The Cowboys defense had a strong 2018. They were in the top half of the league in every important category including sixth in points. Dallas forced 20 turnovers and the pass rush got home for 39 sacks. If the team could keep all their defensive linemen healthy and out of the commissioner’s crosshairs, this could be a scary unit. Instead, they will go to camp without tackle David Irving who was released after his most recent suspension, end Randy Gregory who is once again suspended indefinitely and end Demarcus Lawrence who is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.
The only good news for Dallas is that Lawrence should be ready for the start of the regular season or very close to it. Having him available in September is vital to a Cowboys team that wants to get out of the gate quickly. Over the last two seasons, Lawrence has been a difference-maker. He missed games due to injuries in two of his first three years but blossomed into an elite three-down end in 2017. He stands up well versus the run despite being a bit undersized, but it is big-play production that makes Lawrence stand out both on the field and in the box scores. Over the last two seasons, he has accumulated 25.5 sacks, forced 6 fumbles, recovered 3 and intercepted a pass.
Lawrence provides outstanding IDP value as well. He has completed a full schedule of games three times in the last four seasons. In each of those years, he reached at least 35 solo tackles, 20 assists and, 8 sacks. His 15 sacks in 2017 fell one short of tying for the league lead and helped Lawrence to a top-5 rank among linemen. Even nursing the sore shoulder he got to the quarterback 10.5 times last season. With a career-best of 42 solo tackles, Lawrence posted a second consecutive top-10 in 2018. The shoulder situation is a reason for some concern. The Cowboys are going to take every precaution with their star end, which means he may not be cleared for the opener or could be on a snap count. Once fully healthy, however, Lawrence is a player that can help both his team and ours win championships.
Randy Gregory could be reinstated at some point this season, but the Cowboys are no longer counting on him for anything. Instead, they have signed Robert Quinn to start opposite Lawrence. Some IDP experts believe Quinn is past his prime and has been a disappointment since his hot streak with the Rams ended back in 2014. There may be some truth to that theory but I am not yet ready to throw in the towel on Quinn. Consider where he has been over the course of his eight previous seasons. From 2012 through 2014, he was considered one of the best at the position. He averaged 38 tackles, 6 assists, 13 sacks and, 5 turnovers during that stretch with a career-best of 50-7-19.5 and 9 turnovers in 2013.
Quinn dealt with a variety of ailments early in 2015, most of them related to a back issue that would eventually end his season and require surgery. He returned in 2016 and was off to a good start when a week four shoulder injury caused him to miss time. Quinn returned to the starting lineup in week nine but was not fully healthy. Two games later he was hospitalized with seizure-like symptoms that were eventually blamed on dehydration. He came back from that to record sacks in consecutive games before suffering a concussion that would keep him out the rest of the season.
At the beginning of 2017, the Rams coaching staff decided to limit Quinn’s playing time in order to keep him healthy. They also moved to a 3-4 scheme and asked Quinn to play linebacker for the first time in his career. By week five he had collected two and a half sacks despite not playing more than 45 snaps in any game. By week 11 he had become more comfortable at the new position and returned to a normal three-down role. Over the next four games, Quinn recorded five sacks and forced a pair of fumbles. After the season he was traded to Miami.
Last year Quinn was healthy for a full season for the first time since 2014. He got off to a slow start with the Dolphins but once he was comfortable in the scheme, he got hot. Over a six-game stretch starting in week 10 he put up five and a half sacks. With the Dolphins changing up their scheme, Quinn was traded to Dallas this offseason.
Some will argue the glass is half empty when it comes to Quinn. What I see is a 29-year old that has been rather productive when healthy; especially when playing in a scheme that fits his skill-set. He is as healthy entering training camp this summer as he has been in several years and for the first time in a few seasons, will be playing defensive end in an attacking 4-3 scheme that fits his style perfectly. At the very least Quinn is a talented player with high potential and is exactly the kind of player to target as a backup in the late rounds.
Taco Charlton looks to be the third man at defensive end this year, though he could have some competition for that spot in the pecking order. A first-round pick by the Cowboys in 2017, Charlton has been a disappointment thus far. He was fairly quiet as a rookie totaling 15 tackles, 4 assists, 3 sacks and forcing a fumble. When the team desperately needed Charlton to step up in year two, he actually regressed. In the young man’s defense, he battled a shoulder injury that started bothering him in August and would eventually land him on IR and picked up a thumb injury in early October that added to his struggles. Charlton is on track for training camp in what could be a make or break season.
In an effort to be prepared for anything, the Cowboys have several players competing to fill out the rest of the pecking order at defensive end. The guys with the best shot of making the final roster are last year’s fourth-round pick Dorance Armstrong, rookie fifth-round selection Joe Jackson, seventh-round rookie Jalen Jelks, and veteran Kerry Hyder Jr. Hyder is the only member of this group with significant experience. He had eight sacks for the Lions in 2016 and was on the way to earning a starting job in Detroit the following year when he was lost to a torn Achilles during the preseason. Hyder saw little action with the Lions in 2018 and was added by the Cowboys as a free agent.
In the 10 games David Irving played for Dallas over the last two seasons, he recorded eight sacks and swatted down 5 passes. The Cowboys current roster has no one at the tackle position with that kind of ability. What they do have is a solid three-man rotation that accounted for 45 tackles, 42 assists and 10 sacks between them in 2018. Antuan Woods, Maliek Collins, and Tyrone Crawford could be joined by former Houston defensive end Christian Covington and/or second-round pick Trysten Hill this year. All five players are solid interior defenders in NFL terms but have little or no fantasy value. We have to look back more than three seasons to find a Cowboys interior lineman with more than 18 solo tackles.
- DE Demarcus Lawrence – Elite DL1 when healthy
- DE Robert Quinn – Sleeper to target as depth with low DL2 upside
- DE Taco Charlton – Sleeper with breakout potential
- DE Dorance Armstrong – No impact expected
- DE Kerry Hyder Jr – Injury sleeper with DL3 upside
- DE Joe Jackson – No impact expected
- DE Jalen Jelks – No impact expected
- DE Randy Gregory – Suspended indefinitely but could return at some point this year
- DT Antwaun Woods – No fantasy impact
- DT Maliek Collins – No fantasy impact
- DT Trysten Hill – Potential NFL starter but no fantasy impact expected
- DT Tyrone Crawford – No fantasy impact
- DT Daniel Ross – No fantasy impact
- DT Christian Covington – No fantasy impact
With the emergence of Jaylon Smith in his third season, the addition of first-round pick Leighton Vander Esch last year and the presence of veteran Sean Lee, the Cowboys have what is arguably the best trio of 4-3 linebackers in the league heading to 2019. The best part for IDP managers is that unlike last season, we know what to expect from them going forward.
Lee will be the odd man out in fantasy terms this season but he showed the world what a team player and class act he is. While Lee was out with a hamstring last season, Vander Esch stepped into the three-down role on the weak side and played outstanding football. When Lee returned to action after several games, he told the coaches to leave the rookie in that role because he was playing too well to make a change.
Vander Esch is now locked into the role so Lee will try his hand at strong-side linebacker for the first time in his career. This allows the coaching staff to get all three of their outstanding linebacker on the field in base packages while limiting Lee to a two-down role which will hopefully allow him to remain healthy. This turn of events ensures Lee will have marginal at best fantasy value in 2019 but it will still allow him to play a significant role and help his team.
For fantasy managers, this situation means we no longer have to worry about Vander Esch being bumped to the strong side or losing sub-package snaps. Everyone recognizes the second-year pro is a great player and an outstanding fantasy target, but I am not sure IDP people fully grasp just how good he will be. His 105 solo tackles were second-most in the league last season. While he did not make a lot of splash plays, Vander Esch did manage a pair of interceptions. When all the numbers were tallied he was the fantasy game’s fifth-highest scoring linebacker despite playing 142 fewer snaps than any other player in the top-10. That is basically two fewer games and most of the time he spent on the sideline was in passing situations which generally provide the most splash play opportunity. Let that sink in for a minute.
Vander Esch ranked fifth while playing slightly less than 80% of the Cowboys defensive snaps. If we add even 15% to his point total from 2018, he surpasses Cory Littleton at number two. If he is that productive on 80% of the plays as a rookie, what kind of upside does he have as a full-time starter in year two?
Almost as impressive as the rookie number were for Vander Esch is the fact he produced them while playing next to Jaylon Smith who was the fantasy game’s number six linebacker. Smith suffered a devastating knee injury in his final season at Notre Dame. There were some that thought he might never play again. In fact, many teams removed him from their draft boards completely, but the Cowboys did not. They drafted Smith in the second round, knowing he would probably not play as a rookie and might not ever make it all the way back.
Smith sat out all of 2016. He got on the field mostly as a two-down middle backer in 2017, playing around half the defensive snaps, but was still far from 100%. The payoff for Dallas came in year three when Smith was finally healthy. In 2018 he was the blazing fast, physical, three-down playmaker he had been at Notre Dame. Smith played virtually every snap for the Cowboys last season, emerging not only as a run-stuffing, tackle machine, but a serious big-play threat as well. With 83 tackles, 38 assists, 4 sacks, 5 turnovers, and 4 pass breakups, Smith averaged better than 12.5 points per game and was one of six linebackers to score more than 200 points on the season. The scary part is Smith just turned 24 in June so his best football may still be ahead of him.
The Cowboys have veteran depth at the linebacker positions but there is a huge drop off between the starters and the next man up. With the injury history of Sean Lee, someone is likely to be pressed into action on the strong side. With Damien Wilson moving on, veteran Justin March and last year’s sixth-round pick Chris Covington will compete to be the next man up should either starting outside linebacker be lost.
- WLB Leighton Vander Esch – Elite tier LB1 with top-3 potential
- MLB Jaylon Smith – Quality LB1
- SLB Sean Lee – Marginal value expected
- SLB Justin March-Lillard – No fantasy impact
- OLB Chris Covington – No fantasy impact
- MLB Joe Thomas – No fantasy impact
The Dallas secondary performed well on the field last season but this unit has given IDP managers little to work with since 2016 when Byron Jones was still playing safety. That season Jones recorded 73 tackles, 16 assists and 9 passes defended to make the top-20, but even then he was short in the big play columns. He totaled a respectable 58 and 56 solo tackles in his first two seasons as a corner but in four years as a pro, Jones has produced a total of four turnovers. His goose egg in the takeaway columns last season virtually negated any fantasy value the 56 solo tackles and 14 passes defended might have provided, landing Jones at 35 among corners. Chances are he will not go two full seasons without making any splash plays but IDP managers should not count on Jones as more than a bye week flier in corner required leagues.
The best candidate in the Dallas secondary to possibly provide significant fantasy value is Chidobe Awuzie. He starts opposite Jones and is virtually the same player in many ways. Like Jones, Awuzie has a good combination of size, speed, and cover skills, but has not displayed much big-play prowess thus far, there is hope, however.
The Cowboys second-round pick in 2017, Awuzie saw limited action until late in his rookie season. Over the final five games, he went 11-7-0 with 7 passes defended, a forced fumble and a recovery. Awuzie landed a starting job in year two. He went on to be the second leading tackler in the Dallas secondary with 57 solo stops but a single mark in the interception column and forced one fumble were his only splash play contributions.
The tackle production was solid for a corner but Awuzie will need to step up the splash plays to make a serious fantasy impact. There are some reasons to be optimistic about him in 2019 however. The experience that comes from a full year as a starter often makes a big difference for corners; especially in the big play columns. Awuzie had eight turnovers in his final 27 games a Colorado so there is a history of playmaking ability. There is also the consideration that he missed time with a sore ankle in 2018. Over a three-game span starting in week five, he played 58 total snaps. It was a few more weeks before he was 100%. In a nutshell, Awuzie should push the 60 solo tackle mark and put up around 15 passes defended. If he can find four or five turnovers along the way, he will be a quality second starter in corner required leagues.
If there is a weakness in the Cowboys secondary it is at safety. Xavier Woods made his way into the starting lineup at free safety last season and actually looked much better on the field than the statistics would suggest. Woods is dependable in coverage and has the speed to make up for the mistakes of others, but like everyone else in the Dallas secondary, he needs to make more plays on the ball. Woods did manage to lead the team’s defensive backs in interceptions last season with two, however. Entering his third year as a pro, Woods is set to become a fixture for the Cowboys at free safety. The 38 tackles he recorded in 14 games last season are a rather strong indicator he will have little or no fantasy value.
In leagues that put all defensive backs into one position, Jeff Heath was the best IDP option last season with a final rank of 45. It took the former undrafted free agent five seasons to earn the starting job he has now held for two years. He is not a naturally gifted player but makes up a lot of ground with intelligence, hustle, and heart. Heath does a good job in run support and is adequate in coverage but his upside is limited both in NFL and IDP terms. Playing behind an outstanding trio of linebackers is not going to help his production any either. Heath had 59 tackles in 15 games two years ago and was 63-22-0 with an interception and a forced fumble last season. That is about what we can expect from him again in 2019.
With Anthony Brown serving as the nickel corner, Jourdan Lewis coming on in the dime and rookie fifth-round pick learning from the veterans, Dallas is deep on the corners. Fourth-year man Kavon Frazier will probably be first off the bench in the event of an injury at either safety position, but he is best suited to line up on the strong side. The former sixth-round pick has made most of his impact on special teams during his career. The Cowboys added former Bengals starter turned journeyman George Iloka to give them a little extra veteran depth.
- FS Xavier Woods – Marginal value at best
- SS Jeff Heath – Depth with little upside
- FS Kavon Frazier – No fantasy value
- FS George Iloka – No impact expected
- FS Donovan Wilson – Developmental rookie
- SS Darian Thompson – No impact expected
- CB Byron Jones – Bye week flier in corner required leagues
- CB Chidobe Awuzie – Possible CB2
- CB Anthony Brown – Injury sleeper with CB2 potential
- CB Jourdan Lewis – No impact expected
- CB Mike Jackson – Developmental rookie
New York Giants
It makes no difference what scheme a team runs if they are lacking the horses to pull the cart. That is where the Giants were last season. They gave up a lot of yards and points while only the Raiders had fewer sacks. New York moved to an aggressive one-gap 3-4 under defensive coordinator James Bettcher so we knew it would take some time to get the right personnel in place. Entering year two in the scheme, they are a lot closer but still have holes to fill.
With the selection of Dexter Lawrence in round one, the Giants may be all set up front. Last season they used holdover Dalvin Tomlinson at nose tackle. The 2017 second-round pick was drafted by the previous regime to be a two-gap nose tackle in their 4-3. Tomlinson did a good job but was not the disruptive anchor Bettcher and his staff are looking for. He will get a look at end this summer but Tomlinson's skillset may make land him as a backup or trade bait.
At 6’4” 342 pounds, Lawrence is a massive, powerful player with good athleticism and range for a man his size. He has the ability to control his area of the field versus the run and can push the pocket into the face of the quarterback with his bull rush. Lawrence had a great freshman season at Clemson in 2016 that included 62 combined tackles and 6.5 sacks. He was not able to build on that production statistically but was a major contributor to the success of the Tigers defense over the last two seasons. Coach speak says Lawrence will have to earn his way into the starting role at nose tackle but reality says he should be there by week one. All things considered, we should not expect much from him in the box scores whenever he gets there.
The first draft under the new coaching staff netted a pair of defensive ends. One was an instant success, the jury is still out on the other. B.J. Hill quietly had an excellent rookie season. His five and a half sacks were second best on the team and the 32 solo tackles led the Giants defensive line. At 311 pounds he has the size and strength to stand up versus double teams at the point of attack with enough quickness and athleticism to be successful as a disruptive one-gap penetrator. At 32-15-5.5 Hill broke into the top-40 last year and was a decent bye week consideration in many formats. From what he has shown so far, Hill has the potential to become a much bigger contributor going forward.
R.J. McIntosh was the other defensive end selected last season. The fifth-round pick missed nearly all his rookie season with an undisclosed injury or illness that neither he nor the team has any interest in talking about. What we do know is that entering this year’s training camp he is healthy and ready to contribute. McIntosh could find himself in the mix for a starting job in what is for all practical purpose, his rookie season.
Seventh-round rookie Chris Slayton could also be in the mix for playing time at end but the guy we may want to keep an eye on is former Cardinal Olsen Pierre. He did not do much in Arizona last year but he was 22-8-5.5 in 2017 when Bettcher was still running the defense in Arizona. He knows the scheme and is a player Bettcher is comfortable with.
- NT Dexter Lawrence – Not much box score expectation
- NT/DE Dalvin Tomlinson – Marginal value at best
- NT John Jenkins – No impact
- DE B.J. Hill – Low-end DL3 or quality DL4
- DE Olsen Pierre – Deep sleeper to keep an eye on
- DE Chris Slayton – Developmental rookie
- DE R.J. McIntosh – Unknown commodity
The Giants have sorting to do up front but at least they appear to have sufficient talent to draw on. That is not necessarily the case at linebacker, at least not on the inside. That is not to say they are without any quality players inside. They just do not have enough of them. Alec Ogletree is one guy both the Giants and IDP managers can count on to at least be a quality starter.
After his first two years in the league, Ogletree looked like a perennial top-10 linebacker. In 2013 and 2014 he combined for 178 tackles, 50 assists, 2 sacks, 9 forced fumbles, 3 interceptions, 22 passes defended and a score. Since that time, however, his career has been somewhat of a rollercoaster ride. That said, with the exception of 2015 which was washed out by injury, Ogletree has been a solid fantasy option even on the down years.
Ogletree came back strong after the injury, racking up 99 solo stops and 38 assists, with a pair of picks, a forced fumble, a recovery, and 11 pass breakups in 2016. That offseason Ogletree signed a big-money contract with the Rams only to see his numbers slip considerably, particularly in the tackle columns. He finished 2017 at 63-32-2 with 3 turnovers and 10 pass breakups in 15 games and was traded to the Giants.
Ogletree had a good first year with New York despite missing three games. In the tackle columns, he was on pace for about 71 solo and 43 assists but he set a new personal best with 5 interceptions and a pair of scores. With 177 points on the season, Ogletree finished just outside the top-15 but his average of 13.6 points per week ranked fifth.
Most of us have heard how Ogletree grades out low and how he is a liability in coverage. Sometimes we just have to rely on the numbers. In basically five seasons he has 50 passes defended, 11 interceptions, 11 forced fumbles, a pair of recoveries, 7 sacks and 4 touchdowns. He is locked in as a starter for the Giants for the next few years and even if he never reaches 80 solo tackles again, is a quality second starter at the very worst.
After Ogletree things get a little sketchy for the Giants on the inside. B.J. Goodson joined Ogletree on most early downs in 2018. The Giants have been trying to make Goodson a starter since 2017 but it has not gone well. The previous defensive staff wanted him to play all three downs at one point. Injuries sidetracked that plan initially, then the current coaching staff quickly came to realize Goodson is not a coverage linebacker. The team made no immediate impact additions at inside backer so the plan entering training camp is basically the same as last season. Ogletree and Goodson on early downs with either a nickel safety or second-year pro Tae Davis in on passing downs.
There is one rookie addition that might eventually work his way into a three-down role next to Ogletree. Fifth-round pick Ryan Connley had a productive career at Wisconsin. He started 14 games over the last two seasons with a combined 177 total tackles, 6 sacks, 2 interceptions, and 4 turnovers via fumble. Connley has average speed and is not going to impress with outstanding athleticism but he plays a smart, physical brand of football and is full go on every snap. On many teams, he would be buried on the depth chart and/or destined for special teams duty. The situation in New York could give Connley an early opportunity to contribute.
The Giants totaled 30 sacks last season. What better way to improve the pass rush than to trade away Oviliver Vernon who led the team with seven. In the Giants defense, there was a lot more to that trade than simply moving on from Vernon. Regardless of why the result is the same. New York is in desperate need of an outside pass rush threat.
Entering his second season, the organization has a lot of faith in last year’s third-round pick Lorenzo Carter. He worked into the rotation as a rookie, seeing most of his playing time in nickel situations. When all the numbers were in, Carter’s stat line of 30-13-4 with 3 batted passes was not at all bad for a rookie that participated in about 43% of the plays. With Vernon gone, Carter is the favorite to take on the starting role, but he will not be without competition.
Kareem Martin was on the field for most base package snaps in 2018 and could see a lot of early down action again this year. He did a respectable job of setting the edge versus the run but Marting did not provide much spark in the pass rush. The Giants hope that will come from free-agent addition Marcus Golden and/or rookie third-round pick Oshane Ximines. Both of whom have the potential to get the job done.
Golden was originally a second-round pick of the Cardinals in 2015. He earned a lot of playing time down the stretch as a rookie and opened 2016 as a starter. Golden blew up in year two, finishing the season with 41 tackles, 10 assists, 12.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, and a recovery. There were big expectations for him entering 2017 but a major knee injury shut him down early in the season. Golden was not ready to go at the beginning of 2018 and was never fully healthy. Now that he is two years removed from the injury, Golden is finally healthy and ready to pick up where he left off at the end of 2016. He has the potential to not only win a three-down role during camp but to be a quality LB2 in big play formats.
Oshane Ximines had an outstanding career at Old Dominion. After redshirting as a freshman, he went on to have 32.5 sacks, 11 forced fumbles, 2 recoveries, and 12 swatted passes in four seasons with the Monarchs. Ximines will need to hit the weight room hard if he is to become a three-down player but he could have a significant role as a nickel rush specialist early on.
- ILB Alec Ogletree – Quality LB2 at worst
- ILB B.J. Goodson – Marginal value at best
- ILB Tae Davis – Sleeper with LB4 potential
- ILB Nathan Stupar – No fantasy impact
- OLB Lorenzo Carter – Possible LB3 in big play formats
- OLB Markus Golden – Potential LB2 in big play formats
- OLB Kareem Martin – No fantasy impact
- OLB Oshane Ximines – Dynasty sleeper with serious sack potential
The Giants parted ways with a lot of good players on both sides of the ball this offseason. Some of those decisions were money related, others had to do with scheme fit but they all contribute to the ultimate goal of culture change. No unit saw more extensive change than the secondary where corner Janoris Jenkins is the only returning starter. New additions include safeties Jabrill Peppers who came over in the blockbuster trade with Cleveland, and free-agent safety Antoine Bethea coming off a big year with the Cardinals. who had a big year with Arizona. New York then used the draft to address the corner positions by selecting Deandre Baker in round one, Julian Love in the fourth and Corey Balentine in the sixth.
The Giants will certainly be different in the secondary in 2019, but will they be any better? There are a wide variety of opinions on the subject. From my perspective, there is no way you lose a player like Landon Collins and somehow become better in the end. Yes, Jabrill Peppers, was a highly touted first-round pick a couple of years ago but he has fallen way short of living up to that status. In fact, he has been a bust in the eyes of many, myself included. All the speed and athleticism that had people excited about him amounted to 95 tackles, 40 assists, a sack, 2 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, and 7 passes defended over two seasons. Collins put up better numbers in 16 games as a rookie and regularly impacted the outcome of games. Peppers has been no more impressive on the field than in the box scores. Maybe a change of scenery will kick start his career but the reality is, he was never box score friendly even in his days at Michigan, so there is no reason to expect a change now.
Antone Bethea has been a steady veteran contributor throughout his long career. He was a great short term addition for the Giants but at 35 years of age, is nothing more than a one-year stop-gap. Bethea is coming off a season in which he reacher triple digits in solo tackles and was a top-5 defensive back. That was a long time ago in a galaxy far away. Bethea was the strong safety in Arizona, on a team that struggled at the linebacker positions and was not able to move the ball offensively much of the time. The Giants have at least one strong linebacker to soak up tackles and an offense that can keep the ball and eat up clock with the run. Most importantly, Bethea is expected to play free safety which means he will not spend a lot of time up in the box, nor will run support be his first priority as it was last year. Bethea could still reach 75 solo stops and should remain a quality DB3, counting on much more than that could be a big mistake.
The Giants could actually give us a pair of corners with fantasy value in 2019. Janoris Jenkins gets little love from the IDP community. Even managers in corner required leagues do not seem to realize his value. His first venture into the top-20 came in his rookie year of 2012. That season Jenkins was the number four corner. In 2014 he ranked 20 despite missing a couple of games. In 2015 he was back in the top-12, 2016 he ranked 23 in 15 games. After missing much of 2017, Jenkins returned to finish at 13 last year.
On the field, Jenkins is a quality cover man and a playmaker. He has 18 career interceptions and 26 total takeaways. He consistently records around 15 pass breakups per season, has 8 career touchdowns and even has a pair of sacks. Jenkins does not shy away from run support either. He has at least 55 solo tackles in five of his seven seasons, including every non-injury season of his career. Come draft day he should be considered a priority CB2 with low CB1 upside.
The rookie corner rule may be in play if Deandre Baker lands a starting job as expected. At 5’11” 193 pounds Baker is a bit small for a press corner at the NFL level but his quickness and anticipation are equalizers. He was not particularly productive as a tackler at Georgia but is not a guy that shies away from contact. The most intriguing part of Bakers game is big-play production. In 35 games with the Bulldogs, he accumulated 10 turnovers and 23 passes defended.
Veteran Michael Thomas will be the third safety and next man up at either position in the event of an injury. He was rather productive last season with 40 tackles, 17 assists, a sack and a pair of picks on about half the defensive snaps. On the outside, New York is young and inexperienced behind Jenkins and Baker. It is possible fourth-round pick Julian Love could be the slot corner coming out of camp. His competition for the job comes from former Miami starter Tony Lippett, second-year former undrafted free agents Grant Hartley and Sam Beal, and rookie sixth-round selection Corey Ballantine.
- FS Antoine Bethea – DB3 with a little upside
- SS Jabrill Peppers – Likely no better than DB4 with a little upside
- FS Michael Thomas – Injury sleeper
- FS/CB Kamrin Moore – No impact
- CB Janoris Jenkins – Solid CB2
- CB Deandre Baker – Rookie corner rule could be in play
- CB Sam Beal – No impact expected
- CB Grant Hartley – No impact expected
- CB Julian Love – No impact expected
The Eagles played good defense in 2018. They were in the top half of the league in nearly every important category. Philadelphia averaged better than a turnover per game and their 44 sacks ranked eighth. Repeating last year’s success could be a challenge when we look at all the players that are no longer with the team. At defensive end, Michael Bennett took his nine sacks to New England while Chris Long and his seven sacks retired. Tackle Haloti Ngata is gone after playing the second-most snaps among Eagles interior linemen, as is middle linebacker Jordan Hicks who contributed three sacks.
All these player defections could actually be positive for IDP managers. The Eagles scheme is a goldmine of IDP potential. Under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, Philadelphia runs a highly aggressive, penetrating one-gap 4-3. Last season the team had six players with an average of at least nine points per game. Those six did not include Bennett or Long even though they had 16 sacks between them. Those two players also had just 41 tackles and 16 assists between them. This came about because Bennett played end on early downs and moved inside in passing situations, while Long served as a nickel rush specialist. In 2019 the playing time and production will be divided differently.
The organization is counting on Derek Barnett to step up big in his third season. The 2017 first-round pick had a normal rookie season with 19 tackles, 3 assists, five sacks and a pair of forced fumbles. He was off to a strong start last year with a mark of 9-4-2.5 through four games when he suffered a shoulder injury that would eventually land him on IR. Barnett is expected to be full-go at some point during training camp and in the week one lineup opposite Brandon Graham. Unlike Bennett who started last year, Barnett is not a guy that will work inside on passing downs. He should be a three-down defensive end that sees about 75% of the playing time. This makes Barnett a breakout candidate and a player we want to target as a third lineman with upside.
Graham had a down year in 2018. The four sacks were his lowest total since he tried to play outside linebacker in at 3-4 back in 2013. A lot of people will look at last year’s numbers and assume the 31-year-old is in decline. Do not fall into that trap. Graham has never been an IDP stud but he does provide good value. He has recorded at least 30 tackles in six of the last seven seasons with at least 5.5 sacks in five of them. His best tackle totals are the 41-18 he recorded in 2016 and Graham’s best sack numbers were even more recent with 9.5 in 2017. As a three-down defensive end, Graham played 753 snaps last year and should see similar opportunity this season. Expect a bounce-back season from Graham with numbers in the area of 35-10-6 and a couple of turnovers. Pick him up as a quality DL3 with a little upside potential.
The Eagles no longer have a proven pass-rush specialist like Chris Long but they did bring back veteran Vinny Curry to help with Depth. Curry had 22.5 sacks over six seasons with the Eagles before spending 2018 with Tampa Bay. His greatest asset is setting the edge versus the run but Curry can be a serviceable starter is someone is out. From a fantasy perspective, however, Curry has limited potential.
Philadelphia has a trio of young guys that will compete to establish the rest of the pecking order at end. Daeshon Hall was a third-round pick of the Panthers in 2017. He spent last season as a backup for the Eagles. Josh Sweat was Philadelphia’s fourth-round pick last year and Shareef Miller was taken in round four this spring. Miller had 13 sacks over his final two seasons at Penn State. Between them, this trio has three tackles and half a sack at the pro level; but they do have some potential.
In Fletcher Cox, the Eagles have one of the leagues premier defensive tackles. He plays more than 80% of the defensive snaps largely because there is no reason to take him off the field. At powerful 6’4” 310 pounds, he is a force versus the run with the ability to penetrate and disrupt. Cox is a great fit in this scheme which often allows him to play the run on the way to the quarterback. As a pass rusher, he has great hands to go with quickness and athleticism that is rare for a man of his size.
Cox has taken full advantage of his potential and has been one of the most productive interior linemen in the game over the last several years. In 2015 he racked up 50 tackles, 21 assists, 9.5 sacks and forced 5 turnovers to finish as the fantasy game’s number two lineman behind J.J. Watt. Cox has seen a considerable drop in tackle totals since that time but he has averaged almost eight sacks over the last four years. In 2018 his tackle total rebounded a bit. Cox finished at 33-11-10 with a pair of turnovers. That production made him the number 16 lineman and a top-5 tackle. Cox is 28 years old and in a great situation, so the solid production should continue.
The Eagles upgraded at defensive tackle by signing former Jaguars starter Malik Jackson, who in many ways is a slightly smaller and somewhat less productive version of Cox. At 6’5” 290 pounds Jackson is plenty big enough to get the job done as a run defender. As a three year starter for Denver from 2013 through 2015, he averaged 33 tackles, 11 assists, 5 sacks, a turnover and 5 batted passes. His first two seasons with the Jaguars saw lower tackle averages of 29-7 but better sack production including 6.5 in 2016 and a career-best of 8 in 2017. Last season represented the lowest statistical output of Jackson’s career at 24-7-3.5, so it was time for a change of scenery. His skill set as an up-field penetrator that can both disrupt running plays and get to the quarterback on passing downs makes Jackson a great fit as a three-down tackle in Philadelphia. He has less upside than Cox but should make at least a solid second starter in tackle required leagues.
Trevon Hester served as the third man at tackle for much of last season but that probably had more to do with injuries than his winning the job outright. Timmy Jernigan was a starter for much of 2017 but missed nearly all of 2018 with a back injuriy. He was re-signed in April and has a clean bill of health entering camp.
- DE Brandon Graham – Solid DL3 with low DL2 upside
- DE Derek Barnett – Breakout candidate with high ceiling
- DE Vinny Curry – Injury sleeper with limited potential
- DE Josh Sweat – Deep sleeper at best
- DE Shareef Miller – Possible dynasty target that could earn time as a situational pass rusher this year
- DT Fletcher Cox – Low-end DL2 or solid DT1 with top-5 potential
- DT Malik Jackson – Quality DT2
- DT Timmy Jernigan – No impact expected
- DT Trevon Hester – No impact expected
- DT Hassan Ridgeway – No impact expected
It has been a long time since an Eagles linebacker finished among the top-20. That streak nearly came to an end last year when Jordan Hicks was averaging almost 11.5 points per game right up to the time he was injured. Hicks is no longer with the team but the guy they signed to replace him is a safe bet to end the drought, providing he can stay healthy.
Zach Brown is one of the more underrated linebackers in the game. His career started in Tennessee as a second-round pick of the Titans in 2012. As a rookie he displayed an ability to both stop the run and make a significant contribution in the big-play columns. At 69-24-6 with 6 takeaways and a pair of scores, Brown made the top-12. His second season saw a slight increase in tackles but a few less big plays and a ranking of 36. Brown suffered a torn pectoral early in 2014 and missed the season. He came back in 2015 and was playing well when then defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau inexplicably elected to bench Brown in favor of Wesley Woodyard.
At the end of 2015 Brown wisely took the free-agent train to Buffalo where he signed a one year deal. The Bills probably wish they had signed him to a longer one. That season Brown flourished both on the field and in the box scores. With 94 solo tackles, 50 assists, 4 sacks, 3 turnovers, and 4 passes defended, he was the second ranked linebacker. Brown followed the money in 2017, which led to Washington. That season he was the number 16 linebacker despite missing three games at the end of the schedule. Brown’s average of 13.1 points per game was among the top-10.
All last season Brown battled injuries. It came to light over the offseason that he had played all of 2018 with a torn oblique and much of it with a sore knee. The team helped nurse him along by limiting Browns playing time. First he was pulled from nickel packages then in December, his role was reduced even further as he limped to the finish line. On fewer than 70% of the team’s defensive snaps and playing with at least one injury that would have shut most players down in September, Brown managed 70 tackles, 31 assists, a sack, and a pair of forced fumbles.
The Rather than wait for Brown to heal, the Redskins elected to let him go and save a significant amount of money. Afterwhich the Eagles were more than happy to land him. The 29-years-old Brown is now healthy and set to be a three-down middle linebacker once again, in a situation where there is no one looking over his shoulder. Providing he can stay healthy, Brown should flourish in this scheme and has a ton of IDP potential. Many managers will undervalue him coming off a bad year, making Brown a value pick that can be added as an LB3 or lower in many cases.
Brown clearly has the highest ceiling of the Eagles linebackers but he is not the only one with fantasy value. Philadelphia could have a pair of three-down linebackers on the field this season. This would not be a new concept for the Eagles who had both Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham in sub-packages when they were healthy last year.
Since coming over from Buffalo in 2016, Bradham has consistently put up numbers worthy of consideration as a decent LB4 or solid LB5. He has the potential to produce better but has been stuck mostly in the strong-side role on early downs, which limits tackle opportunity. There is some speculation he could move inside this year but that seems highly unlikely at this point. Bradham finished last season at 67-30-2 with a turnover and 4 pass breakups in 15 games. He could see a slight increase in 2019 but his upside is limited.
With most NFL teams the outside backer with better speed and cover skills lines up on the weak-side, making both three-down strong-side backers and two-down weak-side backers somewhat of a rarity. Kamu Grugier-Hill settled into the weak-side role last season and is all but certain to continue in that role going forward. He has rarely seen action in sub-packages and there are no signs suggesting his role will change.
Outside the three starters, no Eagles linebacker is a lock to make the final roster. Third-year pro Nathan Gerry probably has a leg up in the competition to make the team because he was a draft pick of the current coaching staff and has a couple of years experience in the system, but his size and skill set limit how he can be used. Paul Worrilow is is a veteran with starting experience but has speed and coverage limitations. L.J. Fort is the epitome of a journeyman. He has shown flashes throughout his career but has never been able to sustain significant production or keep a job for that matter. The Eagles are his eighth team in as many seasons.
- MLB Zach Brown – Target as a solid LB3 with high LB2 potential
- SLB Nigel Bradham – Depth in 12 team leagues starting three linebackers
- WLB Kamu Grugier-Hill – Marginal value at best
- MLB L.J. Fort – No fantasy value
- WLB Nathan Gerry – No impact expected
- MLB Paul Worrilow – No impact expected
Safety Malcolm Jenkins is another Eagles player that does not get enough respect from the IDP community. In Jim Schwartz scheme, Jenkins is often given the freedom to roam and put himself in position to make plays. Since Coming to the Eagles in 2014 he has recorded 23 turnovers, 3 sacks, 49 passes defended and 4 touchdowns. His tackle numbers tend to be inconsistent from year to year but he has reached 79 twice in those five seasons with a career-best of 87 in 2015.
As a member of the Eagles Jenkins has never finished lower than 25 among defensive backs, has been in the top-20 four times with one top-three. Last season he was number 13 with a mark of 79-19-1, 5 turnovers and 8 pass breakups. There will be more competition for tackles with Zach Brown in front of him, but that never seems to matter with Jenkins who can still be counted on as a solid second starter.
Providing he has recovered from the knee injury he suffered last September, Rodney McLeod is set to return as the other starter at safety. Like Jenkins, McLeod is a big-play threat on the back end, but unlike Jenkins, his responsibilities are more scripted. In 30 games as the Eagles starter in 2016 and 2017, McLeod totaled 10 turnovers and a sack. In 2016 McLeod recorded 68 solo stops in what was his first season with Philadelphia. Since that time his role seems to have changed. In 2017 he was asked to line up deep more often and serve as more of a safety net. That season he accounted for six takeaways in 14 games but only managed 38 tackles. Having him back will be a big plus for the Eagles but he is unlikely to make a fantasy splash.
Philadelphia’s secondary gave IDP managers three players that averaged at least nine points a game last year. Jenkins led the way at 10.6 with corners Ronald Darby at 9.7 and Jalen Mills at 9. With both Darby and Mills injured around mid-season, backup Rasul Douglas came on to average 13.4 over seven games down the stretch. The point here is, this defensive scheme put corners in position to be productive both in the tackle and big-play columns.
Staying on the field has been a challenge for Darby over his two seasons with the team. In 2017 he missed several games with an ankle injury. Last year he tore an ACL in early November. When he plays, however, Darby is a quality CB1. In what amounts to about 16 games of action over the last two seasons he has 69 tackles, 8 assists, 4 interceptions, and 22 passes defended. Darby will start training camp on the PUP but expects to be on the field by week one.
It sounds as if Jalen Mills is a bigger risk to miss time at the start of the regular season. Back in February the team was optimistic, saying Mills was expected to make a full recovery from the foot injury and should be ready by the opener. Since that time there has not been much news, but what has come out carries a more pessimistic tone. He has not yet been placed on the PUP but reports say he will not be ready for the start of camp. Managers in corner required leagues will want to keep an eye on this situation since Milles was on pace to go 74-12-0 with 18 passes defended when he suffered the injury in week eight.
It might also be a good idea to keep an eye on the competition to establish the rest of the pecking order at corner just in case one of these guys ends up starting. Sidney Jones was the team’s second-round pick in 2017 but has contributed little due to injuries. His rookie season was a complete wash and he missed seven games last season with a bad hamstring. The organization may be short on patience with him considering there are rumors he could be offered as trade bait. The way Anthony Maddox and Rasul Douglas performed last year when everyone else was hurt, Jones is expendable.
- SS Rodney McLeod – Marginal value at best
- FS Malcolm Jenkins – Solid DB2 with low DB1 potential
- SS Andrew Sendejo – Injury backup with limited upside
- FS Blake Countess – No impact expected
- FS/CB Deiondre Hall – No impact expected
- FS Tre Sullivan – No impact expected
- CB Ronald Darby – low-end CB1 if healthy
- CB Jalen Mills – Potential CB2 if healthy
- CB Rasul Douglas – Injury sleeper with CB2 upside
- CB Sidney Jones – No impact expected
- CB Avonte Maddox – Possible injury sleeper
Washington has always been willing to invest heavily in their defensive line but when they initially went to a 3-4 years ago it was a two-gap style that rendered their defensive linemen useless to IDP managers. In 2013 for example, the entire defensive line accounted for six sacks and no one reached 20 tackles. Since that time they have evolved to a more aggressive one-gap style which improved the production as a group but they were still lacking that one stand out talent.
When current defensive coordinator Greg Manusky joined the staff as a linebackers coach in 2016, the Washington defensive line as a unit recorded eight sacks and had one player with more than 17 solo tackles. When Manusky became the coordinator in 2017, they selected defensive end Jonathan Allen in the first round. Allen’s rookie season was washed out by an early injury but the line still improved to 12.5 sacks. In 2018 the Redskins drafted nose tackle Da’Ron Payne in round one and got a healthy Allen back. The transformation was impressive as the unit suddenly had three players with at least 5 sacks and a pair that reached 35 solo tackles.
For the first time in over a decade, the 2018 Redskins gave IDP managers a lineman worthy of starter status in virtually any format. Jonathan Allen brings a lot to the party. He has outstanding quickness and athleticism for a big man and is a polished technician when it comes to hand and footwork. Allen is also a leader which is something the team had been short on for a while. In his first full season as a pro, Allen finished 35-26-8 and was the number 21 defensive lineman. At age 24 he has just scratched the surface. It is too early to put him on a pedestal but he has the potential to join the ranks of the elite 3-4 ends in the game. I usually have to see two strong seasons before being convinced a player is not a one year wonder. Allen is a rare exception to that rule. Put him on your draft board in the area of a quality DL2 but do not be surprised if he slips into the top-12.
Perhaps riding on the coattails of Allen and Payne, Matthew Ioannidis emerged as a factor in 2018 as well. The 2016 fifth-round selection saw little action as a rookie. In his second season, he became a regular contributor to the rotation and saw extensive action after Allen was injured. That season Ioannidis finished a modest 13-14-4.5. In year three he stepped up big. A glance at his production from last season shows a ho-hum 22-7-7.5 with a couple of turnovers. Closer examination reveals that Ioannidis was 18-5-7.5 with a forced fumble and a recovery after nine games before suffering a shin injury that would linger for the rest of the season. He is not the high profile, uber-talented player that Allen is, but Ioannidis could prove to be a dependable contributor as depth with a little upside.
Washington appears to have hit another home run with DaRon Payne. Not many defensive linemen walk in as rookies and go 35-20-5 with a pair of takeaways and 3 batted passes before their 22nd birthday. Even fewer have ever done it as a nose tackle in a 3-4. Payne was the number 24 defensive lineman last season and the eighth-ranked interior lineman. He is not as big as some that play the position but has an impressive combination of strength and athleticism. At 6’3” 311 pounds, Payne has a low center of gravity that helps him gain leverage over taller blockers and the ability to shed and tackle. He is an outstanding anchor for the run defense and unlike most nose tackles, has enough to offer as a pass rusher to stay on the field in nickel situations. His 796 snaps last year were the most of any Washington defensive lineman. Managers in leagues that pile all linemen into one position should consider Payne a borderline second starter or quality depth. In tackle required leagues, however, he is a solid DT1 with top-5 upside.
Washington does not like to rotate a lot up front, so barring injury to a starter, no one else is going to see significant playing time. Caleb Brantley was inactive for several games last season but with Stacy McGee gone, he could become the third-man at defensive end. Brantley is a talented player that has struggled to get his feet under him as a pro. Last year’s fifth-round selection Tim Settle is the backup at nose tackle. Depending on how the coaching staff views their options, he could be the next man up in the event of an injury to any starter, as Payne could move to end.
- DE Jonathan Allen – Solid DL2
- DE Matthew Ioannidis – Sleeper with low DL2 potential
- DE Caleb Brantley – No impact
- DE JoJo Wicker – No impact
- NT DaRon Payne – DT1 with top-5 potential or solid DL3
- NT Tim Settle – No impact expected
It is hard to tell if Washington’s inside linebacker situation became more or less cloudy with the recent release of Mason Foster, but at least there are fewer possibilities to consider. In 2018 the Redskins inside linebacker position accounted for 200 solo tackles, 94 assists, 4.5 sacks, and 7 turnovers. So one thing we can count on is someone putting up good numbers here. The candidates are Shaun Dion-Hamilton, Josh Harvey-Clemons, Jon Bostic and rookie Cole Holcomb. We can speculate all we want but ultimately the only thing we can do is watch this situation intently as the summer unfolds.
Reuben Foster was supposed to be the centerpiece of this defense but he is already on IR. That is what makes the release of Mason Foster all the more puzzling. So here is what we know about those still in contention. Washington signed journeyman Jon Bostic after the Foster injury. This is Bostic’s fifth team in six seasons which speaks volumes. His biggest asset in this situation is experience. While he has never been able to sustain a starting role, Bostic has seen a good deal of action over his career. He is better than average as a run defender but struggles in coverage. If he is a factor, it will almost certainly be in base packages only.
Josh Harvey-Clemons was a seventh-round pick of Washington’s in 2017. He is a former college safety trying to transition to linebacker as a pro. Harvey-Clemons saw action as a nickel linebacker for a good chunk of last season, coming on for Zach Brown on passing downs. The plug was pulled on that experiment in late November and Harvey-Clemons played 15 total snaps over the final five games, none in the last two. He has hit the weight room hard over the offseason and put on some muscle but it remains to be seen if he can stand up well enough versus the run to play on early downs. Early speculation has him a least seeing action in sub-package situations, but even that is not a sure thing.
Cole Holcomb was a productive three-year starter at North Carolina. He is a smart player that diagnoses plays quickly and has the speed and range to go sideline to sideline. In 37 games as a starter for the Tarheels he totaled 171 tackles and 156 assists but was light in the big-play columns with 2.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles and 1 recovery, but no interceptions. Holcombe does a good job in coverage but is more athletic than instinctive. He also struggles as a point of attack defender versus the run which could be a big issue. In general, his abilities and play traits suggest Holcombe might be a better fit as a weak-side backer in a 4-3.
That brings us to Shaun Dion-Hamilton who I believe has the best chance of playing all three downs and making a fantasy impact. His college career was marred by knee injuries in consecutive seasons, but when healthy he was a productive three-down player. Dion-Hamilton paired with Ruben Foster as Alabama’s starting inside backers before the first ACL injury in 2016. Dion-Hamilton was not fully recovered from the second knee injury at the beginning of last season and saw no action before week 12. Over the final five games, he replaced Harvey-Clemons as the rotational partner for Zach Brown. What really catches the eye is Dion-Hamilton’s per snap production. On 129 plays he recorded 20 tackles, 8 assists, a sack and a half and a forced fumble. He is a hard-nosed, technically sound linebacker that is always where he is supposed to be. If not for the knee injuries he might have been a second or third-round pick instead of falling to Washington in the sixth.
Washington has one of the game’s outstanding edge rushers in Ryan Kerrigan. In eight years as a pro he has collected 82 sacks, forced 23 fumbles, recovered 3, intercepted 3 passes, knocked down 24 and scored 3 times. Kerrigan has at least 9.5 sacks in each of the last five seasons and is coming off an excellent 2018 campaign. Early in his career, Kerrigan put up fairly good tackle totals for a 3-4 edge linebacker. Since Washington moved away from the two-gap scheme, however, his tackle totals have slipped considerably. Kerrigan has gone from averaging 45-21 in those columns over his first four years, to averaging 30-10 over the past four. For managers in big-play based formats, Kerrigan is a viable LB3 with a little upside but the low tackle production holds his value down some even in those formats.
The organization has expended a lot of capital in recent years trying to find a bookend for Kerrigan. In 2016 they used a second-round pick on Preston Smith who is now in Green Bay after three good but not great seasons. In 2017 they signed former Eagles first-round pick Marcus Smith II as a free agent then selected Ryan Anderson in the second. Smith has been a non-factor and Anderson has battled injuries leading to little impact.
This spring they invested a first-round pick in Montez Sweat. He is not the most polished of pass rushers coming out of college but he is a gifted athlete with big potential. Sweat transferred from Michigan State to Mississippi State after his freshman season and became an instant starter for the Bulldogs at defensive end, totaling 22.5 sacks over two seasons. He faces the added pressure of changing positions but in the long run, outside linebacker may be a better fit for him. Sweat will need to get stronger to stand up versus the run but his quick-twitch takeoff and blazing 4.41 speed give him a leg up as a nickel edge rusher right away. It may take the rookie a year or two but when/if he reaches full potential, Sweat could be one of the best in the business.
- ILB Shaun Dion Hamilton – Everyone here is a crapshoot but this guy could be a solid LB3 or better
- ILB Josh Harvey-Clemons – Sleeper to keep an eye on
- ILB Jon Bostic – Marginal impact at best
- ILB Cole Holcomb – Deep sleeper with long term potential
- OLB Ryan Kerrigan – LB3 range in big play based formats
- OLB Ryan Anderson – Injury-plagued start to career leaves a lot of questions
- OLB Montez Sweat – Somewhat raw but full of big-play potential
- OLB Marcus Smith II – No impact expected
- OLB Jordan Bradford – No impact expected
Washington took a strange path to get where they are at safety. After playing nearly every snap for two seasons D.J. Swearinger Sr is gone but the real head-scratcher is the turn of events surrounding Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. The organization gave Green Bay a fourth-round pick for him in the middle of last season. He played nine games then signed with the Bears when free agency opened. Maybe Washington did not like something about him or his game, but a fourth-round pick is pretty expensive just for an opportunity to kick the tires.
Regardless of how or why, Washington ended up with one of the best strong safeties in the game. Landon Collins departure from the Giants also had some strange undertones. Collins suffered a broken forearm at the end of 2017 that ended up requiring two surgeries. He returned at the beginning of last season but was not the same player for a while. Just as he started to come around, a shoulder injury landed him on IR. Maybe it was the injury or maybe the fact he was going to be really expensive to re-sign and made it clear he would not play under the franchise tag, Whatever the reason New York made little or no effort to retain him. Collins signed with Washington in March, participated in OTAs in May and has been cleared for the start of training camp. The shoulder is good and his bank account is stuffed so he is ready to go.
Collins is an extremely gifted player. At 6’0” 222 pounds, he has linebacker size and mentality with the speed, athleticism and ball skills of a corner. Despite the down year in 2018, he has averaged better than five and a half solo tackles per game every season, has 14 career turnovers, 4 sacks, 32 passes defended and a score. He can cover the leagues best tight ends or run with speedy slot receivers. In short, Collins gives his defensive coordinator options that few other players at the position do. His on-field value and play are mirrored in his box score production as well. Collins was a top-10 defensive back in each of his first three seasons including a number one finish in 2016.
Changing teams can sometimes have a negative effect on a star player’s IDP value. This is always a risk but going to Washington is not likely to make much difference with Collins. The Redskins have a history of quality box score production from the strong safety position and the unsettled situation at inside linebacker could prove to be a big plus as well. Collins is healthy, happy and in a great situation. There is no reason to expect anything less than a return to the top-10 in 2019.
After two seasons with the team, the coaching staff appears ready to turn the free safety position over to 2017 fourth-round pick Montae Nicholson. He saw spot duty as a rookie including a pair of starts and held the starting job last year until Clinton-Dix arrived. Nicholson ran into some trouble with the law late last season but so far nothing has come of it.
There are some managers and prognosticators that have high hope for Nicholson’s IDP value in 2019 though I am not sure why. The free safety position in Washington has not been particularly productive over the years and Nicholson has shown nothing to suggest he can change that trend. In seven starts last season he had 24 tackles and 9 assists. He has participated in 784 snaps over the last two seasons and is still looking for his first career turnover. Going back even further, Nicholson had one interception and two passes defended in his final year at Michigan State. He may provide a solid on-field contribution for his team but we should not expect much box score love.
Veteran Deshazor Everett and last year’s fourth-round pick Troy Apke will compete for the third safety role. This could be important if the coaching staff elects to use a lot of big nickel rather than fielding a pair of three-down inside linebackers.
From DeAngelo Hall earlier in the decade to Bashaud Breeland and even Josh Norman, Washington has consistently provided corners with good IDP value. Quintin Dunbar looks to be the next in that line. A glance at his stat line from last season shows a modest 35 tackles and 3 assists with a pair of interceptions and 9 passes defended. What a glance does not show is that Dunbar missed nine games with a shin injury or that his 11.9 points per game were the highest by any corner that played more than two games.
Dunbar is a former undrafted free agent that has worked his way up the depth chart over four seasons. He is healthy entering training camp and is set to once again start opposite Josh Norman. Dunbar will be hard-pressed to keep up the torrid pace he set last season but it seems whoever gets the call opposite Norman has a lot of action coming his way. Breeland had 62 tackles and averaged 10.6 points at that position in 2016, after going 60-22 in the tackle columns and averaging 10.9 the previous year. Not many are onto this trend so those of you in corner required leagues can keep Dunbar under your hat until the last round in most situations.
Norman has a solid first season with Washington with an average of 9.1 points per game, but he is the corner most offenses try to avoid. Gather a bunch of experts and ask them if Norman is an elite shut-down corner. You will get differing opinions and a lot of debate but everyone will agree he is a quality cover man and a solid lead corner for the Redskins. From the IDP perspective, however, Norman is no more than a decent matchup based bye week flier.
There is some chance Fabian Moreau with challenge Dunbar for the starting job but it is more likely he will continue in the nickel corner role he held before Dunbar was injured last season. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie should be the fourth corner in dime sub-package. Greg Stroman saw a good amount of action as a rookie and performed well. His roster spot should be safe. Beyond those guys, there are a handful of players competing for the last roster spots.
- SS Landon Collins – Strong DB1 with top-5 potential
- FS Montae Nicholson – Sleeper with limited upside
- SS Deshazor Everett – No fantasy impact
- FS Troy Apke – Deep sleeper at best
- CB Josh Norman – Possible depth in leagues starting two corners
- CB Quinton Dunbar – Sleeper with CB1 potential
- CB Fabian Moreau – Marginal value as a slot corner
- CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie – No fantasy impact
- CB Adonis Alexander – No impact expected
- CB Jimmy Moreland – No impact expected
- CB Greg Stroman – Injury sleeper with limited upside
That is a wrap for the pre-training camp edition of this year's column. I will be back with some updates after the first round of preseason games. Until then, best of luck in your drafts!