Coming back for yet another fantasy football campaign, the IDP Free Agent Report returns hosted weekly by yours truly, TJ Ford. For those new to the huddle or IDP in general, this column will provide you with a few options to help your IDP fantasy squad throughout the year. I assume a balanced scoring between tackles and big plays as well as trying to distinguish between short and long-term upside. I also like to offer up some dark horse, one week flier options for the truly picked-over waiver wire hunters.
Coming into the 2014 NFL season, there are a couple things that would-be IDP owners need to know. First things first, there are a few teams that switched defensive schemes this year. 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. Mike Nolan is fully installing his 3-4 defense in Atlanta and Ray Horton has installed his 3-4 defense in Tennessee. In addition to that, the hiring of Jim Schwartz in Buffalo will see the installation of a 4-3 defense and some wide-9 looks. Look for the values of Derrick Morgan and Osi Umenyiora to fall as they may move from DE to LB (depending on your fantasy provider). Similarly, I expect Mario Williams and speed-rusher Jerry Hughes to get a few more chances to get to the QB in Buffalo.
On the injury-front, owners banking on production from Sean Weatherspoon (Achilles), Sean Lee (ACL), Kiko Alonso (ACL) and Daryl Washington (suspension) will all need to look elsewhere for LB1/2 production. Darnell Dockett (ACL) is also lost for the season on the defensive line. Navorro Bowman is currently on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list which will ensure that he doesn’t see action until week 7 at the earlier. Owners shouldn’t bank on him returning in 2014 as his catastrophic knee injury happened late in the 2013 season.
If you happened to be stuck with one of these guys in your redraft or dynasty, never fear. That’s where the IDP Free Agent report comes in. I have more than a few good options at all positions for shallow and deep leagues alike to fill the gap in your starting lineup.
Justin Durant DAL LB – WLB/MLB 4-3
Durant has been a guy I have been plugging on Twitter ever since word got out that he would be the new voice of the Cowboys defense. Expected to be the WLB on running down and move inside on passing downs, Durant is the only Cowboys LB to own at the moment. Bruce Carter appears to be slated for strong-side duty and unfortunately for his owners, SAM LBs under a Rod Marinelli scheme don’t typically score that well. Rolando McClain is a buy and stash option for super deep leagues but it is very difficult to trust him after missing two years of football and having conditioning concerns. Anthony Hitchens may also rotate into base down with McClain, limiting his upside. Since Durant was the strong-side LB last year, his 24 combined tackle number may still have him on your waiver wire. He won’t be on there long as I expect the porous Cowboy defense to provide many opportunities for Durant to pile up numbers.
Roster Recommendation: Mid LB1 to Mid LB2
Keenan Robinson WAS LB – ILB 3-4
I am an admitted Keenan Robinson apologist. I drafted the 4th rounder out of Texas in every dynasty league I could in 2012, touting him as London Fletcher’s replacement. However, in 2012 and 2013, he found his way to injured reserve with pectoral tears and London Fletcher continued to thrive. The good news for Robinson now is that neither of those tears seem to have sapped his speed and Fletcher’s retirement has opened the door of opportunity wide. Robinson is easily the fastest inside linebacker that the Redskins have and should prove to be an asset on the field for 3rd down. Perry Riley and London Fletcher were both rosterable in the past couple years. Barring injury, I don’t see how Robinson and Riley can’t coexist on fantasy squads as well.
Roster Recommendation: High-end LB2 to High-end LB3
Kevin Minter / Larry Foote ARI LB – ILB 3-4
Both incumbent ILB starters for Arizona will not be playing in the desert in 2014; Karlos Dansby is a Cleveland Brown through free agency and Daryl Washington is suspended for a full year under the substance abuse policy. This leaves a giant hole in the middle of Arizona’s defense. Second year player Kevin Minter seems poised to take over play calling duties for the defense and as such, is my best bet to make a fantasy IDP impact. Stalwart veteran ILB Larry Foote seems poised to man the other ILB spot if he can hold off Desmond Bishop, which I think he will do. Like the Redskins in recent memory, the Cardinals defense showed last year that it can support two ILBs if the talent is there. From week 5 to week 17, Karlos Dansby was a top 5 LB and Daryl Washington, fresh from a four game suspension, was a low-end LB2. I think Minter is an upside LB2 and Foote is a high-floor LB3 in tackle heavy leagues.
Roster Recommendation: High-end LB2 to Low-end LB3
Koa Misi MIA LB – MLB 4-3
The Miami Dolphins return all three starters at linebacker but Danelle Ellerbe and Koa Misi seem to be switching positions. Ellerbe, who racked up 101 combined tackles last year at middle linebacker, will be replaced by Koa Misi, a 5th year pro out of Utah and the longest tenured LB on the roster. With Ellerbe manning the strong-side now and 3rd down duties up in the air, I think that the best LB bet on the team is still Philip Wheeler, whose WLB position remains the same. That said, Koa Misi is likely the only Miami LB starter that isn’t on a fantasy roster. In addition to Misi being a decent gap-filler on a needy roster, Danelle Ellerbe owners may want to own Misi as well to see which of the two shake out as a fantasy starter.
Roster Recommendation: Mid LB2 to Low-end LB3
Christian Kirksey CLE LB – ILB 3-4
I want to preface this recommendation by saying that if fellow rookie LBs CJ Mosley and Ryan Shazier are available; you need to grab those guys first. Both present more upside and less risk than the rookie I am recommending here. My assumption is that both Shazier and Mosley are owned however.
Maybe the biggest boom or bust pick in the report this week, Christian Kirksey was the Cleveland Brown’s 3rd round pick out of Iowa in this year’s draft. The former Hawkeye is rangy and quick. There have been many articles about Kirksey’s athleticism and skills in pass coverage, a sore spot in the Browns defense in year’s past. You see many camp fluff pieces in the offseason, many of them about rookies making an impact, but they don’t normally persist this close to the regular season. Many in the Cleveland media see Kirksey as the new Kiko Alonso in Mike Pettine’s multi-front 3-4. I think that comparison is a little lofty. The presence of perennial tackle-vacuum Karlos Dansby and the rookie learning curve versus incumbent Craig Robertson leave more than enough risk to this pick. Then again, the reward could be a low-end LB1 if all falls into place. Pick him up and stash him on your roster. I wouldn’t start him until the Cleveland defense shows how it works for a couple weeks.
Roster Recommendation: Low-end LB1 to Low-end LB3
Brandon Spikes BUF LB – MLB 4-3
Buffalo’s newly signed MLB as a UFA from the Patriots, Brandon Spikes is thrust into an important role as a would-be playmaker on defense with the loss of Kiko Alonso to an ACL tear. I also think that Spikes would likely leave the field on 3rd down but may see a spot or two in passing situations now that Alonso is gone. Someone needs to make tackles and Spikes has the best pedigree to do so. I can’t expect a ton out of him given his limited skillset in passing situations but tackles are tackles. He’s a good flex LB or bye week coverage with some upside.
Roster Recommendation: Low-end LB2 to Low-end LB3
Sneaky Linebacker Plays
Jasper Brinkley MIN LB – Brinkley appears to have won the starting middle linebacker job in Minnesota over Audie Cole. Brinkley’s strength will be on running downs but he may not see the field on passing downs given Audie Cole’s better skillset against the pass as well as the potential for Anthony Barr to be a nickel rusher from the LB position. The Vikings get the Rams in week 1 who will likely try to leverage a strong running game to offset the loss of starting QB Sam Bradford. Brinkley could see a good chunk of early down tackle opportunity and as a bonus, he carries future roster value against running opponents.
Nate Irving DEN LB – Wesley Woodyard found a new address in Tennessee after free agency leaving an opening for a new middle linebacker for Denver. 4th year pro Nate Irving seems in line to take the job. Danny Trevathan is still the LB to own in Denver but he is slated to miss another 2-4 weeks with a fracture near his knee. Irving may only see running down work after Trevathan comes back but until then, Irving could be a 3 down LB.
Michael Wilhoite SFO LB – Navorro Bowman was the LB1 for many fantasy teams before his gruesome knee injury in the NFC championship game last year. I expect that if Bowman does play in 2014, it won’t be until the fantasy playoffs at the earliest. Backup LB Michael Wilhoite is slated to replace Bowman and could see some decent numbers as a result. 3rd round rookie Chris Borland could challenge Wilhoite for snaps later in the season but for now, desperate owners could plug in Wilhoite for a couple weeks for some decent production.
Defensive Linemen Plays
As I’ve said many times, the defensive line is always a struggle to find quality personnel because a misstep in your lineup might not just result in a weak game but you might find yourself with a zero for the position that week. If you find yourself in the unenviable position of needing week 1 DL help, here are a couple options that might be able to aid your team not only for this week but for the season.
Everson Griffen MIN DE – DE 4-3
With Jared Allen leaving from greener pastures in Chicago, Everson Griffen will be counted on to carry the pass rush load in Minnesota. He carries the weight of a five-year, $42.5M contract and should be given every opportunity to earn it. It remains to be seen how first round rookie Anthony Barr factors into the Viking pass rush.
Roster Recommendation: High-end DL2 to Mid DL3
Robert Ayers/Damontre Moore NYG DE – DE 4-3
I pounded the table pretty hard for dynasty leaguers to draft Damontre Moore last year despite having some stiff competition in front of him. But with Justin Tuck off to Oakland, Moore’s stock is pointing up and everything I’ve seen in the preseason suggests that things are starting to click for the second year pro from Texas A&M. The addition of Robert Ayers to the Giants adds another dynamic as well to the vaunted Giants pass rush. The hope is that these two don’t cannibalize each other’s value but it remains to be the seen who gets out of the gate first. Jason Pierre-Paul, despite his dominance at times, is hardly the model of consistency or health so it may be both.
Roster Recommendation: High-end DL2 to Low-end DL3
Sneaky Defensive Linemen Plays
Lamarr Woodley OAK DE – Woodley’s value got a major bump going from 3-4 OLB to 4-3 DE. It remains to be seen whether he can shed blockers well enough to be a factor in the run game but I like his chances to go off against the Jets in week 1.
Jerry Hughes BUF DE – I think that Jim Schwartz’s wide 9 scheme could be a big positive to the value of Jerry Hughes. Hughes is coming off of a great year last year in a multi-front scheme but a scheme designed to take advantage of speed edge rusher could mean even more value. The Bills get the Bears in week 1. Let’s not forget how many times Jay Cutler has hit the dirt in the past couple years.
Defensive Back Plays
This is normally the part of the article where I tell you that I am a proponent of DB streaming, where you grab a waiver wire guy who is hot or has a good matchup rather than use a valuable draft pick on one. However, this year, I really like a handful of waiver wire selections that could realistically challenge to be DB1s or DB2s for the whole year.
Da’Norris Searcy S – 4-3 SS
Two things make me like this pick a lot; Buffalo safeties have been a gold mine for the past 5 years and when Searcy has been a starter, he has produced very well. In the five starts the Searcy made to start the season in 2013, he scored as a top 5 safety. He is better than most safeties at blitzing and seems to be prone to splash plays in general. With Jairus Byrd off to New Orleans in free agency, Searcy has been given a starting role next to Aaron Williams. Don’t be surprised if a couple splash plays leaves this former Tarheel near the top of the safety scoring race early on.
Roster Recommendation: Low-end DB1 to High-end DB3
Michael Mitchell PIT S – 3-4 FS
Former Raider and Panther, Michael Mitchell quietly put together a solid season last year and found work as the new free safety in Pittsburgh, replacing Ryan Clark. Mitchell is a hitter first, coverage second but he does possess some ball skills to give some splash play potential. I really like his chances to pile up some tackles this year is a scheme that historically has shown an ability to produce top 20 scoring DBs.
Roster Recommendation: High-end DB2 to Mid DB3
Stevie Brown NYG S – 4-3 SS
Brown is coming off of an ACL tear in preseason of 2013 so he has had a full year to recover and despite the injury, the Giants resigned him to a deal. Ryan Mundy is gone to Chicago and Will Hill has been suspended yet again so the Giants are really counting on Brown to regain his 2012 form where he was a top 3 scoring safety. Given the injury last year, redrafts and shallow keeper leagues might still be sleeping on the former Wolverine. Brown still has elite safety potential and the Giants’ strong safety has been a factory for good production over the years.
Roster Recommendation: Mid DB1 to Low-end DB2
Roman Harper/Thomas DeCoud CAR S – 4-3 SS/FS
Former NFC South foes unite in another NFC South team. Harper and DeCoud are your prototypical strong safety and free safety pairing. Harper is a hitter and strong blitzer. He excels playing in the box. DeCoud is stronger in coverage but can still tackle. Both safeties have shown the ability to be productive in the Saints and Falcons schemes respectively. I think Harper carries DB1 potential with a DB2 floor. He might still be a free agent after how things finished up for him in New Orleans last year. He’s only a year removed from being a top 3 safety. DeCoud can be a decent DB3/spot start against the right opponent.
Roster Recommendation: Mid DB1 to Low-end DB2 for Harper; High-end DB3 to Low-end DB3 for DeCoud
Sneaky Defensive Back Play
Bacarri Rambo WAS S – With Brandon Meriweather once again suspended under player safety rules, second year pro Bacarri Rambo will start at strong safety for Redskins to start the season. Under similar circumstances last year, Rambo posted 18 total tackles and a sack over two games started. Rambo is not a strong cover safety but for fantasy purposes, that’s ok. Rambo might be good for a spot start, especially if you were counting on Meriweather.