When trying to identify a potential fantasy bust, you look for several things. The first is situation. Will the player be in a different situation than he was last season that will result in him seeing less playing time and/or a lower level of production? The second is last seasons numbers compared to career norms. Did a player see an uncharacteristically high spike in production that can’t be sustained? The third is age, which can sometimes play a big role and at other times be completely irrelevant.
So with that in mind, I am bringing you a series where I try to identify players who you should avoid, or at the very least discount on your draft boards. The one mistake I see fantasy owners make regarding players with the bust tag is to completely avoid them. Don’t. Just make sure that you’re getting value from every pick, and you should be atop the league standings all year.
After finishing as a borderline DT1 and a top 50 defensive lineman in 2010, Vince Wilfork exploded to finish as a top five defensive tackle and top thirty defensive lineman last season. Will he repeat this season? Can he continue to improve? Let’s take a look.
The Patriots drafted Chandler Jones in the first round, who should immediately start on the defensive line. He was brought in to fill Patriots elephant rusher role that Mark Anderson played last season. New England also brought in Jonathan Fanene to play left end, and Andre Carter could be brought back as well. So what does that mean for Wilfork? Not much. The Patriots defensive line gets younger and more explosive, but it will be interesting to see if they can actually get better. Either way this youth movement should allow Wilfork to focus on doing what he does best, and that’s clogging the middle and creating mismatches with opposing offensive linemen. What it may also mean is that Wilfork is able to take off some snaps after playing 91.5% of the time last season. Which leads to our next factor to consider.
Wilfork saw a significant increase in snaps for the second straight season last year. In 2009, Wilfork only saw the field on 63.1% of the team’s defensive snaps. This number shot up to 71.3% in 2010, followed by a huge jump last season to 91.5%. Clearly this rate is unsustainable for a player such as Wilfork, and it should fall back to around two thirds of the total defensive snaps. With the increase in work, Wilfork actually saw a decrease in tackle frequency, as it fell from 9.6% to 7.3% all the way down to 4.7%. Clearly the rest and situational play works in Wilfork’s favor. Interestingly enough, Wilfork also saw a decrease in missed tackle frequency as well, which is a little tougher to explain, but probably comes down to more snaps and less tackle opportunities. His pass rush snap frequency has also increased each of the last two seasons, which only makes sense as he’d have to be used in more pass rushing situations with his increased playing time. In 2010 it increased from 48.7% to 53.8%, before jumping to 65.9% last year. This has resulted in his sack factor seeing some solid increases with the extra playing time, along with marginal increases in QBI factor. All in all, Wilfork has preformed as expected with his increased work load, but the level of production will be tough to repeat.
Age is the biggest thing working against Wilfork. Being on the wrong side of 30 will ultimately see Wilfork’s snap count plummet, which in turn will significantly hurt his production. Whether that happens this year remains to be seen, but his age certainly doesn’t help him any.
Jeff Ratcliffe projects Wilfork as the 5th ranked DT in PFF scoring and 7th in a tackle heavy format (see his IDP projections for all defensive players). This to me seems pretty optimistic, as it’s expecting a comprehensive repeat of last year, but I’m also not one of the most accurate experts in the industry like Jeff is. Not too many leagues play with the DL position separated into DT and DE, though, so what you’re most interested in is where he ranks amongst DLs. Ratcliffe has him as the 39th ranked DL in the PFF system and 37th DL in tackle heavy format. This means in most leagues it he’s bench fodder at best. But for those simply looking at last year’s numbers and hoping for that again this year, be warned that it’s going to take a lot to go Wilfork’s way for him to come close to approaching that. I’d suggest he can safely be ignored in most DL leagues, while he makes for a decent DT2 in DE/DT leagues.
Questions and comments are always welcome via Twitter – @Eric_Yeomans