Training camps are ramping up across the NFL. Soon the calendar will turn to August, and Individual Defensive Player (IDP) draft season will well and truly swing into high gear.
It’s an exciting time of year, to say the least.
At this time of year, fantasy drafters far and wide are neck-deep in draft preparation. Everyone’s looking for undervalued defensive players to target and overvalued busts in the making to avoid.
That just so happens to be what we’re here for.
That level of enthusiasm is appreciated — assuming these recommendations are correct.
Each of the individual defensive players listed in this article has two things in common. The first is that each of them changed teams in the offseason, either in free agency or via a trade. However, for the most part these players aren’t making the big bucks. Many of these signings barely registered in the March madness that was free agency.
The second is that for whatever reason, all of these players are undervalued. Many are coming off disappointing seasons or nearing the end of the road. However, there’s good reason to think there’s at least one more good statistical season left in the tank.
And that makes all these players names to bear in mind when draft day rolls around.
Michael Bennett, DE, New England Patriots
Bennett joined the Super Bowl champions via a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles as a replacement for Trey Flowers, who wound up signing a massive free-agent deal with the Detroit Lions. Nick Underhill of the Athletic thinks that even at the age of 33 Bennett’s still capable of serving as an adequate replacement.
“Bennett probably isn’t as singularly talented as Flowers,” Underhill said, “but if he maintains his level of play from a year ago, there is no reason he can’t remain highly productive. The coaching he’ll receive here will likely help him make a few more plays, so, even if there is a slight step back, the scheme should prop him up. It looks like the Patriots should be able to plug and play with a much cheaper player.”
Bennett was a DL3 last year with the Eagles, playing 716 snaps and tallying nine sacks. With Flowers gone, Bennett’s going to be counted on to play an even larger role in 2019 in a scheme that will accentuate what he does best. There’s DL2 value here that can be had late in IDP drafts.
Olivier Vernon, DE, Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns made a number of big-time personnel additions this year, including trading for Vernon as a starter at end opposite Myles Garrett on a line that also includes three-technique Sheldon Richardson. As Matthew Florjancic reported for WKYC-TV, Browns defensive coordinator Steve Wilks can’t wait to unleash the eighth-year veteran on opponents this year.
“You know exactly what you are getting from a standpoint of the player,” Wilks said. “You see his skillset over the years and his ability to be able to change the complexity of a game. I am hoping he can do the same thing for us. The guy can rush the passer, but most importantly, it is just that emphasis for us stopping the run. I think he’s going to complement Sheldon, as well as Myles.”
Vernon was quiet in 2018, managing just 30 tackles and seven sacks. But he also was miscast as a rush outside linebacker and had very little help with the New York Giants. In Cleveland, Vernon’s not the primary edge-rusher — Garrett is. That should mean a lot more single-team blocks for a player who was a Top 10 IDP option as recently as 2016 — when he played strong-side end opposite Jason Pierre-Paul in New York.
Zach Brown, ILB, Philadelphia Eagles
After two seasons with Washington, Brown joined the Eagles late in free agency. It was a move that generated about as much excitement as an old episode of The Lawrence Welk Show (God that was unbearable), but Michael Renner wrote at Pro Football Focus that Philadelphia may have gotten the most underrated off-ball linebacker in the game.
“Even after Brown earned his due credit with a three-year, $21 million deal last offseason, he was once again disrespected by being released only a year later,” Renner said. “Last season, Brown finished with an 89.2 overall grade that trailed only Bobby Wagner and Luke Kuechly among off-ball linebackers. Over the last four seasons, his grades for run defense and coverage both rank in the Top 15 for starting linebackers.”
Brown fell out of favor last year in D.C., but in each of the two years preceding 2018 Brown piled up at least 125 total tackles and finished as a Top 10 IDP producer among linemen in fantasy points per game in Fantasy Sharks Default IDP Scoring. As a three-down middle inside linebacker for the Eagles, it’s not at all hard to imagine Brown absolutely destroying his modest average draft position in IDP drafts.