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Footballguy Sigmund Bloom often opines that there is no longer an information advantage in fantasy football. Increased media coverage of the NFL scouting combine, breaking news on social media, and advanced analytics are all equalizers in fantasy football competition.
Coverage of skill-position players is a daily exercise. NFL defenses, however, do not enjoy the same limelight. Offense is to the big city what defense is to the small town. News of defenders travels more slowly and is less sensationalized. Complex data for analysis are harder to come by. IDP fantasy gamers find themselves unaware of important changes to player values hiding in plain sight.
Fantasy gamers drafted perennial DB1 Jordan Poyer with confidence last summer, only to be disappointed. He played deep too often to compile tackles. A year ago, Josey Jewell, Jordan Hicks, and Frankie Luvu were afterthoughts at best. Each finished among fantasy football's top 24 linebackers.
Clues foreshadowing these revelations exist. This series interprets changes in rosters, player contracts, personnel groupings at organized team activities (OTAs), and insights new coordinators will offer into defensive philosophy. The goal is to read a new defense and anticipate fluctuations in IDP fantasy values.
Bloom also speaks of talent, situation, and opportunity as the three legs of a tripod that supports fantasy value. Defensive scheme changes can be so impactful to fantasy value that they constitute a fourth leg. Each season, a quarter to a third of the NFL's teams hire new defensive coordinators.
Reading the New Defense: Philadelphia Eagles addressed the impact of the change in nomenclature from "4-3" to "3-4." Some fantasy football leagues operate on sites that rely on team depth charts for position designations. Such leagues experience drastic shifts in player values based on team nomenclature while the duties of affected players change subtly, if at all. Footballguy Gary Davenport investigates position redesignation in his piece, The Effect of True Position on IDP.
This article is the fifth in a series examining the effects on defenders' fantasy values portended by new defensive schemes. Each piece further contemplates personnel moves and comments about them from the coaching staff and front office.
The Browns' 4-3 defense is the first of its type covered in the series. Jim Schwartz replaces Joe Woods and will retain his 4-3 nomenclature. Schwartz's scheme will nevertheless introduce schematic differences from Woods's approach that alter IDPs' outlook for 2023.
Like Ed Donatell, a topic in the fourth edition of this series, Joe Woods was criticized for being too conservative last year. Jim Schwartz won't blitz appreciably more often than Woods, but he will order up more press-man coverage and fewer soft zones. The Browns' recent first-round picks at cornerback will be asked to deny receivers the football.
Cleveland offers Schwartz his fourth opportunity to coordinate a defense. He was also the Lions' head coach from 2009 to 2013 and, most recently, an assistant for the Titans. He helped build the reputation of the Eagles' defensive line as the most feared in the league, which included a Super Bowl victory.
The 2022 Browns' defensive line was the team's weak link if Deshaun Watson's anemic play can be overlooked. Joe Woods was criticized for failing to solve the frequent double teams faced by All-Pro end Myles Garrett.
Schwartz will rely on spacing and stunts to attack opposing offenses. Stunts lived on in Philadelphia after Schwartz's departure, where they have been particularly effective. The Cowboys have used stunts as much as any NFL team and have reaped some of the highest rates of quarterback pressures and sacks over the past two seasons.
Browns Interior Defenders
To become more stout at the point of attack, Cleveland signed unrestricted free-agent tackle Dalvin Tomlinson. Elliott will have another chance to grow into his upside, but sophomore Perrion Winfrey will have more opportunities to show what he can do in 2023.
Schwartz can use a disruptive interior presence to pressure the quarterback a la Fletcher Cox. Elliott or Winfrey would need a huge step forward to emerge as a fantasy presence, but the opportunity for a deep sleeper is there.
The Browns made further investments in their defensive line by signing Ogbo Okoronkwo and trading for Za'Darius Smith. Okoronkwo's resume screams rotational journeyman, but he finally earned a consistent starting role down the stretch in 2022 and flashed starter's ability.
Okoronkwo's chances to sustain his impact in Cleveland might depend on how much Smith has left in the tank. After missing almost all of 2021, Smith looked like his dominant self at first. The 31-year-old had 9.5 of his 10.0 quarterback sacks in the first half of the season.
Smith made an impact as an interior rusher in NASCAR packages earlier in his career as a Packer. Jim Schwartz should experiment with all three edges on the field in obvious passing situations to offset Cleveland's weakness at defensive tackle.
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