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IDP Pre-Season Preview: AFC East
Steve Gallo
August 21, 2012
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Every year there are new faces in new places – not just players, but coaches too.  With those changes come scheme changes, and value changes with regards to fantasy football.  In addition, many teams have new defensive coordinators – you can read about them in the 2012 Coaching Changes article.  When you add up all of the player acquisitions, losses, and scheme changes, you will find that they can combine to have a profound effect on a player’s fantasy value.  The following information should help you understand what to expect in 2012.  If you have any additional questions please feel free to email me at gallo@thehuddle.com or find me on twitter @IDPSteve.

Buffalo Bills

HC: Chan Gailey
DC:  Dave Wannstedt
Base Defensive Scheme:  4-3
Scheme Change: Yes

Key acquisitions: DE Mario Williams, DE Mark Anderson, CB Stephon Gilmore

Defensive Line

The additions of defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson will be a shot in the arm for the Bills pass rush, and will also go a long way in helping all other aspects of the defense too.  Williams was signed away from the Houston Texans, agreeing to the richest contract ever signed by a defensive player; six years, $100 million ($50 million guaranteed).  Anderson did not cost nearly that much, signing for four years,$27.5 million ($8 million guaranteed).

Fantasy wise IDP players get Williams back from the “dark side”, meaning he will once again be listed as a defensive end, and no longer be a semi-useless OLB for fantasy purposes.  Williams played in 77 games for the Texans as a defensive end.  His per game averages over those 77 games were; 2.4 solos, .62 assists, .62 sacks, .12 forced fumbles, .04 fumble recoveries and .12 passes defended.  Extrapolate those numbers out over a 16 game season and you are looking at; 38.4 solos, 9.9 assists, 9.9 sacks, 1.9 forced fumbles, .64 fumble recoveries and 1.9 passes defended.  In huddle scoring, that would be equal to just shy of 126 fantasy points, which would have put his rank last year just outside of the top 12.  According to MFL ADP, Williams is being taken as DE4.  So basically, if you want to own Williams this year you are going to be paying a premium to do so.  Is it a premium that I think is worth paying?  At first I absolutely did, but then when I looked at things a bit deeper what I found was even in his two best seasons, 2008 and 2009 he was a low level DE1, not the uber-stud that I think he is envisioned as by many of us.  However, for fantasy purposes, I still do view him as a DE1, and he does have the ability and upside to put up a top five season, just realize that he will need to have a career year for that to happen. 

As for Mark Anderson, he seems to be flying somewhat under the radar, coming in as the DE33 according to MFL’s ADP report.  Anderson is seen by many as just a pass rush specialist, but during a March press conference Coach Chan Gailey said,  “He’s a guy that can play all three downs…”, Gailey went on to also say that Anderson has “the capabilities of being an every down player which is something that we like.”  Sure it could be coach speak, but if Anderson can lock down a 3-down role he should have little problem outperforming his ADP rank as DE33.  For that to happen Anderson will be competing with veteran Bills player, Chris Kelsay.  Kelsay will get rotational snaps no matter what, but I am betting on Anderson to win the job.  At a minimum, one of the camp battles to keep an eye on. 

Another big plus for the Bills defensive line comes in the way of their two big defensive tackles, Marcel Dareus and Kyle Williams.  Dareus played mostly at DE but also played some DT during his rookie year, but this year he will almost exclusively play on the interior next to Kyle Williams.  I see Williams as a key cog for the Bills.  Losing him last year to injury was a major loss for the Bills defense, and it showed in their final numbers, ranking 28th in rushing yards allowed (2224) and 27th in YPC (4.8).  Williams is back and his presence will help the entire defense.  In DT mandatory leagues, I will not be shocked if Williams and Dareus both end up as top 5 fantasy defensive tackles.

Linebacker

The Bills did not make any big acquisitions at the linebacker position, but that doesn’t mean that everything has stayed the same.  Along with the scheme change that Wannstedt is implementing comes a slight shakeup with who will play where at linebacker for the Bills.

After playing eight seasons for the Packers, Nick Barnett found himself playing for the Bills in 2011.  Barnett led the Bills with 130 combined tackles, and ended the year ranked as the #10 LB in fantasy scoring.   During 2011, Barnett played ILB in the Bills 3-4 look and MLB in their 4-3 looks, this year Barnett will be playing the WLB position in Wannstedt’s 4-3 scheme.  Barnett’s production will likely take a hit, but I don’t think it will be as big of a hit as many seem to think.  Based on MFL’s ADP Barnett is LB33.  Do I think that Barnett will repeat his top 10 performance from last year?  No, I do not, but I also think that he will outperform his ADP of LB33.  When we look back on the 2012 season I think we see Barnett as a top 20-25 LB.

Another change at linebacker for the Bills is that second year player Kelvin Sheppard will man the MLB position.  Sheppard’s value could be that of a top 10 LB.  However, for that to happen he will need to secure a 3-down role.  Sheppard currently ranks as LB31 according to MFL ADP, so it looks like Barnett is not the only Bills linebacker being undervalued.

The last of the linebacker changes finds former Oakland Raider MLB Kirk Morrison slated to man the SLB spot for the Bills.  Morrison is not about to return to his former IDP glory days, but in deeper 32 team leagues he should be on the field enough to warrant a spot as a LB4.  Morrison is currently going undrafted in most if not all formats.

Secondary

In the secondary, the Bills made one major acquisition, drafting Stephon Gilmore out of South Carolina with the 10th pick of the first round in the 2012 NFL Draft.  Gilmore should start immediately, and in fantasy football a rookie CB is usually a very good starting option, reason being is that they tend to get picked on by opposing QBs.  However, with that said, looking at the quarterbacks the Bills will be facing this year - Tom Brady, Matt Cassell, Alex Smith, Andrew Luck, Browns QB, Matt Schaub, Blaine Gabbert, Sam Bradford, Arizona QB, Jets QB, Dolphins QB, Titans QB & Seahawks QB –it is hard to figure out who will be doing the picking. 

The starting safeties will once again be George Wilson at SS and Jairus Byrd at FS.  Just looking back at the quarterbacks that the Bills will be facing I think we could realistically see Byrd finishing the season with double-digit interceptions.  Wilson tied linebacker Nick Barnett for the team lead with 78 solo tackles last year, and that was with Wilson missing three games to injury.  The Bills strong safety position has been very fantasy friendly of late but with an improved front seven, Wilson, even if he plays 16 games may not live up to expectations that fantasy owners have for him.  Currently he has an ADP of DB6 at MFL, I will not be shocked if Wilson finishes among the top 10 DBs in fantasy scoring but I also will not be shocked to see him fall outside the top 25 either.

Miami Dolphins

HC: Joe Philbin
DC:  Kevin Coyle
Base Defensive Scheme: 4-3

Key acquisitions: DB Richard Marshall, DE Oliver Vernon

Defensive Line

Some of the biggest and best news leading up to the 2012 season – at least for fantasy purposes – is that the Dolphins are switching to a 4-3 base defense.  With that change, Cameron Wake will now be playing defensive end.  Since coming to the NFL from the CFL, Wake has been a formidable pass rusher.  Unfortunately, in the Dolphins previous base 3-4 defense he played OLB.  Wake had value in big play leagues, but a lack of tackles made him a risky option in the tackle heavy scoring we utilize.  That changes this year, with Wake playing RDE he should be in line for a very nice year – one where I foresee him ending up as a high level DE2 with a fair amount of upside.  Jared Odrick, is slated to start at LDE – at 6’5”, 302 lbs. he isn’t exactly the prototypical DE.  He should be stout against the run but I think we see the Dolphins utilize rookie 3rd round pick Olivier Vernon in pass rush situations at times to help maximize the production from the LDE spot opposite of Wake.  Just don’t expect the Dolphins to utilize Vernon the way the Seahawks plan to utilize Bruce Irvin.  In dynasty leagues, I like Vernon as a stash and hold.

 At defensive tackle the duo of Randy Starks and Paul Soliai have the mass – 650 lbs combined – to plug running lanes and keep blockers off the linebackers at the second level.  In DT mandatory leagues, you are looking at depth/bye week filler material at best for Starks and Soliai belongs on the waiver wire.

Linebacker

I don’t know why, but for some reason Karlos Dansby seems to be getting the Rodney Dangerfield treatment this summer.  Based on MFL ADP data, Dansby is currently coming off the board as the 29th LB.  To me that screams value, especially in redraft leagues.  I see the Dolphins offense struggling this year, meaning there will be plenty of opportunities for the defense.  Over the past three years Dansby has finished 15th twice (‘09 & ‘11) and 26th (’10).  Factor in the move to a 4-3 and it’s easy to see why I like him so much this year.  I know that anything can happen, but with where Dansby is going in drafts this year, I see very little downside.  With so little downside and as much upside as I see – enough upside that I think he ends up as a top-10 LB this year – target Dansby and let him be an anchor for your squad this year.  Playing the WLB spot next to Dansby will be Kevin Burnett, who also seems to be getting a bit of the Dangerfield treatment.  Burnett isn’t going to be a LB1 for you, but he should be a solid LB3 that presents some weekly upside.  With an MFL ADP of LB55 it is easy to see why I like Burnett too.   Burnett did have a very up and down season last year, but he still finished as the #50 LB in PPG average.  Koa Misi is slated to start at SLB, which will undoubtedly depress his fantasy value, however, if you are in a dynasty league, I actually like Misi as a stash-and-hold.  While the odds might be a bit long, he could eventually take over at MLB for Dansby.  

Secondary

The Dolphins ranked 25th in passing yards allowed last year, something they will need to improve greatly in 2012.  In attempt to help with their pass defense the Dolphins signed former Panther and Cardinal Richard Marshall.  Marshall looks like he very well may push Vontae Davis into a reserve role – but with the number of times teams are in their nickel package Davis will still be on the field plenty.  Marshall has had fantasy success in the past, but has been inconsistent form year to year.  I like Marshall but outside of CB mandatory leagues there really isnt’ any reason to draft him, and in CB mandatory leagues there is no need to reach for him.

With Yeremiah Bell now playing for division rival New York and no longer anchoring the secondary in Miami – where Bell recorded 100+ combined tackles for the past four seasons – opportunity exists for someone to put up some nice fantasy numbers.  The problem is trying to figure out if it will be Chris Clemons, Reshad Jones, Tyrell Johnson, or someone else.  With the depth at DB there is no reason to reach for any of the above, but monitor their early season progress, and if one of them starts to put up strong fantasy numbers be ready to claim them off waivers.

New England Patriots

HC: Bill Belichick
DC:  Matt Patricia
Base Defensive Scheme: 4-3  
Scheme Change: No

Key acquisitions: DE Chandler Jones, LB Dont’a Hightower, DB Tavon Wilson

Defensive Line

Last year, due in large part to the lockout, the Patriots transitioned away from Bill Belichick’s complex 3-4 base defense to a 4-3.  I can safely say that I expected to see Belichick transition back to a 3-4 this year, which is why earlier this year I included Chandler Jones in the LB write-up after the draft.  However, after week one in the preseason it looks like that won’t be the case.  The Patriots look like they will once again remain a base 4-3 (they’ll still show some 3-4 looks too), and Jones should maintain his DE eligibility, which in turns helps his overall fantasy value.  Joining Jones as a starter at DE will be Rob Ninkovich.  Ninkovich has a non-stop motor and reminds me of Mike Vrabel.  Fantasy wise I don’t see him as a weekly starter but in bigger leagues or as a spot start when the matchup is right he has value.

Linebacker

The linebackers look like they will flesh out with Jerrod Mayo as the starting WLB, Brandon Spikes at MLB, and rookie 1st round selection Dont’a Hightower at SLB.  Mayo even from the WLB spot should by far be the most productive of the Patriots LBs – giving his owners mid LB2 value.  In really deep leagues, Bobby Carpenter could garner enough playing time to make him a viable option.

Secondary

Only the Packers allowed more passing yards than the Patriots did last year.  So it stands to reason that they addressed the secondary in the draft.  What had people scratching their heads wasn’t that they addressed the secondary but that it was selecting safety Tavon Wilson.  Yes, the Patriots were lining up just about anyone that could breath at safety last year, and maybe Wilson can eventually make a difference for the secondary, unfortunately it doesn’t look like he will provide anything more than depth this year.  On the fantasy side of things Patrick Chung will be a relevant fantasy option, that is as long as he stays healthy and on the field – something he has struggled to do up to this point in his career.  With the expected potency of the Patriots offense, teams will undoubtedly need to throw the ball to try to keep pace – that should ensure Devin McCourty is a solid DB2 option.  Kyle Arrington put together a very nice season in 2011, finishing with the 13th most fantasy points among DBs, but repeating that performance won’t be easy.  Actually, I think it is going to be next to impossible.  For starters, it will be very difficult to replicate the 7 interceptions he had in 2011, and also the fact that he and Ras-I Dowling are splitting base defensive snaps.

New York Jets

HC: Rex Ryan
DC:  Mike Pettine
Base Defensive Scheme: 3-4
Scheme Change: No (Rumblings that they could use more 4-3  looks this year.)

Key acquisitions: DE Quinton Coples, DB Yeremiah Bell, DB Laron Landry

Defensive Line

Normally you see a team runs a 3-4 and you keep moving along if you are looking for a fantasy relevant DE.  The Jets might run a 3-4 but when you get to Muhammad Wilkerson you should stop instead of moving along.  In his rookie season last year Wilkerson ranked #36(tied) in fantasy points scored by a DL.  This year I like Wilkerson as a sleeper of sort, for as much as a player can be a sleeper in this day and age.  If the Jets play enough 4-3, don’t be surprised to see Wilkerson creep into the DL2 range.  Quinton Coples adds youth to the Jets pass rush, but fantasy wise I think he will be hard pressed to do what Wilkerson did last year.  If you are in a DT mandatory league, while others are nabbing the big names such as Ndamukong Suh sit back, wait and snag Sione Pouha had a much better value. 

Linebacker

David Harris may not be that stud LB1 that he once was, but he should still provide value as a LB3 for most owners.  One of the key pieces that Rex Ryan brought to town with him when he took over as coach was Bart Scott, but it looks like Scott’s run with the Jets may not last much longer.  He isn’t going anywhere this year, but next year don’t be shocked if he isn’t a Jet.  Demario Davis is an intriguing prospect, and he should be rostered in all dynasty leagues, but this year barring an injury he won’t have much fantasy value at all.  Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas are both listed as starters at OLB, but the player that I like in big play leagues as a sleeper is Aaron Maybin.  He is basically an afterthought in most leagues so if you are a gambler use one of your final picks on him and see if he can finally live up to the lofty expectations that many had for him when the Bills drafted him in 2009.

Secondary

The secondary’s best player is Darrell Revis, but fantasy wise Revis isn’t close to the Jets best fantasy option.  Fantasy value is going to come from Laron Landry and Yeremiah Bell at the safety position.  Landry has teased fantasy owners with his immense talent, but his health, or should I say, lack thereof has kept him from realizing all that potential the past couple of years.  This year, even if healthy he may have his fantasy numbers limited by playing FS.  That means that Bell could be the one in line for a big fantasy season.  All that means is that the situation is still a bit muddied.  Therefore, if you have to pull the trigger on one of them I would pull it on Bell due to the recent injury history for Landry.

AFC North AFC South AFC East AFC West
NFC North NFC South NFC East NFC West

Note:  Huddle IDPScoring system: solo tackle (2 pts), assisted tackle (1 pt), sack (3 pts), forced or recovered fumble (3 pts), interception (3 pts) and pass defended (1 pt).


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