Beginning this season, the NFL passed a rule allowing the defense
to utilize the same helmet communicator that QBs wear to hear their
coaches until they shutdown with 15 seconds left on the play clock
or the ball is snapped. Each team will have one primary player designated
to wear the headset (indicated by a green dot on the helmet, just
like the QB). There will also be a backup player designated whose
headset will only be activated in the event of injury to the primary
player. These are helpful indicators of fantasy value, because teams
will want to select a player they use in most of their packages,
i.e. someone who will be on the field for most of the snaps. However,
this is a game-by-game decision. I’ve tried to mention the
players I’ve seen with significant expectations to regularly
wear the headset.
Arizona Travis LaBoy comes over from the Titans and beat out Bert Berry
to start at OLB in their 3-4 opposite Chike Okeafor. SS Adrian Wilson
should return to be an elite fantasy producer after an injury-plagued
2007. Antrel Rolle moves from CB to starting FS and should put up
solid numbers, but has been battling a high ankle sprain in the
After appearing to be battling former UDFA Tony
Taylor for the starting MLB job in the preseason, rookie Curtis
Lofton became the obvious winner when Taylor was released
in the final cuts. He should be among the top producing rookies
on defense. Keith Brooking returns from playing the middle last
year to his familiar WLB spot. Brooking is expected to be the
primary headset player. Fragile DE John
Abraham suffered a right ankle sprain in the first preseason
game that limited him, but he is ready for the season.
FS Ed Reed has been limited by a “nerve impingement”
in his neck and left shoulder that is likely to cost him at least
the season opener. Despite drafting two safeties, the team will
lean on veteran Jim Leonhard in Reed’s absence. Leonhard
broke out with the Bills last year when injuries hit their defensive
MLB Paul Posluszny racked up double-digit tackles in his first
two games before breaking his left forearm in the third game and
missed the rest of the season. Posluszny’s situation further
improved this offseason when the team added Marcus Stroud to the
Beason looks to build on an impressive rookie season. There
was some concern he would move to WLB with the addition of rookie
but Beason appears locked in the middle for the long term with
the potential to be the top IDP producer. He is expected to usually
wear the defensive headset. Thomas
Davis gets a bump as he moves to WLB. DE Julius Peterson moves
to the right side and should bounce back after his worst season.
On the opposite side, Raiders reject Tyler
Brayton won the starting job, but should rotate with Charles
Johnson, who has more upside as a pass rusher.
Chicago Brandon McGowan finished last season as the starting SS, but Kevin
Payne has apparently pushed him in practice despite unspectacular
performances in the preseason games. The way the front seven tackled
in the preseason, the position has a look of potential on the
team. McGowan gets the tentative nod as the player to have now.
Alex Brown regained the starting job at RDE and Mark Anderson
returns to a pass rush specialist role, a move that should benefit
Odom was the significant FA signing on the defensive side
of the ball, replacing the departed Justin
Smith. HC Marvin Lewis hoping could help their pass rush after
his breakout eight-sack season in 2007. However, Odom sprained
his foot in the first practice of camp and barely saw any work.
Rucker has been working with the first-team and Odom will
likely be eased back in. Despite a holdout, first-round pick Keith
Rivers wasted no time taking over the WLB job. He should be
among the top producing IDP rookies. Dhani
Jones was the surprise selection to take over the middle,
but looks to have a lock on the job and potential for 2008. His
value gets an additional bump as he will wear the defensive headset,
meaning he should be in most packages on defense. Chinedum Ndukwe
looked to be a high potential sleeper at SS, but after suffering
a leg injury in camp, Dexter
Jackson looks to remain the starter to begin the season. Ndukwe
could surpass him shortly in to the season.
Cleveland Andra Davis and Leon Williams rotated next to D’Qwell Jackson
at ILB last year and the situation appeared to become more complicated
when the team drafted Beau Bell. However, Bell battled tendonitis
in his knees early in camp and finally had the right knee scoped.
He made the final 53-man roster, so he will play this season,
but the rotation of Davis and Williams should start the season.
Davis has been wearing the headset, so he appears to slightly
have more potential compared to Williams and Bell.
CB Adam (formerly Pacman) Jones was officially reinstated, a formality
that was expected. He begins the season as the third corner, ahead
of first-round pick Mike Jenkins. Jones has some decent value,
and big play potential, in that role alone, but is really valuable
in leagues that count return stats. He will be the primary punt
returner and will see work as a kick returner, as well. ILB Zach
Thomas played in a career-low five games last year after a concussion
and aggravation of his head and neck problems in a car accident
ended his season on the IR, against his will, as he was plagued
with migraines and concerns of post-concussion syndrome. However,
this offseason Thomas found out a deviated septum had at least
contributed to the migraines and after getting it fixed, has reported
no ongoing problems. His age, lingering concerns about his head
injury, and working in a 3-4 make still make him a high risk/high
reward pick. ILB Bradie James is expected to be the primary headset
The early consensus when former Seahawk Niko Koutouvides was signed
as a free agent was that he was the future MLB in Denver. However,
journeyman Nate Webster, who had some limited starting experience
in Tampa Bay, beat out Koutouvides. This battle went down to the
wire and Webster may still be available on the waiver wire. However,
temper your expectations. Not only was it a close battle, giving
Webster little margin for error, but he is expected to be a two-down
player. D.J. Williams, who moves from the middle to WLB, will
wear the defensive headset and looks to be on the field in most
Second-round pick Jordan Dizon failed to immediately wrestle the
starting MLB job away from Paris Lenon. Lenon is not an elite
producer, but a nice sleeper in deep leagues, as Dizon generated
initial excitement and had people discarding Lenon.
WLB A.J. Hawk had a minor sophomore slump, failing to turn in
as many big plays as he did as a rookie in 2006. He has been battling
a sprained pec and missed most of the preseason. He is questionable
for opening weekend and Brandon Chillar would start in Hawk’s
place if he can’t go. FS Nick Collins and SS Atari Bigby
have little room for error this year as talented Aaron Rouse can
play both positions and showed he is a playmaker when Collins
was hurt last year. Former UDFA Bigby was the surprise of last
year and continues to hold Rouse at bay, so Collins has more pressure
on him despite better pedigree and a solid track record. However,
Collins has also been the backup on headset to MLB Nick Barnett
in the preseason.
MLB DeMeco Ryans proved he was no fluke last year, while DE Mario
Williams emerged as one of the elite ends. Both players are legitimate
contenders to be the top fantasy performer at their position.
CB Fred Bennett also emerged as a rookie last year, particularly
in the second half of the season. The team could have one of the
best corner tandems in the league, but it remains to be seen how
Dunta Robinson recovers from a serious injury last season. He
tore his right ACL and the same hamstring in early November. Robinson
will start the season on the PUP list, meaning he is out for at
least the first six weeks of the season.
DE Dwight Freeney worked only briefly in the preseason as he returns
from a Lisfranc injury to his left foot. Raheem Brock has passed
him as a starter and after two years of a significant decline
in performance before the injury last season, Freeney seems a
long-shot to return to being an elite performer. Playing like
the Tasmanian Devil netted FS Bob Sanders the DPoY Award and made
him one of the top fantasy producers last year, but it has also
taken a toll on his body. Sanders had shoulder surgery in the
offseason for the second straight season and he has been plagued
by a number of injuries in his career. He has never played 16
games in his four-year career, twice playing less than six. Clint
Session will start at SLB to begin the season as Tyjuan Hagler
is on the PUP list with a torn pec. Session flashed some playmaking
ability when give the opportunity as a rookie last year.
Jacksonville Brian Williams
moves from CB to SS and becomes a sneaky fantasy pick. MLB Mike
Peterson has had his season cut short by injury the last two
years. He’ll give you top-20 numbers when healthy, but at 32 and
now being considered as injury-prone is a risky pick. He will
wear the defensive headset. First-round pick DE Derrick
Harvey held out most of the preseason and is now buried on
the depth chart. He is a nice dynasty player, but likely ruined
his chance to be an impact player this season.
Linebacker has been a disaster this offseason. Demorrio
Williams was signed to challenge for a starting job, but instead
looked like Kendrell
Bell Part 2 before breaking his hand halfway through the preseason.
If Williams had immediately panned out, the thought was he would
start at one OLB and Donnie
Edwards would move to the middle, pushing Napoleon
Harris to the bench. Not only has Williams been a disappointment,
but Edwards and Harris battled nagging injuries in the preseason.
This opened the door for former Jaguar back-up Pat Thomas to claim
the starting MLB job to begin the season. Edwards remains outside
Johnson. DE Tamba
Hali has underwhelmed moving to the right side to replace
the departed Jared
Allen. The Chiefs will struggle to put pressure on the QB
from the edges unless it comes from blitzes. Seventh-round pick
is one bright spot on the DLine, but his potential may take some
time to realize.
With the departure of Zach Thomas, this becomes Channing Crowder’s
defense. He’ll play WILB in their 3-4 and is a good bet
to pile up tackle numbers, but has shown little big play ability.
After a history of knee problems dating back to high school, he
missed his first four games as a pro last year due to a right
knee injury. Akin Ayodele comes over from the Cowboys to work
next to Crowder inside. OLB Joey Porter had a nice debut with
the Dolphins in 2007, but has been plagued by back problems in
the preseason. Former first-round pick Jason Allen finally appeared
to progress last year with taking over the starting FS job, but
he’s failed to impress the new regime and fallen behind
Chris Crocker on the depth chart.
The Vikings solved the one glaring weakness in their defense,
rushing the passer, by adding the league’s sack leader,
DE Jared Allen. Starting LDE Ray Edwards and third DE Brian Robison
should benefit from the attention Allen will draw. MLB E.J. Henderson
will wear the headset and looks to build on his breakout year
last season. On the outside, Chad Greenway and Ben Leber switched
roles. Greenway’s value takes a hit with his move to SLB
while Leber, who has flashed playmaking ability since coming over
to the Vikings, becomes a huge value pick. FS Madieu Williams
looked to be a huge addition coming over from the Bengals, but
it could be October before he makes an impact. He was not placed
on the PUP list, but there are reports he could miss up to six
weeks with a neck injury. Second-round pick Tyrell Johnson will
be thrown in to the fire in centerfield until Williams returns.
First-round pick LB Jerod Mayo looks set to be an impact rookie
next to Tedy Bruschi inside the second level of the defense. The
quick progression of Mayo means Adalius Thomas should be spending
most of his time on the outside, so expect his sack numbers to
spike after seeing extensive use inside last season.
New Orleans Jonathan Vilma looks to move past his mysterious knee injury and
ugly departure from the Jets to take over the middle in the Big
Easy. His first time in a true 4-3, Vilma has huge fantasy potential,
but carries some risk. After spending his entire career as mostly
a back-up in Cinci, Kevin Kaesviharn has taken over the starting
FS role from Josh Bullocks.
New York Giants
The retirement of DE Michael Strahan was palatable until DE Osi
Umenyiora was lost for the season with a torn lateral meniscus
in his left knee. Justin Tuck, coming off a breakout year last
season, replaces Strahan on the left side and Mathias Kiwanuka
will move from SLB to play with his hand on ground at RDE. Kiwanuka,
a collegiate DE, has high upside as a pass rusher. Journeyman
Danny Clark takes over at SLB, while Gerris Wilkinson looks to
live up to his potential replacing Kawika Mitchell at WLB. First-round
pick Kenny Phillips has impressed, but looks to share time in
a deep safety group.
New York Jets
With converted DE Bryan Thomas unable to consistently bring pressure
from the edge at OLB in the 3-4, the team added another converted
DE, Calvin Pace, who comes off a career year last season. ILB
David Harris exploded after taking over as a rookie last year
and he will team with Eric Barton inside in helping the team and
fans try to forget about Jonathan Vilma.
The knock on MLB Kirk Morrison and WLB Thomas Howard was that
despite being tackle-machines, neither turned in many big plays.
That changed last year with four and six interceptions, respectively,
by the duo. Both are extremely safe and solid IDP picks who are
young enough to still have untapped upside. The two big free agent
acquisitions were in the secondary, where SS Gibril Wilson and
CB DeAngelo Hall should both be top fantasy performers at their
positions (Hall at CB in leagues that segregate).
MLB Stewart Bradley is a popular breakout pick as takes over the
middle and the headset in Philly. He replaces Omar Gaither at
MLB, while Gaither moves to WLB. Former NE CB Asante Samuel was
the big free agent acquisition. He’ll line up with Sheldon
Brown at the corner, pushing Lito Sheppard to the third corner.
DE Victor Abiamiri appeared set to take a bigger role before breaking
his wrist in the preseason. Quintin Mikell replaced Sean Considine
after injury at SS last year and holds on to the role heading
in to this season.
After battling injury and not living up to expectation in his
rookie season, former first-round pick Lawrence Timmons was very
impressive at ILB this preseason. Even incumbent ILB Larry Foote
has admitted it’s only a matter of time before Timmons replaces
him. Expect the two to cannibalize each other’s fantasy
value this year, with Timmons having a nice dynasty outlook.
With DE Leonard Little missing most of the season with a toe injury,
MLB Will Witherspoon led the team with a career-high seven sacks.
That shouldn’t be the case this year, as Little has looked
good this preseason and the pass rush gets a boost from first-round
pick DE Chris Long. Little turns 34 this year, but could still
have one more double-digit sack season left in him. Witherspoon’s
sacks will drop, but he should still be a top-15 LB if he can
get over a lingering groin injury from the preseason.
OLB Shawne Merriman has decided to play through partial tears
in his LCL and PCL, which he apparently did last year, despite
the recommendation of multiple doctors to shut down the season
with surgery. A text book high risk/high reward pick, his owners
will have an anxious uneasiness each week. If Merriman doesn’t
make it through the season, former UDFA Jyles Tucker is a sleeper
who flashed some great potential as a pass rusher in limited opportunities
last year and in the preseason. ILB Stephen Cooper is suspended
for the first four games, giving veteran Derek Smith a few starts
to begin the season next to Matt Wilhelm. Wilhelm comes off a
strong showing in his first season as a starter. He should wear
the headset, at least until Cooper returns.
OLB Manny Lawson looks to finally be an impact player after suffering
a torn ACL early last season and ILB Patrick Willis debuted as
the top fantasy producer as a rookie. The team tried to bolster
the supporting cast of the former first-round picks by adding
another in DE Justin Smith. Smith failed to live up to expectations
as a pass rusher, and seems unlikely to improve his fantasy value
there in a 3-4. The team has brought in Takeo Spikes and Ahmad
Brooks to compete at ILB, but Jeff Ulbrich appears to be holding
them off to start the season.
Despite a nice showing when given the opportunity last year, the
undersized Darryl Tapp looks like he’ll be replaced as a
full-time DE by rookie Lawrence Jackson. Tapp could still have
some value in leagues that weigh sacks heavily as a pass rush
specialist. MLB Lofa Tatupu doesn’t want to wear the headset,
so it may be FS Deon Grant who does.
After a strong start to the season, MLB Barrett Ruud declined
significantly in the second half of the season, especially in
the big play department. While it hasn’t been used as an
excuse, he may have been bother by knee and other injuries. After
a slow start to his rookie season, former first-round pick Gaines
Adams flashed his potential throughout the rest of the season.
He should be ready to push for double-digit sacks this year.
The big question here is if last year was a fluke for WLB Keith
Bulluck or an accelerated decline. I’m betting on a return
to form. SLB David Thornton comes off a huge year that saw him
return to elite production at LB.
Fans may have to wait for the debut of DE Jason Taylor. He is
a game-time decision, but expected to miss, his first game as
a Redskin with a knee sprain. Taylor’s presence should only
help RDE Andre Carter, who had his first double-digit sack since
his rookie season.