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Denver’s defense was mediocre in 2019. They were middle of the pack against both run and pass, were among the bottom third in turnovers and tied for 17th with 40 sacks. The team lost some players and added a few to replace them, but all in all, there is nothing that jumps out and says this team will be better in 2020.
After leading the team’s defensive linemen with a career-best seven sacks, Derek Wolfe jumped ship and signed with Baltimore. Denver’s biggest free-agent addition on defense was his replacement, Jurrell Casey. This is the one clear upgrade Denver made. Wolfe had a good run with Denver, he was a solid run defender and recorded 32.5 career sacks over eight seasons. Casey has 50.5 sacks over nine seasons, has a career-best of 9.5, has reached 7 three times, and has not fallen short of 5 since 2012. Casey has been more durable as well, having a handful of games with injury over his career, and is an excellent run defender.
Even with the change of teams, we know what to expect from Casey who is a solid if unspectacular IDP target. His career averages are 36 tackles, 19 assists, and he has averaged 6.5 sacks over the last seven seasons. Casey has reached or exceeded the 40 solo tackle mark three times and fallen short of 30 once. That was in 2019 when he missed a couple of games. Casey played tackle and occasionally lined up as a defensive end when the Titans were running a 4-3. He did not miss a beat moving to end when the team shifted to a 3-4 a couple of years back. Playing with Bradley Chubb and Von Miller on the outside will be a plus for Casey who has never been surrounded by that kind of talent, but 40 tackles, 20 assists, and maybe 8 sacks are about his ceiling. Consider Casey a dependable low-end DL2 or priority DL3.
The Broncos used a lot of players at defensive end last season, with five guys seeing action on at least 225 snaps. Casey is a good bet to log around 750 plays and with both Adam Gotsis and Justin Hollins gone, Shelby Harris could see a similar number opposite him. Harris led the group with 649 snaps in 2019, posting 28 tackles, 21 assists, and 6 sacks. Since he was designated a tackle by many league host sites, those numbers look fairly good at a glance. A closer look reveals just how inconsistent he was though. All six of the sacks came in three games while Harris scored five points or fewer nine times.
Demarcus Walker and Dre’Mont Jones were part of the rotation last season, combining for 21 tackles, 13 assists, and 7 sacks on 520 plays. Walker was a second-round pick of Denver’s in 2017 and Jones was taken in round-three last spring. Both are young players that could push Harris for the starting job. Rookie third-round pick McTelvin Agim is a similar player to both Walker and Jones in that he could eventually challenge for a prominent role. Agim is bigger than Walker or Jones, and could also see snaps at nose tackle as he backup to Mike Purcell.
Purcell is Denver’s biggest defensive lineman and the anchor of the run defense. He moved into the starting lineup at nose tackle last season and did a quality job in a two-down role. Purcell has one career sack in four seasons and comes off the field on third downs, thus there is no IDP help to be found here.
- DE Jurrell Casey – Dependable low-end DL2 or priority Dl3
- DE/NT Shelby Harris – Marginal value expected
- DE/NT McTelvin Agim – Developmental rookie with limited upside
- DE DeMarcus Walker – Sleeper with limited potential
- DE DreMont Jones – Sleeper with limited potential
- DE Christian Covington – No impact expected
- NT Mike Purcell – Depth at best in tackle required leagues.
Denver’s inside linebackers are far from household names, even in IDP circles, but both Todd Davis and A.J. Johnson are better and more productive than many realize. Davis became a three-down starter in 2018. He is not a playmaker in terms of turnovers or sacks but is remarkably consistent in the tackle columns. In 2018 Davis finished with 83 tackles, 29 assists, a sack, and an interception. He missed the first two games last year and was limited in week three, but still managed a mark of 82 tackles and 52 assists. Davis was completely absent from the big-play columns last season. Even so, his 11.5 points per game ranked 22nd among linebackers and he reached double-digit points in 11 of 13 games. His upside is limited but it is hard to find a more consistent third starter.
Lack of experience kept A.J. Johnson off the field early in 2019 as defensive coordinator Vic Fangio elected to go with Corey Nelson to open the season. After watching his defense get run over through the month of September and into October, Fangio finally decided to go with talent over experience and plugged Johnson in as a starter. The response was immediate and impressive.
In his first start, Johnson recorded five solo tackles and three assists while helping to limit a potent Chargers running game to under 40 yards. He also made a game-saving interception in the end and broke up another pass. That started a nine-game stretch during which Johnson totaled 40 tackles, 35 assists, a sack and a half, and 4 turnovers, for an averaged 12.5 points per game.
Most managers will look at Johnson’s overall numbers of 51-42-1.5 and maybe the fact his production declined sharply in December, and slide him way down their draft board. Don’t be one that makes such a mistake. Johnson played the final three games and most of a fourth on a sore knee that bothered him considerably and affected his play. With a full workload, he could easily reach 80 tackles and 50 assists, and unlike his counterpart Davis, Johnson is a playmaker. He is a breakout candidate with high LB2 upside if not better.
Denver’s outside linebackers are household names to pretty much anyone that watches the NFL. When they are both healthy the Broncos have an edge tandem to rival any in the league in Bradley Chubb and Von Miller. When Chubb was a rookie in 2018, he and Miller combined for 26 sacks, forced 6 fumbles, and recovered 4 of them. The Broncos lost Chubb to a torn ACL in week four of the 2019 campaign. Without him to keep opponents honest, Miller turned in the lowest sack count (8) of his career in a non-injury season.
Throw out his injury-shortened 2013 and Miller has double-digit sacks in every season leading up to last. With 25 forced fumbles 9 recoveries, 24 batted passes, and a pair of scores, his big-play production is up there with the best. There have been some seasons when Miller broke the trend of 3-4 outside linebacker lacking enough tackles to be relevant in balanced scoring leagues but unfortunately, he has been wildly inconsistent in that area. In 2011, 2012, 2016, and 2017 Miller exceeded 50 solo stops. He reached 60 in 2016. In 2014, 2015, 2018, and 2019 he recorded as few as 29 and no more than 42. Miller remains a quality starter in big-play based leagues but is no more than a hit or miss LB4 in balanced formats.
Chubb lacks the long track record of Miller but could end up being even better by the time his career ends. His ACL repair went well and Chubb is ready for the start of training camp. It will be a while before we can see if he is fully recovered but all the reports are positive. Many edge defenders start slowly and put up less than stellar numbers in their first year. Chubb was not one of those players. He totaled 43 tackles, 16 assists, 12 sacks, and 3 turnovers as a rookie. If he gets better with experience as nearly all young players do, this guy could win a sack title or two before he is done. As with all 3-4 outside linebackers, the extent of Chubb’s value depends largely on the scoring system, but he is capable of LB3 value in balanced formats.
The Broncos have dealt with several injuries at the second level in recent years, so depth is an important factor. Josey Jewell started several games before losing his job to A.J. Johnson. Plenty of games for the team to know he is not an NFL starter. Jewell can fill in for a few games if need be but there is a substantial drop off, particularly in coverage.
The team drafted Justin Strnad in round-five to provide further depth inside. He is an intriguing prospect with speed and athleticism that should translate well to the pro game. He has good cover skills, tackles with some pop, and at age 24, could be more mature than the average rookie. Strnad suffered a torn biceps in October that cut short his senior year at Wake Forest and may impede the early part of his rookie season, but he was highly productive in college. In 20 games over the last two seasons, Strnad has 103 tackles and 71 assists. Over his last three seasons with the Demon Deacons, he had 10 passes defended, 8 sacks, 4 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles, and a recovery. It should not take him long to pass Jewell on the depth chart and if he gets on the field, Strnad could be a good in-season addition to your squad.
No one in the league has a backup at outside linebacker that would not be a serious drop off from either Miller or Chubb, but Denver is as prepared as possible. With last year’s injury to Chubb, Justin Hollins and Malik Reed were both able to get on the field as rookies. Both were serviceable options as part of the rotation but neither was particularly impressive. Denver used a seventh-round pick this year on another developmental type in Derrek Tuszka who was a three-year starter at North Dakota State. While they wait for the young guys to develop, Jeremiah Attochu will see most of the action as the third man on the edge. The Broncos signed him off the street after Chubb’s injury but Attochu did not play much until week 12. When he did get on the field, the coaching staff wished they had given him an opportunity earlier. Over the final six games, Attochu totaled 14-4-4 with a fumble recovery.
- ILB Todd Davis – Solid LB3 with limited upside
- ILB A.J. Johnson – Target as priority LB3 with high LB2 potential
- ILB Josey Jewell – No impact
- ILB Justin Strnad – Dynasty target for taxi squad
- ILB Joe Jones – No impact
- OLB Von Miller – Quality starter in big play based leagues, Depth with upside in balanced
- OLB Bradley Chubb – Quality starter in big-play leagues, LB4 with upside in balanced formats
- OLB Jeremiah Attaochu – Marginal value expected
- OLB Justin Hollins – No impact
- OLB Derrek Tuszka – No impact
- OLB Malik Reed – No impact
Both of Denver’s starting safeties averaged 10.5 points per game in 2019 but their IDP value was far apart. Justin Simmons took over the strong safety job as a second-year player in 2017. Both his play on the field and his IDP value have steadily improved over the two seasons since. Simmons is not a particularly physical hitter but he rarely misses a tackle and has made ever-increasing contributions in the big play columns. He finished among the top-20 defensive backs in 2018 on the strength of 70 tackles, 26 assists, 3 interceptions and 4 passes defended. In 2019 he edged into the top-12 at 64-26-0, 4 picks, and 15 passes defended. Week to week inconsistency was an issue over his first two seasons as a starter but Simmons seemed to solve that for the most part in 2019, recording double-digit points in 10 of 13 games starting in week two. There are no signs suggesting an explosion in the tackle columns but with the steady production there and his knack for the big-play, Simmons is a solid target as a second starter.
Kareem Jackson joined the Broncos as a free agent last spring. Initially, there were some questions about his position since the team was short at corner where he had played over much of his nine seasons with Houston, but Jackson settled in at free safety. He missed three games with minor injuries in 2019, finishing with a line of 50-20-0, with 10 passes defended, 4 turnovers, and a score. At 10.54, Jackson’s points per game average was actually a touch better than that of Simmons, but there was a big difference in terms of consistency. Jackson reached double-digit points four times in 13 games, scoring over 28% of his season total in one monster the week 14 matchup versus his former team. Jackson tackles well in the open field and has the speed and cover skills to be a good fit as the deep safety catch-all for the Broncos. He will have a statistically productive game now and then but is not a player we can count on with any regularity.
Denver is starting fresh at the corner positions. Bradley Roby left the team after the 2018 season and Chris Harris Jr did not get an offer after allowing a 61.7 completion percentage and 10.5 yards per target in 2019. The Broncos signed former Houston and Jacksonville starter A.J. Bouye to take over one of the positions then used a third-round pick on Michael Ojemudia who is expected to compete with Bryce Callahan, Isaac Yiadom, Duke Dawson and Davantae Harris to establish the rest of the pecking order.
Bouye is a good corner but is not a true number one. Dawson was the team’s second-round pick last spring and showed promise at times during his rookie season, but was ultimately benched after week 12 in favor of Isaac Yiadom who did not fare much better. Callahan is a journeyman type who started some games for the Bears over his first four seasons as a pro but was mostly a nickel corner. Harris was a fifth-round pick of the Bengals in 2018 that was picked up by Denver after Cincinnati let him go. Looking at the resumes of these guys give the feeling that Denver’s struggles against the pass might continue in 2020.
It has been a long time since a Denver corner provided any significant IDP value. Chris Harris was the highest-scoring of the group last season with 44 solo tackles, 1 interception, and 5.9 points per game. We have to look back to 2016 to find a Denver corner with more than 45 tackles. No one on the current roster seems destined to break that trend, though Ojemudia would have the rookie corner rule working in his favor if he wins a starting spot
- SS Justin Simmons – Solid DB2
- FS Kareem Jackson - Depth at best
- FS Trey Marshall – Injury sleeper at best
- CB A.J. Bouye – Marginal IDP value
- CB Michael Ojemudia – Possible rookie corner rule
- CB Bryce Callahan – No impact expected
- CB Isaac Yiadom – No impact expected
- CB Duke Dawson – Deep sleeper at best
- CB Davontae Harris – No impact expected.
Kansas City Chiefs
Everyone knows how good the Chiefs offense is, but the defense did their part last season as well. Their 45 sacks ranked seventh, the 16 interception was fifth-most, and they boasted the six best pass defense at 6.7 yards per attempt. The only weak spot in the chain was a leaky run defense that allowed 4.9 yards per carry. With a defense that makes big plays and gives up a lot of yards on the ground, we would expect to get some good IDP targets. The Chiefs had a few guys with some value but surprisingly no one had more than 64 solo tackles, no one recorded double-digit sacks, and no one produced more than five turnovers.
Tackle Chris Jones was the highest-ranking Chiefs defender at any position last season, finishing eighth among interior linemen. His team-leading nine sacks provided most of the value since Jones totaled just 23 tackles, 13 assists, and a pair of turnovers to go with them. In his defense, Jones missed three games with a calf injury that continued to bother him off and on through much of the season. With that in mind, we should look closer at his 2018 numbers when considering what to expect in 2020.
In 2018 Jones was the IDP game’s number one tackle and number six defensive lineman overall. That season he piled up 34 solo stops, 8 assists, 15 sacks, 3 turnovers, 5 batted passes, and a score. At 6’6” 310 pounds, Jones has a rare combination of size, strength, speed, and athleticism that make him one of the best in the game. He has 30.5 sacks, 7 forced fumbles, 2 interceptions, and has knocked down 16 passes over the last three seasons, so we know he is not a flash in the pan. Indeed, a healthy Jones should return to the top-10 among linemen in 2020 and could challenge for the top spot among tackles.
Jones is easily the best target among Kansas City’s front-four, but he is not the only one. Both defensive end positions have the potential to provide IDP value this season. Frank Clark played in 14 games last year and was second on the team with eight sacks. Adding his three forced fumbles, one recovery, an interception, and four batted passes, Clark was ever so slightly more productive than Jones in terms of per-game average.
Like Jones, we can look at Clark’s 2018 production for an idea of his potential. The difference being, Clark was playing for the Seahawks when he went 35-8-14 with 7 turnovers and that was the only season of his five-year career that he recorded more than 26 solo stops. Clark has been an excellent pass rusher throughout his career but he did not hold up well versus the run early on. That part of his game has improved but he is still not a player that will make a lot of tackles. That said, 30 tackles and low double-digit sacks are reasonable expectations, making Clark a good DL2 candidate.
Emmanuel Ogbah, Alex Okafor, and Tanoh Kpassagnon filled out Kansas City’s defensive end position in 2019. All three made significant contributions, accounting for 70 tackles, 18 assists, 14.5 sacks, and 3 turnovers between them. Both Okafor and Ogbah missed at least five games with injuries, so Kpassagnon became the starter opposite Clark mostly by default. Ogbah signed with Miami but Okafor is back and healthy. The Chiefs also added Taco Charlton to the mix, which could prove very interesting.
All three of these players will contribute. Kpassagnon is a dependable player but is not a great outside pass rusher. At 6’7” 289 pounds, he may serve best as an early-down run defender that can slide inside on passing downs. Okafor is a steady contributor who plays the run well and is above average as an edge rusher, but after seven years as a pro, it is safe to say he is not going to become a special player. His career-best of eight sacks came in 2014 with the five he recorded last season being his next highest total. Okafor has also dealt with a lot of injuries over his career, including a season-ending torn pectoral in 2019.
Taco Charlton is the player I am keeping an eye on here. The Cowboys made him the 28th overall pick in 2017 but he had a rocky relationship with Dallas from the start. He served as the third man in the defensive end rotation as a rookie, recording respectable numbers of 15 tackles, 3 assists, 3 sacks, and a forced fumble in the limited role. He was playing more at the beginning of 2018 but saw his snap count cut in half for three games leading up to a Week 10 injury that virtually ended his season. Charlton did not play a snap for the Cowboys in 2019 before being released and claimed by Miami. He had four sacks in five games for the Dolphins when the injury bug bit again. From that point on he dealt with a bum elbow and played sparingly in the three games he was active. Overall Charlton posted 14-7-5 with a pair of forced fumbles on 403 snaps, which was once again respectable for the amount of playing time, but Miami released him anyway.
It is hard to say where Charlton might be if not for the combination of injuries and being caught up in the Randy Gregory saga in Dallas. What we can do, however, is look at his body of work. On 1205 career snaps, which is about a season and a half for a three-down starter, Charlton has recorded 42 tackles, 25 assists, 9 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and a recovery. Not great numbers but certainly worth consideration. Taking it a step further, if we project his pre-injury numbers from last year over a full season, Charlton is something like 32-22-13. He has a lot to prove and is a longshot to do it in 2020. On the other hand, Charlton has a great opportunity with an aggressive Chiefs defense that fits his abilities, so there is good potential if he can put the bad luck behind him.
Derrick Nnamdi, Khalen Saunders, Mike Pennel, and Mike Danna fill out the rest of Kansas City’s depth chart up front. Danna was the team’s fifth-round pick this spring and is purely a developmental project. He is an undersized edge defender who had just three sacks while working on a rotational basis at Michigan last season. The other three will work into the interior rotation where Nnamdi projects as the starter next to Chris Jones. None of them are likely to record much more than 20 tackles and a sack or two.
- DE Frank Clark – Target as a low-end DL2 with a little upside
- DE Alex Okafor – Marginal value at best
- DE Taco Charlton – Deep sleeper with good potential
- DE Tanoh Kpassagnon – Marginal value at best
- DE Mike Danna – Developmental prospect
- DT Chris Jones – Elite tier DT1 or priority DL2
- DT Derrick Nnadi – No impact expected
- DT Khalen Saunders – No impact expected
- DT Mike Pennel – No impact expected
The shortcoming of the Chiefs run defense last season fell squarely on the shoulder of their linebackers. Both Reggie Ragland and Darron Lee flopped once again and were no help at all, while the combination of Anthony Hitchens, Damien Wilson, and Ben Niemann had their share of struggles. The coaching staff used safety Daniel Sorensen in a nickel linebacker role which led to no linebacker seeing more than 65% of the snaps. As a result, Hitchens was the team’s highest-ranked linebacker, finishing outside the top-60
The organization addressed the problem by selecting Willie Gay Jr Jr. in the second round. There were several excellent linebackers with high IDP potential in this year’s draft. When it is all said and done, Gay could prove to be the best of them. He has optimal size at 6’1” 243 pounds, excellent speed, and athleticism, sideline to sideline range, solid cover skills, and is a physical tackler that arrives with an attitude. One thing Gay is short on, however, is experience. As a junior last season at Mississippi State, Gay was suspended for eight games due to academic violations involving a tutor, so he made just six starts for the Bulldogs before turning pro. Looking at his college numbers are not much help, but it is noteworthy that Gay had five sacks and a pair of interceptions as a sophomore in 2018. Gay is easily the most talented and gifted linebacker on the roster. Not having an offseason program will undoubtedly impact his learning curve but even with the lack of experience, the coaching staff has no better option at the position.
Gay was drafted to be the team’s middle linebacker but he could begin his career on the weak side depending on how quickly he acclimates. Wherever they put Gay, Anthony Hitchens is likely to line up at the other spot. Hitchens has not been what the organization had hoped when they signed him in 2018, but he is a versatile veteran with starting experience at all three linebacker spots in a 4-3. Hitchens totaled 82 tackles and 55 assists as a three-down middle backer for the Chiefs in 2018 but has provided almost nothing in the big play columns. In six seasons as a pro, Hitchens has a total of five sacks and five turnovers. Even so, his experience could provide some much-needed stability until the rookie gets his feet. If he somehow ends up back in a full-time role, Hitchens could be a decent third starter for IDP managers, but there is no upside beyond that.
Damien Wilson projects as the starter on the strong side where he has played for nearly all of his previous five seasons. He is a physical player with the ability to blow up blocking schemes and is a dependable tackler but is a liability in coverage. There is no reason to suspect he will have a bigger role in 2020, in fact, his playing time is more likely to be reduced than expanded.
Ben Niemann had an opportunity to start ahead of Hitchens for a couple of early games in 2019, but he fared no better. Late in the season, he saw some time ahead of Wilson, with mixed results. Both Neimann and 2018 third-round pick Dorian O’Daniel could get a shot as starters at some point, but without any preseason games and limited practice time, that would be a tough call to make. O’Daniel saw some action as a rookie and looked pretty good. He might have been given more opportunity last year had he not been hampered by a hamstring injury.
- MLB/WLB Willie Gay Jr –Talented rookie with high ceiling in the long term
- MLB/WLB Anthony Hitchens – Marginal production expected
- SLB Damien Wilson – No IDP impact
- WLB Dorian ODaniel – Deep sleeper at best
- WLB/SLB Ben Niemann – No impact expected
At 5’9” 190 pounds, Tyrann Mathieu is the smallest starting safety in the NFL. He might also be the toughest. Mathieu led the Chiefs with 64 solo tackles last season, adding 11 assists, 2 sacks, 4 interceptions, and 13 passes defended to finish as the number 22 defensive back. This is the kind of production we have consistently seen from Mathieu who, except for an injury-shortened 2016, has been in the top-30 every season since 2015, when he was number five.
With last year’s second-round pick Juan Thornhill handling the deep safety work and Daniel Sorensen working in the box as a strong safety/nickel linebacker hybrid, Mathieu was at his best, moving around a lot and getting into position to be disruptive. He is fast, physical, and athletic but it is Mathieu’s ability to recognize an opportunity and capitalize on it that is his biggest strength. The only downside to his game in IDP terms is week-to-week consistency. Mathieu reached at least nine points in ten games last season averaging 13.6. He averaged 3.8 points over the other six.
Sorensen and Thornhill are good role players for their team but they do not provide much for ours. Sorensen was on the field for slightly more than 52% of the snaps last season. Considering the limited playing time, his 5.9 points per game were pretty strong but well short of IDP value. Thornhill’s average was a bit better at 7.1 but his over the top, safety net responsibilities simply do not equate to enough tackle opportunity. Both players should have virtually the same roles in 2020.
Third-year man Armani Watts and fourth-round pick L’Jarius Sneed fill out the depth chart at safety. Watts is a capable player who saw a little action down the stretch last season and made a good impression. He was on the field for just 74 snaps but recorded 13 tackles, 4 assists, and a sack. It is a tiny sample size but enough to make us pay attention if he gets an opportunity.
Sneed is a converted corner that is undersized to play safety in the NFL but has room to add muscle to his frame. With the team’s current situation at the corner position, he is more likely to get on the field there than at safety in the short term.
Bashaud Breeland and Chavarius Ward will be the starters at corner if both are available. As of late July, it does not look like Breeland will be. The Chiefs signed him to a new contract this offseason despite knowing that he was facing a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Less than a month after signing the one year deal, Breeland was arrested and charged with possession among other things. No final word has come down from the league but it is safe to assume we will not see Breeland in uniform for a while.
Ward is one of the leagues great stories. He made the team in 2018 as an undrafted free agent out of Middle Tennessee State, became a starter in his second season and won a Super Bowl. I see this situation as sort of an extension of the rookie corner rule. He was not a rookie but as a young guy that was undrafted, offenses were going to challenge him. The result was 57 tackles, 18 assists, a forced fumble, 2 picks, and 11 passes defended for a ranking of 16 among corners. The question is, will opponents back off now that he has some experience or with the stigma of undrafted free agent last a little longer? There is no way to know the answer until we get into the season, but not having Breeland on the other side for a while is not going to help.
As it currently stands, Antonio Hamilton is the next most experienced corner on the roster. He was an undrafted free agent with the Raiders in 2017, then spent two years with the Giants. Hamilton has 26 career tackles and 4 passes defended. The next option would be last year’s sixth-round pick, Rashad Fenton who played 169 snaps as a rookie. After that, the options are rookies Sneed, seventh-round pick Thakarius Keyes, or one of the several undrafted rookies the team signed in hope that lightning would strike twice. I look for the Chiefs to pick up a veteran or two if someone becomes available, but with expanded rosters due to COVID, the picking might be slim.
- SS Daniel Sorensen – No IDP impact
- FS Tyrann Mathieu – Solid DB2
- FS Juan Thornhill – Marginal IDP impact
- FS Armani Watts – Sleeper with intriguing potential
- FS/CB LJarius Sneed – No impact expected
- CB Bashaud Breeland – CB2 or better when he plays
- CB Charvarius Ward – Low-end CB2 with some upside
- CB Rashad Fenton – Deep sleeper for corner required format
- CB Antonio Hamilton – No impact expected
- CB BoPete Keyes – Deep sleeper at best
Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders defense was not good in 2019. They were tied for last against the pass, tied for 23rd in sacks with 32, just three teams had fewer interceptions, and seven recovered fewer opponents fumbles. The good news is they were much better than the 2018 squad that had 13 sacks, and are headed in the right direction.
Coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock began rebuilding the Raiders by moving veterans with big contracts and collecting draft picks for the future. Then they followed the manual for building a winner by addressing the trenches first. They added quality veteran defensive tackle, Jonathan Hankins, in free agency then selected a pair of offensive tackles and two defensive tackles and a defensive end with their first five draft picks.
Tackle P.J. Hall was the round-two pick and Maurice Hurst was taken in the fifth. These two and Hankins have been the defensive tackle rotation for the last two seasons and all three have played well. Together they were a huge part of the team's fourth-ranked run defense. This was important because as we all know, stopping the run is the first step to playing great defense.
From an IDP perspective, Raiders' interior linemen have not provided much of late. Hankins was the highest-ranking of the group in 2019 at DT28 after Hurst ranked 30th in 2018. The team added former Dallas starter, Malik Collins, to the mix this offseason. He should join the rotation, which will water down the playing time a little more and possibly kill what little IDP value there was. Frostee Rucker was the fourth man in 2018 when no Raiders tackle played more than 574 of a possible 1026 snaps.
From the perspective of sheer talent and potential, Maurice Hurst is worth keeping an eye on. If anyone is going to break out here, he is the guy. Hurst fell to the fifth-round because teams were concerned with an irregular heartbeat that was discovered at the combine. Hurst had 55 combined tackles and 5.5 sacks as a senior at Michigan and received a first-round grade from a lot of scouts. As a rookie, he recorded 26 tackles, 5 assists, 4 sacks, a forced fumble, and batted three passes in 13 games. Hurst was on pace for a top-20 ranking when an ankle injury ended his season early. Strangely, Hurst regressed significantly in the box scores last season, despite playing substantially more snaps. We will have to see which way he goes this year, but the potential is there.
Arden Key was a third-round pick in that 2018 draft and is the only one that has not panned out so far. To be fair, he has not had a fair shake. Key started as a rookie but struggled, recording 21 tackles and 1 sack on 643 plays. The opportunity was there in terms of playing time, but there was no talent on the outside to help him out. As a rookie third-round pick Key was asked to be the team’s lead edge defender. With the additions of Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby in 2019, Key was relegated to spot duty before landing on IR ahead of week 10. He did show some promise, however, recording a sack in each of the last two games before the injury.
The Raiders have not given up on Key but he will have a hard time getting back on the field in more than a part-time role. Las Vegas used the fourth overall pick on Ferrell last spring, then landed what may be the steal of the draft when they took Crosby in the fourth. Between them, the duo accounted for 62 tackles, 25 assists, 14.5 sacks, 5 turnovers, and 9 batted passes. Surprisingly, it was Crosby doing a significant majority of the damage.
Ferrell had what has come to be recognized as a typical rookie season for a high profile edge defender. He played around 62% of the snaps, recording a decent stat line of 24-15-4.5 with a fumble recovery and five batted passes. The jury is still out on Ferrell living up to his draft status, but there are two important factors to keep in mind. First, as a three-year starter for Clemson, Ferrell piled up 166 combined tackles and 27 sacks. Second, some of the league’s greatest pass rushers have gotten off to slow starts as rookies.
There was no slow start for Maxx Crosby. At the beginning of 2019, he was part of a multi-player rotation. It did not take long for the Raiders realized they had struck gold. Crosby made his first start in week four. From that point on he was 33-6-10 with 4 forced fumbles, and 4 batted passes. Crosby finished as a top-12 defensive lineman, ahead of fellow rookies Nick Bosa and Josh Allen.
Watching Crosby on the field last year made people wonder how he could have fallen so far. Two contributing factors were his level of competition while playing at Eastern Michigan, and the fact that Crosby came out after his junior year. This is a player that had 162 combined tackles, 20 sacks, forced 8 fumbles, recovered 4, intercepted a pass and scored twice in three college seasons. He has a huge wingspan, is smooth and quick off the edge, holds up well versus the run, and has already added to a long history of great production. The bottom line here, last season was not a fluke and is just the beginning.
The Raiders still have high expectations for Arden Key but they have now come so far as to have quality depth at what was a barren position just two seasons ago. If Key is not able to take the next step, free-agent addition Carl Nasib is ready to step in. Nassib is a journeyman, joining his third team in five seasons, but is a veteran that can contribute. He has 18 career sacks including 12.5 over the last two seasons with Tampa Bay.
- DE Maxx Crosby – Top-12 with potential to earn a place on the elite tier
- DE Clelin Ferrell – DL3 target with breakout potential
- DE Carl Nassib – Injury sleeper
- DE Arden Key – Potential injury sleeper
- DT Maurice Hurst – Watch list player in tackle required formats
- DT P.J. Hall – No impact expected
- DT Johnathan Hankins – DT3 with a little upside
- DT Maliek Collins – Sleeper in tackle required formats
- DT/DE Josh Mauro – No impact
- DT Daniel Ross – No impact
The Raiders started building their defense by addressing the front four. This year they got to the linebacker positions. The team’s strong performance versus the run last season had a lot to do with quality play from the front four, leaky pass defense, and solid play from Tahir Whitehead at middle linebacker. Unfortunately, Whitehead and the rest of the linebackers were part of the problem with the leaky pass defense as well.
The team used draft capital to fill a lot of holes but they went the veteran route at linebacker investing some of the money they saved in 2018 on free-agents Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski. The questions on most people’s minds are, how will these two line up, and will they both play full time?
Both players were middle/inside linebackers with their previous teams and the Raiders run a 4-3, so only one guy gets that title, but in reality, both will play inside. Las Vegas is among the growing number of teams that use a nickel base defense with an extra safety on early-down and an extra corner in obvious passing situations.
As a former college safety, Littleton is one of the better coverage linebackers in the game, so there is no doubt he will be a full-time participant. He is a do-everything player with the size and mentality to play the run well, the speed and athleticism to sift through traffic and make plays all over the field, a knack for making all varieties of big plays, and the and football IQ and leadership qualities to help defensive coordinator Paul Guenther put it all together. Littleton was the IDP game’s number two linebacker as a first-time starter in 2018 and finished fourth last season. I will slide him down a few slots on my draft board just to cover the unknown that comes with changing teams, but expect another top-10 finish in 2020.
Kwiatkoski was a backup for most of his time with Chicago but has performed well in three-down roles when covering for injuries over the last four seasons. He is not a lock to stay on the field in sub-packages but is not a liability in coverage and presents an inside blitz option the coaching staff did not have previously. Call it an educated guess, but I believe the Raiders will play Kwiatkoski in most situations, or at least enough of them not to have a serious negative effect on his value.
In terms of box score production, Kwiatkoski has never turned in great overall numbers in a season, but he has been highly productive for stretches. In 2019 he started and played full time in six games while seeing significant time in three others. In those nine contests, Kwiatkoski was 53-19-3 with a forced fumble, an interception, 4 passes defended, and an average of 13.9 points per game. He is not a lock to play every down and we should not expect that kind of production going forward, but Kwiatkoski is certainly worth the gamble as a low-end LB3 or priority depth with good upside if he falls that far.
The Raiders fielded three linebackers on less than 19% of their defensive plays last season. Marquel Lee, Nicholas Morrow, and Kyle Wilbur should each collect a few of those opportunities, but we have seen enough of all three to know they will not have much fantasy impact even if thrust into the lineup for some reason. The team was able to address the starting spots at linebacker but improved depth will have to wait until next year.
- MLB/WLB Cory Littleton – Strong LB1 with elite tier upside
- MLB Nick Kwiatkoski – Target as a quality third starter with both good upside and some risk
- MLB/SLB Marquel Lee – No impact
- SLB /MLB Nicholas Morrow – No impact
- SLB Kyle Wilber – No impact
The Las Vegas secondary is still a work in progress but should be much better than a year ago. There will be a full-blown competition for three-safety jobs where no one is locked in at a position. After missing his rookie season with a torn rotator cuff, last year’s first-round pick Johnathan Abram is a decided favorite to land one of the three spots, and will likely be the every-down strong safety.
Abram has the potential to be a special player at the pro level. He is somewhat of a throwback to the days when strong safeties were more like extra linebacker against the run and intimidators in the passing game. Deep coverage is not a strength for Abram, but he has the size and speed to match up with tight ends or running backs in the passing game, with the range and the athleticism to mirror today’s mobile quarterbacks. Abrams is far from a liability in coverage but is an eraser against the run. He is quick to respond, works through traffic smoothly, hits like a runaway train, and brings an infectious intensity to the field. In fact, that is what got him in trouble last season when he injured his shoulder putting a big lick on a Denver pass catcher along the sideline.
The Raiders got no return on their investment last season so they will basically have another rookie taking the field. As with many rookies, a look at their college production can give us some perspective as to what we should expect. In two years at Mississippi State, Abram recorded 170 combined tackles, 5 sacks, and 6 turnovers. The only real concern with the young man is how his body will hold up if he continues to abuse it.
After Abram, it is anyone’s guess what the Raiders will look like at safety. Erik Harris took over at strong safety when Abrams was injured and was adequate both on the field and in the box scores. He could be a good fit as the third-safety/nickel linebacker hybrid. Lamarcus Joyner held the free safety job for most of 2019 and also did an adequate but not spectacular job. Damarious Randall has been a solid starter for both the Packers and Browns over the last five seasons. He had a strong 2018 in Cleveland but battled injuries for much of last season, which has been an issue for most of his five-year career. If he can stay healthy, Randall is probably the favorite to play free-safety.
Former Dallas starter Jeff Heath should contend with Harris and possibly third-round pick Tanner Muse for the third safety spot. Heath provides a savvy and dependable veteran presence that could be a plus with all the young guys in the mix, but he is not the most naturally gifted of players.
Tanner Muse is the wildcard in play. At 6’2” 227 pounds, he is a safety in the body of a linebacker. Or maybe it is a linebacker with the skillset of a safety. Either way, the young man presents options. He had the second-fastest 40-time among safeties at the combine, is good in coverage and opportunistic when it comes to big plays. Muse is not the big hitter that Abram is, but is physical and excels as a run defender. He did not post extravagant numbers at Clemson, averaging 57 tackles while totaling 3.5 sacks, 7 interceptions, and 14 passes defended as a three-year starter, but between his size, speed, and physical nature in run support, Muse might be a serious contender for the box safety job.
We may not know what the Raiders will look like at safety until they take the field for week one, but at least we know they have good players to fit in as starters and quality depth. The outlook at corner is not so bright but there is room for optimism.
Free-agent addition Prince Amukamara is a dependable veteran and a solid number two corner. He has good size and speed along with plenty of experience as an eight-year starter. He can stick with most receivers in man coverage and has no issues with zone, so versatility is a plus. What he lacks is big-play production. In nine seasons Amukamara has accumulated only 10 total interceptions with three over the last four years, and he has reached double-digits in pass breakups four times. He signed a one year deal so the veteran is no more than a stop-gap to hold things together until the organization can better address the position. That said, Amukamara is an upgrade over what they had and is good enough to help the team win games.
In 19th overall pick Damon Arnette the Raiders hope to have one critical piece of their corner situation resolved for the long term. Most experts feel the Raiders reached a bit in taking Arnette so high, but everyone agrees he is a good player. He is a physical press corner with good size, decent speed, the ability to close quickly while the ball is in the air, and a knack for separating it from the receiver. As a three-year starter for Ohio State Arnette is fluent in both man and zone coverages and has experience working in the slot. All that said, he was never a number one corner for the Buckeyes, and consensus suggests he might be better cast as a slot corner at the NFL level. What Arnette has going for him as a potential IDP option, he relishes run support opportunities, is not afraid of contact, and is a good open-field tackler.
The Raiders may already have their long term number two corner in place. After the team traded Gareon Conley ahead of week seven, last year’s second-round pick, Trayvon Mullen, moved into the starting spot opposite Daryl Worley. Mullen performed well for a rookie and is the favorite to open as the starter opposite Amukamara on the outside. He has the physical press skillset that fits Paul Guenther’s scheme and was fairly productive over his nine starts as a rookie, but there is room for improvement if Mullen is going to stick. He has the speed and cover skills to stay with receivers but is neither a great open-field tackler nor a playmaker. Mullen had one interception and three passes defended in his final season at Clemson, and one interception with 10 pass breakups in nine starts with the Raiders last season.
Las Vegas has no clear number one corner and unless either Mullen or Arnette step up, they will be without one until next year’s draft since there is no one else on the current roster with that kind of potential. Nevin Lawson is an experienced veteran but has never been more than a marginal starter. Fourth-round pick Amik Robertson recorded 14 interceptions in three seasons as Louisiana Tech, but at 5’8” 187 pounds, he struggles against bigger receivers and projects as a slot corner where he would have help. Isaiah Johnson, Nick Nelson, and Keisean Nixon are all young guys with a year or two of experience but little playing time. They are more likely to battle for a roster spot than a starting job.
- SS Johnathan Abram – big potential if he can stay healthy
- FS Lamarcus Joyner – No IDP Impact expected
- FS/SS Damarious Randall – DB2 upside if he lands a full-time role
- SS Erik Harris – Injury sleeper with DB3 potential
- SS Jeff Heath – Longshot with DB4 ceiling
- SS Tanner Muse – Deep sleeper but has good upside if things fall right
- CB Damon Arnette- Rookie corner rule could be in play
- CB Prince Amukamara – Marginal value at best
- CB Trayvon Mullen – Potential CB2
- CB Nevin Lawson – No impact
- CB Amik Robertson – No value expected
- CB Isaiah Johnson – No impact
- CB Nick Nelson – No impact
- CB Keisean Nixon – No impact
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers defense was 13th against the run and 16th versus the pass, but they did not make enough big plays in 2019. Only four teams got to the quarterback less and no one had fewer takeaways. The low sack total is particularly surprising considering Los Angeles has one of the game’s elite edge defenders in Joey Bosa.
Bosa did his part in the pass rush, leading the club with 11.5 sacks, but with one forced fumble in the turnover columns and a zero in batted passes, it was somewhat of a down year for him. On the other hand, Bosa has not been particularly productive in those other areas since coming to the league. He has double-digit sacks in three of his four seasons as a pro, falling short only in 2018 when he missed nine games. Bosa forced four fumbles, recovered one, and knocked down a pass in 2017. In his other three seasons (39 games) he has one forced and one recovered fumble, with no batted passes.
From an IDP perspective, what Bosa lacks in turnovers, he more than makes up for in the tackle columns. He was the fantasy game’s number two defensive lineman in 2017, adding 53 tackles, 17 assists to his career-best 12 sacks and 5 turnovers. Even without the turnovers, he finished at number four in 2019 on the strength of 46-20-11.5. With or without turnovers, Bosa is a quality DL1. If he can manage to knock a few balls away when he drills some quarterbacks, he could make it back into the top three.
Melvin Ingram III mans the other defensive end position and is an excellent Robin to Bosa’s Batman. He may not get as much attention but Ingram is a quality NFL starter. At 247 pounds he is undersized for a three-down end in a 4-3 scheme but you would not know it by watching him play, at least not when he is fresh.
Ingram’s best statistical seasons came as an outside linebacker when the Chargers were running a 3-4. From 2015 to 2017 he averaged 47 tackles, 14 assists, and 9.5 sacks in that scheme. With his stature, playing the edge in a 3-4 was the best schematic fit for Ingram because it allowed him to use speed and quickness to beat the bigger offensive tackles by keeping some space and engaging less physically.
Playing defensive end in a 4-3 alignment requires a little different approach since battling with offensive tackles at close range generally requires more energy than running around them. Even with the size disadvantage, Ingram is physical and effective enough to win those close-quarters battles, but they seem to eventually take a larger toll.
When the Chargers went back to a 4-3 in 2018, it did not seem to make a difference to Ingram. His tackle totals were down a bit from the start but through nine games he had five and a half sacks, a pair of turnovers, and three batted passes. Then he suddenly vanished. Over the next three games, Ingram totaled two tackles and one assist. He picked up a sack and a half in week 15 but otherwise did virtually nothing over the final seven games, finishing the season at 28-15-7 with 3 turnovers and 3 batted passes.
Fast forward to 2019 when Ingram was 10-3-1 after three games, then missed four with injuries. Coming back with fresh legs in week eight, he went on a run that included 16 tackles, 2 assists, 4.5 sacks, a turnover, and 3 batted passes in four games. He then abruptly vanished again. It was not as bad as the previous season in that Ingram was still showing up some in the tackle columns, but he had a sack and a half over the final five games.
Ingram is capable of 40 solo tackles and double-digit sacks but his tendency to wear down late in the season when we need him is a concern. To his credit, Ingram’s average of 10.81 points per game ranked seventh in 2019, right behind Bosa at 10.91, but I have to wonder if Ingram’s average would have been so high had he not gotten some time off with the injury?
Bosa and Ingram were not the problem for Los Angeles last season, but they got little production from an interior defensive line group that recorded 61 tackles and three sacks between them. For anyone looking hard for the silver lining here, last year’s first-round pick, Jerry Tillery, accounted for two of them.
For a player taken so high, Tillery played surprisingly little as a rookie, logging the fourth-most snaps among the team’s interior linemen. He should see a lot more action in year two and is an early favorite to start next to free-agent addition Linval Joseph. With Joseph working at nose tackle, Tillery is in line to play the generally more productive three-technique spot. That is where he played at Notre Dame where he totaled 85 combined tackles, 12.5 sacks, and forced 4 fumbles over his final two seasons. Tillery has a lot of upside and is a breakout candidate that managers in tackle required leagues should keep a close eye on.
Most NFL fans will not recognize the impact of signing Linval Joseph. He does not put up big sack totals or show up in highlight videos, but the guy is a difference-maker. Joseph is one of the best nose tackles in today’s game. At 329 pounds he is big, powerful, and tough to move versus the run. He commands double teams regularly which takes the pressure off those around him, gets off blocks easily to make tackles, and can push the pocket into the quarterback’s lap on passing downs.
From an IDP perspective, Joseph is one of the best, most dependable options available if you start interior linemen. From 2011 through 2018, Joseph has five top-10 finishes. He has been as high as second and has been among the top three twice in the past four years. Joseph finished at 21 last season, only because he missed three games. Even then his per-game average ranked 16th, which was equal to Joseph’s lowest ranking since his injury-shortened rookie campaign in 2010. The only concern here is that Joseph comes to a team that has seen little statistical production from their interior line over the last few years. For that reason, I would drop him to the bottom half of the DT1 list, but it seems more likely he will break the Chargers trend than the team breaking his.
The Chargers have good experienced depth along the defensive line. Isaac Rochell is the third end. He is not a great pass rush threat but is a dependable run defender who had five sacks in 2018. Justin Jones was a starter at tackle last season and will be in the mix for considerable action again. If Tillery steps up as expected, Jones should be the third man, though he will have to hold off veteran Damion Square for the job.
- DE Joey Bosa – Elite tier DL1
- DE Melvin Ingram III – Solid DL2 but trade him in November
- DE Isaac Rochell – Injury sleeper with marginal upside
- DT Linval Joseph – Quality DT1 with top-five potential
- DT Justin Jones – No impact expected
- DT Jerry Tillery – Potential breakout player, target as DT3 with high upside
- DT Damion Square – No impact
- DT Cortez Broughton – No impact
In recent years, the Chargers linebacker position has been a patchwork of free-agent bandaids, mid to late-round draft picks, and injury-prone marginal and/or declining veterans. 2019 was not an exception. When the Chargers picked Denzel Perryman in round two back in 2015, they thought he would be the centerpiece of the defense for a decade. Heading into his sixth year as a pro, Perryman has never played more than 484 snaps in a season, never played in more than 13 games in a season, has never played every snap in any game over his career, and has missed 26 of a possible 80 games. Perryman looked good as a rookie in 2015, at least until the injuries started. Since that time he has, for the most part, been relegated to a two-down role at middle linebacker when healthy.
Last season the team signed 36-year-old Thomas Davis who could still play but was high mileage and not the same player he had been earlier in his career. He played more than twice as many snaps as any other Chargers linebacker and led the team with 66 tackles and 44 assists, but one sack was his lone big play contribution. Yes, there was a reason Carolina did not re-sign him.
The organization though 2018 fourth-round pick Kyzir White might be the answer at weakside linebacker. He started the first three games there as a rookie before being lost to injury for the season. He started the first two games there is 2019 but struggled and had his role reduced, seeing no more than 47% of the snaps in any game after week five.
Jatavis Brown made a lot of plays for the Chargers over his first three seasons with the team. He had 64 tackles, 13 assists, 3.5 sacks, 2 turnovers, and 6 pass breakups in 12 games as a rookie but was never given an opportunity to start except as an injury replacement after that. When he got on the field, he continued to make plays in 2017 and 2018. Despite the team’s struggles at the position, Brown played just 94 snaps in 2019 and escaped to Philadelphia in the offseason.
The Chargers' most impressive player at linebacker last season was then-rookie fourth-round pick Drue Tranquil. He did not get on the field at all until week four, and only played more than half the defensive snaps in five games all season, but in the end, Tranquil had piled up an impressive 61 tackles and 15 assists on a mere 382 plays. At that rate, if Tranquil had played all 984 snaps for the defense, he would have had 156 tackles and 39 assists. He made no splash-play contributions as a rookie but Tranquill’s career at Notre Dame tells us he is capable. As a three-year starter for the Fighting Irish, he totaled five and a half sacks, three interceptions, a forced fumble, and five recoveries to go along with 292 combined tackles.
Both Davis and Brown are gone. The team added Nick Vigil as a free-agent then drafted Kenneth Murray in the first round, so maybe something will change here. After the way they handled Brown though, it is hard to say what we should expect.
The big questions are, who will start, where will players line up, and will anyone play full time? Nothing is written in stone here and the Chargers have made a lot of eyebrow raizing decisions in the past, but after taking Murray with the 23rd overall pick, it is a fairly safe bet he will start somewhere and a reasonable chance he will play every down.
From a skillset perspective, Murray is a blazingly fast, down-hill thumper with sideline to sideline range against the run. He is a good athlete with decent cover skills but remains a bit raw in that aspect because he was not asked to play many different coverages at Oklahoma. Murray is smart and was a team captain for the Sooners in 2019 so check the box for leadership. We can check the box for production as well, at least most of them. Over his final 27 games at Oklahoma, Murray racked up 255 combined tackles and 9.5 sacks but accounted for only 3 turnovers and 6 passes defended. He has the potential to be as IDP friendly as any linebacker in his draft class, but until we see Murray on the field in passing situations, there is some concern. The last thing we need is another Perryman.
For a team that forced the fewest turnovers in the league last season, you would think the Chargers would look to add playmakers. Murry is a tackling machine but has a short history of big plays. Nick Vigil is another guy that can defend the run and put a lick on a ball carrier but does not make many splash-plays. He broke from that trend a little bit last season with a sack and four turnovers, but Vigil had a sack and two turnovers combined in his first two seasons as a starter for Cincinnati. He has average speed but is a tough physical run defender with above-average coverage skills. Vigil stayed on the field in sub-package situations over his final two years as a starter for the Bengals.
So who and how will the Chargers line up for week one? Vigil should start on the strong side which is where he played all four years in Cincinnati. Murray projects to play in the middle though he could get a look on the weak side, and I see Tranquill as the best option on the weak side, though he can play in the middle as well. Thomas Davis was the closest thing Los Angeles had to a three-down linebacker last season but even he played more than 83% of the snaps just six times, so the fear is, former safety Kyzir White coming on as a nickel linebacker and pairing with someone. That someone should be Murray, but with this coaching staff, anything can happen. It could end up being third safety, Roderick Teamer.
- MLB Kenneth Murray – High upside rookie if he plays full time
- SLB Nick Vigil – LB3 ceiling with LB5 floor
- WLB/MLB Drue Tranquill – Sleeper with high LB3 or better upside
- WLB Kyzir White – No impact expected
- MLB Denzel Perryman – Possibly the odd-man-out
- SLB/DE Uchenna Nwosu – More of an extra pass rusher than a true linebacker
- OLB Emeke Egbule – Special teams contributor
The secondary is less difficult to figure out but has its share of uncertainties as well. There is no grey area with Derwin James, however. He is arguably the most versatile and talented safety in today’s game. James can play anywhere on the field and does so regularly. He has the speed and cover skills to play deep safety and the size and physical nature to be a linebacker. James can cover a slot receiver down the field on one play and sack the quarterback off the edge on the next. He is the perfect answer for tight ends like Travis Kelce who are difficult for most defenders to match up with.
James was the number four defensive back as a rookie in 2018. His 76 tackles ranked eighth while he added 30 assists, 3.5 sacks, 3 interceptions, and 13 passes defended to make up the rest of his11.65 points per game. James missed the first 11 games last season while recovering from a stress fracture in his foot. He got back on the field in week 13 but was never 100%. He is healthy entering 2020 and is a prime candidate for the top ranking among defensive backs.
At 6’2” 220 pounds, Rayshawn Jenkins is a super-sized free safety and possibly the biggest starter in the league at the position. Despite the size, he is not the most physical of players but has the range and cover skills to be the Chargers safety net. Because he generally lines up well off the ball in a catch-all position, Jenkins is not much of an IDP option. He was on the field for 977 of the team’s 984 defensive snaps in 2019 but recorded just 34 tackles and 19 assists. Jenkins did manage to lead the team with three interceptions but that was not enough to make up for the weak tackle totals. His role should remain the same in 2020 though last year’s second-round pick Nasir Adderly could challenge for the job.
Roderic Teamer filled in admirably for six games while both James and Adrian Phillips we out last year, but was eventually replaced by Jaylin Watkins for three games before James returned. With Watkins moving on, Teamer stands to be the backup to James, but he will first have to serve a four-game suspension. Watkins replaced Teamer so the Chargers could get better coverage on the field, but if the team is looking for a big nickel safety that can play in the box, Teamer could be their man starting in week five.
Chargers' corners did not do much in the box scores last season. Desmon King led the group with 40 solo tackles while Casey Hayward and Michael Davis each intercepted a pair of passes. Hayward and Davis project as starters with King and free-agent addition Chris Harris Jr competing for nickel duties. There is no elite shut-down corner in this group and not much box score expectation, but the team has four quality veterans that can get the job done.
- SS Derwin James – Elite tier DB1 with potential to be number one
- FS/SS Rayshawn Jenkins – No impact expected
- SS Roderic Teamer – Injury sleeper after week four
- FS Nasir Adderley – Deep sleeper at best
- FS Alohi Gilman – Developmental rookie
- CB Casey Hayward – No impact expected
- CB Chris Harris – No impact expected
- CB Desmond King – No impact expected
- CB Michael Davis – No impact expected
- CB Brandon Facyson – No impact
That is going to do it for the AFC West; next up the NFC West.
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