Week 2 Upgrades/Downgrades
Posted 9/13 by Aaron Rudnicki, Exclusive to Footballguys.com
DL Larry Tripplett, IND: Larry Triplett finished last season strong with 8 solo tackles and 2 sacks combined during playoff games against the Broncos and Patriots. He nearly matched that production this week with 7 solo tackles and 2 sacks against the Ravens. Jamal Lewis was held to just 48 yards rushing, Ravens QBs combined to throw 3 interceptions, and the Colts nearly pitched a shutout thanks primarily to the push that was being generated up front. Newly signed DT Corey Simon along with DE Dwight Freeney will likely see plenty of double teams this year, and that should open things up for players like Tripplett and DEs Raheem Brock and Robert Mathis to make more plays.
DL Orpheus Roye, CLE: Roye is the Browns best defensive linemen and it was pretty evident on Sunday. He tied SS Chris Crocker and MLB Andra Davis for the team lead with 10 combined tackles (5 solos, 5 assists), which is pretty impressive for a 3-4 DE against a solid Bengals offensive line. The Browns hung with the Bengals for awhile, but eventually gave way in the 2nd half. The Browns figure to struggle defensively this year as they adjust to a new system, but that should help keep them on the field longer and create more tackle opportunities. Roye is 32 years old and has a career-high of 4.5 sacks so his upside is limited, but he could be worth a roster spot in some deeper leagues.
DL Bryant Young, SF: Young is 33 years old and despite playing in 45 games over the past 3 years, he hasn't finished higher than the #57 ranked fantasy DL in the league during that span. With the 49ers moving to a 3-4 defense, however, Young will get a chance to play at DE this year. Based on his huge performance this week against the Rams (4 solos, 3 sacks), the change was good for him and he could be in for a rebound season. He hasn't reached 4 sacks in a season since 2000, but he once was one of the premiere pass rushers from the DT position and could even have an outside shot at reaching double digit sacks this year.
DL Leonard Little, STL: After 3 straight seasons of 12 sacks or more, Little fell off a little bit last year and only finished with 7. He did, however, finish the season pretty strong, collecting 10 solos and 2 sacks in his final 3 games of 2004. This year, if game 1 is any indication, he appears to be fully back to his normal self. Against the 49ers on Sunday, Little finished with 3 solos, 3 assists, 2 sacks, and 1 FF. Little was about the only player on the Rams defense making any kind of impact.
DL Adewale Ogunleye, CHI: Ogunleye had an injury plagued disappointing season in 2004 that led many to question whether he could replicate his big sack totals without Jason Taylor. He looked dominant during the preseason, however, and backed up even more with his play in week 1. Against the Redskins, primarily playing against RT Jon Jansen, Ogunleye finished with 5 solos, 1 sack, 1 FF, and 1 PD. Nearly all of his plays came in the first half, and it will be interesting to see if that trend continues because he is one of the smallest power DEs in the league.
DL Darwin Walker, PHI: Walker took over for recently released DT Corey Simon in the starting lineup and may have even provided an upgrade at the position. In addition to his 5 solo tackles and 1 assist, he made what could have been the play of the game when he sacked Michael Vick, forced a fumble and then recovered it. The Eagles defense managed to sack Vick 4 different times, but 3 of those came from safety blitzes. Walker has managed to play in all 16 games over the past 3 years and could put up some pretty good numbers as the under tackle in that Eagles defense.
LB Derrick Johnson, KC: A serious Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate. Started off where he left off in the pre-season with a monster week one performance (8 solos, 1 assist, 1 sack). So much for concerns that the typically playmaker-challenged SLB slot would cause his stat potential to implode, though this situation bears close watching for the first few weeks to see if it is sustainable. In leagues that weight big plays (sacks, FFs & INTs) more heavily he could be a beast. Has the look of the rare SLB with the requisite athleticism, skills and talent to thrive and flourish despite the positional handicap. Marcus Washington of the Redskins put up big numbers in 2004, and playmaking athletes like Julian Peterson, LaVar Arrington and Anthony Simmons have done well from SLB in recent seasons.
LBs Odell Thurman & David Pollack, CIN: These former Georgia Bulldog and current Bengals teammates already look like they will be impact players and big difference makers this year. Thurman might have been a first round pick if not for character/off-field red flags. It was rumored that the Browns were prepared to take Pollack with the third overall pick if Braylon Edwards had not been there. Thurman reminds of last season's defensive rookie of the year Jonathan Vilma, not only in measurables and playing style, but also in that his instincts for the MLB position are special. HC Marvin Lewis has said he has some Ray Lewis in him. Pollack could have a similar impact to Derrick Johnson. Although not as fast or athletic, he is more physical and stouter at the point of attack. He was one of the best DEs in the nation the past few seasons, and despite one of the latest reporting dates to camp in his class, the transition from collegiate DE to pro SLB has been smooth and seemingly effortless. Very good week one box scores by Thurman (6 solos, 1 assist and 1 INT) and Pollack (6 solos) could signal beginning of breakout rookie seasons for these two.
LB Gary Brackett, IND: Rob Morris temporarily left the team this offseason after becoming a free agent, and during that time Brackett was handed the starting MLB job. There were some reports that they might split time at the position but Brackett appears to have solidified his spot in the starting lineup after a huge game against the Ravens. Not only did he lead the team in tackles with 8 solo and 2 assists, he also demonstrated his coverage ability with 2 interceptions and 2 passes defensed. Morris was always a 2-down linebacker who had to be replaced in the nickel package, but Brackett could potentially contribute as an everydown linebacker if needed (OLBs Thornton and June are also good in coverage).
LB Julian Peterson, SF: Julian Peterson's presence was sorely missed last season, and he showed how dominant he can be with a 5 solo, 3 assist, 2.5 sacks, 1 PD performance against the Rams this week. Peterson has generally been a much better NFL player than fantasy player due to how often they ask him to drop into coverage, but with the 49ers switching to a 3-4 defense this year he should get more chances to rush the passer than he has had in the past.
LB Karlos Dansby, ARI: Dansby is yet another SLB who got off to a great start this year. He didn't get the tackles numbers (3 solos) that you normally look for from a starter, but his big play potential was apparent with his sack, 2 passes defensed, and 2 INTs, one of which was returned for a TD. Dansby entered the league last year as a high draft pick, and his best attribute is his athleticism and pass rush skills. With Bert Berry and Chike Okeafor pressuring QBs, teams will have trouble accounting for Dansby when he is sent on the blitz. He likely won't be the most consistent fantasy performer, but he should have a few more weeks like this that could almost win your league by himself.
LB Lemar Marshall, WAS: Over the last several years, the Redskins MLBs have always seemed to be some of the most productive fantasy LBs in the league. From Jeremiah Trotter to Mike Barrow to Antonio Pierce, and with a variety of different coaches, all have put up quality numbers. This year's candidate appears to be Lemar Marshall, who totaled 14 solo tackles in his last 2 games of 2004 and then came through with a 6 solo, 2 assist, 1 INT, 1 PD performance against the Bears this week to kick off the 2005 season. Look for his solid production to continue, but it could take a hit if LaVar Arrington is able to return to his old self and cuts into Marshall's tackle opportunities.
LB Kirk Morrison, OAK: Morrison didn't begin the game as the starter, but he came in the game soon after and was very active, registering 6 solos and 3 assists in the 1st half alone. He played mostly at OLB, but also saw time in the nickel package as he had been doing during the preseason. The Raiders defense did a very good job of shutting down Dillon and the Patriots running game, and Morrison was a big part of that. Not sure what happened to him in the second half that he only registered 1 assist, but this is a young player who could wind up playing a very significant role for the Raiders and fantasy owners alike this year.
DB Sammy Knight, KC: Some close observers of the NFL think Sammy Knight was always slow and has lost a step, making him a potentially big liability in coverage. He looked pretty fast coming off the edge on his sack of Pennington. At this point, the closer to the LOS he plays the better, and if he continues to be deployed going forwards in attack mode there could be plenty more box scores like the one he had on Sunday (7 solos, 2 assists, 1 sack). DC Guenther Cunningham has his charges swarming to the ball and the Chiefs and just missed pitching a shutout by a narrow margin. Knight was a big part in shutting down Curtis Martin and Chad Pennington.
DB Kerry Rhodes, NYJ: Flying under the radar a bit as he wasn't announced as the starter at strong safety until the pre-season concluded. The ex-Louisville Cardinal is a physical specimen with off-the-charts measurables and very athletic bloodlines and pedigree (he is the cousin of the NBA's Theo Ratliff). After leading the team in INTs in exhibition games with three, he lit up the scoreboard with 10 solos and 1 assist this week. His playmaking penchant and advanced ability to step in and contribute immediately are reminiscent of similarly unheralded day-two safeties Gibril Wilson and Erik Coleman from 2004. It should be mentioned that QB Chad Pennington fumbled six times (one shy of NFL record) and the Jets defense won't likely be on the field so much on a regular basis.
DB Anthony Henry, DAL: Henry came to the Cowboys with a reputation as a physical CB who doesn't shy from contact, and he backed it up with a 10 solo, 2 assist performance right away in week 1 against the Chargers. He also added an interception off Drew Brees. With Henry and Terence Newman, the Cowboys have 2 physical CBs who should both put up solid tackle numbers this season.
DB Nick Ferguson, DEN: The Broncos lost last year's starting strong safety Kenoy Kennedy to the Lions during the offseason, but Nick Ferguson has been around for awhile and should fit in nicely. While the Broncos had some trouble with Gus Frerotte and the Dolphins passing game, Ferguson managed to put up some very good numbers (10 solos, 2 assists, 1 pass defensed). Kennedy managed a very respectable 66 solo tackles last year, and Ferguson is already well on his way to matching or beating that total.
DBs Chris Crocker, CLE: The Browns starting strong safety spot was up in the air up until almost gametime on Sunday, but Crocker eventually got the chance to start over 2004 2nd round pick Sean Jones. The 3rd year pro out of Marshall responded with probably the best statistical game of his career - 8 solos, 2 assists, and 1 of just 2 sacks against Carson Palmer. The Browns wound up losing the game, but Crocker likely played well enough to hold onto the starting job for a little while longer.
DB Lance Schulters, MIA: Late in the preseason, most reports kept suggesting that Schulters was having a hard time adjusting to Saban's defense while Yeremiah Bell was a star of training camp. Then, week 1 comes around and Schulters is in the starting lineup to face the Broncos. Guess that is just another reason why preseason reports should be taken with a grain of salt. Schulters took full advantage of the start and wound up with 5 solos, 3 assists, an INT and a pass defensed. Although he'll be playing at the free safety spot, Schulters has almost always put up good tackle totals during his career and it is unlikely he'll stop now that he's landed a starting job.
DL Reggie Hayward, JAX: Many believe that Hayward will follow in the footsteps of Cardinals DE Bertrand Berry, an ex-Bronco DE who went on to enjoy success elsewhere (Berry led the NFC in sacks last season with 14.5). This off-season, several teams were licking their chops for a chance to sign this up 'n coming sack artist. His 19 sacks since 2003 would compare favorably to virtually any edge rusher's combined sack totals over that span, including elite talents such as Strahan, Rice, Taylor and Little. It was troubling that he had a non-descript pre-season, but some probably hoped he would flip the intensity switch once the games started to count for real. A meager one assist was not the exploding-out-of-the-gate, hit the ground running start to the season his owners were looking for. While it is still too early to hit the panic button (he was facing LT Walter Jones after all), this low tackle number could be a sign of things to come as Hayward often struggles defending the run.
DL Shaun Ellis, NYJ: Ellis and the rest of the Jets defense had a rough outing against the Chiefs this week. His one solo tackle was worse than any game he had last season, and it is possible that the loss of Jason Ferguson could wind up hurting the Jets run defense significantly. Without Ferguson inside at NT to tie up blockers, that can open up more running lanes inside and make it tough for Ellis to make the play, or it could leave more blockers available so that Ellis winds up facing more double teams this year when he tries to pass rush. No need to panic yet because the Chiefs offensive line likely had a lot to do with it, but worth watching to see where the loss of Ferguson is felt most (e.g., Dewayne Robertson could also wind up seeing a dip in numbers as a result).
DL Justin Smith, CIN: Smith has finished as a top-15 fantasy DL in 2 of the past 3 seasons, but was moved from the RDE to LDE this offseason so it would not be a surprise to see a drop in his productivity. Instead of lining up on the weakside of the offensive formation, he'll now often have to worry about a TE on his side of the field. His season got off to a slow start with just 1 solo and 1 assist and the Bengals team as a whole was unable to bring down Trent Dilfer. All defensive linemen have a bad game like this once in awhile so don't panic, but it's worth watching how he does in the next few weeks because of the position change.
DL Osi Umenyiora, NYG: Although Strahan blew up with a 7 solo, 1.5 sack effort against the Cardinals this week, Umenyiora was a non-factor and was only credited with 1 solo and 1 assists. He enjoyed a bit of a breakout season in 2004 with 42 solo tackles and 7 sacks, many of which came while Strahan was out with an injury. Some projected the 3rd year player to do even better this year with Strahan back to take attention away from him, but he'll need to pick things up a bit in the weeks ahead. This was a good matchup for him that he should have been able to take better advantage of.
DL Mike Rucker, CAR: Rucker was a major disappointment last year with just 35 solo tackles and 3.5 sacks. Many blamed his demise on the loss of Kris Jenkins to a season-ending injury and figured he'd be able to bounce back to his old self this year. Unfortunately, Jenkins suffered another season-ending injury with a torn ACL and Rucker only managed to collect 2 solos and 1 assist despite 33 rushing attempts from the Saints. Other reports suggest he's in better shape this year compared to last so there could be room left for optimism, but it is probably best to let someone else worry about Rucker if you can.
LB Landon Johnson, CIN: Landon Johnson started the game at the SLB position, but only wound up collecting 1 first half assist. Meanwhile, 1st round David Pollack, who was competing with him for the job after a lengthy holdout, came through with 6 solo tackles. If Pollack is ready to play, which it looks like he is, he should take over the starting SLB job for good. Johnson will likely be moved to a reserve role now, which will severely limit his production unless a starter goes down to injury.
LB Lavar Arrington, WAS: Arrington was ranked pretty highly coming into this season despite missing nearly an entire year with an injury. What has people excited is pairing his unparalleled athletic ability with a starting WLB job. Unfortunately, Arrington isn't quite fully healed yet and may not be for some time. He played in a reserve role and only managed 1 solo tackle for his efforts. If you have him and don't want to trade him at his low point, you'll likely want to wait until he has a good game or two before putting him in your lineup because the amount of playing time he'll get from week to week is so hard to determine.
LB James Darling, ARI: Gerald Hayes was expected to take over the starting MLB job this year with Darling moving over to WLB. After Hayes suffered a preseason injury, however, those plans were scrapped and Darling moved back inside. Darling is known as a solid vet and he's coming off a very productive 2004 season, but he notched only 1 solo tackle against the Giants and left the game in the 3rd quarter with a knee injury. The team was still waiting to find out how serious the injury is, but rookie Lance Mitchell is highly regarded and could get a chance to play until Hayes returns.
LB Chris Claiborne, STL: Many had high expectations for Claiborne this year when he signed with the Rams and was handed the starting MLB job. The 49ers probably weren't the best matchup for him as they don't run the ball too well, but 1 solos and 3 assists was a disappointing debut for him. He made no plays in the first half of the game and appeared to be replaced in the team's nickel packages.
LB Morlon Greenwood, HOU: The Texans defensive system has helped turn Jamie Sharper and Jay Foreman into very valuable fantasy LBs. Both were released this offseason and their starting jobs were turned over to Kailee Wong and Morlon Greenwood. Many owners wondered who would be the most productive and the player to target. Based on contract amount, Greenwood should be the more valuable and more productive, but Wong is the more proven player and probably a better tackler and pass rusher. Greenwood's week 1 performance (2 solos, 3 assists) certainly didn't help him in the race either.
DB Antrel Rolle, ARI: Rolle was taken by the Cardinals with the #8 pick in the draft and should be poised for a big season on an improving defense, but his 1 assist performance in week 1 is pretty troubling. It is entirely possible he just wasn't thrown at much in the game, but Rolle is an excellent athlete with the size to tackle like a safety and help out in run support. Also, as a rookie CB, you'd have to expect that most QBs would look to pick on him right away.
DB Nick Collins, GB: Despite being considered a huge reach and a long-term project by most observers, Collins played well enough in the preseason to earn a starting job at free safety for the Packers. During his first start against the Lions, however, he was only credited with a pathetic 1 assisted tackle and was also beat by fellow rookie Mike Williams for a TD. It could wind up being a long year for the Packers if they can't find a way to fix a few problems with their secondary, and Collins clearly has a ways to go himself.
DB Donovin Darius, JAX: Darius has spent the past few offseasons bitter at the Jaguars for placing the franchise tag on him and not giving him a long-term contract extension. He then seemed to go out and have the best season of his career last year, which eventually led to the team giving him what he wanted this past offseason. With the monetary incentive lessened, will he still perform as well? Darius didn't show much in week 1 with just 1 solo and 1 tackle despite playing a pretty favorable matchup in the Seahawks.
DB Bob Sanders, IND: Many had high hopes for Bob Sanders heading into this year as he was expected to take over the starting strong safety job in Indianapolis. He's a smaller player, but has great range and leaping ability in addition to being an explosive hitter. For some reason, however, the Colts decided to move him to the free safety position and insert converted cornerback Joseph Jefferson at strong safety. This forces Sanders to line up deeper in the secondary in more of a coverage role and limits his tackle opportunities, which was confirmed by the 2 solos and 1 assist he collected this week.
DB Sean Jones, CLE: Jones was a highly regarded rookie last year who missed the entire season with an injury. He was expected to claim one of the starting safety spots for the Browns this year but was apparently beaten out by Chris Crocker. Jones didn't appear to get much playing time either as he only finished with 1 assisted tackle that came on special teams. If Crocker continues to play well, Jones might have to wait a little longer to crack the starting lineup.