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Tony Nowak | Archive | Email
Staff Writer

IDP Notes
Week 1

Early Game Alert: Thursday: NO @ GB 8:20pm EST

Defensive Line

  • After trying to get moved off the New York Giants, a disgruntled DE Osi Umenyiora eliminated the market for him when knee problems flared up again in the preseason. He had the right knee cleaned in mid-August and should miss at least the first couple games of the season. The big winner is DE Jason Pierre-Paul, who moves in the starting lineup and has breakout season written all over him. Tweener Mathias Kiwanuka looks to once again be employed at SLB in the base defense and should put his hand on the ground in the nickel. This likely leaves Kiwi classified as a LB in most leagues, killing much of his fantasy value. Rookie DT Marvin Austin will have to wait a year to get after all the teams that passed him in the first round. He is on the IR after suffering a torn left pec in the preseason.

  • Atlanta finally addressed adding another pass rush threat from the edge opposite RDE John Abraham in free agency. DE Ray Edwards brings double-digit sack potential, but carries a bit of concern after quietly having what has only been described as "minor" knee surgery during the lockout and missing the start of the preseason.

  • The StarCaps saga that has lingered for two years finally resulted in a two-game suspension for New Orleans DE Will Smith for violating the league’s policy on banned substances. He’ll miss the first two games of the season. It appears journeyman Jeff Charleston will replace Smith as the starter the first two games and the LDE job has been won by Turk McBride after Alex Brown was released. First-round pick Cameron Jordan will come off the bench after being a bit of a disappointment in the preseason. He isn’t a speed edge rusher in the long run, so he has very limited redraft value and an increasingly questionable dynasty outlook. The road to redemption for rookie DE Greg Romeus, considered a first-round talent before injuries derailed his collegiate career, begins on the PUP.

  • Minnesota DE Brian Robison earns a productive opportunity opposite RDE Jared Allen after the departure of Ray Edwards to Atlanta. The 2007 fourth-round pick out of Texas has flashed solid pass rush ability in limited opportunities as the third and fourth DE the last four years. One of my favorite sleepers on the DLine this season, a double-digit sack performance should not be a surprise. His job security appears more solidified with the move to expose Everson Griffen, last year's fourth-round pick, to some work at OLB, making him a more versatile back-up. Another StarCaps victim is DT Kevin Williams, who is also suspended two games.

  • After their previous teams converted to 3-4 defenses, DE Andre Carter and DT Albert Haynesworth struggled to fit in and hence were looking for work elsewhere this year. So their addition to New England, with HC Bill Belichick a long-time proponent of the 3-4 defense, seemed an odd match. However, as Belchick's frequently-used nickel package features four linemen with their hand on the ground, the team has tweaked that further in the preseason to work extensively on a 4-3 base. Belichick has now collected the personnel to alternate 4-3 and 3-4 looks on a weekly, if not down-to-down, basis. His preference for the 3-4 has always been it offers the most flexibility, so as opposed to looking at this as a switch to a 4-3, it is just Belichick evolving and adapting. It further explains why he focused on veteran additions to his front seven this offseason, who can handle the demands of knowing roles in even more schemes, whereas he typically builds his line in the draft. Andre Carter has looked great in the preseason and, as long as your league now again classifies him as a DE, has some fantasy upside, but seemed to be coming out in the nickel packages, which limits his sack potential. Haynesworth is also looking valuable if he is back to being classified as a DT and your league segregates the positions in your lineup. The fantasy outlook for some of their DLinemen isn't as promising. A forgotten Mark Anderson, who has done little since tallying 12 sacks as a rookie in 2006, has also had a great preseason, but he presumably moves to being classified as an LB in most systems, which hurts his fantasy value. Same story for Jermaine Cunningham. Shaun Ellis comes over from the Jets, but his snaps should be limited as his career winds down, primarily as a space-eater as a five-technique DE in base 3-4 looks. The value of stalwart Vince Wilfork should remain flat, as he'll remain on the nose regardless of scheme. Mike Wright had emerged as a pass rushing force last year until a concussion ended his season early. He seems to be lost a bit in the shuffle so far this year. The team also brought back Gerard Warren, whose role at 3-4 end diminishes with the addition of Ellis, but who also has experience as a 4-3 DT.

  • Denver gets Elvis Dumervil back after missing all of last season with a torn pec and he is a great bet to return to double-digit sacks at RDE as HC John Fox brings the 4-3 back to Denver. On the other side, Robert Ayers should also benefit. The former first-round pick may have been miscast as OLB in 3-4 and could have a breakout season.

  • A knee injury impeded the preseason of Cincinnati DE Carlos Dunlap, but I’m still shocked he remains DE3 despite having the most talent. He posted 9.5 sacks in the second half of the season alone and is a top pick for sack-heavy leagues, but tackles will be sparse if he remains a pass rush specialist. The same inconsistency that caused DE Michael Johnson and his first-round talent to fall in the 2009 draft has prevented him from reaching potential at next level. However, he’ll start at RDE and gets another chance to prove he isn’t a bust.

  • Carolina DE Greg Hardy had most of his preseason erased after a motorcycle accident, but is still their best option opposite RDE Charles Johnson, who was rewarded with a massive contract after a huge season last year. Hardy was one of the best collegiate ends in the country after 2009 and widely considered a first-round talent, but broke his foot at the end of the season and returned to Mississippi in 2010 for his senior season. He struggled to return to form and questions about his work ethic arose, resulting in him plummeting to the sixth round in the draft. He flashed his playmaking ability last year with three sacks and two forced fumbles, as well as a blocked punt for a safety, in a reserve role. HC Ron Rivera took on a similar reclamation project in George Selvie, a 2010 seventh-round pick who was just released by St. Louis in their final cuts. Selvie’s career went in reverse after peaking as a consensus All-American as a redshirt sophomore in 2007. He is a sleeper to watch in dynasty leagues on a Carolina DLine lacking depth after they gave up on Everette Brown, letting him go in their final cuts.

  • Medical history (benign brain tumor) and not playing last year makes St. Louis rookie first-round pick DE Robert Quinn a risk, but the upside is huge and HC Steve Spagnuolo knows how to get the most out of his DLinemen. Quinn will start off as pass rush specialist with James Hall, who had a career year at 33 last year, retaining his starting RDE role opposite Chris Long.

  • After losing Jason Babin and cutting Jacob Ford, Tennessee has big expectations for DE Derrick Morgan, last year’s first-round pick. However, he’ll miss the start of the season after needing a procedure in late August on his surgically-repaired left knee that ended his rookie season early when he tore the ACL in it. William Hayes regains a starting role while Morgan is out opposite the versatile Jason Jones, who goes from swing role all over the front four to starting at DE.

  • There is some sleeper value to mine on the edges in Cleveland and my top pick is rookie DE Jabaal Sheard. He barely made it out of the first round and in a draft with lesser talent at end than the stacked class that came out this year, he would have. After leading the team in sacks last year, former UDFA Marcus Benard squandered his chance with the new regime early after showing up to camp overweight, but could surprise. Opposite Sheard at LDE is Jayme Mitchell, who flashed some pass rush ability with limited opportunities in a stacked line with Minnesota previously.

  • After going back-to-back at DT with Gerald McCoy and Brian Price in the first two rounds of the 2010 draft, Tampa Bay finished rebuilding their DLine by doing the same with Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers this year. I'm conservative the ceiling of Clayborn, especially as a pass rusher, but he's drawn rave reviews from team in preseason. Despite injury concerns with knee, Bowers has been very reliable through preseason, but unable to pass Michael Bennett to start at LDE opposite Clayborn. Bennett was an UDFA signed by Seattle out of Texas A&M in 2009 and they converted him to pass-rushing UT, but he failed to stick there and was signed by the Bucs halfway through last season, where he got notice as McCoy’s back-up. He was bounced back outside in the preseason and locked down the starting role. McCoy had a solid, but unspectacular, debut, which ended with a torn biceps late in the season. He has struggled in the shadow of DET DT Ndamukong Suh, who was selected one pick before him at second overall last year, but McCoy should make a name for himself this season. Price is still recovering from tearing both hamstrings off the bone last year, erasing his rookie season, while Roy Miller and Frank Okam will work next to McCoy in his absence.

  • Two ACL tears in the last two years make Jacksonville DE Aaron Kampman a risky pick. DE Jeremy Mincey, who has a starting role locked up to start the year for the first time after a strong preseason, and Matt Roth, who gets an opportunity to return to his collegiate DE position after becoming a journeyman as a 3-4 OLB, are both intriguing sleepers whose value jumps if Kampman goes down again.

  • Pittsburgh first-round pick DE Cameron Heyward is a perfect fit for the Steelers, a pick myself and others easily nailed in their mock draft. He should see opportunity sooner than later behind aging and injury prone Aaron Smith.


  • After Carolina WLB Thomas Davis went down with a torn ACL for the second straight season last year, Jon Beason moved to WLB. With Davis returning, Beason was back in the middle and his fantasy value spiked back up. However Beason got three screws in his left heel to stabilize an Achilles’ tendon injury just a couple weeks ago. HC Ron Rivera says he expects Beason to play in the opener, which seems a bit surprising. If Beason can’t go, Dan Connor will return to the middle and once again could be a solid contributor. Davis remains a high risk/high reward proposition. While I think James Anderson had a career year in production last season, he should still be good fantasy producer, especially for a SLB, and is the safest pick in their LB corps.

  • One of the surprise free agent signing of the abbreviated offseason was Jacksonville adding MLB Paul Posluszny. Injury prone through his young career, Poz has only played all 16 games once in four NFL seasons.

  • After losing Poz in free agency, Buffalo scrambled to improve their LB corps and brought on Nick Barnett, who was unceremoniously discarded by Green Bay after Desmond Bishop stepped up when Barnett went down last year. I believe Barnett still has a lot of good football in him and a lot to prove. He has been on the field in all packages for Buffalo in the preseason and should have an excellent bounce back in production. Next to him the team has underrated reliable veteran Andra Davis in their base defense. He’ll be pushed by rookie Kelvin Sheppard and Kirk Morrison, whose late addition is ironic, as the addition of Poz made him expendable in Jacksonville. On the edges of their 3-4, Shawne Merriman showed flashes of being “Lights Out” again in the preseason with some sacks, but his health is about as risky a bet as there is in football.

  • Coming off season-ending pectoral injuries in each of his arms the last two years, Cleveland MLB D’Qwell Jackson is another text book high risk, high reward pick in the middle of their new 4-3. With a couple great space-eaters on the interior line in Ahtyba Rubin and rookie Phil Taylor, new DC Dick Jauron is following a similar blue print he used in Chicago that was extremely fantasy-friendly for the man in the middle when he put Ted Washington and Keith Traylor in front of Brian Urlacher. Jackson can finish the season as a top five LB, if he stays healthy.

  • Denver WLB D.J. Williams will miss a few games after dislocating his left elbow late in the preseason. The versatile Williams has been productive in a variety of positions and schemes, but none more than on the weakside in a 4-3, which he is set to return to under new HC John Fox. This type of injury shouldn’t have a lingering impact, so expect great performance from Williams once he returns and look to trade for him from desperate owners or, in shallow leagues, grab him off the waiver wire before he returns. Wesley Woodyard will fill in for Williams while he’s out. While everyone assumed third-round pick Nate Irving would walk in and take the MLB, Joe Mays has won it, and don’t assume it is temporary. While not the athlete Irving is, Mays has is fundamentally solid and has the faith of the coaching staff in running the defense on the field. Irving is still a nice dynasty prospect, but Mays should quietly produce some nice tackle numbers this year and hang on to the job. On the strongside, rookie Von Miller has impressed in the preseason and should have good production, especially in sack-heavy leagues, as he has a role in every package.

  • The 3-4 new DC Wade Phillips brings to Houston may finally take Houston to the next level, but it isn’t promising for fantasy purposes for a couple of their IDP stars. ILB Demeco Ryans already carries a lot of risk coming off a ruptured Achilles' tendon last year and elbow injury in preseason, but his tackle numbers, the strength of his fantasy production, looked to take a hit even if he was completely healthy in the new defense. The crushing blow was to dynasty owners of Mario Williams, who saw his position eligibility change from DE to LB in most leagues, limiting his fantasy value even if he takes to the new role and remains a double-digit sack performer. The one player I see it benefitting is Brian Cushing, who moves inside. Especially with my concerns about Ryans, I see Cushing having a huge season in Mo (strongside) role, where Bradie James, in the same position under Phillips in Dallas, consistently put up 100-tackles season and in 2008 led interior LBs with 8 sacks.

  • Back at his natural position of MLB in Cincinnati, Rey Maualuga has had a great preseason and looks poised for breakout season. After struggling with plantar fasciitis last year, WLB Keith Rivers had wrist surgery in the offseason and will begin the season on the PUP, making him unavailable until after their Week 7 bye. Starting with getting his jaw broken on a block by Hines Ward his rookie season in 2008, the former ninth overall pick has been an injury-prone bust. It might be time to give up on him in dynasty leagues. Raider reject Thomas Howard gets an excellent opportunity to be a starter again. Don’t be surprised if he hangs on to the job all season. Opposite him SLB Manny Lawson, who has improved greatly in pass coverage, gets his first opportunity to work in a 4-3 defense. Expect DC Mike Zimmer to find creative ways to use him to utilize rookie speed demon Dontay Moch as a pass rusher, but he won’t have much fantasy value as a role player.

  • Tampa Bay rookie Mason Foster replaces Barrett Ruud, who now roams the middle for Tennessee, but will start as just a two-down MLB. SLB Quincy Black replaces Foster in the nickel package, bolstering his fantasy value. WLB Geno Hayes remains an overlooked source of consistently solid fantasy production.

  • Despite struggles in the preseason, rookie Casey Matthews appears to have held on to the starting MLB job. However, he should have short leash and SLB Jamar Chaney could step back in to the role he thrived in last year after Stewart Bradley was injured. The media and fans were surprised to see Chaney not installed back in the middle, but new DC Juan Castillo apparently values the SAM spot higher, with the variety of responsibilities on it in his defense, and wants his best ‘backer there.

  • New York Giants DC Perry Fewell has his work cut out for him this year as preseason injuries have devastated their defense. The latest was losing MLB Jonathan Goff to a torn ACL in practice Monday. Goff was a fantasy bust last year, but had made great strides this preseason, especially as the leader and coordinator of the defense, and was locked in as the starter. The left themselves with nothing but rookies behind him – sixth-rounder Greg Jones and UDFA Mark Herzlich. Jones, a collegiate tackle-machine who fell because of concerns about his size and athleticism, is next on the depth chart and will get a shot in the opener because it is too late to bring in someone off the street, but the team is certain to bring a veteran in ASAP. They have already looked at Kawika Mitchell and I would think Dhani Jones, who still had gas in the tank last year, could also get a call.

  • Pittsburgh OLB James Harrison has struggled to recover from back surgery in the spring and getting back in football shape, but he should be ready for the start of the season. However, back injuries are tricky and Harrison could be wildly inconsistent in his performance week-to-week. Behind him, Jason Worilds is progressing well in his sophomore season and should see a greater workload this year. On the inside, James Farrior can’t continue to defy age much longer. At 36, his production could fall off a cliff at any time. Behind him another second-year player, Stevenson Sylvester is also being groomed. No one is better at cranking out productive linebackers like a factory and seamlessly working them in than the Steelers. In a few years rookie Chris Carter should be another. At the other two linebacker spots, ILB Lawrence Timmons and OLB LaMarr Woodley are in the peak of their careers. Timmons has become a top five linebacker and I expect Woodley to bounce back to double-digit sacks.

  • An aging Indianapolis MLB Gary Brackett has struggled to stay healthy the last few years and his future replacement, Pat Angerer, will bide his time on the fantasy-unfriendly strongside. An appendectomy in the preseason contributed to preventing journeyman Ernie Sims from overtaking Kavell Conner for the WLB job, but he could be a factor if the unproven Conner struggles or is injured.

Defensive Back

  • While Washington SS LaRon Landry was removed from the PUP so he can start the season, his short-term prognosis is uncertain and his future is a bit scary. Landry has struggled to overcome a left Achilles’ tendon injury that, along with a dislocated left wrist, ended his season early last year. As frequently occurs with players trying to come back too early from a serious leg injury, he created a new problem when he strained his right hamstring during the preseason. Landry says he doesn’t expect to play in the season opener. He chose rest and rehab over surgery, but the Achilles isn’t responding and/or was aggravated by returning to early, but at this point it seems his whole season is in jeopardy and his fantasy owners should have a quality back-up or alternative plan. For their part, the Redskins will go with valuable reserve Reed Doughty in Landry’s place. Doughty has been a reliable fantasy producer, when given a chance, so he is nice filler with huge sleeper potential. The team has little after that at safety after placing Kareem Moore on the PUP and letting go of former starter Chris Horton in their final cuts. I’m surprised Horton hasn’t immediately caught on anywhere else. At FS, the team added free agent Oshiomogho Atogwe, who is backed up by versatile rookie DeJon Gomes. I like Atogwe to bounce back big this season behind a defense that should spend a lot of time on the field. While you can’t expect CB DeAngelo Hall to match his career production last season (especially without CHI QB Jay Cutler on the schedule), he is still an excellent fantasy performer.

  • With the release of veteran safeties Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders, two little-know players get a huge opportunity in the New England defensive backfield. An UDFA last year, Sergio Brown goes from practice squad player to first-team rotation, along with Josh Barrett, who has spent most of the last two years overcoming a shoulder injury. Both will share time at safety next to standout Patrick Chung, who should be on the field in the position for most snaps.

  • While Meriweather was a surprise cut by the Patriots, he fell in to a great opportunity in Chicago, where his production could increase with less of a rotation. While safeties in the Bears' base Cover-2 should be largely interchangeable, in theory, they use a lot of single high in Cover-1 and Cover-3 looks that require a true centerfielder. Chris Harris was primarily relied upon for that role last year, but now the team has a better fit as a free safety in Meriweather. This allows Harris to move in the box more often as a SS, where his playmaking ability as a hitter and with a nose for the ball can be capitalized on, and his tackle numbers should increase. The value of sophomore S Major Wright takes the hit here, although he will be the primary back-up for both.

  • While it is expected hard-hitting Bernard Pollard held off Tom Zbikowski to be the starting SS in Baltimore, Pollard has left some skepticism in recent comments and Tommy Z is still listed first on the depth chart. I expect Pollard to be in the base scheme and see the majority of reps, losing snaps to Zbikowski in the nickel. I wouldn’t undervalue him too quickly, Pollard finds a way to produce and the team hasn’t showed a lot of confidence in Zbikowski previously. Rookie CB Jimmy Smith has lived up to the hype in the preseason and his fantasy value should be helped by being tested by opposing QBs. He is going to be a good one.

  • Dallas SS Abram Elam is an underrated playmaker who should thrive in reuniting with DC Rob Ryan.

  • A season-ending torn ACL for Arizona CB Greg Toler opened the door for first-round pick Patrick Peterson to start. Peterson may be the most dynamic corner prospect since Charles Woodson and should be a tremendous fantasy asset immediately as he’ll be tested as a rookie by opposing QBs. Peterson has more value in leagues that count return stats as he’s also the team’s top punt returner. SS Adrian Wilson is a huge injury risk as he attempts to play through partially torn right biceps. Rashad Johnson is his back-up.

  • San Diego SS Bob Sanders remains huge injury risk, but should pay dividends until his next season-ending injury.

  • New Orleans FS Malcolm Jenkins emerged as a playmaker last year and could be in line for a career year in production behind what should be a vastly improved defense for the Saints.

  • Coming off torn ACL, Green Bay SS Morgan Burnett appears to have regained starting job, but should be eased back with Charlie Peprah still seeing significant work. Burnett has potential to be a big playmaker if he’s all the way back.

  • Philadelphia made the most shocking move of the abbreviated free agency period when they swooped in for CB Nnamdi Asomugha. They already had acquired CB Dominick Rodgers-Cromartie from Arizona in a trade for QB Kevin Kolb and still kept CB Asante Samuel to give them a stellar top three corners. Asomugha should no longer be a fantasy pariah as QBs will have to pick their poison in the passing game and he should have more opportunities for big plays in an active defense. Fundamentally-sound SS Kurt Coleman, a seventh-round pick last year, has held off rookie Jaiquawn Jarrett, the better athlete with more potential, for a starting spot.

  • Preseason injuries decimated the New York Giants secondary, as well. CB Terrell Thomas, a top fantasy producer, was lost for the year with a torn ACL. First-round pick CB Prince Amukamara is expected to be out until at least Week 5 with a broken foot. Aaron Ross joins Corey Webster in the starting CB tandem. Journeyman Brian Williams was added for depth. Expect third safety Deon Grant to continue to have a significant role as DC Perry Fewell loves his “Big Base” package with three safeties and will have his hand forced to get his best players on the field with all the injuries. FS Antrel Rolle could also be forced in to action as a nickel corner, depending on the performance of Williams, creating more opportunities for Grant as SS Kenny Phillips would kick back to FS.