Second-Year IDP Duds
The 2012 individual defensive player (IDP) rookie class has already produced its share of stud performers. But there are some second-year IDPs who will struggle to take that next step in 2013 and possibly beyond. Here are five players likely to be second-year duds if drafted too early in 2013.
Demario Davis – LB, New York Jets
Davis was selected in the third round of the 2012 draft for the Jets 3-4 defense run by head coach Rex Ryan. Davis played 315 snaps as a rookie in rotational work but is currently set to start as the 2013 season approaches. Jets fans and fantasy owners alike are hoping that Davis can have a breakout year playing next to David Harris at inside linebacker.
Take a look at his 2012 season and his 2013 projections from PFF Fantasy’s Jeff Ratcliffe:
While I do think that Davis will have a much bigger role this season, I question whether it’s enough to justify such lofty expectations. No Jets linebacker has posted 80 solo tackles in a season the last three years. The last to do so was David Harris (82) in 2009, and he’s still there entrenched as the starter next to Davis.
Davis will play more snaps and may even be more talented than the now 29-year-old Harris, but the Jets scheme hasn’t proven to produce monster numbers in the middle recently. Ryan’s defense has become more multiple as of late, and there are plenty of linebackers to move around in subpackages. The offensive style in 2013 could also lead to less tackle opportunities for Jets linebackers. I expect New York to run the football and control the clock as much as possible. Davis should end up posting solid numbers, but he won’t get the volume to truly break out in 2013.
Zach Brown – LB, Tennessee Titans
The Titans drafted Brown with the 20th pick of the second round in the 2012 NFL Draft. Brown was one of the fastest linebackers in the draft class, but some questioned his physicality coming out of North Carolina. The former Tar Heel took over at weak side linebacker by the end of the 2012 season and posted solid fantasy football totals.
Here’s a look at his 2012 statistics and 2013 projections:
There are reasons to be excited about Brown’s potential in 2013. He should play more than the 756 snaps he did a year ago and they should be exclusively on the weak side, which fits Brown’s chase and tackle skill set. But the Titans did draft Zaviar Gooden, a similar linebacker, in the third round this year. Maybe the team felt like Gooden was a versatile player, but it’s possible that they aren’t sold on Brown.
Brown’s 2012 was also inconsistent from both a fantasy football IDP perspective as well as an NFL one. In the 16 fantasy football weeks, he posted seven double-digit “impact” starts and nine single-digit “dud” performances. He did finish the season with an overall positive grade (+3.1), but posted eight negative games along the way. I expect Brown to put up solid full-season IDP numbers in 2013 and with his athleticism there’s a lot of upside. But his week-to-week inconsistency could leave owners wishing they hadn’t reached for his potential.
Morris Claiborne – CB, Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys took the former LSU Tiger with the sixth overall pick in the 2012 draft. Claiborne was inserted into the starting lineup in Week 1 on his way to playing 909 snaps as a rookie. Just as Dallas struggled through a disappointing season, Claiborne struggled in NFL and fantasy football standards.
On to his 2012 stats and 2013 projections:
When a team drafts a corner in the top 10, they expect him to develop into a shutdown-type player. Claiborne was far from it in 2012. According to the premium grades here at Pro Football Focus, he was the 83rd-best corner in the league. He posted a -4.5 overall for the season. What’s more concerning for fantasy football was his -4.6 in run defense. It seems he’s just not physical enough in the run game.
Head coach Jason Garrett has recently praised Claiborne for his offseason work. Couple positive organized team activity (OTA) reports with the switch to a Tampa-2 scheme, and seasoned IDP owners are expecting a breakout season. While it could occur, I’d make sure I didn’t reach for a Tampa-2 corner who hasn’t graded out well against the run.
Dont’a Hightower – LB, New England Patriots
Hightower was the Patriots’ first-round pick at No. 25 overall. In 2012, he was a very effective linebacker, grading out at +13.2 overall. As a starter at strong side linebacker, Hightower played 667 snaps, grading out positively in run defense, pass rush, and pass coverage. For fantasy IDP leagues, he was able to notch seven double-digit “impact” starts, but his full-season totals were disappointing.
Here are his 2012 stats and 2013 projections:
The first variable that limits Hightower’s upside is that he plays strong side linebacker. It’s very difficult to amass top-level IDP numbers from the strong side position. Notice the projected bump in Hightower’s production for 2013. To reach these values, he’ll need to play more subpackage snaps, which should occur.
The problem with expecting this production bump is that the Patriots scheme changes some every year, sometimes even within a season. It’s very hard to project how the team will deploy their personnel. Hightower should put up better numbers in year two, but don’t draft him counting on it.
Andre Branch – DE, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars selected Branch 38th overall in 2012 to help spark their anemic pass rush. He appeared in 13 games, but he recorded only one sack. He was the first defensive end off the board in many IDP rookie drafts last year, but he disappointed dynasty owners despite being handed the starting job. By the end of the year, he had been demoted and finished the season on injured reserve.
Here’s a look at his disappointing 2012 statistics and 2013 projections:
There’s optimism that in new head coach Gus Bradley’s defense Branch can take a big step forward. But it’s false hope. Branch is a bust. He’s proven to be unproductive and susceptible to injury, and now he is playing a backup role under a new regime. Branch was also inconsistent and soft in college.
Last season Branch’s pass rushing productivity (PRP) was 4.5. PRP is a statistic that calculates sacks, hits, and hurries divided by the number of snaps. His 4.5 number ranked him 58th among 4-3 ends, five spots from the bottom of the category. He also posted low tackle numbers for the amount of snaps he played and a negative overall Pro Football Focus grade. Branch has already re-injured his groin in a 2013 minicamp and is stuck behind Jason Babin on the depth chart. He’s a player to sell in dynasty formats and avoid in redraft leagues.