Training camps are well underway, and we’ve gotten our first taste of preseason action by watching the fifth-stringers from the Arizona Cardinals and New Orleans Saints do battle in the Hall of Fame game. Which means that before you know it, Opening Night will have arrived and with it another exciting and maddening season of fantasy football.
One of the annual rituals of the preseason for Individual Defensive Player (IDP) enthusiasts is getting our first look at teams that have undergone defensive scheme changes. These changing formations can have a huge impact on IDP values, boosting the stock of some players while killing the value of others, especially on the front seven of the teams in question.
In recent seasons, the majority of scheme changes have been 4-3 teams switching to the 3-4, but this year the reverse is the case, as two of the biggest schematic shakeups on the defensive side of the ball involve AFC East teams making the change to a 4-3 front.
Let’s take a look at how these changes could affect the fantasy values of the players who will be making these switches, from one of the NFL’s coldest cities to one of the warmest, with the league’s biggest rebuilding project thrown in for good measure.
We’ll start our tour of defensive shakeups in frosty Buffalo, where new defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt will be implementing a 4-3 scheme with the Bills. Not only are the Bills making a change in defensive fronts, but the team was also incredibly active in free agency in bringing players on-board to help ease the transition.
The Bills made the biggest splash of free agency on defense by signing Mario Williams to a six-year, $100 million contract, the richest deal in NFL history for a defensive player. Now that Williams, who played in only five games a year ago before a torn pectoral muscle ended his season in Houston, is out of the 3-4 and back at defensive end, his fantasy value has reverted to its previously lofty status, and the seventh-year pro is once again one of the Top 5 IDPs available at his position.
The Bills weren’t finished there, though, as the team also lured defensive end Mark Anderson away from their division rivals in New England. The 29-year-old tallied 10 sacks in a rotational role with the Patriots last season. While Anderson’s historically low tackle numbers make him more appealing in sack-heavy IDP formats, his relatively low average draft position of DL33 in IDP drafts at MyFantasyLeague.com, and the fact that he’ll see few if any double teams in Buffalo, makes Anderson an interesting upside DL3 selection.
The combination of Williams, Anderson and defensive tackles Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams gives the Bills one of the NFL’s more formidable defensive lines on paper, but Buffalo’s switch to the 4-3 will have a big impact on the linebacker corps as well. The coveted position of middle linebacker will be manned by second-year pro Kelvin Sheppard, but Sheppard’s IDP sleeper sizzle fizzled with the news that he will leave the field in passing subpackages, which limits Sheppard’s fantasy upside considerably.
Meanwhile, 9-year veteran Nick Barnett, who paced the Bills with 130 total tackles last season, will move from WILB to WLB in Buffalo’s new defense. Barnett has some experience manning the weak side of the 4-3 from his time with the Green Bay Packers, and while he may be hard pressed to repeat his Top 10 finish in Default IDP manor Scoring from a season ago, his “new” position, an every-down role, should keep Barnett squarely in IDP LB2 territory.