Kiko Alonso trade opens doors for Jordan Hicks' fantasy emergence
Kiko Alonso will be playing for his third NFL team in four years after the Miami Dolphins acquired him in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles. The deal saw Alonso, cornerback Byron Maxwell and the No. 13 pick in the 2016 draft sent to Miami for the eighth overall pick in this year’s draft.
Alonso was a revelation in his first season in the NFL, racking up a gaudy 159 total tackles, four interceptions and two sacks as a rookie in Buffalo at inside linebacker, earning 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. Astute fantasy owners though would have noted that much of Alonso’s fantasy production happened in the first four weeks of the season, as he only recorded a single splash play (a sack in Week 9) from Week 5 onwards. Add in the tackle-friendly home stat crew in Buffalo, and there was reason to question whether we had already seen the peak of Alonso’s potential production.
Heading into 2014, Alonso was penciled in to play on the weakside for the Bills, a change from rookie season, but the first of his ACL tears, suffered in the preseason while training, instead sidelined him for the entire season.
The subsequent hire of his former college head coach, Chip Kelly, the following season in Philadelphia, triggered an approach for Alonso in which the Eagles sent RB LeSean McCoy to Buffalo in a straight exchange for the one-time Oregon Duck. Alonso suited up for Week 1 as an inside linebacker, but only played 49-of-77 snaps and wasn’t a starter (Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans were preferred), and was kept in a similar role the following week before succumbing to the second of his ACL injuries, a grade two tear of his repaired left knee.
Alonso elected not to have surgery and rehabbed to return later in the season, getting back on the field in Week 9, but despite further injuries to the Eagles linebacking corps (Kendricks, Ryans and Jordan Hicks), he still was unable to win a starting job, playing just 55.4 percent of snaps in the games he appeared. From a fantasy perspective, Alonso was equally as disappointing. He managed just one double-digit fantasy score in Week 1, and averaged just 4.4 points per game following his Week 9 return.
Alonso’s departure from Philadelphia, alongside the cutting of Ryans, means that Kendricks and Hicks will have much clearer passages to being starters in 2016, and will likely have roles in sub-packages over the recent free agent acquisition, Nigel Bradham. Expect Hicks, who impressed before injury as a rookie, to man the middle, while Kendricks gets the fantasy-friendly position on the weakside. This should be confirmed with their usage in the preseason, and initially I’d have Kendricks in the top half of the LB2 tier, and be very keen on picking up Hicks as a third linebacker on my roster. If Hicks can beat out Bradham for those all-important sub-package snaps then he’ll have LB2 upside. Mike Castiglione has already broken down the fantasy impact of Nigel Bradham joining the Eagles.
As for Alonso in Miami, it’s been reported that he’ll play as a middle linebacker, which is surprising in the sense that Alonso appears to be a better fit as a weakside ‘backer in a 4-3 system, but the Dolphins already have Jelani Jenkins manning that spot. Jenkins himself was somewhat of a fantasy disappointment last season, charting just 71 total tackles (in 13 games) a year removed from the 110 he recorded in 2014, so both players will have plenty to prove this coming season.
12 months ago I felt that Jenkins had the potential to push on into being a LB1, but I’m not so sure given his performances last season, and I’ve never been the biggest Alonso fan either. We’ve seen plenty of linebacker tandems post decent fantasy scores alongside each other so I’m not concerned that they’ll steal points from each other, but I do think we’re only looking at a pair of solid LB2s. Think the second half of James Laurinaitis’ career, or a standard Daryl Smith season. The problem is whether there is still hype around both players and if so, they may be over-valued on fantasy draft day, making them players to avoid. I’d start thinking about targeting them once 20-25 linebackers have been drafted and expect an LB2/3 season of mostly consistent scoring. If I had to pick between the two, I’d give the narrow edge to Jenkins. I would also have Hicks right in amongst them too, and depending on how my roster was building with regards to depth and upside, I might be prepared to gamble on Hicks outperforming both Jenkins and Alonso in 2016.