Welcome back to the IDP Free Agent Report hosted by yours truly, TJ Ford. For those new to the column, I try to offer up some likely IDP free agent options for different fantasy teams. This column assumes a balanced scoring between tackles and big plays as well as trying to distinguish between short and long-term upside. I also like to offer up some dark horse, one week flier options for the truly picked-over waiver wire hunters.
If you are lucky enough that your league hasn’t drafted yet, you have been able to avoid some of the IDP landmines that have hit a couple owners early in the year. Von Miller owners as well as Jo-Lonn Dunbar owners are scrambling to cover games missed due to suspension while owners who have stock in Terrell Suggs, Trent Cole, John Abraham, Dwight Freeney and Elvis Dumervil are struggling with (depending on your fantasy provider) at least a semi-permanent position change from the fantasy scarce DE position to the super-deep LB position.
Keeper leagues or leagues that have already drafted may be left in the lurch already but that’s where I come in. This pre-week 1 crop of likely IDP free agents should get your starting lineup back into shape and give you some much needed fantasy depth early in this young season. Of the IDP free agent options, LB likely offers the most stud potential. So to get your fill early, I have 5 rock-solid options at LB.
Daryl Smith BAL LB – ILB 3-4
Those of you who follow me on twitter (@TJFordCDN) know that I have been plugging the pickup of Daryl Smith this offseason. The uninformed fantasy owner might see a 9 tackle, injury-plagues season and wonder what there is to be excited about. Daryl Smith brings veteran poise to an otherwise lacking unit. He is far and away the most accomplished LB of the group and has graded out very well in the preseason. He will lead this Baltimore defense and has shown that his injuries are likely behind him. Watch the Tampa Bay preseason game if you don’t believe me. The best part about adding a guy like Smith to your team is that his stats last year have kept him somewhat off of the radar. The upside is extremely high here. Unless your depth is rock solid, consider adding Smith if he happens to be a free agent in your league. He has LB1 potential in almost all formats.
Roster Recommendation: Mid LB1 to Low-end LB2
Nick Roach OAK LB – MLB 4-3
The former Bear was signed away to Oakland in the offseason to fill the gap left by epic bust Rolando McClain. Roach won’t offer elite athleticism for the Raiders but he will play 16 games and be there to make the tackle, albeit in an unspectacular fashion. Call it Kirk Morrison 2.0, Roach will compile good stats based on sheer opportunity despite not really being a quality NFL LB. Understanding that Roach was the SLB for the Bears last season and made only 66 tackles, he may still be under the radar in your league. Grab Roach as a swing LB for your fantasy team and see just how many RBs make it through Oakland’s defensive line this week.
Roster Recommendation: High-end LB2 to High-end LB3
Moise Fokou TEN LB – MLB 4-3
Digging a little deeper here, Moise Fokou is a former Philly castoff that seems to have landed a starting Mike gig for the Titans. Encumbent starter Colin McCarthy simply hasn’t been able to stay healthy long enough to give his coaching staff confidence in him. Understand that buying on Fokou won’t guarantee a 16 game starter by any stretch; McCarthy is the superior talent. That said, Tennessee should offer up some steady tackle opportunity which might entice owners to buy in for an 8 week stint. It remains to be seen how the Titans will handle third down duties. Last year, starting SLB Akeem Ayers played a bit of defensive end on third down towards the end of the season. But with former DT Karl Klug kicking outside, Ayers may not be on the line nearly as much. Losing third down duties would put Fokou in LB3 territory.
Roster Recommendation: High-end LB3 to Low-end LB3
Brad Jones GBP LB – ILB 3-4
Desmond Bishop was jettisoned out of Green Bay for injury and salary cap reasons and left to fill his spot is Brad Jones. Jones proved to be a quality option down the stretch last year after injuries to the aforementioned Bishop and DJ Smith decimated Green Bay’s ILB corps. Jones posted 38 tackles over his last 5 games last year after converting from OLB to ILB. With a training camp under his belt as the unquestioned starter, Jones could be even better.
Roster Recommendation: Mid LB2 to Mid LB3
Mychal Kendricks PHI LB – ILB 3-4
The former Golden Bear catches a break in his fantasy value with the Philadelphia Eagles moving to a 3-4 defense. The scheme change kicks Kendricks to a familiar inside linebacker role from the 4-3 strong side LB position that he played last year. Fellow ILB DeMeco Ryans seemed to struggle with the demands that Houston’s 3-4 placed on him a few years ago and might struggle with it again. Kendricks’ speed and athleticism will all but assure him of 3rd down duties to go with early down run stuffing. The ceiling is high here. My gut says 120 combined tackles. In shallow leagues where Kendricks isn’t owned because of last year’s SLB numbers, consider adding the sophomore LB.
Roster Recommendation: Low-end LB1 to High-end LB3
Sneaky Linebacker Plays
Marvin Mitchell MIN LB – It’s tough to recommend sneaky plays early in the season, there isn’t much to draw from. That said, according to Vikings brass, newly signed Desmond Bishop hasn’t done enough to earn a starting job at WLB. Understanding that in Minnesota, WLB is probably the least valuable of all the LB positions, the current starter Marvin Mitchell is virtually unknown. Deeper leagues may be able to add a starter for nothing here.
Danny Trevathan DEN LB – With Von Miller suspended, the Broncos have shuffled their LB corps. Nate Irving is slated to play SLB with Wesley Woodyard kicking inside to play MLB. That leaves a vacant WLB job which is reportedly going to be filled by sophomore Danny Trevathan. The former Wildcat impressed coached last year, amassing 33 tackles in spot duty. Trevathan could be a contributor at a position that Wesley Woodyard has flourished in; at least for the 6 weeks Von Miller is out.
Defensive Linemen Plays
The defensive line is always a struggle to find quality personnel because a misstep in your lineup might not just result in a weak game but you might find yourself with a zero for the position. If you find yourself in the unenviable position of needing week 1 DL help, here are a couple options that might be able to aid your team.
Corey Wootton CHI DE – DE 4-3
The left end isn’t solved yet in Chicago; Shea McClellin is still around but all reports indicate that Corey Wootton will win the job. If he does, he stands to improve on the 27 tackle, 7.5 sack line he posted last year in spot duty. Israel Idonije has left for the rival Detroit Lions so his 48 tackles and 7 sacks need to be made up along the line.
Roster Recommendation: Mid DL2 to Low-end DL3
DeMarcus Ware/Anthony Spencer DAL DE – DE 4-3
It seems odd putting a guy like DeMarcus Ware on this list because he is a big name. That said, he and Anthony Spencer were also linebackers last year under Dallas’ 3-4 defense and might not have been on rosters as LBs. With new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin installing a new 4-3 defense, both Ware and Spencer should be defensive end eligible and as such, would carry much more value. Check with your fantasy provider and pick either up if they have the right eligibility.
Roster Recommendation: High-end DL2 to Low-end DL3
Sneaky Defensive Linemen Plays
Rob Ninkovich NEP DE – Similar to Ware/Spencer, Ninkovich also a return to DE from LB the previous year. Look to exploit on that.
Mathias Kiwanuka NYG DE – Same story here also with Kiwi. I would wait a week to see just how healthy JPP is before working Kiwanuka into my lineup. It will be difficult to gauge how BYG handles their DL rotation.
Defensive Back Plays
I have always been a proponent of streaming DBs on your fantasy team and not investing major resources into them. The rookie corner rule and other IDP mantra tends to support that line of thinking. As such, you will find that I tend to play matchups a lot with my DBs. However, early on in the season, those matchups are slightly more difficult to find. Good thing that there are some under the radar guys still waiting to be picked up.
MD Jennings GBP S – 3-4 SS
MD Jennings has won the preseason battle to fill the vacancy left by the departing Charles Woodson. Simply based on opportunity, man on the other end of the “Fail Mary” has a chance to push top 20 stats depending on run support assignments for the Packers. Early Packers games will tell us how often Jerron McMillian rotates in.
Roster Recommendation: Mid DB2 to Mid DB3
Ryan Mundy NYG S – 4-3 SS
Stevie Brown going down with an ACL tear not only devastated the Giants, but many fantasy secondaries as well. Former Steeler Ryan Mundy is first in line to man the usually ultra-productive Giants strong safety job. Look for the currently suspended Will Hill to also make a charge when he returns to the lineup.
Roster Recommendation: High-end DB2 to Low-end DB3
Rookie Corner - Various
Dwayne Gratz, Desmond Trufant, Xavier Rhodes, Dee Milliner and DJ Hayden. What do these guys have an common? They are all rookie cornerbacks and all will be tested early. The tackles will be the primary source of scoring here but some may be good enough to sustain on bigger plays. Guys like Janoris Jenkins and Stephon Gilmore were more than viable last year. Kareem Jackson, Chris Harris, Joe Haden and Patrick Peterson before that. Watch early to seem who is seeing starting snaps and who is getting picked on. My early bet is that Desmond Trufant sees a lot of footballs thrown at him, especially with New Orleans right out of the gate.
Roster Recommendation: Mid DB1 to Low-end DB3
Sneaky Defensive Back Play
Duke Ihenacho DEN S – Winning the Broncos’ starting strong safety job over encumbent Mike Adams, Ihenacho has a clear path to major playing time on a team that figures to be ahead in many games but might not have the proven 4 minute drill RB to run out games. Ihenacho is a better in-the-box safety than most and should be able to rack up some solid tackle stats.