What We've Learned From OTAs, Pt. 3
This first note is for you if your league scoring gives extra points to individuals for return yards. Seattle Head Coach Pete Carroll claims that FS Earl Thomas would be the team’s punt returner if he had to play a game right now. Carroll also claims that CB Richard Sherman would be a candidate to also return punts. However, the Seahawks do not play today, so this is easy to proclaim now. But if Thomas were indeed to become the main punt returner in Seattle, this would move him up even higher up DB draft boards.
Justin Tuck finished last season on a tear with 9.5 sacks over the final six games. He turned that into a free agent deal with the Raiders that the Giants did not care to match. While it appears as if Tuck is in line to play DE in the base for Oakland, he is expected to kick inside in sub-packages so that rookie Khalil Mack can rush the passer from the edge. Tuck is a top 10 DE when it comes to accumulating tackles, but it remains to be seen whether he will be worth rostering if his sack numbers go down because of where he will be rushing the passer.
Jason Hatcher (+20.9) graded out as the top defensive player on the Cowboys roster last season. He was credited with 11 sacks, which made him very valuable in leagues where he was DT eligible. In the offseason, he signed with Washington with the expectation that he would play end in their 3-4 base and then kick inside to rush on passing downs. Playing defensive end in the base would most likely make Hatcher lose his defensive tackle eligibility in most leagues. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Hatcher had to undergo arthroscopic surgery on his knee. The scope is only supposed to be a minor clean-out procedure and he hopes to be ready for training camp, but this is sounding like a drain on Hatcher’s fantasy prospects.
Last season DB Tyrann Mathieu was having a breakout rookie season for the Cardinals when he was placed on injured reserve with a torn left ACL and LCL. Back in May, there was still hope that the “Honey Badger” could be ready for Week 1, but word out of Arizona now is that Rashad Johnson is the projected Week 1 starter. Coach Bruce Arians says that he is hoping to have Mathieu back after the bye, which would be Week 5.
The Bears used the No. 14 overall pick on Virginia Tech CB Kyle Fuller with the expectation that he would line up in the slot. But in camp, the Bears instead used him at outside cornerback in sub-packages. The trickle down effect is that CB Tim Jennings has been getting acclimated to working the nickel with the expectation that he could man the slot in sub-packages this season. Jennings was already a borderline replacement level defensive back in deeper leagues, but if he is able to raise his tackle total by manning the slot on passing downs, he could become a DB3 type of player.
Jerry Hughes worked his first two years in the NFL as a 4-3 defensive end and had just one sack over those two seasons. Hughes was being called a bust in Indianapolis and was traded to Buffalo, where he finally started to bloom. Last season, he graded out as PFF’s No. 8 graded 3-4 outside linebacker (+19.9) and was also the third rated pass rusher (+21.6) from that position. But this season, the Bills are switching to a 4-3, which means that Hughes will go back to playing in a rotation at defensive end. Back in Indianapolis, Hughes was playing behind both Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney which may be part of the reason that he couldn’t take off there. Under new Buffalo defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, Hughes will be a pass-rush specialist opposite Mario Williams, who will play every down at left end. During the spring, Hughes reportedly lived in the backfield during drills. So while Hughes will probably not put up the numbers that he did last season, right now he is looking as if he will have value in deeper, sack heavy leagues.
Atlanta is switching full time to a 3-4 base and Osi Umenyiora has played his entire career as a 4-3 defensive end. So the word out of Atlanta is that Umenyiora is in line to be a designated pass rusher. Whether he will do that as an outside linebacker or from somewhere on the line remains to be seen but Umenyiora is definitely in line for fewer snaps this season. If his designation changes to linebacker in your league, he will most likely be unplayable. But even if Umenyiora keeps his defensive end designation, it remains to be seen if he will be worth rostering outside of the deepest of leagues.
DT Geno Atkins is six months removed from his ACL tear, but there is still no word about his progress as updates have been hard to come by. The feeling in Cincinnati is that Atkins should avoid opening the year on the reserve/PUP list and may even be ready for Week 1. Brandon Thompson and Devon Still were taking his reps during the OTAs.
No. 1 overall draft pick Jadeveon Clowney underwent sports hernia surgery. This made him miss the final two OTAs. Word out of Houston is that Clowney should be back in time for training camp and see plenty of preseason action.
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.