars also showed their appreciation for Spicer with a 2-year, $8 million contract extension this summer. As the best all-around DE on the roster, Spicer should see plenty of playing time and could potentially build on his pretty solid numbers from last season (28 solos, 8.5 sacks, 4 FF).
- DL Lawrence Jackson, SEA
The Seahawks got some pretty good production out of Darryl Tapp last year but still spent their first draft pick on a potential upgrade in Lawrence Jackson. After a strong preseason, it looks like Jackson has already taken over the starting DE spot in Seattle. The team plans to move him inside to DT on passing downs, but at least that keeps him on the field. Many are expecting big things from Chris Long, but Jackson might wind up being the most productive rookie DE this year.
- LB Nate Webster, DEN
Although the Broncos signed Niko Koutouvides to a 3-year, $7.5 million contract to be their new MLB, he was beaten out for the job by Nate Webster. Webster played outside on the strong side last year and finished with 67 solo tackles so a move inside could potentially bump him up into LB3 range. Webster may not wind up as a 3-down LB and he could lose his job or be moved back to SLB if Boss Bailey gets hurt, but a starting MLB is certainly worth a look in deeper IDP leagues.
- LB Paris Lenon, DET
While many assumed that Jordon Dizon had the easiest path to a starting job among this year's crop of rookie linebackers, it looks like we might have to wait awhile. Lenon is the veteran incumbent at MLB for the Lions, and even though he's not considered to be a long-term option at the position, he does know the scheme well and is much more reliable at this point. Dizon will likely get a chance to play at some point, but it doesn't look like it will be anytime soon. Lenon put up respectable numbers last year and looks like he'll remain a 3-down MLB for the time being.
- LB Jerod Mayo, NE
While many dynasty owners were initially unhappy to see Mayo drafted by the Patriots and downgraded him accordingly, it looks like his situation won't be nearly as bad as we feared. Although there was some concern that the Patriots would favor the veterans and bring him along slowly, Mayo has impressed the coaching staff this preseason with how quickly he has picked up the defense. The release of Victor Hobson also seems to be a good sign that the coaches feel comfortable with him and it looks like there's a good chance he could be a 3-down type linebacker from day 1.
- LB Pat Thomas, KC
Napoleon Harris has been a pretty productive LB at times during his career but he fell out of favor with the coaching staff this preseason and was beat out for the starting MLB job by Pat Thomas. Thomas was a 6th round pick of the Jaguars in 2005 who the Chiefs picked up in midseason last year. He is a young, athletic LB who seems to have flown way under the radar but it looks like he has a great chance to wind up as the starting MLB in Kansas City this year. He may not see time in passing downs due to the presence of guys like Donnie Edwards and Demorrio Williams, but Harris was in the same situation last year and wound up with 82 solos and 33 assists.
- LB Gerris Wilkinson, NYG
The injury to Osi Umenyiora looks like it will also wind up helping Wilkinson. He has been sort of banged up for most of the preseason and was competing with Danny Clark for the starting spot at WLB, but Clark has now been moved to SLB to fill the spot vacated by Kiwanuka. Wilkinson is a former 3rd round pick who really hasn't had a great opportunity to showcase his talent yet, but it looks like he could be in line for a 3-down WLB role this year as long as he can stay healthy.
- LB Derrick Johnson, KC
Based on what we've seen and heard in the preseason, it looks like the Chiefs have decided to move Johnson over to the WLB spot this year. He's a great playmaker who put up 83 solos last year while playing on the strong side so if he has less traffic to sift through in chasing down plays in pursuit, he could be headed for a huge season on a defense that may have a tough time getting off the field.
- LB Thomas Davis, CAR
Davis is another player who looks like he'll be moving from SLB over to the weakside this year. While the presence of Beason at MLB may limit his upside, he could easily jump up from 70 solo tackles to 85 or so, which would likely make him a reliable 3rd starter in deeper leagues.
- DB Reed Doughty, WAS
The Redskins have decided to keep LaRon Landry at free safety, which allows Doughty to start at strong safety. While not much of a playmaker in coverage, he should put up pretty solid tackle numbers every week and he could have added value as a blitzer. The trade for Jason Taylor gives the Redskins two elite edge rushers, which should make it even tougher for offenses to handle Doughty blitzing up the middle. He could wind up with 70+ solo tackles and 4 sacks if the Redskins blitz him as aggressively as they have at times during the preseason.
- DB Kevin Kaesviharn, NO
Kaesviharn beat out last year's starting free safety Josh Bullocks with an excellent preseason. He's an underrated playmaker who recorded 4.5 sacks and 6 interceptions as a part-time starter with the Bengals in 2006. With an improved pass rush up front thanks to the additions of Bobby McCray and Sedrick Ellis and a potent offense, he should see plenty of interception opportunities and may add a few sacks like the one he had last week when he helped bloody up Carson Palmer.
- DB Kevin Payne, CHI
This is a situation that many IDP owners have been following closely this preseason. Whoever starts at SS for the Bears seems to produce big numbers and Brandon McGowan was expected to be that player this year. However, despite putting up better numbers in the preseason, the coaching staff has apparently decided to move Payne ahead of McGowan on the depth chart prior to the season opener. Payne is a more traditional big hitting strong safety who the coaching staff really seems to love. As long as Mike Brown is healthy at free safety, that should free up Payne to be more active in run support. He could be this year's version of Chris Harris, who was buried on the depth chart in Chicago but then traded to Carolina and wound up recording an amazing 76 solo tackles and 8 forced fumbles last year.
- DB Dwight Lowery, NYJ
Lowery is the favorite to start at the CB spot opposite Darrelle Revis in the season opener. The early favorite for the job was Justin Miller, but he has been injured and seems to have fallen out of contention. Lowery is a rookie CB and Revis showed enough potential last season to suggest that he could become a lockdown corner with excellent ball skills. Given the situation, it stands to reason that most QBs will prefer to throw to Lowery's side of the field whenever they have a choice. He's a great fit for the zone defense the Jets run and should be very active in run support. Also, for anyone who read my article on the stadium impact on IDP statistics, Jets players may have a slight advantage when it comes to tackle numbers, which could make Lowery one of this year's biggest IDP sleepers.
- DB Brian Williams, JAX
The Jaguars made a big free agent signing when they brought in Drayton Florence from the Chargers. That was expected to knock Williams back to a nickel CB role but instead it looks like the Jaguars are planning to start him at strong safety. He'll still need to hold off Gerald Sensabaugh, but if he can hold onto the job, Williams has an excellent chance to break 60 solo tackles and wind up as a DB3 in many leagues this year.
- DL Elvis Dumervil, DEN
Not only does Dumervil have increased competition for snaps on the defensive line this year with the expected emergence of players like Jarvis Moss and Tim Crowder, he also broke his pinky finger in a preseason game that required doctors to insert 4 pins into it. He's expected to play in the season opener with it but will probably have to wear a cast. There's a good chance that he'll see fewer snaps this year as the team uses more of a rotation to keep him from wearing down.
- DL Darryl Tapp, SEA
After a pretty solid season last year that included a 4-sack game against the Rams, Tapp appears to have lost his starting job to the rookie Lawrence Jackson. The current plan in Seattle seems to be for Jackson to slide inside on passing downs, which will allow Tapp to sub in as a pass rush specialist, but some of those snaps could also go to a player like LB Julian Peterson. Either way, Tapp seems headed for a significant reduction in playing time compared to last season when he only recorded 1.5 sacks in his last 10 games including the playoffs.
- DL Jason Taylor, WAS
Taylor was traded from the Dolphins to the Redskins, who already have a pretty explosive edge rusher at RDE in Andre Carter. As a result, Taylor is expected to line up primarily at LDE for the first time in his career. Taylor also suffered a knee injury during the preseason which may limit him in the season opener or keep him out entirely. It's hard to count him out because he's been one of the best and most consistent pass rushers in the league for a long time, but at 34 years old the knee injury and position switch are certainly cause for some concern.
- DL Derrick Harvey, JAX
The Jaguars paid a steep price to move up in the first round to select Harvey, indicating a strong desire on their part to upgrade the pass rush. However, that same move also gave Harvey added leverage and likely led to the long 33-day holdout from him this preseason. It's hard for most rookies to make an impact right away, but it will be even harder for a player who missed that much time. He could see some time as a pass rush specialist where his responsibilities are limited, but we probably shouldn't expect to see any significant playing time for Harvey until the second half of the season unless there is an injury.
- DL John McCargo, BUF
McCargo has flashed potential during his first two seasons but he has yet to live up to the expectations that come with being a 1st round pick. He was expected to start at the 3-technique spot in Buffalo this year and to get a boost from the trade for Marcus Stroud, but Kyle Williams looks like he'll remain the starter at one tackle spot after signing a contract extension. The Bills also like what free agent pickup Spencer Johnson can add so it looks like they will play all 3 of those guys in a rotation, but Stroud will probably wind up being the only one worth owning in leagues that require a starting DT.
- LB Jordon Dizon, DET
When the Lions drafted Dizon, many thought he was going to take over the MLB job instantly. However, he is a smaller player who has looked lost at times and was often engulfed by blockers in preseason action. Paris Lenon seems to have a strong hold on the starting job so this may be a situation similar to what happened in Tampa when Barrett Ruud had to sit for a couple years behind Shelton Quarles before finally taking over. Dizon is still the MLB of the future in Detroit, but dynasty owners will have to be more patient with him than they originally thought.
- LB Larry Foote, PIT
The talk of the preseason for the Steelers seems to have revolved around last year's 1st round pick Lawrence Timmons. Although he didn't seem to be a great fit for the Steelers 3-4 defense initially and took pretty much his entire rookie season to adjust, it looks like he's ready to start stealing snaps from Foote at ILB. The Steelers defense wore down late last season and Foote seems to be the fall guy even though he's an experienced vet who is still just 28 years old.
- LB Shawne Merriman, SD
The Merriman story got plenty of headlines so most people should be familiar with it. Despite strong recommendations from doctors that he should have knee surgery to repair a couple of ligaments, Merriman plans to play through it. While he apparently played with the same injury during the end of the 2007 season and was still productive, he seems to be at an increased risk for a season-ending and possibly even career-ending injury. If he starts off the season strong, might not be a bad idea to try and move him to a less risk-averse owner in your league.
- LB Donnie Edwards, KC
Edwards has been injured for much of the preseason so we don't have a clear idea of how he'll be used by the Chiefs this year. However, the move of Derrick Johnson to the weakside seems to indicate that Edwards may slot in on the strong side. That doesn't seem like a great fit for a player who is undersized and may not be quick enough at 35 years old to stay with some of the talented TEs in his own division. He's been an IDP stud for a long time but don't be surprised if he falls off quickly as the Chiefs begin to go with more of a youth movement on defense.
- DB Ed Reed, BAL
Reed always seems to be a player that is more valuable in the NFL than he is to fantasy owners because the impact he can have on games doesn't always show up in the box score. Making matters worse, he's expected to miss the season opener and possibly more time with a nerve problem in his neck. He did manage to bring in 7 interceptions last season but he also set a career low with just 29 solo tackles in 16 games.
- DB Josh Bullocks, NO
Bullocks started 43 games over his first 3 years in New Orleans and finished with some respectable numbers in 2007 (65 solos in 14 games). The Saints had an open competition for the starting FS job in the preseason this year, however, and Bullocks lost out to Kevin Kaesviharn. So, his value likely takes a big hit for the time being unless there's an injury to one of the starters.
- DB Brandon McGowan, CHI
McGowan entered the preseason with a lot of promise but it looks like he may have lost his starting job before the season even begins. The Bears recently announced that 2nd year player Kevin Payne has passed him on the depth chart, which could reduce McGowan to more of a part-time role in certain packages. Even though McGowan appears to be the better overall player, the coaches really seem intent to get Payne on the field so we may even wind up seeing some type of platoon situation that hurts the value of both players.
- DB Leodis McKelvin, BUF
McKelvin was the first corner drafted and he filled what looked like a big need for the Bills at the time. However, he has been outplayed by fellow rookie Reggie Corner during the preseason and also by 3rd year pro Ashton Youboty. With Jabari Greer and Terrence McGee having a pretty strong grasp on their starting jobs, it looks like McKelvin will begin the year no better than 4th or 5th on the depth chart. He'll still contribute as a returner right away but may wind up being a bit of a project as a corner.