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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.
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 seventh 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 first six are as follows:
Change Is Relative.
For the second time in franchise history, the Denver Broncos have hired a defensive coordinator whom they previously fired from the head coaching post. Vance Joseph led the Broncos in 2017 and 2018 after a single season coordinating the Dolphins' defense. He spent the last four seasons coordinating the Cardinals' defense.
National football media believe they have Vance Joseph pegged. They predict drastic changes for the Broncos' defense from 2022 to 2023. Even former Chicago defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano struggles to imagine how the Broncos' defenders will adjust to the Joseph defense he competed against in 2019 and 2020. Pagano then relays his experience incorporating concepts from his predecessor Vic Fangio into his own defense with the help of position coaches that stayed on.
Ejiro Evero, a former Fangio assistant whose defense was covered earlier in this series, runs a defense built on 3-4 architecture. So does Vance Joseph.
The Broncos blitzed 219 times in 2022, much more often than national football media seems to realize. The Cardinals blitzed 225 times under Vance Joseph. The Cardinals and Broncos ranked third and fourth in the NFL in number of blitzes last year.
As a former assistant to Vic Fangio, Evero is associated with complex zone coverages with two high safeties. Through Week 12 of 2022, the last time Pro Football Focus published such data, the Broncos played man coverage just 21.5 percent of the time, the 27th most frequently. Vance Joseph's Cardinals were playing man coverage 21.6 percent of the time, 25th in the league. The Broncos and Cardinals played Cover-3, a middle-of-the-field closed coverage with one high safety, and middle-of-the-field open coverages at very similar rates in 2022.
The Broncos drafted three defenders last April: linebacker Drew Sanders at 67 and defensive backs Riley Moss and JL Skinner at 83 and 183, respectively. Sanders is a more athletic version of the linebackers already on the roster. Moss is a corner/safety tweener who profiles as a zone coverage specialist. Skinner is aspirationally a safety/linebacker hybrid in the mold of Isaiah Simmons, whom Vance Joseph developed in Arizona.
In free agency, the Broncos re-upped leading tackler linebacker Alex Singleton on a three-year deal and brought in defensive lineman Zach Allen. Joseph helped draft and develop Allen in Arizona. He's a one-for-one replacement for outgoing free agent Dre'Mont Jones. The two players had similar pass-rush win rates and double team rates as 3-4 defensive ends. Evero and Joseph each sought to isolate his top interior pass rusher against offensive linemen.
Double team rate at defensive tackle (x) by pass rush win rate at defensive tackle (y) for the 2022 NFL season.— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) January 13, 2023
(ESPN / NFL Next Gen Stats) pic.twitter.com/wXJS0c5CdV
The Broncos have brought back two of Evero's assistants, defensive line coach Marcus Dixon and defensive backs coach Christian Parker. Just as Chuck Pagano learned from former Fangio assistants, Joseph will learn from Evero's.
Vance Joseph has demonstrated adaptability to his personnel. His 2016 Dolphins featured Ndomakong Suh and Cameron Wake. They blitzed much less often than his recent vintage Cardinals. Joseph's 2023 Denver defense won't likely differ from the 2022 version as drastically as the talking heads presume.
Denver has league-average talent along its line that will feel like an embarrassment of riches to Vance Joseph after his experience in Arizona. He could easily outperform the Cardinals' 22.5-percent pressure rate ranked 12th in the league last year, as well as the Broncos' 18.5-percent pressure rate.
Broncos Interior Defenders
Zach Allen broke out midway through the 2021 season and proved his success was no fluke in 2022. He duplicated former Bronco Dre'Mont Jones's 47 combined tackles. Allen's 5.5 quarterback sacks were one short of the man he'll replace in 2023.
Randy Gregory and Frank Clark comprise the most enigmatic duo of starting edge rushers in the NFL for 2023. Gregory is ideally positioned to succeed as Joseph's starting weakside pass rusher. Markus Golden had a resurgent season in 2021, collecting 11.0 sacks the last time Joseph's defense was clicking.
Former off-ball linebacker Baron Browning, a project of the prior regime, showed upside after switching to a pass-rushing outside linebacker role in 2022. Unfortunately, he's recovering from off-season surgery and is at risk of missing the season opener.
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