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The 2012 NFL Draft is in the books, and from the sixth overall pick (LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne) to the 249th pick (South Carolina defensive tackle Travian Robertson) more than 100 of college football’s top defensive players now call the National Football League home.
Here’s a look at how the NFL landing spots of some of the nation’s top defensive rookies impacts their fantasy football fortunes for both the upcoming season and beyond, including some players who are climbing up Individual Defensive Player (IDP) draft boards and others who have seen their fantasy value take a kick in the teeth.
UP THE LADDER
Andre Branch, DE, Jacksonville: The Clemson standout may have been sucked into the fourth circle of NFL hell, but for this year at least Branch’s selection by Jacksonville with the 38th overall pick was just about a best case scenario so far as his fantasy football value goes. One of the few “tweener” ends to catch on with a team running a 4-3 defense, Branch should see significant playing time from the get-go playing opposite Jeremy Mincey for the Jaguars, and while it’s risky to expect too much from rookie defensive linemen, Branch is the early favorite to lead first-year defensive linemen in fantasy points in 2012.
Chandler Jones, DE, New England : The Patriots traded up (yes, up) to the 21st overall selection to select Jones, who didn’t post eye-popping stats at Syracuse but who had steadily been climbing draft boards of late. Jones, who NFL Network Draft Analyst Mike Mayock called “the best defensive player in the draft,” is expected to slide into the “elephant” pass rusher role that Willie McGinest made famous in New England. That also produced a Top 12 season in fantasy points per game for Andre Carter last year, and that coupled with the early playing time he’ll see thanks to Carter and Mark Anderson’s departure should portend IDP DL3 value in redraft leagues if he’s classified as a defensive lineman.
Lavonte David, LB, Tampa Bay : David paced the Nebraska defense with 133 tackles last year, and the Blackshirts standout fell into what could be the most-favorable short-term situation of any rookie linebacker. If the 6-foot-1, 233-pounder can show the Buccaneers, who drafted him with the 58th overall pick, that he can hold up inside, he should have little trouble beating out journeyman Quincy Black and second-year disappointment Mason Foster for the starting job at middle linebacker. Were David to carve out a role in the nickel defense as well he could potentially challenge Luke Kuechly of the Carolina Panthers for the title of top redraft IDP, and while David’s value in dynasties lags behind Kuechly’s it may not be by much.
James-Michael Johnson, LB, Cleveland: The thumper from Nevada was selected by the Cleveland Browns with the 120th pick in the fourth round of last week’s draft, and there are a couple of reasons why the 6-foot-1, 241-pound Johnson deserves mentioning in this space. First, starting weak side linebacker Scott Fujita has been suspended three games by the NFL for his part in the “player bounty” scandal while he was a member of the New Orleans Saints. The second matter is the not so insignificant injury history of starting middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, who stayed healthy last year but missed most of the last two seasons with injury. Johnson would be a more than adequate replacement in a prime IDP situation should Jackson miss any time, making him an IDP “handcuff” of sorts for Jackson owners that can spare a roster spot and a nice speculative add for IDP owners in deeper leagues.
Alfonzo Dennard, CB, New England: It’s not very often that a player’s draft stock goes into absolute free-fall (and we call it a good thing in IDP circles), but that may be just what happened this year with the Nebraska cornerback Dennard, who went from potential first-round prospect to barely being drafted after the Patriots selected the 2011 Big Ten defensive back of the year with the 224th overall pick. Poor workouts and an April arrest for assaulting a police officer led to Dennard’s draft day plunge, but he remains a capable tackler who has a solid shot at early playing time given how bad the New England secondary looked last year. Dennard may not merit drafting in all but the deepest of cornerback-required leagues, but if he earns a prominent role in the Patriots defense he could be a prime candidate for some “rookie corner” rule production.
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