The ink has barely dried on articles about Super Bowl XLVII (yes, I know, no one uses ink anymore. Whatever.), and already it’s time for both fans of the NFL and fantasy football enthusiasts to start looking ahead to 2013.
That’s especially true for Individual Defensive Player (IDP) Dynasty League owners. All it takes is a switch in scheme or scenery for a player that was fantasy treasure one year to turn to trash the next, and vice versa.
There have been plenty of scheme changes that we’ll touch on later in what will be a very busy offseason here at Fantasy Sharks, but for now it’s those changes of scenery we’ll be focusing on.
Player movement has already begun this year among defensive linemen with the release of veteran Kyle Vanden Bosch of the Detroit Lions, and soon things will get underway in earnest as teams frantically try to either hold on to the players they have, acquire new pieces, or both.
This movement can send huge shockwaves across the IDP landscape, so here’s a look at some the biggest pending free agents on the defensive front and what the future will hold for their fantasy football fortunes.
Michael Johnson, DE, Cincinnati
The Cincinnati Bengals very quietly had one of the best defensive lines in the NFL last year, and the fourth-year defensive end was a big part of that, racking up 52 tackles, 11.5 sacks and finishing as a Top 10 IDP performer in Default IDP Manor Scoring.
The 26-year-old is coming off the dreaded career year, but Johnson’s play in 2012 looked a lot less like an aberration than it did a young end finding his way.
That isn’t to say that Johnson’s a lock to hit the Top 10 again in 2013, but I don’t expect the Bengals to let him walk, even if it means the franchise tag, so Johnson should be set for another year of at least high-end IDP DL2 production.
Osi Umenyiora, DE, New York Giants
Umenyiora barely finished as an IDP DL3 last year, is the wrong side of 30, and recorded his lowest sack total since 2006. And yet there’s probably still no defensive lineman who I’ll be watching more closely as free agency gets underway.
I could care less about his contract, as at this point in his career Umenyiora’s an annual IDP asset anyway. It’s all about location, location, location with Umenyiora. He may not be the player he once was, but he’s also not exactly dead yet, and, with the Giants in cap trouble, Umenyiora is most likely headed elsewhere in 2013.
As a part-time player somewhere Umenyiora’s value will be what it was last year. A shallow-league reserve and deeper-league bye-week guy. Get him regular snaps somewhere like Seattle (a team rumored to be interested in him) and his upside could bump considerably.
Michael Bennett, DE, Tampa Bay
Bennett is far from a big name, and he doesn’t post flashy stats. What Bennett is, however, is a 27-year-old defensive end coming off a season in which he topped 40 total tackles, recorded nine sacks, and was a Top 20 IDP performer at his position.
The Buccaneers have plenty of cap space to re-sign Bennett, but there’s also a very real possibility that they won’t if another team comes along with a fat offer. Bennett’s a solid pro, but simply put he’s not worth a $11 million franchise tag or lucrative extension.
However, Bennett could be a very attractive “second tier” free agent if the price is right, with any number of suitors. For now, at least the wisest course of action would appear to be to view Bennett as no more or less than what he is. A low-upside, high-floor IDP DL3 who is only startable in 12-team leagues if he sees enough snaps.
UPDATE: Defensive end Da’Quan Bowers was arrested on gun charges in New York on February 18th, placing his 2013 availability very much in doubt.
That news completely changes the dynamics of Bennett’s free agency, and with Bowers now potentially staring at a 3.5 year prison sentence (he faces the same charge that derailed Plaxico Burress‘ career) it’s highly unlikely that Tampa will let Bennett depart this season, even if that costs them a pretty penny.
Cliff Avril, DE, Detroit
Other than Michael Johnson, Avril will probably be the most sought-after defensive end on the free-agent market this year, even after a franchise tag 2012 season that didn’t exactly go as Avril would have liked.
That’s because even in that “down” season Avril still racked up 9.5 sacks, and the 26-year-old has now averaged double-digit sacks over the past three seasons. With that said, though, there’s room for concern where Avril’s IDP prospects are concerned.
Avril dropped from a Top 5 IDP defensive lineman in 2011 to outside the Top 30 in 2012, and Pro Football Focus graded him as one of the worst defensive ends in the NFL against the run. That “one trick pony” tendency not only costs Avril tackle production (and the consistency it affords) but could also cost him snaps on a new team.
Add in that the Lions may not be able to afford to keep him, and that some 3-4 teams might look at him as a potential rush linebacker (a position Avril has said he’s willing to play), and the five-year veteran’s IDP arrow appears headed in the wrong direction.
Henry Melton, DT, Chicago
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention at least one defensive tackle in this article, and of the players currently set to hit free agency right now the cream of the crop is probably Melton.
The 26-year-old had 44 tackles and six sacks for the Bears last year, and while his DL51 finish in fantasy points doesn’t sound impressive at first glance, Melton has plenty of fantasy value in IDP leagues that require defensive tackles.
If you’re one of those owners in a dynasty league, it’s safe to breathe easy. It’s highly unlikely that the Bears let Melton get anywhere near the open market, whether that’s through a long-term extension or the franchise tag, so the bigger worry will be whether Melton can build on his 2012 numbers playing on a changing Bears defensive line.
This is hardly an exhaustive list, and the free agent landscape will no doubt change even more before the floodgates even officially open. To stay up-to-date on all the latest IDP happenings, be sure to check out all the other great IDP articles by the rest of the Fantasy Sharks’ crew, the IDP Forum, IDP Manor, and for the latest IDP news follow @IDPManor on Twitter.