With no preseason games to scout and teams getting ready for the season behind drawn curtains without press coverage, week one is going to be an adventure. It would be great if we could give you the kind of insight everyone is used to leading up to week one, but the truth is, we are largely in the dark with everyone else. Heck, many teams had not even updated the depth charts on their websites as of Tuesday morning September eighth.
Week two is going to be hectic, with a ton of surprise players staring at us from the waiver wire and a lot of disappointment from guys we had high expectations for. Right now, however, all we can do in most instances is to identify the important situations to key on in round one of the 2020 season.
The main question with Arizona is Isaiah Simmons and how they will use him. Most of us anticipate he will play every down but where he lines up not only remains a mystery but could change on a play to play basis. That leads us to question number two, how does DeVondre Campbell fit and will he have a full-time role?
Less important things we will be watching when the Cardinals take the field: can Jordan Phillips be an IDP factor as a 3-4 defensive end after his big season as a 4-3 tackle in 2019 and who will start at safety next to Budda Baker.
There are a few interesting storylines in Atlanta to keep an eye on. Will Deion Jones rebound? Can Keanu Neal make it through an NFL game without a major injury? Will rookie tackle Marlon Davidson make an immediate impact? All those situations have significant fantasy importance but the player I will be looking for here is rookie linebacker, Mychal Walker.
De’Vondre Campbell led the team in tackles, takeaways, and IDP value in 2019 but he is gone. The three options Atlanta had entering training camp were Walker, free-agent addition Deone Bucannon, or an expanded role of Foye Oluokon. Oluokon was the starting strong-side linebacker last season and is expected to retain the same role at the least. He is not known for great coverage ability but Oluokon and Jones are the starting linebackers on the team’s initial depth chart.
Bucannon has not held a starting job in the league since 2017 and has not made an IDP impact since 2015, but does have significant starting experience. He is currently third on the depth chart behind Oluokon and Walker.
The little bit of news trickling out of Falcons camp suggests Walker has been impressive. He would seem to have the right skill set to pick up right where Campbell left off if he can get on the field.
Keep an eye on Damontae Kazee in week one as well. He has been rather productive in the past, mostly as a replacement for Keanu Neal, but The Falcons are showing him as one of three starting safeties on their initial depth chart.
Last year the Ravens gave us no full-time inside linebackers. This year they potentially have two. We all assume Patrick Queen will be one, but even that is not written in stone. Malik Harrison is also a candidate. Both were three-down guys for their respective college teams but the last time Baltimore had two inside backers that stayed on the field in sub-packages was 2016 when C.J. Mosley and Zach Orr roamed the middle. Interestingly, the Ravens show Queen and L.J. Fort as their starting inside backers with Harrison third behind both Fort and Chris Board. While that should change quickly, unless you are in a situation that requires starting Queen, it might be a good idea to keep all these players on the bench in week one.
There is also some interest in what the Ravens will do at safety after showing Earl Thomas the door. It is a safe bet that Chuck Clark will start at strong safety with DeShon Elliot or Anthony Levine Sr at free. Regardless of who takes the field, there has not been a fantasy-friendly safety in Baltimore in a long time, and that is unlikely to change.
A new coaching staff, a different defensive scheme, and a big infusion of rookie talent mean we can throw out everything the Panthers did last season and start over. We have heard enough from the team to know that Tahir Whitehead will play in the middle and Shaq Thompson on the outside. We can also feel confident that Jeremy Chinn will start somewhere, but the Panthers' initial depth chart is interesting in that aspect. They will line up with right and left outside linebackers as opposed to strong and weak like most teams. Thompson is listed as the left OLB with Chinn and Jermaine Carter showing as co-starters at the right OLB (weak side most of the time). The depth chart shows Justin Burris and Tre Boston as the starting safeties. This could be a very interesting development and is certainly something we will be looking at on Sunday.
What we can’t say for certain is how any of these guys will produce in the box scores. Thompson had a breakout year in 2019, Chinn may or may not be replacing the fantasy game’s number one defensive back from last year (Eric Reid), and Whitehead steps in where Luke Kuechly would normally play. Thompson, Reid, and Kuechly all put up big numbers but much will be different in Carolina this time around.
One player to watch as a potential pickup is Brian Burns. In the past, he has been viewed as a flyweight edge rush specialist who would not see much action in base packages. The word out of Panthers camp is that Burns has put on about 15 pounds of muscle and has worked hard on improving as a run defender. If he can work his way onto the field on early-downs as well, he could emerge as a solid fantasy option.
Three other rookies to keep an eye on are corner Troy Pride Jr Jr., defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos, and tackle Derrick Brown. All three are listed as starters and have the potential to be fantasy productive in leagues that break out the defensive line and secondary positions. The path to a starting spot for Pride was cleared when the team placed Eli Apple on IR.
The Bengals give us a ton of IDP potential and a good amount of uncertainty to go with it. They have provided no insight into how they plan to use their three starting level safeties, or who will line up where at the linebacker positions. It is a fairly safe bet that Jesse Bates and Germaine Pratt with start at free safety and weakside linebacker respectively. It is also a safe bet that Logan Wilson will eventually start at middle linebacker, but that is far from a sure thing for week one with veteran Josh Bynes being a solid option. It would be a good idea to sit Wilson, Shawn Williams, and Vonn Bell until we get a look.
There has not been a snap played but the Browns already have injury issues. Corner Greedy Williams is unlikely to be available against Baltimore, linebacker Mack Wilson is expected to miss a few games, and strong safety Grant Delpit will miss his rookie season with a ruptured Achilles.
Sione Takitaki, B.J. Goodson, and rookie Jacob Phillips were already competing for playing time at linebacker. With Wilson missing time, all three should have a role right out of the gate. The question is, who will play enough to provide IDP value? Based on his play at the end of last season, Takitaki is the guy I have been targeting, but this one could go anywhere. The team’s initial depth chart has Goodson in the middle with Wilson on the weakside, Takitaki strong, and Phillips backing up Wilson. It would be nice to know how the playing time will break down since the Ravens project to be an outstanding matchup. At this point, starting any of these guys is a big risk.
The Browns made a move to replace Delpit, trading for Ronnie Harrison. Harrison is a physical, in the box strong safety that was far from the first guy that came to mind as a potential replacement when Delpit was injured. Harrison has a different skillset but considering the situation at linebacker, he might be just what the Browns need at strong safety for this year. His production level remains a question in the new setting, but at least Harrison should start and play full-time once he is settled in.
That leads us to another head-scratching issue. On the team’s initial depth chart, Karl Joseph is the strong safety, Andrew Sendejo the free safety, and Harrison is behind Joseph. This brings into focus the fact that these depth charts listed on team websites are not official and are often put together by front office public relations people. I have a really hard time swallowing anything that suggests Sendejo as a free safety, but we will see.
The Cowboys dropped a bomb with the unexpected release of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. There was initially some speculation that the move was to make room for Earl Thomas, but so far that has not proven to be the case. As we head into week one, it looks as if Darian Thompson will get the start at strong safety. Thompson was relatively productive for the Cowboys last year, going 23-22-1.5 with a forced fumble in five starts, and is a potential pick-up target.
There has also been some discussion about shifting Chidobe Awuzie to safety but that may have been put on hold when he suffered a minor knee injury in the middle of training camp.
The release of Todd Davis came as a surprise but maybe it shouldn’t have. He was a solid yet unspectacular player for the Broncos when healthy and struggled to stay on the field at times. After dealing with a calf injury during camp, the team elected to move on. This is a good sign for the IDP value of A.J. Johnson, who should step into the lead role going forward.
The question is, who will replace Davis? We will not have an answer until the Broncos take the field for week one, but Josey Jewell shows up as the starter on the first depth chart. The coaching staff has seen enough of Jewell to realize he is not the player they want to rely on for the long term. He is a solid run defender but was not able to capitalize on his previous opportunity.
Since he just recently joined the team, Mark Barron may not be ready to jump into the lineup yet but he could open the season as a sub-package substitute for Jewell. Unless Jewell improves over his previous stint in the lineup, it may be a matter of time before Barron claims the job. Barron has been a starter at all three of his previous stops. The former college safety can play all three downs and has been a fantasy factor throughout his eight seasons as a pro. Denver played both Davis and Johnson in most sub-package situations last year, and both turned in good numbers. It is reasonable to expect Johnson and Barron to continue the trend at some point.
The team also traded for Austin Calitro who has shown some promise in recent years but is joining his fourth team in three seasons for a reason.
The Lions situation at linebacker is somewhat in question, but at least we can safely count on Jamie Collins Sr to have nearly a full-time role. The situation to watch here is at strong safety. Tavon Wilson put up good numbers at the position last season but was not brought back. Last year’s third-round pick, Will Harris has shown signs of being just as productive as Wilson but free-agent addition Duron Harmon tops the team’s depth chart at the position. For the past several seasons, most of them when Matt Patricia was the defensive coordinator, Harmon was the third safety in New England and never amounted to much in IDP terms. With a starting role, he could be among the week one surprises.
Middle linebacker and strong safety are positions of interest in Indianapolis. We can safely assume that both Anthony Walker and Bobby Okereke will have significant roles as base package starters. What we need to see is if Okereke has taken over as a three-down player along with Darius Leonard. The team’s initial depth chart shows Walker still playing in the middle and Okereke on the strong side, but it does not tell us who stays on the field for passing situations. The possibility of Walker and Okereke swapping positions has been discussed since the beginning of last season and is borderline expected by many to eventually happen. If/when it does, Okereke has the potential to be a strong LB2. He could be productive even as a strong-side linebacker if he can land the sub-package duties.
When the Colts entered the offseason, Khari Willis was penciled in as the starting strong safety. As a rookie, he showed good potential while replacing the oft-injured Clayton Geathers. That was not enough to keep the team from addressing the safety positions though. They used a third-round pick on free safety Julian Blackmon who could eventually push Malik Hooker at free safety, then signed former Lions starter Tavon Wilson who may push Willis at strong safety. Wilson signed with the team on August 11 and is currently listed behind Willis on the depth chart. That could change quickly if things don’t go well for Willis. Whoever holds this job is going to have some IDP value.
Kenny Moore II has been a highly productive starter for those in corner required leagues over the last couple of seasons. Before counting on him in week one, be aware that he is expected to have a reduced role as the nickel corner.
The Jaguars have jettisoned a lot of good players which in turn, has created opportunities for others. With the trade of Ronnie Harrison to Cleveland, Josh Jones has been penciled in as the starting strong safety. Jones was not particularly productive in two seasons with the Packers but the former second-round pick gained a lot of experience there before being buried on the Cowboys depth chart last season. At 6’1” and 220 pounds, he is cast from the same mold as Harrison and could prove to be surprisingly productive.
The trade of Yannick Ngakoue to Minnesota would seem to open the door for Dawuane Smoot and rookie K’Lavon Chaisson at defensive end, but the team listed Adam Gotsis as the starter on their initial depth chart. Gotsis registered four sacks in four seasons as a defensive end in Denver’s 3-4, so chances are he will only be on the field in base packages. Unfortunately, that may be enough to keep either of the pass rushers from having significant value for a while.
Kansas City Chiefs
Willie Gay Jr was a target for many dynasty league managers this year. He is expected to give the Chiefs a quality three-down option at middle linebacker. Those expectations are still in place but it may take longer to get there than most of us anticipated. Gay is currently running with the second team, behind Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson.
Las Vegas Raiders
When the Raiders acquired Raekwon McMillan from Miami, it sparked a lot of discussion about who would start at middle linebacker and if the team had soured on Nick Kwiatkoski. This addition was more about depth than any other issue. The team’s initial depth chart has Cory Littleton on the weakside, Kwiatkoski in the middle, and Nicholas Morrow strong. All that remains to be confirmed is Kwaitkoski’s role in sub-packages.
With the release of Damarious Randall and Tanner Muse landing on IR, a lot of people are expecting Jeff Heath to get the call at one of the safety spots. The Raiders’ depth chart, however, shows Johnathan Abram at strong safety with Erik Harris at free and Lamarcus Joyner as the slot corner. Harris was fairly productive last season but he was lining up at strong safety then. We will have to see if he can produce useful numbers in the new role.
Los Angeles Chargers
There are still a lot of questions about the Chargers defense. Will Kenneth Murray have an every-down role right away? Did Drue Tranquil earn a starting job with his solid play last year and if so, does the former college safety have a role in sub-packages as well? How will the team compensate for the loss of Derwin James? Unfortunately, this is one of the teams that has been slow to put up their depth chart, so we get no help there. Even if it were up, we would still be in the dark on sub-package roles. That said, it would appear that last year’s second-round pick Nasir Adderley would be the next man up at strong safety.
Los Angeles Rams
The general consensus has Micah Kiser as the Rams lead linebacker on the inside, but as obvious a choice as that seems to be, it has not yet been confirmed. The Rams are also one of the teams that have not posted depth charts as of early Tuesday afternoon. Thus we are still left to guess who the other inside linebacker would be if everyone is correct about Kiser. Kenny Young and Troy Reeder would be the anticipated top-two candidates for that job.
Good things have been said about rookie safety Brandon Jones during training camp but nothing that confirmes him as an opening round starter. He is a high upside player in what could be an excellent situation if/when he wins the job. Starting him against New England would be a risk at this point but this is a player that should be rostered in most league formats.
The Dolphins linebacker positions remain unconfirmed as well. We know that Jerome Baker is a safe start for week one and it is almost always a plus to have someone facing a former team, so both Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts are also intriguing prospects. Van Noy is all but certain to have a near every-down role. He will probably be an edge defender in the team’s 3-4 but has the versatility to move anywhere when defensive coordinator Josh Boyer changes up the look. Roberts is more of a target to watch than a potential start this week.
For those looking to take advantage of the rookie corner rule, be aware that Holton Hill is currently listed as the starter opposite Mike Hughes, with rookies Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler as their backups.
New England Patriots
Can anyone be surprised that New England is among the teams that have not provided a depth chart? Despite all the attention this team is getting for their post-Brady debut, we still have no idea what they are going to look like at linebacker in the opener. Ja’Whaun Bentley is the only experienced inside linebacker on the roster, which makes him the favorite for a significant role, but there has been plenty of coachspeak about how well rookies Anfernee Jennings and Josh Uche have looked.
The only New England defender worthy of starting consideration for week one is safety Adrian Phillips and even he is well short of a sure thing.
New Orleans Saints
With Kiko Alonso on the shelf for the beginning of the season, the Saints’ decisions at linebacker became much less complicated. According to their posted depth chart, Demario Davis will shift over to the weakside with Alex Anzalone in the middle and Kaden Ellis (not Zack Baun surprisingly) on the strong side. If Anzalone stays on the field in passing situations, he could emerge as a decent fantasy option. Chances are high however, that he will give way to an extra safety (Chauncy Gardner-Johnson) in those situations.
The effort New Orleans put into their attempt to land Jadaveon Clowney was enough to make me wonder about their commitment to Marcus Davenport. Maybe that will fuel his fire and get him headed in the right direction after a couple of so-so years to start his career.
New York Giants
The Giants lost rookie safety Xavier McKinney to injury for what is going to be a good portion of the season, and have moved on from former starting corner Deandre Baker due to off-field issues. The team signed Logan Ryan to help fill the void. Ryan has been a corner since coming into the league but has the skillset and versatility that could make him a better fit at free safety, which is where the Giants plan to play him initially. Ryan is listed behind Julian Love on the team’s first depth chart but we can expect a move into the starting lineup before long. The only question is will he replace Love at safety or Corey Ballentine on the outside? Ryan was 73-39-4.5 with 7 takeaways and 18 passes defended as a corner for the Titans last season, so he has the potential to be a solid IDP option at either position.
The biggest surprise on the Giants’ first depth chart is at inside linebacker where, after the team traded Ryan Connelly, Devante Downs is the listed starter next to Blake Martinez. Downs has played sparingly in two seasons as a pro and has a career total of two tackles and two assists. Getting into the lineup is enough to put him on the watch list. We will have to see what Downs can do with the opportunity.
New York Jets
In mid-August, we learned that defensive end Derek Barnet was nursing a lower-body injury that was expected to keep him out for multiple weeks. The last mention of the injury came in a practice report on August 24th when he did not practice. If Barnett is not able to go when the season opens, keep a close eye on Josh Sweat who made a strong showing with four and a half sacks in a limited role last season.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers have not released a depth chart yet so we are still awaiting confirmation on where Kwon Alexander and Dre Greenlaw will line up. The last snippet of information we got on the subject suggested that Alexander was back at free safety. This is another week one situation to avoid unless we get some defining word before kickoff. One thing that might make both players relevant for the opener is that Fred Warner is currently on the COVID-IR list.
The Seahawks were looking to get some defensive help from their rookie class this year. While that could still happen, it will not come from defensive end Darrell Taylor who landed on IR ahead of final roster cuts. It is unclear if Taylor has a shot at returning later in the season.
The other rookie they were counting on is linebacker Jordyn Brooks. After initially being penciled in on the weakside, Brooks has been shifted over to strong for now. He can still contribute while he learns since the Seahawks like to keep three linebackers on the field more than virtually any other team, but it looks like IDP managers will have to wait for his value to come around.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The only mystery with the Buccaneers lineup revolves around the crowded safety positions. If the organization is telling the truth with their depth chart release, Antoine Winfield Jr Jr. will be a free safety and Jordan Whitehead at strong. Look for Winfield to move around a lot in sub-package settings with an additional safety (probably Mike Edwards) lining up deep.
It didn’t take long for Jadaveon Clowney to ascend to the starting job at outside linebacker. He has displaced Vic Beasley Jr who will now serve as the third man when someone needs a break.
Remember what Logan Ryan did as a corner for the Titans last season? Adoree’ Jackson now has that job. He is not going to match Ryan’s productivity, but Titans corners have a long history of quality production, so Jackson should be a solid starter in corner required formats.
Washington Football Team
Washington’s first depth chart is loaded with interesting notes. On the front line, Chase Young and Montez Sweat are the starters with Ryan Kerrigan and Ryan Anderson backing them up. Sweat went undrafted in a lot of leagues and is a prime candidate for early waivers if you can get him before they play.
At linebacker, Jon Bostic is in the middle with Kevin Pierre-Lewis on the left and Shaun Dion Hamilton on the right outside. My, what a difference a coaching change can make. Thomas Davis is listed behind Hamilton and Cole Holcomb behind Bostic. It will be a shock if Pierre-Lewis holds onto the job for long or has any fantasy impact. Hamilton, on the other hand, could be a waiver target, as could Bostic if he stays on the field in passing situations.
That does is for the lead up to week one. Buckle your chin straps, this is going to be a wild ride for at least the first few weeks.