Low Priority IDP Free Agent Moves – Week 1
Jeff Ratcliffe checks in on the fantasy implications from some of the lower priority free agency moves on the defensive side of the ball.
Low Priority IDP Free Agent Moves – Week 1
This year’s defensive crop of free agents had only a few marquee names, though there were a number of transactions that have the potential to impact the IDP landscape. We’ve covered the major signings, but fantasy owners should also be aware of the lower profile transactions on the defensive side of the ball.
At the edge defender position, we saw the Titans bolster their pass rush by signing Brian Orakpo and re-signing Derrick Morgan. While both players will get the dreaded “LB” classification on fantasy commissioner sites, there is the potential for matchup LB3 value in here. The Titans will essentially be running Dick LeBeau’s defense this season, and we’ve seen this scheme lead to strong fantasy production from edge defenders in Pittsburgh. Keep an eye on both players, though our fantasy preference would be for Morgan.
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With the Bears expected to transition to a 3-4 defensive in 2015, it made a lot of sense that Chicago signed OLB Pernell McPhee to a five-year deal worth a reported $39 million. Despite being behind Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, McPhee managed an impressive 64 QB pressures. In fact, McPhee was more disruptive than both Suggs and Dumervil, landing a pressure on 18.4 percent of his pass rush snaps compared to just 14.4 percent for Dumervil and 11.7 percent for Suggs. McPhee is intriguing for fantasy purposes, though it’s best to position him as a risk/reward LB3 at this point.
The other edge defender signing of note is Adrian Clayborn, who signed a one-year deal with the Falcons. Clayborn’s career has been one marred by injury, as he’s had two of his first four seasons in the NFL cut short. Though he’s not a dominant pass rusher, he joins an Atlanta team that had one of the league’s worst pass rushing units in 2015. Clayborn should see his share of snaps, but he’s unlikely to be much of a fantasy asset in IDP leagues this season.
There was a lot of movement at the defensive tackle position, though most of the signings have little-to-no fantasy impact. These transactions include: Jared Odrick to the Jags, Terrance Knighton to Washington, Kendall Langford to the Colts, Darnell Dockett to the 49ers, and Karl Klug re-signing with the Titans. However, two signings do stick out as having potential fantasy implications: Nick Fairley to the Rams and Henry Melton to the Bucs.
Fairley joins a crowded house along the interior of the Rams defensive line that already boasts Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers. It’s a curious signing, indeed, and signs point to Brockers and Fairley rotating, with the latter taking the passing down duties. If this is the case, Fairley’s fantasy value will be almost non-existent.
Melton’s signing is a bit more intriguing for IDP purposes. He was a general disappointment in Dallas, but keep in mind that he was returning from a torn ACL. Now one more year removed from the injury, he gets to pair with Gerald McCoy in Tampa. While it’s unlikely Melton will play more than a rotational role, he could offer sneaky DT2 value in DT-required leagues.
This wasn’t a sterling year for off line of scrimmage linebackers, though there are a few deeper names of note: Jerrell Freeman (Colts), Brandon Marshall (Broncos), David Harris (Jets), Justin Durant (Falcons), Rey Maualuga (Bengals), Josh Mauga (Chiefs), Malcolm Smith (Raiders), and Brooks Reed (Falcons).
These players are ordered in terms of potential fantasy significance, and Freeman tops the list after racking up a combined 365 total tackles over the past three seasons. D’Qwell Jackson’s presence in Indy limits Freeman’s upside, but he can still be considered a high floor LB2.
Marshall comes in next, following his breakout 2014 campaign where he put up 113 total tackles for the Broncos. With Denver expected to run a 3-4 this season, Marshall is penciled in to start on the inside along with Danny Trevathan. While Trevathan has proven to be the superior three-down option, Marshall does have the potential to stay on the field in subpackage situations. His fantasy value hinges on this fact. We’ll be closely monitoring his usage in the preseason.
The Jets didn’t let Harris jump ship to Buffalo, and we can expect more of the same out of him despite the new coaching situation in New York. That means Harris will hover just inside the Top 40 fantasy linebackers in most scoring formats.
Durant and Reed join a Falcons defense in transition, and both are expected to start. Durant showed last season that he’s still capable of playing all three downs, so his presence will relegate Joplo Bartu to a backup role. Paul Worrilow is still the priority Falcons linebacker for IDP purposes, but Durant could certainly surface on the fantasy radar. Reed has shown marginal fantasy value at best so far in his career, and that’s unlikely to change in 2015. However, his signing positions Prince Shembo as a backup outside linebacker.
Cincinnati re-upped Maualuga with Vontaze Burfict dealing with recovery from the dreaded microfracture surgery. Maualuga isn’t likely to enter 2015 as a three-down option, but he is someone to keep an eye on, as the Bengals have seen a host of injuries to their linebacker corps over the last few seasons.
There’s a chance you relied on Mauga in your IDP leagues at some point last season, especially if you drafted Derrick Johnson. Mauga was a serviceable LB3 type with Johnson out, but don’t expect an every-down role for him if Johnson is fully healthy.
Smith faded into the background this past season in Seattle, but signed quickly with the Raiders, who also acquired Curtis Lofton and presently have Sio Moore and Khalil Mack on the roster. It’s not clear yet how all the pieces will fit together in Oakland, though Smith would be the least likely of the bunch to play an every-down role.
We saw perhaps the most action at defensive back over the first week of free agency. Starting with the corners, we saw the Eagles ink both Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond. Of the two, Maxwell has more fantasy relevance and has the potential to put up CB2 numbers.
The Jets were also very active, signing Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, and Buster Skrine. Revis has always sat just at the fringes of fantasy relevance, and that’s unlikely to change this season. Likewise, Cromartie remains a big play option who won’t produce a lot of tackles. The interesting name here is Skrine, especially for those in CB-required leagues. As the nickel corner, Skrine should see ample targets and will have loads of opportunities for tackles.
The other two corner signings of note are Brandon Flowers re-upping with San Diego and Perrish Cox to the Titans. Both have the potential to be fantasy options in CB-required leagues.
Unlike last season, it was a relatively weak safety market with only a few names of note: Antrel Rolle to the Bears, Da’Norris Searcy to the Titans, Ron Parker staying with the Chiefs, Mike Adams re-upping with Indy, Chris Conte to the Bucs, and Duke Ihenacho staying put in Washington.
Rolle has the greatest potential of this bunch to produce fantasy relevant numbers in 2015, but don’t expect him to simply continue the level of production we’ve seen out of him over the last few seasons with the Giants. At this point, it’s not clear how the Bears plan to use Rolle. We’re comfortable slotting him as a Top 20 fantasy DB, but his fantasy value hinges on how close he’ll play to the line of scrimmage.
The Searcy signing in Tennessee is especially intriguing for fantasy purposes. The Titans cut bait with Bernard Pollard earlier this offseason, which would suggest Searcy is in line to start. We saw the Bills reluctant to play Searcy in an every-down role, but he’ll have DB2-plus fantasy value if the Titans deem him worthy of three-down duties. There’s definite sleeper potential here.
Kansas City retained Parker after signing Tyvon Branch. These moves suggest Eric Berry’s 2015 status is very much up in the air. Hopefully we see Berry get back on the field at some point, but for now Parker and Branch project as the starters. Of the two, Branch would get IDP preference.
The remaining three players offer marginal fantasy value at best. Adams had a nice run in 2014, but the fact that he turns 34 in a week doesn’t instill much confidence. Conte flashed IDP potential in Chicago, but was never able to string together consistent strong fantasy performances. It’s unlikely a change of scenery has much of an impact on his fantasy value. Ihenacho was an early-season fantasy darling with Denver in 2013, but he’s since faded off the IDP radar. He’s currently positioned as a starter, but a lot can change between now and September.
Jeff Ratcliffe is the Assistant Managing Editor and resident IDP maven of PFF Fantasy.
Jeff Ratcliffe | Director of Fantasy
Jeff Ratcliffe is the Director of Fantasy at Pro Football Focus. He produces all of our projections and is 2016's second-most-accurate ranker in the fantasy industry. Jeff also is the host of our show on SiriusXM fantasy sports radio and is one of the main hosts of our Fantasy Slant podcast.