With the 2019-2020 NFL season upon us, it is time for the IDP Free Agent Report to return for its weekly installment. For those who are new to the column, I try to provide IDP Free Agent options for various league depths as well as league scoring. As I’ve said many times before, the first two weeks represent the most opportunity in terms of adding free agents on either side of the ball. When the games start to mean something, that’s when you really find out what teams are trying to do both offensively and defensively. While this week is still going to be prognostication, I think that there is going to be a fair amount of opportunity to capitalize on. So without further adieu, let’s get into it.
Position changes lend themselves to significant value changes both positively and negatively. Keeper and dynasty league owners would do well to understand how to manipulate these changes to their advantage. If your league uses the new “edge” position, then many of these will be of little value to you. But if you are using a provider that lumps all LBs together, then this is critical information. Note that many providers use a certain service to determine true IDP positioning and that service has a new person at the helm so many changes happened this offseason despite not much on the surface changing. Whether it’s a team change, team scheme change or a true position change, knowing where a player fits into your lineup is critical. Look to the linebacker to defensive line switches to look for possible value.
DT -> DE
Gerald McCoy, Carolina Value: DL2-DL3
DE -> LB
Chandler Jones, Arizona Value: LB3-flex
LB -> DE
Justin Houston, Indianapolis Value: DL1-DL2
Dee Ford, San Francisco Value: DL2
Olivier Vernon, Cleveland Value: DL2-DL3
Jadaveon Clowney, Seattle Value: DL1-DL2
Returning from injury
Players returning from injury can be overlooked depending on how shallow your IDP starting lineup is. The focus of many owners tends to be last year’s stats as opposed to forecasting this year’s stats. For example, shallow starting lineups might see Keanu Neal and Kwon Alexander be overlooked in a return from their respective knee injuries. Neal is expected to return to full-time safety duties for the Falcons whereas Alexander signed with the 49ers to play MLB for them in the offseason.
Speaking of new teams, both Ezekiel Ansah and Earl Thomas are sporting new teams this season. Thomas will play alongside Tony Jefferson for the Ravens at free safety. That role is unlikely to yield a DB1 return but I think that Thomas is a good enough talent to extract a top 25 finish amongst DBs in his return from the broken leg that ended his season last year. Ansah joins the Seahawks opposite Jadeveon Clowney on a defense that looks scarier by the day. I think that Clowney is the star of the show here but Ansah has DL2 upside in his return from a season-ending shoulder injury last year.
Derek Barnett is also returning from a shoulder injury that robbed him of a promising sophomore campaign. He is a potential star on a Philadelphia defense that is very good. Those two things may have kept him under the radar for now. Not much to say here other than he is a big play 4-3 DE that I think has 10-15 sack potential given the talent around him.
Christian Kirksey figured to reprise his role as an every-down WLB for the Browns. The six-year pro’s season ended last year due to a hamstring injury that he looks to be fully recovered from. Word from Cleveland training camp is that Joe Schobert’s role in the Browns’ defense has been challenged but Kirksey’s appears to not be. I have Kirksey as a solid LB2 provided that he remains an every-down linebacker.
Finally, Kyzir White appears to be fully recovered from a knee injury that ended his season last year. A 4th round pick last year, White had begun to carve out a role in a Chargers defense that has been begging for a player to step up and take charge for a few years now before falling victim to injury. Word out of Chargers camp is that White is going to start at mike linebacker over Denzel Perryman as Perryman is not 100% ready to go in his recovery from knee issues. White played at the will linebacker spot last year which does offset some risk should the Chargers opt to get Perryman back in sooner rather than later. White is the Chargers best coverage linebacker for my money and the price for him is very low given the upside. Grab him if he’s free.
Ezekiel Ansah DE SEA Value: DL2-DL3
Derek Barnett DE PHI Value: DL2
Kyzir White LB LAC Value: LB2-LB3
Christian Kirksey LB CLE Value: LB2
Kwon Alexander LB SFO Value: LB1
Keanu Neal S ATL Value: DB1
Earl Thomas S BAL Value: DB2-DB3
Finding value in rookies on the IDP side of the ball is as much judging scheme fit as it is judging the player. It is difficult to forecast how teams are prepared to use players within their scheme and since usage is the main contributor towards scoring, it becomes a bit of a guessing game as to how well your rookie may or may not score for your fantasy team on Sundays. Here are a few recommendations that I have from this year’s crop of NFL freshmen.
Clelin Farrell is the only rookie on the defensive line that I am suggesting that fantasy owners take a look at right now. The reason for this is that Farrell is the only rookie that is at the top of his team’s depth chart in a fantasy relevant position. The Oakland Raiders selected Farrell out of Clemson fourth overall so they believe in him. Add in the lack of talent behind him and you have a recipe of some potentially high usage. That said, history shows that rookie defensive linemen that make a fantasy impact in their rookie year are few and far between but it does happen. Don’t bank on another JJ Watt right out of the gate here but if you can grab him and stash to see what he’ll become, I would.
First-round rookies Devin White and Devin Bush figure to be players that will be the signal callers for their respective defenses based on their top 10 pick pedigree as well as their usage leading up to the start of the season. Whether it’s White for the Buccaneers or Bush for the Steelers, I think both have LB1 upside and no worse than LB2 downside assuming that they stay healthy. Tampa Bay is switching to more of a 3-4 look this season but with Lavonte David still out with a torn meniscus that he suffered in the preseason, it will be White’s team (and tackles) out of the gate. Bush is instantly the most talented ILB on the Steelers with guys like Vince Williams and Mark Barron occupying spots around him. The Steelers are historically slow to promote rookies to the starting lineup but as evidenced by TJ Watt’s usage in 2017, Pittsburgh will play who gives them the best chance to win soon enough. White is an immediate start in your lineup unless your LB corps is all-pro. Bush is a hold for a couple weeks until his starter role is solidified.
Linebackers Jahlani Tavai (second-round pick) and Quincy Williams (third-round pick) should also be valuable this season but their path to fantasy productivity is a little different. Jahlani Tavai has a decent shot of starting for the Lions in the wake of Jarrad Davis’ high ankle sprain late in the preseason. The former Hawaii standout is currently behind Davis in the depth chart but it is a risk that either Christian Jones or Jalen Reeves-Maybin gets the work while Davis recovers. Stashing him now saves you some free agent dollars if he performs well against the Cardinals in week one. Once Davis returns though, all bets are off. Quincy Williams is in an interesting position where he is the defacto starting weakside linebacker on the Jaguars; a position vacated by Telvin Smith, who is taking an indefinite amount of time away from the game for an unclear reason. That situation leaves a highly productive role to Williams. However, Williams missed a handful of preseason contests with a torn meniscus in his knee. He is expected to return for week 1 but it remains to be seen how the Jaguars coaching staff will use him.
While the rookie corner rule does have its place is fantasy lore, the rookie defensive backs that I have tabbed for the biggest impact this year are both safeties; Johnathan Abram for the Raiders (first-round pick) and Juan Thornhill for the Chiefs (second-round pick). Raiders safeties have historically been fruitful fantasy positions over the years and Abram can follow in those footsteps. Standing in his way are Karl Joseph at strong safety and LaMarcus Joyner at free safety. Abram is currently listed as co-starter with Joyner. I don’t expect either to hole Abram back for very long but I’d consider benching him in week 1 to figure out the usage. Thornhill is in a similar situation with a veteran safety in front of him in Daniel Sorensen. Sorensen has always been a bit of a gimmick player on defense, playing as the third safety or a dime linebacker for the Chiefs so it’s a possibility that Thornhill settles into a full-time role sooner rather than later.
Clelin Farrell DE OAK Value: DL3
Devin White LB TBB Value: LB1-LB2
Devin Bush LB PIT Value: LB1-LB2
Jahlani Tavai LB DET Value: LB3-flex
Quincy Williams LB JAC Value: LB2-flex
Johnathan Abram S OAK Value: DB1-DB3
Juan Thornhill S KCC Value: DB2-DB3
Every year, there are players that find their way into a meaningful role for fantasy production either through a scheme change, a team change or simply working their way up the depth chart to a starting job. These guys tend to be the most overlooked because if you aren’t following the team actively, you won’t identify them until week 1 passes you by. Here are a few of my favorites that I expect to take a big step forward in fantasy production.
Is this the year that Taco Charlton puts it all together? A first-round pick two years ago, reports are that Charlton will be a starter opposite Demarcus Lawrence this year. Former Ram Robert Quinn might throw a wrench into that plan but I’m willing to gamble on the former wolverine putting it all together for a team that should be good enough to be in positions to rush the passer often.
Patrick Onwuasor and Jerome Baker are two guys that I think have some sleeper potential to crack the top 12 LBs from relative obscurity. Both Baltimore and Miami have hosted top 12 LBs recently in CJ Mosley and Kiko Alonso. With both of those players leaving their respective teams this offseason, the door is wide open for these players to step up. Both players are their teams’ signal callers on defense which helps ensure that they will be on the field for close to 100% of the snaps. While Kenny Young for the Ravens and Raekwon McMillan could also post decent numbers, it is Onwuasor and Baker that hold the most upside for me. Best of all, the price is as low as it will be for either of these players.
Shaq Thompson and Haason Reddick are a couple guys who likely won’t be their team’s top IDP option but could fill some depth/flex roles on fantasy teams. Reddick didn’t become a full-time linebacker until week 5 last season. He went on to share the field with Josh Bynes, Gerald Hodges and Deone Bucannon while barely missing a snap. Reddick posted 63 total tackles and 4 sacks over those 12 games. With the Cardinals moving to a true 3-4, Reddick will be playing more of a natural 3-4 ILB. He is still an above-average pass rusher and should be able to utilize more of his strengths in that defense. The downside of Reddick is that he is unlikely to outscore former Eagle Jordan Hicks and he is slowly coming back from offseason knee surgery. Shaq Thompson is finally getting his look at a full-time role with longtime Panther Thomas Davis moving on to the Chargers. Thompson has posted some serviceable tackle numbers with between 50-70% of the snaps so it will be interesting to see if the tackle numbers can be extrapolated with the extra snaps. It will also remain to be seen how Thompson fares in the 3-4 looks that Ron Rivera has been going with recently.
Jon Bostic is a guy that just keeps finding fantasy relevant jobs. After playing with Pittsburgh last year, Bostic landed on a suddenly LB-starved Washington who didn’t bring back either starting ILB from 2018 in Zach Brown (let walk in free agency) and Mason Foster (cut). With Reuben Foster tearing his ACL in the offseason, Washington finds itself with Jon Bostic and Shaun-Dion Hamilton as its starting ILBs. While Hamilton likely has the better long term upside. Bostic is the short term play for a fantasy stopgap.
Finally, Adrian Phillips figures to be a solid value play for owners looking to capitalize on Derwin James’ snaps going up for grabs. Phillips was a high volume tackle play for many owners down the stretch as he played safety on early downs and dropping into the box on third down. Rayshawn Jenkins and rookie Nasir Adderley round out the Chargers safeties. Look for Phillips as a cheap tackle-heavy option if you need to cover a few weeks early in the season.
Taco Charlton DE DAL Value: DL2-DL3
Patrick Onwuasor LB BAL Value: LB1-LB2
Shaq Thompson LB CAR Value: LB3
Haason Reddick LB ARI Value: LB3
Jerome Baker LB MIA Value: LB2
Jon Bostic LB WAS Value: LB3-flex
Adrian Phillips, Los Angeles (Chargers) Value: DB2-DB3