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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, roughly a quarter of the NFL's teams hire new defensive coordinators.
Reading the New Defense: Philadelphia Eagles addressed 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 fourth 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 most recent edition of this series covered the Dolphins and their new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. The two prior pieces contemplated former Fangio assistants' impacts in Philadelphia and Carolina. The Vikings fired another former Fangio assistant and replaced him with Brian Flores for 2023.
Flores' last stop was Pittsburgh as an assistant. Previously, he rebuilt Miami's defense from 2019 to 2021 as head coach. The 2022 Dolphins ran a version of his defense after his departure.
Flores will bring his hallmarks of aggressiveness and hybrid fronts to Minnesota. His blitzing and man coverage will starkly contrast with Ed Donatell's conservative defense last year. Flores' 2021 Dolphins blitzed at more than twice the rate of Donatell's 2022 Vikings. Donatell often sat back in zone coverage, while Flores prefers man-to-man coverage. Donatell was criticized for his conservatism in coverage, but he seemed to think it necessary to support weaknesses in his secondary. As a result of these soft coverage shells, Pro Football Focus' season-long grade for cornerback Cameron Dantzler hovered around 70 when he was benched. In contrast, Flores leans on single-high coverages, often with seven players in the box.
Brian Flores' defense is yet another covered in this series based on 3-4 architecture. Matt Fries of ZoneCoverage.com covers the scheme in his four-part series. K.T. Smith of SB Nation contemplated Flores' varied fronts before his arrival in Pittsburgh.
Vikings Interior Defenders
Fries considers Minnesota defenders' fits in Flores' defense in his first installment. Fries, based in the upper Midwest, might be more optimistic than this writer. He envisions Khyiris Tonga as a starter. The sharp shift in philosophy and weak roster likely means the new defensive coordinator won't be able to fully install his scheme in 2023.
The snap leader among interior defensive linemen should be Harrison Phillips, whom the Vikings signed away from Buffalo in free agency in Spring 2022. He's never emerged as an impact pass-rusher, but his run defense should lead to a productive season in a scheme that vaulted Miami's Christian Wilkins toward the top of fantasy rankings. Phillips is a sleeper for gamers, starting two interior defenders each week. On platforms using conventional positional designations, however, Phillips might be classified as a defensive end.
The linebacker tag slapped on the one-time top-scoring fantasy defensive end in football should remain in place for outside linebacker Danielle Hunter for the second consecutive year. Former Saints defensive end Marcus Davenport will join Hunter in the position group. He could lose the valuable ‘DE' tag on platforms using conventional position designations.
Both players underwhelmed in 2022. Davenport's fall from grace in New Orleans and tumble down fantasy ranks is well documented. The drop-off from 9.0 to 0.5 quarterback sacks year over year is hard to ignore.
Hunter's total of 10.5 sacks masked an inauspicious season by his standards. He recorded an unremarkable pass-rush win rate despite rarely facing double teams in 2022.
Davenport will face fewer double teams in 2023 than he did in the Saints' more conservative 4-3 defense. Flores' frequent blitzing should support his impressive conversion of speed to power.
Building Out Coverages
Brian Flores deploys safeties that can hit and cover, especially man-to-man. His linebackers must be able to turn and run with running backs or get upfield as rushers. His cornerbacks need ice water in their veins. Fries' third installment covers Flores' coverages at length.
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