The Colts got to work on this year’s free agency period a bit early on Thursday, signing veteran ILB D’Qwell Jackson to a four-year, $22 million contract that includes $11 million in guaranteed money. The Browns cut Jackson on Feb. 26, so he was eligible to be signed before the March 11 kickoff of free agency.
This move fills a gaping void in the Indianapolis linebacker corps. Last season, the Colts bounced between Pat Angerer, Kelvin Sheppard, and Kavell Conner at inside linebacker opposite Jerrell Freeman. None of these three played particularly well, with Angerer being perhaps the biggest disappointment from a fantasy standpoint.
Jackson represents an obvious upgrade at the position, but he’s on the wrong side of 30 and looks like he could be in the twilight of his career. Sure, he’s topped 100 total tackles in each of his last three seasons, but his numbers deserve a closer look.
In 2011, Jackson was arguably the No. 1 IDP in all of fantasy football, posting a whopping 158 total tackles (116 solo), 3.5 sacks, and nine tackles for a loss. He seemed to have completely recovered from the injuries that caused him to play just six games in the previous two seasons.
Entering 2012, fantasy pundits (including yours truly) had high hopes for Jackson, and he failed to deliver. To his credit, Jackson did post 118 total tackles and 3.5 sacks. However, nearly half of his tackles were recorded as assists.
IDP owners know all too well the pitfalls of owning Jackson, as this trend continued last season. He finished 2013 with 75 solo tackles and 66 assisted tackles, finishing as the No. 31 fantasy linebacker in PFF IDP scoring.
While Jackson is still decent in coverage, his play against the run has declined significantly. In fact, he’s graded out among PFF’s 10 worst linebackers against the run in each of the last two seasons.
Jackson’s presence on the Colts will almost certainly have a fantasy ripple effect, affecting teammate Jerrell Freeman perhaps the most. Freeman has been a rock solid fantasy option over the last two seasons. His high tackle floor and big-play upside are ideal for IDP leagues, but it’s reasonable to expect a slight dip in his numbers with Jackson on the field.
While Jackson may be on the downslope of his career, he’s still a capable tackler who will play an every-down role opposite Freeman. That means a lot more competition for numbers than what we saw in Indy over the last two seasons. Don’t get me wrong. Freeman will still have fantasy value. I just wouldn’t expect him to post borderline LB1 numbers.
In terms of Jackson’s fantasy value, it’s a stretch to think his signing with the Colts will do anything to benefit his stock. While he certainly still has a recognizable name, don’t overvalue Jackson. At best, he’s a low-ceiling LB2, though I’d be much more comfortable slotting Jackson as LB3 depth.
Jeff Ratcliffe is the Assistant Managing Editor and resident IDP maven of PFF Fantasy.