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IDP Pre-Season Preview: NFC South
Steve Gallo
August 21, 2012
Follow Follow @IDPSteve
 
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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.

Atlanta Falcons

HC: Mike Smith
DC: Mike Nolan
Base Defensive Scheme: 4-3
Scheme Change: No

Key acquisitions: DB Asante Samuel

Defensive Line

The Falcons got a new defensive coordinator but luckily he didn’t install the 3-4 scheme that he is known to use.  That means that the fantasy value for the Falcons DEs is safe, at least for one more season.  In dynasty leagues if you own any of John Abraham, Ray Edwards, Kroy Biermann, or even rookie Jonathan Massaquoi don’t be shocked to see the team switch to a 3-4 in the future, that is as long as Mike Nolan is manning the defense.

As for this year, Nolan is on record saying he will keep the 4-3,  but quite honestly I don’t see much value in the Falcons DEs even in their scheme.  John Abraham is now 34, and he isn’t what he used to be.  I expect that we will see the Falcons use him in more of a rotation in an effort to keep him as fresh as possible.  Two years ago in 2010, he had a decent enough fantasy season, finishing 20th in scoring among DLs, but last year he only hit double digits twice and ended up as the 35th highest scoring DL – making him nothing more than depth at best.  And with so few double digit performances even the upside that Abraham used to have is all but gone.  With an ADP of DL32 I would rather let someone else have him and set my sights on someone like Bruce Irvin (DL33) or Mark Anderson (DL36), both who I think have much more upside than Abraham has. 

Ray Edwards didn’t exactly have a stellar season with the Falcons last year.  He could only manage 3.5 sacks on the year, and fantasy wise he didn’t have a single game where he scored in double digits.  It’s no wonder that he is going undrafted after the bad taste he surely left in owners mouths after such a dreadful season.  I think that Edwards will increase his sack total this year, he has too, but I don’t think he does enough to become fantasy relevant. 

Kroy Biermann became a household name to reality show viewers due to his relationship (turned marriage) with one of the housewives of Atlanta.  I like Biermann but I don’t think he gets enough snaps this year to crack starting fantasy lineups.  Like many players, I am sure he will flash a time or two this season, but when it comes to consistent fantasy performance, it just won’t be there.

Linebacker

The Falcons lost their leading tackler from the past three seasons, Curtis Lofton to the New Orleans Saints.  Lofton’s lost production won’t be easy to replace, but it opens the door for a player to step into fantasy relevance.  That player looks to be Akeem Dent.  Earlier in the offseason the Falcons brought in former Seahawk Lofa Tatupu, which muddied the waters some, but Tatupu injured his pectoral muscle, and the injury required season ending surgery.  That put Dent in the driver’s seat for the starting job, and one that he should nail down.  The problem with Dent is that his upside will be limited by a 2-down role.  At best, he should only be rostered as a LB4/5 providing depth and bye week help.

If you are looking for fantasy value the name to know on the Falcons is Sean Weatherspoon.  Weatherspoon had a very nice season last year, finishing 14th in fantasy scoring among LBs.  Were it not for his worst performance of the season in week 16 – a 3 point effort against the Saints he would have undoubtedly finished as a top 12 LB.  As it stands now he has an ADP of LB12, which I actually think is low.  There isn’t much value in his draft slot but I do think he cracks the top 10 this year.  I have zero reservations about him being a solid weekly starter for anyone that grabs him as their LB1, none.

If you are looking for a “sleeper” or value play at LB, the name to know is Stephen Nicholas.  Nicholas is a better play in deeper leagues but even in 12 team leagues, I think he is worth rostering as a late pick.  When it is all said and done this season I won’t be shocked to see Nicholas ranked inside the top 36 in LB scoring.  Yes, he plays SLB, but he will play a 3-down role more than not.  The Falcons have added veteran Mike Peterson back into the fray but I think he is only a rotational piece to keep players fresh and to address the depth that they lost with the Tatupu injury. 

Secondary

The Falcons picked up a shiny new toy in Asante Samuel who they acquired via trade with the Philadelphia Eagles.  Samuel is a risk taker, that will win some and lose some, but with major passing attacks of the Saints and even the Panthers in their division, Samuel’s acquisition makes sense.  Fantasy wise it is a non-factor, that is unless you are in a big play league. 

If you are looking for fantasy value in the Falcons secondary the player I would recommend is William Moore.  I know that expectations for Moore were big going into last year, and for the most part he didn’t live up to those expectations.  However, over the final three games of the season he logged 19 total tackles, a number if extrapolated out would give him 101 for a season.  Considering he doesn’t show up on the ADP report at MFL, it is safe to say his cost is low and his risk even lower.  Grab him as a DB5, and if he truly is going to be a viable fantasy producer, we will see it early.  If he looks like he did at times early last season, then just simply cut bait.

Carolina Panthers

HC: Ron Rivera
DC: Sean McDermott
Base Defensive Scheme: 4-3
Scheme Change: No

Key acquisitions: LB Luke Kuechly

Defensive Line

Most fantasy leagues start 2-3 DL, meaning that depending on your league the Panthers had 1 or 2 viable fantasy starters at DL.  You might be shocked to know that Greg Hardy, not Charles Johnson was the better fantasy DL last year.  It’s true, Hardy ranked 18th in DL scoring, making him a DL2.  Johnson came in at 27th, meaning that depending on your league starting requirements he was either a starter at DL3 or just depth/bench material.  The problem is that Johnson was drafted early by many last year, as evidenced by his ADP in 2011 of DL7. 

This year, Johnson isn’t going as early in drafts but he is still coming off the board before Hardy.  With an ADP of DL16 it might seem a bit high for a DL that finished 27th last year, but what did Johnson in last year was a poor second half marred by inconsistency.  The upside is still there with him and that is why he is being taken where he is.  I don’t know that I would want to rely on him as my DL1, but if you can roster him as a DL2 then I think the risk I worth it.  Like I said, the talent is there, and I wouldn’t be shocked at all if he was able to finish as a top 10 DL, but that’s his upside.  Last year we saw the downside, so in essence there isn’t much risk associated with him.

Hardy on the other hand, while talented in his own right, probably hit about his ceiling last year.  Even then, I think that and ADP of DL35 is low, and offers a great value.  The thing that you have to watch with Hardy and other DLs is that a few big weeks can really push them up the rankings, which is why the top tier is so valuable.  Much of Hardy’s value came from his performance in weeks 1, 3, and 5, the only weeks he scored in double digits.

Linebacker

The Panthers had a M.A.S.H unit at LB last year.  Jon Beason, Thomas Davis, Dan Connor, Omar Gaither, Antwan Applewhite, Jason Williams, Thomas Williams, and Jason Phillips, all missed time last year due to injury.  The biggest blow being Beason, and Davis, as the starting duo combined to play in just 3 games thru the first two weeks of the season.  James Anderson was the only starter to play in all 16 games.  Anderson took advantage of being the last man standing and finished the season as the 6th highest scoring LB in the league. 

This year both Beason and Davis are back, but after 374 ACL injuries, it is doubtful that Davis contributes much.  Expectations are higher for Beason, but his fantasy value is in flux a bit.  Reason being that the Panthers selected Luke Kuechly with the 9th pick in the first round – making him the first LB selected in the 2011 draft.  Kuechly is a natural MLB, but it looks like he will end up playing WLB, with Beason staying at MLB.

From a fantasy perspective trying to figure out who is going to get how much of the tackle pie is the hard part.  All three, yes the rookie too, have the ability to put up LB1 numbers.  Something that just isn’t going to happen.  The upside is there for each player, but I’ll be damned if I am willing to take the risk of getting the guy that is the odd man out.  Especially when you see that all three starters are very close with regards to their ADP.  The rookie has the highest ADP at LB20, followed by Beason (LB25) and Anderson (LB28) bringing up the rear.  I guess if you can get Beason as your LB3 then the risk is ok, but Anderson scares me the most because he could easily be the odd man out and end up outside the top 50 in scoring.  Then again, do you really feel like Kuechly makes for a safe and solid LB2?  There is just too much risk, with too little upside for my taste regarding this situation.  Proceed with caution is the best advice I can give with this bunch. 

Secondary

Because the Panthers have such a solid starting set of LBs the value of the secondary gets depressed.  There just isn’t enough left for them to “clean up”.  Last year when the Panthers LBs were in total disarray the top scoring DB for the team was Charles Godfrey and he only ranked 33rd in DB scoring.  Not exactly the stellar numbers, and projecting him to do much more, or at least enough remain a DB3 just isn’t something I feel comfortable with when he has Jon Beason, Luke Kuechly and James Anderson in front of him.  It really is that cut and dry for me. 

Outside of Godfrey, it doesn’t get much better and quite honestly I would avoid the rest of the secondary.  The consistent fantasy production just isn’t there, and I don’t see it magically appearing.

New Orleans Saints

HC: Sean Payton (Suspended)/Joe Vitt (Suspended thru week 6)
DC:  Steve Spagnuolo
Base Defensive Scheme: 4-3
Scheme Change: No

Key acquisitions: DL Broderick Bunkley, LB Curtis Lofton, LB David Hawthorne, LB Barrett Ruud (Traded for on 8/21)

Defensive Line

The Saints added DT Broderick Bunkley in free agency, and when paired with DT Sedrick Ellis should have a positive impact on the Saints run defense.  Fantasy wise even in DT mandatory leagues, at best Ellis is probably a DT2 with a bit of weekly upside, Bunkley in his role most likely isn’t a viable fantasy option.

Will Smith has been the fantasy relevant DE for the Saints for the past few years, but his fantasy value will take a hit this year due to a league imposed four game suspension with regards to his involvement in the Bounty Gate scandal.  This will be the second consecutive y ear the Saints start the season with Smith being suspended.  Last season he missed the first two games of the year due to suspension (StarCaps).  He finished 2011 ranked 57th in DL scoring.  You might want to say that missing the first two weeks hurt him, and it did, but he also only had a PPG average of 5.846.  Not an awe inspiring number.  Smith does present DL2 value when on the field, but I think it will be a stretch for him to be anything more than a DL3 at best this year.

Opposite of Smith in the starting lineup is Cameron Jordan.  Jordan wasn’t anything special last year either, scoring more than 5 points in a game just twice, and not recording a single sack during the normal fantasy season (weeks 1-16).  Yet, for some strange reason I like Jordan as a sleeper, but mainly in dynasty leagues.  I think in a redraft league I would take a pass.  Just don’t dismiss him going forward, because much like WRs need 2-3 years to develop into solid NLF players, the same holds true for many at the DE position. 

Two guys to keep an eye on are Martez Wilson, the converted LB who is lining up as a DE this year, and Junior Galette.  So far this preseason the Saints have a grand total of 5 sacks, and Wilson leads the team with 1.5.  For the most part these are guys that really should only be targets in deeper leagues.

Linebacker

New defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo really has his work cut out for him this year.  First he comes on board and there is all the Bounty Gate stuff going on.  But the Saints were active this offseason, signing former Falcon Curtis Lofton and former Seahawk David Hawthorne.  A clear upgrade  at LB for the team.  Especially with Jonathan Vima being slapped with a 16 game suspension for his involvement in the Bounty Gate scandal. 

Unfortunately, the injury bug has been unkind to the Saints this preseason.  Lofton suffered a high ankle sprain, and Hawthorne had knee surgery.  Lofton has said he can play and will be ready for the season, but only time will tell.  The Saints also just acquired LB Barrett Ruud from the Seahawks, reading between the lines tells you that the Saints may not be as convinced that Lofton will be ready for week 1.  Joe Vitt, subbing for head coach Sean Payton who is serving a year-long Bounty Gate suspension, isn’t sure if Hawthorne will be ready for the start of the season.  With those types of injury questions surrounding their two new and starting LBs it is no wonder that the team made a move to acquire a veteran LB.

Fantasy wise this could all be a complete and utter disaster for those that bought on Lofton and/or Hawthorne.  As it stands now Ruud could take over at MLB, which means that Lofton very well could end up playing on the strong side.  Then again, he could end up at WLB and Hawthorne when he is ready could play SLB.  This is a situation that needs to play itself out and there isn’t much time left for that to happen.  If you are a risk taker then you are probably looking at one of these guys as a buy.  I have no problem taking risks, but this situation just smells and is one that I would rather stay away from.  

Secondary

While Spagnuolo has a challenging situation in his front seven, he has some nice pieces to work with in the secondary, namely, Roman Harper.  Harper is coming off a top 5 fantasy season among DBs last year.  Yet his ADP is a few spots lower at DB8.  I wouldn’t be shocked to see Harper fall completely out of the top 20 in DB scoring.  It is something that happens all too often.  But I actually like Harper this year.  Spagnuolo’s scheme has produced very productive safeties in the past, and when coupled with the Saints current issues at LB, I think that Harper could be in line for another very strong fantasy season.  He is someone that I have no qualms with taking as my DB1, none whatsoever.

The other thing to point out is that Spagnuolo’s scheme has supported multiple top 25 DBs in the past.  Quintin Mikell ranked 12th last year, with Darian Stewart coming in at #24.  I think that makes Malcolm Jenkins a sneaky late round DB4 or DB5 selection that could end up with DB2 value.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

HC: Greg Schiano
DC: Bill Sheridan
Base Defensive Scheme: 4-3
Scheme Change: No

Key acquisitions: DB Mark Barron, LB Lavonte David, DB Eric Wright

Defensive Line

The Buccaneers seem snake bitten when it comes to their defensive line.  By that I mean with the injuries that they have suffered the past few years.  This year the hit comes with Da’Quan Bowers being lost for the season to a torn Achilles. 

At first blush it might look like there is little to no value on the Buccaneers defensive line.  However, I don’t think that is the case at all.  For starters, I think that Adrian Clayborn is in line for a very nice season this year.  I think he is a great value at his current ADP of DL27, and think he is a solid upper tier 2 DL with DL1 upside.  After the Buccaneers by in week 8 last year, between weeks 9-16 Clayborn showed us a glimpse of what he can do when he put up 65.5 fantasy points and ranked 13th over that span of time.  So yes, I am hanging my hat on that small sample and running with it.  Hey if I’m wrong, getting him at DL27 is a cheap enough price that it won’t hurt all that much anyway.

The other DL that I like on the Buccaneers this year is former 1st round pick DT Gerald McCoy.  McCoy is healthy and needs to stay that way, but if he does I think he could finish as a DT1 in DT mandatory leagues.  One of the reasons I like McCoy is that with Bowers out he very well could see some situational snaps at DE and that could help to pad his stats just enough to help him break through to the DT1 ranks.

In deeper leagues a player that can be targeted is Michael Bennett, who is now slated to start at LDE due to the injury to Bowers.  Bennett has flashed some fantasy value in the past but outside of deeper leagues, say 16 teams and up, I probably wouldn’t both rostering him.

Linebacker

The Buccaneers made a concerted effort to improve their linebackers when they selected Lavonte David in the second round of the draft this past April.  David will start as a rookie and he very well should be the top producing LB on the team this year.  I think with the tackle opportunity that he ends up facing, coupled with his talent that he should have a floor/ceiling of LB2/LB3 this year.  His ADP of 38 makes him a LB4 so there is some value to be had, and if you can actually land him as a LB4 then you really minimize any risk that the rookie may have.
Mason Foster was a rookie LB that was highly sought after by IDP owners last year, at least by dynasty owners that is, and he underperformed so that could be the reason why David’s ADP isn’t higher.

As for Foster this year, he has an ADP of LB44, which is surely being impacted by his finish as the #49 scoring LB last year.  As much as I tried to find a positive in Foster’s numbers to give hope for this year I just couldn’t find anything that made me go “Ah Ha!” for him.  He did increase his PPG average after the bye from 9.429 to 10.250, granted that is a almost a 10% increase but the raw numbers are negligible at best.

Secondary

The Buccaneers selected SS Mark Baron with the 7th pick in the first round of the draft – a lofty draft slot for a safety.  While some questioned the Buccaneers actually trading up to take a SS so early in the draft, there is no question that he immediately improves their secondary.  Not only is he valuable NFL wise for the Buccaneers, but also fantasy wise for IDP owners too.  Don’t be surprised to see Barron end the season as a high level DB1.  There should be plenty of opportunity for him to take advantage of, and he has the ability to do just that.  His ADP sits at DB11, so there isn’t much room for error with the rookie.  Then again that ADP is probably a bit inflated due to rookie drafts that are included in the ADP report.  What I can tell you is that in non-rookie only drafts I have seen Barron taken as DB11 in the 17th round, DB13, also in the 17th round, and DB11 in the 15th round of the SOFA IDP Expert’s Draft.  So with that said, his ADP looks to be pretty true.

Outside of Barron there really isn’t another player in the Buccaneers secondary I would want to rely on for fantasy purposes.  Even long-time veteran Ronde Barber looks to have little to no value this year.  Mainly because he will now be playing FS, so I guess if you are in a big play league, he could be worth a shot, but honestly, that’s about it.

Speaking of shots, charges against Aqib Talib for assault with a deadly weapon, a felony, were dismissed. 

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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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