Every year some of the most difficult players to project for the coming season are players who switch teams and players who switch schemes. It doesn’t help when the player switches position as well. This is exactly what’s happening with Cameron Wake of the Miami Dolphins and Kamerion Wimbley of the Tennessee Titans. Wake is going from a 3-4 outside linebacker to a 4-3 defensive end, while Wimbley is going from a 4-3 outside linebacker with the Raiders to a 4-3 defensive end with the Titans.
Based solely on their numbers from last year, they should be top-20 fantasy defensive ends. However according to the IDP Average Draft Position Data posted recently by Jeff Ratcliffe, Wake on average is the 20th DE off the board, and Wimbley is 29th off the board. This leads me to believe that people are thinking their numbers will drop, but here is why they won’t drop as much as you think, and the two ends will make strong sleeper fantasy picks.
While the most talked about thing in Miami is the quarterback position, the second most discussed is the transition from the 3-4 defense to the 4-3. While on the surface, it sounds like Wake will be seeing a major change in his role, in reality Wake won’t be seeing all that much of a change. Last year Wake was used like a defensive end in four man fronts on 52.8% of Wake’s snaps. On another 16.2% of snaps, he was one of three or fewer players with their hand on the ground. While precisely where he lines up in comparison to the offense might change, he is still used to playing with his hand on the ground and rushing the passer from there.
The main difference is he will go back into coverage less often. He went into coverage 53 times last year, where 13 of those came from him having his hand on the ground and then going back. He didn’t have an interception last year and only one pass defended. Instead he will be doing what he’s good at, which is going after the quarterback which should help his fantasy value.
Something that should also help Wake is a regression to the mean for his sack total. Wake went from 16 sacks in 2010 to just nine in 2011. However Wake had 81 overall pressures in 2011 compared to 66 in 2010. It could be argued that he had a better season rushing the quarterback in 2011 than 2010 even though it didn’t help his fantasy value.
On average a pass rusher converts roughly 18% of their pressures into sacks. In 2010 Wake was a bit above average at 24.2%, and in 2011 Wake was a bit below average at 11.1%. Chances are Wake will get around the same amount of pressure and possibly more, as well as getting closer to league average next year in terms of converting pressure to sacks. This would mean Wake would be back to double digit sacks.
While the idea of him switching positions and a low sack total in 2011 might scare fantasy owners away, it shouldn’t. He is doing the same thing he did in 2011, but with more rushing the quarterback. While he is being drafted like a low end DE2, he should really be a low end DE1/high end DE2. He would make a nice steal in fantasy leagues if you can add him as your DE2.
In the Raiders base 4-3 defense, Wimbley was used as an outside linebacker which is where he lined up on 40.5% of his total snaps. Typically when the Raiders went into a nickel or dime defense, Wimbley lined up at the defensive end position, where he lined up on 52.9% of his snaps. On the rest of the snaps he was on the line in a three man front, playing inside linebacker or outside in a four linebacker formation, or as a slot defender. The transition to a full time defensive end shouldn’t be too difficult because he has so much experience at the position.
Using Wimbley’s 2011 numbers, he would have been a top 10 defensive end thanks to his high number of tackles. However we should expect that number to go down. Wimbley was able to make a run stop on 6.7% of his snaps at linebacker, but on just 4.2% of his snaps at defensive end. Because of that, we should see his tackle total decrease from last year, so he won’t likely be a top 10 defensive end.
On the other hand we can expect more out of his pass rushing. All six of his sacks in 2011 came from the defensive end position. He only converted 9.7% of his pressures into sacks in 2011, so that should regress to the mean similar to Wake to the point where we can expect him to have double digit sacks in 2012. In 2011 on 27.2% of his pass plays he went back into coverage. That should rarely happen in Tennessee, so that will help counteract the fact that the Titans like rotating their defensive linemen in and out more than the average team.
While his overall tackles number should decrease, his sacks value should increase. Wimbley has been most effective rushing the passer as a defensive end, and now he won’t have to worry about playing multiple positions. He has been drafted as a mid DE3, while he should be able to produce like a mid DE2. If you can add him as your third defensive end on your roster, you won’t be disappointed.