Top 10 IDP Rookies To Watch In Training Camp
Steve Gallo
July 31, 2012
Follow Follow @IDPSteve

Vontaze Burfict, LB, Bengals

6'1" 248 Arizona State
Undrafted Free Agent
Twitter:  @Vontaze_Burfict

If ever there was a player to watch in camp, it’s Vontaze Burfict.  Burfict at one point prior to the NFL Draft and NFL Combine was in the eyes of many, one of the top LB prospects coming out of college.  However, things can change in the blink of an eye in the NFL, and that includes a player’s draft stock.  Burfict’s draft stock took such a fall that he went from being a top prospect at his position to an UDFA – signing with the Bengals.  Prior to the combine, there were concerns regarding Burfict’s anger issues – issues that were cause for concern with NFL teams.  Then at the combine, Burfict didn’t do himself or his draft stock any favors.  First off, he only participated in three of the seven drills.  With how poorly he did in those three; the vertical jump (30”, tied for 2nd worst), the broad jump (8’8”, worst among all 32 LBs), and the forty-yard dash (5.09, again, worst among all 32 LBs) it is probably a good thing he didn’t participate in the bench press, 20- yard and 60-yard shuttles, and the three-cone drill.  So with all that in mind we know that Burfict isn’t attending camp as a highly touted draft pick, instead he is an UDFA who will be fighting to make the 53-man roster.  Thing is, Burfict can play, and if things come together he could be a serious boon, both for the Bengals and fantasy owners.  Because incumbent starting MLB, Rey Maualuga was less than impressive last year when he took over as the starting MLB.  Maualuga is also in the final year of his rookie contract.  Therefore, the door is open, even if it is just a tiny little crack, for a guy like Burfict – a LB that can hit like a Mack truck, and has shown he can be an effective LB at the collegiate level.  Nevertheless, in camp, he won’t just be fighting Maualuga for a job, he will also be fighting every LB on the Bengals for a spot on the team.  He will most likely need to show that he can harness his anger, play on special teams and fight whatever demons he has inside him to stay on the straight and narrow in order to show that he can be a productive member of the Bengals defense.  There is no doubt this is a boom/bust situation.  With how cheap his value is right now, it’s a situation easily worth gambling on and one you should be monitoring during training camp.

For Bengals updates, a couple of good sources to follow on twitter are Joe Reedy (@joereedy) and Joe Goodberry (@JoeGoodberry).

Bobby Wagner, LB, Seahawks

6'0" 233 Utah St.
Pick 15, Round 2 (47)
Twitter:  @Bwagz9_TS

The Seahawks have two new linebackers who will battle during training camp to take over as their starting MLB – Bobby Wagner and Barrett Ruud.  Therefore, what we have is a rookie against a seasoned veteran.  Ruud, not so long ago was a very productive fantasy LB, but last year, while playing for the Titans lost his starting job to rookie Colin McCarthy.  This year could end up being Déjà vu all over again.  While Wagner is clearly the future at MLB for the Seahawks, transitioning to the NFL isn’t exactly an easy thing to do for a rookie.  If Wagner can show that he is a fast study, then he could come out of camp with the starting job, but I think more than likely we see Ruud emerge at a minimum as a rotational starter, but at some point, the rookie should take the job and run with it, ala McCarthy last year.  For the record, Coach Pete Carroll has said that Wagner will be given the opportunity to compete for the starting job.  Now you just need to keep an eye on training camp to see if Wagner can fill the departed David Hawthorne’s shoes as the Seahawks starting MLB.

For Seahawks updates, a couple of good sources that you can follow on twitter are Danny O’Neil (@dannyoneil) and Liz Mathews (@Liz_Mathews).

Courtney Upshaw, LB, Ravens

6'2" 272 Alabama
Pick 3, Round 2 (35)
Twitter:  @334Upshaw41

Upshaw’s value looked like it was going to skyrocket when Terrell Suggs went down with what appeared to be a season ending Achilles injury that required surgery – an injury that still may very well be season ending.  According to The Baltimore Sun, “…Upshaw has been penciled in as a starter opposite Paul Kruger.” – talk about big shoes to fill.  Upshaw’s prospects may look grand, but there are a couple of issues that could thwart his fantasy value this year.  One being that Sergio Kindle still has a shot to overtake him for the starter’s spot at OLB – note that quote says “penciled in”, as in erasable.  However, the thing that really stands in the way of Upshaw and serious fantasy relevance is his positional designation.  Currently Rotoworld lists Upshaw as a LB on their depth charts.  Why is that important?  It is important because MyFantasyLeague (MFL) uses Rotoworld’s depth charts to designate player positions in their league management software.  A designation of LB will severely limit Upshaw’s upside – keep that in mind during your drafts.  So while keeping an eye on how Upshaw does in camp, it will be equally as important to monitor Rotoworld to see if by chance they change his positional designation from LB to DE.

For Ravens updates, a few good sources to follow on twitter Aaron Wilson (@RavensInsider) Jeff Zrebiec (@jeffzrebiecsun) and Jamison Hensley (@jamisonhensley).

James-Michael Johnson, LB, Browns

6'1" 241 Nevada
Pick 10, Round 4 (120)
Twitter:  n/a

James-Michael Johnson, or JMJ, as he has stated he likes to be called, has a chance to start as a rookie at WLB for the Browns this year.  Scott Fujita started at WLB for the Browns last year, but Fujita will be serving a three-game league imposed suspension for his role in the Saints Bountygate scandal.  Even after he serves his suspension, I highly doubt Fujita is able to reclaim his starting spot.  Be it from JMJ, Kaluka Maiava or anyone else.  Outside of D’Qwell Jackson, JMJ clearly has the most upside among all other Browns LBs.  Not only could JMJ win the WLB starting job, but he could end up transitioning to MLB at some point in the future.  If that were to happen, it would mean that Jackson would end up playing outside at WLB.  It is extremely unlikely that happens this year; barring injury of course, but it is something for dynasty owners to keep in mind.  Reports are that Coach Pat Shurmur has said that JMJ has had a couple of good days in pads.  Read into that what you want, but JMJ is already making plays in camp – as of this writing he has made two interceptions in practice today (July 30th) – and very well could play himself into a starter’s role that he won’t relinquish. 

For Browns updates, some good sources to follow on twitter are Nate Ulrich (@NateUlrichABJ), Fred Greetham (@FredGreethamOBR), Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) and Tony Grossi (@TonyGrossi).

Zach Brown, LB, Titans

6'1" 244 North Carolina
Pick 20, Round 2 (52)
Twitter:  @ZBrown47

When a team spends a 2nd round pick on a player, he is expected to contribute quickly.  However, when that 2nd round pick is a LB—and as soon as he is drafted you hear one of the best talent evaluators going (Mike Mayock), say, he is “somewhat allergic to contact” it makes you wonder just how much he will play let alone contribute to the defense.  One thing that Brown isn’t lacking is speed, but if he wants to crack the starting lineup, he better learn to use his speed to run to contact and not away from it.  As it stands now the Titans have veteran Will Witherspoon as the player that Brown will have to unseat for the starting WLB job.  Witherspoon is far removed from being a big fantasy difference maker on defense, but he has the veteran smarts to still be a productive NFL linebacker.  I am sure the Titans would love to see their fast, shiny, new toy take the WLB position and run with it, but things aren’t always that easy.  That’s why Brown is worth watching as training camp progresses.

For Titans updates, a couple of good sources to follow on twitter are Jim Wyatt (@jwyattsports) and John Glennon (@glennonsports).

Melvin Ingram, LB, Chargers

6'1" 264 South Carolina
Pick 18, Round 1 (18)
Twitter: @MelvinIngram

This year the Chargers burned another first round pick on a rush OLB – Melvin Ingram.  It is a bit unfair for me to say burned at this point, but in 2009, the Chargers selected Larry English in round one – a move that just hasn’t worked out.  The Chargers took Ingram early in the draft but he isn’t the only new OLB that is looking to secure playing time this year.  In free agency, the Chargers pursued and signed Jarret Johnson to a four-year deal in March, and at that time it looked as if he was signed to be the team’s starting OLB, opposite of Shaun Phillips.  Johnson very well should enter the season as the starter.  He’s a hard-nosed, blue-collar player that has leadership qualities that a rookie rarely has, and those factors are in large part the reason I see Johnson coming out of camp as the starter.  While I doubt that Ingram can overtake Johnson for the starter’s role by the end of camp, I do believe that with a good training camp the 18th overall draft pick could force his way onto the field sooner rather than later.  Fantasy wise, if you are in a big play league this is a situation that is worth monitoring because even as a situational rusher, Ingram could end up having matchup value worth utilizing.

For Chargers updates, a few good sources to follow on twitter are Kevin Acee (UTKevinAcee), Michael Gehlken (@UTgehlken) and Scott Bair (@NCTchargers).

Andre Branch, DE, Jaguars

6'4" 259 Clemson
Pick 6, Round 2 (38)
Twitter:  n/a

It would appear that among rookie defensive ends, Andre Branch has one of, if not the clearest paths to fantasy relevance this year.  Jeremy Mincey is entrenched as the Jaguars starting left defensive end, having signed a four-year contract extension earlier this year – rumored to be worth upwards of $27.2 million with $9 million guaranteed.  Branch is currently penciled in as the starter opposite of Mincey, but look for 2010 draft pick, Austen Lane to try to push the rookie.  Lane is a guy with a non-stop motor, but at the end of the day, when all is said and done, Branch should be the starter for week 1.   With defensive ends, especially ones that make a difference fantasy wise being few and far between, Branch is a player that all IDP owners should be keeping an eye on in training camp.

For Jaguars updates, a couple of good sources to follow on twitter are Vito Stellino (@vitostellino) and John Oehser (@JohnOehser).

Bruce Irvin, DE, Seahawks

6'3" 245 West Virginia
Pick 15, Round 1 (15)
Twitter:  @BIrvin_WVU11

Make no mistake about it; the likely hood of Bruce Irvin starting this year at DE for the Seahawks is rather slim.  However, that doesn’t mean that he can’t carve out a nice role for himself in the defense this year.  Per Peter King on twitter, “…Pete [Carroll] plans to play 1st-rder Bruce Irvin more at speed-rusher than SF's Aldon Smith did (506 plays) as rookie ...”, and if this ends up being true, well then Irvin will have some fantasy value this year.  Yes, Aldon Smith only ranked 71st in LB scoring last year, but, there are two big things to understand in that ranking.  First is that Smith didn’t play much at all during the first few weeks of the season, and second is that he is designated as a LB – Irvin is designated as a DE.  I’m not going to sit here and tell you that Irvin is going to match Smith’s production last year, but I will tell you that there is potential that Irvin could be a sweet matchup play at DE for IDP owners.  So with all that said, you aren’t watching training camp to see if Irvin can win a starting job – he won’t – but instead you are watching to see just how creative the Seahawks get with utilizing his pass rushing abilities. 

For Seahawks updates, a couple of good sources that you can follow on twitter are Danny O’Neil (@dannyoneil) and Liz Mathews (@Liz_Mathews).

Olivier Vernon, DE, Dolphins

6'2" 261 West Virginia
Pick 9, Round 3 (72)
Twitter: n/a

This year the Dolphins are moving from a 3-4 to a base 4-3 defense.  Currently Cameron Wake and Jared Odrick are listed as the team’s starting defensive ends.  The move to a 4-3 should mean big things for Wake – who has tallied 22.5 sacks the last two years.  With Wake starting on one side of the line that means Vernon will need to overtake Odrick if he wants to be a starter for the Dolphins.  Odrick at 6’5”, 305 lbs. is massive for a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme.  What I think we end up seeing play out in training camp is that Odrick will play in the base defense on running downs, with Vernon seeing time in pass rushing situations.  Much like the Ingram and Irvin situations, Vernon could carve out a nice roll in a limited number of snaps.  However, without 3-down duty, at best you will be looking at an occasional matchup play, and even then there will be plenty of risk associated with him.  Keep a watchful eye on how Vernon progresses in camp, as well as how it looks like they intend to utilize the combination of him and Odrick.

For Dolphins updates, a couple of good sources to follow on twitter are Ben Volin (@BenVolinPBP) and Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly).

Casey Hayward, DB, Packers

5'11" 185 Vanderbilt
Pick 30, Round 2 (62)
Twitter:  @show_case29

Once training camp started for the Packers, and CB Charles Woodson started lining up at SS in the base defense, the questions about who would replace him at CB weren’t far behind.  So far, Jarrett Bush has taken over as the starting CB opposite of Tramon Williams.  However, Bush is hardly entrenched in that role, as a matter of a fact; Sam Shields, Davon House, and Casey Hayward are all in the mix to claim the starting CB spot vacated by Woodson.  On top of that, Woodson’s move to SS in the base defense is also opening up an opportunity for second year pro M.D. Jennings, an UDFA out of Arkansas State. Woodson at present is only playing SS in the Packers base defense – a defense they played just 27% of their snaps in last year.  In sub-packages, Woodson has been playing the slot CB position, meaning that someone needs to take over at SS for him, and Jennings has been that player.  With the offense that the Packers possess it is easy to see that teams are going to need to play catch-up quite a bit, and that should mean plenty of tackle opportunities for Hayward or whoever can secure Woodson’s old CB position.  It should be easy to see that this is a slightly fluid situation and one that bears monitoring.   Fantasy wise I see it helping propel Woodson into the top-5 in DB combined leagues, whoever takes over at CB being a top-24ish DB, and on the negative side, I see Morgan Burnett sliding down to a DB2, possibly even a DB3.

For Packers updates, some good sources worth following on twitter are Tyler Dunne (@TyDunne), Rob Demovsky (@RobDemovsky), Jason Wilde (@jasonjwilde) and Tom Silverstein (@TomSilverstein).

Note:  Huddle IDPScoring system: solo tackle (2 pts), assisted tackle (1 pt), sack (3 pts), forced or recovered fumble (3 pts), interception (3 pts) and pass defended (1 pt).

Follow me on twitter @IDPSteve and if you have any questions, criticisms, or suggestions feel free to email me at

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