We are just days away from the first week of the NFL season and can finally rejoice that the preseason is over. While football in August is a welcome return from the bleak, football-less winter months, it seems to serve as more of a frustrating primer at times, just ratcheting up anticipation for the ‘real’ season to start.
Nearly everyone will have finished their fantasy drafts by now, although some of you will be undoubtedly waiting until the last possible minute in order to avoid any preseason injuries. Optimism for both your supported team and fantasy rosters couldn’t be higher than pre-Week 1. It’s worth savoring this moment as in 4-6 weeks I doubt many of the millions of football fans will be feeling quite as positive.
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Offseason IDP Recap
No NFL offseason goes without some drama, and this latest one was no different. One of the biggest talking points in IDP circles was the firework incident involving Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul, which resulted in him having a finger amputated. Complicating the issue even further is the fact JPP was out of contract and angling for a new deal, and the Giants were playing hardball and had franchise tagged him. At press time, Pierre-Paul hasn’t signed his franchise offer and there are varying reports on his readiness to take the field. One report suggests he won’t be ready to suit up and play for the first month of the season, and because all teams have named their 53-man rosters, he cannot be added to the reserve/NFI list. There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors here from both parties, but it looks like JPP is a risky play in the near future. If you own him prepare to rely on your backups for the next few weeks while the situation is resolved.
Another big-name defensive end making offseason waves was Greg Hardy. The one-time Carolina Panther was allowed to test the waters of free agency after his off-field transgressions saw him miss 15 games due to suspension last season, and was picked up by the Cowboys, who were crying out for a pass-rushing threat on the edge. Hardy’s continuing suspension has since been reduced to four games and he will slide straight into a starting role for Dallas once he returns, and looks primed to post DL1 numbers. He’s well worth stashing in leagues with deeper benches if he wasn’t drafted.
One of the more surprising offseason moves was the trade of Kiko Alonso to Philadelphia in exchange for LeSean McCoy. While the trade reunites Alonso with his college coach, Chip Kelly, it does take him away from the IDP-friendly home stat crew in Buffalo, and places him in a team with more competition for tackles at linebacker, namely Mychal Kendricks. Alonso only saw a handful of snaps in the preseason following a concussion and some tendonitis in the knee he tore his ACL in, but is expected to be fine to play Week 1. Until Alonso proves he’s fully recovered and can handle the changes of playing in Philadelphia I’d consider him a mid LB2.
The biggest name free agent in 2015 was arguably Ndamukong Suh, who the Dolphins have paid a staggering $114M to tempt him to the sunny climate of Miami. The move hasn’t really changed Suh’s own IDP value as he’s already an elite option, but does help fellow linemen Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon, who will see better matchups on game day as a result of Suh’s presence on the interior.
A more recent move, but worth noting nonetheless, is the trade of LB Sio Moore to Colts. Moore was a player who jumped off the stat sheet in his rookie year, but didn’t deliver last season and then missed all of the offseason and most of training camp. Oakland signed (Super Bowl MVP!) Malcolm Smith which made Moore surplus to their requirements and reignites his appeal as a sleeper on a less dysfunctional franchise.
The defensive rookies this year aren’t as appealing as some of the previous classes, and it wasn’t helped by a season ending ACL injury to the second overall pick, DE Dante Fowler, but there are a few names worth monitoring.
Among the defensive linemen, Fowler had landed in one of the best spots in Jacksonville with the Jaguars having a 4-3 system with a LEO pass-rushing role, so he will be sorely missed. Vic Beasley (who many pundits prefer to Fowler) landing in Atlanta was option 1B for IDP owners, but he is being classified as a linebacker on most host sites which cripples his fantasy potential. Randy Gregory (Cowboys) and Leonard Williams (Jets) round out the most rosterable rookie D-Linemen, both benefitting from suspensions to teammates, but whether they can hold down a significant enough role over the whole season to be more than DL3s remains to be seen.
At linebacker it’s a duel at the top of the rankings between Eric Kendricks (Vikings) and Stephone Anthony (Saints), but neither has been overly impressive in their first preseason. Kendricks has been slow to earn the inside linebacker role with the 1s, although HC Mike Zimmer can be hesitant to blood his rookies too quickly. Anthony on the other hand has his role as a starter locked down, but has turned in some mediocre displays in his preseason performances. Kwon Alexander’s stock is on the rise in Tampa Bay as he’s beaten out Bruce Carter to be the starting middle linebacker, while the undersized Paul Dawson has been showing why he was so productive in college and will be hoping to be Chris Borland 2.0. If you’re looking a little deeper, Jake Ryan (Packers) and Denzel Perryman (Chargers) aren’t miles away from being starters in the middle for their respective franchises and would be in the mix to be three-down players.
Landon Collins is the standout safety in the class, and with the subsequent post-draft slides in value for Kendricks and Anthony, he may well be looked back on as the No.1 IDP asset in the 2015 class. A MCL sprain in the second preseason game has disrupted his preparation for the year ahead, but he’s projected to play Week 1 and in a role that saw Antoine Rolle notch up several DB1 seasons, so will be expected to flourish. If you’re looking for a deeper pickup, Jaquiski Tartt (49ers) has looked good in the preseason, although he is currently backing up veteran Antoine Bethea.
Guys I like
Everson Griffen @ 49ers
Griffen solidified himself as a DL1 last season, his first with double digit sacks, and will be looking to make a big impact in Week 1 against a 49ers line that has had a tumultuous offseason.
Ra’Shede Hageman vs Eagles
An underwhelming rookie campaign shouldn’t lead you to put Hageman on the fantasy scrapheap. He’s an intriguing player this season as he’ll be allowed to be more aggressive in Dan Quinn’s new defensive system, and in Week 1 he’ll be facing a high tempo Eagles offense that will allow for plenty of opportunities.
Sean Lee vs Giants, NaVorro Bowman vs Vikings
In short, these guys are stud IDPs, and despite long layoffs for injuries, you have to side with them from the get go.
Zach Brown @ Buccaneers
If you’ve read any of my work earlier in the offseason you’ll know I’m a big proponent of Brown heading into this season. He’s playing as an every-down linebacker and is positioned for LB2/3 numbers.
Reshad Jones @ Redskins
Although they’ve strengthened their defensive line and have the impressive Jelani Jenkins, I’m not sold on the rest of the Dolphins’ linebacker corps, especially if Koa Misi is manning the middle. It means Jones will pick up the slack and be asked to get in the box more in run support.
Guys I don’t like
Corey Liuget vs Detroit
Despite getting a hefty new contract in the off-season, Liuget didn’t have the best of years last season, recording just five sacks. Although the Lions’ offensive line conceded just 27 sacks in 2014 according to ProFootballFocus, his lack of presence as an edge-threat is a concern against a team expected to lean on their passing game.
Jerod Mayo vs Steelers
The Patriots are notorious for switching their defensive fronts, and knowing which New England linebacker to side with in the second half of last season (other than Jamie Collins) was tough. I’m usually a big fan of Mayo’s, but I’d like to see how Bill Belichick is going to use his Front 7 before over-committing.
Kiko Alonso @ Falcons
As hinted at earlier, and in previous columns, Alonso is a player I’m wary of for the time being. I think he was overhyped in Buffalo and he’ll have more competition for tackles in Philadelphia. Also, the Falcons are a pass-first team which doesn’t help this week.
It’s Ron Parker who will be starting at safety, and although I’m a HUGE fan of Berry and Branch, you need to ‘watch and wait’ on them over these first few weeks. Both players have had their own respective injury issues to deal with and need to show they have returned to their former selves before you plug them in and play.