What We've Learned From OTAs, Pt. 2
In Buffalo, the Bills are switching to a 4-3 defense but they will have to do this without Kiko Alonso who suffered a torn ACL while working out in Oregon and is slated to be placed on injured reserve. As of now, there isn’t an obvious candidate in Buffalo at the linebacker position to receive an IDP boost. Brandon Spikes is slated to start at the MIKE, but the Bills plan on him coming off of the field on passing downs so there was a chance that Alonso would have been the only true three down linebacker in Buffalo. Our IDP maven Jeff Ratcliffe wrote an article on the subject, and he believes that it may be a safety who sees an increase in production.
The Raiders were able to provide deeper fantasy leagues with two players who were worthy of being on a roster in Nick Roach who manned the MIKE and Kevin Burnett who played the WILL. Oakland drafted OLB Khalil Mack number five overall in the NFL draft. He is now penciled in as the SAM in the base and as an end in their subpackages so that he can rush the passer, which could lead to a good number of snaps for the rookie. What Mack’s presence does is unseat Oakland’s highest rated linebacker from last season Sio Moore (+10.7) who manned the strong side. Moore is now the favorite to start at the WILL and he got the majority of the snaps opposite Mack at the OTA. Burnett was not able to participate due to an ankle injury but he is scheduled to be ready for camp where he is still considered in the mix for the position. But right now everything points to Moore joining Roach as an Oakland linebacker with some value in deeper leagues.
In Pittsburgh, the Steelers plan to move ILB Lawrence Timmons around the field more so that he can potentially make even more plays. The thinking is that moving him around would allow him to rush the passer from the outside among other things. Officially, Timmons has been moved from the weak side inside linebacker position to the strong side. This means that the Steelers hope that their No. 15 overall pick in the draft, ILB Ryan Shazier, will take over the weak side. The plan is for him to use his speed to make tackles all over the field in the base and then to also cover tailbacks and tight ends in subpackages. If he is truly able to stay on the field and do all of that, Shazier could really be an asset in deep leagues that value tackles.
Dannell Ellerbe (-13.5) was signed as a free agent in Miami last season to play the MIKE. He graded out very poorly last season, and the Dolphins seem determined to move him to an outside linebacker position this season. Koa Misi has been playing the MIKE position in his place, staying on the field in subpackages. The hope is that Misi can nail down the three down role so that Ellerbe would come off of the field in subpackages. This would make Misi and Philip Wheeler (-19.5) the three down backers in Miami and the guys to own in deeper leagues.
Dont’a Hightower was a pretty solid linebacker for the Patriots last season except in pass coverage (-7.1) where he struggled. So this season, the plan is to use Hightower in the base and to replace him in the nickle with former Bear James Anderson. This means that linebackers Jerod Mayo and Jamie Collins should be three down linebackers. Reports are that Mayo is progressing well from his pectoral surgery and should be ready for camp. As for Collins, you may remember him from his two breakout games in the playoffs last season where he was credited with 13 tackles, a sack, and an interception. Collins is expected to cover backs and tight ends as well as rushing the passer as an end. But remember, Bill Belichick tailors his playing time around that weeks game plan. So use any Patriot defender, every down player or not, at your own risk.
In Cincinnati, Emmanuel Lamur spent all of last season on injured reserve after suffering a shoulder injury in the last preseason game. But this season he is expected to be a three down linebacker who plays the SAM in the base. With Vontaze Burfict operating as the other three down backer in Cincinnati, Rey Maualuga is slated to play the MIKE only in the base. And that’s assuming that Maualuga can beat out fantasy fan favorite Vincent Rey, who outplayed him in the three starts that he made when Maualuga was injured.
There was some surprise in Baltimore when GM Ozzie Newsome selected C.J. Mosley with the No. 17 pick in the draft since many assumed that second-year ILB Arthur Brown was already in line to start this season. And while Mosley and Brown may be the future at inside linebacker, Brown and Daryl Smith seem to be the present. Mosley is not only the leader in the clubhouse for the starting job, he is also looking like an every-down player for the Ravens this season, in a system that should be able to support two high volume tackle linebackers.
Ashe started his writing career at the now-defunct CNNSI in Atlanta. He moved on to CNN Domestic where he joined his first fantasy football league. He writes about sports and politics when he isn’t checking the waiver wire.