- Jim McCormick, Fantasy Sports
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The word "stay," for the longest time, was what I would often ask my dog to do.
Now, it has become an engrained legal term, a bit of jargon tied closely to this litigious NFL offseason we football faithful must endure. It could be worse, though. At least we have the recent results of the league's annual job fair to consider; an infusion of talent in an offseason defined otherwise by essentially frozen rosters.
Without the massive player migration seen in free agency, we are admittedly playing with an incomplete puzzle here. Projecting and analyzing the scenarios that have relevant fantasy implications is somewhat difficult, but the draft does indeed shed light on a team's inclinations at certain positions.
What are the peripheral consequences of Arizona going corner in the first? Can Casey Matthews be as destructive on the field and as fun for fantasy purposes as his feared and famous older brother has become?
With all this in mind, let's delve into the draft and consider how some scenarios are taking shape since the selections were made.
The Versatile Von
It's appropriate to start off this list focusing on Von Miller, since he was the top defender selected. The scouting word on Miller has long been that he possesses the pass-rush tools to be a successful outside linebacker in a pro 3-4 scheme. In Denver, though, he'll likely be asked to suit up on the strongside in John Fox's 4-3 scheme; keeping him busier pursuing tailbacks and tight ends than quarterbacks. This is a defensive transition being made, mind you, amidst stalemate.
The Texas A&M product's fantasy stock is a bit deflated given growing web-wide fears that his pass-rush potential will be limited by his role in Denver. Don't let the depreciation go too far, though, as the brass still invested in this kid to improve on their league-worst sack production from last season. He'll likely be a traditional "Sam" 'backer on early downs, but don't be surprised to see him rush from the edge on passing downs across from fellow speedster Elvis Dumervil. In drafts, he'll likely go in the twilight rounds, if at all, but he remains a talent to target early in the season.
Can Mason Foster make fantasy owners as pleased as Arian Foster did last season? No, no he can't. But he can prove to be one of the top rookie defenders from a production perspective. In Tampa, incumbent outside 'backer Geno Hayes faces a potential league suspension while middle man Barrett Ruud's future with the team is murky after extension talks never led to ink. With so many unknowns at the linebacker position, Foster appears ready to capitalize on a ripe statistical situation. The kid put up 163 tackles in 2010 for the Washington Huskies, played from three linebacker spots in his career and even rushed as an end at times. The best guess now is that he'll take an outside spot, likely the strong side, for the young front seven, but we'll keep an eye on this scenario, as he could become a legitimate fantasy starter if he somehow ends up in the middle linebacker spot.
The Buffalo Bills have been letting opponents run wild on them for the past several seasons. Paul Posluszny has played well enough and racked up a ton of tackles, but has had little help manning the interior lanes behind a porous defensive line. Welcome Kelvin Sheppard to the fold, the top inside linebacker taken and a safe bet to secure a starting gig in what should be a productive situation.
Welcome to the NFL and to my spell check, Martez Wilson. The fastest linebacker in Indy at the position, Wilson will fit nicely in Gregg Williams' aggressive defense. Expect Wilson to start out on the outside for the Saints, but with his speed and size (250 pounds), he has the makings of a future middle man in New Orleans.
Next man up
Jaiquawn Jarrett's story is pretty cool. The Brooklyn native went to Temple in North Philly and was a key part in the dormant program's resurrection to respectability. Then he gets drafted by the local team and could be the Eagles' replacement for free-agent safety Quintin Mikell. If Jarrett does get the nod to fill the potential void in the secondary, he could become the top rookie defensive back in fantasy this season.
The Bronco II
The other rookie 'backer the Broncos we could see starting right away is Nate Irving out of NC State. He's not an awe-inspiring athlete like Miller, but he is a proven inside presence who finishes tackles, an element missing from last season's defensive debacle in Denver. Depending on where veteran D.J. Williams lines up (possibly on the weak side), Irving might just become an asset if he can win the middle spot in Fox's new defense.
Many draft pundits deemed Patrick Peterson to be the "safest" bet in this year's draft to become a star in the NFL. Nothing has changed here; Peterson should immediately augment the Arizona defense in a positive way, as well as in the return game. What's not clear is how this will translate statistically. It could be that Peterson's addition to a previously fallible secondary will have a greater impact on, say, defensive end Calais Campbell's ability to produce than in statistical returns for Peterson's expectant fantasy investors. If Peterson can help stifle opposing passing attacks, it could help guys like Campbell and Darnell Dockett register some coverage sacks, a rarity in years past.
Light on linemen
This draft boasted what appears to be a good collection of interior defensive lineman, but seemingly lacked in immediate impact defensive end talent. Or so it seems, just days after the draft. Even if a number of these ends become pocket-collapsing menaces down the line, few ends produce at an elite level in year one. It's certainly worth keeping an eye on Jabaal Sheard in Cleveland, Brooks Reed and J.J. Watt in Houston, Aldon Smith in San Francisco and especially Cameron Jordan in New Orleans, but let others overinvest in what are still budding prospects, and instead focus on more proven veteran commodities.
Match made in
Jimmy Smith, the mercurial Colorado corner, slipped past where his draft grade suggested due likely to perceived character concerns. Could there have been a better fit for him than in Baltimore, a team defined by a veteran defense rife with leadership? Probably not. And the need on the Ravens' side is met as well in the athletic and rangy Smith, as their corner play has been inconsistent for a few seasons now. Even Darrelle Revis was targeted a ton as a starting rookie corner, and Smith should see a good deal of work come his way, as well.
Names to know
Linebacker Casey Matthews lands in a good spot to earn early playing time in Philadelphia. With several question marks about the outside gigs in a reworked defense, Matthews could find the field early on. Colin McCarthy could be a valuable enforcer for the Titans for a front seven in transition, and merits consideration for depth purposes. Tampa Bay took some risk with sack specialist Da'Quan Bowers, but it comes with considerable potential return if his health holds up. Come August, Prince Amukamara and Aaron Williams might just become the top rookie sleepers in the defensive back crop. In addition to McCarthy, the Titans landed Akeem Ayers at a value, and the athletic UCLA product could start from day one for what should be an exciting young Tennessee front seven.
Jim McCormick is an IDP and fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com, as well as the editor and publisher of BLITZ Magazine, a print and online publication covering football from prep to pro. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org with all of your IDP concerns.
Jim McCormick discusses recently drafted defensive players who are worth taking note of for the 2011 fantasy football season.