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Eyes of the Guru IDP Info, Part 6: AFC West - Footballguys

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

 

Just as a reminder or for those who may be new to the Eyes of the Guru series. For reference, when mentioning where players finished in the rankings last season, the model will be the standard Footballguys scoring system:

  • Tackles = 1.5
  • Assists = .75
  • Sacks = 4
  • Forced fumbles = 3
  • Fumble recoveries = 3
  • Interceptions = 4
  • Passes defended = 1.5
  • Touchdowns = 6

Keep in mind that based on scoring systems, rankings will vary (sometimes greatly) from league to league.

Denver Broncos

Defensive Linemen

When the Broncos moved to a 3-4 back in 2015 they already had a lot of players that fit the scheme. Since that time they have had quality play up front but there has never been that special player. With no significant offseason additions, it looks like more of the same in 2018.

Derek Wolfe has the most to offer IDP managers if he can stay healthy. Wolfe has missed time in each of the last three seasons, sitting out a total of 11 games over that span. The best years of his career came in 2015 and 2016 when Wade Phillips ran the defense. In 2015 Wolfe played 12 games recording 34 tackles, 13 assists, and 5 sacks. The following year he played 14 games going 38-13-5 and knocking down 4 passes. With the change of coordinators Wolfe’s numbers were down in 2017 even before the week 12 injury ended his season. It is hard to tell if the slack in production was directly related to Joe Woods replacing Phillips or was just coincidence. What we do know is Wolfe has limited fantasy upside even if he bounces back. He may be roster worthy in deep leagues, but for most of us, Wolfe is no more than a potential in-season pickup to provide depth if he is back to form.

Shelby Harris led Denver’s defensive line with five and a half sacks last season but marginal tackle totals (22 solos) negate any possible fantasy value. Harris will continue to have a significant opportunity as part of a three-man rotation that also includes Adam Gotsis. Gotsis is strong versus the run but has little to offer as a pass rusher. He should get a majority of the early-down snaps with Harris getting the pass rush opportunity. Zach Kerr played sparingly in 2017 before becoming part of the rotation when Wolfe was lost. All of these players fit the scheme and will contribute on the field while none of them have shown reason to expect a breakout in the box scores.

Domata Peko Sr is a great fit as a nose tackle in the 3-4. He is a 325-pound, two-gap space eater and an excellent anchor for the run defense, but the soon to be 34-year-old has never amounted to much as a fantasy option. This season he could lose a few snaps to free agent addition, Clinton McDonald. McDonald is not as big but has a little more pop in his pass rush. His only claim to IDP relevance came with Tampa Bay in 2014 when he finished at 35-12-5.5 and 3 turnovers. He could also see some snaps at end

Linebackers

The Broncos continue to dump major resources on the outside linebacker position while the need on the inside goes largely unaddressed. Brandon Marshall is a good but not great NFL linebacker. He is not as physical as one might expect from a 250-pound player, and his cover skills are adequate. He plays smart and is dependable as a tackler but is not a player that comes to mind when talking about the better inside backers in today’s game. Marshall had a huge 2014 season that had everyone expecting big things going forward. Fantasy managers that used early picks on him in 2015 were disappointed to get a mid-range LB3. Marshall played 11 games in 2016, reaching double-digit fantasy points in none of them. In his defense, injuries were part of the equation as he was recovering from knee and finger problems. Marshall was healthy in 2017 when his 10.4 points per game ranked just inside the Top 30 at linebacker. Tackle numbers in the mid-70s with around 30 assists and a sprinkling of big plays are reasonable expectations for Marshall. He is a steady LB3 or excellent depth for IDP managers. So long as those are your expectations Marshall can be a good addition to your roster.

Unless someone unexpectedly steps up, Todd Davis will keep the other inside linebacker job for a third season. Davis is a reliable player who rarely makes mistakes but his skills set is limiting. He is a liability in coverage thus rarely sees time in sub-packages and has shown little big-play production. In 30 games as the starter over the past two seasons, Davis has forced one fumble, recovered one, recorded a sack, and a half and broken up 2 passes. With 48 tackles, 34 assists, and a single sack to show for 14 games last season, there is no reason to expect significant change.

This spring Denver invested a fourth-round pick in Iowa’s Josey Jewell and used a sixth on Keishawn Bierria out of Washington. Both are developmental players with resumes that read much like that of Davis. Plenty of heart, effort, leadership, and production on the college level but pedestrian measurable traits, slow 40-times, and average athleticism. We have seen similar issues on scouting reports and draft profiles before and the player has gone on to have a solid career; the Broncos hope that will be the case with one of these youngsters.

Jewell is a player we should keep track of despite the negatives. He ran a painfully slow 4.82 in the 40 at the combine and was only able to bench 225 pounds 18 times. It was what he put on film however that led to the organization rolling the dice anyway. On tape, Jewell made up for it with outstanding instincts, physicality and a relentless motor. General manager John Elway puts a lot of emphasis on character and production; Jewell demonstrated both. As a senior, he totaled 132 combined tackles (13.5 for loss), 4.5 sacks, a pair of interceptions, 11 pass breakups and 2 turnovers on fumbles. There is a good chance he will eventually oust Davis from the starting job, the big question in fantasy terms being can Jewell stay on the field in sub-packages?

In Von Miller, Denver has one of the game’s elite outside linebackers. It matters not if he is on the edge in a 3-4 or playing strong side in a 4-3. If not for an injury-shortened 2013, Miller would have double-digit sacks every year of his career. He even excels in tackle production when compared to other outside/strongside linebackers. Miller’s 51 solo stops were second only Khalil Mack among 3-4 OLBs in 2017. Even so, his fantasy value relies almost completely on league format. In leagues based on big-play production, Miller is among the elite tier of linebackers. In balanced scoring such as the Footballguys default system, he is barely roster-worthy as a backup.

When the team selected Shane Ray in the first round four years ago they expected to have a long-term bookend to Miller. With eight-and-a-half sacks in his second season, it looked as if Ray might be that player. In 2017, however, Ray had the dubious distinction of being among the first players ever to be on injured reserve twice in the same season. An offseason wrist injury led to his opening the year on injured reserve-designated to return. After appearing in eight games Ray landed back on injured reserve for the final two games with the same injury. The organization has not given up on him at all and is counting on Ray to be part of a three-man effort going forward. That said, the chances of him holding a role significant enough to provide fantasy value in any format are slim at best.

Bradley Chubb was by consensus the top outside pass rusher available in this year’s draft. As the picks started coming in, fantasy managers were anxious and hopeful to see him land with a 4-3 team where he would be a defensive end. When Chubb was drafted by Denver to play outside linebacker there was a huge moan from the IDP community. Chubb has "future Pro-Bowl" written all over him and a fantastic career ahead, but like Miller, his fantasy value is going to be relegated to those in big-play leagues. This situation is gas on the fire for the push to update IDP football with a position that covers and rewards edge rushers equally regardless of scheme.

  • ILB Brandon Marshall – Solid LB3 or quality depth with limited upside
  • ILB Todd Davis – Marginal value at best
  • ILB Josey Jewell – Dynasty target to stash on the taxi squad for a while
  • ILB Keishawn Bierria – Deep sleeper taxi stash
  • ILB Zaire Anderson – No fantasy value
  • OLB Von Miller – LB1 in big play leagues
  • OLB Bradley Chubb – Huge upside in big play leagues
  • OLB Shane Ray – Marginal big play value
  • OLB Shaquil Barrett – No fantasy value

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