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Northern Lights: An IDP Breakdown of the AFC North

Week 2 of the preseason has just ended and things are certainly heating up on the Individual Defensive Player (IDP) landscape. Roles are beginning to take shape and depth charts are slowly coming into focus.

There will still be some shuffling as injuries and poor performances may cost players their jobs but we can more clearly begin to evaluate the fantasy potential of the top end talent in each division.

The AFC North has long been considered a tough bruising defensive division dominated by the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens as the Cincinnati Bengals look to close the gap. Surprisingly, the division isn’t as chocked full of IDP studs as one may have been led to believe. The sums of the parts of the defenses equate to nice NFL overall rankings as opposed to IDP value.

With all that being said, let’s take a look at some names that can help lead IDP owners to the promised land.


LINEBACKERS


1. D’Qwell Jackson, WILB, Cleveland:

The stars are aligning for Jackson to have a monster 2013 fantasy campaign. New defensive coordinator Ray Horton will look to utilize him in much the same way he did Daryl Washington in Arizona. Jackson will have the luxury of a healthy Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin and Desmond Bryant to keep him clean and able to get after the ball carrier. Horton will also look to take advantage of Jackson’s physicality and athleticism with blitz packages. A statline of 100-plus tackles and a top 10 fantasy finish are on tap for Jackson this season.

2. Lawrence Timmons, ILB, Pittsburgh:
Timmons finished last season with 106 total tackles, six sacks, three interceptions and two forced fumbles. Those are very nice fantasy totals but it’s the way he amassed them that keep his owners scratching their heads. He racked up five of his six sacks in the season’s final three weeks and 47 of his total tackles in the last six weeks of 2012. That inconsistency is what makes him a bit of a wildcard selection on draft day. Outside linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley both struggled last season and Timmons was moved around the defense quite a bit early in the year before settling in and putting up the nice finish he had. He could finish with LB1 numbers if he picks up where he left off or as low as LB3 production if he’s shuffled around the defense again this season. This ranking shows that I’m leaning towards the former.

3. Vontaze Burfict, WLB, Cincinnati:
Burfict led the Bengals in total tackles last season despite playing only 57 snaps combined in Weeks 1 and 2. After falling out of the draft due to character concerns he established himself as one the best young linebacking prospects in fantasy football. It looks like we will have to wait a bit longer for him to unseat Rey Maualuga as the starting middle linebacker for the Bengals and I’m still scratching my head over that. Nonetheless, Burfict will still post excellent fantasy totals playing behind the best defensive tackle in the league, Geno Atkins. Triple digit tackles and the speed and athleticism to excel in coverage as well as blitz packages make Burfict a sold LB2 option in 2013.


4. Daryl Smith, ILB, Baltimore:

From 2009-11, Smith averaged 103 total stops per season for the Jacksonville Jaguars and has now moved on to Baltimore. Smith is currently calling the defensive plays for the Ravens and looks like the short-term replacement for the retired Ray Lewis. Smith has the experience and athleticism to play an effective three down inside linebacker role for the Ravens in 2013 while rookie Arthur Brown develops. Smith could post LB3 numbers as the ‘defensive quarterback’ of the Baltimore defense in 2013.


5. Craig Robertson, ILB, Cleveland:


Surprise! Robertson is on track to start opposite Jackson at inside linebacker over James-Michael Johnson (who a lot of folks thought was the heir apparent for that role). Robertson put up an impressive 93 total tackles (62 solo), two interceptions and a sack last season. More impressively was that he did that while playing only 628 snaps according to
Pro Football Focus. He looks to be a three down player for Cleveland and a lock for triple-digit tackles as well as a handful of big plays. Huge upside here and at least solid LB3 numbers as his baseline fantasy value.

Honorable Mention

For the sake of brevity (some folks will say too late!), I will bunch this first group of outside linebackers together. They are better prospects in big play scoring formats as pass rushing is their forte and their tackle numbers stay modest enough to keep them from cracking the aforementioned top- 5.

Baltimore’s Terrell Suggs as well as the newly acquired Elvis Dumervil top the list as they are draft prospects in standard leagues as well for depth purposes but hold much higher value in leagues that reward extra points for sacks.

Pittsburgh’s LaMarr Woodley and rookie Jarvis Jones are also names to draft in big play scoring leagues and can be taken as late-round flyers in standard formats for bye week fillers and depth.

Cleveland’s Paul Kruger is coming off an impressive playoff and Super Bowl run for the Ravens last season and could post decent sack totals coming off the edge for the Browns.

I’m hesitant to pull the trigger on James Harrison on his new surroundings for the Bengals, as I’m not sure he’ll see enough snaps to bring much value. He plays with that chip on his shoulder, though, and could have one last good season in him so I’ll list him here … without a whole lot of conviction.

Rey Maualuga somehow has managed to hold on to the middle linebacker spot in Cincinnati but has his fantasy value capped by not being on the field for all three downs. He holds minimal (LB5-6) value in the deepest of standard scoring formats.

Baltimore rookie linebacker Arthur Brown is in position to be the long-term answer as a replacement for Ray Lewis but will have to earn his snaps. Veteran Daryl Smith looks to be the immediate answer at the ‘Mike’ position so Brown may be brought along slowly. Brown has the speed and quickness to play inside or out for the Ravens so he’ll get his snaps as a rookie, but just how many and where caps his fantasy potential in 2013. He’s a Top 3 dynasty pick at linebacker that holds LB4 value in redraft formats until his role is further defined.

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