Relevant IDP information has been hard to come by as we make our way through this strange leadup to week one. In a normal season, we would have two rounds of preseason games to provide a ton of revelations by now. This year we will not get those sneak-previews, so the aftermath of week one is going to be crazy. Meanwhile, here are some things IDP managers need to know.
Isaiah Simmons continues to concentrate on the inside linebacker position. What that means in terms of playing time between him and De’Vondre Campbell remains a mystery at this time. Both players have plenty of potential providing they are not handicapped by scheme or snap count. If you draft either of these guys, it might be a good idea to sit them for week one and see what this situation looks like.
The Cardinals lost nickel back Robert Alford to a torn pectoral. They are looking at some free agents and had B.W. Webb in for a workout, but there is a chance the coaching staff will use free safety Jalen Thompson in that role.
The Falcons signed former Bengals starter Darqueze Dennard on August ninth. He is expected to compete with rookie A.J. Terrell for the starting spot opposite Isaiah Oliver. Dennard started on the outside at times while with Cincinnati, but most of his playing time came as the third corner in sub-packages. Dennard has put up decent numbers at times and is worth keeping an eye on in corner required formats.
The Bills will be without defensive tackle Star Lotulelei who elected to take the opt-out path. It had been a while since he was relevant in IDP terms, but the next man up will be Vernon Butler who was 21-10-6 with 3 forced fumbles with Carolina after Kawann Short was injured early last season. Butler is a watch list guy for managers that must start interior linemen.
Early on there was some question about where Shaq Thompson would line up. That was answered when defensive coordinator Phil Snow said Tahir Whitehead would play in the middle, which means Thompson will line up on the weak-side. Thompson worked at inside linebacker in the Panthers 3-4 last year and put up strong numbers, despite working alongside Luke Kuechly. This situation should not change Thompson’s production all that much, but it does mean that Whitehead will be a factor since he will not be stuck in linebacker purgatory on the strong side. He is not much of a big-play threat but Whitehead should make a lot of tackles.
The Bears lost nose tackle Eddie Goldman to the opt-out movement then potential starting corner Artie Burns tore his ACL during the first week of practice. Neither of these guys is a serious IDP contributor, but Goldman had a little value in leagues requiring interior linemen. Bilal Nichols will move inside and likely start, but will probably share time with John Jankins.
The injury to Burns leaves veteran Buster Skrine and second-round pick Jaylon Johnson to compete for the starting job opposite Kyle Fuller. Skrine has worked as a slot corner for most of his career and I expect he will remain in that role unless the rookie struggles. Chicago likes cover-2 which is a plus, and playing opposite Fuller is another bonus to go along with the rookie corner rule should Johnson emerge with the job.
Trae Waynes has been injury-prone throughout his career so the Bengals should not have been surprised when he suffered what could be a season-ending pectoral injury before they even got started. There is a chance he could return late in the season but Waynes will be a non-factor for the most part. The loss leaves Cincinnati short-handed at the corner position. Mackenzie Alexander was expected to be the slot corner but will probably start now, leaving Leshaun Sims, Darius Phillips, and Torry McTyer to compete for playing time as the third corner. The way I see it, this situation makes it even more likely the Bengals will use a lot of three-safety looks with both Shawn Williams and Vonn Bell on the field.
When backup tackle Josh Tupou opted out, the Bengals added free agent Mike Daniels to fill the void. That move looks even better now that their other backup, Renell Wren, may miss the season with a quad injury. Daniels will be considered the third man in the tackle rotation but is a starter quality player in NFL terms. He had some fairly productive seasons with the Packers including a mark of 33-14-5 in 14 games in 2017.
We were already looking for confirmation about what the Browns would look like at linebacker. The one thing we did know was Mack Wilson would start somewhere. Now that he is expected to miss time, and possibly the season with a knee injury, we are once again completely in the dark. The fact that Cleveland had Malcolm Smith in for a workout is not a promising sign when it comes to the outlook on Wilson’s injury.
There are not a lot of options for the team at this point. Sione Takitaki, rookie Jacob Phillips, and journeyman B.J. Goodson are all but certain to be the top three options. It is just a matter of who lines up where and who stays on the field in sub-packages. Experience is in Goodson’s corner but I like what Takitaki showed in his limited opportunity last season.
In an interesting development, Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith have switched positions. This move makes a lot of sense when we consider their skill sets. Vander Esch is a natural middle linebacker who is fast enough to play on the weak side but is more at home between the tackles where he can use his 255 pounds as a downhill run defender. Smith is plenty big enough at 6’2”, 248 pounds, but is faster and more of a big-play threat. Getting him outside where he is not always accounted for in blocking schemes should allow more freedom to make those plays. The switch could move a handful of tackles from Smith to Vander Esch but Smith should make up for it with a few more splash-plays. Their relative IDP value does not change much.
The loss of Gerald McCoy to injury is going to hurt the Cowboys and it takes another solid DT2 out of the IDP equation as well. Veterans Tyrone Crawford and Antwaun Woods, and rookie Neville Gallimore will compete for playing time at the position with all three likely seeing time, but there is no one on the current roster that will replace McCoy’s IDP value.
Defensive end Aldon Smith has turned some heads early in camp and could be a significant factor on passing downs, but the signing of Everson Griffen will have a bigger fantasy impact. Griffen was 24-16-8 last year in what was generally a down year for him statistically. Over four seasons starting in 2014 he averaged 35-13-11. He is 32 years old which is not yet over the hill even in NFL terms and is looking to prove the Vikings wrong for not bringing him back. Griffen is a good fit for the scheme and may do just that. His presence is also a major plus for Demarcus Lawrence.
One other note of interest with Dallas; there is some talk about shifting corner Chidobe Awuzie to safety. He puts up decent tackle totals as a corner but has been lacking in the turnover columns since becoming a starter in 2018. Even so, a move to safety could equal significant IDP value for managers in corner required leagues since his position will not change with host sites.
There are a couple of injuries to keep an eye on in Denver. On August 20, linebackers Todd Davis and Von Miller both left practice with injuries. Davis is believed to have a calf issue while Miller hurt his elbow. As of Friday the 21st, there has been no update on either player but I wanted to get this out for those that are drafting this weekend.
Safety was a position the Colts looked to bolster entering the offseason. Even after picking Julian Blackmon in the third round, there were still rumblings about it being a position of need. Early on the projected starters were Malik Hooker at free safety and Khari Willis at strong. Now that the team has further addressed the position by signing Tavon Wilson, the pot has once again been stirred. Hooker still projects to start but the strong safety spot may be up for grabs. Willis looked good at times as a rookie but Wilson is a proven commodity both on the field and from an IDP perspective. He has starting experience from his time in Detroit and had been a solid IDP contributor in three of the last four seasons, including 2019 when he was 69-27-1 as a 12-game starter. If you already drafted Willis, I would advise keeping him on the bench until we get some clarification. If you have not yet drafted, it might be a good idea to avoid this situation altogether for now.
There were recent rumors about a trade being in place to move Yannick Ngakoue but it now looks like that is not the case. While the team remains open to re-signing him long term, nothing is imminent. As we close in on the opener, it is starting to look like there will be a holdout. If this happens, it will open the door for K’Lavon Chaisson to have a major role as a rookie.
With corner Rashaan Melvin electing to opt-out, the door is open for rookie C.J. Henderson to become an immediate starter. The rookie corner rule could be in play but wait and see if Henderson can shake the stigma that he doesn’t like to tackle.
Los Angeles Chargers
Melvin Ingram III held out for a while, looking for his 2020 salary to be guaranteed. He and the team have reached an agreement and he should be joining the team for practice in short order.
Los Angeles Rams
As players were going through physicals and medical checks before training camps opened, it was discovered that A’Shawn Robinson has some sort of medical issue that will cause him to miss some time. There has been no further disclosure other than a statement from the team that they expect him to play at some point this season.
Safety Taylor Rapp is dealing with a sore knee but it is not expected to linger. He should be ready for week one.
Las Vegas Raiders
There is no big news out of Raiders camp but there are a few interesting notes. Despite adding both Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski, Las Vegas still tried to sign Mychal Kendricks in mid-August. They have also revealed a plan to play rookie linebacker/safety tweener Tanner Muse, strictly at linebacker. This could mean less than a full-time role for Kwiatkoski if the coaches elect to put Muse on the field in sub-package situations.
Safety John Abram has been declared healthy and fully recovered from last year’s shoulder injury. He has had no restrictions during camp and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said Abram showed up in tremendous shape.
The team parted ways with P.J. Hall which makes more playing time for the three-man rotation of Johnathan Hankins, Malik Collins, and Maurice Hurst. Any of these three players could emerge as decent IDP options for managers in tackle required leagues.
I have no update on this but be aware that Jerome Baker left practice with a trainer in tow on Friday, August 21.
The Dolphins outside linebacker outlook got clearer by default when Vince Biegel was lost to a torn Achilles. Rookie Curtis Weaver should now join Kyle Van Noy in the starting lineup with Andrew Van Ginkel working as the third man in the rotation.
The Vikings took a hit when free-agent addition Michael Pierce elected to opt-out for the season. The team still has some good players at the position but they no longer have an obvious IDP target in the group. Shamar Stephen and Jaleel Johnson project as the starters but there could be several guys seeing time at those positions.
There had been some expectation that Minnesota would add some veterans at the corner position. It now looks as if they are content with starting first-round pick Jeff Gladney opposite Mike Hughes, and playing fellow rookie Cameron Dantzler as the third corner.
New England Patriots
This team took a beating at the hands of the opt-out clause. Two defensive starters took that path and both will be missed. The loss of Dont’a Hightower at an already thin linebacker position, and strong safety Patrick Chung, both point to a lot of opportunity for Adrian Phillips. Brandon Copeland, Shalique Calhoun, and rookie Anfernee Jennings are more the strong-side linebacker/edge defender types, leaving the team with Ja’Whaun Bentley as their only experienced player at either the middle or weak-side linebacker spots. That alone makes Bentley a sleeper target with good potential.
The current roster makeup also suggests that both Phillips and rookie safety Kyle Dugger are going to play a big part. Since Phillips worked as a nickel linebacker for much of the past three seasons with the Chargers, he is an obvious fit on a roster short of options. Since he is three-down ready, Phillips becomes a strong sleeper with a big upside. Dugger is the lead candidate to take over as the full-time strong safety. Chung has not been fantasy-friendly at that position for a long time, but without linebackers to soak up tackles, Dugger could fare much better.
New Orleans Saints
All through the offseason, we heard how Kiko Alonso was ahead of schedule on his recovery from knee surgery and would be in the mix for a starting spot this fall. The Saints still have a lot of long term expectations for Alonso but it looks as if they will have to wait. He opened camp on the PUP and the team added Nigel Bradham to the roster, suggesting it could be a while before Alonso is ready to contribute. The only safe IDP option here is Demario Davis though Bradham, Zach Baun, or Alex Anzalone could also emerge as decent LB3 options.
New York Jets
Let’s start with the trade that sent Jamal Adams to Seattle for Bradley McDougald and a bunch of picks. New York loses one of the best strong safeties in the game but also gets rid of a disgruntled player that would have been a locker room cancer. The picks will help down the road but they also got a solid starter in McDougald. He is not the same game changer or big-play threat but McDougald is a good player who should make a quality box score contribution as well.
C.J Mosley opted out and Avery Williamson is on the PUP as he recovers from last year’s knee injury. If you read my initial column this summer, you know I have been high on linebacker James Burgess Jr who was strong in the box scores last season and looked pretty darn good on the field from everything I saw as well. He outplayed and out produced Neville Hewitt over the final eight games yet Hewitt and last year’s fifth-round pick, Blake Cashman, were working with the first team even before Burgess tweaked his back this week. Cashman started six games last year and also looked pretty good before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. We saw enough of Hewitt to know he is not an IDP target, but if you are looking for a late/last round sleeper with good potential, slip Cashman onto the list. If you already have Burgess on your roster, I would sit tight until after week one and see what happens.
Things change fast in the NFL. Jatavis Brown finally escaped from the Chargers and had a chance to earn a starting job, but instead, he elected to retire unexpectedly. This is yet another of the many situations that a pre-season game or two would have helped greatly with. As it stands now we have no way to confirm what the Philadelphia linebackers will look like in week one. That said, I am quickly warming to the prospect of T.J. Edwards starting in the middle with Duke Riley at one outside spot and either Nate Gerry or rookie Davion Taylor at the other. If you decide to roster any of these guys, keep them on your bench until we get a look in week one.
San Francisco 49ers
Early in the offseason, it was expected that Dre Greenlaw would take over as the three-down weakside linebacker with Kwon Alexander vanquished to a lesser role on the strong side. Greenlaw was impressive last season so it was somewhat of a surprise when head coach Kyle Shanahan told us in mid-August that Alexander is on track to start on the weakside. I am reluctant to put too much expectation on either of these guys at this point, but whoever plays next to Fred Warner in nickel packages is going to have good IDP value.
Similar to the apparent switcheroo in San Francisco, the Seahawks told us shortly after the draft that first-round pick Jordyn Brooks would play on the weak side with K.J. Wright likely moving to strong. On August 17th Pete Carroll confirmed that Wright would indeed remain on the weak side for now. That means Brooks is a taxi squad candidate for now. As long as Wright can hold onto a three-down role on the weak side, he will continue to be a solid LB3.
The trade for Jamal Adams is big news for fans of the Jets and Seahawks, but it should not have much effect on the production of either player involved.
Washington Football Team
Washington has not yet given us a depth chart to ponder so there is no real word on what we can expect at their linebacker positions. In fact, the situation got even foggier when Reuben Foster was activated from the PUP on August ninth. Foster may be best suited for the weak side but is more than capable of playing in the middle. He could be a big fantasy surprise if he can stay healthy and out of the commissioner's dog-house.
The next time you hear from me will probably be the leadup to week one. Between now and then, best of luck on making all the right personnel decisions.