Preseason IDP Hits (8-21)
The Raiders might be running Khalil Mack at DE and listing him that way on their depth chart. But he hasn't changed from LB on MyFantasyLeague.com yet. So we're leaving him there, too.
That might frustrate IDP owners who would be able to use him much more easily as a D-lineman than a LB, but you should draft Mack as though he's going to stay where he is. And even if you don't play in a particularly sack-friendly format, you shouldn't necessarily ignore Mack as an LB.
As a 4-3 OLB last year, Mack more than doubled the next-best run-D grade at his position in Pro Football Focus' ratings. The resulting 59 solo tackles and 16 assists might not have lit up your tackle-favoring IDP format, but those are numbers Mack can approach again even as a DE this year.
Only 2 D-linemen reached 50 solo stops last season, but Mack instantly becomes 1 of the best run players at his new position. As an edge guy in college, he racked up 94 and 100 total tackles over his final 2 seasons. We knocked 5 solos off his initial projection once it became clear that Mack will play 4-3 DE this season, but Mack plays on a defense that faced the 4th most rushing attempts in the league last year. Will Oakland be better enough to force opponents into the air that much more?
And the tackles just lay the base for where Mack's true upside lies: the pass rush. He registered just 4 sacks as a rookie, but PFF credited him with another 10 QB hits and 40 hurries. That came with Mack spending just 46.3% of his snaps rushing the passer. Starting left DE Justin Tuck, by comparison, spent 56.8% of last year's snaps rushing. And if Raiders opponents do pass a bit more and run a bit less in 2015, well then Mack will get more shots at the QB in place of tackle opportunities.
Either way, he'll have a shorter distance to reach the opponent's backfield, where Mack created a lot of havoc in college. He generated 19+ tackles for loss in each of his final 3 seasons at Buffalo and forced 14 fumbles over that span. He even grabbed 4 career INTs and defensed 22 passes.
If your league doesn't lean too tackle-heavy, then Mack's an exciting option to have around regardless of his position designation.
Although Mack hasn't gotten the LB-to-DL switch, a pair of high-value Bills have. Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes each carry DL eligibility in Buffalo, despite HC Rex Ryan's history as a 3-4 proponent. That's big news for their IDP values and pushed both players much higher in our DL rankings than they sat among the LBs. We probably won't see too many more position switches from this point on, but we'll keep an eye out for any similar moves.
NaVorro Bowman down
If you're a DS Insider, then you might have noticed this Niners LB atop his position rankings when our projections went live for 2015. We knocked him down a bit this week after Bowman conceded that he's not quite back to his old self. As I mentioned in the IDP Strategy Guide, though, he doesn't need to be the old NaVorro Bowman to rank among the top LB scorers.
A Niners defense shredded by retirements and Aldon Smith this offseason will need Bowman to make a ton of tackles. But a full-strength knee figures to be important in returning Bowman's previous playmaking flair (6 forced fumbles, 9 pass breakups, 5 sacks and 2 INTs in 2013).
If he can prove all the way back before the season begins, though, Bowman certainly stands capable of leading all LBs in scoring. He'll likely go as a relative value in your draft -- compared with where you'll need to pick Luke Kuechly or Lavonte David.
Rookie up; Bruce
Did your face scrunch up in confusion when the Bucs signed former Cowboys LB Bruce Carter to a starter's contract in free agency this spring? Mine too. And apparently it didn't take Tampa long to realize its mistake.
Before even the 2nd preseason game, HC Lovie Smith removed Carter from his starting MLB post and moved him to a backup role on the strong side. In Carter's place, 4th-round pick Kwon Alexander will apparently start.
We'll have to see whether Alexander can stay on in sub packages. SLB starter Danny Lansanah looks like a better bet for 3-down duties (and some IDP sleeper potential). But Alexander's worth a late-round flier in many IDP leagues, or at least some waiver-wire attention. His college numbers were nothing special, but his speed is. Alexander's 4.55-second 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine puts him in the 90th percentile all time among LBs.
This situation looks bit confusing. We're not putting too much stock into Tony Jefferson and Tyrann Mathieu sitting ahead of Deone Bucannon and Rashad Johnson on the initial depth chart. The playing time hasn't backed up that alignment.
It's looking, however, like the Cardinals might go a bit unorthodox in their use of these 4 players -- rotating some by package and perhaps even keeping all 4 on the field together. A unique approach makes sense, given the weakness of Arizona's LBs and Mathieu's ability to play slot CB.
That ability, and the fact that he played there a lot as a rookie, makes Mathieu the most attractive fantasy option in this group. You'll have to pay to get him, though, as Mathieu figures to go among the top 15 DBs in pretty much any IDP draft. That's not a huge price, especially for a guy with plenty of turnover upside. But it's not breathtaking value either.
We'll need to see Bucannon as a full-time player before chasing him, but there's upside if he seems headed for 3-down duty. In general, however, this might be a situation to avoid. There are more than enough DB options to go around your league.
Up: Cowboys LB Anthony Hitchens is toying with IDP sleeper territory now that he appears to be leading the competition to start in the middle for Dallas. Rolando McClain's continued off-field issues -- a drug suspension being the latest -- might well take him out of the team's plans. Hitchens spent some time in the middle as a rookie while Dallas dealt with big injury issues at LB and showed some promise in general. His fantasy upside looks much better in the middle than it would on the strong side. And another injury for weak-side starter Sean Lee would only leave more tackle chances on the field.
Down: We've reluctantly knocked Vikings rookie LB Eric Kendricks down the rankings. He could still rebound, but Audie Cole has been the 1st guy up at MLB through the 1st 2 exhibition games. We'll see what happens from here. Kendricks remains a high-ceiling fantasy option if he can push his way onto the field.
Up? We bumped 2nd-year Browns LB Christian Kirksey up the rankings after he started next to Karlos Dansby in the preseason opener, but then Craig Robertson got the nod Thursday night against the Bills. Robertson played ahead of Kirksey last year, despite a buzzy training camp for the then-rookie. We'll see where this competition goes. Neither player appears headed for "stud" status in a starting role, but the competition's winner will at least prove fantasy relevant.
Up/Down: Bears LB Christian Jones moved up our LB rankings recently, as he's on track to start inside DC Vic Fangio's defense. Jon Bostic, on the other hand, looks like he'll emerge from the preseason as a backup, behind Jones and Shea McClellin. Jones might not play 100% of the snaps but undeniably carries more IDP upside than anyone else in the Bears' LB group (at least in non-sack heavy formats).