The NFL Scouting Combine gave fantasy football owners their first look at this year’s rookie class in an actual NFL event. The 2014 class is incredibly deep on both sides of the ball. Let’s recap some of the top players on the defensive side of the ball.
Jadeveon Clowney is an alien
Clowney measured in over 6’5″ and 266 pounds. He then proceeded to run a 4.53 in the 40, post a 37.5-inch vertical and broad jump 124 inches, all top-tw0 numbers for his position. He’s a freak athlete. Everyone knows it and everyone knew it before he arrived in Indianapolis for the NFL Combine. This isn’t news. But it was still fun to watch him confirm what we already knew.
But should you draft him?
Clowney sat out all the on-field drills with what he called a hip flexor. Clowney’s not the first elite prospect to skip drills. We see it with quarterbacks all the time. Sometimes there’s just more to lose than gain by participating in aspects of the event. I didn’t have a problem with him skipping drills. Clowney’s IDP value, maybe more than any other prospect, will be determined by the team that selects him.
If the Texans select Clowney No. 1, evaluating him as an IDP prospect may be near impossible this offseason. Where will he play in their 3-4 front? How will J.J. Watt impact production he may have as a rookie and beyond in dynasty leagues? Could he even end up being listed as a linebacker? Say it ain’t so … the questions will be endless. We’ve seen talented players defy the age-old IDP positional maxims more and more recently, but still, that’s not a risk you want to take if you can help it.
If Clowney goes to St. Louis, Jacksonville or even Atlanta, then dynasty IDPers can breathe easy. At least you’ll know that he’ll be rushing the passer from the 4-3 end position that he’s used to. But that still doesn’t answer the question of production.
As a junior he posted 13 sacks. As a senior? Three. NFL teams will be trying to weigh all the risk/reward with Clowney over the next two months. It’s obviously way too early to decide when to take him even in IDP dynasty rookie drafts. But as you ponder the scenarios and listen to NFL Draft experts, remember that it won’t hurt your fantasy team nearly as much as his actual NFL team if he doesn’t produce. In IDP leagues, 4-3 impact ends that rack up sacks and big plays are rare. I wouldn’t go crazy on Clowney but at some point the risk will definitely be worth the reward in your draft.
Aaron Donald shines
At 6’1″, 285 pounds, Donald tore up the 40 with a thundering 4.68. He also posted top-five performances in the bench press (35 reps) and the 3-cone drill (7.11). Some will still question his size and arm length at the next level, but Donald showed the type of athleticism that allowed him to dominate college competition. He was also very impressive during the on-field drills, showing very light feet and the ability to bend and move rarely seen in such a big prospect.
Donald projects as a first-round defensive tackle. If you play in IDP leagues, especially dynasty formats, that require the DT position he needs to be on your radar. We’ve also seen more and more tackles impact the regular defensive linemen rankings recently. So for deeper leagues, file Aaron Donald away as a player to watch in May’s Draft.
Mack and Barr battle it out
The top two outside linebackers in this class are about the same size and posted very similar numbers at the Combine. Both project as first round NFL selections but don’t get too caught up in that when evaluating them for your dynasty IDP league.
Khalil Mack and Anthony Barr both project as rush linebackers for 3-4 teams, which would really cap their fantasy football ceilings. Barr could fit on the strong side for a 4-3 team, but again, if he doesn’t win sub-package snaps his production will suffer.
Mosley and Shazier sit out the 40
Two of the top IDP linebacker prospects sat out the 40-yard dash at the Combine. C.J. Mosley out of Alabama did participate in four workout drills, failing to produce a top-five number in any. Mosley is thought by many to be the top inside linebacker in this class. He’ll need a good pro day to lock down that position for May’s draft. If he does and he goes to the right team, he could be the top linebacker in many IDP rookie drafts.
Ryan Shazier out of Ohio State could also be a top IDP prospect. He projects best as a weak-side 4-3 linebacker and while he didn’t run the 40, he did post top-five numbers in the vertical, broad jump and 3-cone drill.
Top two safeties impress
Another Alabama prospect, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, is more than just a funky name. He could be the first safety off the board in May’s draft. However, much like Eric Reid a year ago, Clinton-Dix projects as a rangy free safety. Many compare Clinton-Dix to Earl Thomas. The question for IDP owners will be whether Clinton-Dix can be productive enough as the last line of defense. Team fit will be big here.
At the Combine, Clinton-Dix didn’t do anything to disappoint. At 6’1″, 208 he posted a solid 4.58 in the 40 and showed his fluidity in the on-field drills.
Calvin Pryor could also be a free safety at the next level but plays with a violent streak that may translate better to fantasy football leagues. NFL teams could use him in the box as well. Pryor measured a little short at the Combine, 5’11”. But he came through the rest of the event well and also posted a 4.58 in the 40.
Stay tuned to Pro Football Focus Fantasy draft coverage all offseason long.
Nate Hodges is a lead writer for PFF Fantasy and radio host for Tennessee Sports Radio (Saturdays at noon eastern). Listen at TNsportsradio.com. His work can also be found at TopTierFootball.com. You can follow him on Twitter – @NateNFL