by Matt Schauf
Derrick Johnson, ILB, Chiefs
It’s tough to call a guy being drafted as an LB1 in 12-team leagues a sleeper, but a few ranking spots mean a lot more at the top of the board. That’s about where I have Johnson projected for this season. (Actually, 2nd behind Patrick Willis.) The former 1st-round pick isn’t an unknown talent. He was merely a virtual disappointment heading into 2010. That’ll happen when you spend nearly all of your 5th season as a backup. That was Johnson in 2009, HC Todd Haley’s 1st season. Viewed through that prism, it’s easy to see 2010 as a potential fluke. Johnson registered 27 more tackles than his previous high. He improved his best pass-breakup total by 10. He matched his career-high 4 forced fumbles. Johnson might not match all of the big-play numbers, but there remains statistical upside. He grabbed just 1 INT, as opposed to 3 in very limited time in 2010. That low number was particularly stark in contrast to his 16 breakups, most by any LB in the league. Either Johnson will get his hands on far fewer passes in 2011, or he’ll catch a few more. Also, the Chiefs faced 123 fewer rushing attempts in 2010 than in 2009, 101 fewer than in 2008. That easy schedule that helped inflate the offensive passing numbers also created more 2nd-half leads. When you lead in the 2nd half, opponents throw more to try and catch up. If the game is tight or you’re losing, out come the RBs to kill the clock. Assume the Chiefs have a tougher go of it this year and face more runs. Johnson will continue to lead the way in tackles. Combine that with the pass-D numbers and the elite athleticism and big-play ability he’s always had, and the upside is obvious. It all comes down to whether Johnson is willing to keep up the effort. Reports out of camp deliver no reason for worry there.
David Hawthorne, MLB, Seahawks
Lofa Tatupu’s abrupt departure turned Hawthorne from a “yeah, maybe” to a “Holy Crap! Definitely!” level IDP option. You can read over his player profile for all of the specifics, but here’s the short of it: Hawthorne was dynamic as the fill-in MLB in 2009 when Tatupu got hurt. In 11 starts, he carried a pace that projected to 128 solo tackles over a full season. That came against the fewest defensive plays Seattle has faced in any of the past 3 seasons. Unless you’re a firm believer in Tarvaris Jackson – and I think his grandmother canceled her subscription – how can you not expect the Seattle D to spend a lot of time on the field? You can’t. Hawthorne’s big plays slipped last year, but he also inexplicably came off the field in many passing situations for LB Will Herring. Even if the coaches were motivated to do that again, Herring is gone. So is Tatupu. That leaves the 3-down middle job for a guy who compiled 4 sacks, 4 INTs and 5 FFs over the past 2 seasons, to go with the big tackle numbers. Hawthorne is a strong candidate to finish among the top 10 LBs. As of Tuesday night, his ADP on MyFantasyLeague.com stood at LB30.
London Fletcher, ILB, Washington
Fletcher is like the Derrick Mason of LBs. He perennially sticks around the fantasy draft board later than everyone knows he should. There’s nothing exciting about him. He turned 36 in May. He was undersized for the NFL way back in 1998, when he came from John Wherever University in D-VI and never missed a game. He has to drop off at some point. There he was among the top 10 IDP LBs at the end of last season, though. We list fantasy stats going back 6 years on this site, and Fletcher finished among the top 10 LBs in 5 of those. In 2008, he had the audacity to slide all the way to 12th. We even have his numbers projected to dip a bit from last year, and Fletcher still sits 14th among LBs in our default IDP scoring. His ADP, however, slots him at LB25. That alone makes him undervalued. Throw in that his team is deciding between John Beck and Rex Grossman to run the offense, and it’s easy to anticipate a great big bunch of defensive chances.
D’Qwell Jackson, ILB, Browns and Thomas Davis, OLB, Panthers
I’m slapping these 2 together because the book is pretty similar. We’ve seen both produce, but can either stay healthy? Davis tore his right ACL 7 games into the 2009 season then re-tore it the following summer. Jackson tore his left pectoral muscle in game 6 of 2009 and tore the right before last season started. Jackson’s 2010 injury was particularly annoying because we were assured as the season approached that he would not head to IR. (He did.) Trust is not something either player deserves from you. On the other hand, upside is clearly something that both have. When last healthy for a full season, Jackson tallied a league-high 154 tackles. That was 13 more than Patrick Willis’ #2 tally. In 2009, Davis left the field a top-5 fantasy LB. Both arrive to favorable situations this season. Jackson is back at 4-3 MLB under new HC Pat Shurmur. Assuming he stays there, he’ll line up behind DTs Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor. Together, they total 685 pounds … and that’s with listed weights. Cleveland has also faced the 7th most defensive plays in the league over the past 3 years. The Browns look like a solid bet to be in or around the top 10 again this year. Davis will play for a new HC (Ron Rivera) and DC (Sean McDermott) who might blitz to a fault. If Davis is healthy enough, improving on his career-best 3.5 sacks seems a near lock. We’ll get our 1st look at Davis in game action this Friday. He’s an easy shot to take in IDP leagues as the 51st LB going off the board on average. Jackson is only a little more risky as the 32nd LB. Neither will be difficult to insure or replace at that level.
Mason Foster, MLB, Tampa Bay
Those of us who drafted Foster to start in fantasy before camp opened had to sweat for a few days when Tyrone McKenzie began as the starter. That proved short-lived, and now the only question seems to be the size of Foster’s role. Will he be a 2-down type? As it stands, Quincy Black and Geno Hayes are the nickel LBs. HC Raheem Morris said he’s excited to see Foster in nickel reps in the 2nd exhibition game. He said he held the rookie back from such situations in the 1st contest to keep from overloading him. There’s nothing but excitement surrounding Foster at Bucs camp, though, and the feelings have been obvious for a while. Rumors about his starting at MLB immediately came to fruition when the team let Barrett Ruud walk on a 1-year free-agent deal. There’s plenty to be excited about, too. Foster is big and quick. He finished 2nd in the nation in tackles per game his last year in college and led his team in sacks (6.5). He has shown the ability to come forward, and no MLB will start in a Tampa-2 scheme without the ability to drop into coverage. It’s tough to say what Foster’s ceiling is, but Ruud compiled at least 83 solos in each of his 4 seasons starting for the Bucs. He twice surpassed 100 solos. Foster has intriguing multi-category potential and carries just an LB37 ADP right now.
Rey Maualuga, MLB, Bengals
Many IDP folks were excited about Maualuga immediately when he got drafted at the top of Round 2 by a team starting Dhani Jones at MLB. Little did we know that the bowtied 1 would stick around 2 more years. It’s finally Maualuga’s gig, though, and word is that the Bengals will keep him on the field in passing situations. The biggest knock on him coming out of college was a lack of coverage skill. Even at USC, though, he tallied 5 INTs and 12 pass breakups. Maualuga will line up between OLBs Manny Lawson and Thomas Howard (at least to start the season), neither a tackle demon. He’ll play opposite an offense led by a rookie QB and sporting many other youngsters. Maualuga himself is still just 24 and impressed with his run defense and mobility as a rookie on the strong side. He didn’t perform nearly as well in 2010, but that might actually help. DC Mike Zimmer called him out as “extremely average” shortly after the season. That lit a fire under a player who hasn’t always been the most responsible off the field. Maualuga’s teammates say he has exhibited strong leadership qualities in camp thus far and taken over the huddle. Come September, it’ll be time for that to cross over to the regular-season field. At LB39, he could easily turn into one of this season’s biggest IDP steals.
Casey Matthews, MLB, Eagles
First, a moment of silence for Jamar Chaney’s fantasy value … Thanks. Now let’s move on to the guy that killed it. When Matthews opened camp as the MLB starter, it caught many by surprise. The fact that he wasn’t rotating with anyone in 1st-team reps, was handling the play calls and did stay on the field in sub packages proved it was for real. Matthews has quickly become the Eagles LB to own in IDP leagues, but he hasn’t yet even cracked the top 52 LBs in MyFantasyLeague.com ADP. What is the upside, though? Well, Matthews finished just 3rd on his own team in tackles as a senior MLB at Oregon last year. He did grab 3 INTs and put up 3 sacks, though. It can be detrimental to read into tackle totals at the pro level, and the variations of college schemes – offense and defense – exacerbates the problem. Is it unreasonable to expect a line like Stewart Bradley’s from 2008 with the Eagles? He was a 1st-time starter in the middle after entering the league as a SLB. He ranked just 17th among LBs in solos (86), tied for 46th in assists (22). Bradley broke up 6 passes but posted just 1 INT, 1 sack and 1 forced fumble. All of that was good for a spot among the top 25 LBs. Assuming he keeps the job and makes it through the year, why couldn’t Matthews do something like that? You don’t have to spend an early pick at all to find out if he will.
Nick Barnett, ILB, Bills
Some folks are really excited about Barnett moving to Buffalo. Most notably, ProFootballFocus.com says that the Bills actually traded up in adding Barnett after losing Paul Posluszny. I remain a bit wary of Barnett’s injury red flag, though. Even before the dislocated wrist that landed him on IR last year, knee trouble limited his practice time in training camp and his snaps in the regular season. Players such as Brandon Chillar were stepping in for sub-package snaps. And, of course, Barnett was booted in favor of Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk. Barnett also turned 30 in May. All that said, this fantasy thing often comes down to risk-reward judgment. There’s no doubt where that leans. As of Tuesday night, Barnett sits 52nd among LBs on the MyFantasyLeague ADP board. Posluszny, meanwhile, finished 3rd in the NFL in tackles last year despite missing 2 games and not grading out terrifically according to PFF. The Bills spent the 4th-most plays in the league on D last year. They tallied the 4th most over the past 3 seasons as well. Barnett’s new coaches have already raved about his speed and called him the team’s best LB. Even if he gets hurt at some point, it’s easy to see Barnett as a strong starter in tackle-friendly fantasy leagues whenever he’s on the field. Being able to get that at a backup draft price is why you can wait on selecting your defenders.
Donald Butler, ILB, San Diego
A year ahead of Mikel LeShoure’s eventual return from an Achilles rupture, Butler replicates the test case. There has been much doom and gloom spread since LeShoure’s injury about how most players return as relative shells of themselves. The Lions in Winter blog debunked some of that gloom. Now it’s up to Butler to prove that a young guy can bounce all the way back. A year ago, Butler was a rookie exciting the organization about his bright future. Now a year removed from his Achilles tendon rupture, he again has HC Norv Turner excited: "(Donald Butler) is way ahead of where I thought he would be. I am anxious to see how far he can take it. He looks like a starting ILB to me.” The team did re-sign ILB Stephen Cooper last Friday, the day after the exhibition opener. That move doesn’t appear to have been a reaction to anything that happened in the game. Of course, Cooper is the previous starter at the spot Butler is playing. There could be some reason for pause, as the familiar option would be easy to insert at any sign of struggles by the youngster. Although Butler hasn’t reported any setbacks in his return, there has been occasional weakness in the affected foot. Even if Butler were to cede some snaps, it could cap his upside. It’s all sunshine and lollipops with him out in San Diego right now, though, and the 2nd-year player is going undrafted in the average IDP league. Select Butler as a LB4 or LB5 and you get a guy who could approach the numbers ILB Kevin Burnett delivered for the Chargers last year.
Stewart Bradley, ILB, Cardinals
It’s easy to forget about Bradley with 2 full seasons come and gone since he was last impactful. The former Eagle finished 2008 as a top-25 fantasy LB, though, in his only year as a full-time starter. Now he lands in an ILB spot with the Cards, the spot from which Paris Lenon delivered 125 tackles (94 solo), 2 sacks and 8 total passes defensed last year. Lenon’s numbers were aided by the Cardinals facing the 2nd most defensive plays in the league last year, but they also display the playmaking potential. Bradley will have to contend with top talent Daryl Washington inside. The 2nd-year LB has terrific speed and range and should be the higher-upside option of the Arizona ILBs. There should be plenty of opportunities to allow for both players to top 100 total tackles, though. For his part, Bradley is excited about the new scheme. Arizona appears excited about him, too, having shelled out a 5-year contract. That came despite Lenon’s continued presence. Bradley doesn’t bring explosive scoring upside, but he could finish among the top 30 at his position and comes at a very low draft-day cost.
The average IDP league leans toward tackles, but some formats reward sacks handsomely. It’s those leagues that raise the value of 3-4 OLBs to or even beyond the level of their tackle-heavy brethren. Here are a few guys who present high ceilings in that area.
Calvin Pace, Jets
The Jets need to generate more pass rush from the front 7, and Pace is easily the most obvious candidate. The veteran hasn’t been asked to pressure QBs as much as you might expect in the past couple of years. HC Rex Ryan says he will more in 2011, though. Injury and a suspension limited Pace to just 12 games in each of the past 2 years. He has racked up 20.5 sacks in 3 seasons with the Jets, though. That included 8 in 2009, Ryan’s first year in the Apple. If he can stay healthy, Pace should approach double digits in 2011.
Shawne Merriman, Bills
As weird as his sack celebration is, it’s easy to get excited about Merriman’s potential when you watch him having a good game. That’s certainly what he did against the Bears in the exhibition opener. Merriman produced 2 sacks and probably would’ve registered a 3rd if he hadn’t been held on a Marcell Dareus sack. We can’t base a lot on that 1 game against LT J’Marcus Webb – 1 of the league’s worst pass-blocking OTs in 2010 – but it followed plenty of positive talk from camp. The Bills made it clear from their choices in the draft and free agency that they’re depending on Merriman for some serious pass-rush help. He seems flattered by the trust and is showing some of the old burst in workouts. This is still the guy who won the 2007 defensive player of the year award despite missing 4 games. Time will tell if the since-injured OLB can return to that level, and it’s hard to imagine a complete bounce back. Merriman doesn’t have to get all the way back there to deliver upside as an end-of-the-draft IDP option, though.
Anthony Spencer, Cowboys
No other stretch for Spencer has matched the 2nd half of his 2009 season. That was when he notched 6 sacks in the final 6 regular-season games, with 2 more in the playoffs. That was good enough to carry him to the # 5 ranking among 3-4 OLBs over the past 3 years, according to ProFootballFocus.com. The high ranking is particularly impressive when you consider that Spencer didn’t start in 2008 and regressed a bit last year. Spencer reportedly added muscle while shedding weight over the summer and was already a favorite of Rob Ryan when the new DC arrived. Ryan’s scheme will move Spencer around in hopes of creating opportunities. Of course, it’ll never hurt to have opposing offenses worrying about OLB DeMarcus Ware. With 6- and 5-sack seasons behind him, Spencer doesn’t need to blow up to deliver fantasy value. He just needs to produce more consistently.
Ahmad Brooks, 49ers
Brooks looked like a player with a bright future at Virginia before off-field issues landed him in the 2006 supplemental draft. He landed in Cincinnati with MLB-of-the-future hope but couldn’t stay healthy. He seems to be carving out his niche by the bay, now. Not a starter either of the past 2 years, Brooks racked up 6 sacks and 5 forced fumbles in 2009. He gathered 5 more sacks in 2010. The game that made folks take notice was the 3-sack, 2-FF performance in Week 14 of 2009. He also had a sack and 2 FFs in Week 16 that year. In 2010, Brooks delivered 2 sacks against the Packers and a sack and an INT in the season-ending win over Arizona. Word out of Niners camp is that he has developed those coverage skills and is pushing Parys Haralson for a starting job. Should he succeed, there’s no reason Brooks shouldn’t be a 3-down player. For now he’s only an option at the end of the deepest redrafts, but be ready to pounce on the waiver wire if he shows early.
Matt Shaughnessy, DE, Raiders
Similar to Derrick Johnson, Shaughnessy is a relatively known entity. He finished 2010 as a top-25 fantasy DL. He’s going 16th at the position in MFL drafts this year. As you already know if you’ve checked our projections, though, I have Shaughnessy pegged for a spot well above that. You don’t get the “wow” of a Dwight Freeney spin move when you watch Shaughnessy, but you get a whole lot of “nice.” He’s a strong enough pass rusher that it took less than 2 seasons to evolve from part-time LDE to starting RDE. He’s good enough against the run that he notched more solo tackles and assists than Julius Peppers last year in 422 fewer snaps. Shaughnessy impressed his coaches enough that new HC Hue Jackson named him as the most-improved Raider of 2010. Think about that in light of what Darren McFadden did, how Jacoby Ford emerged, the arrivals of rookies DL Lamarr Houston and MLB Rolando McClain. The only concern with Shaughnessy is whether he gets replaced in too many pass-rush situations by DE Trevor Scott. Jackson’s praise works strongly against that, though, and makes Shaughnessy worth snatching ahead of his ADP.
Michael Johnson, DE, Bengals
A month ago, nobody was discussing this guy. Mentioning the name could just as easily have been referring to either of the other 2 NFL defensive players with the exact same moniker. Or even that Olympic dude with the gold shoes. Now, this Michael Johnson is the starting RDE in Cincinnati. Despite the unforeseen ascension, though, the upside is easy to see. Johnson was a 1st-round talent 2 years ago who slipped to Round 3 because of work-ethic questions. The Bengals spent too much of the 2 years since toying with him as a 4-3 OLB. The recent turn of events proves that to be a waste of time. Back at DE early last season – after training camp – Johnson said he was lost for a while. He had to re-learn his old post and didn’t get comfy until about the final 6 games. In that time, Johnson compiled 2 sacks and 13 QB pressures. He led the team with 8 tackles for loss for the year and obviously played well enough in run D to earn a starting spot this time around. Johnson did manage 5.5 sacks over his 1st 2 seasons, so the pass-rush upside never disappeared. It’s tough to nail down realistic stat expectations for 2011, but it’s easy to take a shot on good things once you get past the top 20 DEs or so.
Will Smith, DE, Saints
Smith’s final numbers for 2011 aren’t likely to place him high in the fantasy rankings. That’s because it looks like he’ll finally miss 4 games for the StarCaps suspension that was handed down about 17 years ago. (Maybe not quite that long.) If you keep that in mind going in, though, you could get a relative steal once he returns. Smith will step back into a very favorable situation. The Saints added pocket-collapser DT Shaun Rogers in free agency, as well as block-eater DT Aubrayo Franklin. Cameron Jordan seems to be viewed as the safest, most pro-ready DE in this year’s rookie class. DT Sedrick Ellis progressed significantly last year, especially as a pass rusher. There will simply be too many guys along the New Orleans front for opponents to key on Smith repeatedly. That’ll help a talented guy who has posted wildly inconsistent numbers throughout his career. The upside is the 13 sacks of 2009, when the Saints went to the Super Bowl and presented an attacking D. Things shape up nicely for the team this year, and Smith is well worth a shot before DL31, his current ADP.
James Hall, DE, Rams
This equation is simple and similar to London Fletcher’s. Hall finished 2010 as the # 6 DL (depending on scoring format). He’s currently going 36th. You folks do realize that rookie DE Robert Quinn didn’t even play football last year, right? Hall’s case, of course, isn’t exactly like Fletcher’s. He has been good at times and injured too often. He only once surpassed his 10.5 sacks of 2010. Last year’s 6 FFs account for 37.5% of his career total in that category (16). It’s possible that Hall’s 2010 will stand as more aberration than indication. At the same time, he was paired with new HC Steve Spagnuolo. If there’s 1 thing on which Spags has made his name, it’s expertly deploying pass rushers. Quinn will obviously factor into this year’s mix. He’ll undoubtedly take some shots away from Hall at RDE. At the same time, it’s necessary to spell a 34-year-old DE to keep him fresh. Hall will get plenty of chances, certainly more than enough to outperform his average draft slot.
Antonio Garay, DT, Chargers
Many IDP folks will ignore any DTs not named Suh unless they’re required to fill the position. Garay is a guy who could factor into any tackle-friendly fantasy format, though. As I’ve admitted before, I didn’t really notice Garay’s relative breakout last season. That tends to be the way with 3-4 NTs. ProFootballFocus.com certainly did, though. The folks there said he had an even better 2010 than Tom Brady. You know him, the guy with the girl hair and the NFL record for consecutive pass attempts without an INT. By the numbers, Garay wasn’t shabby. His 48 total tackles and 5.5 sacks slotted him around 33rd among DL. The stats look quite a bit better, though, when you realize that he played just 465 snaps. Richard Seymour, by comparison, played 641 in just 13 games. Bump Garay’s production rates from last year up to Seymour’s snap count, and you get 51 solos, 15 assists and 7.5 sacks. That’s top-10 type stuff. Now the caveats: Garay will turn 32 in November. His NFL career began in 2003, and last year was the 1st time he played in more than 6 games or started any. His previous season high in total tackles was 5. His previous best in sacks … occurred sometime in college. (He entered 2010 with no NFL sacks.) If a guy can materialize so rapidly, it’s certainly possible that he’ll disappear again. I’m willing to take a chance, though. Even most IDP formats that require DTs only call for 1 to start each week. That makes Garay an even easier chance to take. Odds are that most of your league mates won’t know who you’re talking about.
Sedrick Ellis, DT, Saints
Whereas it’s not surprising to see Garay linger on draft boards, Ellis’ absence is a bit more odd. The former top-10 NFL draft pick hasn’t even been drafted enough in MFL leagues to make it onto the ADP list. (Rookie DT Nick Fairley, by comparison, sits 21st.) Ellis’ career got off to a slow start. Questionable conditioning and injuries led to missed time his 1st 2 years and just 6 total sacks through those campaigns. He started every game in 2010, though, and doubled his career sack tally. Ellis motivated his GM to say that the player was finally playing up to his draft position. Now, he’ll benefit from the same moves that help DE Will Smith and every other member of the Saints’ D. Opposing offenses must contend with DTs Shaun Rogers and Aubrayo Franklin throughout the game. Each is capable of wreaking his own kind of interior havoc. Smith and rookie DE Cameron Jordan will bring pressure from the outside (at least after Smith’s suspension). Ellis figures to find many 1-on-1 situations and will have his chance to shine as a rusher. Even his tackle numbers present upside. His 2.75 stops per game last season marked a dip of 0.65 from his 2009 mark. Ellis is a good option to fill the DT role who matches Gerald McCoy’s upside at a much later draft position. (McCoy’s ADP: DL22) He also has a shot to become starter-worthy in the general DL role.
George Wilson, SS, Bills
I couldn’t start this position group with anyone else. With apologies to Matt Shaughnessy, Wilson is my favorite overall IDP sleeper of the year. Wherever the IDP radar resides, it’s got a blind spot regarding the Bills’ starting SS. Starting just 2 games and registering a mere 35 tackles in 2010 leaves Wilson unknown to most. Folks need only look back to 2009 to remember who he can be, though. Injuries to others pressed the former WR into starting duty in Week 4. He finished the year as the # 10 fantasy DB, at least by Draft Sharks scoring. Wilson grabbed 4 INTs. He hit a string in which he defensed passes in 6 of 8 games (not bad for a safety). He tied for 6th-most total tackles among NFL DBs. And Wilson’s actual performance supported the big numbers. Pro Football Focus rated him the # 3 overall S in the league in 2009. Buffalo re-signed Wilson before the lockout even started and then let S Donte Whitner walk in free agency. The team clearly feels good about him back there. Why wouldn’t it? He has filled in at both strong and free. He picked 2 passes in 2 other seasons, despite never starting more than 9 times outside of 2009. Having entered the league as a WR has to help Wilson understand and anticipate passing-game tendencies. The large number of defensive plays the Bills log annually obviously helps with opportunity. Finally settled into a full-time role for the 1st time in his career, Wilson should finish 2011 among the top 10 fantasy DBs and may even have a shot at # 1.
William Moore, SS, Falcons
Moore’s NFL.com player page makes it look like we don’t have much to go on. He spent nearly all of his rookie season injured. He took over as the SS starter in 2010 and posted a nice INT total (5) but unimpressive tackle numbers. All in all, his fantasy line placed him around the bottom of the top 50 DBs. Moore finished among the top-17 tacklers in the Big XII each of his final 2 college seasons. He picked off 11 passes and broke up 19 others at Missouri. He can produce in a variety of ways. He plays the spot at which Erik Coleman twice reached 80 solos in a season (before moving on to Detroit pre-lockout). Moore should have a better shot at approaching that number in 2011. The 2010 Falcons tied for the 4th-fewest defensive plays in the league, including the 2nd-fewest rushing attempts faced. Atlanta’s burgeoning offense figures to keep the ball plenty, but even the ball-control playoff team of 2008 faced 49 more opponent rushes. Probably more important than specific play numbers, though, having a year of starting behind him can only increase Moore’s comfort level. He should have a better grasp of his assignments, positioning, angles. He should be better able to maximize whatever chances present themselves. Most importantly for his fantasy outlook, though, the guy is barely being drafted. If he proves that last year’s numbers are about what we should expect, you will have risked almost nothing. Moore doesn’t currently make the ADP chart because he’s not drafted often enough. His college numbers suggest, though, that he’s a terrific example of why you should wait on DBs.
Kam Chancellor, SS, Seahawks
The best news for Chancellor might have accompanied the signing of S Atari Bigby. In talking to reporters after joining the Seahawks, Bigby said the team made it clear that its starters are already set. That’s noteworthy because Chancellor is 23 with zero NFL starts to his credit. Bigby arrived as the SS starter for Green Bay in 2007 but hasn’t been the same since, thanks to injury. Still, he could have been viewed as a challenger to Chancellor. He isn’t. That means Seattle is serious about “thunder” to FS Earl Thomas’ “lightning.” Chancellor will spend plenty of time in the box, where his 6’3, 232-pound frame will come in handy. He’ll immediately stand as 1 of the league’s biggest safeties. The former Hokie can also turn and run with receivers, though. That can only help him stay on the field. With Thomas seemingly ideal for a “centerfielder” kind of role, Chancellor figures to see plenty of tackle chances. He should at least approach the 88 total stops that Lawyer Milloy registered for the team last year. Relatively few are aware of the 2nd-year man at this point, though, which is leaving him largely undrafted.
O.J. Atogwe, FS, Washington
Unfortunately for his team and his IDP stock, Atogwe has been out since Aug. 6 with a hamstring injury. It doesn’t appear too serious, though. The veteran has been spending practice days behind the defense, calling out coverages and taking “mental reps.” Sure, it’d be nice for him to get on the field and get comfy with his new team. Atogwe is 30, however, with 5 starting NFL seasons behind him. He knows what he’s doing. Plus, he has played under DC Jim Haslett before. When last the 2 were together, Atogwe finished the 2008 season a top-5 fantasy DB. He picked at least 3 passes in 4 of the past 5 years. The only time he didn’t was when he missed 4 games. Atogwe also twice forced at least 5 fumbles in a season. He just creates turnovers. With SS LaRon Landry designed for in-the-box play, Atogwe should be in his element at the back of the defense. He’s not a player to chase in tackle-heavy formats. Atogwe has only once surpassed 66 solos in a season. The upside is constant in big-play systems, though, and he does enough to deliver starter value in more-balanced setups. Atogwe is currently going 39th among DBs.
Dashon Goldson, FS, 49ers
Speaking of big plays, that ability landed Goldson a starting job in 2009 and propelled him to the top 15 at his position in fantasy. His 4 INTs and 3 forced fumbles combined nicely with 94 tackles. Goldson then spent 2010 dealing with several injuries. He played half the year with a light plantar fascia tear. He also dealt with a deep bruise to his right kneecap, a wrist injury and an ankle sprain. Goldson didn’t miss any games, but he also didn’t make a ton of plays. Perhaps that’s why he couldn’t find a worthwhile taker in free agency. Goldson returns to San Francisco on a 1-year deal with every reason to prove he’s the same player as he was in 2009. You can draft him very late to see if he accomplishes that.
Bradley Fletcher, CB, Rams
Honestly, I have nothing to add for these final 2 guys beyond what you can already read on their DS profile pages. Here’s the lowdown on Fletcher, who has done nothing in camp to put his position – or ascension – in doubt.
Tanard Jackson, FS, Buccaneers
Jackson remains unable to even practice with the team, thanks to his suspension under the substance-abuse policy. He’ll be eligible to return after Week 3, so we’ll have to wait and see. His profile delves into the proven big-play ability, which should always be better than that of S Cody Grimm.