Coaching changes and the impact on IDP players
This offseason saw eight teams part ways with their defensive coordinator and install a new one, but of those hires, only two are expected to have any major effect on the defensive schemes their teams run. Jim Schwartz’s infamous blitz-happy Wide-9 scheme will find its new home in Philadelphia, while the Tampa-2 defense of Lovie Smith and Leslie Frasier previously utilized by the Buccaneers will be replaced by Mike Smith’s more conservative 4-3 scheme.
Below, we’ll look at how the most significant coaching changes might affect the status of some IDP fantasy options, and at the end we’ll hit on a few situations where coaching stability should help some other options.
The biggest change with Philadelphia going to Schwartz’s Wide-9 scheme will of course be felt by the front four. Connor Barwin, Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham will now be used at defensive end with the sole purpose of rushing the passer. All three should be on your fantasy radar, but I wouldn’t be counting on any of them to achieve more than DL3 status because of the boom-and-bust nature of their focused usage, which will keep their tackle totals low. Fletcher Cox should be largely unaffected and remain a fringe DL1.
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At linebacker, the Eagles have brought in Nigel Bradham and allowed Kiko Alonso and DeMeco Ryans to leave. Mychal Kendricks will be back to full health and impressive rookie Jordan Hicks will also be handed a starting gig. It’s likely it will be Kendricks on the weakside and Hicks in the middle, with Bradham leaving the field in sub packages, roles that should suit all three players. Of the trio, while I like Kendricks as a respectable LB2 this season, I think there is more value in targeting Hicks at a cheaper price, as I don’t think there will be much between their fantasy points totals at the end of the season, and could even see Hicks improving past Kendricks.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The switch in Tampa to Smith’s more conservative 4-3 scheme shouldn’t cause any major disruptions to the fantasy performance of stud LB Lavonte David, who will remain looked in as a top-tier, elite fantasy linebacker. His partner in crime, Kwon Alexander, will continue to man the middle for the Buccs, but our analysts believe he needs to make some further improvements to his play if he is to take the next step as a pro. This makes Alexander a risky fantasy prospect in some regards, as he could be liable to lose some playing time, or even his starting gig if the new coaching staff come to similar conclusions. I’d not be willing to gamble on Alexander as anything more than a LB3 because of these question marks hanging over him.
The offseason additions to the roster of DL Robert Ayers and OLB Daryl Smith don’t offer much fantasy appeal either, so other than the dependable DT Gerald McCoy (and the aforementioned David), there isn’t too much to get excited by on the Tampa defense for fantasy purposes.
The lack of a significant scheme change for a defense after a coordinator change is actually not a bad thing when it comes to making projections or setting your draft boards for IDP leagues, and with a few key defensive player moves on those teams, we can get an early idea of players who may see increased opportunities as a result, in previously productive fantasy positions. Below are a pair of players who could thrive in stable coaching environments after team changes (one in the offseason, one just before last season).
Demario Davis, LB, Cleveland Browns
One player who will be of particular note is Demario Davis in Cleveland, having replaced the departed Karlos Dansby, who posted 202 total tackles, three sacks and four interceptions over the last two years in Cleveland, despite missing four games. Davis, who profiles as more of a thumper than coverage linebacker, never really set the world on fire as a New York Jet, but in an every-down role in Cleveland I’d expect a slight uptick in his production. Davis was disappointing last year and narrowly missed ranking in the top-40 fantasy linebackers. This came off the back of a pretty decent 2014 that had put him squarely in the LB2 tier, and while I wouldn’t be quite so confident as to put him firmly back in that LB2 grouping, he is a player worth taking a flyer on in later rounds on draft day as should sneak back into LB3 consideration.
Sio Moore, LB, Indianapolis Colts
Another player worth keying in on, despite no scheme change, is Colts WLB Sio Moore. He’s a player who flashed some scoring potential in Oakland before being surprisingly traded to Indianapolis last season for a sixth-round pick, and now finds himself in a position to be the Colts starting weakside linebacker since the team parted ways with Jerrell Freeman. Having seen the likes of D’Qwell Jackson and Freeman both post fantasy-relevant stat lines in that defense as linebackers over the years, the hope is that Moore can assume enough of the snap count to be a decent fantasy play himself, especially considering what we saw in his limited time as a Raider. It’s not certain Moore will even win a three-down role, but he’s a sleeper I’d want on my roster because of the upside he could offer. Target Moore as top-end backup for your roster.