Fantasy: Buyer Beware - Harper isn't Sharper
With the 2011 season in the rear view mirror, teams have made changes that they hope will yield positive results. Coaches were fired, contracts expired and several new coordinators have already been hired. All rhyming aside, staff changes will undoubtedly bring different styles of play to their respective teams. New defensive coordinators, in particular, will have a considerable impact on IDP performances in the 2012 Fantasy Football season. One team that appears to have big defensive change coming its way is the New Orleans Saints with the hiring of Steve Spagnuolo. Additionally, the one Saints’ player who may very well experience the majority of that change is safety Roman Harper, who will probably have to act more like a safety than a linebacker this year.
The Saints’ signing of Spagnuolo has the potential to be huge. New Orleans has never been known for defense, but Spagnuolo has a knack for shutting down high-powered offenses. Under former defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, Roman Harper saw success in their blitz-happy defensive schemes, while the Saints’ defense as a whole did not. Spagnuolo’s version of the Saints’ defense will likely increase their defensive rankings as a team, but may also result in substantial change to the IDP value of several defensive players (i.e. Harper).
Spagnuolo’s arrival is bound to affect where the Saints’ sacks (and therefore, IDP value) will come from. Last season, the Saints’ had two players tied for the team lead in sacks, and one was a defensive back – safety Roman Harper with 7. New Orleans is the only team that could claim they had a defensive back lead their team in sacks, but there’s a reasonable explanation for that – Gregg Williams is known for being unpredictable with his blitzing, often bringing defensive backs. Harper rushed the passer 153 times last season, an astronomical amount for a defensive back. That number is essentially guaranteed to decrease dramatically with Spagnuolo calling plays. He is known for preferring pressure with the front 7 – hurting Harper’s case already. Looking at how Williams and Spagnuolo achieved sacks in 2011, it’s clear that the Saints and Rams had an immensely different distribution of sacks:
Saints defensive linemen contributed 16.5 of their team’s 33 sacks (50%), linebackers had 7 (21.2%), and defensive backs had 9.5 (28.8%). In 2011, when Spagnuolo was with the Rams, his defensive linemen contributed 29 of the team’s 39 sacks (74.4%), while linebackers and defensive backs each contributed 5 (12.8% each). Here’s a table to show it more clearly, and for the sake of comparison, I threw in Spagnuolo’s 2007 Giants team too:
|Sack Percentages by Position|
|Defensive Linemen||Linebackers||Defensive Backs||Total|
|Saints||16.5 (50%)||7 (21.2%)||9.5 (28.8%)||33|
|Rams||29 (74.4%)||5 (12.8%)||5 (12.8%)||39|
|’07 NYG||40.5 (77.9%)||9 (17.3%)||2.5 (4.8%)||52|
(I realize the Saints probably wont put up numbers like the ’07 Giants, but it effectively shows how Spagnuolo brings his pressure.)
Clearly, the largest discrepancies came from the defensive linemen and defensive backs. The Rams had four defensive linemen with more sacks than any of the DB’s, compared to zero defensive linemen that could say the same. You can see where I’m going with this. Spagnuolo isn’t going to blitz harper or any defensive back 153 times in 2012.
Roman Harper will be highly ranked as an IDP going into the 2012 season, and upon first glance that may seem legitimate considering he led his team in both tackles and sacks in 2011. However, you may want to think twice before drafting him early. Remember, Spagnuolo isn’t going to use him like Williams did. Before 2009 when Gregg Williams joined New Orleans and started using Harper like a linebacker, his stats were less impressive. In the two years Harper started pre-Greg Williams, he averaged 89.5 tackles, 2 sacks, and 1.5 interceptions per season. In his three years starting under Williams, he averaged 98.3 tackles, 3.67 sacks (7.5 last year) and 0.33 interceptions per season. Moreover, Harper went without a single interception in three of his five years as a starting safety (last year included) and has recorded only one interception over the past four seasons.
Pass coverage is by no means Harper’s strong point, as rushing the QB clearly is. In fact, Harper achieved the lowest pass coverage rating among all Saint’s defensive backs (-8.4) , according to PFF’s defensive ratings, and was just 0.3 points away from being worse than all their linebackers too. Additionally, he received the 3rd worst pass coverage rating among all starting safeties in the league, complementing his overall rating that was also good for 3rd worst among all starters (-14.9). For comparison’s sake, Harper had an inferior pass coverage rating to three of the four patriots starting defensive backs, beating James Ihedigbo by just 0.2. Considering how terrible the Patriot’s pass defense was all season, that’s an accomplishment.
It seems reasonable to believe that Harper’s IDP value decreased immediately upon Spagnuolo’s arrival. Harper will likely be asked to drop into coverage far more often than he did in 2011 and will probably come nowhere near his 2011 mark of 153 pass rushes – thus causing a decrease in sacks as well. This seems even more evident when you consider that, among Spagnuolo’s Rams last season, the highest number of pass rushes by a defensive back was 63 by Darian Stewart. I’m not saying don’t draft Harper at all, though. I just think it would be wise to let someone else take him based on his high rank when he’s the highest ranked safety still available. If he falls several rounds and you’re still in need of a safety late in your draft, he does record a lot of tackles, forces some fumbles, and will likely still record a few sacks despite Spagnuolo’s less aggressive defense. After all, Fantasy Football results don’t always accurately reflect actual performance, as explained in Daniel Ciarrocchi’s article.