This is our final look at free agency’s impact on defenses around the league, and we’re bringing it home with the AFC North. It’s the home of the defending Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens, perennial playoff/Super Bowl contending Pittsburgh Steelers, the upstart Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns.
Saving the best for last? Perhaps, but I took this route more as a chance for some of the teams (I’m looking at you, Baltimore) that lost significant IDP talent to replenish their roster before examining their moves to date.
As this particular series winds down, I would be remiss (and as a matter of fact have been remiss in not doing this sooner) in not mentioning the great help that
Pro Football Focus, fantasyleaguegm.com, myfantasyleague.com and fleaflicker.com have been in compiling information and insights for these evaluations. Without all the excellent work they do I would not be able to do the job that I do and love so much.
Let’s bring this series on home …
“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” Old William Shakespeare may not have had the Ravens in mind when he penned this but it is certainly fitting heading into the 2013 season. Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Dannell Ellerbe, Bernard Pollard, Paul Kruger and Cary Williams have either retired (Lewis) or signed elsewhere (everyone else).
I’m not saying the cupboard was left bare, but somewhere ‘Old Mother Hubbard’ is feeling stocked up in comparison to Baltimore’s situation following their championship season.
The Ravens have made some significant moves to counter their massive migration of talent, and first and foremost is former Denver defensive end/outside linebacker, Elvis Dumervil. Modern technology may have tossed Baltimore a bone when “fax gate” forced the Broncos to release Dumervil, allowing them to swoop in and sign the pass rushing specialist.
Dumervil will return to an outside linebacker designation after finishing the 2012 season as a Top 10 defensive end for fantasy purposes.
This is not good news for IDP owners as his value takes a hit in leagues that are not big play scoring oriented. Dumervil has averaged only 2.4 total stops per game in 91 regular season contests. His value is based on his ability to rack up sacks and in balanced scoring leagues he is an LB4/matchup play.
In big play scoring weighted leagues his value is obviously much higher as he’ll team with Terrell Suggs as perhaps the premier pass rushing outside linebacker duo in the league.
Baltimore signed former Dallas and New York Giants defensive tackle Chris Canty to, more than likely, line up at defensive end in the 3-4 and help bolster their rush defense. Canty was limited to only nine games in 2012 after beginning the season on the Physically Unable to Perform List (offseason knee surgery) and struggled all season with knee and groin issues.
When healthy, Canty can be a formidable force against the run and offer decent pressure from the interior as he displayed with a 47 total tackle and four-sack performance in 2011. He logged 683 regular season snaps that season for New York and would need to amass that amount in 2013 for Baltimore to carry any fantasy value.
Unfortunately, that is unlikely to happen as he’ll assume a rotational role along the defensive line for the Ravens and can be avoided in IDP fantasy drafts in all but the deepest of leagues that require the defensive tackle position.
Former Dallas defensive end Marcus Spears has been signed and brings with him a total of 226 total tackles with 10 sacks in his eight seasons and 119 regular season games played. There never has been, nor ever will be, any fantasy value here, folks. Move along.
Versatile defensive back Michael Huff has been brought over after seven uninspiring seasons in Oakland to help fill the void left by the departures of Reed, Pollard and Williams. Huff can play both free safety and cornerback (as he did for a great deal last season) and is serviceable at either position.
Huff’s career best season was back in 2010 when he finished as a Top 10 defensive back for fantasy purposes but has fallen way short of that in the two subsequent seasons. Huff will be the starting free safety for Baltimore in 2013 and is nowhere near the big play threat that Reed was. Reed was not draft worthy in standard formats. Do the math and Huff is not a name worth calling out on draft day.
While Elvis Dumervil is the biggest name the Ravens have added in the offseason, by far the most intriguing from an IDP standpoint is former Oakland inside linebacker Rolando McClain. The former eighth overall selection in the 2010 draft has had quite the tumultuous beginning to his NFL career.
Being shot at and being arrested on assault and weapons charges (while in town for his grandfather’s funeral, no less) in 2011 began the journey that would eventually land McClain a one-way ticket out of Oakland and bring him to Baltimore. The assault and weapons charges were eventually dropped. He was originally found guilty on all charges and his attorney appealed the verdict by requesting a trial by jury. Before that trial, the charges were dropped. It’s been widely assumed the accused and McClain reached an out-of-court settlement.
OK, so that’s a ‘Reader’s Digest” version of McClain’s off-the-field stupidity (oh yeah, he was also arrested last year for giving a false name to law enforcement), but what could his fantasy value be in 2013 as a member of the Ravens defense? Well, just as his character began to reveal itself in a less than favorable light (I’m being kind here), so did his abilities in pass coverage.
By the time the Raiders gave up on him, McClain had been relegated to a two down role and averaged only 32 snaps in his last seven games for Oakland. He is solid against the run and if (and we all know this is a BIG if) he gets his head on straight, could be serviceable in the middle of the Ravens’ linebacker corps.
McClain posted 36 total tackles and a sack from Weeks 6-12 last season while playing only 227 snaps. Baltimore is most likely McClain’s last chance to make it in the league, and the savvy fantasy owner should monitor closely the reports on is attitude and participation in training camp.
He’s not worth using a draft selection on as a two-down run stuffing inside linebacker, but, should he somehow earn passing down duties (unlikely, but not impossible), he could hold low-end LB4 value.
Former Baltimore outside linebacker/defensive end Paul Kruger parlayed his breakout 2012 season into a five-year contract with the Browns in one of this year’s earliest free agency signings. In 15 regular season games last year, Kruger posted 42 total stops, nine sacks along with one interception and forced fumble. His previous high for sacks in a season had been 5.5.
Kruger also added 4.5 sacks along with 14 total tackles in the Ravens’ run to the championship and will be a vital part of new Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s defense. Unfortunately for IDP owners, Kruger will also see his designation changed from defensive end to outside linebacker, which is a huge blow to his fantasy value.
With his low ceiling for producing even adequate tackle numbers, Kruger will be more valuable in big play scoring leagues where his sacks will keep him somewhat useful. Kruger is an athletic option that will immediately help the Cleveland defense improve but is nothing more than a low-end LB5 in balanced scoring formats.
Former Arizona outside linebacker Quentin Groves follows his former defensive coordinator in Arizona to Cleveland but brings little fantasy value with him. He finished last season with 46 total tackles and four sacks while starting seven games and playing 481 snaps.
Groves will be in the mix with Jabaal Sheard and Kruger as a pass rushing outside linebacker but will not see enough playing time to safely be drafted for fantasy purposes.
Cleveland also claimed former Philadelphia linebacker Ryan Rau, who will offer some special teams abilities and battle for a roster spot. No fantasy implications at all.
Desmond Bryant, the former defensive tackle/defensive end from Oakland, is an excellent addition to what is becoming one of the better young defensive fronts in the AFC. He’s amassed 11.5 sacks during his four years in the league along with 124 combined stops and three forced fumbles.
Bryant will be classified as a defensive end for fantasy purposes in 2013 in Horton’s 3-4 defensive alignment and offer minimal fantasy value in all but the very deepest of leagues. The tackle numbers are just not there, and, while he has flashed some ability to bring pressure, Bryant won’t rack up enough sacks to warrant drafting.
The Browns have added two new players to their secondary with the signing of former Atlanta cornerback Chris Owens as well as ex-Detroit cornerback Kevin Barnes. Both were third-round draft selections back in 2009 (Owens by Atlanta and Barnes by Washington) and both have had underwhelming NFL careers.
Owens was relegated to dime package duty last season in Atlanta and finished the season having played a total of 177 snaps. Barnes played in only two games for the Lions and registered no defensive statistics. Neither warrants a second look for fantasy purposes in 2013.