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Week 1 IDP Hits

By Matt Schauf 1:48pm EDT 9/12/15

Raiders sign Aldon Smith.

That's the headline I found as I went to check news, seeing what items I might need to add to this 1st regular-season IDP Hits column and pondering an intro. Jackpot.

I'm not sure how well the years of instability within Oakland's organization fits the off-field needs of a guy the Niners had to reluctantly quit. But I'll let them figure that out. What I do know is that the Raiders just picked up 1 of the league's most dangerous pass rushers.

From 2011 -- Smith's rookie year -- through 2013, only Jared Allen racked up more total sacks. And that stretch included Smith playing a situational role as a rookie and missing 5 full games in 2013. No one posted more sacks per game over that span. Even if you throw in his terrible, suspension-marred, 2-sack 2014 season, only J.J. Watt has averaged more sacks per game since Smith entered the league.

He joins an Oakland defense that tallied only 22 sacks last season, tied for 2nd fewest in the NFL. We're betting on Khalil Mack alone to significantly improve that number in his 2nd season. But the Raiders' next best sack bet is 32-year-old Justin Tuck. Or, at least, it was.

Tuck provided just 5 sacks in his 1st year with Oakland last season, though Pro Football Focus did grade him 16th among 4-3 DEs, with 11 QB hits and 19 hurries hidden behind the sack numbers. Tuck continues to deliver solid run defense as well.

The Raiders could favor Tuck as an early-down edge player and use Smith in passing situations, at least to start. They could also get both players on the field at times (along with Mack).

From early in his Giants career, Tuck often excelled as an interior rusher on passing downs, proving too quick a matchup for many guards when the Giants went with their "NASCAR," 4-DE alignment. Oakland could try to re-create that in a 4-3 alignment or even try Tuck as more of a 3-4 end but line him up in a gap to either side of the OT. The Raiders have already showed varying fronts this preseason and will likely be willing to play with the setup further to get their best rush group on the field.

NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported that Smith is eligible to play right away, but the star pass-rusher also finally got formally charged Friday for the August incident that ended his time in San Francisco. Smith faces misdemeanor charges for:

1) DUI with a prior conviction and refusal to submit to a chemical test

2) hit-and-run with property damage

3) vandalism under $400

Given that the league already suspended him 9 games in 2014 under the personal-conduct policy, I'd bet on him losing a few more. I'd also bet that the Raiders -- and Jaguars, Bucs and Rams, who also reportedly made offers -- checked with the league about that situation before signing Smith. The situation doesn't seem to be worth more than 2-3 games.

So if you play in a fairly deep IDP league -- especially one that favors sack scoring (i.e. at least 4 sack points per 1 tackle point) -- go ahead and see if you have room for this guy. Expect Smith to continue with a LB designation, given that Mack has through the summer. Of course, if Smith were to emerge as a DE for fantasy purposes, that would only add IDP appeal.


Staying on the field

Lots of IDP value -- especially in LBs -- is tied to remaining on the field in passing situations. Some such situations will reveal themselves now that the real games are finally beginning, but we also got insights on many of them in the 3rd full week of preseason contests. Namely:

Bucs MLB Kwon Alexander will play 3 downs
The rookie stayed on the field with weak-side starter Lavonte David for passing situations in the "dress rehearsal," while strong-side LB Danny Lansanah left the field. That's a bit surprising given Lansanah's strong play in coverage as a part-timer last season, but we have to assume it'll hold into the regular season. Of course, I'll bet that Alexander will need to prove he deserves to stay in that 3-down role. If he falters, the team could easily turn to Lansanah in passing sub packages. For now, though, Alexander makes for the better IDP play.

Michael Wilhoite is back
This Niners incumbent opened training camp on the non-football injury list because of a strained leg muscle. But once ready, he returned to full-time duty with the starters in the 3rd exhibition. That should keep Wilhoite the starter next to ILB NaVorro Bowman and give him some decent tackle upside on what looks like a severely deteriorated Niners D. We've had Wilhoite in draftable range for deeper IDP leagues all summer, so this delivered nice confirmation.

Brandon Marshall all the way back
Well, just to clarify: I don't know if the Denver ILB is still feeling any effects from last season's Lisfranc foot injury. But he's all the way back to a 3-down role -- ahead of Danny Trevathan, judging by the snap counts from the Broncos' 3rd preseason game. That's not so surprising after Marshall graded out among the league's best coverage LBs (according to Pro Football Focus) as a 1st-time starter last year. He's a solid LB2 with upside into the top 10 if fully healthy.

Both LBs in Tennessee
ILB starters Avery Williamson and Zach Brown played a matching 32 snaps -- according to PFF -- in the 3rd exhibition game, indicating that both will stay on the field full time. That gives each player fantasy appeal and is particularly noteworthy for Brown. Williamson took on play-calling duties as a rookie last year, and we figured all along he'd see 3-down duty this season. Brown has flashed big-play flair in the past and has the speed to convert any turnover into 6 points. He also has disappointed with his tackling and effort at times. He's not a guy to rely on heavily, but an interesting 4th LB or so for your fantasy squad.

Who in Cleveland?
Christian Kirksey opened the preseason starting next to Karlos Dansby, but Craig Robertson started game 3. We'd bet on them splitting that job somehow, whether it's a weekly split or 1 a job that could shift through the season. The team would probably like Kirksey to take over the job, but he hasn't pushed Robertson aside yet. For now, neither looks particularly attractive for your IDP lineup.


Quick hits

-- Chiefs rookie ILB Ramik Wilson showed well while starting for injured Josh Mauga (heel) throughout the preseason. But Mauga has since returned to practice, and HC Andy Reid said the veteran will likely start the opener if he's ready. Wilson could push him for the job at some point this year, though.

-- Buccaneers DE Jacquies Smith saw his role diminish through the preseason. Henry Melton started at right DE in Smith's place in the 3rd exhibition, giving way to Smith in passing sub packages. That's a fine role for Smith's sack upside but will obviously cut way into his tackle potential. Left DE George Johnson, meanwhile, has kept his 3-down role and looks like the better IDP bet now.

-- Panthers 2nd-year DE Kony Ealy will start on the right side after Frank Alexander's season-ending injury -- and enjoyed a productive August. Pro Football Focus graded him the 30th 4-3 DE among 67 qualifiers in the preseason, 11th in pass-rushing, and credited him with 2 sacks, 2 QB hits and 5 hurries. Playing opposite left DE Charles Johnson and next to DTs Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short is not a bad spot to line up. I'm not projecting big things yet, but he'll be interesting to watch. Opening against the Jaguars could give us a good initial look.

-- S Ricardo Allen, a 5th-round pick in 2014, appears poised to start next to William Moore. An All-Big 10 performer all 4 seasons at Purdue, Allen flashed big-play chops with 13 career INTs -- including 6 in his senior season. He returned a school-record 4 for TDs in his career. Allen's a sneaky Week 1 IDP value in a nice matchup with the up-tempo Eagles. We'll see beyond that.

Check out our Week 1 IDP rankings to help set your lineup, and stay up on the latest Shark Bites for important injury updates through the weekend. Look for our weekly IDP Free Agent Focus article every Monday.

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