The “dress rehearsals” are done. And while the offensive side of the ball saw injuries befall a few big names (including Kansas City tailback Spencer Ware and New England wideout Julian Edelman), on the defensive side of the ball teams emerged relatively unscathed.
Well, at least injury-wise. But more on that in a minute.
Perhaps even more importantly for Individual Defensive Player (IDP) owners, we’re starting to get clarity on the position battles across the NFL at linebacker. From Indianapolis to New Orleans to Washington we now have at least some inkling of who will be starting at IDPs most important position for these teams.
And that means potential late-draft values for the savvy fantasy owners who are up-to-date on these battles.
Now, it’s important not to get too carried away with the “winners” of these battles or beneficiaries of an injury (or in at least one case a suspension). For the most part, these players are penciled in as starters. These linebackers don’t have especially long leashes – if they don’t perform well in the early-going it’s a real possibility they could get the hook.
Still – for now, as we head into the last big weekend of the 2017 fantasy draft season, these linebackers are both starting and playing in subpackages.
And that means they have value to IDP owners.
Mason Foster, ILB, Washington
For much of training camp, we in the IDP community wondered whether it would be Foster or Will Compton who started at inside linebacker for Washington next to the newly acquired Zach Brown as the team tinkered with different combinations. The general belief was that it would be Foster, who logged 124 tackles last year in D.C.
It turns out we were right. Hey … it happens.
This year Foster will also make the defensive play calls – a role he told Jay Cannon of the team’s website he’s still acclimating to.
“I always prided myself on being a versatile player being able to play both spots,” he said. “But, I mean it’s a lot on the coaches. [Before] I came here I would always play (middle inside linebacker), then I came here and learned (second inside linebacker spot) with [Kirk Olivadotti], [Joe Barry] and the rest of the coaches here.”
The uncertainty about who would start in the nation’s capital depressed Foster’s asking price for much of the summer. And if he struggles, Compton (who made the calls in 2016) waits in the wings. But last year Foster turned those 124 tackles into solid LB3 production, and having that sort of potential on the bench is never a bad thing.
A.J. Klein, OLB, New Orleans
Klein joined New Orleans in free agency this year after four seasons behind Luke Kuechly in Carolina, and New Orleans head coach Sean Payton told ESPN’s Mike Triplett he’s been impressed with what he’s seen from the 26-year-old so far.
“He’s brought a lot of the things that we were looking for, so that’s exciting. He’s having a good camp,” Payton said. “I think one of the elements is being smart and trying to acquire as many guys (who) understand the game and can diagnose and solve problems. The mental errors and missed assignments, those things will get you beat. It’s an area that we’ve struggled with, quite honestly, in the past.”
Klein certainly hasn’t wasted any time making an impression on his new team – he rapidly rose to a role as the defensive play-caller, albeit in something of an unusual spot as the SAM (strong side) linebacker in base defensive sets and the middle linebacker in subpackages.
Having to fight off tight ends from the strong side isn’t ideal, but Klein’s “green dot” role makes him easily the most dependable player in an unsettled New Orleans linebacker corps. I wouldn’t want to draft Klein as a LB3, but he could develop into a decent third starter or solid “flex” option in 2017.