The preseason is in full swing, so it's time to take stock of some of the defensive situations with the biggest potential to impact the IDP landscape. In some cases we have more clarity than we did a month ago, while in others the waters remain muddy. With loads of fantasy drafts happening over the next two weekends, here's a look at the IDP news and notes from around the league.
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There’s been a lot of speculation on the Bills linebacker situation since Kiko Alonso went down with a torn ACL in the offseason. While we initially thought we had some clarity, slotting Nigel Bradham into the every-down role, Buffalo has rotated Bradham in and out of the subpackages with Keith Rivers. That leaves Brandon Spikes as the best candidate to play three downs. Spikes has teased us before, flashing huge fantasy upside in New England, but never securing subpackage duties. However, I’d take a chance on this sticking for Spikes. He’s now a high upside LB3 who you can certainly get at a discount on draft day.
You won’t be able to get Chandler Jones at a discount, but the third-year man offers massive fantasy value this season, especially given the news that he’s seeing some snaps at outside linebacker. Jones impressed on Friday night, recording two sacks against the Panthers. This is the season Jones really breaks out. Likewise, I expect Jamie Collins to do the same. The IDP world seems to have caught up to Collins, but there’s a good chance your league mates haven’t. He’s a priority scoop as your LB3.
Dannell Ellerbe was a bit of a disaster at middle linebacker for the Dolphins last season, grading out as the No. 50 inside linebacker out of 55 qualifiers at Pro Football Focus. Miami learned their lesson, moving Ellerbe to the strong side and installing Koa Misi in the middle. Misi has looked good so far in the preseason, but more importantly, he’s playing in the subpackages along with Ellerbe. With his high tackle floor, Misi is an ultra-sneaky late-round LB3 with him getting preference over Ellerbe.
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Ryan Shazier looks really fast. The rookie has struggled at times against the run, but he’s racked up 15 total tackles in roughly five quarters of play over the last two preseason games. He may not have a Kuechly-like IDP impact this season, but Shazier is clearly going to be a strong option. Consider him an extremely high upside LB3. At the same time, Shazier’s play has made Lawrence Timmons almost look like he’s standing still. He had a nice play on Thursday where he shot the gap on a toss to LeSean McCoy, but otherwise hasn’t particularly stood out. At this point, I’d almost rather Shazier over Timmons.
Speaking of promising rookies, C.J. Mosley appears to be inked into a three-down role for the Ravens. Last week against the Cowboys, Mosley was in on every defensive snap along with Daryl Smith until about the mid-way point of the second quarter. Like Shazier, Mosley isn’t completely polished yet, but he has looked very comfortable on the field and has even flashed some upside as a pass rusher. He’s right with Shazier in our rankings and should be considered a high-ceiling LB3.
We unfortunately can’t say the same about Christian Kirksey just yet. Despite drawing praise from Browns head coach Mike Pettine, Kirskey is still running behind Craig Robertson on the Cleveland depth chart. Ultimately, this is a matter that will sort itself out over time. Robertson is just another guy, while Kirksey is a dynamic three-down player. It may take a few weeks for him to crack the starting lineup, but Kirksey is still worth a late-round flier.
Staying on the rookie theme, the prognosis isn’t quite as good for Telvin Smith down in Jacksonville. Smith got mixed in with the ones last weekend, but he looked to be more Paul Posluzsny’s replacement than he was an entrenched starter. What we’re most likely to see from Smith in the short-term is a subpackage role only with Geno Hayes and LaRoy Reynolds playing in the base defense. Of course, this is a situation that could change quickly.
One of the players people have asked me about the most this preseason is Jadeveon Clowney. He’s certainly looked the part of a No. 1 overall pick thus far, but his IDP impact may be a bit up and down this season. The Texans are going to use Clowney in an every-down role, but his fantasy value is depressed since most commissioner sites classify him as an outside linebacker. Keep this and your league scoring system in mind if you’re considering drafting Clowney.
The Titans linebacker situation seems to have worked itself out at this point in the preseason. Wesley Woodyard is locked into one of the inside spots, and he’s a fantastic value right now. It appears Zack Brown is entrenched at the other spot, after he played every-down last week against the Saints. Brown has given us moments of joy and pain as IDP owners in the past, but he’s a very quick player who has the chops to hang in coverage. With folks looking elsewhere on draft day, Brown makes for an ideal late-round snag.
Just when we thought we had the Broncos linebacker situation all figured out, Danny Trevathan fractured his left tibia and is likely out for the first month of the season. This doesn’t kill Trevathan’s fantasy value, but you should definitely bump him down a tier on your draft board. If you’re looking to find value in the wake of this event, it’s likely we’ll see Brandon Marshall (no, not that Brandon Marshall) fill in for Trevathan. Marshall started and played every-down with the ones, while Nate Irving rotated off in some subpackages. Marshall is by no means a long-term option, but streamers in deep leagues could get a few weeks of starter production out of him.
The linebacker situation in Oakland has been a bit of an enigma this preseason with Miles Burris and Sio Moore engaged in a battle for the starting job on the weak side. Unfortunately, this situation got even cloudier after Moore was carted off the field Friday with an apparent neck injury. While neck injuries are certainly a very serious matter, it sounds like Moore avoided significant injury. He was diagnosed with a neck strain, released from the hospital, and flew home with the team. At this point, it’s looking likely we won’t have much clarity on this situation any time soon.
However, we do have clarity on the linebacker situation in San Diego. Donald Butler and Manti Te’o are locked in as the starters, but the question ultimately centered on Te’o’s involvement in the subpackages. While Te’o hasn’t played every down, he has been in on a number of the Chargers’ nickel packages. Te’o doesn’t offer the biggest fantasy ceiling, but that’s the confirmation we needed to solidify him in the LB4 range.