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THE SCHEMES THEY ARE-A-CHANGIN’: Defensive Scheme Changes in 2014

If there’s one constant in the National Football League, it’s change.

They don’t call the NFL the “Not For Long” league for nothing. Whether it’s players, coaches or front offices, every season brings with it both new faces and old faces in new places.

That’s as true as ever in 2014. This year, the league boasts seven new head coaches, including four first-timers. There will be nine new defensive coordinators prowling NFL sidelines in 2014.

This turnover can have a big impact on IDP values. The arrival of ultra-aggressive coordinator Gregg Williams in St. Louis could mean good things for Rams linebacker
Alec Ogletree
. New Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer is flipping
Chad Greenway
to the weak side to make room for rookie
Anthony Barr
in Minnesota.

However, for three NFL teams the changes are even bigger. Those NFL teams are changing defensive schemes altogether, which means big boosts in fantasy value for some players while others are rendered all but undraftable.


ATLANTA FALCONS

There weren’t any big coaching changes in Atlanta this year, but after a 2013 campaign that began with Super Bowl aspirations ended in the NFC South cellar, head coach Mike Smith and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan are shaking things up.

On some level, it’s not exactly surprising. After all, Nolan made his bones running 3-4 fronts, but since arriving in Atlanta in 2012 Nolan had stuck with the 4-3 that was in place when he took the job.

However, last year, despite the acquisition of free agent
Osi Umenyiora
, the Falcons were once again unable to generate much of a pass rush. The Falcons ranked 29th in the NFL in sacks last year, and the hope is that the scheme switch will help the Falcons get better in that regard.

Unfortunately for IDP owners, the scheme switch also turned the Atlanta front seven into an IDP wasteland. Umenyiora hasn’t had his positional designation changed to outside linebacker at
My Fantasy League

yet, but even if he doesn’t,
Vaughn McClure of ESPN

reports that Smith said Umenyiora will play only “25 to 35” snaps a game in 2014.

Second-round pick Ra’Shede Hageman is a talented youngster who
BJ Kissel of Bleacher Report

wrote “looks every bit the part of a defensive lineman who’ll wreak havoc in the trenches.” But, even in an absolute best-case scenario, where Hageman made a rookie impact similar to
Sheldon Richardson
of the New York Jets, we’re talking IDP DL3 territory. Odds are Hageman will check in a fair bit lower than that in 2014.

The Falcons’ problems don’t stop there. Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who was being counted on to play a big role for the team in 2014, tore his Achilles while running at OTAs and has been lost for the season.

That means that second-year pro
Paul Worrilow
(who looked much better on the stat sheet than on the field as a rookie) appears locked into an every-down role (and IDP LB2 value) this year.

Next to Worrilow, however, it’s anyone’s guess. Joplo Bartu will likely get the first shot, but
Akeem Dent
and rookie
Prince Shembo
are also possibilities. The Falcons have also brought in a few retread veterans for workouts, but none have signed as of press time.


BUFFALO BILLS

With Mike Pettine moving on to become head coach of the Cleveland Browns, the Buffalo Bills are making their second defensive coordinator (and scheme) change of the past two seasons. This time, it’s former Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz, who brought his 4-3 and “Wide 9” defensive front to western New York.

Where the defensive linemen are concerned, the news is either neutral or slightly positive. End
Mario Williams
and tackles Kyle Williams and
Marcell Dareus
are all coming off solid seasons for a Bills defense that led the AFC in sacks in 2013. A line scheme that’s all about putting pressure on the quarterback isn’t going to hurt.

As
Schwartz told the team’s website

, “We’re an attack scheme, it’s a scheme built on the guys up front getting after the quarterback. As much as you want to be multi-dimensional with personnel groups, this league comes down to one on one and I think we have some guys that can do that.”

If there’s a big winner from an IDP perspective, it’s likely fifth-year pro
Jerry Hughes
. Hughes racked up a career-best 10 sacks a year ago, and this season Hughes will be moving to defensive end.

That would, in theory, mean a big IDP boost, and Hughes told
Chris Brown of the Bills’ website

it’s a transition he thinks he can excel in. “As far as what I’m doing it’s pretty much the same thing I did last year,” Hughes said. “My hand is in the ground and I’m coming off the edge trying to create pressure to get to the quarterback.”

The switch to the 4-3 means big changes at linebacker, as well. Second-year pro
Kiko Alonso
, who led the team with an eye-popping 159 stops last year, will kick to the weak side. Newly signed thumper Brandon Spikes will man the middle.

Alonso’s the only one of any real interest to IDP owners. The move outside may cost Alonso a few tackle opportunities, but his big play opps should go up. He’s a bit riskier play thanks to the move, but he remains a top-10 fantasy linebacker.

Were rookie
Preston Brown
, who
Mike Rodak of ESPN

reported could vie for nickel work as a rookie, to push Spikes he could become a fast-riser, but for all Spikes’ deficiencies he remains one of the NFL’s better run-stuffing linebackers. Brown will likely have to wait until 2015 for his chance to start.

There’s also changes afoot at the back of the Buffalo secondary. With Jairus Byrd now in New Orleans, Duke Williams and Da’Norris Searcy will compete in training camp for the right to start next to Aaron Williams at safety.

It was Searcy who got the first crack in OTAs, and he’s likely the more interesting of the pair IDP-wise. The fourth-year pro has shown the ability to both post big stats and even play nickel linebacker, something Searcy did at times for the Bills in 2013.


TENNESSEE TITANS

Of all the teams in this article, none are undergoing a more seismic defensive shift in 2014 than the Tennessee Titans. Gone is the vanilla 4-3 defense of Jerry Gray, replaced by the attacking 3-4 front of new coordinator Ray Horton.

So far so good, according to what Horton told
Paul Kuharsky of ESPN

. “There have been very few mental mistakes which is amazing for putting in a brand new defense,” Horton said. “The ‘buying in’ part comes when you have some adversity, and how do they react to that? But I am very happy with where we are.”

Unfortunately, the outlook isn’t as rosy for some of the players who will be taking on new roles. Take
Derrick Morgan
, for instance. With Morgan already re-classified as an outside linebacker by MyFantasyLeague, Morgan’s IDP value has all but flatlined in all but the deepest of big-play leagues.

The news is a little better for
Jurrell Casey
’s fantasy owners. Sure, the ones who were depending on Casey in their DT-required IDP leagues aren’t really happy with Casey’s move to DE, but it’s a move the 24-year-old would appear plenty talented enough to pull off.

It’s also a move that Casey’s buying into, according to
David Climer of The Tennessean

. “What I thought it was going to be – it’s nothing like that,” Casey said. “You’re not standing there taking on blockers. You’re striking and shedding players and getting to the ball It’s not the traditional 3-4 where you’re playing a two-gap scheme. It’s still one-gap football.”

Granted, last year’s top-15 finish may be an overly optimistic projection for his first year in the new scheme, but it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see Casey join the ranks of the NFL’s better 3-4 ends in relatively short order.

The brightest spot for IDP owners in the Titans’ new defense might well be linebacker
Wesley Woodyard
, who the team signed in free agency. As
Doug Farrar of Sports Illustrated

wrote, “The former Broncos linebacker will be an intriguing chess piece in Horton’s defense; he can play and cover from the outside and rush from the inside with equal skill.”

Even better, Woodyard, who appears slated for an every-down role at WILB in Nashville, has been undervalued in early IDP drafts this year. So much so, in fact, that I recently tabbed Woodyard as an IDP Sleeper for the upcoming season at
IDP Manor

.

Much like in Atlanta, the spot next to Woodyard is up in the air. The early leader to start next to Woodyard is third-year player Zach Brown, who will be playing inside for the first time in his career.

Brown told
John Glennon of The Tennessean

he’s ready for whatever the team throws at him. “They ask me to play whatever,” Brown said, “I’m going to do it – because physically, I can do it. Everybody thinks about the speed (on the outside), but at the end of the day, you’ve still got to play football. I like the inside linebacker spot.”

However, Brown would appear (at first glance) to be an odd fit as a SILB, and he’s been erratic over his first two NFL seasons. It’s no sure bet that Brown will beat out the likes of
Moise Fokou
,
Colin McCarthy
and 2014 fifth-round pick
Avery Williamson
for the job, or that if he does start he’ll play in subpackages.

There’s some fantasy upside there for whoever wins the job, but until things shake out a bit more Woodyard’s the only Titans linebacker worth expending any real IDP draft capital on.

For more information on how defensive scheme and coaching changes affect the fantasy value of IDPs, be sure to check out the 2014 IDP Team Preview Series, now underway at
IDP Manor

.

As IDP Draft Season gets underway in earnest, Fantasy Sharks has you covered. Whether it’s player rankings for Redraft and Dynasty leagues, projections, player spotlights, sleepers and busts or strategy tips, IDP Staff Writers Walton Spurlin and Mike Woellert and IDP Senior Staff Writer Gary Davenport have all the information you need to dominate your IDP league in 2014.

Also, for additional IDP information be sure to check out
IDP Manor

, and for the latest IDP news and player updates follow
IDP Manor on Twitter

.

Gary Davenport is the IDP Senior Staff Writer at Fantasy Sharks and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and Pro Football Writers of America. Gary’s IDP work has been featured in a number of national print publications and on both satellite and terrestrial radio, and he was a finalist for the FSWA Web Article of the Year in 2013.

About Fantasy Sharks

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