Welcome to the latest installment of the Seadog Report! In this segment, I’m going to take a look at the defenses of the AFC North, and, in particular, a brief analysis of the pertinent individual defensive players (IDPs) of this conference.
Baltimore Ravens – Led by all-world linebacker Ray Lewis, the Ravens are by far one of the elite defenses in the NFL. They are solid from the front line to the secondary, and this year, they will continue to be a dominant force.
DL – The Ravens, much like the Patriots, employ the 3-4 defensive alignment scheme. DT Kelly Gregg will man the middle, while Tony Weaver is slotted on the left side and Marques Douglas will be on the left. Gregg is the main man out of these front three.
LB – Ray Lewis – He is the man! And not only do they have the best linebacker in the NFL, but the Ravens have a great group of guys surrounding Lewis. Edgerton Hartwell plays in the middle next to Lewis while Adalius Thomas and Peter Boulware apply pressure from the outside. Boulware is presently recovering from knee surgery, so look for 2nd year wonder Terrell Suggs to take his spot. Suggs and Thomas will probably swap back and forth on the outside, depending on the match-ups.
DB – The Raven’s secondary is pretty solid, especially in the safety positions. Ed Reed is a stud at strong safety while the vastly underrated Will Demps is penciled in at free safety. Chris McAlister (currently in the middle of a contract dispute, I might add) is the left cornerback while Gary Baxter plays on the right side. If McAlister holds out, I think you’ll see Corey Fuller take his spot.
Seadog’s take on the Ravens – The Ravens are a stud defense, there is no doubt. They are also a great source of IDP talent. Kelly Gregg is unbelievable at DT. He had 80 tackles (3rd on the team) as a nose tackle! In the 3-4 no less! Wow! As for the linebackers, Ray Lewis is the best in the NFL. But you can do pretty well IDP-wise with any of their linebackers. Ed Reed was huge last year, but keep an eye out on Demps – he could be a nice sleeper pick. So, for IDPs, Gregg, Lewis, Boulware (if healthy), and Reed are every week plays, and I like Suggs, Hartwell, and Demps as strong 2nd tier picks.
Cincinnati Bengals – One of the keys for the Bengals is that they have a very good coach in Marvin Lewis. While the defensive unit may not be the most talented in the league, I think it will be one of the most improved defenses in the NFL this year.
DL – On the defensive front, there is Justin Smith on the right side, Duane Clemons on the left, with John Thornton and Tony Williams anchoring the middle. Not a very flashy front four, but they get the job done. Look for Carl Powell to share some time with Clemons as well.
LB– Newcomer Nate Webster will take over the middle linebacker slot this year, and he could be a major factor for the success of this defense. Kevin Hardy will attack from the left and Brian Simmons will be bringing it from the right side. Look for Kahlid Abdullah to be the main back-up, and for those in dynasty leagues keep an eye on the two rookies Caleb Miller and Landon Johnson.
DB – The Bengal’s secondary has been greatly overhauled this off-season. Deltha O’Neal and Tory James will be on the corners. Kim Herring will play free safety. Rogers Beckett will play strong safety. Kevin Kaesviharn provides a very capable back-up and nickel-back.
Seadog’s take on the Bengals – While I think this defense as a whole will be much improved from last year, I’m finding it hard to find some true IDP studs. Justin Smith needs to break out this year (I keep saying that every year), Nate Webster needs to play well, and Deltha O’Neal needs to play a lot better than he did in Denver. For IDPs, I’d play Smith, Hardy, Webster, Simmons, and Beckett. Keep an eye on Beckett. Marv has handed him the starting job this year, and I think he’s going to do well.
Cleveland Browns – It seems that every year the Browns have the potential to be a great defense, and every year it seems like they are adequate, but nothing special. However, there is some “youth” with talent that is starting to invade the linebacking corps and that could be a good sign for the future with this team.
DL – On the defensive line Gerrard Warren and Orpheus Roye will play the tackle positions while Courtney Brown and Kennard Lang will play the ends. Ebenezer Ekuban will provide back-up; primarily for Brown.
LB – Andra Davis won the starting middle linebacker job last year and he had some monster games for them. Right now it looks like 2nd year player Chaun Thompson will be starting on the left side with Kevin Bentley pushing him for playing time. On the right side, newly acquired veteran Warrick Holdman is slated to start and he’ll be backed up by Ben Taylor.
DB – The defensive backfield for Cleveland is a veteran group that has been playing together for a couple of years now. Earl Little will play free safety while Robert Griffith will take charge of the strong safety slot. Anthony Henry and Daylon McCutcheon will cover the corners.
Seadog’s take on the Browns – It’s not that I dislike the Browns or anything, but I have a hard time putting much faith in them from a defensive fantasy perspective. Courtney Brown and Gerrard Warren were supposed to be awesome defensive lineman when they came into the league and they haven’t been much more than average. Kennard Lang is their best DL from an IDP viewpoint. The Cleveland linebackers should provide good IDP value and Andra Davis is a definite stud in the making. In the secondary, Little and Griffith will give you decent IDP value – Griffith more than Little.
Pittsburgh Steelers – Mention the Steelers and one automatically associates them with a strong team defense. However, they haven’t been a real “powerhouse”, so to speak, for the last couple of years. Their linebacking unit is perennially very strong and continues to be, their front three does pretty good, but the secondary has been nothing to write home about. It’s hard to tell if they are going to improve that situation this year or not.
DL – Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, and Kimo Von Oelhoffen are slated to be the starting defensive front once again. They are a veteran group that pretty much gets the job done with not a lot of flash.
LB – James Farrior stepped in last year and made a huge contribution to this defense. He’ll man the middle along with all-pro Kendrell Bell. Joey Porter will play the right side, and since Jason Gildon left for Buffalo, it looks like Clark Haggans will be taking his spot on the left side. Haggans recently injured his hand, so he will be missing training camp time (at least). Currently, Nathaniel Adibi is listed as his back-up.
DB – The Steeler’s defensive secondary should be much more stable in the middle this year. Chris Hope will be playing free safety and 2nd year player Troy Polamalu will patrol the strong safety slot. Look for Mike Logan as a very capable back-up. Covering the corners will be Chad Scott and Deshea Townsend.
Seadog’s take on the Steelers – You can’t go wrong tapping into the Steeler’s linebacking unit for your IDPs; Farrior and Bell will be strong plays this year. Porter is a decent pick and Haggans could be a steal, except I don’t like the fact he will miss some, if not all, of camp. The secondary still doesn’t have much speed and that will continue to hurt them. But Hope and especially Polamalu will be good picks for IDP play. On the defensive line, I think Aaron Smith should be the only strong consideration for IDP value.
That’s it for this installment of the Seadog Report. Stay tuned for the next article on the AFC North. Thanks for reading!
*NFC East Update* Since the last article, DT Willie Blades has been released by Dallas. I didn’t expect much IDP production from him, nor do I expect much from whoever takes over his slot.