Fantasy Reaction: Jasper Brinkley Signs With Arizona
The Arizona Cardinals have signed free agent inside linebacker Jasper Brinkley to a two-year contract, and it’s expected that he’ll take Paris Lenon’s place alongside Pro Bowler Daryl Washington. While Brinkley’s proven to be a liability in pass coverage (more on that later), his play against the run should be a huge improvement over the departed Lenon (-15.6).
When the Vikings drafted Brinkley out of South Carolina in the fifth round back in 2009, he quickly gained buzz as a long-term dynasty sleeper. He suffered a serious knee injury back in 2007, and many draft prognosticators suggested that Brinkley’s agility, foot speed and athleticism had suffered badly as a result.
But when the 6’2″, 252-pound Brinkley ran a 4.67 40 at the combine – and was timed as low as 4.59 – it was clear that much of those post-injury concerns were being severely overstated. Were he to find himself in a starting role, Brinkley had the potential to be a tackling machine, making him potential IDP gold. But what remained was one big concern: whether or not he would be able to handle pass-coverage assignments at the NFL level.
In his first few years in Minnesota, Brinkley served as an understudy behind E.J. Henderson. He played only 184 snaps in 2009, with his -5.3 rating predictably dragged down by a -3.6 in coverage. In 2010, Brinkley played only 18 snaps, not close to enough to draw any meaningful statistical conclusions, and he missed the entire 2011 season due to hip surgery. In 2012, Brinkley played a starting role for the Vikings, seeing a career-high 872 snaps. But while his play against the run (-1.8) and on the pass rush (-1.1) wasn’t terrible, he proved to be a huge liability in pass coverage (-13.5, second-worst among ILBs behind only Rey Maualuga).
If Brinkley’s speed has been compromised by the 2011 hip surgery, the move to a 3-4 should help him immensely, particularly if Cardinals’ defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is able to skew his responsibilities away from pass coverage. As a run stopper, Brinkley can have huge IDP value. With the Cardinals not expected to be a playoff contender in 2012, they should see a disproportionate percentage of run plays against in the second halves of games, setting up Brinkley to be a potential IDP star in 2013. However, if he finds himself isolated in pass coverage against the likes of the 49ers’ Vernon Davis and the Rams’ Jared Cook, it won’t be long before Brinkley’s job security comes into question.
In the short term, Brinkley’s IDP value is quite high, as he’s likely to post triple-digit tackle numbers for the Cards in 2013 (Lenon tallied 93 tackles in 2012). But for those in dynasty leagues, Brinkley’s value is tied directly to his job security, which will come down to whether or not Bowles can effectively keep him out of situations where he’s in man coverage against Davis, Cook, and the rest of the ever-growing population of supremely athletic NFL tight ends.