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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.