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Tony Nowak | Archive | Email
Staff Writer

2011 IDP Rookie Review

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 situation.

Patrick Peterson, AZ – CB
The top overall player on my draft board, he is a unique talent as a big, speedy, playmaking corner and as a returner in the mold of Charles Woodson. He immediately displaces Greg Toler as the starter opposite DRC and should see some work on return and kick blocking special teams. There is speculation that QB Kevin Kolb is heads to Arizona, which makes sense, but I don’t see Peterson as part of the deal, although it doesn’t matter for his fantasy value.

Robert Quinn, STL – DE
Not only did he go to a 4-3 defense, which I think he is a better fit for, but ended up with a head coach in Steve Spagnuolo who knows a great DLineman when he sees one and gets the most of out of them. Quinn comes with some medical concern in his benign brain tumor and suspension for the season last year, but is a great talent in a great situation. James Hall, at 33, is coming off his best year since 2004 and likely remains the starter at RDE, but Quinn should start as a pass rush specialist and be worked in enough to produce well in sack-heavy leagues as a rookie. Eventually he’ll round in to an every-down player. With Chris Long on the other side, Spags is finally building the ferocious type of front four that spearheaded success on the Giants.

Selections who 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.

Nate Irving, DEN – MLB
A medical red flag because of multiple significant injuries suffered in a 2009 car accident, including a nasty compound fracture in his leg, contributed to his fall to the third round. However, he proved he was back last season with NC State with an All-Conference performance featuring 92 tackles, including 21.5 TFL and 7 sacks, while learning to play the middle after his previous success as a WLB. On a made-for-TV draft special, Bill Parcells gave him a first-round grade, the only one he had on an ILB prospect. Expect Denver to move D.J. Williams back to his preferred WLB position and Irving to become a fantasy machine in the middle for the Broncos. My biggest concern with him in redraft leagues is HC John Fox’s preference for veterans, so journeymen Joe Mays and Mario Haggan may be more of threat this year than expected. However, Fox has his exceptions, notably Carolina MLB Jon Beason.

Da’Quan Bowers, TB – DE
Text book high risk, high reward pick. Once considered to be in the running as the top overall pick, the talent is there and the production should follow, we just don’t know for how long. He opened camp as the starting LDE and I like him much more than fellow rookie teammate Adrian Clayborn as a value pick.

Jabaal Sheard, CLE – DE
After the addition of Dick Jauron as defensive coordinator and the expectation of the defense converting to his preferred 4-3, the first couple of picks of the draft were a bit confusing. The conventional wisdom around first-round pick Phil Taylor was that he was the best NT prospect in the draft for the increasing number of 3-4 defenses in the league. Then they added Sheard, who many expected to convert to an edge rusher in a 3-4 as he’s a bit undersized. However, looking at Jauron’s history, you see the pieces fitting in his 4-3. In Chicago, he employed athletic space-eaters in the interior, including Ted Washington, a classic NT, to limit double-teams on his ends and free up his linebackers. He now has a Washington clone in Taylor to pair with another big body in Ahtyba Rubin. With Alex Brown on that same Chicago team, Jauron had a prolific collegiate pass rusher who fell a bit in the draft because of his lack of ideal NFL measurables. Sheard is a bit shorter than ideal, but unlike Brown, brings plenty of quickness and speed, hence why he barely made it out of day one (and in a class with a lesser concentration of talent at DE, would have been a first-round pick). So Sheard has more potential as a pass rusher to me than Brown and Jauron might be able to coach him up to be the outstanding run defender Brown transitioned his game in to, with help from an interior line that will prevent him from being double-teamed against much against the run. With all the depth at DE in this class, and with some IDP players foolishly opting for the 3-4 ends that were drafted higher than Sheard just based on that and name recognition, he should be one of the top IDP values in a rookie draft. Nothing the team has done in free agency thus far makes him less appealing in redraft leagues, either.

Colin McCarthy, TEN – MLB
Showed more athleticism than expected at the Combine, but the hype around him dissipated after he fell to the fourth round. After the turnover at linebacker in Tennessee, he is gaining momentum again, even considered the potential replacement to Stephen Tulloch immediately – in which case he actually may be overvalued by some. I don’t see that happening. Veteran Barrett Ruud was added and should beat the rookie out, or the versatile Will Witherspoon could also play there, in which case McCarthy is probably not looking at starting elsewhere as a rookie, but I really like his long-term outlook as a MIKE.

Martez Wilson, NO – OLB
A neck injury makes the versatile Wilson a health concern, but the athleticism he showed at the Combine demonstrated his best football may be ahead of him. Both outside spots are up for grabs in New Orleans and Wilson has a great opportunity to be a playmaker on a dynamic defense that really reloaded in this offseason.

Kelvin Sheppard, BUF – ILB
The surprising departure of Paul Posluszny appeared to give the athletic and instinctive Sheppard a great opportunity as a rookie on a team desperate at LB, but the recent addition of Nick Barnett in Buffalo means Sheppard will likely battle veteran Andra’ Davis for a starting job.

Brooks Reed, HOU – OLB
I like the player, but love the coach and the fit. In my mock draft, I expected DC Wade Phillips to opt first to find his new Demarcus Ware in this draft, and pegged that player as Aldon Smith. If that was even Phillips intent, he never had the chance, as Smith was selected 7th overall. Instead, Houston went with a five-technique DE in J.J. Watt with their first pick for their new 3-4 look. Phillips had to be elated to find Reed sitting there with their second round pick. He is no Demarcus Ware or Clay Matthews, he lacks their agility and is a more linear player, but he can be an explosive pass rusher and should add some decent tackle numbers. I’m not convinced Mario Williams will be a success in his transition to 3-4 rush OLB. If he isn’t ultimately converted back to an end, I can see him playing with his hand down up front in passing situations and Reed getting in the mix from the edge. Much more value in sack-heavy leagues.

Casey Matthews, PHI – MLB/OLB
One of the shocking IDP stories at the start of training camp was Matthews starting in the middle for the Eagles and earning DC Juan Castillo’s praise. Although, when it comes to Andy Reid and linebackers, nothing should be shocking. Reid looks to continue ignoring spending big on the position and it is possible this situation remains, but I think Jamar Chaney will move back there (he’s currently running at SLB) after his performance last season. He’s no Clay, but Casey could have be a pleasant fantasy surprise if he can stick.

Cameron Jordan, NO – DE
A bit of a surprise he didn’t end up in a 3-4, and while he’s not a speed edge rusher, he brings a nice toolbox with him to the next level. An effort guy with good bloodlines (his father, Steve, was a long-time TE with the Vikings) in a great situation, he has sneaky potential to turn in a Defensive ROY performance on his way to a productive career. With Will Smith looking at the StarCaps saga likely finally culminating with a four-game suspension this year, Jordan will have a nice opportunity to showcase himself while working his way in to replacing Alex Brown as a starter potentially before the end of the season.

Prince Amukamara, NYG – CB
One of the best teams at utilizing multiple personnel on both sides of the ball, the rookie should have an opportunity to be an immediate fantasy contributor with huge upside one he is a full-time player.

Editor's Note: Article was submitted prior to Amukamara's injury. He will be out indefinitely with a fractured bone in his foot.

Jimmy Smith, BAL – CB
Hit the ideal fit. No one has questioned Smith’s measurables and skills, his head is the concern. Veteran leadership on the Ravens should start him on a good path and the active defense should give him plenty of opportunities on defense.

Quinton Carter, DEN – SS
After getting their future FS in the second, the Broncos may have added their future SS in the fourth. Carter is a bit of project, but I thought he was undervalued by scouts and miscast by expectations of continuing to be a free safety at the next level. He doesn’t have the instincts or speed to stay there, but does have the size and aggressiveness to be excellent in the box. I fully expect HC John Fox and his staff to get the most out of him. Carter will quickly be coached up in to a tackle producer and playmaker at SS. Better value pick than fellow rookie FS Rahim Moore in dynasty leagues.

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.

Von Miller, DEN – SLB
Don’t get me wrong, Miller has great talent and proved his scheme diversity in the Senior Bowl. On another team in another situation, I’d have him as a blue chipper, but similar to Aaron Curry in Seattle, the scheme is going to be a bad fantasy match his talent won’t overcome. Miller is expected to play SAM in a 4-3 and isn’t going to be turned loose as a pass rusher all the time, he’ll have pass coverage responsibilities which is why the position is typically unfriendly for fantasy purposes – although not as much in HC John Fox’s defense. Better value elsewhere in rookie linebackers.

Adrian Clayborn, TB – DE
If you would have told the Bucs that Da’Quan Bowers would be there for their second round pick, I imagine they may have passed on Clayborn in the first. I don’t mind double-dipping at position of need early in the draft, but I think they may have reached for Clayborn after 8 DLinemen and tweener OLBs were already off the board by the 20th pick. GM Mark Dominik can say Clayborn’s Erb’s Palsy doesn’t concern him “at all”, but the possible strength limitations demonstrated by his low reps in the bench at the Combine despite short arms was the first significant concern for me about the condition. Clearly Clayborn’s effort and dedication is impressive to the extent he’s overcome whatever limitations it has placed upon him, but I think it caps his potential somewhat to develop significantly more as a physical prospect. On the field, he regressed in last season, struggling with double-teams and, without elite speed, getting to the QB once he was on everyone’s radar after his impressive junior season that had him recognized as one of the top overall prospects coming in to this season. I’m rooting for him and I think he was a safe pick, I don’t think lack of effort will ever be a problem and he’ll be a steady contributor, but a classic player with more value in real NFL terms than fantasy value.

Jonas Mouton, SD – ILB
Some might say the Patriots selection of RB Shane Vereen was the most surprising pick of the first two rounds, but as I had that pick in my last mock, the biggest shock to me was Mouton. Heck, even Mouton admitted to being “definitely surprised” at going so early. He was projected by most with a mid-to-late round grade after an underwhelming Combine performance. The Michigan WLB led the Big Ten in tackles, but the lack of talent around him and the opportunities on the field playing on the worst defense in the league helped pad his stats. Director of Player Personnel Jimmy Raye commented/defended the pick by saying their special teams coach “loves him” – not exactly the primary endorsement you are looking for on a second round pick. There was some speculation he’d play outside, but he doesn’t have the speed or pass rush moves, especially for the expectations on this defense. He appears limited to an inside role, where pass coverage might be his best asset, another facet lacking appeal for his fantasy future. With the turnover of their interior linebackers, he might end up in a starting spot by default, but I’m definitely not a believer in his long-term value.

J.J. Watt, HOU – DE
Throw out his college numbers now that he is a five-technique. I actually like his fantasy potential better than most 3-4 ends because I see him as a similar player to Pittsburgh’s Aaron Smith, who seemed to put up around 6 sacks every year, but not the fantasy production you expect from the first true DE selected in the 2011 draft.

Cameron Heyward, PIT – DE
I’d have liked him better in a 4-3 defense as a DT, for fantasy purposes. I think he has the talent to be a poor man’s Kevin Williams in a 4-3, but he’ll be used as a space-eater in Pittsburgh. I move him up significantly if he somehow retains DT eligibility in your league and you have to segregate between the positions in your lineup. Aaron Smith is old and increasing fragile, Heyward should be seeing the bulk of playing time opposite Ziggy Hood before the end of the season.

Corey Liuget, SD – DE
Ditto, as far as linking him better if he would have landed in a 4-3 defense as a DT.

Dontay Moch, CIN – OLB
Undersized collegiate DE with crazy speed landed in a bad situation. I don’t want to underestimate the defensive genius of HC Marvin Lewis and DC Mike Zimmer, but I’m not confident how Moch fits as a 4-3 SLB.

Justin Houston, KC – OLB
Started his collegiate career as a 4-3 DE, then moved to a 3-4 OLB after Georgia changed schemes last year and posted 10 sacks. Not a natural conversion, he is still strictly a pass rusher with his hand off the ground, but that is good enough in sack-heavy leagues. It will take him some time to develop a complete game, but the roster is thin at OLB in KC and Houston was considered by some a first round pick before some off-field issues dragged him down at the draft.

Greg Jones, NYG – MLB
Yes Jonathan Goff has underwhelmed in the middle, but those who think he’s the replacement are overly optimistic. His lack of size and athleticism are limiting. There’s a reason he fell to the 6th round despite being incredibly productive at a Big Ten college.

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.

Mason Foster, TB – MLB
Lost in the shadow of Jake Locker at Washington, Foster quietly went about leading the PAC-10 in tackles a couple times and an improved defense late in the season that was more responsible for their Holiday Bowl win over Nebraska than Locker. Borderline consideration for a Blue Chip pick, but he lacks elite athleticism and isn’t a truly explosive hitter, but plenty of LBs fitting the same description have been long-time prolific IDP producers. A few too many tackles downfield, but like Locker, he didn’t have much help around him. Great with his hands in shedding blockers and an excellent form tackler, he should rack up solos and assists. Extremely versatile, he’s played all three spots and is an excellent special teams player. Barrett Ruud is almost certainly gone and Foster looks likely to beat out Tyrone McKenzie and start in the middle as a rookie.

Jaiquawn Jarrett, PHI – SS
It is plug-and-play production at S in Philly. Last year’s 7th round pick Kurt Coleman impressed me a bit when given an opportunity last year, but with HC Andy Reid spending a second-round pick on Jarrett, considered a bit of a reach by many, and calling Jarrett “One of the most intimidating…safeties in the draft”, it seems obvious who has the edge at the position.

Aldon Smith, SF – OLB
I would have preferred to see him as a 4-3 DE, but Smith is exciting playmaker who will be challenged in being a top fantasy producer because of limited tackles unless he becomes an elite pass rusher.

Marcell Dareus, BUF – DL
I like him a lot better if he is eligible as a DT and your league segregates the position. However, even if he is only eligible as a DE, he has more upside than the list of five-technique ends who will primarily be space-eaters in the “Overrated” category. Unlike most of them, Dareus has played in a 3-4 defense, so the learning curve for him should be smaller. He will also be employed in a variety of ways and find opportunities to put up fantasy points.

Nick Fairley, DET – DT
Playing next to Suh should only help him produce in what should be the most prolific interior line pair in the league. However, he won’t put up Suh numbers. There’s only one Suh.

Quan Sturdivant, ARI – ILB
A potential steal of the draft in the sixth round, knowledgeable IDP players won’t let him fall as far in rookie drafts. A pot bust last summer and a hamstring injury that limited him last season, as well as perhaps unfair guilt by association with what went on at UNC last year, all seem to have contributed to his draft day freefall. The Cardinals got a steal and Sturdivant should quickly pass journeyman Paris Lenon to form a potent tandem inside with Daryl Washington.

Ryan Kerrigan, WAS – OLB
Some might be discouraged at him having LB eligibility instead of DE, but I think Kerrigan can become a multi-category performer like a Mike Vrabel in New England. I expect he’ll fall a bit in the draft for a player taken in the first half of the first round and will end up providing decent value in deep leagues.

Akeem Ayers, TEN – OLB
A poor Combine showing knocked him out of the first round and while he salvaged his draft value and ended up in the second round, he still seems to be flying under the fantasy radar. Unfortunately, he looks destined for a SLB job, which limits his fantasy upside.

Ras-I Dowling, NE – CB
Fell off the radar after injury hampered his senior season, but a nice steal in the second round for the Patriots who are thin at corner. If he works his way in to the starting lineup, he’ll be targeted frequently opposite pick-machine Devin McCourty.

Rahim Moore, DEN – FS
While it was a weak safety class, Moore was the best prospect in it and went to one of the teams with the biggest need at the position. He appears limited to playing a centerfield role, so don’t expect big tackles numbers, but he could be a ball hawk at free safety for a team that looks greatly improved by this year’s draft and should become a good unit under new HC John Fox. High character guy who should become a leader on the team, especially under the tutelage of veteran Brian Dawkins.

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

Chris Carter, PIT – OLB
Most pundits and draftniks are shocked Carter, an outstanding collegiate pass rusher, fell to the fifth round. He couldn’t have fallen to a better place, no one develops 3-4 OLBs better than the Steelers. His career path will seem like a rerun – develop on special teams and spot duty for a couple years before becoming a double-digit sack artist.

Greg Romeus, NO – DE
Last year, Ole Miss DE Greg Hardy fell to the Carolina Panthers in the 6th round due to injuries and inconsistency, followed by an unimpressive Combine, after looking like a potential first-round pick early in his collegiate career. After a brilliant preseason, Hardy worked his way in to the rotation and showed some promise. Romeus will be this year’s Hardy. Unlike Hardy, who also brought concerns about his attitude, durability is the main concern for Romeus. Primarily a basketball player growing up, he was redshirted as a freshman at Pitt after playing just one year of high school football. He blew up quickly from there, improving each season until he was Big East (Co-)Defensive Player of the Year as a junior in 2009. After deciding to stay in school, he was widely expected to be a first-round pick this year and considered to be one of the top pure pass rushing end prospect. Then his injury problems started. After battling back problem and struggling to start the season, he had surgery on a disc in his lower back and was out until November. In his first game back, he tore his right ACL and was done for the season. Regardless, this pick could be an absolute steal. I’m shocked he almost fell out of the draft. Perhaps the back concerns are more severe than disclosed, because a torn ACL is not a big deal anymore. Because the knee happened so late in the year, he has less of chance than Hardy to be a factor this year, but he has great potential for dynasty leagues.

Shiloh Keo, HOU – SS
The fifth round pick was a bit more appealing for a desperate Houston secondary before they reloaded in free agency. A tweener who is a LB in a DB’s body, he could eventually be a run-stopper in-the-box, but he is probably more likely destined to be special team standout and career backup.