As we usher out May and welcome in June, that wonderful time of year affectionately known as ‘shorts and shells’ season is in full swing. Or, as the NFL prefers to call them, organized team activities (OTAs) are underway throughout the country, and, per usual this time of year, everyone is looking stronger and faster than last season.
There is an air of hope permeating from every team (well, almost every team … sorry New York Jets) that the opening of the new season brings.
While depth charts are written in pencil this time of year, it is still an idea to begin formulating ideas of which players are in line to contribute more than they have in the past and which players may see their fantasy glory days coming to an end.
The IDP (Individual Defensive Players) landscape is slowly taking shape despite the fact that there is no contact allowed in OTAs (unless you are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, apparently) and I’ve come up with a quick look at some players who are poised to make some serious fantasy moves in 2013.
Some are poised to make their move up fantasy draft boards as they ascend to full-time positions on their respective defenses and opportunities increase for production. Others are unfortunately facing the prospect of seeing their value decline as schemes, age or personal moves conspire to hinder their fantasy worth moving forward.
I am an eternal optimist, so let’s kick it off with some players that will be, in the grand tradition of George Jefferson, “Movin’ on up.”
Rashad Johnson, SS/FS, Arizona:
Johnson was a third round draft selection (95th overall) back in 2009 for the Cardinals and it appears that he will finally see a prominent role in 2013 with the departures of Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes from the desert.
It’s taken a bit longer than anticipated, but Johnson will line up opposite new addition Yeremiah Bell as the Cardinals’ starting safeties duo. While early reports out of OTAs have Bell at free safety and Johnson at strong safety, there is the possibility that their roles may reverse at some point this season.
Bell is solid against the run and a bit of a liability in coverage, while, to-date in his career, Johnson has shown to be stronger in coverage than run support. In his most extended playing time back in 2011, Johnson racked up 51 total tackles, one fumble recovery and a pass defended while playing 500 defensive snaps.
Last season Johnson saw his snap count plummet to only 166 but he did manage to pick off two passes and return one for a score. The Cardinals signed him to a three-year deal this offseason, and, as of now, he appears to be the heir apparent to long-time strong safety Adrian Wilson.
He will need to play more physical in run support but the lack of competition behind him on the Cardinals depth chart should see his snap count rise to well over 1,000. With the increase in playing time and the fact that the Cardinals defense could be on the field quite a bit in 2013, Johnson holds solid DB4 with the upside to finish with DB2 numbers.
Da’Norris Searcy, SS, Buffalo:
The cat is pretty much out of the bag regarding Searcy in IDP circles as the third-year player out of North Carolina is in line to be the starting strong safety for the Bills. Searcy is stepping into the position that saw former Bills safety George Wilson post Top 20 fantasy numbers (actually Top 10 in 2011) the past two seasons.
At 5-foot-11 and 218 pounds, Searcy is a physical player that will be used as an in-the-box run stuffing option. He can also hold his own in coverage and will benefit from the huge jump in playing time he’s in line for now that Wilson is a Tennessee Titan.
He’s averaged only 255 snaps a year in his first two seasons in Buffalo and has still managed to amass 73 total tackles with two forced fumbles and an interception.
This is the perfect storm of a player landing in a fantasy point producing position, and having little to no competition for the starting gig. The names behind Searcy on the depth chart are Duke Williams, Jonathan Meeks and Mana Silva. None of these players are giving Searcy a run for his money. Right now, he is a high-end DB2 that will likely post DB1 numbers.
Corey Wootton, DE, Chicago:
Wootton is coming off of his most productive season with the Bears after being selected in the fourth round of the 2010 draft. After playing sparingly in his first two seasons, the 6-foot-6, 270-pound Wootton logged a career-high 582 snaps and finished 2012 with seven sacks and 27 total tackles.
Through the final four games of last season he averaged 54 defensive snaps per game and posted nine total tackles and 2.5 sacks. Wootton alternated between defensive tackle and defensive end for the Bears last season and is poised for a breakout year in 2013.
The Bears have shown little-to-no interest in bring back veteran defensive end Israel Idonije and look to have penciled in Wootton as his replacement as their left defensive end. That promotion for the kid from Northwestern means an immediate increase in snaps (Idonije played 726 last season) and the opportunity to get after the quarterback opposite Julius Peppers.
Wootton has the size, strength and versatility to kick inside and play defensive tackle, making him a three-down player for the Bears and a sneaky good late-round selection in IDP drafts. He could use some improvement on his tackle numbers but has flashed enough raw pass rushing skills to make him a nice compliment to Peppers.
In a day and age where the hybrid 3-4 defenses that so many teams run is reducing the number of pure defensive end options, Wootton carries solid DL4 value with DL3 upside into the 2013 season. Oh yeah, this is also a contract year for Wootton and he will have that added incentive to post big numbers.