Can you feel it? OTA’s are kicking off and we are inching ever closer to the start of the 2012 NFL season. I get worked up just thinking about it, as I’m sure many of you all do as well! This time of year is notorious for producing some pretty big storylines in the NFL, and this year is no different. For my first series of articles, I will attempt to earn myself some fantasy points and ‘tackle’ the biggest IDP questions leading into this upcoming season. There are many to choose from, and I hope the series will only add to the stellar writing analysis this site offers on a daily basis.
My first article will highlight Dwight Freeney. Reports indicate that the Indianapolis Colts have Freeney listed as an OLB on the official roster, a surprising change from the DE position he has dominated since being drafted in 2002. Before the move, Jeff Ratcliffe projected him 259th in his pre-season IDP rankings, which is hardly fantasy relevant at all. As an OLB, he may have a chance to improve this ranking.
Chuck Pagano left his DC position with the Baltimore Ravens to accept the HC job with the dismantled Indianapolis Colts. The Ravens defense ran like a well-oiled machine under Pagano, allowing the 3rd least number of yards and points in the league in 2011. They prided themselves on their intensity and intimidation. All credit cannot be given to Pagano, however. He had a pretty impressive roster of defensive studs that many other coaches did not have. One of those players was the widely discussed Terrell Suggs, who plays the same position as Freeney will play this season.
Many are speculating that Pagano will attempt to use Freeney in the same way he used Suggs in Baltimore. From a purely athletic standpoint, I guess this could be possible. Freeney is 6’1” and 268 pounds. He is known as a speed-rusher with the ability to overpower a blocker when necessary. Suggs, on the other hand, is 6’3” and 260 pounds, also known as a resilient speed-rusher. The thing that separates the two in my mind is the pass coverage element that is required from an OLB position in the Chuck Pagano system. Many times, Suggs was asked to drop back into coverage, and he did pretty well when he did so. In 2011, Suggs had 2 interceptions while earning an overall PFF Pass Coverage score of 9.5 for the season. He also did not record a single negative pass coverage score on the season.
In all fairness, Freeney has not been asked to do anything other than rush on a passing down, and why should he? He has accumulated 102.5 sacks in his career, good enough for 3rd among active players. With his new position, he will have to cover a tight end, and that does not bode well for him.
When you get right down to it, I still do not believe this change will affect Dwight Freeney enough to make him a relevant fantasy player. Consistent tackling numbers will always be a category you can look to for fantasy production, and even in his prime Freeney did not have that. At the absolute peak of his career (2002) he amassed 41 tackles, with 13 of them being sacks. He has not come near those numbers since 2005 when he had 34 total tackles. To further this point, Freeney only had 19 tackles all of last season, with 8.5 of them being sacks. In my mind, it is very obvious that Freeney only knows one thing when it comes to defense: pass rushing. Granted, he is a very gifted pass rusher, but his run defense has never been on the same level.
I expect Freeney’s tackle numbers to increase slightly this season, purely because of the positional change. Past that, I do not see much fantasy relevance. Freeney earned a PFF Run Defense score of -7.5 for the 2011 season, and that right there is the problem. Dwight Freeney = a ‘no go’ in my book.