With the 2016 season in the books, there are many things to look back on. Most significant in IDP leagues are possible position changes for some of the NFL's top pass rushers. Rotoworld’s defensive depth charts dictate positional settings for IDP leagues hosted on MyFantasyLeague.com. We determine them based on where players play in actual games, and not based on positions at which a player is listed on some other website.
Here, I'll touch on vital takeaways regarding four premium sack artists after watching their 2016 tape. Keep in mind, IDP position designations are always fluid. As it is early in the offseason, many things can change between now and the start of next season.
The Raiders’ pass rusher was a hot topic last offseason and it looks like that will continue. The signing of Bruce Irvin, who made a name for himself at SAM linebacker in Seattle’s 4-3 "under" defense, brought a scheme change to the Raiders and a huge IDP value increase to Mack. It was a highly-debated topic since the Oakland front seven runs a variety of alignments, but it was accurately predicted last season that the Raiders would run 4-3 "under" on most of their plays.
I charted every single play from the 2016 season, and in the first nine weeks the Raiders employed some type of 4-3 defense for 58% of their base snaps. This included 4-3 "under," which places Irvin on the line of scrimmage opposite Mack in a two-point stance next to a five-technique defensive end, in addition to 4-3 looks with Irvin covering slot receivers. There were also a few plays of standard 4-3 with Irvin as an off-ball strong-side linebacker. Everything was going great from an IDP perspective, but it didn't work well for the Raiders. Oakland sported a 7-2 record entering its bye, but not because of the defense, which was constantly stomped by offenses to begin the year. In five of the first seven games, Oakland allowed opponents to produce at least 400 yards of total offense, two of which were over 500 yards. As the Raiders came out of their Week 10 bye, they made an obvious change: They were going to run more 3-4 looks.
Brace yourselves Mack owners. In Weeks 11-14, the Raiders used Mack at outside linebacker on 127-of-137 base snaps (92.7%) in a 3-4 alignment. This was not pretty for Mack's future IDP value, but it worked on the field. Mack ended up playing outside linebacker on 84% of snaps in eight games post-bye (including Oakland's Wild Card loss) and the Raiders did not let a single opponent hit the 400-yard mark. An eye-popping stat is that in Week 5, the 4-3 Oakland defense surrendered 423 yards at home to the Chargers, yet completely dominated Philip Rivers in a Week 15 matchup in San Diego while playing 3-4, allowing a season-low 262 yards. Looking at the season as a whole, Mack played linebacker on 63% of base defensive snaps.
Mack's IDP position designation is far from safe, and all fantasy owners need to take note. Add in the fact that the Raiders brought in 3-4 mind John Pagano as assistant head coach/defense, and it’s not only a possible scenario that Mack will be moved to linebacker for IDP in 2017, it’s the most likely one.
Now that I likely have frustrated many of you due to the findings regarding Khalil Mack, I might as well not sugarcoat this one either; Jadeveon Clowney may be a linebacker for IDP, too. Just like Mack, the start of the 2016 season was smooth sailing for Clowney owners. The former No. 1 overall pick was finally healthy, playing well, and to our pleasant surprise played full-time base defensive end in Houston’s 3-4 scheme. This was the first time in Clowney's career playing on the line, and he held his own. It was even more encouraging that Clowney was playing defensive end with J.J. Watt active, so it did not look like he was just a short-term fill-in due to Watt's injury. For the first ten weeks, Clowney continued to play every single base snap at defensive end while producing in the box score and showing people exactly why he was referred to by many as a generational talent.
Week 11 came around and starting OLB John Simon went down with an injury, which changed everything for Clowney. It was obvious from that point on that the reason Clowney started the year at defensive end wasn’t due to the Texans' preference to use him there, but rather the desire to get all three of Clowney, Simon and Whitney Mercilus on the field at the same time. With Simon now inactive, Clowney moved back to outside linebacker and never played a single defensive end snap in base for the remainder of the season (including two playoff games). Simon’s injury kept him out of all of those games but Week 16, so it was noticeable that the Texans did not move Clowney back on the line for that week. It’s entirely plausible that the Texans limited snaps for Simon in his first game back to ease him back from injury, but it is noteworthy that he played only in pass situation sub-packages and was used a few times as the third outside linebacker to spell Clowney or Mercilus when they needed a break.
So, what exactly does this all mean? It means that the Texans prefer Clowney at linebacker when they do not have a healthy combo of Mercilus and Simon to play with him. With Simon an unrestricted free agent this offseason, the Texans’ decision to bring Simon back or not will speak loudly about how they want to use Clowney in 2017.
Beasley had a massive breakout campaign, leading the league with 15.5 sacks. A big reason for this is that he does not usually play any base snaps and instead the Falcons kept him fresh to unleash him only in pass-rush scenarios. The issue for Beasley in IDP is when he did play base defense -- e.g. Week 5 against the Broncos -- he clearly played SAM linebacker. The base SAM linebacker in 2016 was Philip Wheeler, and he is a free agent this offseason. So if you are hoping for Beasley to gain defensive end eligibility, you should also cross your fingers that Wheeler re-signs with the Falcons.
With Wheeler back in Atlanta, it would open the door for Beasley to play some base defensive end. But at the end of the day, it is not very likely. Looking at contracts, the Falcons will return four starting-quality defensive ends in Brooks Reed, Adrian Clayborn, Ra’Shede Hageman, and Derrick Shelby, who all are very likely to continue playing over Beasley in base formations. Beasley’s best attribute is his speed around the corner to get to the quarterback, and his weakness is holding up versus offensive tackles in the run game. Given Beasley’s 2016 success, expect the Falcons to continue to employ him as a base SAM linebacker with Wheeler and their top speed rusher in sub-packages.
He isn't as high profile as the first three pass rushers discussed, but there is a lot of buzz in IDP circles regarding impending free agent Melvin Ingram. I hear a lot of rumbling that if Ingram re-signs with the Chargers, Gus Bradley’s scheme will grant him defensive lineman eligibility, but I firmly disagree. I think Ingram’s best chance to get a significant boost to his IDP value is if he signs with a team that runs a standard 4-3 with all three linebackers off the line of scrimmage.
One of Ingram’s best attributes is his versatility as an edge rusher, but he also has the ability to play in zone or man coverage. After watching his entire 2016 season, I would estimate that Ingram drops into coverage about 10-15% of the time, which is a mandatory trait needed for a SAM linebacker in Bradley’s scheme and a wasted trait if Ingram were to play weak-side defensive end (LEO). While some people think Ingram will be a defensive end if he returns to the Chargers, I personally think his game mirrors that of Bruce Irvin (SAM), not Cliff Avril (LEO).