Soft Landings - Rookie IDP Potential
The NFL Draft is in final countdown mode. I’ve identified the top fantasy football landing spots for players on the defensive side of the ball. Rookies drafted into these situations will have a shot to produce early and often for your IDP fantasy football squad. Depth chart references are courtesy of Rotoworld.
Nate Irving has been a big disappointment. He played less than 400 snaps last year, all as an early down strong-side linebacker. He’s penciled in as the starter in the middle for now and could remain there in a two-down role or lose the job all together.
The Broncos will add a linebacker in the draft at some point. They lost Wesley Woodyard in free agency. If they select a three-down impact player, either as a “Mike” or “Will” ‘backer in the early rounds he could become a big time point producer as a rookie.
One likely candidate is Ryan Shazier out of Ohio St. He’s an extremely athletic player who would fit the scheme perfectly as a run and chase weak-side linebacker. Shazier also projects as a late first round pick, perfect for where Denver is slotted in this year’s draft. Shazier would be one of the first two rookie linebackers off draft boards in this scenario.
Dallas Defensive End and Safety
The Dallas defense was horrendous last season. It was literally record breaking bad. The defensive end depth chart currently reads like this: Jeremy Mincey, George Selvie, Anthony Spencer. Not bad players necessarily, but not the type of athletic pass-rushing ends required for this scheme to be successful.
The Cowboys must address the pass rush in this draft. Forget the Johnny Manziel rumors. Dallas must go defense early and often. If they do, a defensive end could be in a nice situation to succeed. Dee Ford out of Auburn is extremely undersized but that was once said about Dwight Freeney and he excelled in a similar scheme.
Dallas currently has J.J. Wilcox as their starting strong safety. He was below average in limited duty a year ago. Barry Church at free safety isn’t really an impact player either. The team could use an upgrade at the position and if they do, watch out! The lucky rookie could be asked to make a lot of tackles if the Cowboy’s front seven doesn’t improve from a year ago. Of course, that would be good news for fantasy football owners.
Defensive end and safety are two of the Cowboy’s top three team needs in this draft according to NFL.com.
The Bears starting safeties are Ryan Mundy and Chris Conte. Much like Dallas, Chicago’s defense needs an influx of talent in this year’s draft.
If the Bears select a safety who can really tackle he could be an IDP producer right out of the gate. They could go that direction as early as round two.
Green Bay Inside Linebacker
The Packers keep sticking with A.J. Hawk and he keeps playing poorly. Brad Jones also really struggled down the stretch. Both graded out “in the red” last season.
Green Bay could really use an upgrade here. The Desmond Bishop injury and eventual release last offseason has really left a huge hole in the middle of the defense from a talent perspective.
Green Bay could address the position with C.J. Mosley out of Alabama. He’d fit the scheme perfectly and even played in a similar one for Nick Saban. He’s a team leader and has tremendous instincts. Mosley has been compared to Luke Kuechly. The problem for the Packers is that Mosley could go before they pick at 21. But if they are able to snag him, he could be the top rookie linebacker in fantasy drafts this year.
St. Louis Safety
The Rams have a gaping hole at free safety. In fact, almost every mock I see has them taking a safety with their second first round pick.
There are really only two options at that juncture of the draft. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix out of Alabama and Calvin Pryor out of Louisville.
Clinton-Dix has garnered more headlines this offseason. He’s the prototypical rangy free safety that NFL teams are craving after watching Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor beat up everyone on their way to the Super Bowl last year.
Pryor may be a better fantasy football player though, and I know some teams have him higher on their board than Clinton-Dix. Pryor is shorter but plays with much more violence and could excel in the box as well as in center field. If the Rams take him, look for him to produce solid numbers even from the free safety position. If the Rams take a less talented prospect later in the Draft it’ll be much more difficult to project.
The Titans defense is changing to a 3-4. The team will almost surely spend picks to help with the transition.
The linebacking corp is a mess. Zach Brown and Wesley Woodyard are penciled in as the starting inside linebackers but neither are very good at the point of attack. There could be tackles available for a more well-rounded rookie linebacker.
At outside linebacker the team has Akeem Ayers, Derrick Morgan and Shaun Phillips. Some recognizable names sure, but the unit could really use a top notch rookie rusher. Anthony Barr fits the bill. He could see situational snaps immediately and develop into a startable player late in the year in big play leagues.
Buffalo Defensive End
Mario Williams anchors one end spot for the Bills. The other could be won by a rookie.
That’s probably more of a long shot but still a situation to monitor. After all, the Bills defense could be on the field a ton. And the home stat crew is historically the most generous when it comes to awarding solos and assists as I profiled last offseason.
If you play IDP fantasy football take note of which rookies land in soft situations. Many times the situation is more important than talent when playing fantasy football on the defensive side of the ball.
Nate Hodges is a lead writer for PFF Fantasy and radio host for Tennessee Sports Radio (Saturdays at noon eastern). Listen at TNsportsradio.com. His work can also be found at TopTierFootball.com. You can follow him on Twitter – @NateNFL