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The Schemes They Are-A-Changin’: 2013 Edition

Across the National Football League, teams have begun organized team activities (OTAs), and among the things on the “to do” list for some NFL clubs this summer is a switch in defensive schemes and/or philosophy.

These changes can make a significant difference in the fantasy football value of players in Individual Defensive Player (IDP) leagues, boosting the value of some while crushing the value of others. With that said, here’s a look at the teams undertaking defensive overhauls in 2013, and what that means for the IDP owners of the players involved.

Buffalo Bills

Last year, the Buffalo Bills made the change to a 4-3 front and sank a ton of money into their pass rush, signing defensive end Mark Anderson and making fellow end Mario Williams the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history.

The Bills went on to rank a disappointing 16th in the NFL in sacks in 2012, and it’s now back to the old drawing board. New head coach Doug Marrone poached defensive coordinator Mike Pettine from the New York Jets, and Pettine will bring with him a “hybrid” defense that will likely feature more three-man fronts.

That switch is going to have a big impact along the defensive line, and of course the $64,000 question is how it will affect Williams. For now at least, Williams has retained his defensive end eligibility at MyFantasyLeague.com. So long as that remains the case, Williams remains a solid IDP DL1. Occasionally coming after the passer from a two-point stance may actually boost Williams’ numbers a bit, or at least compensate for the drop that playing 3-4 defensive end might otherwise bring.

The news isn’t as positive for defensive tackles Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus. Williams will switch to defensive end, while Dareus will man a nose tackle spot that’s usually an IDP wasteland. Dareus may merit some consideration as a lower-end starter in defensive tackle-required IDP leagues, but Kyle Williams is probably best left on the waiver wire in all but the deepest of leagues.

At linebacker, there’s still quite a bit up in the air in Buffalo. Rookie Kiko Alonso lined up at SILB during rookie minicamp, but in OTAs Alonso flipped into the more fantasy-friendly “MIKE” spot at WILB. The surprise came next to him, where it was former safety Bryan Scott, and not Nigel Bradham, who manned the SILB spot. Then things got even muddier, as Mark Gaughan of
The Buffalo News reported that the Bills also had Bradham and Arthur Moats in for some reps as the first-team inside linebackers.

By the time the dust settles I expect Alonso and Bradham to be the starters inside for the Bills, but Alonso is the only one of the bunch I’m at all comfortable projecting as a three-down linebacker. Monitor the situation closely over the summer, and if you’re drafting early, be aware that all these linebackers presently carry considerable risk in IDP leagues.

Cleveland Browns

The past several seasons have been a merry-go-round of misery for the Cleveland Browns. As yet another new regime tries to right the ship on the shores of Lake Erie, the Browns are once again changing defensive schemes, with Ray Horton’s aggressive 3-4 front replacing the vanilla 4-3 of previous defensive coordinator Dick Jauron.

As is often the case when a team makes the switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4, that’s bad news for the IDP prospects of Cleveland’s defensive linemen. Defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin will slide to end in the new front, dropping him from a solid starter in defensive tackle-required IDP leagues to a DL4 at best in his new position. The same can be said of free-agent signee Desmond Bryant, although both would get a bump if your fantasy provider still classifies them as defensive tackles and your league requires them.

The switch has been absolutely catastrophic for the fantasy value of Jabaal Sheard, who has already been reclassified as a linebacker by MyFantasyLeague (MFL). Not only does this switch all but destroy his IDP value, but Sheard may not even start with Paul Kruger and rookie Barkevious Mingo in town. Barring a trade to a defensive end-needy team such as the Denver Broncos, Sheard’s IDP value is roughly equivalent to that of MySpace stock.

The news isn’t all bad in Cleveland, however. Horton loves to get aggressive with his inside linebackers, and his scheme produced a nine-sack season from Daryl Washington in 2012. That isn’t to say that the same can be expected from D’Qwell Jackson this year, but the potential for a bump in big plays sets the stage for a bounceback season from 2011’s top fantasy linebacker.

There’s some uncertainty as to who will line up next to Jackson. Craig Robertson and second-year man James-Michael Johnson will battle for the spot in training camp, but this has the makings of a rotation that would sap the IDP upside of both players.

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