Unsettled depth chart situations are the norm in July. Coaching changes, scheme modifications, free agency, the draft, OTAs, and minicamps muddle the NFL landscape more often than they provide clarity. Coaches are cryptic with their plans and release depth charts that disguise their true beliefs and intentions.
It’s nothing new. Sifting through incomplete and misleading information is what fantasy analysis is all about.
But this year is different. I cannot remember an offseason with this many unknowns. If you asked me to put together an every-down linebacker chart today, I could do it. But my confidence level would be much lower than usual. This isn’t to say I’m going to be unwilling to take a stand as I work through this Q&A. I will.
Rather than focusing on getting the right answer in mid-July, though, I think the key to unlocking this year’s IDP mysteries will be in the questions themselves. Ask the correct question and you’re much more likely to take a good path to the answer.
Let’s see if we can put the theory to the test.
Thanks to everyone who contributed questions on Twitter, in the IDP Forum, and via email. Your feedback, discussion, and interest are very much appreciated.
First up, questions on the aftermath of the Jason Pierre-Paul injury.
CAN JASON PIERRE-PAUL STILL BE AN ELITE DEFENSIVE END AND FANTASY PERFORMER AFTER HIS INJURY?
Yes, but a qualified yes.
Pierre-Paul’s injury – at minimum, a broken thumb and complete amputation of the right index finger and metacarpal bone of the hand – is a major injury. If that were the extent of his injuries, Pierre-Paul would be a good bet to make a productive recovery. Hand use is critical for all defensive ends, but the part of the hand Pierre-Paul lost is not as vital to grip strength and maneuverability as the thumb or ring finger would have been.
But it’s likely Pierre-Paul has additional blast and burn injuries that will need additional rehab and recovery. If those injuries involve his palm, thumb, or other fingers and do not heal well, Pierre-Paul has a tougher road. Pierre-Paul will play this season on the franchise tender. He’ll want to avoid going on the NFI list and missing the first six weeks of the season, so don’t expect him to sign the tender (the Giants cannot move him to the NFI unless he does) until he’s certain he’ll be ready to play early in the season. It’s obvious, but still warrants writing: If Pierre-Paul is cleared to return quickly, his future is more certain.
WOULD A MOVE TO LINEBACKER AND A TWO POINT STANCE MINIMIZE HIS LIMITATIONS?
Probably. A move to linebacker would decrease the number of snaps Pierre-Paul would have to engage with an offensive lineman. But if grip strength and range of motion in the hand is an issue, a move to a two-point stance wouldn’t be a career-saver. Pierre-Paul’s current preferred alignment – right defensive end – puts him on the open side of the formation and allows him to choose to engage the left tackle (assuming there’s no tight end to his side) with his left shoulder and arm and keep his right side free. That’s as good a scenario here as any.
WHAT DOES AN INEFFECTIVE PIERRE-PAUL DO TO THE IDP OUTLOOK OF THE OTHER GIANTS’ DEFENDERS?
If Pierre-Paul isn’t ready to play early this season or cannot play 60 snaps a game, there are more potential snaps for Damontre Moore. But we may see the Giants use Cullen Jenkins as their base left defensive end and Robert Ayers as the base right defensive end. Moore wouldn’t pick up many more snaps than currently planned. Fewer Pierre-Paul snaps could also mean an accelerated development plan for Owa Odighizuwa. But you shouldn’t count on that. I like Odighizuwa but rookie defensive ends are rarely successful early in their careers.
If the Giants struggle to rush the passer, it will lead to more opportunities for the back seven. I’m not sold on any of the linebackers yet. Landon Collins will get a bump in expectation, but there’s some risk he’ll be used more in coverage if the line is ineffective.
We’ll know more about Pierre-Paul when camp opens. For now, don’t make any quick decisions.
WILL THE DFS WORLD OFFER IDP CONTESTS?
Though one smaller site (247drafts) offered IDP contests last year, there are no plans for either of the market driving sites (FanDuel, DraftKings), Yahoo!, or their smaller competitors to offer contests with defensive players this year. And while this market has been moving at light speed over the past two seasons, I don’t believe IDP contests are likely in future seasons either.
There are two major roadblocks to daily IDP contests in my mind.
Attracting new users and increasing the volume of entries currently drives competition in the daily world. While IDP leagues are an important minority in fantasy football, it’s still a clear minority. Offering support for defensive player contests will be much lower on the priority list for these sites than expanding into golf, NASCAR, college football, etc. Resources will go there first. Adding IDP contests won’t draw many new users – they’re already playing NFL games – and is unlikely to significantly increase total NFL entries.
The second roadblock is equally difficult to overcome. The NFL only certifies sacks and interceptions as official statistics. There’s just too much variance and inaccuracy in the tackle, pass defensed, quarterback hit, and fumble statistics for a DFS site to fuss over the unofficial nature of the statistic. I’m not saying unofficial defensive statistics are a deal breaker, but it’s certainly a drawback to IDP contests. Will the NFL move to make these defensive statistics official? I’ll spare you the multi-paragraph answer here. They won’t.
WHAT DOES THE DALLAS DEFENSIVE END ROTATION LOOK LIKE BEFORE AND AFTER GREG HARDY’S SUSPENSION ENDS?
The Cowboys want Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory to start and would prefer to rotate Jeremy Mincey in a swing end-tackle role. There’s a ton of upside in this rotation. Both Lawrence and Gregory should be better run defenders than their size suggests and Rod Marinelli’s scheme and tutelage is as good as it gets for young defensive ends.
But young defensive ends need developmental time. Lawrence had only 220 snaps last season and made only one splash play. He’s going to be a popular sleeper pick, but don’t count on him blossoming until Hardy returns to play alongside him. And I’m not expecting either Lawrence or Gregory to consistently put up near-elite tackle numbers. By season’s end, I think we’ll see either Lawrence or Gregory get two-thirds of the snaps opposite Gregory. I think all three ends will have value in the long term. Dynasty owners should move on Lawrence or Gregory if they disappoint and are dropped during the season.
DO YOU FAVOR DRAFTING LINEBACKERS FROM BAD TEAMS WITH THE ASSUMPTION THEY WILL HAVE MORE TACKLE OPPORTUNITY?
Opportunity is more important than talent in the middle tiers at linebacker. But there has to be some talent. If a player isn’t strong enough to shed a block, or isn’t quick enough to pursue to the sideline, or doesn’t have the instincts to make plays in front of him, or is a poor fundamental tackler, it’s a struggle to take advantage of even the best opportunity. Surrounding cast comes into play here, too. A so-so linebacker talent surrounded by physical cornerbacks and a true in-the-box safety won’t be more than a replacement-level fantasy option whether he sees 45 tackle opportunities a week or 65.
DO YOU FAVOR DRAFTING DEFENSIVE BACKS FROM GOOD TEAMS WITH THE ASSUMPTION THEY’LL SEE MORE OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE PLAYS AS TEAMS TRY TO COME FROM BEHIND?
No. I don’t favor drafting any defensive back I’d need to find a justification to draft. Those players are streaming options only. Use the roster spot to stash upside through training camp, then populate your starting lineup with streaming options as necessary. When it comes time to insert a player off the free agent list, absolutely consider likely game script and snap count in your deliberations.
Players further from the line of scrimmage have a wider range of expectation and more variance, however, so take care in using “defensive back on a team facing an offense coming from behind” as your primary focus. Those offenses are also one-dimensional, less likely to sustain drives, and may lose the time of possession battle.
HOW WILL THE RAIDERS USE THEIR LINEBACKERS? WHO’S THE FAVORITE TO LEAD THE GROUP IN TACKLES? CAN CURTIS LOFTON HAVE ANOTHER 130-140 TACKLE SEASON?
ESPN’s Bill Williamson believes Sio Moore will start if he’s healthy and back to full form. That remains a huge if, though. Moore didn’t participate in OTAs. He didn’t participate in mini-camp. The Raiders added both Lofton and Malcolm Smith in free agency. Smith’s contract wasn’t a vet minimum deal for depth and he’s a known commodity to new defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr.
There were rumors of Khalil Mack sliding to defensive end and I speculated about some 3-4 looks (with Mack and Moore) outside, but there’s been no hint of either through the OTA season. For now, I expect Mack, Lofton, and Smith to open camp as the starters. If Moore does not start camp on the PUP list, expect an extended battle with Smith for the weakside linebacker job.
I’m still tentatively expecting Lofton to lead the linebacker group in tackles, but if both Moore and Smith are healthy, Lofton may not remain an every-down player. Moore’s health and play will have a ripple effect on the nickel scheme, too.
Any discussion of the Oakland linebacker group this offseason should be highlighted by Mack, though. I’ve ripped the brake of the bandwagon and pushed the pedal to the floor. Or did I just let go of the reins? Whatever the metaphor, I’m as high on Mack this summer as I was on Justin Houston three summers ago.
IS VIC BEASLEY A LINEBACKER OR DEFENSIVE END?
He’s a defensive end.
Yes, the Falcons listed him at linebacker on their initial depth chart. But Dan Quinn continues to call Beasley his Leo. By every previous definition, including Quinn’s depth charts in Seattle, the Leo is a hybrid defensive end and has been listed as such on the depth chart. While Quinn probably gave Beasley a handful of snaps at strong side linebacker, that will not be his NFL position. Rotoworld, and by proxy MFL, has him listed correctly.
There are two more pertinent questions. First, how soon will the Falcons elevate Beasley over Adrian Clayborn in the base defense? Second, and more importantly, can Beasley be dominant enough in pass rush to have an immediate role in sack-heavy leagues this year? I’d rate Beasley a high-variance DE2 in sack-heavy systems this year. He has an excellent chance to work his way into the near-elite tiers in all scoring systems by 2016.
HOW WILL THE ARIZONA SECONDARY WORK OUT THIS YEAR? WILL THERE BE ANY MAJOR CHANGES TO THE DEPTH CHART AND SUBPACKAGES?
The four man rotation of 2014 is a thing of the past. Tyrann Mathieu will be the base free safety and Tony Jefferson will be a reserve. For now, however, I think the Cardinals intend to keep Rashad Johnson as the base strong safety and continue to use Deone Bucannon in his Big Nickel role. That’s not great news for Bucannon’s fantasy upside, but don’t give up on him yet. 65 solos in 700 subpackage snaps is a strong effort. Daryl Washington may have a part to play on this depth chart this year, but Bucannon still holds DB3+ value in most weeks.
CAN WE COUNT ON DANNY TREVATHAN AND BRANDON MARSHALL IN WEEK 1? WHO’S MOST LIKELY TO BRIDGE THE GAP IN DENVER IF NEEDED?
Frankly, I’m shocked at the continued positive notes and tweets about Marshall’s recovery from Lisfranc surgery in March. That’s generally a six month recovery and I fully expected him to start camp on the PUP list and read an increasingly worried set of beat writer stories through August. I’m now cautiously optimistic on Week 1, but reserving judgment until early camp notes start trickling out. Trevathan should be good to go. The Broncos used Steven Johnson and Todd Davis last year and would likely give them the inside track over Lamin Barrow and Corey Nelson if the two starters aren’t ready.
DO PRESEASON GAMES GIVE ACTIONABLE INFORMATION ON WHAT TO EXPECT TEAMS TO DO IN THE REGULAR SEASON?
It’s a mixed bag. Defensive coordinators won’t show many new wrinkles during preseason games. But they have to evaluate their reserve players. So, you can get a sense of what the common base fronts will look like and the most straight-forward subpackages will be.
Three things should command your attention. First, it goes without saying that a major shift in base defensive philosophy – 4-3 to 3-4, players in new depth chart positions, etc. – should be noted. Second, watch who sees the first few nickel snaps. A veteran unexpectedly sitting in subpackages isn’t a death knell for their value, but if a younger player is getting looks in the preseason, the team wants to see if what they’ve seen in practice is translating to game speed. It’s valuable information when injuries hit and a possible sign the coaches are souring on a veteran. Finally, cross-check surprising stats and buzz-worthy performances against the second half game film. Dominating second and third string players is what a promising young talent should be doing. But dominating play will not carry forward against starting caliber players unless the performance is backed up by elite physical skills and appropriate technique.
WHAT DO YOU THINK BILL BELICHICK WILL DO WITH HIS FRONT SEVEN THIS YEAR?
I think he’ll get them ready for Week 1. Next question.
What? You don’t think Belichick humor is as funny as I do? Tough.
Okay, fine. I think Belichick will be more multiple than ever, but mostly play out of a 4-3. He’ll need to generate more pressure this year after losing Darrelle Revis (and Brandon Browner). But his plans are contingent on the health of Jerod Mayo and Dont’a Hightower and how versatile Jabaal Sheard, Trey Flowers, and Dominique Easley prove themselves to be early in camp. No matter what happens, I see Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins Sr having strong statistical seasons.
CAN JADEVEON CLOWNEY REACH HIS FULL POTENTIAL AFTER MICROFRACTURE SURGERY?
Sure. But it’s an uphill battle. Microfracture surgery is controversial and not consistently successful. Recent reports about changes to rehab and recovery techniques are promising, but they’re focused on his quad muscles and may not have any effect on the recovery of his knee. And Clowney still hasn’t addressed the bone spurs that limited him at the end of his college career. Cautious optimism here, too, but there are still reasons for hope.
WHICH DEFENSIVE LINEMAN OUTSIDE THE CONSENSUS TOP FIVE HAS THE BEST CHANCE TO BE JUMP INTO THE ELITE TIERS?
The consensus top five remains in flux. Jason Pierre-Paul is a major unknown. Greg Hardy’s ten game suspension is now just four games. The easy answer here is Ezekiel Ansah or Carlos Dunlap or Everson Griffen, but I think most would rather know whether there’s a player outside the DL2 tiers capable of every-week starting status.
Unfortunately, I don’t see one yet. Last year, with Everson Griffen and Jerry Hughes, this was a relatively easy prop to hit. Lots of folks will be on Demarcus Lawrence and Damontre Moore and rookies Randy Gregory and Vic Beasley Jr. Maybe a Tampa Bay end like Jacquies Smith gets a little love, too. But young defensive ends are tough sells for me. Moore probably fits the profile – multiple years of development, an appropriate skill set, identifiable opportunity – but I haven’t seen the per snap stats to suggest he’s as strong a bet as Griffen and Hughes and Wake and Houston and many others have been over the past decade.
WOULD CHIP KELLY REALLY TRADE MYCHAL KENDRICKS? IS THERE A ROTATION COMING IF KENDRICKS ISN’T TRADED? SHOULD JORDAN HICKS BE A HOTTER SLEEPER?
Kelly doesn’t care what you think. And he’s willing to bet on his system. I think both Kendricks and Kiko Alonso are similar players and could be seen as redundant. But having two instinctive and athletic inside linebackers is never a bad thing. I’d argue Kendricks is less likely to be traded since Kelly couldn’t find a taker at his price before mini-camp. But there will be lots of teams who aren’t happy with their backers by mid-August and there are always major injuries in the first two weeks of camp.
If Kendricks stays, I don’t see DeMeco Ryans taking many snaps at inside linebacker. And I didn’t see much in Jordan Hicks on film or at the Senior Bowl. But he tested more athletically than I expected and could be a late bloomer. If you’re in a deep dynasty league, Hicks is a fine stash. I don’t see him as having any redraft value in 2015 unless the Philadelphia depth chart completely falls apart.
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM THE VETERAN LINEBACKERS RECOVERING FROM SEASON-ENDING INJURIES?
Every offseason report on Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson and Sean Lee was promising. They’ll have to hold up through the conditioning phase of early camp, but I’ve tiered them as if they’ll be healthy for Week 1. Stephen Tulloch is also expected to be ready for camp. Jerod Mayo’s outlook isn’t as good. Patellar tendon injuries are low percentage recoveries. Belichick won’t hesitate to move on even after restructuring Mayo’s contact, but it looks like Mayo will be active in camp.
ARE THERE TECHNIQUES OR SCHEMES THAT MAKE SOME NOSE TACKLES MORE VALUABLE THAN OTHERS?
Yes. You want a nose tackle who plays a shade technique and not head-up on the center. Those players are asked to be penetrating players rather than space-eating, block-occupying players. If that player sees snaps in a defense’s subpackages, even better. The All-22 will help you identify which coaches lean more toward 1-gap techniques with their nose tackles. 3-4 coaches who hail from the Wade Phillips school of 1-gap 3-4 fronts (Phillips, Ryan, Nolan, etc.) is a good place to start, but every coach now mixes 1-gap and 2-gap techniques into their base front. Tackle counts are generally good clues, too.
WHAT DOES THE RE-SIGNING OF THOMAS DAVIS MEAN FOR SHAQ THOMPSON’S SHORT AND LONG TERM VALUE?
Thompson will have a hard time fitting into the Carolina subpackages. He’s going to have to show something in coverage and as a blitzer to force the Panthers to consider a 3-3-5 package. That was clear before Davis’ re-signing. But don’t worry too much over Davis’ extension. If Thompson out-performs on the field or proves himself too versatile to sit, he’ll have a role soon enough. Davis, who long-time IDP owners well remember, was a similarly frustrating case as the Saints tried to figure out where Davis fit while he grew into his skill set. Back then, Davis was a mess in coverage as a safety but few thought he’d become a successful Will.
WHAT IS VIC FANGIO THINKING IN CHICAGO? IS SHEA MCCLELLIN REALLY AN OPTION AT INSIDE LINEBACKER? HOW MUCH ROTATION COULD WE SEE HERE?
Fangio deserves the benefit of the doubt. He’s new to the team and personnel and it’s hard to see small technique details and coachability on film. McClellin has shown he’s not a NFL-caliber defensive end or strong side linebacker. I don’t see him doing enough to earn an inside linebacker job either. What’s notable here, however, is that Fangio gave McClellin May and June reps over Christian Jones. It’s also notable that John Fox didn’t have anything to say about Jon Bostic’s absence from all offseason activity other than “He’s not here.”
Take all those notes together and it is evident Mason Foster will have to be a total mess in camp to lose a starting job. Handicapping the competition between McClellin, Bostic, and Jones is tougher. I don’t see McClellin having a role here, but Bostic (back injury, unknown recovery, history of inconsistency) and Jones (didn’t play as well as his statistics suggest) both have obvious issues to overcome.
There will be value here, but patiently wait on early camp news.
WHAT IMPACT WILL WADE PHILLIPS AND THE 3-4 FRONT HAVE ON VON MILLER?
It won’t hurt his pass rushing numbers at all. Phillips is aggressive on early downs, where Miller will play strong outside linebacker. If Miller sticks with his usual playbook, we’ll see Miller rush from a defensive end position in a 4-2-5 nickel package. Miller hasn’t done that often, but he’s been effective when asked to do so.
For those in balanced leagues, Miller’s value and upside will depend on how well he tackles as a strong side outside linebacker in a 3-4 front. I expect this to be largely a semantic question, though. Although Phillips runs a 3-4, his one-gap scheme is essentially a 4-3 front with the weak side end standing up. Miller should be just fine.
NIGEL BRADHAM OR PRESTON BROWN? ZACH BROWN OR AVERY WILLIAMSON?
I’m still struggling here. I want to like one in each pair but I feel like I’m forcing a decision that doesn’t need to be made.
Both Bradham and Brown are growing into solid all-around inside linebackers. Bradham will never be a brilliant, instinctive player, but he’s physical and has improved in all phases every year. Brown has a little more big play in him, but may not be quite as athletic. I’ve given the edge to Bradham in my tier feature, but it’s a thin margin.
If I trusted Brown to stay healthy and play consistently, he’d be significantly ahead of Williamson and a clear LB2 in my tiers. The size-speed ratio, overall athleticism, LeBeau/Horton scheme, and flashes of great play are all there for Brown. And the opportunity will be top five once again in Tennessee this year. I’ll be buying Brown this year, but prepared for variance.
HOW MUCH OF A THREAT IS JUSTIN DURANT TO PAUL WORRILOW’S TACKLE UPSIDE? IS THERE ANY CHANCE WORRILOW SITS IN SUBPACKAGES?
A healthy Durant is more of a threat to Worrilow’s tackle count than anyone Worrilow has played with thus far. But Durant has played 16 games just once in his eight year career. That was in 2012. And it takes more than one capable outside linebacker or defensive back to depress the numbers of a solid inside linebacker. And I don’t see a scenario where Worrilow sits in subpackages with the current depth chart. While he’s not an elite talent or tackler, Worrilow is a high floor LB2 who will have his share of LB1 weeks.
HOW REAL IS THE “ROOKIE CORNER” EFFECT? ARE THE CORNERS WHO PLAY OPPOSITE A STUD CORNER TARGETED ENOUGH TO BE CONSISTENT FANTASY PRODUCERS?
It’s real. Offensive coordinators target the best matchups.
But it’s no longer as simple as “target the outside corner opposite the stud corner.” Offenses are using creative formation and pass pattern concepts and defenses are countering with pattern-match coverages. Quarterbacks target situations as much as players. When those weaker players are targeted, defensive coverage concepts often function such that another player is cleaning up the targeted player’s mistake.
That’s a simplistic way of discussing a complicated concept, but enough to make this general point: Target skill set over scheme and situation at cornerback. Seek out players who understand how to play the ball and is willing to tackle. Those skills translate in any coverage scheme. If you believe that player will be targeted at a below average rate, drop him to the bottom of your draftable tier. If you believe that player will be targeted at an above average rate, move up in your draftable tier.
How do you identify players with those skills? Look for corners with consistent tackle numbers. Look for corners who move to the slot in subpackages. Look for corners with high pass defensed numbers. This isn’t to say to ignore charting data showing a large discrepancy in how a team’s corners are targeted. Just don’t reflexively add any inexperienced cornerback slated to see an increase in snap count.
WILL THE PACKERS KEEP CLAY MATTHEWS AT INSIDE LINEBACKER OR IS JAKE RYAN TAKING OVER?
Matthews freelanced more than any inside linebacker I’ve seen in years, but he also took on blocks when necessary and didn’t cost the defense any big plays. I think the Packers would like to let Ryan develop a bit and will probably see a mix of Mike Neal and Nick Perry at one outside linebacker spot as a better rotation than relying on Sam Barrington and Ryan inside on base downs. Long term, Ryan will be an every-down player in Green Bay.
BRANDON GRAHAM IS FREE. WHAT’S HIS LIKELY SNAP COUNT, ROLE, AND OUTLOOK?
This may not have been the freedom we wanted, but it might be the freedom we need. Graham’s game translates to any role. His per snap numbers are as good as any part-time player in recent memory. Barring injury, he will get 800+ snaps at linebacker this year. I don’t believe Graham will continue his Justin Houston-esque per snap numbers, but I don’t believe he’s the defensive version of Alvin Harper, Santonio Holmes, and Mike Wallace either. Call him a matchup rush LB with variance and upside.
DID YOU GIVE UP ON DEMARIO DAVIS TOO SOON?
Too soon? He’s had three NFL seasons, two as a starter, in a scheme that fit his skill set perfectly and failed to meet my expectations.
But, yes, I’m being too critical and have tiered him too low. He’s improved in each of his starting seasons and the skill set is still there. He’s in a contract year. He’s behind an ever-improving front line and surrounded by less athletic talents like David Harris and Calvin Pryor. The Jets’ offense won’t limit his opportunity. While he’s yet to breakout statistically, all the factors I like to see are still there for him.
I’ll move him up in my next tier update.
DO ANY OF THE ROOKIE DEFENSIVE TACKLES STAND OUT THIS YEAR? ARE ANY OF THEM LIKELY TO BE USED IN A STATISTICALLY FRIENDLY ROLE?
It’s a tremendous rookie class. Lots of them will be used in a statistically friendly role. Unfortunately, I think we’ll see them toil in relative obscurity as rotational bodies. Malcom Brown, Grady Jarrett, Carl Davis, Eddie Goldman, and others will be productive professionals. None of them are fantasy options this year.
WILL KEVIN MINTER EVER BE AN EVERY-DOWN LINEBACKER? HOW SOON WILL DARYL WASHINGTON FACTOR INTO THE MIX?
The coordinator has changed in Arizona, but the philosophy has not. We will continue to see one inside linebacker in subpackages, with Deone Bucannon filling the Big Nickel role. That inside linebacker is almost certainly going to be Sean Weatherspoon.
There’s been no movement in Washington’s status. He’s still waiting to hear about reinstatement from his current indefinite suspension. And he’s yet to be punished for a domestic violence arrest that’s sure to cost him another lengthy suspension. He’ll also be 29 in November and no guarantee the Cardinals want him as a focal point of their defense when he’s reinstated. Don’t count on him impacting the depth chart this year.
IS IT TIME TO MOVE ON FROM ARTHUR BROWN?
If you’ve not moved on from Brown yet, there’s no reason to now. But we’re getting there. Brown isn’t a great fit for the Baltimore hybrid front. And he’s not had any impact on special teams, which leaves him inactive on game days. If he doesn’t show something in camp, he may finally be at risk of being cut. So hold him through this camp and re-evaluate.
WILL MARGUS HUNT OR WILL CLARKE EARN MORE SNAPS IN CINCINNATI THIS YEAR?
Hunt and Clarke combined for about 250 snaps last season. Hunt was limited by injury and Clarke was a developmental body. So, the easy answer would be, yes, both should see more time. But Wallace Gilberry is still rostered and Michael Johnson has returned. There may not be more than 10-15 snaps per game available to Hunt or Clarke. In fact, it’s possible we’ll see one on the roster bubble or moved to the practice squad. There isn’t much upside here.
RANK THE SECOND YEAR DEFENSIVE ENDS. ARE ANY LIKELY TO BE EVERY-WEEK STARTERS THIS YEAR?
Lawrence is easily the best of the bunch and could be an every-week DL2 in all league setups. Jernigan’s value took a hit with the DE classification, but may be a matchup play in tackle-heavy leagues. With Brian Robison likely to play through his pectoral scare, Crichton’s value is dropping quickly. The Panthers are looking at Charles Johnson at left defensive end, which could bode well for Ealy but there’s developmental time yet with him.
WHAT’S THE SMART IDP PLAY ON VONTAZE BURFICT? SELL HIGH OR HOLD? IS THERE A CLEAR FANTASY REPLACEMENT ON THE ROSTER?
If you can sell Burfict for anything approximating LB2 value, do it immediately. Microfracture surgery and recovery may keep Burfict out well into the regular season. PUP is a legitimate possibility. Another concussion is also of major concern. If you can’t find a buyer, hold. The Bengals have Paul Dawson waiting in the wings, but won’t hesitate to play Burfict in an every-down role when he’s ready.
Dawson will have to be fundamentally sound in camp to have any chance at playing time. Marvin Lewis isn’t shy about playing young defenders, but only those who play within the confines of the defensive scheme and can be trusted not to give up big plays. With Vinny Rey and Emmanuel Lamur still on the roster, Lewis will be in no rush to risk Dawson immediately. I think we’ll see Maualuga and Hawk starting, with the other outside linebacker position up for competition. The nickel roles will also be up for competition. None of the potential winners are LB2 or better values as every-down linebackers, so don’t rush to roster anyone yet.
CAN DEVON KENNARD EARN AN EVERY-DOWN ROLE? WHAT’S A REALISTIC CEILING FOR HIM?
Who knows what the Giants want to do. A healthy Jon Beason is unlikely, but it’s possible he’ll be close enough to start in the middle and play every down. Jameel McClain will likely have a role and most offseason reports had free agent addition J.T. Thomas written in as a starting outside linebacker. But OTA reports had Kennard and Beason as the starting nickel linebackers, without any news on what the base defense would look like.
If Kennard does play this year, it’ll be at strong side linebacker. A role in subpackages will increase his expectation, but there’s too much to overcome to project more than a LB3 with variance ceiling.
ARE YOU TOO LOW ON BENARDRICK MCKINNEY?
I hope so. I’d love to be wrong about his ability to hold up in coverage and lack of sideline to sideline range. A capable talent with every-down ability would be fantasy gold in Houston, where there’s no competition for tackles and tackle opportunity to burn. He’s high on my list to watch closely in the preseason.
HOW WILL THE COWBOYS HANDLE THE ROLANDO MCCLAIN SUSPENSION?
It’s more likely Jasper Brinkley will be a base only middle linebacker than Anthony Hitchens moves inside with Kyle Wilbur taking over at strong side linebacker. If Brinkley plays well enough, McClain may not have a job when he returns. Regardless, it’s Sean Lee and Hitchens in subpackages.
HOW DOES THE NEW COACHING STAFF FEEL ABOUT PERRY RILEY? IS WILL COMPTON A SPEED DIAL FREE AGENT? WHAT ABOUT MARTRELL SPAIGHT?
Riley is a heavy favorite to start Week 1. But Compton is absolutely on the radar and could supplant Riley during the season. I think Spaight is a special teams contributor only, but he’s an appropriate watch list add for deeper dynasty leaguers. If you’re looking to move on a Washington back seven player, add safety Jeron Johnson.
HOW WILL THE BUCCANEERS USE HENRY MELTON? CAN HE BE A PRODUCTIVE HYBRID END/TACKLE?
The Bucs top three defensive ends are Jacquies Smith, George Johnson, and William Gholston. The top three defensive tackles are Gerald McCoy, Melton, and Clinton McDonald. They also have Akeem Spence at tackle. So, it’s no surprise to see them experiment with Melton outside this offseason. It’s a role I think he can handle well, especially if Tampa Bay allows him to work from the weak side. If that sticks, shoot Melton up the tiers into the DL2 range and I’ll anoint him as having a chance to be this year’s Jerry Hughes.
Check back for more injury analysis throughout training camp and the regular season. Also, follow on Twitter @JeneBramel for breaking injury news, commentary and analysis of this injury and others around the NFL.