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Rookie IDP Review

Blue Chips | Overvalued | Undervalued | Market Performers
Underperformers | Speculative | Penny Stocks | Corners

Every rookie pick is an investment in your dynasty team. Due to supply (limited pool of starters) and demand (better scoring in most leagues), offensive players are where you have to devote most of your resources. So picking defensive players typically assumes more risk, no matter where you draft them. No one wants to miss out on the next supposedly undersized RB that rushes for 1,000 yards or the too-slow rookie WR that doesn't wait for his third year to break out. So from that investment perspective, here's how this year's crop of rookie defensive players can be viewed.

Blue Chips
The best combination of elite talent, NFL measurables, and opportunity. All these players have a flaw this year – I don’t think Laurinaitis has elite talent and the others are limited (at least for this season) by position, but this group is still the top shelf in this class.

Rey Maualuga, CIN – SLB (eventually MLB)
First round talent that fell to the third pick of the second round because of concerns about his off-field behavior and that he may be just a two-down run stopper on the field. Maualuga is reunited with former collegiate teammate Keith Rivers, who should help ease his transition. Rivers, last year’s first round pick, is locked in at WLB and the team is expected to retain the solid, but unspectacular, Dhani Jones at MLB this season. That leaves Maualuga competing for the fantasy-unfriendly SLB spot. Unless he supplants Jones in the middle this season, he could be a fantasy non-factor in redraft leagues, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see him bump Jones sooner rather than later. He is my top IDP in rookie drafts for dynasty leagues. Forget concerns about his physical limitations on the field and mental ones off it, he is a monster in pads and will be an impact player. Marvin Lewis finally has a player like Ray Lewis who can be both the emotional and physical leader on the field.

Aaron Curry, SEA – SLB
Selected with the fourth overall pick, the outstanding athletic specimen was the first defensive player selected in the 2009 draft and considered by many the top overall prospect in the draft. He moves in to the SLB spot vacated by the move of Julian Peterson to Detroit. Curry’s speed will help him post some tackle numbers, but playing SLB will make his value rely strongly on turning in big plays (sacks, picks, etc.). He may not be as valuable in tackle-heavy scoring systems that don’t reward those plays. He should be one of the top three IDPs selected in rookie drafts for dynasty leagues, but has significantly less value in redraft and, depending on your lineup requirements, won’t necessarily be an automatic starter every week his first season. He will be an impact player, but may have more value in real NFL terms than as a fantasy player.

James Laurinaitis, STL – MLB
He is expected to start in the middle from Week One, moving Will Witherspoon to the WLB position he played back at Carolina. I don’t think Laurinaitis is a special player, but he is good enough to be a solid starter and regularly post 100-tackle seasons. More of a high-motor guy who gives great effort than a natural talent. He should be one of the top three IDPs selected in rookie dynasty drafts and be a weekly starter in all formats.

Brian Cushing, HOU – SLB
Selected with the 15th pick overall, it is understandable why he was the first of the four highly-touted Trojan linebackers to go. Cushing has the best combination of talent and athletic ability of the group, and probably of any LB other than Aaron Curry in the draft. Despite the addition of Cato June and the return of Zac Diles, who started at SLB last season, from a broken leg late last season, the team appears to be handing Cushing the starting job on the strong side. Diles and June are left to compete with Xavier Adibi, the favorite at WLB. While SLB is typically less fantasy-friendly, don’t discount Cushing. Zac Diles was able to lead the team in tackles for much of the season at SLB due to benefitting from the presence of DE Mario Williams. Williams demands a double team on most plays, frequently with the TE chipping. As the SLB will typically be on the TE side, that player now frequently has one less potential blocker coming down on him than usual. Also, this team is desperate to improve their pass rush. The addition of DE Antonio Smith and versatile rookie Connor Barwin will help address that up front, but the team has an asset in Cushing from the edge who they will pick spots for on blitzes, as well. Laurinaitis is the only rookie LB I like better in a redraft league.

There's no greater buyer's remorse than remembering the defensive player you selected early to pass on an Anquan Boldin when he was a rookie. The following players may go higher than they should due to name recognition or their real NFL draft position. They may be talented and be productive fantasy players, but relative to their potential and/or the situation they landed in, you might be better taking a flyer on another offensive player and seeing if they fall further.

Tyson Jackson, KC – DE
A 300-pound end in a 3-4 scheme is a fantasy pariah, regardless of his value in real NFL terms. The lowest potential for the first defensive player selected in the NFL draft since Dewayne Robertson in 2003.

Robert Ayers, DEN – OLB
Short and stock with good fundamentals, he’s physically a Hugh Douglas clone. I like his potential as an end, but he’s miscast as an OLB in Denver’s new 3-4. Wait until he busts in pick him up in a trade as a throw-in a couple years down the road before he breaks out in a different situation, a la Calvin Pace.

William “Clay” Matthews III, GB – ROLB
He was a walk-on at USC and didn’t become a regular starter until halfway through his senior season, but Matthews rode his bloodlines and impressive combine to sneaking in the first round of the draft. His success as a pass rusher in the “Elephant” role, as a DE/OLB tweener, finally got him on the field regularly his last year in college. Interestingly, the Packers are working their sack leader, former DE Aaron Kampman, exclusively at LOLB, the spot that usually drops back in coverage. ROLB, usually the rush spot as the blind side for most QBs (i.e. the right-handed ones), appears to be a competition between Matthews and converted DE Jeremy Thompson. A hamstring injury to Matthews has given Thompson most of the reps with the first unit in OTAs so far. He should also be a special teams standout, as he thrived on all the special teams in college. Of course, that adds little to his fantasy value.

Matthews oozes the dreaded p-word, “potential”, but is more athlete than football player at this point. He was drafted in the first round because he’s a workout warrior, not for what he did on the field. Here is what tells me what I need to know about Matthews: the Patriots traded them the pick that the Packers used to select him. That means despite his own needs at LB, Bill Belichick clearly didn’t see Matthews as the future impact player that at least Ted Thompson does. Ignore him in all but the deepest redraft leagues and don’t be fooled by his real NFL draft position in rookie dynasty drafts. Even if he pans out, his tackle numbers in a 3-4 will be minimal, so he’ll need to become a regular double-digit sack guy to have value.

Louis Delmas, DET – FS
The big hitter from Western Michigan displays the instincts, leadership and aggression to be a Brian Dawkins-type player, but probably lacks the measurables to achieve that level. While he’s labeled a free safety, which typically has a less fantasy-friendly connotation, the safeties are interchangeable and have played aggressive roles in the previous schemes of both HC Jim Schwartz (as a DC) and DC Gunther Cunningham. His redraft value is all but assured. With the trade of Gerald Alexander, Delmas appears already locked in to a starting role from Week One. More football player than athlete, I’m not convinced he has the athleticism to be an elite player. I’m a bit torn on this rating, because he will have rare rookie IDP DB redraft value, albeit probably not as much as some wily veterans that people will overlook for a new name. For dynasty leagues, I don’t think people have evaluated the risk and reach for him based just on being the first safety selected in the NFL draft. I’d love the pick if you could land him later in redraft or dynasty, but have to go with a soft overvalue rating based on where he has been going.

Everette Brown, CAR – DE
Undersized ends need elite speed and explosion to overcome their deficiencies. Brown is not the next Dwight Freeney. Better than Tyler Brayton, but Charles Johnson is the best DE not named Julius Peppers to have from Carolina.

Connor Barwin, CIN – OLB/DE tweener
One of the most versatile players in the draft, Barwin had success on the other side of the ball as a TE before an all-conference performance at DE his senior season, posting 16 TFL and 11 sacks. He spent some a couple years on the Bearcats basketball team, for good measure, as well. He blew them away at the combine with an outstanding performance that shot him in to Day One. While it wasn’t the same staff, the Texans didn’t have success with their last mid-major tweener and workout warrior, Jason Babin. Barwin is raw and needs to bulk up to handle playing a true end. He’s penciled in as a situational pass rusher and they could find some other uses for him in goal-line packages, but he’ll remain more of trick pony than a workhorse until, if, he finds his niche at the next level.

It's hard to be a "sleeper" when you're taken early in the NFL draft, but even some Day One picks carry question marks or come into situations that may have other fantasy owners skittish about their outlook. However, they are talented players with great upside that will leave you with bargains falling farther than they should and outperforming their fantasy draft position. This doesn't mean reach for them early, but keep an eye out for them as potential bargains where they fall relative to your league. Others are later round picks who

Brian Orakpo, WAS – OLB/DE tweener
A workout warrior (actually labeled the top one in college football in a column by ESPN’s Bruce Feldman last year), Orakpo definitely passes the eye ball test. He worked his way to a starting role at DE his junior year and had a solid performance, but missed four games due to a right knee sprain. As a redshirt senior in 2008, he collected pretty much every conference and national award for a defensive player with an impressive, but unspectacular, 11.5 sacks (sixth in FBS on a Longhorn team that led FBS in total sacks). Also missed a game with a left knee injury, so durability is a bit of a concern.

Orakpo got by on athleticism in college and needs to improve his technical skills to see his success translate at the next level. His transition is being made harder by the decision to put him in a tweener role right out of the box, always a risky proposition for a young player. The plan appears to be to have him play with his hand off the ground in run situations and pin his ears back out of a three-point stance on third down. If listed as a DE by your league, he may be significantly undervalued, as he will put up better tackle numbers than a lot of ends. However, if he’s only eligible at LB in your league, he’ll be overvalued as a rookie. Removing position from the equation, he generally seems to be going a bit lower than expected in dynasty drafts for a player who has the potential to be the next Terrell Suggs.

Patrick Chung, NE – S
After trading away their first round pick, the Patriots made Chung their first pick of the 2009 draft with the second selection in the second round, a pick from the Chiefs as part of the package that moved Matt Cassel. With Rodney Harrison’s career appearing over, HC Bill Belichick looks to replace him with a player most viewed as the top prototypical strong safety in the draft. One of the strongest defensive backs in the draft, he should definitely be able to replace some of the big hits that were Harrison’s trademark. Chung won’t be an asset in coverage, but brings the versatility Belichick craves in having shown some ability as a blitzer and a top special team performer, including some return experience. He’ll be a bit limited by the rotation as a rookie, hence a risky redraft play, but should quickly establish himself as the best tackler in the secondary and exposure to more packages. Crafty fantasy players aren’t letting Chung slip by in rookie drafts, but they aren’t paying a premium and he still remains under the radar to most, why I still consider him as undervalued.

Mike Mitchell, OAK – S
Emerged from anonymity with an unbelievable Pro Day that propelled the Ohio University product to the second round. The Raiders selecting him only fueled the doubters, but Mitchell flashed some ability in college and clearly has the athletic ability to play at the next level. He didn’t leave a good first impression at minicamp and he very well may be the next Derrick Gibson, but I think he’s worth the risk where he’s falling in dynasty rookie drafts.

Lawrence Sidbury Jr., ATL – DE
Overlooked at Richmond, the two-time all-conference performer helped the Spiders win the FCS National Championship with 11.5 sacks on the season, including four in the championship game. He built on a strong week of practice at the Shrine Game with an excellent overall performance at the Combine. He is a bit shorter than ideal (slightly under 6’4”), but compensates for it with long arms and big hands, allowing him to keep blockers off him and bat down passes. He is considered a bit of tweener, but is his strong suit is pinning his ears back and getting after the QB out of a three-point stance. However, he needs to build some lower body strength to improve his explosion and play with leverage.

L-Sid is my top dynasty sleeper among DEs, I love this pick by Atlanta and the fit. Former first-round pick Jamaal Anderson is a bust at least as a pass rusher, if not a complete one. On the other side, John Abraham is one of the elite pass rushers in the league, but is the wrong side of 30 and overdue for an injury. Sidbury could surprise in redrafts as a pass rush specialist with room for more if Abraham misses time. He is even more appealing in dynasty rookie drafts where more recognizable names are going earlier.

Jarron Gilbert, CHI – DT
He rocketed up draft boards from relative anonymity at San Jose State after being the WAC co-Defensive Player of the Year, leading the nation with 22 TFL and leading his team with 9.5 sacks at defensive tackle. A strong week of practice leading up to the Shrine Game solidified his status among scouts, although a sprained ankle early in the game limited him. A freakish athlete, he didn’t disappoint at the Combine with an outstanding performance. A mild surprise that he fell out of Day One, Bears GM Jerry Angelo was ecstatic to scoop him up with the fourth pick in the third round, a pick they gained by trading out of the second round with the Seahawks the previous day.

There seems to be concern his senior season was a bit of a fluke, that he’s a tweener, and that his height could pose a problem as an interior lineman. As opposed to his senior season being a fluke, Gilbert finally settled in and was able to begin realizing his massive potential. He packed on almost 50 pounds through his collegiate career and bounced around the line before settling in at DT his final year. He will need to learn to play with better leverage and his frame can support some more weight, but his height ultimately won’t be a liability. He projects to back up Tommie Harris at the three-technique, but the Bears will capitalize on his ability to play up and down the line, as well as look for him to block some kicks on special teams. He should work his way in to the rotation quickly, but provide just sporadic production as a rookie, although Harris has been a bit fragile the last couple years. For the long term, he is the rare interior lineman with the ability to be a productive fantasy player. He is the second coming of Kevin Williams, from his size and measurables right down to the skepticism about his breakout senior year.

Cody Brown, AZ – OLB
A classic tweener who quietly was a huge part of UConn’s success snuck in to the second round. I’m not a fan of tweener OLBs without top measurables, but Brown is flying so low under the radar it won’t take much success for him to have value.

Market Performers
Talented players whose value should be commensurate with where they are drafted in fantasy leagues. They have a strong outlook, even those whose situation immediately falls short of ideal and/or who need time to develop.

Aaron Maybin, BUF – DE
He had experience working in pass coverage and some project him as a tweener because he doesn’t yet have the bulk to be a three-down end, but the Bills brought Maybin in to play end. His value will be low in redraft, as he should be limited to a pass rush specialist his rookie season while he bulks up and learns the league. However, he is a solid pick in dynasty leagues where he has potential for double-digit sacks as a full-time player in a year or two. The safest pick to succeed as a pure DE in this rookie class.

Larry English, SD – OLB
A sack machine in college, he rocketed up draft boards through his MAC Defensive Player of the Year performance as a DE at NIU and though a strong week at the Senior Bowl. He isn’t the freakish athletic specimen that Shawne Merriman is, the man he is expected to eventually replace, but could be the next LaMarr Woodley, a pass rush specialist with enough talent to be a three-down player. He should be worked in the rotation immediately and considering Merriman’s knee problems almost cost him his career already, his role could become much more significant at any minute his rookie year.

William Moore, ATL – SS
A disappointing injury-plagued senior season had him last until late in the second round, but Moore is a prototypical SS who should become an every-week starter in most fantasy leagues as a rookie with upside to be a top-five stud at the position. In the perfect situation, he is the safest pick at S in this class.

Michael Johnson, CIN – DE
The way Johnson has flown off draft boards early in dynasty rookie drafts, I was almost tempted to classify him as “Overvalued”, but assume most reaching for a third-round pick in the NFL draft as early as the first rookie DE taken have concluded the same thing I have – great upside, ideal situation. Coming in to the 2008 season, Johnson was widely regarded as one of the top NFL prospects overall. Of the two major scouting services, National ranked Johnson as the top prospect overall and Blesto had him as the second-rated defensive end. Despite all-conference recognition while posting 9 sacks and 17.5 TFL, his final collegiate season was considered a bit of a disappointment as his effort and consistency were questioned. Johnson has recently commented that he played through the season with a sports hernia, but if that was revealed to teams during the interview process, it still didn’t alleviate concerns. He fell to the third round despite an excellent all-around performance at the Combine. Johnson stood out during OTAs, flashing his freakish athleticism and versatility to not only also play as a linebacker with his hand off the ground, but as an interior lineman too. At a minimum his rookie year, Johnson should see work as a pass rush specialist, but the competition is weak in Cincinnati and I expect him to be starting before the end of the year and be well worth an early rookie pick in dynasty drafts.

Clint Sintim, NYG – OLB
Lacks some name recognition with casual fans due to being overshadowed by Aaron Curry in his own conference and nationally by the overexposure of the USC linebackers, as well as having played for a below average Cavalier team last season, but Sintim is a great OLB prospect. A sack machine in college, he led the ACC with 11 his senior year and 27 for his career at Virginia. Probably best fit would be as a pass-rushing ROLB in a 3-4, but the Giants will look to utilize his pass rush skills on third downs. Projected as a SLB, he has some work to do to become serviceable in pass coverage. He’s battling journeyman Danny Clark to start and Sintim will probably see most of his work as a pass rush specialist in certain packages while he develops as a complete linebacker. He has some sleeper potential in redrafts, but more likely will have little value this year with great upside in dynasty leagues.

Scott McKillop, SF – ILB
The Big East Defensive Player of the Year was an absolute tackling machine in college. A little shorter than ideal, he has decent size, but needs to add strength and will have a chance to develop with Takeo Spikes slated as the starter next to Patrick Willis for this season. Little to no value in redraft leagues, but I really like his dynasty potential to be a poor man’s Zach Thomas posting great tackle numbers as a two-down linebacker. I love his situation playing for one of the great middle linebackers of all-time in HC Mike Singletary, who clearly knows what it take to succeed as an undersized and athletically limited player, and benefitting from playing next to Willis.

Some middle round picks that were solid collegiate performers, generally where you find quality sleepers, but due to situation and/or potential, don't have promising long term outlooks.

DeAndre Levy, DET – LB
The buzz about Levy as the MLB of the future was quickly killed with the addition of former Steeler Larry Foote. Even without the addition of Foote, Levy played OLB in college and is a bit undersized for the middle. HC Jim Schwartz apparently believes his speed and hitting can overcome that, but he was no lock to get the job. Jordon Dizon, last year’s future MLB, has similar limitations, but is from a different regime, so Levy should have an advantage over him in the competition, but ultimately I don’t see either as the answer. On the outside, the team added Julian Petersen and have Ernie Sims on the weak side, so the opportunities definitely aren’t there, barring injury. Levy is a nice fit as a utility player who can back up all three positions, see time in pass packages, and be a special teams ace, but doesn’t have a high ceiling as a full-time player and was a reach in the third round.

Paul Kruger, BAL – DE/OLB tweener
With just one kidney as the result of a childhood car accident, being the survivor of two stab wounds to the stomach, gone on a two-year religious mission, and a perfect season with Utah under his belt, Kruger has had more life experiences at 23 than most people have in a lifetime. His pro football career could be as challenging as any of those things. He doesn’t have the measurables and athleticism to be a pass rush threat in a 3-4, so I don’t know why Baltimore is wasting time trying to take him down that path. Bulking up and playing a 3-4 end or 4-3 under tackle is where he should be developed, and neither will make him fantasy friendly.

Jarius Byrd, BUF – FS
Considered a significant reach in the second round, he converts from CB to a great opportunity to compete for a starting FS role. I don’t think see his ceiling as that high and as he hasn’t signed as we go to press, he isn’t helping his short-term outlook.

Kyle Moore, TB – DE
Without the athleticism or upside to ever be a solid pass rush threat, his ceiling looks like a career back-up, or maybe a short stint as a starting anchor end, and useless to a fantasy team.

Matt Shaughnessy, OAK – DE
Ditto above. Add to that the brain trust of the Raiders selected him and he’s even less appealing.

Kaluka Maiava, CLE – ILB (3-4)
The smallest and least propagandized of the highly-touted USC LB foursome in this year’s draft lasted until the fourth round. The situation is ideal, with one of their starters inside (Andra Davis) having just departed and a new head coach with no loyalty to the existing roster, but Maiava needs to bulk up without sacrificing any of his speed or agility if he ever wants to start in this league. He can be ignored in redrafts and isn’t worth a roster spot in all but the deepest dynasty leagues. Check up on him next year, but special teams ace and back-up look like his career ceiling.

Due to the limited starting lineup requirements and lack of scarcity at IDP positions (in most leagues), taking a flyer on defensive players in isn’t a great strategy. These guys could be late round picks in deep leagues or, in most cases, waiver wire material. However, they have nice upside, or are in a situation to have value as rookie, or both.

David Veikune, CLE – ILB
A high-motor guy who progressed from JUCO transfer to starter and all-conference honors as an undersized DE his final season. Now he’s asked to move to ILB where there is depth and talent, so his short term prospects aren’t great. For the long term, don’t underestimate a Mangini mancrush. The HC is loyal to a fault to “his guys” Veikune became one in the second round.

Darcel McBath, DEN – FS
Aggressive FS in a great situation to develop behind band-aid Brian Dawkins in a Denver defense that is transitioning under first-year HC Josh McDaniels. Little to no redraft value, unless Dawkins is hurt, but solid outlook in dynasty leagues.

Jason Williams, DAL – OLB
The immediate reaction when Dallas made Williams the first FCS player selected in the draft in the third round was that the Cowboys had reached for him, mostly because most had never heard of him. A Combine snub out Western Illinois, he was a consensus FCS All-American who tied the NCAA record with 17 forced fumbles. He is slated for mostly special teams work in 2009, but also competing with Bobby Carpenter for work in pass packages. While he’ll have little to no value in redraft leagues, he is a nice guy to stash on a taxi squad or look for on the waiver wire in a year or two.

Kevin Ellison, SD – SS
A converted running back, Ellison became the physical presence in the USC defensive backfield. He has battled knee problems throughout his career that sapped him of superior athleticism. He tore an ACL and broke his left leg in 2005, had it tweaked in 2007, and missed several games with a torn meniscus in his other knee in 2008. There has been some thought he could replace Clinton Hart as the starting strong safety, but a holdout (as we go to press in late July) with less than desirable speed and injury concerns isn’t appealing to fantasy owners.

Chip Vaughn, NO – SS
Great potential, but stuck behind Roman Harper. He should be able to lock down a job as a starting SS when he finally gets the chance.

Marcus Freeman, CHI – OLB
Overshadowed in college by Buckeye teammate James Laurinaitis, but was just as productive and well-regarded among opponents. He played both outside spots at Ohio State and can play the middle, as well, projecting as a three-down WLB who is strong in coverage. After the 2007 season, Freeman was in the debate for the second best OLB prospect behind Aaron Curry and there was some discussion about him declaring early. However, he returned in 2008, but didn’t live up to expectations while hampered with ankle problems during the season. Strong performances at the Combine and his Pro Day appeared to be moving Freeman back up draft boards, but he lasted until the fifth round.

He is my top dynasty sleeper among rookie LBs, I love this pick for Chicago. If GM Jerry Angelo is good at one thing, it’s finding defensive talent in the mid-rounds. Freeman has some skills and great athleticism, but needs to bulk up and be a more physical player. He is in the perfect position to do this, learning behind one of the best and most physical linebackers in the league, Lance Briggs, the man who scout Jeff Shiver (who tracked Freeman for the Bears) said Freeman reminded him of. He’ll do nothing but play special teams for at least a year, so he’s worthless in redraft. Currently, even his long-term outlook is shaky, as Freeman is under contract for another five years. Of course, NFL stands for Not For Long. The most likely situation would involve Urlacher sputtering out in the next year or two and Briggs moving to the middle, opening up WLB for Freeman. Now there’s a lot of variables in the situation, hence his value is purely speculative at this point, but a name to keep in mind for the deepest of dynasty leagues or next year.

Jeremy Jarmon, WAS – DE
After being ruled ineligible for his senior season by the NCAA due to testing positive for a banned substance, Jarmon declared for the supplemental draft in mid-July. The Redskins got him for a third-round pick, beating several teams who submitted fourth-round claims according to the NFL Network’s Adam Schefter.

Already carrying an unsculpted 280 pounds, he projects as more of a run-stopper on the left side, but reportedly ran a 4.76 at Kentucky’s Pro Day and left as third in career sacks at Kentucky, so he has some pass rush potential too. He had a bit of down year his final season in 2008, posting 10 TFL and 4.5 sacks after 13.5 TFL and 9 sacks as a redshirt sophomore in 2007. Regardless, he still considered leaving early and sought a draft grade from the NFL Advisory Committee. After receiving a fourth- or fifth-round grade, Jarmon decided to return before the failed drug test occurred after the draft, leaving him no choice but to declare for the supplement draft. The circumstances he came out under leaves him well behind where other rookies are at this point, so he should have little to no impact this year. A name to file away for next season or keep an eye on in deep dynasty leagues.

Penny Stocks
Guys with no draft value right now, but with the chance to surprise down the road.

Tyrone McKenzie, NE – LB
A torn right ACL during minicamp ended his first season before it started. Uber-productive linebacker literally wherever he played, bouncing around schools and from middle to strong side. Speed was a concern prior to the injury, but it didn’t stop the Patriots from adding him in the third round. Interesting prospect to revisit in a year.

Gerald McRath, TEN – LB
A tenacious and tremendously productive player at MLB for Southern Mississippi, he needs to add some bulk to play on Sundays. He is a liability in coverage, but if he can learn, he has the rest of the skills and athleticism to be a three-down player. Probably best suited for WLB in a Tampa-2, he has a future in the league, but not for a couple years.

Jasper Brinkley, MIN – MLB
The Vikings continue to largely ignore having quality back-ups at LB despite paying the price for it with injuries the last few years. Brinkley was a very good player in college and could be a quality two-down MLB if pressed in to service, but that is probably his ceiling and why he fell to the fifth round.

Darryl Beckwith, SD – ILB
After being the leader of the BCS champion LSU as a junior in the 2007 season and projecting to be a mid-round pick in the 2008 draft, Beckwith chose to return for his final season. He suffered a knee injury early in the season and although he missed just two games, a disappointing season for him and the Tigers was followed by concerns about his knee as he prepared for the draft. He went undrafted and the Chargers were the only team to call him about signing as a free agent. Fast forward to a few days ago and with the release of Matt Wilhelm, it appears he will hang on to a roster spot. Although he buried on the depth chart for the time being and his ceiling is as a two-down run-stopper, he has already gotten farther than 31 other teams thought he could.

Stanley Arnoux, NO – LB
A ruptured left Achilles’ tendon in the first practice of rookie minicamp ended his first season before he started. Arnoux was the steady tackling compliment in the middle overshadowed by Aaron Curry’s playmaking at Wake Forest. Lacks the ideal size for a MLB, but the Saints are thin at linebacker so see where he fits in next year.

Henry Melton, CHI – DE
Came to Texas as a super-sized running back and found a niche on defense as a starter at end his senior year. A bit of a surprise as a fourth-round pick, he is a project who is still a work in progress. GM Jerry Angelo’s ability to find talent on defense in the middle rounds alone makes him a name to remember.

Jason Phillips, BAL – LB
A versatile and productive throwback who probably lacks the size and athleticism to succeed at the next level. The Ravens have a collection of players of various skills on the depth chart at linebacker, so he isn’t even a lock to make the roster, his biggest advantage being picked by the current regime. Probably a career back-up and special teamer, but see how he performs in the preseason and how the depth chart shakes out to get an idea if there’s more potential here.

CB is an overlooked position because production is often unreliable, except for the established top tacklers at the position (e.g. Antoine Winfield) and many scoring systems can’t properly capture their real value. The interception is the most unpredictable statistic, making corners hard to project. Hence their draft position varies greatly league-to-league leaving groupings like overvalued or undervalued not as universally applicable as they are for other positions. That being the case, I’ve just grouped all the more intriguing ones here to take a look at.

Malcolm Jenkins, NO – CB
A disappointing Combine took some of the luster off, but he remains a stellar prospect. The situation at corner in New Orleans is crowded, limiting his redraft upside, and his best position may ultimately be free safety, but Jenkins will become a stud DB.

Vontae Davis, MIA – CB
Text book high risk, high reward player. It would be nice if he was a couple inches taller, but otherwise he is the complete package physically and athletically. A big hitter who is outstanding in run support and when used on the blitz, with a knack for separating the runner or receiver from the ball. His aggression and gambling can get him in trouble some time, but also is why he is a top playmaker. Also an asset on special teams, look for him to block some kicks and maybe return some too. He reminds me of a bigger, better version of Dre Bly.

Consistency and dedication are the biggest question marks. If he commits himself to the team and keeps his focus on football, no DB in this class has a higher upside. Or he could end up squandering his potential like his brother Vernon has thus far. Fellow rookie Sean Smith has been impressed thus far and, unlike Davis, has already signed, so he may have an edge for a starting job. Despite his first round status, the risk and uncertainty in the Miami secondary have Davis being overlooked. He is a tremendous value late in dynasty rookie drafts, regardless of whether or not the league differentiates between CB and S. I expect Davis to originally be worked in as the nickel corner, where DC Paul Pasqualoni likes to work in some blitzes. This will limit his tackle numbers a bit in redrafts, but he should get the opportunity to make some plays.

Sean Smith, MIA – CB
Unusually tall for a corner, the second-round pick is another great physical and athletic package for the Dolphins. The converted WR is still learning the mechanics of the position, but I expect him to beat Davis to the starting lineup, giving him good value in redraft leagues. A fine prospect in his own right, Davis may have more potential, but Smith may end up the better corner in the long run.

Darius Butler, NE – CB
Jack-of-all-trades is a nice size/speed package with above average corner skills and experience in return game and as a receiver. His versatility certainly helped land him on the Patriots. The Patriots added a couple quality vets in Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden in the offseason, who should lock down the starting roles, but have little quality depth. Butler should be able to win the nickel spot with the fragile Springs making it likely he’ll see more work as a rookie.

Alphonso Smith, DEN – CB
Shutdown corner at Wake Forest, but you have to be concerned about his size preventing him from being able to do the same at the next level. Denver apparently had no such concerns, making him the third corner selected in the draft with the fifth pick of the second round. He now has one of the best fantasy situations of any rookie corner, a future playing across from future Hall of Famer Champ Bailey where he is sure to be tested often…assuming he can win the starting job and isn’t limited to slot coverage due to his size. In redrafts, he needs to beat out journeyman Andre’ Goodman. If he does, nice immediate potential.

D.J. Moore, CHI – CB
Regarded as one of the top collegiate corners (he was an AP second-team All-American in 2008), Moore declared early but fell to the fourth round on concerns about his bad combination of size (a smidge under 5’9”) and timed speed (the wrong side of 4.5). Regardless, he is playmaker who was a shutdown corner by compensating with tremendous quickness, leaping, and timing to compensate for his size. He is an ideal fit as a nickel corner and has great potential as a returner. Not worth a pick in redraft or most dynasty leagues, but is a great fit for the defense in Chicago and could surprise down the road.

Sherrod Martin, CAR – CB
The other “Trojans” (Troy University, nee Troy State) has produced the quality of pro lately usually found at their mascot’s namesake in Southern California. Martin looks to be the next in that line as he moves from ball-hawking FS to nickel corner, a very fantasy-friendly position on the Panthers. Excellent sleeper in redraft leagues that require corners and nice long-term potential in dynasty leagues.