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Defensive Weak Spots - AFC & NFC West


Preseason Matchup Analysis

By Doug Orth | 6/17/20 |


I am sometimes blown away by the amount of information available to us now as opposed to when I started playing this game more than 20 years ago. Unfortunately, almost all of the analysis is focused on the offensive side of the ball. It makes sense. Fantasy football is an offensive game, after all. However, ask most analysts about placing more than a minimal amount of emphasis on potential matchups for the upcoming season and the answer is usually some form of "defense is highly volatile or too unpredictable from one year to the next" and not seriously worth considering when ranking players. For those folks, do you know what else is highly volatile from one year to the next? Injuries, touchdown production, job security, etc. That hasn't stopped the industry from hiring injury experts, trying to predict TD production or writing articles when Tua Tagovailoa will overtake Ryan Fitzpatrick in Miami.

Ignoring potential defensive matchups is somewhat akin to taking a rowboat or kayak out on the ocean, in my opinion. Sure, the water may be peaceful and allow the rower to go from Point A to Point B without incident eventually. But what if the water is choppy? I realized as early as 2004 that I didn't like the idea of my players then having to face the Ravens or the Steelers, especially during the fantasy playoffs. Certainly, my approach has evolved quite a bit from that initial premise, but I think my track record of success speaks for itself and suggests there is substantial value in forecasting what the ocean will be like before the rower before he/she attempts his/her journey. The key is giving potential matchups the proper amount of weight to a player's evaluation.

That brings us to our focus for the next two weeks. With defenses operating out of sub packages (nickel, dime, quarter, etc.) almost 70 percent of the time in today's game, it makes sense to take a look at what each team will probably look like in base and sub-package personnel. Furthermore, it helps to have an understanding of how each veteran defensive player who will be in those packages in 2020 graded out and/or performed last year. With the help of sites like Pro Football Focus, Sports Info Solutions and Pro Football Reference, we can do that.

Defense is a team endeavor, so the process is never as easy as spotting a player with a weakness and exploiting that shortcoming over and over. An important part of coaching in any sport is the ability to maximize players' strengths and mask their weaknesses, so players will either get help or they'll get benched before too long if they are struggling. Nevertheless, the goal of any good offense is to isolate the weak link in the passing defense as often as possible or take advantage of what may be a "soft" side of a run defense (assuming that matches up with the run-blocking ability of the offensive line). It's also important to understand that no defender lines up across any offensive player on every play, so we are playing odds and not dealing with virtual certainties (i.e. shadow cornerbacks sometimes "shadow" only 50-60 percent of the time.

Let's get to some fundamental points about Preseason Matchup Analysis before we start:

1) My color-coding system has never been about last year's results or last year's "strength of schedule." My PMA color coding has always been predictive, not reactive;

2) The color coding in this four-part series is based on last year only because we have no information about this season. Last year's results help set the stage for this year, but they do not define the stage.

3) A "base" is typically deployed on probable running downs, so the content below for "Base" will be primarily how front-seven defenders stack up against the run. Likewise, sub packages focus on slowing down passing games, so my thoughts for that area will focus primarily on coverage players.

The purpose of this article is simple, even if the execution of it is not: attempting to identify what defenders present fantasy owners with an opportunity for success. There is a heavy amount of subjectivity that goes into my color coding when I analyze matchups in advance of the Big Board. It is my hope this process will reduce a lot of that and give my readers a look under the hood, so to speak.

Key:

SHAD - A CB that shadowed receivers in roughly half of the team's games last year and/or is likely to do so again this season.
Green box - Player graded 80 or higher in that particular discipline per PFF (100 point scale)
White box - Player graded between 70 or 79.9 in that particular discipline
Yellow box - Player graded between 60 or 69.9 in that particular discipline
Red box - Player graded 59.9 or lower in that particular discipline

Italic (player name) - Rookie or Free Agent likely to return to the team
Bold print (player name) - Over 30 years of age or will turn 30 by the start of the season

Grades - Run defense (RD), pass rush (PR) and coverage (COV)
Catch % - Catch percentage allowed in player's coverage
QB rating - Passer rating allowed in player's coverage
Percentages (left, right, etc.) - How often a defensive back lined up at left or right cornerback or in the slot. For safeties, time at free safety or in the box is included to provide insight as to how often he is asked to help against the run as opposed to how often he plays center field.

AFC West

Denver

2019 rushing yards allowed/game: 111.4 (16th)
Yards allowed/carry: 4.2 (T-14th)

2019 passing yards allowed/game: 225.6 (11th)
Net yards allowed/attempt: 6.3 (T-15th)

Pos Player RD
Grade
PR
Grade
Cov
Grade
Catch
%
QB
Rat
Left
%
Right
%
Slot
%
FS
%
Box
%
DE Jurrell Casey
NT Mike Purcell
DE Shelby Harris
OLB Von Miller 100.0% 116.7 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
ILB Todd Davis 77.5% 96.7 0.0% 0.0% 13.8%
ILB Alexander Johnson 92.3% 84.3 0.0% 0.0% 4.9%
OLB Bradley Chubb 100.0% 91.7 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
LCB A.J. Bouye 65.0% 103.8 27.0% 58.0% 6.2%
RCB Bryce Callahan
S Justin Simmons 53.2% 32.1 0.5% 0.0% 14.6% 49.5% 35.2%
S Kareem Jackson 65.1% 96.2 0.8% 0.4% 23.0% 49.4% 26.1%

Base: Three projected starters in the base defense received grades of 90 or better in rush defense last year (Purcell, Miller and Johnson). Simmons was close at 86.1. Essentially replacing Derek Wolfe with Casey further solidifies the defensive line, and Chubb's return from an ACL injury adds a linebacker with defensive end size (6-4, 275) to the front seven and help set the edge. Led by a renowned defensive mind in HC Vic Fangio, Denver should boast a scary good rush defense and pass rush barring a rash of injuries.

Pos Player RD
Grade
PR
Grade
Cov
Grade
Catch
%
QB
Rat
Left
%
Right
%
Slot
%
FS
%
Box
%
DE Von Miller
DT Jurrell Casey
DT Shelby Harris
DE Bradley Chubb
LB Todd Davis 77.5% 96.7 0.0% 0.0% 13.8%
LB Alexander Johnson 92.3% 84.3 0.0% 0.0% 4.9%
CB A.J. Bouye 65.0% 103.8 27.0% 58.0% 6.2%
CB Isaac Yiadom 72.2% 105.3 29.2% 57.9% 1.8%
S Justin Simmons 53.2% 32.1 0.5% 0.0% 14.6% 49.5% 35.2%
S Kareem Jackson 65.1% 96.2 0.8% 0.4% 23.0% 49.4% 26.1%
NB Bryce Callahan

Dime Duke Dawson 77.8% 122.2 0.6% 2.9% 86.3%

Sub: Fangio may need to work his magic for the Broncos to avoid becoming this year's Buccaneers (great run defense, terrible pass defense). Simmons established himself as one of the league's best safeties last year, but Denver lost Chris Harris Jr. and has to hope Bouye bounces back after a career-worst year in Jacksonville. Yiadom will need to take a big jump in his third season just to get to the point of respectable, although a vast improvement in his play won't be as important if Callahan is ready for training camp and finds his 2018 form after missing all of last season with a foot injury. Even if Bouye rebounds, that still leaves the Broncos with two potential holes if Callahan can't stay healthy (he averaged just over 11 games per season before last year) and Yiadom - or any other cornerback on the roster - doesn't step up. Expect quarterbacks to tread lightly when it comes to targeting Bouye and work over Yiadom as often as possible initially. If Bouye regains his form, Fangio should be able to protect Yiadom or Dawson. If not, Denver's secondary will be a matchup for target in fantasy.

Kansas City

2019 rushing yards allowed/game: 128.2 (26th)
Yards allowed/carry: 4.9 (T-28th)

2019 passing yards allowed/game: 221.4 (eighth)
Net yards allowed/attempt: 5.7 (fifth)

Pos Player RD
Grade
PR
Grade
Cov
Grade
Catch
%
QB
Rat
Left
%
Right
%
Slot
%
FS
%
Box
%
DE Frank Clark
DT Chris Jones
DT Derrick Nnadi
DE Tanoh Kpassagnon
OLB Damien Wilson 83.0% 125.6 0.0% 0.0% 6.3%
MLB Anthony Hitchens 86.0% 113.5 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
OLB Willie Gay
LCB Rashad Fenton 50.0% 78.7 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
RCB Charvarius Ward 47.6% 67.3 6.0% 82.5% 2.7%
S Tyrann Mathieu 67.1% 67.5 1.3% 1.2% 44.7% 16.0% 29.2%
S Juan Thornhill 56.0% 69.9 0.3% 0.2% 13.5% 62.8% 22.4%

Base: It's too simplistic to say the Chiefs don't care about stopping the run, but it's hard to recall the last time they invested in a "run-plugger." Yes, Jones and Nnadi both check in around 310 pounds, but Clark and Kpassagnon were acquired due to their pass-rushing talents (or their potential in that regard, in the case of the latter) and athleticism. Hitchens was signed away from Dallas a few years ago in large part for his coverage abilities. And so on. It also hurts Kansas City's rush defense numbers that opponents typically have no desire to put Mahomes & Co. on the field more often than they have to, which drives up the number of rush attempts and ends up making the Chiefs look worse than they might actually be against the run. Kansas City made no obvious attempt to improve the personnel on defense outside of Gay in the offseason, so the Chiefs should continue being one of the more advantageous matchups for running backs yet again.

Pos Player RD
Grade
PR
Grade
Cov
Grade
Catch
%
QB
Rat
Left
%
Right
%
Slot
%
FS
%
Box
%
DE Frank Clark
DT Chris Jones
DT Tanoh Kpassagnon
DE Alex Okafor
LB Anthony Hitchens 86.0% 113.5 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
LB Willie Gay
CB Rashad Fenton 50.0% 78.7 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
CB Charvarius Ward 47.6% 67.3 6.0% 82.5% 2.7%
S Juan Thornhill 56.0% 69.9 0.3% 0.2% 13.5% 62.8% 22.4%
S Daniel Sorensen 62.0% 65.3 1.2% 1.2% 21.3% 14.4% 46.4%
NB Tyrann Mathieu 67.1% 67.5 1.3% 1.2% 44.7% 16.0% 29.2%

Dime L'Jarius Sneed

Sub: Once Kansas City was able to embrace DC Steve Spagnuolo's complex defensive scheme a bit before Thanksgiving, the Chiefs became a matchup to avoid more often than not. As noted earlier, the defense has been constructed to be stingy against the pass. Even with the potential absence/loss of Bashaud Breeland, the only potential weak spots entering the season appear to be a somewhat inexperienced Fenton (who graded out well in 130 coverage snaps) and Sorensen, although his presence can be a positive when isn't needed as anything more than be a third safety (as opposed to the starting role he was thrust into following Thornhill's season-ending ACL injury in Week 17). Ward was a bit of a revelation last year after going undrafted in 2018, but it's hard to imagine he's not for real after limiting receivers to a 47.6 percent catch rate. As such, opposing offenses figure to spend much of their time attacking Fenton or isolating Wilson on a back or tight end when he's in the game.

Las Vegas

2019 rushing yards allowed/game: 98.1 (eighth)
Yards allowed/carry: 3.9 (fourth)

2019 passing yards allowed/game: 256.7 (25th)
Net yards allowed/attempt: 7.4 (T-30th)

Pos Player RD
Grade
PR
Grade
Cov
Grade
Catch
%
QB
Rat
Left
%
Right
%
Slot
%
FS
%
Box
%
DE Maxx Crosby
DT Maliek Collins
DT Johnathan Hankins
DE Clelin Ferrell
OLB Carl Nassib 50.0% 56.3 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
MLB Nick Kwiatkoski 73.5% 85.8 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
OLB Cory Littleton 79.7% 104.7 0.0% 0.0% 5.2%
CB Trayvon Mullen 58.0% 85.7 77.6% 4.4% 5.3%
CB Prince Amukamara 62.1% 102.3 0.0% 89.7% 2.0%
S Johnathan Abram 0.0 0.0% 0.0% 4.2% 75.0% 18.8%
S Erik Harris 61.5% 88.1 0.2% 1.8% 7.0% 65.2% 22.9%

Base: The Raiders did not have a single defender grade out in the green as a run defender, and only three projected contributors on this year's roster even finished in the 70s. Some of that "success" can be attributed to the team's woes defending the pass, but it is almost always notable when a defense can hold opponents under four yards per carry for a season. Las Vegas has plenty of reason to believe things will be even better in 2020 even if it can't hold teams below last year's average. The team may have upgraded across the board at linebacker. Crosby and Ferrell will no longer be rookies. Abram will almost certainly play more than one game. If Collins and/or Hankins prove to be stout against the run, fantasy owners may not want to see their backs face the Raiders.

Pos Player RD
Grade
PR
Grade
Cov
Grade
Catch
%
QB
Rat
Left
%
Right
%
Slot
%
FS
%
Box
%
DE Maxx Crosby
DT Maurice Hurst
DT Maliek Collins
DE Clelin Ferrell
LB Cory Littleton 79.7% 104.7 0.0% 0.0% 5.2%
LB Nick Kwiatkoski 73.5% 85.8 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
CB Trayvon Mullen 58.0% 85.7 77.6% 4.4% 5.3%
CB Prince Amukamara 62.1% 102.3 0.0% 89.7% 2.0%
S Johnathan Abram 0.0 0.0% 0.0% 4.2% 75.0% 18.8%
S Damarious Randall 61.9% 121.2 0.1% 0.1% 12.2% 56.3% 27.9%
NB Lamarcus Joyner 74.3% 110.8 0.4% 1.0% 86.1%

Dime Damon Arnette

Sub: It's rare the biggest addition to a team's pass defense is a linebacker, but Littleton is about as good as it gets when it comes to coverage duties at the position. Running backs combined for 90 catches and six receiving touchdowns versus the Raiders in 2019; it is highly unlikely there will be a repeat of that. Based on last year's coverage grade only, Joyner appears to be the biggest weakness on this defense, but he was very solid in coverage over the previous three seasons with the Rams; a rebound is highly possible. Las Vegas is probably still a year away from fielding an upper-level pass defense due to the number of inexperienced players in key spots. Opponents may begin the season by testing Joyner in the slot in hopes he doesn't bounce back, but the odds are Amukamara and, more specifically, Mullen will be busier as a result of Littleton and Kwiatkoski making it much more difficult for running backs and tight ends to run free.

LA Chargers

2019 rushing yards allowed/game: 112.8 (18th)
Yards allowed/carry: 4.2 (T-12th)

2019 passing yards allowed/game: 200.3 (fifth)
Net yards allowed/attempt: 6.5 (T-20th)

Pos Player RD
Grade
PR
Grade
Cov
Grade
Catch
%
QB
Rat
Left
%
Right
%
Slot
%
FS
%
Box
%
DE Joey Bosa
DT Linval Joseph
DT Justin Jones
DE Melvin Ingram
OLB Nick Vigil 75.0% 86.5 0.0% 0.0% 6.2%
MLB Kenneth Murray
OLB Uchenna Nwosu 66.7% 72.9 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
CB Casey Hayward 55.3% 88.0 55.7% 37.9% 0.6%
CB Chris Harris 69.1% 109.4 58.8% 30.9% 3.8%
S Rayshawn Jenkins 54.5% 60.0 0.0% 0.0% 2.6% 90.9% 5.7%
S Derwin James 93.3% 105.6 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%

Base: One would be hard-pressed to find a more gifted group of 11 defenders on one team. The Chargers were already one of the most talented defenses entering the offseason before adding Murray, who may have been this draft's most complete linebacker. Jenkins is a highly athletic player HC Anthony Lynn believes will "break out" in 2020. Joseph should be an upgrade on Brandon Mebane. Perhaps the only weak link might be Vigil, and that assumes he remains the same player that he was in Cincinnati. A good defensive coordinator can typically hide an outside linebacker if he needs to, and it's not as if Vigil is a bum after logging over 2,500 defensive snaps with the Bengals in his first four years in the league. In short, it would be an upset if Los Angeles doesn’t field a top-10 run defense.

Pos Player RD
Grade
PR
Grade
Cov
Grade
Catch
%
QB
Rat
Left
%
Right
%
Slot
%
FS
%
Box
%
DE Joey Bosa 100.0% 118.8 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
DT Linval Joseph 0.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
DT Jerry Tillery 0.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
DE Melvin Ingram 0.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
LB Kenneth Murray
LB Drue Tranquill 80.5% 107.4 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
CB Casey Hayward 55.3% 88.0 55.7% 37.9% 0.6%
CB Michael Davis 64.0% 77.5 23.1% 51.6% 0.6%
S Rayshawn Jenkins 54.5% 60.0 0.0% 0.0% 2.6% 90.9% 5.7%
S Derwin James 93.3% 105.6 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
NB Chris Harris 69.1% 109.4 58.8% 30.9% 3.8%

Dime Desmond King 87.2% 132.7 0.7% 0.7% 84.9%

Sub: It doesn't get much better than Bosa and Ingram coming off the edge. Even though Hayward and Harris will both turn 30 before the start of the season, there may not be a better cornerback tandem. James has all the tools to become the best safety in the game at some point in his career. Davis is not a household name and occasionally draws the ire of Chargers' fans, but the team believes enough in him that it avoided drafting a corner and will ask Harris to become a fixture in the slot in sub packages. Whether that confidence is justified or not, he appears to be the only weakness LA will have when offenses put three receivers on the field; with Hayward and Harris around, he will be the target of most teams that faces the Chargers. King is only a year removed from being considered one of the best slot corners in the league, so even though last season was a disappointment for him, he figures to have the advantage over most of the receivers he sees in dime packages.

NFC West

Arizona

2019 rushing yards allowed/game: 120.1 (T-23rd)
Yards allowed/carry: 4.4 (T-20th)

2019 passing yards allowed/game: 281.9 (31st)
Net yards allowed/attempt: 7.0 (27th)

Pos Player RD
Grade
PR
Grade
Cov
Grade
Catch
%
QB
Rat
Left
%
Right
%
Slot
%
FS
%
Box
%
DE Zach Allen
NT Jordan Phillips
DE Corey Peters
OLB Chandler Jones 100.0% 146.4 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
ILB Jordan Hicks 87.7% 114.2 0.0% 0.0% 9.4%
ILB De'Vondre Campbell 84.1% 110.9 1.4% 0.8% 7.6%
OLB Isaiah Simmons
SHAD Patrick Peterson 67.2% 104.6 49.3% 35.6% 9.6%
RCB Byron Murphy 68.0% 110.3 32.6% 34.1% 25.9%
S Jalen Thompson 84.6% 93.6 1.8% 1.0% 6.1% 60.5% 29.8%
S Budda Baker 76.6% 115.6 0.5% 1.1% 16.3% 48.6% 30.4%

Base: The Cardinals have the pieces in place to field a solid three-man front if Allen stays healthy and shows the same run-stopping abilities he did at Boston College after an injury-shortened rookie campaign. Peters and Phillips both bring well over 330 pounds of mass to the table and should be able to tie up blockers consistently, allowing the team's upgrades at linebacker (Campbell and Simmons) to stay clean and roam sideline to sideline. The temptation for HC Kliff Kingsbury to increase the tempo of his offense in Year 2 may be too much and end up wearing out the defense, but there's more than enough talent in this front seven now to take a significant leap forward against the run.

Pos Player RD
Grade
PR
Grade
Cov
Grade
Catch
%
QB
Rat
Left
%
Right
%
Slot
%
FS
%
Box
%
DE Chandler Jones
DT Jordan Phillips
DT Corey Peters
DE Haason Reddick
LB Devon Kennard 92.3% 109.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
LB Jordan Hicks 87.7% 114.2 0.0% 0.0% 9.4%
SHAD Patrick Peterson 67.2% 104.6 49.3% 35.6% 9.6%
CB Byron Murphy 68.0% 110.3 32.6% 34.1% 25.9%
S Jalen Thompson 84.6% 93.6 1.8% 1.0% 6.1% 60.5% 29.8%
S Budda Baker 76.6% 115.6 0.5% 1.1% 16.3% 48.6% 30.4%
JOKER Isaiah Simmons

Dime Chris Jones 52.0% 79.8 21.1% 62.2% 5.8%

Sub: There appeared to be signs of slippage in Peterson's play early last season, but he picked things up as the season progressed. Still, it's fair to wonder if the soon-to-be 30-year-old is about to begin his decline. The smart money says he has at least one more good left. Simmons' arrival should quickly put a halt to what was a laughable effort by the defense against tight ends last season. As a result, expect opponents to continue taking shots at Murphy, who surrendered a league-high nine touchdowns as a rookie last season. Last year's second-round pick is too smart and too savvy to get embarrassed like that again, so fantasy owners targeting a matchup in this secondary need to tread cautiously; the "Murphy well" is one that could dry up at any time. The good news for owners is that Peterson was used as a shadow a fair amount of the time upon his return from last year's season-opening six-game suspension, so there may be some predictability when it comes to identifying his matchup each week.

LA Rams

2019 rushing yards allowed/game: 113.1 (19th)
Yards allowed/carry: 4.1 (T-eighth)

2019 passing yards allowed/game: 226.6 (12th)
Net yards allowed/attempt: 5.9 (T-eighth)

Pos Player RD
Grade
PR
Grade
Cov
Grade
Catch
%
QB
Rat
Left
%
Right
%
Slot
%
FS
%
Box
%
DE Aaron Donald
NT A'Shawn Robinson
DE Michael Brockers
OLB Leonard Floyd 85.7% 89.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
ILB Micah Kiser
ILB Bryce Hager 80.0% 111.7 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
OLB Samson Ebukam 88.9% 101.4 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
SHAD Jalen Ramsey 67.2% 96.4 49.2% 33.1% 10.3%
CB Troy Hill 45.1% 54.7 22.9% 57.4% 9.3%
S Taylor Rapp 70.1% 86.9 1.5% 1.2% 24.7% 17.9% 53.3%
S John Johnson 70.6% 85.3 2.8% 2.0% 8.9% 38.5% 46.6%

Base: If stopping the run was merely about the defensive line handling its business, the Rams might not have anything to worry about. Donald, Robinson and Brockers make for a formidable trio that should be able to keep the linebackers clean. The problem is the second line of defense needs to be up to par, and there's not a lot of proof Los Angeles has that. Hager has logged a total of 292 defensive snaps four years into his pro career, while Kiser has not played a single defensive snap since entering the league in 2018. That's the group currently slated to help replace Cory Littleton. The Rams are hoping Floyd turns his career around in LA as Dante Fowler did, but that's far from a given considering how his career has played out- especially when one considers first-time DC Brandon Staley is being tasked with the responsibility of replacing Wade Phillips.

Pos Player RD
Grade
PR
Grade
Cov
Grade
Catch
%
QB
Rat
Left
%
Right
%
Slot
%
FS
%
Box
%
DE Aaron Donald
DT A'Shawn Robinson
DT Michael Brockers
DE Terrell Lewis
LB Micah Kiser
LB Leonard Floyd 85.7% 89.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
SHAD Jalen Ramsey 67.2% 96.4 49.2% 33.1% 10.3%
CB Troy Hill 45.1% 54.7 22.9% 57.4% 9.3%
S Taylor Rapp 70.1% 86.9 1.5% 1.2% 24.7% 17.9% 53.3%
S John Johnson 70.6% 85.3 2.8% 2.0% 8.9% 38.5% 46.6%
NB Darious Williams 68.8% 81.3 37.1% 46.2% 9.0%

Dime Terrell Burgess

Sub: If it wasn't already apparent following the loss of Littleton, the Rams could get hammered by scatbacks and tight ends in the short and intermediate passing game this season. Ramsey was used as a shadow on occasion to varying degrees of success upon his arrival from Jacksonville last season, while Hill held up quite well in holding receivers in his coverage to a 45.1 percent catch rate. That's the good news. The bad news is Nickell Robey-Coleman is no longer around to cover the slot and Eric Weddle retired. Williams' green grade came on only 126 coverage snaps, but the Rams must have seen enough to believe he is the future in the slot. They better hope they are right, considering the lack of proven depth behind him. Rapp showed well as a rookie, but Johnson lasted only six games before hitting IR with a shoulder injury. Much like cornerback, Los Angeles probably won't be able to withstand an injury at safety.

San Francisco

2019 rushing yards allowed/game: 112.6 (17th)
Yards allowed/carry: 4.5 (T-22nd)

2019 passing yards allowed/game: 169.2 (first)
Net yards allowed/attempt: 4.8 (first)

Pos Player RD
Grade
PR
Grade
Cov
Grade
Catch
%
QB
Rat
Left
%
Right
%
Slot
%
FS
%
Box
%
DE Nick Bosa
DT Javon Kinlaw
DT D.J. Jones
DE Arik Armstead
OLB Kwon Alexander 70.8% 67.4 0.0% 0.0% 6.7%
MLB Fred Warner 73.1% 104.3 0.0% 0.0% 4.7%
OLB Dre Greenlaw 81.4% 83.6 0.0% 0.0% 12.4%
LCB Richard Sherman 52.9% 46.8 85.5% 0.0% 2.1%
RCB Emmanuel Moseley 58.8% 86.6 14.9% 68.5% 8.1%
S Jimmie Ward 56.5% 116.5 0.2% 0.2% 15.8% 70.6% 12.2%
S Jaquiski Tartt 52.0% 75.1 1.0% 0.7% 12.9% 34.9% 43.5%

Base: There is no question the team will experience a drop-off as Kinlaw attempts to replace DeForest Buckner, but the 49ers did well to get themselves such a capable replacement. Bosa and Armstead are well-rounded players capable of defending the run and attracting double teams, so Kinlaw and Jones need only focus on beating their blocks as opposed to occupying blockers. Although Warner and Greenlaw have been pleasant surprises as a whole, neither graded out particularly well against the run and are both more suited to be in coverage. The same can be said about Alexander, who struggled with a pectoral injury for most of the season. All in all, there's some reason to believe the 49ers will struggle mightily at times against power-rushing attacks.

Pos Player RD
Grade
PR
Grade
Cov
Grade
Catch
%
QB
Rat
Left
%
Right
%
Slot
%
FS
%
Box
%
DE Nick Bosa
DT Javon Kinlaw
DT Arik Armstead
DE Dee Ford
LB Fred Warner 73.1% 104.3 0.0% 0.0% 4.7%
LB Dre Greenlaw 81.4% 83.6 0.0% 0.0% 12.4%
CB Richard Sherman 52.9% 46.8 85.5% 0.0% 2.1%
CB Emmanuel Moseley 58.8% 86.6 14.9% 68.5% 8.1%
S Jimmie Ward 56.5% 116.5 0.2% 0.2% 15.8% 70.6% 12.2%
S Jaquiski Tartt 52.0% 75.1 1.0% 0.7% 12.9% 34.9% 43.5%
NB K'Waun Williams 71.7% 77.8 1.3% 1.3% 90.2%

Dime Ahkello Witherspoon 54.7% 109.3 0.0% 88.4% 3.6%

Sub: Buckner's departure will undoubtedly hurt the pass rush in the short term as well, but there is still minimal reason to expect much of a decline from last year's unit. At least three of the defensive linemen are capable of double-digit sacks, while Kinlaw could get there in a year or two. Warner, Greenlaw and even Alexander are exceptional in coverage. Sherman is still among the league's best at his left cornerback spot, while Williams was one of the league's better slot corners in 2019. Moseley impressed enough in Witherspoon's absence that he kept the starting job once the latter returned from injury. The amazing thing is this pass defense could be even better if Verrett could ever stay healthy. Although he hasn't been riddled with injuries to the same degree Verrett has, Ward has battled durability issues of his own. He made it through 13 games last season, however, and is even capable of defending the slot if/when necessary. Tartt is probably the closest thing to a "box" player San Francisco has in the defensive backfield, but the team's heavy use of zone coverage and elite pass rush limits how often he can get exposed.

Seattle

2019 rushing yards allowed/game: 111.7 (22nd)
Yards allowed/carry: 4.9 (T-28th)

2019 passing yards allowed/game: 263.9 (27th)
Net yards allowed/attempt: 6.7 (T-23rd)

Pos Player RD
Grade
PR
Grade
Cov
Grade
Catch
%
QB
Rat
Left
%
Right
%
Slot
%
FS
%
Box
%
DE L.J. Collier
DT Jarran Reed
DT Poona Ford
DE Bruce Irvin
OLB K.J. Wright 70.7% 91.6 0.0% 0.0% 13.5%
MLB Bobby Wagner 81.7% 113.7 0.0% 0.0% 6.8%
OLB Jordyn Brooks
CB Shaquill Griffin 60.6% 96.3 85.0% 0.1% 2.8%
CB Quinton Dunbar 55.8% 56.9 5.1% 80.6% 7.5%
S Bradley McDougald 59.6% 82.9 1.0% 1.2% 15.4% 47.3% 26.0%
S Quandre Diggs 50.0% 32.3 1.0% 0.7% 9.7% 71.5% 16.0%

Base: Jadeveon Clowney, Quinton Jefferson and Al Woods were three of the Seahawks' top four run defenders up front last season. None of them will be back in 2020 barring an unlikely return from Clowney. Reed and Ford are still more than serviceable against the run, while Wagner is still one of the best in the game at his position, but everyone else in the projected front seven is either an average run defender at best or unproven. In short, there's a reason Seattle probably feels compelled to run the ball as much as it does (much to the dismay of Russell Wilson supporters), and that would be to limit the number of plays this defense has to be on the field.

Pos Player RD
Grade
PR
Grade
Cov
Grade
Catch
%
QB
Rat
Left
%
Right
%
Slot
%
FS
%
Box
%
DE Bruce Irvin
DT Jarran Reed
DT L.J. Collier
DE Benson Mayowa
LB Bobby Wagner 81.7% 113.7 0.0% 0.0% 6.8%
LB K.J. Wright 70.7% 91.6 0.0% 0.0% 13.5%
CB Shaquill Griffin 60.6% 96.3 85.0% 0.1% 2.8%
CB Quinton Dunbar 55.8% 56.9 5.1% 80.6% 7.5%
S Bradley McDougald 59.6% 82.9 1.0% 1.2% 15.4% 47.3% 26.0%
S Quandre Diggs 50.0% 32.3 1.0% 0.7% 9.7% 71.5% 16.0%
NB Ugo Amadi 92.3% 97.8 1.3% 2.6% 90.8%

Dime Tre Flowers 64.4% 82.6 0.0% 86.7% 3.0%

Sub: Seattle utilized its base defense 69 percent of the time last season, almost twice as often as second-place Arizona and well over the league average of 27 percent. Collier was a surprise first-round pick in 2019 and promptly suffered a high-ankle sprain in camp that pretty much wiped out his rookie season. Irvin is the only Seahawk who can be considered a viable pass-rush threat at the moment, but he'll turn 33 in November. Mayowa notched a career-high seven sacks with the Raiders last year, but he would be better served to work as a backup rather than a player who will probably be asked to play 500 or more snaps. If Wright can return to form after missing 11 games with a shoulder injury last season, linebacker should be an area of minima concern in the nickel package. Dunbar's arrival could make the secondary a strong point once again if he can match the level of play he achieved in Washington last season, but he's got to avoid punishment from the league for an off-field incident first. The safety spots should be in good hands with McDougald and Diggs, but quarterbacks will almost certainly try to take advantage of Seattle's heavy lean toward base personnel and try to work over the slot defender. LBs Mychal Kendricks - now with the Eagles - and Wright led the team in coverage snaps in the slot in 2019, followed by McDougald. Needless to say, that's not ideal.



Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006 and been featured in USA Today’s Fantasy Football Preview magazine since 2010. He hosted USA Today’s hour-long, pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday in 2012-13 and appears as a guest analyst on a number of national sports radio shows, including Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive”. Doug is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.