At its core, fantasy football is a game of information. Knowing more than your opponents is key and can give you that edge you need on draft day. With a week of training camp in the books, here are 10 situations folks in IDP leagues need to keep a close eye on.
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1. Will Emmanuel Lamur play three downs for Cincinnati?
After missing the entire 2013 season with a shoulder injury, Lamur drew rave reviews in the offseason and is penciled in as the starting strong side linebacker. The question is ultimately if the Bengals’ coaching staff envision Lamur as a candidate for their nickel subpackages?
At 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, Lamur is a specimen who has the body type to hold up to an every-down role. He also has sideline-to-sideline speed and the ability to cover tight ends. At this point there’s little indication out of Bengals camp regarding their plans for Lamur, but we can read the tealeaves to get an indication of what to expect.
Here’s what we know: Rey Maualuga struggles in coverage. Actually, that might be an understatement. When the Bengals last experimented with Maualuga in an every-down role in 2012, he graded out as the league’s worst inside linebacker in coverage out of 53 qualifiers over at Pro Football Focus. Despite playing more of a two-down role, he was nearly as bad last season, allowing receivers to catch 34-of-41 balls thrown into his coverage.
Needless to say, it would be wise for the Bengals to explore other options, and Lamur seems to fit the bill. From an IDP standpoint, Lamur is the great unknown. He passes the eye test, but his limited resume and ambiguous subpackage role are reason to proceed with caution. Still, he’s currently going undrafted while Bengals backup LB Vincent Rey is the No. 68 in ADP. That just makes no sense. Despite his uncertainties, Lamur’s high fantasy ceiling makes him an extremely intriguing option who will be available late in IDP drafts.
2. What are the Patriots’ plans for Jamie Collins?
Like Lamur, we’re not quite sure how Collins will be used in 2014. However, we do have a lot more of an indication how he’ll play. Collins was arguably the most impressive New England defender in the playoffs last season, showing versatility one wouldn’t expect of a man Collins’ size. He’s seemingly equally adept at rushing the passer and in coverage.
Last season, Collins played mainly a situational role until the post season when he saw all but three of the Patriots’ playoff snaps. With Brandon Spikes now in Buffalo, the door is open for Collins to start, but will he get a three-down role?
Early indication out of Patriots camp is that he will. In fact, ESPNBoston reported that Collins “put on a show with his coverage skills” this week in camp. That same piece also touted Dont'a Hightower’s ability to stop the run. It’s not a lead pipe lock, but Collins sounds like an extremely strong bet for three downs.
Right now, Collins is the No. 41 linebacker in ADP, which is an absolute steal if he earns an every-down gig. With his ability to do essentially everything, the sky is the limit for Collins’ fantasy value. He’s a player who needs to be on all of your IDP rosters. That is, unless you’re in a league with me, because he’s going to be on my roster.
There has been a lot of speculation as to who will replace Alonso after the second-year man tore his ACL in early-July. Some suggested rookie Preston Brown would get the nod, but when Bills camp opened up Bradham was running with the first team. However, first team snaps in the base defense and subpackage snaps are two entirely different beasts.
While Bradham took Alonso’s spot on the weak side, he needs to be playing every down in order to be a viable IDP option. Keep in mind that Jim Schwartz’s defense tends to funnel everything to the weak side ‘backer. Last season we saw this position end up being very productive for DeAndre Levy, so Bradham could have strong fantasy value if he plays three downs.
So far, the word out of Bills camp is that Bradham is in fact getting the first-team nickel snaps and Schwartz has praised Bradham’s play. Now, keep in mind that Bradham is suspended for the first game of the season, but don’t let this news dissuade you. Bradham is another IDP currently going undrafted who could produce LB3 numbers or better this season.
4. Staying in Buffalo, will Da’Norris Searcy finally get a shot?
The ripple effect from Alonso’s injury is far-reaching in this Bills defense and could also impact the safeties. Currently Aaron Williams is locked into the starting job at free safety, but there’s been a lot of talk regarding who will play beside him. Off-season reports have mentioned Searcy, Duke Williams and even Jonathan Meeks as all having a shot at the job.
Searcy currently sits atop the depth chart, but the question isn’t whether he’s a starter. It’s whether he stays on the field in passing situations. Searcy has shown to be a solid run defender, but he’s struggled in coverage at the pro level. As a result, he's has seen a majority of his snaps in the box.
With Alonso sidelined, there are a lot of question marks regarding the Bills subpackages. This is especially important because Schwartz’s used his subpackages over 70 percent of the time with the Lions last season. One possibility we could see is a Big Nickel where the Bills deploy three safeties with Searcy playing a hybrid linebacker spot. We’ve seen this out of the Bills in the past when they used Bryan Scott in a similar role.
There’s little clarity yet, but this situation as something to monitor closely as we get into the preseason games. Searcy has shown oodles of fantasy upside in the past, and an every-down role will give him DB2-plus fantasy value, especially with the extremely tackle-friendly Bills home stat crew.
5. Who is the Packers’ every-down linebacker?
This one is fairly easy to answer. Reports out of Green Bay have confirmed that it’s Brad Jones, but I bring this question because Jones is essentially overlooked in the IDP collective consciousness.
I understand that certainly players leave a bad taste after a disappointing season, and Jones’ 2013 campaign certainly fits the bill. But sometimes it’s better to have a short-term memory in fantasy football. Holding grudges often means you miss out on players who scream value.
Jones started last season as the Packers’ lone every-down linebacker, but a Week 5 hamstring injury sidelined him for a month and hampered him for the remainder of the season. Still, Jones is a strong run defender who is capable in coverage and can get after the quarterback. For him to be going undrafted right now is downright criminal.
6. What’s going on with the Minnesota linebackers?
Let’s start with what we do know. Chad Greenway will not be moving to middle linebacker. He’s staying on the weak side, with rookie Anthony Barr playing strong side linebacker on base downs and kicking to defensive end in the subpackages. That part is easy, but the situation at middle linebacker is murky. Right now, Jasper Brinkley is getting a majority of the first-team snaps with Audie Cole in the mix.
Cole was pegged as a potential IDP breakout after his strong statistical showing down the stretch last season, but the fact that he’s behind Brinkley is cause for concern. From a skill standpoint, Cole doesn’t fit the bill as an every-down linebacker. That being said, neither does Brinkley. However, Brinkley has shown to be decent enough against the run to hold down a two-down role. What we could ultimately see is Brinkley in the early downs with Cole coming on in the subpackages. If that happens, neither player will be on the IDP radar.
Of course, we also can’t rule out Michael Mauti beating out both players. Mauti has a checked injury history with three ACL tears in college, but he’s fully healthy and has gotten some first-team snaps in camp. Of the three, Mauti has the most intriguing fantasy profile, but he’s also the longest shot to start.
7. Will Koa Misi play all three downs?
In response to the disaster that was Dannell Ellerbe at middle linebacker last year, the Dolphins moved Misi to the middle this offseason. The coaching staff has been impressed with Misi’s play. Linebackers coach Mark Duffner called Misi “a guy who freaking hunts the ball.”
While comments like that are fun to read, the question is whether Misi is going to freaking hunt the ball every-down. So far in his career, Misi has proven to be a reliable two-down thumper who has struggled when asked to cover. However, with camp in full swing, Misi is running in the nickel along with Ellerbe.
Misi’s high tackle floor in a three-down role is the recipe for some solid fantasy value. Like we saw with Brad Jones, Misi is currently going undrafted. With these sort of players available in the late-rounds, you don’t need to stack your IDP roster with the Luke Kuechly’s and Lavonte David’s of the world. Instead, you can stack your roster with offensive talent and scoop IDP value in the end of the draft.
8. How will Arizona adjust with Daryl Washington suspended?
Last season, the Cardinals started Washington and Karlos Dansby at inside linebacker. This year, they’ll go with Kevin Minter and Larry Foote. It’s fair to say that’s a bit of a downgrade.
Minter is intriguing, though it’s unclear if he’ll take well to an every-down role after playing just one defensive snap last season as a rookie. We know what Foote is and that’s just another guy. It sounds like Arizona plans to use rookie SS Deone Bucannon as a nickel linebacker in place of Foote.
As a strong safety in the base defense and a linebacker in the nickel, Bucannon will be a position to put up big fantasy numbers in his rookie season. Triple-digit tackles is certainly well within the realm of possibility. Bucannon is the No. 31 defensive back coming off the board in drafts over the last month. He should easily outplay that ADP and has Top 15 potential at his respective position.
9. Who is this year’s Kiko Alonso rookie linebacker?
Alonso took the IDP world by storm last season, posting 159 total tackles and finishing as fantasy’s top rookie linebacker. There are a number of candidates for that spot this year, but Ravens LB C.J. Mosley has to top the list. He’s this year’s top option from a skill standpoint, and is set up for a three-down role in Baltimore. Of course, Ryan Shazier is also a candidate being a rare rookie starter in Pittsburgh.
Digging a little deeper, two names stand out – Telvin Smith and Christian Kirksey. With a thin depth chart in Jacksonville, we figured Smith had a fast track to a starting gig and he’s reportedly getting reps with the first-team nickel defense. Kirskey has been running behind Craig Robertson through the first week of camp, but he’s making plays with the twos. It’s only a matter of time before he surpasses Robertson.
10. Is Keenan Robinson a breakout candidate?
With London Fletcher out of the mix in Washington, Keenan Robinson has been tabbed as a potential replacement along side Perry Riley. Robinson saw minimal action during his rookie season in 2012, finished the year on injured reserve with a torn right pectoral. He then tore his left pectoral in July of last year and missed 2013.
With his extremely limited resume, we don’t know exactly what to expect out of Robinson, but head coach Jay Gruden raved about Robinson’s sideline-to-sideline ability in offseason activities. This week, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said he’s “completely comfortable” with Robinson running the defense, but wants to see him stay healthy.
Obviously, health is a concern for a player with Robinson’s injury history, but Haslett’s words are very interesting. While we had anticipated Riley would be the guy, he isn’t the best in coverage. That means we can’t rule out Washington going with Robinson over Riley in dime situations. This is certainly a situation to keep a close eye on in the preseason games, as Robinson has the makings of an ultra-sneaky breakout IDP candidate.