With the NFL Draft now in the books it’s time to cast an analytical eye back over the selections and see how they will impact IDP fantasy football leagues. We’ve brought in a full quota of IDP writers to give you their thoughts, including IDP Editors Ross Miles and Jeff Ratcliffe, as well as Mike Woellert and Dan Ciarrocchi.
Three down inside linebackers are always a hot IDP commodity and the top two (Luke Kuechly and Don’t’a Hightower) in the draft class were selected in round one, as expected, by the Panthers and Patriots respectively. The widely acknowledged #1 prospect, Luke Kuechly, was a pure tackling machine at the college level, and although he may not have been the prototypical height/weight/speed prospect that gets you selected in the top 10, his 514 career tackles and excellent intangibles made him a relatively safe pick. Landing in Carolina is a slightly strange spot in some respects, and it does somewhat dampen his value in the short term. He’ll join a linebacker corps that sustain IDP stables Jon Beason (MLB/OLB) and James Anderson (OLB), both players who are capable of surpassing the 100 total tackle mark, so quite how he will fit in and produce remains to be seen. Both Beason and Kuechly can play in multiple positions, and after a series of injuries to the linebackers, perhaps the Panthers are betting on a BPA and safety in numbers strategy. I’d have Kuechly as a mid-low LB2 in redraft leagues bearing in mind this team supported a trio of fantasy relevant linebackers when Thomas Davis could remain healthy. Kuechly is a borderline round one pick in dynasty leagues, although his landing spot in Carolina might just push him into the top of the second.
Drafted by the Patriots to join a unit that includes Jerod Mayo and a sleeper favourite of mine, Brandon Spikes, Dont’a Hightower also is a difficult player to project for immediate fantasy value. He was much less productive than Kuechly from a raw numbers perspective, but offered a more physical game and big-play ability. He has the scope to play OLB in a 3-4 and ILB in a 4-3, so his versatility will serve him well in the hybrid defense run last year by the Patriots. A good comparison in my eyes would be Adalius Thomas, who they signed in 07/08 free agency, but never really had the impact in New England they wanted. In his last three seasons as a Raven, Thomas averaged 80.3 total tackles and 9.3 sacks, adding interceptions, fumbles and defensive touchdowns to boot, which would be the blueprint for Hightower’s production is he is as good as they hope. For me Hightower has LB3 value as a rookie, with a lot of upside. I’m higher on Hightower than most, but I would see him has having no more than 3rd round value in rookie drafts, and that is me being optimistic of his potential.
Often a place where rookies can have an immediate impact and get plenty of snaps is at defensive back. There were two safeties taken in the first round in Mark Barron (Tampa Bay) and Harrison Smith (Minnesota), and three cornerbacks, Morris Claiborne (Dallas), Stephon Gilmore (Jacksonville) and Dre Fitzpatrick (Cincinnati). Mark Barron garnered plenty of attention in the final week or so of the draft, hailing from the elite Crimson Tide unit that won the National Championship, and offers in-the-box skills, as well as the speed to cover the new breed of athletic tight-ends. He has immediate value as a DB2/3, and makes for a future DB1 as well. I’d have an early round 3 value on Barron in rookie drafts, but there is potential he goes earlier if someone needs a DB this year. Harrison Smith could well be the most productive IDP rookie of the bunch this year as he fell into a team where he is a virtual lock to start and play over 1,000 snaps. He was (like LB Luke Kuechly) an exceptionally productive college player, recording 90+ tackles in his final two seasons, as well as seven interceptions as a junior. Like Barron, I’d have Smith as a DB2/3, but I’d have him below Barron for dynasty purposes. Smith is a round 4 guy for me. All three of Morris Claiborne, Stephon Gilmore and Dre Fitzpatrick will start for their new teams as rookies, but of the three I prefer Gilmore from a fantasy perspective this year. A more physical defender and surer tackler in support of the run, Gilmore will become the #1 for the Jaguars while Claiborne will be behind free agent signing Brandon Carr. Claiborne is also more of a pure cover guy and if he’s as good as advertised, might find himself struggling for targets and fantasy relevance. Fitzpatrick is also a good run defender, and I’d also rank him above Claiborne from a fantasy perspective, especially as a rookie. I wouldn’t rank Gilmore or Fitzpatrick as any more than a CB3, while Claiborne would be a depth dynasty option only, unless he can snag 4+ picks as a rookie. I wouldn’t draft any of them before the 5th round of rookie dynasty leagues.
The one problem with Harrison Smith is that the Vikings deploy a lot of Tampa-2 so there isn’t much of the safeties in the box. He’ll likely be playing a deep third most of the time, which will really limit his tackling potential. (JR)
Jamarca Sanford had a tackle frequency of 9.3% in 2012 (highest of any Vikings safety in last three years), but only played 73.6% of snaps which limited his end of season comparative value. I think Harrison Smith can offer 65+ solo tackles and that should put him in the region of DB3 scoring, with the potential for more… (RM)
Sanford played 852 snaps – 654 at FS, 154 at SS, and 6 snaps at CB. Abdullah had 467 snaps at FS, and 68 at SS. I like Smith from a dynasty perspective, but the scheme and having to fight Greenway and Henderson for tackles makes me reluctant to support him in redrafts. Then again, safeties are extraordinarily hit or miss when you get to his tier, so I could certainly be proved wrong. (JR)
Looking at the pass-rushers taken in the first round there were several who will be expected to contribute from the word go. The first two off the board were the controversial duo of Bruce Irvin (Seattle) and Quinton Coples (New York Jets). Irvin is seen as a one-dimensional pass-rusher, but a very, very talented one, and that could be an interesting fit opposite Chris Clemons (who himself has 25 sacks in two years). Quinton Coples fell on draft day due to character concerns, but was widely regarded as the top complete pass-rusher of the class. Landing with a Rex Ryan defense makes for an intriguing pairing, especially as Ryan managed to get production from Aaron Maybin. Neither jump out to me as having a rosterable fantasy impact in 2012. Irvin’s value may be limited by his playing time if he cannot shirk the tag that he is only a nickel package pass-rusher, but he can be consider very “coachable” and has the most upside of anyone in the class in my mind. If you are an aggressive owner you might consider Irvin a 4th round pick, but you’d be being brave. He’s more likely a 5th or 6th round selection. Coples value will be at the mercy of Ryan’s usage of him, but personally, I’d be wary of spending more than a mid to late 4th round dynasty rookie draft pick on him.
Of the rest of the edge rushers in this year’s first round, the two most interesting to me would be Chandler Jones (New England) and Whitney Mercilus (Houston). Chandler Jones appeals to me on multiple fronts as he has excellent bloodlines (brother Arthur plays for the Ravens, while his other brother Jon Jones is the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion), was traded up for by the mercurial Bill Belichick and lands on a team that allowed 26 sacks worth of production in Andre Carter and mark Anderson walk in free agency. He is also a rangy, physical specimen who offers scope and versatility. Whitney Mercilus is another I like because of where he has landed, namely on a Wade Phillips defense. The Texans lost Mario Williams but now add Mercilus to a OLB duo of Connor Barwin (12 sacks) and Brooks Reed (10 sacks) and DE pairing of JJ Watt (11 sacks) and Antonio Smith (8 sacks). Don’t forget Brian Cushing (4 sacks) who blitzed more than any other ILB (197 times). His usage will be capped by rotation, but he will remain fresh and see good match-ups which will boost his value in big-play leagues. I’d see both players as having 5th or 6th round value, but they will most likely be reached for in the 4th/early 5th due to a weaker class.
The first round was a disappointment of sorts from an IDP perspective. Going in to last Thursday, I felt Quinton Coples offered a very high ceiling, but that ceiling came crashing down with his selection by the Jets. Rex Ryan has stated that Coples will play with his hand on the ground, which will limit his potential to rack up sacks. We have seen 3-4 DEs have some success in the past, but it’s more rare than it is a common occurrence. Coples is certainly someone to keep on the radar, but he’s strictly developmental in dynasty leagues.
The defensive lineman with perhaps the most immediate fantasy upside is Fletcher Cox of the Eagles. Their much-publicized Wide-9 alignment is one that is designed to get after the QB. We saw Cullen Jenkins have success in this system last season, and that translated to value at the often underproducing DT spot. Cox will get a chance to step up and play immediately. With his motor and aggressive pass rushing skills, he will flourish in this system, and makes for a high floor pick. Out of the first round, he represents the best fantasy value at DL.
At the same time, I’m not investing much fantasy stock in either Dontario Poe or Michael Brockers. Poe may not have been the wisest selection for the Chiefs, as his fit in the system is questionable. Regardless, we have seen little fantasy production out of the 3-4 NTs, and I doubt Poe will buck that trend. Brockers does offer slightly more upside than Poe, but again Rams DTs have not set the fantasy world on fire, so I’m tempering my expectations. With the DT position being so fickle from year to year, I would be hesitant to even throw Brockers on my taxi squad.
There were a few guys who could have potentially landed in 4-3 schemes as DEs, who ended up in 3-4s. Nick Perry in Green Bay and Whitney Mercilus in Houston offer very little fantasy value outside of big play scoring leagues. Chandler Jones has a slightly more interesting situation in New England. Last season, the Patriots played a 4-3 base package. If they continue in this fashion, we could see Jones at DE. This spot was productive last season for Andre Carter and Mark Anderson, so we could see similar impact from Jones. Keep a close eye on what New England does with him. If they roll with the 4-3 base, he makes an attractive option not only in dynasty formats, but also in redrafts this season.
Luke Kuechly was the only LB drafted in the first round who landed in a spot where he will likely play on the inside. Donta’ Hightower seemed like a great fit on the inside of a 3-4 scheme, but it doesn’t look like that will be the case in New England’s 4-3 leaning system. His redraft value is very low, but his upside makes him someone you should target to stash in dynasty leagues. As for Kuechly, he’s the top IDP pick in this draft class. Whether he actually plays the middle in Carolina is still up in the air right now, but regardless, he will almost certainly get the nickel snaps. In redrafts, he projects as a solid LB2 option, and he should be considered a late first round pick in rookie drafts.
At defensive back, I’m hesitant to support any of the three CBs selected in the first round from a fantasy standpoint. Like DT, there’s just too much turnover at the CB position to invest much if any stock there. Play them by ear, and be ready to pounce if any flash potential in run support. Of the bunch, Dre Kirkpatrick offers the most potential, but time will tell if any actually become fantasy producers. The real value at DB in this draft comes in the form of safety Mark Barron, who landed in a great spot in Tampa. We saw a lot of production from the safety position here last year, with Sean Jones giving owners several weeks of production. Barron offers immediate DB2 value in redrafts, and could be considered as early as the third round in rookie drafts. I’m not as sold on Harrison Smith, however, as the scheme in Minnesota may limit his fantasy potential. There is certainly a chance he could be a DB3 as early as this year, but that tier of DBs is extremely unpredictable. In redrafts, you can likely find value at other positions on draft day and ride the waiver wire at DB during the season.
I was a bit taken aback by the Panthers’ selection of Luke Kuechly, but it does make sense. His IDP value will be a bit of an unknown until the position battles are settled, but he definitely has the upside to be a tackle machine if he can play his way into a starting role, as he has every-down backer written all over him. The drafting of Kuechly tells me more of Thomas Davis and his availability than Jon Beason. I can see Kuechly being the WLB, right out of the gate.
Dont’a Hightower‘s IDP value took the biggest hit, in getting drafted to the Pats. Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes are entrenched at MIKE and WILL, respectively, so he’ll battle with Rob Ninkovich for the SAM duties. Ninkovich will not go away quietly, I presume, as he did grade out as the 10th best 4-3 OLB, notching 6 sacks and 60 total tackles. Nothing is set, as he could play his way to the inside with Mayo playing more weak-side. Ninkovich’s snap will probably decrease with the drafting of Hightower.
I think Houston got themselves a real gem in Whitney Mercilus (love the last name). He’ll be a nice dynasty target and could have re-draft value as the season progresses. He can play OLB and have his hand in the dirt as a DE. With Brooks Reed and Connor Barwin, they can take their time and ease him into an every-down role. At the outset, Houston looks to have a lethal combo at DE with JJ Watt and Mercilus.
These three guys should be top 20 targets in most rookie drafts, with Kuechly being one of the first rookie LBs off the board.
Another guy I like, that could be a solid in-the-box safety is Harrison Smith at DB position. The Vikings don’t exactly have a world-beating bunch with Jamarca Sanford and Mistral Raymond. Also, the Vikings traded up in the 1st round to get this guy, so he’s going to have the opportunity to start right away. He’s a perfect fit in Minnesota’s defense and should make an immediate impact in IDP leagues. He’s a sure tackler and also has the athleticism and size to cover the emerging pass-catching tight ends in the league. The only Irish player to finish with over 200 tackles in history, I love the upside for tackles in most tackle heavy formats right out of the gate. He finished his senior year with 91 tackles, including 8 games of 6+ tackles and 3 games of double-digit tackles. He could be a top 15 pick in rookie drafts and could be a sleeper DB3 in most re-draft leagues.
Dontari Poe did not produce much in college, but his rare combination of speed and strength made it impossible for Romeo Crennel and the Chiefs to pass on him at 11. Crennel attributes Poe’s lack of production to having immense responsibility at multiple positions along Memphis’ defensive line, and that he will be more at home exclusively playing nose tackle.
It’s a bit of a gamble, but Poe’s athleticism indicates he could be a force in stuffing the run alongside Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey, as well as an upgrade in pass rushing from Kelly Gregg, who graded negatively in that department in every game in 2011. Quality play up front is always great news for fantasy studs like Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali, who will continue to cash in regardless. But if Poe develops like the Chiefs expect, the sky is the limit for those playing behind him and alongside him.
The Seahawks’ choice of Bruce Irvin was to the shock of seemingly everyone except other NFL general managers, several of whom had first-round grades for Irvin. This further exemplifies the divide between NFL personnel and draftniks, but that’s a conversation for a different day. What the Seahawks are hoping to get is a long-term solution in their “elephant” role, but Irvin may have to prove himself as a multidimensional player before he sees extended time on the field. In the pass-rush, he was undoubtedly too quick and slippery for less-athletic offensive linemen in college. However, in the run game, he was less of an “elephant” and more like someone on the wrong side of the stampede.
Irvin has since put on 20 pounds since college to aid his versatility, but there’s always the risk of compromising on-field speed when a player does this. In Irvin’s case, carrying the extra weight could be a hindrance on his signature speed moves that worked so well for him in terms of getting to the quarterback. At the very least, extra attention paid to him on defense could really open things up for Chris Clemons, who was an absolute stud last season, and the only Seahawks lineman who consistently pressured the quarterback.
I love the Fletcher Cox selection by the Eagles. You can never have too many pass rushers on defense, and Cox brings the athleticism and encouraging game tape from college to suggest he will bolster a defense that had our highest pass-rush grade in 2011. It’s not easy to find a defensive tackle who can push the pocket consistently, which made Cox a luxury pick who could give quarterbacks nightmares for years to come alongside Cullen Jenkins.
Cox may not start right away, as the incumbent Mike Patterson had a solid season across the spectrum, which was even more impressive in the context of his health concerns. Still, the Eagles now have additional insurance and impressive depth across the defensive line which indicates they won’t have to throw Cox to the wolves in an every-down role. As of now, Cox will likely begin his career as a third-down lineman in sub packages, but has the potential to be an every-down player in the very near future. The Eagles depth chart will be one to monitor as the offseason progresses.