The end of the NFL regular season gives us a chance to step away after a busy stretch of fantasy football and take a break for some other stuff.
Unless you play in dynasty leagues, of course.
That’s the draw, really. So the offseason for most fantasy football players gives you a chance to take stock of your roster, preview the incoming draft class and figure out what moves you want to target to build for the future and/or gear up for a 2017 title run.
In my case, January has provided the opportunity to overhaul the IDP keeper rankings -- which, to be honest, I have a little trouble keeping up with in the thick of the regular season.
But now a get a months-long respite from losing track of my own waiver deadlines and chasing DFS glory with the deftness of a blind squirrel. So let’s go through the IDP groups one at a time and check on some of the biggest changes to the dynasty rankings through the past year -- as well as some factors we shouldn’t overrate.
LBs remain the kings of the IDP side, so we’ll start there. You can view the full rankings -- 97 players deep -- right here. And even if you don’t play dynasty, the list might prove interesting for revealing some early potential redraft sleepers for 2017.
Dynasty formats obviously leave a lot of room for subjectivity and flexibility in your roster management. For example, if you’re in terrific shape at LB, with several young, already proven stars, then you might have little incentive to cling to Chiefs ILB Derrick Johnson through his 2nd Achilles’ tendon tear in hopes he can rebound like he did the last time. On the other hand, if you have some promising young LBs but find your roster short on proven commodities at this particular position, then Johnson -- or, say, NaVorro Bowman -- might be more worth a minimal gamble.
Feel free to hit me with any particular roster questions throughout the offseason.
For now, let’s look at some of the biggest movers and other names worth discussing …
Jatavis Brown, ILB, Chargers
Brown entered 2016 as an intriguing late-round rookie reserve but finished it as a starter who has already displayed his upside. He racked up 80 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 6 pass breakups despite logging just 7 starts and losing a quarter-plus of the season to a knee injury.
Bet on him entering 2017 as a starter, and probably a top-15 LB in our preseason rankings. Brown likely finished this past year among the position’s top 20 in fantasy points per game in your league.
Benardrick McKinney, ILB, Texans
After watching this guy’s college tape, I thought Houston’s choice to draft him in Round 2 in 2015 looked like a gross overrating of his athletic ability. Whether he has started morphing into a truly good football player or not, though, it’s impossible to deny his 2016 fantasy breakthrough.
McKinney finished 11th in the league in total tackles and added 5 sacks to a fantasy line that landed him among the top 15 LBs in most IDP formats. He’ll continue to play in the middle of a strong defense and next to a fellow ILB -- Brian Cushing -- in decline.
Brandon Marshall, ILB, Broncos
Marshall finished 2014 dealing with a foot injury that ultimately lingered into early 2015. He then finished that campaign playing through an ankle injury. In 2016, it was persistent hamstring trouble through the 2nd half of the year. Even before that, though, his playing time and impact dipped.
I’m worried that the lower-body issues are becoming the norm here and have lowered the ceiling. There’s certainly time for Marshall -- who will turn 28 in September -- to get healthy and back into fantasy’s top 20. But I also don’t think there’s enough stud potential here to put him on a “can’t cut” list. That doesn’t make Marshall a must-dump this offseason. Just consider him more expendable as you make your final roster decisions than he might have seemed a year ago at this time.
DeAndre Levy, OLB, Lions
We can’t talk about normalizing injuries and ignore Levy. After losing all but a half-game’s worth of 2015 to a hip injury, Levy sat out nearly three-quarters of 2016 with quad and knee injuries.
Now he heads toward his age-30 season, and Detroit will have a decision to make on his contract before part of his 2017 salary becomes guaranteed on March 11. Like Marshall, a healthy Levy could still help your IDP lineup. But there’s at least as much risk as upside at this point.
Stephone Anthony, LB, Saints
This 2015 first-round back endured a stunningly bad 2016. A year after starting every game as a rookie, he couldn’t even crack the opening-day lineup. (He did start that game but played only 13 snaps and was out of the lineup by Week 2.) And it’s not like New Orleans just had too many stars to fit.
The team opted to sign fading vet James Laurinaitis to take over at MLB. He proved so good that the Saints dumped him mid-year. Journeyman Craig Robertson also spent the year starting over Anthony. And even Nathan Stupar -- who you probably hadn’t heard of before last fall … or just now -- factored more prominently into the 2016 defense. So what’s the problem?
"He's explosive, he's disruptive and yet his key-and-diagnose and his instincts at times are off," HC Sean Payton said in December, per ESPN.com. "It's run, and he's dropping back in a pass mode. Or it's pass, and he's at the line of scrimmage. His ability to see and diagnose some very simple reads, for instance, are the keys for him getting better. …
"That's been the thing that's kept him back. And quite honestly, it's kept him back on special teams [too]. Because a player like him who is on special teams, if he's covering a kick or covering a punt, generally a guy that can run and hit shows up. And he's been, I would say, just OK in that area."
Is Anthony struggling through growing pains or just incapable of playing every-down LB in the NFL? We’ll find out. How much you’re willing to wait to see should depend on your specific situation and what you’re actually risking by keeping him around.
Not ready to give up on: Mychal Kendricks
Turns out Chip Kelly wasn’t the only coach in Philly who didn’t like Kendricks. The former 2nd-round pick failed to reach 50% playing time in any game this season under new -- experienced -- DC Jim Schwartz.
But Kendricks is still just 26 -- until late September -- and looks like a cut candidate this winter. If Philly keeps him on the roster past the 3rd day of the 2017 league calendar, then $4.35 million of Kendricks’ salary becomes guaranteed.
Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham appear locked in as 3-down LBs in Schwartz’s defense, to a release would likely be good for Kendricks’ IDP outlook. Of course, we’ll see where he might land and whether he can bounce back.
Where’s Jadeveon Clowney?
The former #1 overall pick spent all season as a LB on our site, because that’s how MyFantasyLeague.com listed him. They haven’t altered his designation yet, but I went ahead and moved him to the D-line for dynasty-ranking purposes this month.
Why? Because that’s where he played all season: DE. I expect fantasy leagues to make that change for 2017, which would dramatically increase the value for a player who just had a breakout campaign -- with enormous stat upside still out there.
If you’re willing to bet on that change as well, you might be able to steal Clowney away from another owner in your league while he still carries the “LB” tag.
Buy: Lavonte David
Speaking of “buy” candidates and whether to give up on a player, you’ll have little trouble finding IDP owners this offseason who are fed up with David. And it’s understandable.
Commonly a top-5 type, David barely cracked the top 25 among fantasy LBs in 2016 -- and might even have missed that range in your league. What happened?
Well, that’s tough to say definitively without scouting all 16 of his games -- after having done so for the previous few seasons. But the obvious fantasy issue is that his tackles plummeted in 2016.
There were too many missed tackles, according to Pro Football Focus. Tampa Bay also played its fewest total defensive snaps among David’s 5 seasons. And 2016 marked the 1st time since his rookie year of 2012 that David started all 16 games next to the same MLB: Kwon Alexander in this case.
It’s also worth noting that, according to Pro Football Reference’s numbers, the Bucs collectively tallied their fewest assists over the past 5 years. That makes sense given then low in total plays, but the 184 of 2016 marked a drop of 142 (43.6%) from 2015’s total of 326. And the previous 2 seasons saw 295 and 260 (following 192 in 2012).
Did we see a change in the tackle-awarding practices of Tampa Bay’s home official scorer? I can’t say at the moment. But all of these factors likely played some role in David’s tumble.
Perhaps he won’t return to his lofty fantasy status … but perhaps he will. If the David owner in my league simply believes the soon-to-be 27-year-old is declining or already washed up, then I’d be willing to help him/her get rid of the issue.
As I’ve said previously, your roster moves should take into account your particular situation. But here are a few guys near the end of impressive runs who I’d be more willing to move on from this offseason …
D’Qwell Jackson, ILB, Colts (33)
Thomas Davis, OLB, Panthers (33)
Paul Posluszny, MLB, Jaguars (32)
Karlos Dansby, LB, Bengals (35)
Terrell Suggs, OLB, Ravens (34)
I’m not advocating heading to your league site right now to dump any/all of these oldsters outright. But their ages and situations significantly decrease their values below what their recent fantasy numbers might suggest.