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IDP Notes
Week 1
9/6/07

Quick Hits (Details in individual team notes)
  • No byes Week One
  • Depth charts updated with final cuts and latest roster moves
  • NE SS Harrison suspended 4 games
  • D.J. Williams replaces Al Wilson at MLB in DEN
  • Trotter out, Gaither in at MLB in PHI; Trotter to TB as reserve
  • Who Naivote Taulawakeiaho is and why you need to know him
  • Wilhelm, Cooper, and Hart among new starters in SD
  • BUF WLB Ellison sprains ankle in preseason finale
  • Suspension of KC DE Allen reduced to 2 games
  • DEN signs DE Rice, stunts youth movement on DLine
  • MIN DE Edwards wins starting job
  • NE DE Seymour to PUP, Green replaces him
  • SEA DE Tapp earning more snaps
  • S Boulware traded from SEA to HOU for DE Babin
  • Two new safety starters in KC
  • GB plays Atari (at SS)
Week 1 Injury Report (available Friday PM)

IDP Depth Chart
ARI | ATL | BAL | BUF | CAR | CHI | CIN | CLE
DAL
| DEN | DET | GB | HOU | IND | JAX | KC
MIA | MIN | NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | OAK | PHI
PIT | STL | SD | SF | SEA | TB | TEN | WAS


Arizona
DC Clancy Pendergast returned after agreeing with new HC Ken Whisenhunt to install more 3-4 schemes that Whisenhunt brought from his time in Pittsburgh with Dick LeBeau. The problem is they don’t really have the personnel, especially after a torn biceps will cost Chike Okeafor his season. The net sum of what the looks involve now appears primarily to be Bert Berry standing up on the edge. Either way, Berry, who lost over ten pounds to play more with his hand off the ground, should be on the field as much as his health allows. The more time he spends at LB, the better his tackle numbers may be, but he will be significantly less valuable if your league website now counts him as a LB. Gerald Hayes and Karlos Dansby man the inside in their 3-4 look, with Calvin Pace replacing Okeafor as the strong side OLB. Dansby will likely be on the field most of the time, regardless of down and scheme, with Hayes coming off in their nickel package. The team scored a surprise cut on waivers in Oakland’s third-round pick, Quentin Moses. Moses was considered a tweener coming out of college, so he has some future potential at OLB as the Cards implement more 3-4 sets.

CB Antrel Rolle has at least temporarily lost his starting job to Rod Hood. Inconsistency and injuries continue to make the 2005 eight overall pick a bust so far. Man-to-man pass coverage has been his biggest problem. A move to safety might give his athleticism and physical presence a better opportunity to get on the field and salvage his career in Arizona.

Atlanta
LB Keith Brooking will remain in the middle, with Michael Boley on the strong side and Demorrio Williams trying to hold the weak side job after pec surgery this spring. Rookie Stephen Nicholas could get an opportunity if the injury lingers or the undersized Williams struggles against the run. Another scenario would have Brooking returning to WLB and Jordan Beck getting a shot in the middle.

With first round talent, Jimmy Williams appeared to be a potential steal for the Falcons in the second round last year. However, an injury plagued rookie season prevented Williams from showing much at either CB or S, the latter where he projects to be a better fit for in the NFL. The job appeared to be his to lose in preseason, and he did just that. Starting FS Chris Crocker banged his knee in their third preseason game and was held out of the final one as a precaution, but he expects to be back for the opener. While unspectacular, Crocker is a solid veteran and Williams will likely have a hard time wrestling the job away from him until the Falcons are out of playoff contention.

After tearing his right quad, DT Rod Coleman wasn’t expected back until October. However, his recovery has been ahead of schedule and he may even start in their season opener. Health is huge question for the DLine, where last year’s big ticket FA, DE John Abraham, battled groin problems all year in his first season as a Falcon.

Baltimore
While the team waited until Day Two to address their LB corps that that faces the loss of Adalius Thomas and an aging Ray Lewis, they may have hit more than one home run. After recovering from an ankle sprain, fourth round pick Antwan Barnes has translated the athleticism he displayed at the Combine to the field. His rise from anonymity won’t have ended in Indy. UDFA and converted DE Edgar Jones from Southeast Missouri has also impressed on the outside. However, the most impressive discovery may be sixth rounder Prescott Burgess. A highly-touted HS recruit, he was solid in Michigan, but never lived up to his billing as an athletic playmaker. He battled injuries his final season and saw his draft stock plummet after unimpressive workouts. However, Burgess has been leaving an impression since the first day of camp when he lit up Willis McGahee. Barring injury, Barnes is likely the only one who will have much fantasy value this year. He should work in with run-stopping tweener Jarrett Johnson on the outside. However, dynasty leaguers should also keep an eye on the progress of Burgess.

After steadily building to a breakout 2004, a high ankle sprain derailed FS Ed Reed’s 2005 season. He signed a big extension prior to the 2006 season, but a litany of injuries and inconsistent play led to a disappointing year. When healthy, he is the top playmaking safety in the league, and I expect him to return to elite fantasy production this year.

Buffalo
Despite being a second-round pick and having the preferred pedigree, Paul Posluszny faced a battle from John DiGiorgio before winning the job to replace London Fletcher-Baker in the middle. If Poz struggles or is injured, DiGiorgio seems to be a name to keep an eye on. DiGiorgio was a UDFA signed last year out of DII Saginaw Valley State, where he finished as the school’s all-time leading tackler. Not quite the same as Poz achieving the same record at “Linebacker U”, but DiGiorgio was widely recognized as one of the top DII LB’s and also ranks third all-time in DII tackles. He was recruited by DI schools, mostly in the MAC, but broke his leg in his final HS game and ended up at SVSU. While the MLB competition has received most of the attention in camp, the entire LB corps was shaken up this off-season. In addition to Fletcher-Baker, WLB Takeo Spikes departed. Keith Ellison won the WLB job and was looking like a tremendous IDP value pick, but he suffered a high ankle sprain in their final preseason game on 8/30. A sixth round pick out of Oregon State last year, Ellison produced decent numbers filling in at both outside spots last year during injuries to Spikes and Angelo Crowell, which got him seven starts. Ellison is out indefinitely and converted S Coy Wire will start the season at WLB. Crowell, who also emerged from obscurity after an injury to Spikes in 2005, will remain at the SLB job he took over last year, giving him a bit less fantasy potential.

Carolina
After another concussion, the future of MLB Dan Morgan was again in doubt. Now he will try to comeback after not playing for almost a year. He was limited in the preseason, but did play a bit, and is expected to start on Sunday. For an athletic MLB, he comes at a deep discount…he might be on your waiver wire. He offers some good value for the short-term, but don’t count on him for the whole season. The team drafted LB Jon Beason with an eye to the future of replacing Morgan, which could be necessary by Monday, at this point. For now, Beason will start at WLB.

With the surprise retirement of Mike Minter, the safety position continues to be a problem for the Panthers. Nate Salley took the FS job by default early in preseason. Salley was a fourth round pick in 2006 who was originally cut, but signed with the practice squad and was active several games last year. The team has scrambled with late moves to try and get not just some depth, but some starters, at safety. Carolina traded a fifth round draft pick to the Bears for Chris Harris. Harris can play both positions and saw several starts in his first two years as an injury replacement. Harris will likely start at SS and is a nice sleeper, since the Panthers have few options. After the final round of cuts, the Panthers signed Marquand Manuel, who lost the starting SS job in GB. Manuel is likely a reserve, but could take over SS and bump Harris to FS if Salley struggles. The team also has Deke Cooper, but his value is on special teams and he has failed to hold a starting job when previously presented with opportunities.

DE Mike Rucker suffered a torn ACL and MCL last December. Before the injury, the productivity of the former Pro Bowler had already been declining, especially in getting to the QB. With that in mind, the team added Charles Johnson in the third round. Johnson emerged as a top pass rusher at Georgia last year while the more highly-touted Quentin Moses struggled. In the spring, many assumed Johnson would take the job while Rucker recovered in to the season and not relinquish it. However, Johnson has not impressed much in camp or the preseason and Rucker’s rehab has consistently been ahead of schedule. Johnson may have even fallen behind Stanley McClover, who has worked with the first team in camp when Rucker rested. McClover is an intriguing player for dynasty leagues. Prior to the draft last year, he was predicted by many to be a Day One pick, but slid to the end of the draft amid concerns about his size and readiness for the next level (he left after as a draft-eligible sophomore). He had the frame to carry more weight and put on about 15 pounds this off-season to have the body to be an every-down end.

Chicago
Adam Archuleta has the SS job locked up and should be born again strong back under Lovie. The team’s confidence in him was exemplified when they traded Chris Harris, who was bumped to a reserve after the acquisition of Archuleta, for a fifth round pick.

The loss of DT Tank Johnson should be absorbed thanks to the trade for Darwin Walker. The former Eagle was traded to the Bills, but wanted his contract redone in order to play for Buffalo. When the Bills wouldn’t comply, he was shipped to Chicago for a fifth round, effectively making Harris a swap for Walker. Although pushing three bills, Walker is an agile player and more of an interior pass rusher than run-stopper. Although Walker was paid starter money by the Bears, it may be Dusty Dvoracek who lines up next to Tommie Harris in the base starting defense. Dvoracek is more in the mold of a space-eating NT, whereas Harris and Walker both play the 3-technique. Walker should play behind Harris, but will likely see a lot of snaps as the team is cautious with Harris’s rebuilt left hamstring. Harris is the most pivotal player in the defense. His ability to draw double-teams and collapse the pocket opens up things for the athletic players on the edges and at LB. The difference in the performance of the defense during his absence last year was obvious and quantifiable. DE Mark Anderson broke out as a situational pass rusher in his rookie season last year and now he has moved in to the starting role at RDE. Alex Brown was unhappily pushed to a reserve role. The big questions are if Anderson has the stamina and can play the run.

Lance Briggs finally relented and took the franchise deal, with an agreement from the Bears to not slap it on him next year. After all the acrimony in the off-season, and the fact the end result wasn’t a long term deal from Chicago, it looks like Briggs is one and done as a Bear. That shouldn’t impact his performance, despite his feelings for the front office, he has always been considered a team player. Not too mention the small of matter of him still being motivated to play for the big contract next year. Before the matter was resolved, the Bears drafted LB Michael Okwo in the third round as a potential replacement. After injuring his shoulder in the final preseason game, Okwo was placed on the IR. Jamar Williams now remains the top backup if Briggs is injured.

Cincinnati
With commissioner Roger Goodell denying ending the suspension of Odell Thurman for this season, Ahmad Brooks will regain the starting MLB he took over and lost last season. Thurman cannot apply for reinstatement again until after the 2007 season. Meanwhile, Brooks will try to show more consistency in a role he showed flashes of brilliance mixed with brutal rookie mistakes last year. He may lose fewer snaps on passing downs if he continues to be used as a passing rushing end, where he spent some time in the preseason on third downs when Robert Geathers was injured. If the struggles for Brooks continue to outweigh the value he can add, Caleb Miller becomes very valuable. The team took a flyer on LB Edgerton Hartwell, who hoped to try again to play through chronic knee problems. However, he was released in the final cuts. They released Hartwell despite SLB Rashad Jeanty getting surgery on his calf last week. The versatile Landon Johnson could move from the weak to strong side and Miller could replace Johnson at SLB while Jeanty is out. Special teams ace Andre Frazier could also see more action and the team added a valuable reserve in versatile journeyman Lemar Marshall, who could also figure in while Jeanty is out. Jeanty indicated he would be out “a couple of weeks”, but there has been no official word from the Bengals.

Cleveland
ILB Andra Davis missed the preseason due to an ankle sprain, but has practiced lately and is expected to start this weekend. Leon Williams replaced him and had an impressive run. Williams is ready to be a productive player if Davis or D’Qwell Jackson falter or are injured. On the outside, Willie McGinest back surgery in August and is expected to miss the first few weeks of the season. Antwan Peek will start opposite Kamerion Wimbley in place of McGinest. Wimbley showed a lot as a situational pass rusher last year and could breakout as a full-time player this year.

Dallas
OLB Greg Ellis has been struggling with problems with his Achilles’ tendon all preseason. Rookie Anthony Spencer is expected to start in the season opener despite struggling to transition from his DE position in college. If Spencer exceeds expectations, he may not surrender the starting job when Ellis returns. Bobby Carpenter, who never got out of Bill Parcells’ doghouse, has moved back outside to enhance depth with Ellis and top outside backup Kevin Burnett injured. Burnett had surgery to remove bone chips from his ankle in late August. Starting ILB Bradie James also gets a bump, because he is expected to remain in for pass packages Burnett and not James were in. Akin Ayodele remains the other starting ILB and Demarcus Ware, who should be a sack-machine, the other OLB.

Ken Hamlin joins the team from Seattle and takes over FS. CB Terence Newman has a plantar fascia tear in his right foot. He has been unable to practice lately and is questionable to start the season. Jacques Reeves would start in his place. Newman will likely have to deal with the injury all season. Expect him to regularly miss practice and be on the injury report, but if he is playing well, you can start to ignore it.

Denver
D.J. Williams is the new MLB after the team parted ways with Al Wilson in the off-season. Williams, who has only played outside going back to his days at Miami, hasn't been outstanding in the transition. However, it appears Williams still has the confidence of the chronically impatient Mike Shanahan. Despite lack of rave reviews in camp and the preseason, Williams has Top 20 potential with this opportunity. Nate Webster will replace Williams on the strong side. If Williams struggles, Webster, whose experience is primarily in the middle, could take over MLB and gain a huge boost in value. In that scenario, Williams would return to SLB.

Creating a pass rush in the front four has been a lingering problem for Denver and their draft this year was slanted toward addressing it. Tweener Jarvis Moss was their first round pick and offers the most upside as a pass rusher, but second round pick Tim Crowder has quietly had more consistency in camp, until turning an ankle. The release of Kenard Lang and season-ending injury to Ebenezer Ekuban created immediate opportunities for their youth. It looked like sophomore Elvis Dumervil would be the big winner. As a rookie last year, Dumervil flashed the best upside as a pass rusher, from both the interior and edge, in their otherwise haggard collection of linemen. With the opportunity to be an every-down player on the right side, Dumervil would be a strong candidate for double-digit sacks. However, the team signed Simeon Rice on Monday and youth will have to wait, at least for a little while. Rice likely starts on the right, buying time for Moss and Crowder to develop. That could be later this year, or it could be next year, but projections for both are downgraded. While it may cost him a starting role, I still expect Dumervil to post good sack numbers because he can rush from the interior, as well. Crowder may be able to overtake veteran John Engelberger on the left side, but Moss will likely be limited to just replacing either in nickel and pass packages as a rusher.

Detroit
Once again, the front four is the only place this defense isn't a mess. Dewayne White is primed for a breakout year now that he finally has a full-time role after coming over from the Bucs. Cory Redding and Shaun Rogers both will be top producing interior linemen, for leagues that segregate DTs. However, I have given up on expecting Kalimba Edwards to live up to his potential as a pass rusher. Rookie Ikaika Alama-Francis could see a good deal of work in the rotation on pass rushing situations, cutting in to the numbers of both DEs.

A season-ending torn ACL by FS Daniel Bullocks creates an opportunity for rookie Gerald Alexander. He should get first shot at the starting job, with journeyman Idrees Bashir waiting in the wings.

Green Bay
Undrafted out of Central Florida in 2005, Atari Bigby unseated Marquand Manuel and held off third-round pick Aaron Rouse to win the starting SS job. Bigby, who spent the last two years on practice squads and in NFLE, is a big hitter who energizes the defense. Manuel, who went to high school with Bigby, was subsequently released.

After continuing to struggle with patellar tendonitis in both knees again this year, second-year LB Abdul Hodge was placed on the IR. The impressive debut of rookie LB Desmond Bishop this preseason made the decision a little easier for the organization. Bishop will be the primary MLB backup behind Nick Barnett.

Houston
Journeyman Danny Clark won the starting SLB job, but Charlie Anderson and Shatee Orr should see snaps there too. Clark had a fluke breakout year in 2004 when he took over the Raiders MLB job by default, but has shown little playmaking ability over his career and isn’t worth a spot in most leagues as a strong side starter.

A late preseason trade brought Michael Boulware from Seattle for Jason Babin. After flashing some big play ability as a rookie, he won a starting role in 2005, but lost it do to inconsistency and struggles in pass coverage last year. After Glenn Earl went on the IR, backup Jason Simmons took over the starting SS. Boulware won’t challenge for the immediately, as he needs time to learn the defense, but I expect Boulware to take the job sooner than later. He could be a solid waiver wire addition later this year, even if he doesn’t add as much value to the team in real football terms.

Indianapolis
WLB in Tony Dungy's defense has long been the ticket to elite fantasy production regardless of pedigree. Naivote Taulawakeiaho (better known as Freddie Keiaho) appears to be the next relatively unknown player who could join the fantasy elite overnight. A late bloomer, Freddie started his San Diego State career listed as an RB, but mostly worked as a standout on special teams. After Kirk Morrison’s departure, he took over MLB for the Aztecs in his final season and ended as first-team all-conference. After once again making his bones on special teams and as a back-up, Freddie finds himself with a prime opportunity and appears set to succeed.

Look for a healthy and motivated Dwight Freeney to return to double-digit sack production. Despite their ability to put up big numbers on offense, the Colts faced the least amount of passes in the league last season (440) due to their inability to stop the run (only the Raiders faced more rushing attempts). While their prospects of stopping the run this year don’t seem to have improved much (if at all), I still think Freeney will bounce back. Despite a career-low 5.5 sacks last season, he still registered a team-best 33 pressures, according to DL coach John Teerlinck.

Jacksonville
First round pick Reggie Nelson is expected to have recovered from an ankle sprain in the second preseason game to be in the starting FS on opening day. Gerald Sensabaugh should start at SS. The team picked up Sammy Knight during the preseason, who is insurance against either of the young players struggling.

DE Reggie Hayward returns from a torn Achilles to resume his preferred LDE spot. Bobby McCray, who flashed his potential as a pass rusher last year, will be an opening day starter for the first time and has excellent sack potential as a full-time player.

Kansas City
DE Jared Allen suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy was decreased to two games after appeal. He was originally suspended four games after two DUI arrests last year. Jimmy Wilkerson is expected to start the first two games in his place.

Derrick Johnson remains the only returning LB starter from last year. Donnie Edwards returns to the Chiefs and replaces FA flop Kendrell Bell outside. Napoleon Harris takes over the middle as Kawika Mitchell moved to the Giants.

The youth movement at safety is in full effect this year. Hard-hitting Bernard Pollard takes over at SS after the team parted ways with Sammy Knight. FS Jarrad Page pushes Greg Wesley to a reserve role. Page worked his way in to splitting time with Knight at SS last season. However, Page has superior coverage skills compared to Pollard, making Page a better fit at FS. Both players are intriguing dynasty options, with Pollard getting a slight advantage due to likely better tackle numbers.

Miami
Miami installed more 3-4 looks last year, with Jason Taylor dropping back, and the addition of OLB Joey Porter fits that perfectly. However, Porter has been limited due to soreness in a right knee had a procedure on in May. He is expected to be ready for the season opener. Channing Crowder plays WILB in the 3-4 and has filled in at MLB in the 4-3 with Zach Thomas rested much of the preseason as a precaution. Crowder will play WLB in 4-3 schemes, but his time at MIKE under new HC Cam Cameron reinforces for dynasty leaguers that the team still view Crowder as the future in the middle.

Minnesota
DE Erasmus James finally returned from his knee injury, but has not looked good in limited action this preseason. Ray Edwards has won the starting RDE job and appears to have the most upside a pass rusher of all their ends. Fourth-round pick Brian Robinson also may have passed James on the depth chart. Robinson was extremely impressive this preseason, leading the team with three sacks, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries, including one for a TD. On the left side, uninspiring former first-round pick Kenechi Udeze has a tenuous hold on a starting job. Darrion Scott should see time inside and out, with him or Robinson possibly replacing Udeze sometime this season.

Finally given an opportunity to be a full-time MLB, E.J. Henderson emerged last year. With a year of that under his belt and a strong interior line in front of him, Henderson could take the next step this year in fantasy production.

New England
After off-season knee surgery, DE Richard Seymour still isn’t ready to return. He placed on the PUP and will miss at least the first six games of the season. Jarvis Green, who broke out with a career-best seven sacks last season, moves in to the starting lineup. As a 3-4 DE, Green still isn’t an appealing pickup.

SS Rodney Harrison was suspended four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. He admitted to using human growth hormone (HGH). James Sanders is likely to start in his place.

The versatile Adalius Thomas, arguably the top free agent available this year, was the major off-season acquisition. Thomas projects to start inside on running downs and rush from the edge in passing situations, but is likely to line up all over the field like he did in Baltimore. He is the perfect player for the Bill Belichick’s complex defensive schemes and should rarely be off the field on defense.

New Orleans
When former Bengal standout Brian Simmons was brought in, he seemed the favorite to take over the starting MLB job. However, scrappy Mark Simoneau has held on and will begin the season there.

SS Roman Harper was impressive as a rookie until a blown knee ended his season. He is back in the starting role and could put up some good numbers. FS Josh Bullocks has yet to show the ball hawk skills he displayed at Nebraska, but should have plenty of opportunities again this year with opponents needing to throw to keep up with the Saints high-powered offense.

New York Giants
After a holdout through the entire preseason, DE Michael Strahan has returned. Because of Strahan’s late return, the team was granted a two-week roster exemption. However, they lose it once he is on the active roster. Although HC Tom Coughlin has thrown out coachspeak about needing to see the shape Strahan is in, expect him to play in Sunday night’s division match-up at Dallas. Regardless, DE Justin Tuck, who has impressed in camp, should see more work this year. The return of Strahan insures the move of Mathias Kiwanuka to SLB will continue. Kawika Mitchell, who comes over from the middle in KC, will be the WLB.

Will Demps was placed on the IR and is expected to be released after an injury settlement is released. Demps struggled through his only season as a Giant last year, hampered by knee problems from a January 2006 surgery. James Butler moves in to the starting lineup at SS with only two rookies (Craig Dahl and Michael Johnson) to backup Butler and FS Gibril Wilson.

New York Jets
The team traded up 16 spots to take LB David Harris in the second round and that apparently lit a fire under Eric Barton. He has had an exceptional preseason and should retain a starting spot next to Jonathan Vilma. However, Harris will see his work in the rotation. Victor Hobson had a career year in 2006 and moves back outside this year, so don’t expect anywhere near the same numbers.

Oakland
Third-round pick Quentin Moses worked primarily with the first team most of the preseason and appeared to have the edge for the starting RDE job over former UDFA Kevin Huntley. However, in a surprising move, the team cut both players and will instead move tweener Tommy Kelly to a full-time role on the outside. Fifth-round pick Jay Richardson will back Kelly up. Moses was the highest draft choice released by any team this year (65th overall). Although their premier pass rushing threat, DE Derrick Burgess primarily plays on the left side, so Kelly will be an anchor on the right and gets a bump to his tackle and sack projections by moving primarily outside. Despite limited participation as a precaution after off-season hernia surgery, Burgess looked like he was ready for the start of the season. Don't expect another double-digit sack season from Warren Sapp. DT Gerard Warren, the oft-maligned 2001 third overall pick, came over from the Broncos in a trade. With moving Kelly outside, the team needed a serviceable space-eater inside. However, DT Warren Sapp already questioned how Warren will fit in. Not a good start when your resident loud mouth greets the guys who will be playing next to him like that. You have to wonder how little value DEN HC Mike Shanahan places on Warren to be willing to trade him to a division rival where the dislike for organization is personal for Shanahan.

Thomas Howard and Kirk Morrison are one of the top young LB tandems in the league. Both should be excellent fantasy producers this year, with Howard having more big play upside. While versatile former first-round pick SS Michael Huff continued to struggle to standout at a position, the signing of veteran FA SS Donovin Darius seemed ominous. However, Darius was among the final cuts and Huff’s projections move up by default.

Philadelphia
With far less bitterness than four years ago, Jeremiah Trotter is out of Philly again. Despite showing up to camp healthy and slimmer, claiming to be in the best shape of his life, Trotter was released with an amicable parting in late August. Andy Reid apparently is confident the future is now for Omar Gaither. Gaither showed flashes as a back-up and in five starts as an injury replacement last year. Now Gaither’s value takes a huge leap as he is expected to be an every-down MLB. Reid has rarely made the wrong call on a player’s cost-benefit analysis. As a matter of fact, the last time appears to have made a bad judgment in this area was the first time he let Trotter get away. Undersized Mark Simoneau failed to replace Trotter and the team struggled at the spot for two years until they brought Trotter back in 2005. Now they are rolling the dice on another undersized player in Gaither. Although a more exciting prospect than Simoneau, Gaither may also be challenged in stopping the run. If Gaither does struggle against the run, rookie Stewart Bradley could be called to bring his size to the middle on running downs. For now, Gaither projects to have Top 20 potential at LB.

Pittsburgh
Early in training camp, first-round pick Lawrence Timmons aggravated a groin injury he suffered in a May mini-camp. He has battled it since and failed to impress. He was backing up James Harrison, who replaced Joey Porter at ROLB, but now Timmons is getting reps inside too. Fellow rookie LaMarr Woodley has been more impressive so far, especially as a pass rusher. Woodley backs up Clark Haggans at LOLB and should be worked in to pass packages early.

St. Louis
DE James Hall will try to resurrect his career after a couple injury-plagued years his last two seasons in Detroit. The team has struggled to find a compliment to Leonard Little. However, Little didn’t need much help last year. He returned to double-digit sacks for the first time in three years and forced seven fumbles.

San Diego
Despite missing the first three preseason games with a strained calf, Matt Wilhelm appears to have held on to the weak side job inside. He replaces Donnie Edwards, who led the team in tackles, and ranked among the elite in fantasy production, for the last five years. Wilhelm lacks Edwards’s sideline-to-sideline speed and pass coverage ability, but is a fundamentally solid player who should pile up tackle numbers. While Wilhelm was out, Tim Dobbins impressed replacing him and remains a player to keep an eye on if Wilhelm struggles. The departure of Randall Godfrey opened up the other ILB spot, which Stephen Cooper takes over. Cooper has steadily progressed as a backup and looking at the opportunity to start all year, he will have career numbers across the board. Cooper should be used more as a pass rusher than Wilhelm, as well.

As usual, Clinton Hart was a valuable special teams performer (team-high 22 tackles on returns) last year and worked his way in to a few starts on defense. He had a career-high three picks. This summer, the veteran held off second-round pick Eric Weddle for SS1 through the preseason and for the first time in his career, Hart will begin the season as a starter.

San Francisco
First round pick LB Patrick Willis started behind WILB Derek Smith on the depth chart, but has moved to SILB and bumped Brandon Moore to the bench. Moore was a fantasy breakout star last year, but his inconsistent tackling has him back in reserve role. If Tully Banta-Cain struggles outside, Moore could see time there, across from OLB Manny Lawson. Derek Smith is near the end of his solid career, so Willis could slide over to WILB sooner than later and Moore could be worked back in.

Seattle
After the release of DE Grant Wistrom in the off-season, the team signed former Falcon Patrick Kerney to shore up a DLine that struggle to rush the passer last season. However, Kerney plays the left side, so the status of incumbent Bryce Fisher there was uncertain. In the spring, Fisher appeared likely to replace Wistrom on the right side. However, the play of last year’s second-round pick Darryl Tapp appears to have altered that plan. After getting three sacks in their first two preseason games, Tapp got the start at RDE against Minnesota. However, he was swallowed up against the Vikings by T Bryant McKinnie. With Kerney rested as a precaution, Tapp got the start at LDE in the final preseason game, while Fisher got the start at RDE. Both played an unspectacular quarter, and then Tapp slid back to the right side. In the second quarter, he had a QB pressure leading to an incomplete on a fourth down play and two TFL’s, including one for a safety. Darryl Tapp could be a poor man's Dwight Freeney this season. Like Freeney, Tapp is undersized for an end, but also has similar explosion and technique to succeed as a pass rusher. Whether or not he is the nominal starter, Tapp should see a significant increase in snaps this year and has potential for great value in leagues where sacks score big and forced fumbles are counted. Don’t expect many tackles, though. Meanwhile, stay away from Fisher. The biggest impact to the DLine may be the loss of DT Marcus Tubbs, who tore his ACL in their preseason finale. He had been coming back from microfracture surgery on his left knee earlier this year. In addition to drawing double-teams and collapsing the pocket to help the rest of the front four on runs and in pass rushing, his loss has a knock-on effect. When playing more snaps, Rocky Bernard doesn’t have the legs to be as much of a pass rusher on third down. The team signed Ellis Wyms, cut by the Bucs, to help fill the void.

After flashing some big play ability his first two years that earned him a starting job, S Michael Boulware couldn’t overcome inconsistency and struggles in pass coverage. Apparently unable to convince the HC Mike Holmgren he could turn it around, the Seahawks swapped Boulware for former first-round pick Jason Babin. A DE in college, Babin failed to make the conversion to playing with his hand off the ground in the 3-4 Houston ran when he first arrived. Last year, a new regime that installed a 4-3 could have meant a fresh start, but the selection of DE Mario Williams with the first overall pick eliminated the opportunity for Babin to show he could be an impact player. There isn’t immediate opportunity here, but again vet Patrick Kerney is a stop-gap player at this point, Bryce Fisher has regressed, and the potential of undersized Darryl Tapp as an every-down player in uncertain. If Babin can do enough this year to hold a roster spot, he could be in competition for a bigger role again next year.

Tampa Bay
The release of DE Simeon Rice opened the door for first-round pick Gaines Adams to have a full-time role. Former Bronco tweener Patrick Chukwurah was performing well as a speed rusher in camp, and threatened to encroach the snaps Adams would see, but Chukwurah was injured in their third preseason game. Chukwurah partially tore his right MCL in the game and is expected to miss 3-6 weeks. He hopes to return for their home opener in Week 2.

Cato June was their big off-season addition at LB, but he is slated for the strong side, which limits his fantasy potential. Don’t expect the numbers he put up as WLB in Indy. With Shelton Quarles finally completely out of the picture, Barrett Ruud steps in as the starting MLB in his third season. The team signed Jeremiah Trotter after the Eagles released him, but Ruud should still retain most of his value. Trotter is bigger and lacks the athleticism the Bucs like at LB. He may be in some short-yardage packages, but should primarily be insurance for Ruud. Of course, Derrick Brooks remains the WLB. Dynasty leaguers should note the team may have drafted his future replacement, Quincy Black, who has looked good in camp and the preseason.

Despite the addition of Sabby Piscitelli in the second round, Jermaine Phillips appears to have hung on to his starting SS job. However, rookie Tanard Jackson looks like he has taken the starting FS job from Will Allen.

Tennessee
After just three starts in his first three NFL seasons with the Cowboys, Ryan Fowler has beat out last year’s fourth-round pick, Stephen Tulloch, for the starting MLB job. As the Titan’s run a lot of nickel as their base, even on running downs, their MLB has typically been of little fantasy value. Stud WLB Keith Bulluck is the only LB who never comes off the field.

Calvin Lowry beat out Lamont Thompson for the starting FS job and Thompson was released. The development of Lowry allowed the team to focus first-round pick Michael Griffin at CB, where he appears to have won a starting job. Griffin is a sure tackler and should post good numbers in that department as a starter or nickel back. Chris Hope had a career-year last season. I still like him to be a top fantasy DB, but don’t expect the same extraordinary numbers.

After a brief, but controversial, stint with the Colts, DT Corey Simon was release and signed by the Titans. If he is past the mysterious health problems that led to an acrimonious split with Indy, he still needs to return to football shape after not playing a snap last year. While he’ll have no fantasy value himself, if he can contribute in the rotation in returning to a player who forces some double-teams, he could free up others on the DLine and at LB to make plays.

I’m sick of talking about Pacman Jones. With all the media coverage he’s gotten, if you don’t know his deal by now, you shouldn’t be playing in IDP leagues.

Washington
Why the team was hesitant to include LB Rocky McIntosh in a deal for the Lance Briggs was made obvious during the preseason. McIntosh was all over the field and stood out as their starting WLB. He could have a breakout year in his second season. With London Fletcher-Baker takes over in the middle, Lemar Marshall was forced out of town due to the progress of McIntosh. Fletch-Baker should be a tackle-machine, as usual, and a Top Ten fantasy LB.

First round pick LaRon Landry takes over the SS job and Sean Taylor will be at FS, giving the Redskins an explosive playmaking tandem up the middle.