The 2017 season is upon us and yours truly, TJ Ford, is back again to help guide you through the mess that is the waiver wire in your IDP league. For those returning, you’ll find that not much has changed. For those who are new to the column, I try to offer up a variety of IDP targets that might be available on your league’s waiver wire. The scoring assumption is balanced between tackle-heavy and big play scoring and I try to specify when a certain player’s value will weight higher towards one system than the other. I also try to offer a mix of short-term value as well as long-term upside to cater to both redraft and dynasty leagues to varying degrees of bench sizes. When you see things like LB1 or DL2, that refers to players ranking within a 12 team league. So a LB1 would be a top 12 LB and a DL2 would be a top 24 DL.
As this is the first column of the year, I try to outline defensive scheme or coordinator changes for all affected teams. For those unfamiliar with scheme and how it affects fantasy values for IDP, Steve Gallo, fellow Huddle writer, has a very informative article called “Scheme Matters” in the articles section that is very much worth a read. While scheme change is more important for dynasty owners, redraft owners need to beware of value changes going into their draft. Major changes to teams in terms of
scheme are as follows:
Bills from 3-4 to 4-3 with some Cover-2 (Sean McDermott HC, Leslie Frazier DC)
Browns from 3-4 to 4-3 (Gregg Williams DC)
Chargers from 3-4 to 4-3 “over” (Gus Bradley DC)
Rams from 4-3 to 1-gap 3-4 (Wade Phillips DC)
49ers from 3-4 to 4-3 (Robert Saleh DC)
The two main things to be cognizant of regarding scheme changes are how the value of your players might change moving from one scheme to another and the position that your fantasy provider classifies your player under. The stud 4-3 DE being converted to a very marginal 3-4 OLB has long been the bane of the IDP fantasy player. This year seems to be not so bad with four teams switching over to 4-3 defenses. Jerry Hughes and Shaq Lawson moving to DE, Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa moving to DE, Robert Quinn moving to OLB and DeForest Buckner moving inside to DT are the major ones to consider.
On the injury/suspension front, Vontaze Burfict leads the group as the highest profile IDP to miss time to start the year serving a three game suspension for an illegal hit. Clayton Geathers and Edwin Jackson of the Colts will begin the season on injured reserve. Malcolm Smith was expected to compete for the 49ers WLB job but will miss the season with a torn pectoral. Rookie Raekwon McMillan was shaping up to be the Dolphins’ new MLB but his rookie campaign will be lost to a knee injury. Denzel Perryman will also miss the start of the season with an ankle injury. He was placed on injured reserve as well but the Chargers are likely to look at bringing him back mid-season.
Jumping into some recommendations, you’ll find this week’s edition to be a lot bigger than most of the offerings that you’ll see throughout the year. The reason for this is between free agency, rookie draft and training camp; there is more opportunity to realize some value on the waiver wire than any other time of the year.
Rookies ready to contribute
Jarrad Davis DET LB – 4-3 MLB Value: LB1
Jarrad Davis was anointed the new leader of the Lions defense as soon as he was selected 21st overall in the draft. He is going to be a high volume tackler in the middle for Detroit and is easily the best option for IDP fantasy as far as rookies go. Odds are that it’s only the single IDP player leagues that Davis is a free agent in however.
Reuben Foster SFO LB – 4-3 WLB Value: LB2 – LB3
With Malcolm Smith out for the year with a pectoral injury, there is little competition for the 49ers WLB job to challenge Reuben Foster. It’s worth mentioning that Foster had shoulder concerns during and after the draft process but it’s does not appear to be hindering him. The 49ers defensive lines boast many quality space eaters that could allow most of the linebackers to stay clean but they also have done well to make tackles on their own. It remains to be seen what kind of value the 49ers WLB carries in their new 4-3 scheme.
Haason Reddick ARI LB – 3-4 ILB Value: LB2 – LB4
Haason Reddick seems to be primed for fulltime work at least early on with Deone Bucannon no lock to start week 1 after narrowly avoiding the PUP list. I expect Karlos Dansby to run the Cardinal defense for the most part with Reddick factoring in on a few tackles and the odd big play early on. Once Bucannon returns, I worry that we will see a rotation which doesn’t help fantasy values.
Alex Anzalone NOS LB – 4-3 WLB Value: LB2 – LB4
Alex Anzalone seems to have won at least a good chunk of the Saints WLB job out of camp. He has first round talent but struggled to stay healthy in college. The Saints released Danelle Ellerbe halfway through the preseason so the time is now for the former Florida Gator. Odds are that Anzalone becomes a nickel LB as that is his strength but it remains to be seen whether he sees three downs or not, hence the large discrepancy from floor to ceiling on him. Saints LBs have huge potential given the track meets that they tend to get into and that gives Anzalone upside going into the season. The issue is that the Saints might employ a rotation of Robertson, Klein, Te’o which will sap much of the value.
Jamal Adams/Marcus Maye NYJ SS/FS – 3-4 SS/FS Value: DB2 – DB3
The Jets seem to be poised to roll out two rookie safeties in Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye to start week one. With little talent behind them, odds are that both make it the year barring injury as well. The Jets are going to be a bad team this year and a good run-support safety should be able to score well. My vote is for Adams to be that guy given his big play abilities but keep an eye on both of them while their roles within the defense flesh out.
Tre’davious White BUF CB – 4-3 CB Value: DB3
White is my pick to follow the rookie corner rule as it seems like he will be starting on the outside for the Bills week one. Rookie corners tend to get picked on by opposing offensive coordinators, especially by physical receivers. Watch White early on, his tackle totals might surprise you. Playing the NFC South and AFC West along with the AFC East twice is a good recipe for extended tackle opportunity on the outside.
Myles Garrett CLE DE – 4-3 DE Value: DE3
It’s hard to recommend rookie defensive linemen to become top talent right away. There are way more hits than misses to get too excited here. Garrett is a great talent but he is going to bad team which limits his upside early on at least. That said, it’s hard to prognosticate defensive linemen production in general so when the top pick in the draft lands in a starting role on a 4-3 defense, there are worse ways to go. Very few rookies have a clean path to fulltime snaps on the defensive line. The Bengals and Jets feature within the first five weeks as juicy matchups but otherwise, he is a gamble.
Taco Charlton DAL DE – 4-3 DE Value: DE3
With DeMarcus Lawrence suspended for the first four games of the season, there is an opportunity for first round rookie Taco Charlton to make an impact on a Cowboys squad that has struggled to get pressure on the quarterback for a few years now. There is little by way of competition to push Charlton for snaps as long as the former Wolverine makes plays. The Giants (and their weaker defensive line) are up first for the Cowboys in week one. Charlton may get out to a quick start this season.
New team/scheme, better opportunity
Shaq Lawson/Jerry Hughes BUF DE – 4-3 DE Value: DL2 – DL3
The biggest change in fantasy will regards to scheme change happens to the edge rushers. I am a giant fan of providers that are starting to use the “EDR” position that combines DEs and rush OLBs but until that becomes standard, you need to play scheme roulette and hope that your stud rusher stays DE, where he is most valuable. Lawson and Hughes both come out on the good side of this in 2017. Hughes has proven that he can be a top 20 DL in the past whereas Lawson is entering his sophomore expecting a big jump in production.
Emmanuel Ogbah CLE DE – 4-3 DE Value: DL3
Ogbah is in a similar situation to Lawson as he is changing position to 4-3 DE and likely has his best production ahead of him. The big difference here is the quality of game situation that the Browns will find themselves in. Can Ogbah reasonably expect comparable pass rush opportunity compared to even the league average? I’m betting not. That said, Ogbah has above-average ability in run support and might be able to drag his floor up high enough to warrant consideration in fantasy lineups. Certain to better value than it was.
Sheldon Richardson SEA DT – 4-3 DT Value: DL2 – DL3 (DT1)
The much maligned relationship between Sheldon Richardson and the Jets is over as the former first round pick was traded to the Seahawks during the preseason. Richardson figures to slide inside to the interior of the Seattle defensive line with Mcihael Bennett and Cliff Avril remaining on the outside. It’s hard to envision a large improvement on tackles (64 total tackles from 2016) for Richardson but I would definitely be surprised if Richardson doesn’t improve on his 1.5 sacks from last year. He is easily in the conversation for DT1 in DT-required leagues and likely in the DL2-DL3 conversation in combined DT-DE leagues.
Jon Bostic IND LB – 3-4 ILB Value: LB2 – LB3
Jon Bostic isn’t the guy I would have pegged to break away in the race given that no less three teams were willing to give him away for a pittance, if anything at all, in less than three years. That said, Bostic finds himself as the would-be leader of the Colts defense with no one better qualified to do the job. With Edwin Jackson and Clayton Geathers both on injured reserve, the responsibility falls to Bostic to call plays and lead from the middle. The side benefit to this for fantasy owners is that odds are that Bostic won’t leave the field because of it and that leads to value. There isn’t a much better rag to riches potential fantasy value story than Bostic this year. He is on many dynasty waiver wires even still and his redraft hype is non-existent. Someone has to make the tackles for Indianapolis.
AJ Klein NOS LB – 4-3 MLB/SLB Value: LB2 – LB3
Klein was pried away from the Panthers by the Saints who were desperate to upgrade their linebacking corps. Klein showed decently well in spot duty covering for a concussed Luke Kuechly last year. Preseason and training camp work suggests that not only does Klein has a handle on a starting LB job in New Orleans but he is also staying on the field for subpackages, calling plays in both base and nickel defense. Remember that two years ago, Stephone Anthony was a clear LB2 with 111 total tackles and 6 splash plays as a rookie. AJ Klein doing the same in 2017 isn’t that far of a stretch as long as he gets the opportunity to play three downs and 16 games. I’d like him better if he was a three down MLB rather than a three down SLB but New Orleans is a team that plays so heavily in nickel defense that there might not be a difference.
Karlos Dansby ARI LB – 3-4 ILB Value: LB2
Dansby is in his third go-around with the team that drafted him, the Cardinals. Dansby figures to factor into the defensive plans heavily as long as 2016 starter Deone Bucannon remains out as Bucannon is still recovering from offseason ankle surgery. Rookie Haason Reddick will play alongside the veteran but Arizona likely has little interest in turning over the keys to the defense to the rookie so early in his development. I’d be comfortable rolling out Dansby until Bucannon returns to the lineup unless Reddick’s production blows him out of the water.
DeMario Davis NYJ LB – 3-4 ILB Value: LB2 – LB3
Another linebacker returning to the team that drafted him, DeMario Davis was traded back to the Jets from the Browns where he signed as a free agent in 2016. While Davis always took a backseat to David Harris in his time with the Jets, Harris’ release meant that the Jets needed a new leader of the defense. Judging from the Jets’ defense in the preseason, Davis figures to be that guy. Alongside 2016 first round pick Darron Lee, Davis’ tackle total should be high playing three downs for what is shaping up to be a team that figures to be playing from behind often in the Jets.
Micah Hyde BUF SS – 4-3 SS Value: DB1 – DB2
Micah Hyde was signed away from Green Bay in the offseason to become the new Buffalo Bills strong safety. While Hyde isn’t well known in fantasy circles outside of his return value, the Bills strong safety position is no stranger to fantasy excellence. I really like Hyde to take a big step forward as a fantasy commodity and best of all, his availability is high.
Taking on a bigger role
Vince Williams PIT LB – 3-4 ILB Value: LB1 – LB2
After Lawrence Timmons departed to Miami in free agency, the Pittsburgh Steelers looked in house to replace him. Vince Williams, a 2013 6th round pick by the Steelers, has been pegged to step into a starting role. Pittsburgh likes to use both ILBs for three downs so there’s definitely going to be opportunity to log stats. In addition, when Ryan Shazier missed three games last year, Williams filled in for him. The former Seminole’s stat line over those three games was 26 solo tackles, 5 assists and 2 sacks. That’s LB1 territory. The word is starting to get out a bit on Williams though so act soon on him.
BJ Goodson NYG LB – 4-3 MLB Value: LB2 – LB3
Not since the Antonio Pierce era has the New York Giants had true stability at the middle linebacker position. BJ Goodson, a fourth round pick last year out of Clemson, appears to be the guy to get the first shot at locking down that job. The Giants ran a platoon of Keenan Robinson and Kelvin Sheppard last year. Robinson remains on the team as a reserve weakside linebacker but could factor into playing time in the middle if Goodson falters. Goodson is a high-upside play but carries a much lower floor than many linebackers you can carry. I like him as a wait-and-see option as his upside is higher than most.
CJ Mosley/Kamalei Correa BAL LB – 3-4 ILB Value: LB1 / LB3 – LB4
Zach Orr’s retirement likely impacts the Ravens twofold. I expect that CJ Mosley will return to the ranks of LB1, or at least a high-end LB2. Zach Orr was the better LB last year but Mosley is no slouch and should be the best Ravens LB this year. I expect that the Ravens will lean on his experience and ability to make plays. Second year man out of Boise State, Kamalei Correa, has been tabbed to replace Orr. Correa’s experience is outside which may not translate as well as other candidates but the Ravens have committed to grooming at least one of their ILBs from the ground up. Correa is likely a deeper league target at best but any ILB with a chance to play three downs carries significant value.
Cory James OAK LB – 4-3 WLB Value: LB2 – LB3
I’m not sure that there is a worst linebacker corps in the league than they have in Oakland this year. The good news is that they have enough talent elsewhere to cover it up. You don’t need to be a great linebacker to score in IDP and Oakland will be a great example of it this year. Sophomore linebacker Cory James figures to be the leader of the defense as he has locked down a starting weakside linebacker job after free agent Jelani Jenkins went on injured reserve. James wasn’t a favorite of head coach Jack Del Rio nor defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. last year as street free agennt Perry Riley Jr. was signed mid year to avoid giving James the reigns of the defense. With little else to choose from, the Raiders enter the season with James likely wearing the green dot for them on defense which means he is a virtual lock for three down work.
Korey Toomer LAC LB – 4-3 MLB Value: LB3 – LB4
Jatavis Brown is the linebacker to own in San Diego no doubt but any 4-3 MLB carries value in IDP circles as long as they have a shot at playing three downs. Denzel Perryman was likely to be the man in the middle of the Chargers new 4-3 defense but an ankle injury sustained in the preseason landed him on injured reserve with hopes he can return this season. Korey Toomer looks like the next man up for Los Angeles’ newest franchise. Toomer played well in spot duty last year. In weeks nine and ten where both Brown and Perryman didn’t play, Toomer logged twenty total tackles including three tackles for loss, one forced fumble and one pass defensed. Like any other linebacker, the key will be who plays in the nickel and Toomer was in those subpackages with Brown after Perryman went down to injury. Toomer is unowned in all but the deepest leagues but might be able to contribute in the first couple months of the season.
Myles Jack JAC LB – 4-3 MLB Value: LB1 – LB2
Myles Jack isn’t going to be unowned in many dynasties but his redraft value looks lower than it should after a very pedestrian rookie year. However, in his sophomore year, the Jaguars look to be giving him control of the defense. Jack is running as the middle linebacker and is joining Telvin Smith as the nickel linebacker. This will be leaving veteran Paul Poslusnzy as a two-down strongside linebacker. Smith is a high-volume tackler so the upside is capped to a certain degree but as long as Jack plays with the speed he showed in college, he has LB1 potential.
Justin Simmons DEN SS – 3-4 SS Value: DB2 – DB3
Justin Simmons isn’t a household name by any means but the Broncos’ third round pick from last year is tabbed to be the starting strong safety in Denver after TJ Ward was released and subsequently signed by the Buccaneers. Provided that Simmons finds his way down into the box as much as Ward did, there is definitely opportunity here for some fantasy production by a largely unheralded name. Ward logged 87 total tackles, one sack and five splash plays last year in only fourteen games. The major risk here is that Simmons might not be as aggressive or instinctual as Ward was but the best part about it is that he is virtually unowned in all but the deepest of leagues meaning that the investment level is low.
Jeff Heath DAL SS – 4-3 SS Value: DB3
Heath is taking over for Barry Church who left Dallas in the offseason to join the Jaguars. Church’s departure left a hole at a strong safety position that scored 85 total tackles through 12 games. Right now, fifth year man Jeff Heath is the current starter at strong safety for the Cowboys and figures to be afforded the most opportunity to fill the void. I like Byron Jones better than Heath but Jones is also likely to be more owned than Heath.
Waiting for their moment
Reggie Ragland KCC LB – 3-4 ILB Value: Future LB1 – LB2
Reggie Ragland’s young NFL career hasn’t exactly gone according to plan. When you get the kind of pre-draft praise that Ragland got only to lose your rookie season to injury and then fall to third on the depth chart when your team switches to a 4-3 defense, it’s hard to stay positive as a player much less a fantasy owner. But a preseason trade to the Chiefs seemed to have revitalized Ragland’s chances to become a meaningful contributor on defense sooner rather than later. Kansas City’s 3-4 defense is currently featuring 34 year old Derrick Johnson and 2015 fourth round pick Ramik Wilson. Johnson is one of the oldest starting LBs in the league and the oldest player of the Chiefs. He is also returning from a torn Achilles tendon sustained in December 2016, the second such injury of his career. Wilson on the other hand was waived and signed to the Chiefs practice squad early last year after a cup of coffee as a starter in his rookie year. He has since logged a handful more starts in Johnson’s absence. Ragland only has to beat out one of those two guys and he will be very fantasy relevant.
Jaylon Smith DAL LB – 4-3 MLB Value: Future LB1 – LB2
Once heralded as a top five draft pick, Jaylon Smith’s horrific knee injury is both the reason that Dallas was able to snag a talent as good as his in the second round as well as the reason that I think many top 10 draft choices will start eschewing bowl games or even earlier in their college careers once their value is secured. Smith’s knee is healed enough for the former golden domer to get some preseason action after a completely lost 2016. Sean Lee is 31 years old and plays weakside linebacker for the Cowboys and is currently the only LB worth owning in fantasy circles from Dallas. A healthy Smith could easily fill the Sean Lee role on injury or Lee’s departure. Smith is currently slotted in as a reserve middle linebacker but with projected starter Anthony Hitchens out up to eight weeks with a knee injury, the timing might be sooner rather later for him.