Welcome to the 2018 Preseason Eyes of the Guru, where you'll get a team-by-team overview of the IDP landscape. First up is the NFC East.
There is no lack of talent and potential among the Cowboys defensive linemen. The issue in recent seasons has been getting them on the field together. Multiple injuries and suspensions have kept this group performing well below their potential. The 2018 season looks to be more of the same. Starting tackle Maliek Collins is battling foot and hand injuries that could impact his availability early on. For the second consecutive season, David Irving will open with a suspension. Backup end Charles Tapper suffered a concussion during an offseason practice in late May but should be cleared by camp. Defensive end Randy Gregory is an outstanding talent but his career has been sidetracked by suspensions including an indefinite ban that kept him out of the game for all of 2017. Gregory is expected to apply for reinstatement before training camp and could be back on the field in 2018; though it is far from a sure thing.
From the fantasy perspective, there is a lot of potential among the Dallas linemen with one sure stud. Demarcus Lawrence appeared in seven games as a rookie in 2014, making little impact. His second year was much better, particularly over the second half of the season when Lawrence recorded seven of his eight sacks. Instead of picking up where he left off the following year, Lawrence opened the 2016 season with a four-game suspension then ended it by missing several games with injuries. He finally put it all together last year totaling 36 tackles and 22 assists with his fifteen sacks the second most in the league. One thing we have learned when it comes to the Cowboys, there is always some risk. That said if Lawrence can stay on the field he has a great chance to repeat as a top-five defensive end.
The organization invested a first-round pick in Taco Charlton last season with the hope he will eventually become the bookend to Lawrence. It is not unusual for pass rushers to start slowly at the pro level, so Charlton's modest production of fifteen tackles and three sacks as a rookie is no reason to write him off as a fantasy option. The fact all three of his sacks came after Week 8 is a good sign for those who see the glass as half full. He has the potential to break out in year two but will have to compete for playing time with veteran Tyrone Crawford and possibly Randy Gregory if he is reinstated. Crawford is a proven contributor for the Cowboys but has little upside with the possibility of two young guns eating into his playing time. He has not reached twenty solo tackles since 2015 and failed to record a sack after Week 8 last season.
The team’s 2016 fourth round pick Charles Tapper has appeared in two games to date. After missing his rookie season with a back injury he landed on IR in Week 4 last year with a broken foot. The rash of injuries and suspension could work in his favor but Tapper may be competing with fourth-round rookie Dorance Armstrong and veteran free agent addition Kony Ealy for a spot on the final roster.
At a glance the interior line does not seem to offer much for fantasy owners; a closer look reveals otherwise. David Irving finished 2017 with thirteen tackles and nine assists but added an impressive seven sacks. This is particularly interesting when taking into account he played in a mere eight games. Irving was suspended to open the season, showing up in the box score for the first time in Week 5. He was then inactive for the final four games due to a concussion. He will open 2018 by missing four more games due to suspension so the problem for fantasy owners is figuring out his value. First, we must decide if his huge eight-game stretch last year was a mirage or a glimpse at his long-term production. Then we have to balance the risk with the upside, taking the suspension into consideration. On the high side, Irving has huge potential having recorded sacks in five of eight games last season including a pair of two-sack outings. On the risk side, he has missed at least two games with injury in each of his three seasons and has now been suspended twice. The upside is enough to make him roster worthy in most situations but until Irving proves himself, he is a late round gamble for most of us.
Between all the injuries and suspensions the Cowboys could open the season with Datone Jones and Jihad Ward as their starting tackles. Both are quality veteran players with some potential but we should take a wait and see approach with them.
- DE Demarcus Lawrence - Possible Top 5 with some risk
- DT Tyrone Crawford – Marginal value
- DE Taco Charlton – High upside sleeper
- DE Charles Tapper – Minimal value
- DE Randy Gregory – Big upside if reinstated
- DE Dorance Armstrong – Dynasty sleeper
- DE Kony Ealy – Deep sleeper with limited upside
- DT David Irving – Risk/Reward target after serving his suspension
- DT Malik Collins – Limited potential
- DT Jihad Ward – Worth keeping an eye on in tackle-required leagues
- DT Datone Jones - Worth keeping an eye on in tackle-required leagues
- DT Brian Price – Backup with no fantasy value
- DT Richard Ash – Backup with no fantasy value
A healthy Sean Lee is an excellent player on the field and a quality fantasy option. The problem is he simply has not been able to stay on the field. Going into year eight, Lee is still looking for that first full 16-game season. He came close in 2017 showing his potential by producing 91 tackles and 53 assists in 15 games. Lee missed five games last year and played eight snaps in another. He produced 71 solo stops and 31 assists in the other ten games; projected over a full season that is well over a hundred solo stops. If there is a shortcoming in Lee’s game it is a lack of big play production. His last 40 starts have produced one forced fumble, one recover, and two interceptions, with two and a half sacks. Target him as a mid LB2 but be sure to have quality depth.
The player to target here is probably rookie Leighton Vander Esch. Unlike many positions, stud rookie linebackers often excel in the box scores. Vander Esch piled up 91 solo stops with 50 assists, 4 sacks, 4 forced fumbles and a pair of sack in his final season at Boise State so there is no question about his potential. At 256 pounds he has a rare combination of size, speed and athletic ability along with a nasty streak reminiscent of old school middle backers. Vander Esch is recovering from an ankle injury but head coach Jason Garrett expects him ready for training camp. The only question entering 2018 is where he will line up. Some expect he will open on the strong side but there is little doubt the Cowboys see Vander Esch as their long term answer in the middle. At that position, he could become a perennial top-10 linebacker.
The Cowboys seem to have lost faith in Jaylon Smith ever being the player he was before the severe knee injury that ended is final season at Notre Dame. After missing his rookie season while recovering from the injury, Smith was able to get back on the field in 2017. He had plenty of opportunity while working mostly in the middle but was clearly lacking the explosiveness that made him a second round selection. Smith is still a good football player and seems likely to get more opportunity considering the injury history of Lee. With Anthony Hitchens moving on the common expectation is Smith moving into a two down role on the strong side for the immediate future. In fantasy terms, this makes him a long shot at best for 2018.
- WLB Sean Lee – Solid LB2 with a lot of injury risk
- MLB Leighton Vander Esch – Probable top-15 linebacker
- MLB Jaylon Smith – Deep sleeper at best
- SLB Damien Wilson – No fantasy value
- SLB Justin March-Lillard - No fantasy value
- OLB Chris Covington - No fantasy value
The Dallas secondary did little for fantasy owners in 2017 and there is no reason to expect much more this season. Strong safety Jeff Heath led the group in tackles with 59 and interceptions with 3 but still finished outside the Top 40 in most leagues. Heath has been a backup for most of his five years in the league, moving into the lineup last year when Barry Church left. There is always a chance Heath will produce better but there is no reason to expect it. He should be worth a look as depth in some leagues.
With Byron Jones moving back to corner, second-year man Xavier Woods should be the starter at free safety. He saw a good deal of action playing mostly in sub package situations as a rookie and should be ready for the full-time job. It has been a long time since a Cowboys free safety last made a fantasy impact though. There is no reason to believe Woods will buck the trend.
While Byron Jones has officially been shifted to corner, his exact role remains unclear. Even as the team’s free safety he would sometimes line up as the slot corner. Chances are he will see a lot of time in that role going forward. What this means in fantasy terms is a tough call. Jones has not been a particularly strong big-play threat in years past. Entering his fourth season he has two career interceptions. His production from last season would have been on the cusp of the Top 20 as a corner, which is a reasonable expectation for the 2018 season.
The rest of the Cowboys corner situation is cloudy as well. Anthony Brown is the leading candidate for a starting job with Jourdan Lewis and Chidobe Awuzie also in the mix. There has also been some talk about Awuzie shifting to safety. The important fact to keep in mind here is no Dallas corner had more than 48 solo tackles or 2 interceptions in 2017. Take a wait and see approach with this group.
- FS Xavier Woods – Marginal upside
- SS Jeff Heath – Quality depth in most leagues with a little upside
- FS Kavon Frazier – Backup with no fantasy value
- SS Marqueston Huff - Backup with no fantasy value
- CB/FS Byron Jones – Depth with CB2 upside in corner-required leagues
- CB/FS Chidobe Awuzie – Uncertain role
- CB Anthony Brown – No fantasy value at this time
- CB Jourdan Lewis - No fantasy value at this time
New York Giants
The Giants defensive line was once a goldmine of fantasy value. With their move to a 3-4 scheme, the mine has largely dried up. As with most teams making a major scheme change, the coaching staff is trying to figure out where or if a lot of current players fit. One problem they do not have is identifying the starting nose tackle. Damon Harrison has been a top-five defensive tackle for fantasy owners in each of his two seasons in the Giants 4-3; producing 56 and 50 solo tackles in 2016 and 2017 respectively. He was also a standout at the nose tackle position early in his career while working in the Jets 3-4. Harrison’s numbers were not as strong while with the Jets but his average of 35 tackles and 30 assists was enough to make him a quality DT1 from 2013 to 2015 as well. It seems safe to expect similar production going forward.
After Harrison, the Giants coaching staff is looking at a lot of trial-and-error-type guys. They drafted B.J. Hill in round three and R.J. McIntosh in round five this spring. Both are developmental type former college tackles with more athleticism than point-of-attack strength. Dalvin Tomlinson was the team’s second-round pick in 2017 and was drafted to play as a 2-gap tackle in a 4-3. His best fit in the new scheme is probably at nose tackle but sticking him behind Harrison would be a waste of talent, so they will give him a shot at end. Romeo Okwara has played little since joining the team as an undrafted free agent in 2016. At 271 pounds he worked at end in the previous scheme but is on the small side to play end in a 3-4. Outside of Harrison, the only lineman on the roster with significant experience in a 3-4 is former Cardinal Josh Mauro who will be suspended the first four games. Once he returns Mauro will likely pair with Tomlinson at the ends. Regardless who plays where there is not much here for fantasy owners to get excited about.
- DE Dalvin Tomlinson – No grand expectations
- DE B.J. Hill – Marginal value
- DE Romeo Okwara - Minimal value
- DE Josh Mauro – Suspended first four games, limited upside after that
- DE R.J. McIntosh – Deep dynasty sleeper at best
- NT Damon Harrison – Quality DT1
- NT Robert Thomas – NFL backup
The Giants are in better shape at linebacker or at least it seems as much on paper. This is far from a finished product, however. Alec Ogletree came to the team via trade early in the offseason. It was surprising the Rams let him go after inking a big new contract in October. There are mixed reviews on how good a player Ogletree really is on the field. Pro Football Focus has consistently graded him out poorly. Whatever you may think of Ogletree as a player there is no argument about his fantasy production. Other than an injury-shortened 2015, the sixth year player has finished among the Top 20 every season, twice reaching 95 solo tackles while averaging double-digit passes defended. He could be even more box score friendly with the Giants who have one of the league’s most generous stats crews. Ogletree already has a pair of top-ten fantasy rankings and is a threat to add another this season.
One of the summers more interesting competitions will be at the inside linebacker spot next to Ogletree. The organization talked up B.J. Goodson all last summer as their three-down starter in the middle. He had a huge Week 1 with 18 combined tackles but was in and out of the lineup with injuries the rest of the way, never exceeding five solo stops in another game. Goodson is the early favorite if he can stay healthy.
The other contenders are Calvin Munson and Ray-Ray Armstrong. As an undrafted rookie last year Munson was adequate while filling in for Goodson several times. He is a physical thumper that is solid versus the run and showed promise as an inside pass rush option on the blitz, but his coverage skills will have to improve if Munson is to earn a full-time role.
The most interesting prospect in fantasy terms is Armstrong. At 6’3” 220 pounds, he is undersized even by the new NFL standards. Armstrong has bounced around over his five years in the league with New York being his fourth team. He opened last season as a starter in San Francisco and ended it as a backup in New York. While he has never been able to hold a starting spot for long, Armstrong has been productive when given the opportunity. Goodson is the favorite to come away from camp with the job but the smart money says we see all three in the lineup over the course of the season. Until/unless someone steps up here, fantasy owners should avoid all three.
The Giants have a chance to be pretty good at outside linebacker. They traded Jason Pierre-Paul who would not have been a fit, but they believe holdover Olivier Vernon can make a successful transition. Having averaged better than seven sacks a season over his six years as a pro, there is no doubt Vernon can get after the passer. At 6’2” 261-pounds, Vernon was a bit undersized as a 4-3 end. On the other hand, those are great dimensions for a stand-up pass rusher off the corner. He is an athletic player that does not rely solely on speed and new defensive coordinator James Bettcher believes Vernon can handle the additional responsibilities. For most fantasy owners, however, this change basically ruins Vernon’s value. For those in big play based leagues, he should be a solid second or excellent third starter. For owners in tackle heavy leagues, Vernon’s seven or eight sacks will not be enough to offset the low tackle numbers.
The starter opposite Vernon has not yet been determined. The organization believes third-round pick Lorenzo Carter will eventually be the guy but he may not be ready for an every-down role right away. The team brought in Kareem Martin who spent his first four seasons playing outside backer for Arizona. With four and a half career sacks, Martin failed to live up to expectations in Arizona where he was never much more than a backup or rotational guy. Knowing the scheme will help though, making him a decent stop gap until Carter can take over. In the short term, we will likely see some combination of Martin, Avery Moss, and Kerry Wynn on early downs with Carter working mostly in sub packages. The rookie will need to add some size and strength to get on the field as a three-down end.
- ILB Alec Ogletree – Low LB1 or priority LB2
- ILB B.J. Goodson – Late round sleeper with LB3 ceiling
- ILB Calvin Munson – Dark horse sleeper at best
- ILB Ray-Ray Armstrong – worth keeping an eye on
- OLB Olivier Vernon – Solid LB2 or excellent LB3 in big play based leagues
- OLB Lorenzo Carter – Dynasty target in big play based leagues
- OLB Kareem Martin – No fantasy value
- OLB Avery Moss - No fantasy value
- OLB Kerry Wynn – No fantasy value
One aspect of the Giants defense that should not change much with the new scheme is the secondary. If we look at points per game this group gave us two of the Top 5 defensive backs in 2017. Only Reshad Jones rests on the same elite tier of defensive backs as strong safety Landon Collins. A glance at the overall numbers from last season will not put Collins’ value into true perspective. Instead, that picture shows him as the number seven defensive back in points and number five in points per game average. However, those totals do not take into consideration how his season ended. Collins displayed his toughness by trying to play on a badly sprained ankle for two games then finally landed on IR in Week 17 with a broken forearm. If we remove those games from the equation he averaged 13.2 points per game - which was virtually identical to Jones. If not for the injuries Collins would have almost certainly exceeded 90 solo stops for the second consecutive season, but he is far more than a tackling machine. In three years as a pro, he has already amassed 13 turnovers, 4 sacks, 28 passes defended and a score. Most fantasy owners will shy away from using an early pick on defensive backs but the disparity in value between Collins/Jones, and the rest of the field is so large it would be hard to argue against taking one of them as the first defender off the board.
After a tough battle last summer Darian Thompson landed the free safety job over Andrew Adams. That competition may be renewed this year with the new coaching staff providing a different set of judges. Thompson managed a modest 61 tackles and 14 assists last season while making nearly no big play impact. Andrews has 65 tackles, 15 assists, and one interception to show for two years of service. Both players are solid contributors on the field but neither has shown any sign of fantasy value to date.
The second Giants defensive back with fantasy value is corner Janoris Jenkins. Like most corners, he exhibits week-to-week inconsistency. Jenkins played half a season in 2017, missing six full games and most of a seventh with injury and sitting out another due to suspension. Thus his overall totals are not so impressive unless we double them to represent a full slate of games, or simply look at his points per game average. Jenkins 11.7 points per game ranked first among corners in 2017 and doubling numbers from the eight games played gives him 54 tackles, 8 assists, 6 interceptions, a pair of forced fumbles, 18 passes defended and 4 scores. A look at the rest of his career proves the big production was not a fluke. Jenkins has at least 54 solo stops, 4 takeaways and 14 passes defended in four of his six seasons along with a whopping 9 career touchdowns. He ended last year on IR with a bad ankle but is expected to go when camp opens.
Eli Apple ended last season in the doghouse including a team-imposed suspension in Week 17. The feeling at season’s end was that Apple would not be back. Between the new coaching staff and the fact New York has no one to replace him, the two parties have mended fences with Apple getting a clean slate from the organization. On the field, he is a quality cover man, but in fantasy terms, Apple has given us nothing to get excited about. He has shown mediocre tackle production with one interception and fifteen passes defended in 25 games.
Former Steeler William Gay is the leading candidate for the nickel corner job. The closest competition for the 33-year-old being 2017 sixth-round pick B.J. Webb. Beyond those two the Giants have a collection of journeymen and undrafted free agents battling for the last couple roster spots.
- SS Landon Collins – Elite-tier DB1
- FS Andrew Adams – Injury sleeper at best
- FS Darian Thompson – Marginal value
- CB Janoris Jenkins – Solid CB1 with top-five potential
- CB Eli Apple – Depth at best in corner-required leagues
- CB Brandon Dixon – No fantasy value
- CB William Gay – No fantasy value
- CB Michael Thomas - No fantasy value
- CB B.J. Webb - No fantasy value
Defensive linemen accounted for 32.5 of the Eagles 39 sacks last season. Brandon Graham led the way with a career-high 9.5 and is the top IDP target of the group heading into 2018. His career numbers are solid with at least 30 solo stops and 5.5 sacks in four of the last five seasons. The only outlier being an injury-shortened 2014. What the numbers fail to detail is how defensive schemes may have adversely affected his production. Simply put Graham has not always been placed in situations that fit his strength or maximized his box score potential. That changed when Jim Schwartz took over as defensive coordinator two years ago. Under Schwartz in 2016, Graham recorded a career high of 41 solo tackles followed by the personal best in sacks in 2017. After three consecutive seasons in the Top 20, Graham has a good shot at his first top-ten finish in 2018. At worst he is a dependable second starter for fantasy owners.
The organization has high expectations for last year’s first-round pick Derek Barnett. As a rookie, he finished with 19 tackles, 5 assists, and 5 sacks while playing roughly 45% of the defensive snaps. There is no doubting his upside both on the field and from the fantasy perspective; the only concern being his opportunity. Most of Barnett’s playing time last season came in a rotation. Vinny Curry saw most of the early down snaps with Barnett getting the majority of the passing-down opportunity. Curry has moved on but has been replaced by Michael Bennett who is expected to work at end on early downs and slide inside in sub packages. If Barnett can get up around 70% of the snaps like Graham, he could become a force for IDP owners. Unfortunately, that is not likely to happen this season. A healthy increase in the sack column is probable but we should not expect his tackle totals to match. At this point, we should approach Barnett as a high upside DL3.
Bennett is probably not a significant upgrade over Curry as a run defender but he clearly adds some pop as a pass rush threat. He is just as effective as an inside rusher as coming off the edge and his versatility will be welcomed by Schwartz. For fantasy owners, there are two points of concern with Bennett. The first being his low tackle numbers over the past several years. He has exceeded 26 solo stops once since 2012 while averaging 25 over the past five years. The other issue comes off the field in the form of pending legal issues that could result in jail time and/or suspension. The league will not act until the legal system has run its course, so chances are Bennett will be available for most if not all the 2018 campaign.
Chris Long provides a quality insurance plan for the Eagles. The veteran had five sacks a year ago as part of the rotation and should continue to have a significant role. Barring injury to one of the other three, Long will not see enough playing time to be a serious fantasy option.
The arrival of coach Schwartz and his staff was not so kind to Fletcher Cox in terms of statistical production. After two stellar seasons that produced a combined 99 tackles, 34 assists, 13.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles and 5 recoveries in 2014-2015; Cox fell off to 42-28-12 with 2 forced fumbles and 2 recoveries in 2016 and 2017 combined. In fact, the 15 solo stops he produced last season were by far a career low. Cox is an outstanding talent with the potential to rebound strongly and is certainly worth a roster spot in tackle required leagues. He is not, however, the Top 3 interior lineman we once expected.
Timmy Jernigan, Haloti Ngata, Destiny Vaeao and Elijah Qualls fill out the roster at the tackle position. Jernigan projects as the starter and is a fine NFL player as well. Before considering any of these guys, fantasy owners should be aware no Eagles interior lineman recorded more than Jernigan’s 16 solo tackles in 2017.
- DE Brandon Graham – quality DL2 with low DL1 potential
- DE Derek Barnett – Solid depth with high upside
- DE Michael Bennett – Quality depth
- DE Chris Long – Marginal value with limited upside
- DE Josh Sweat – Developmental rookie with no fantasy value at this time
- DT Fletcher Cox – DT2 with strong upside
- DT Timmy Jernigan – Marginal value at best
- DT Haloti Ngata – No fantasy value
- DT Destiny Vaeao - No fantasy value
- DT Elijah Qualls - No fantasy value
There is little chance an Eagles linebacker will end up in the Top 20 in 2018, but this group is not completely without fantasy value. Nigel Bradham is the best or at least most safe prospect. It has been more than four seasons since an Eagles linebacker recorded 70 or more solo stops. Bradham however, would be on a streak of four straight with at least 61 if not for missing some games late in 2015. He is one of the few strong side backers in a 4-3 scheme to provide fantasy value and was the only one to finish inside the Top 30 in 2017. Lining up on the strong side limits tackle opportunity while remaining on the field in sub package situations leads to more big play opportunity. Bradham’s 9 takeaways, 6 sacks, and 21 passes defended over his last three full seasons have helped counter the marginal tackle totals to make him a decent third starter or quality depth.
Middle linebacker Jordan Hicks is a player with potential but he comes with major risk. The 2015 third round pick made his first start in Week 2 of his rookie season then went on a seven-game streak of double-digit fantasy points that, including two of over 25 before landing on IR in Week 10. Hicks played a full schedule of games in 2016 but the production was far from the same. His meager 57 tackles and 28 assists with virtually no big play production left fantasy owners scratching their heads. Hicks reached double-digit points twice in six games last year before tearing his Achilles in Week 7. The injuries are an obvious concern but what makes him even harder to draft is the sporadic at best production even when healthy over the past two seasons.
The unexpected release of Mychal Kendricks leaves the Eagles weakside linebacker spot wide open heading into training camp. Several players could get a look including third-year man Kami Grugier-Hill and second-year pro Nate Gerry. There is even a possibility Bradham could move over with Corey Nelson or LaRoy Reynolds working on the strong side. In seasons past, Kendricks had been productive from the position when given an opportunity to play all three downs. That did not happen often though as he was relegated to a two-down role since Schwartz took over. This is a situation we need to keep an eye on over the summer to see if someone emerges.
- MLB Jordan Hicks – Injury plagued sleeper at best
- SLB Nigel Bradham – Quality depth or decent third starter with some upside
- WLB Kami Grugier-Hill – Early favorite at WLB
- MLB Joe Walker – No fantasy value at this time
- SLB Corey Nelson – No fantasy value
- SLB LaRoy Reynolds - No fantasy value
- WLB Nate Gerry – Deep sleeper
Low tackle totals have been a common thread at all three levels of the defense in Philadelphia over the past couple years. In 2017 free safety Malcolm Jenkins led the team with 62 solo stops while just three other players reached 40. Some of this comes down to the Eagles getting off the field quickly on a regular basis, causing them to have the sixth fewest plays run against them last year. Some of it can be traced to an approach and scheme that gets a lot of players involved thus spreading the numbers around. Some can be related directly to a rather stingy stats crew. As with the linebacker position, this probably means we will see no Eagles defensive backs rank at the top of their position but it does not necessarily preclude them from providing some fantasy value. Jenkins added enough big-play production with four turnovers, a sack, and eight pass breakups, to finish among the top-36 defensive backs last season; making him a decent DB3 in many leagues. This is typical production for Jenkins and a realistic expectation for 2018.
Rodney McLeod mans the other safety position again this year. He was a solid fantasy option with career highs of 72 solo tackles and 3 interceptions in 2016 but McLeod’s tackle numbers came crashing back to earth last season when he finished with 39. A normal season for McLeod during his five years in the league has been tackle production in the low sixty range with a healthy big play contribution. After his poor statistical performance last year fantasy owners are not going to show McLeod much love on draft day but in the end his value will probably be similar to that of Jenkins, quality depth or a marginal third starter.
For owners in leagues that break out defensive back positions; the Eagles corners may offer the best IDP value on the team. Ronald Darby is a guy that may even transcend scoring systems and be highly valuable in leagues that lump corners and safeties together. You would not know it by glancing at his overall totals from last season though. A closer look shows he played in eight games, producing 30 tackles, 4 assists, 3 interceptions and 10 passes defended. If he were to keep up that pace for a full slate of games, Darby becomes a top-five corner. Now consider he played 18 snaps in Week 1 before missing the next eight games with an injury and 6 snaps in Week 17 when the Eagles were resting starters. Darby’s production over the remaining six games was on par with the top two corners and the No. 12 defensive back overall. He had 122 combined tackles and 33 passes defended in two seasons with Buffalo prior to joining the Eagles which proves he is not a six-game wonder. Best of all this is a guy we can grab near the end of the draft since few owners are aware of his per game production.
Jalen Mills starts opposite Darby and should also be a solid starter in corner required leagues. He put up solid tackle totals as a rookie in 2016 but a complete void in the big play columns left him short on fantasy value. As is often the case with young corners, big plays began to find their way into his stat line in year two, but not at the expense of respectable tackle numbers. In fact had he not been held out Week 17, Mills would have improved on his 52 tackle rookie campaign. He even doubled passes defended in year two. The big play numbers should be even better in year three.
Rasul Douglas, Sidney Jones, Avonte Maddox and DeVonte Bausby are all young corner that will battle for sub-package playing time. Jones enters camp as the favorite for the nickel role. There has been some talk of the team cutting ties with Darby if one of the young guns shows enough to handle the starting role. That seems unlikely to happen this year but Darby may not be back in 2019.
- SS Rodney McLeod – Depth with low DB3 upside
- FS Malcolm Jenkins - Solid third starter
- SS Chris Maragos – Injury sleeper at best
- FS Tre Sullivan – No value at this time
- CB Ronald Darby – Potential top-five corner
- CB Jalen Mills – Solid CB2
- CB Rasul Douglas – No fantasy value at this time
- CB Sidney Jones - No fantasy value at this time
- CB Avonte Maddox - No fantasy value at this time
- CB DeVonte Bausby - No fantasy value at this time
Washington has never skimped when it comes to investing up front but it still seems like decades since they last gave us a quality IDP target there. Defensive end Jonathan Allen was their first-round selection last season. He recorded three tackles, seven assists and a sack in five games before landing on IR. Stacy McGee was the only Redskins lineman to record more than 16 solo stops but he failed to record a single sack. Meanwhile, Anthony Lanier led the way in sacks with five. This year’s draft netted nose tackle Da’Ron Payne in round one and end Tim Settle in the fifth. Payne should start right away while Settle joins the rotation as depth at end. Both Allen and Payne have the potential to break the trend but there is a lot of history suggesting they will not.
- DE Jonathan Allen – Sleeper at best
- DE Stacy McGee – Marginal value
- DE Matt Ioannidis – No fantasy value
- DE Tim Settle – No expected value at this time
- NT Da'Ron Payne – Possible value in tackle-required leagues
- NT Ziggy Hood - No fantasy value
- NT Phil Taylor - No fantasy value
Their defensive linemen may not show up strong in the box scores but they do a great job making sure the linebackers do. With all the injuries at inside linebacker last year we learned that regardless who lines up at the positions, they are going to be productive. Zach Brown is the top target of the group. He reached double-digit fantasy points in each of the thirteen games he played in 2017 before missing the final three with a sore knee and nagging Achilles injury. His average of just over 13 points per game was tenth among linebackers but the week-to-week consistency makes Brown a top-five consideration. He was a bit light in the big play columns last season with a single forced fumble, two and a half sacks, and a pair of pass breakups but that may have been more of a fluke than a trend. In four years as a pro, Brown has 15 total takeaways and 17 sacks. The only real concern for fantasy owners is the Achilles. He played through it for several weeks last year and did not have surgery in the offseason so hopefully rest was the answer. That said, history tells us this can be a recurring issue for NFL players.
Mason Foster’s career has been sidetracked regularly by injuries but when healthy he can be a strong fantasy option. In 2016 he had 89 tackles and 36 assists in 15-games for the Redskins. Foster started fast with 11 solo tackles, 4 assists, a fumble recovery and a pick in the first two contests last season before suffering a shoulder injury that would eventually end his season early. The injury is behind him and the organization thought enough of Foster to resign him this offseason. Injury concerns make it tough to count on Foster as more than quality depth, but the reality is he will put up strong LB3 numbers when healthy.
Washington opened last season with Brown and Foster as the starters inside, they ended it with Martell Spaight and Zach Vigil in those positions. All four players posted strong numbers when it was their turn. Foster has battled injuries throughout most of his career and Brown may well continue to battle the Achilles injury. Thus IDP owners need to pay attention to the pecking order behind the starters when the season opens. Vigil and Spaight are back but they will have plenty of competition this summer. Last year’s seventh-round pick Josh Harvey-Clemons will get a look as will rookie sixth-round selection Shaun Dion Hamilton. At least one and possibly two of these guys will be without a chair when the music stops at the end of preseason action.
There is no lack of talent among Washington’s outside linebackers. Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith accounted for half the team’s 42 sacks in 2017. As with most outside linebackers in 3-4 schemes, the fantasy value of these players is fully dependent on the scoring system. Kerrigan led the way with 13 sacks last season, reaching double digits for the third time in four years. In leagues that emphasize the big play, Kerrigan is going to be a quality starter. On the other end of the spectrum, his career best of 51 solo tackles came in 2014 but Kerrigan has not put up more than 34 in a season since. In balanced scoring systems, the big play production is enough to give him some value as depth in some leagues with deep rosters.
Though his production has been slightly lower, Smith is cut from the same mold as Kerrigan. Last season was his third in the league and Smith’s most productive to date with 31 tackles and 8 sacks. At age 25 there is plenty of upside left to his game, but even if his numbers remain about the same Smith is worthy of a backup role in big play leagues.
Last year’s second-round pick Ryan Anderson did little as a rookie. That is not uncommon for young outside backers in these schemes. The organization still holds high expectations for his future, but for the short term, Anderson will compete with free-agent addition Pernell McPhee for playing time behind the starters. McPhee has battled injuries over much of his career but when healthy he is a dependable contributor on the field.
- ILB Zach Brown – Quality LB1 with top-five potential
- ILB Mason Foster – Solid LB3 when healthy
- ILB Martell Spaight – Possible injury pickup
- ILB Zach Vigil - Possible injury pickup
- ILB Josh Harvey-Clemons - Possible injury pickup
- ILB Shaun Dion Hamilton – Dynasty sleeper
- OLB Ryan Kerrigan – Solid starter in big-play based leagues
- OLB Preston Smith – Depth in big play leagues
- OLB Ryan Anderson – No fantasy value at this time
- OLB Pernell McPhee – No fantasy value
There was once a time when the Washington Secondary was loaded with fantasy value. Over the past two years that has not been the case. Some of the lacking value can be blamed on a rash of injuries but much can be attributed to an improved front seven. Free safety D.J. Swearinger Sr was the only Washington defensive back to be IDP friendly in 2017. Having been drafted in the second round by the Texans in 2013, the Redskins are Swearinger’s fourth team in five years. At each of his previous stops coaches praised his skill set and play initially but soured on him quickly. Swearinger may have finally found a home in Washington and a place where he will have long-term fantasy value. He will never be a threat to post big tackle totals; in fact, the 62 solo tackles he recorded last season are a career best. Swearinger has the ability to make up for it in the big play columns though. With four interceptions, a forced fumble, a sack, and ten passes defended he finished inside the Top 20 for the first time last year. That is probably about as good as it will get for Swearinger who should be targeted as a high DB3 at best until he proves 2017 was not a mirage.
Last season Swearinger was the only fantasy option of this group but that could change this year. Deshazor Everett finished 2017 as the starting strong safety and is set to continue in that role going forward. This is a player flying under the radar of most fantasy owners. His 41 tackles and 21 assists from last year are not enough to garner much attention. A closer look reveals 29 of those tackles and 15 of the assists along with 4 passes defended came over the final six games when he was a starter. That pace over a full slate of games would equate to a strong 77 tackles and 40 assists and 11 passes defended. If Everett can pick up where he left off, he might be as much as a solid DB2 in 2018; especially if he can add a few big plays.
For IDP owners in league requiring corners, there are no sure starters on the Washington roster but Josh Norman has the potential to be one. Norman is among the league’s top cover men on the field and though inconsistent from year to year, he has put up useful numbers at times during his career including the 2016 season with Washington. That year, he finished among the Top 10 at corner on the strength of 52 tackles, 15 assists, 5 takeaways and 18 pass breakups. Norman’s 2015 numbers were similar in his final season with Carolina so it was not a complete fluke. On the other hand from 2012 to 2014 and again last year, he was far less productive. Unfortunately, there is no way to know which Norman we will get in 2018, thus a wait and see approach is best.
Orlando Scandrick is set to start opposite Norman with Quinton Dunbar the early favorite to land the nickel role. Both are solid football players but there is no reason to expect useful box score numbers.
- SS Deshazor Everett – Strong sleeper with DB2 potential
- FS D.J. Swearinger Sr – Target as DB3
- SS Montae Nicholson – Injury depth
- FS Troy Apke – Long-term potential but no value at this time
- CB Josh Norman – Possible CB2
- CB Orlando Scandrick – No fantasy value
- CB Quinton Dunbar – No fantasy value
- CB Fabian Moreau – No fantasy value
- CB Greg Stroman – No fantasy value
That's a wrap for Part 1 of this year’s preseason edition.