In 2011, Pro Football Focus introduced the Tamme Index, showing handcuffs at the important fantasy positions, but, it was only for the offensive positions. This year, I’m going to introduce the ’Bishop Index’, showing the important handcuffs for the Individual Defensive Player (IDP) positions, only highlighting the important handcuffs. This past season, two elite linebackers missed significant playing time; Desmond Bishop and Patrick Willis. Their backups came in and produced respectable IDP digits for those savvy enough to grab them off the waiver wire. This year, we hope to prepare you for the unexpected and highlight the top backups for the elite positions. DL and DB can have more of a rotation at the position, depending on situations, but in the event of injury, the backup can see much more playing time. Continuing along, my last piece looks at defensive linemen (DE, DT). Linemen, like defensive backs, are a bit more unpredictable as some rotate in and out based on certain situations but the D-Ends are the ones that are on the field most getting sacks. Injuries and inconsistent play are always a possibility, so this article looks at those backups to target should your draft pick get hurt or lose playing time.
Olivier Vernon, DE, MIA – The Dolphins are making the transition to 4-3 and Camerson Wake and Jared Odrick are occupying the starting slots. However, Odrick is primarily going to be used on running downs and will move to the interior on passing downs with Vernon replacing him on the edge. Vernon makes an intriguing prospect in dynasty leagues and will be Odrick’s primary backup. He’s worth a look in deeper leagues.
Shawne Merriman, DE, BUF – Hear me out on this one. I know he hasn’t contributed anything of significance since the 2007 season where he notched 12.5 sacks and 68 tackles with the Chargers. Since then, he’s been battling injuries and suspensions. The last season where he appeared in double digit games was 2009, where he started 14 games while picking up 4 sacks and 32 tackles in 672 defensive snaps at OLB. It’s been all downhill since then for the former sack specialist. He enters the 2012 season as a backup behind Chris Kelsay and has been playing at right end. He says he’s healthy and has the burst back from year’s past. I’m not wasting a draft pick on him, but if he can pick up some snaps and show that he does have that explosiveness back, he could be an interesting waiver pickup or handcuff for Mario Williams or Mark Anderson.
Pernell McPhee/Arthur Jones, DE, BAL – Right now it’s McPhee that is listed as the 3rd DE behind Paul Kruger and Jones. McPhee is recovering from a knee scope, which the date of is undetermined. Jones is trying to take advantage of McPhee’s absence as he’s vying for the starting LE job. Jones is a solid run stopper, making him a better fit for early down work, while McPhee is more of a pass-rusher. Whichever player wins the gig, the other will be the backup. McPhee is more of an option in deeper, big play heavy leagues while Jones will make for a sleeper if he wins the starting job.
Cameron Heyward, DE, PIT – As a Browns fan, it’s tough for me to say anything good about the Steelers, but I’ll put my personal bias aside. Heyward enters his 2nd season, behind Ziggy Hood and Brett Keisel on the depth chart. Heyward appeared in 197 defensive snaps, racking up 11 total QB interruptions and a sack while taking in the Pittsburgh defense. Heyward could be in line for more action in 2012 and Brett Keisel has been dealing with various ailments. Keep an eye on Heyward throughout the rest of the off-season.
Jason Hunter, DE, DEN – Elvis Dumervil could be facing suspension at the beginning of the season and has been an injury risk in the past. Hunter was brought back by the Broncos for depth, and even though he graded out at -6.4 in pass-rushing, he’ll be used as a backup pass rusher. He’ll be someone to watch in deeper leagues or for those that are Dumervil owners heading into Week 1.
Dave Tollefson, DE, OAK – Tollefson is coming off a 5 sack season in 2011, but signed with Oakland this off-season and will be playing behind Lamarr Houston and Matt Shaughnessy. Shaughnessy, however, is coming off shoulder surgery but has been involved in team activities. Tollefson, though, will be someone to watch in deeper leagues as a backup to either of these guys.
Osi Umenyiora, DE, NYG – It wasn’t too long ago that Osi was one of the more feared pass-rushers, but injuries, contract disputes and the emergence of Jason Pierre-Paul have relegated him to rotational situations. Osi is still an efficient and effective rusher, as he still managed 9 sacks and 33 total QB Pressures, good for a 8.8% QB Pressure Frequency, in just 374 defensive snaps in 2011. He’s being drafted as a DE2, but I don’t feel comfortable enough with him there. I’d rather get him as bench depth or a handcuff to either Tuck or Pierre-Paul. Keep that in mind during your draft as you might have to reach for him.
Fletcher Cox, DT, PHI – He’s gaining sleeper status in dynasty leagues and DT required leagues. The Eagle traded a trove of picks to move up to get him, so he’s on the hook to see a lot of work early on. He’s learning quickly and will compete with Antonio Dixon for snaps. He’s definitely worth monitoring the rest of the off-season.
Jarvis Jenkins, DE, WAS – Jenkins was the #41 pick in last year’s draft but went down early on in pre-season with an ACL injury that required surgery. The Washington Post is reporting that he has explosiveness and is taking a lot of reps. He’ll battle Adam Carriker and Stephen Bowen for a starting job, but is currently listed 3rd behind those two. Keep an eye on him as he could be a nice little sleeper.
Shea McClellin, DE, CHI – He’s only seen a few 1st team defensive reps and will be used mostly in nickel situations, backing up Israel Idonije. Even in a reserve role, he should see a nice share of nickel snaps. Once training camp starts, he should see more reps with the starters and he’s projected to get about 50% of the snaps. With the Bears only managing 33 sacks (Julius Peppers had 12 of those), they need the help on the line. He’ll be the primary backup and is worth putting on your watch list.
Everson Griffen, DE/LB, MIN – He could be a handcuff at defensive end or linebacker, as he’s lost some weight and is listed as Erin Henderson’s primary backup at WILL, though, there’s been talk of Erin moving to MIKE. Griffen notched 4 sacks and a 6% QB Pressure Frequency last season, so those in deeper leagues, might want to monitor him.
Bruce Irvin, DE, SEA – Another high-rated pass-rusher in this season’s draft, he’s still a bit raw but has the upside to be dominant because of his moves. At the outset, he’ll backup Chris Clemons and Red Bryant and the Seahawks hope he improves his run-defense and coverage skills during training camp, or he could be looking at a situational role early on. He’ll be a top pick in most rookie/dynasty leagues, but could be worth a look if an injury arises during the season to Clemons or Bryant.
William Hayes, DE, STL – It wasn’t too long ago that Hayes enjoyed his best season (2009), where he racked up 5 sacks and 36 total QB Pressures for the Titans. He’s listed as Chris Long and Robert Quinn’s backup on the line, and Quinn is facing some legal issues with a recent DUI. Injuries have limited Hayes’ effectiveness over the last few years, but if you’re in a deeper league, he could be one of those IDPs that people forget about and puts up a string of games to keep your squad afloat.