Preseason football is well underway, and redraft fantasy draft season is upon us. The Individual Defensive Player (IDP) landscape will be taking shape over the next few weeks as rookies look to make their mark in actual game action. Veterans will battle to keep their roster spots and it all makes for must-see TV for IDP owners.
Is there anything better than having NFL games being replayed at 3 a.m.? OK, regular season games being replayed at 3 a.m. I suppose, but you get the point.
We continue our look at the IDP prospects division by division with an examination of the AFC West. Denver is the heavy favorite to repeat as division champs while the Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers play catch up.
1. Derrick Johnson, ILB, Kansas City:
Johnson is the anchor in the middle of the Chiefs defense and has totaled 255 tackles the past two seasons. He’s also averaged two sacks per season while adding two interceptions and four forced fumbles. Johnson is a three down player and a top 10 overall linebacker in 2013 that is the best the division offers.
2. Von Miller, OLB, Denver:
Miller has racked up 132 total tackles, eight forced fumbles, one interception (returned for a score) and an amazing 30 sacks in his first two seasons. He is already arguably the best edge rusher in the NFL. The loss of Elvis Dumervil may impact his sack totals a bit in 2013 but the kid is a wrecking ball off the edge. Miller is appealing his four-game suspension for violating NFL policy. The Broncos are confident that Miller will be successful in this appeal (scheduled for Aug. 15), so monitor the situation closely and alter draft boards accordingly. I am leaving him here for the time being.
3. Wesley Woodyard, WLB, Denver:
The Broncos finally gave Woodyard a shot at an every down role at the weakside linebacker position and he stepped up posting 117 total tackles (73 solo). He also added 5.5 sacks and is an above-average linebacker in coverage that hauled in three interceptions. Forget about Woodyard being undersized at 6-foot, 229 pounds because the kid has a nose for the ball and a non-stop motor.
4. Nick Roach, MLB, Oakland:
I am high on Roach this season as he appears to be set up in the perfect spot to produce excellent fantasy totals. Once he took over for the injured Brian Urlacher last year in Chicago down the stretch, he averaged 7.1 tackles per game and was solid in coverage. Manning the middle on a less-than-stellar Raiders defense, he should amass very nice tackle numbers and throw in the occasional big play as well.
5. Donald Butler, ILB, San Diego
: Butler is heading into his third NFL season and his value is trending upwards. Despite missing four games last year he posted a career-high three sacks and added another two forced fumbles. Butler also averaged 6.4 tackles per game, and if he can secure an every down role in 2013 he will post his first triple-digit tackle total and become a solid LB2. This feels like a make-or-break year fantasy wise for Butler, and if he doesn’t secure a three down role this season, that ship may have sailed for good.
While the division is lacking in top-level tier-one fantasy options outside of Johnson and Miller (in leagues slanted towards big play scoring), there are quite a few interesting players that could have surprisingly nice value.
The Chargers could end up with one of the better young linebacker corps as rookie Manti Te’o just missed making the top 5. He’s a solid instinctive tackler who must use the preseason to improve his coverage reads for the Chargers to keep him on the field in passing situations. Te’o is naturally athletic enough to be a solid LB4 to start the season with the upside to finish with LB2 numbers, as he grows accustomed to the speed of the pro game and garners a three down role.
Fellow rookie linebacker Sio Moore (Oakland) is very intriguing, as he’s been lining up at both weakside linebacker and strongside linebacker during organized team activities and mini-camp. He looks to be a Week 1 starter that will play three downs for Oakland but figuring out just where is the current conundrum. As it becomes clearer where Moore will see the majority of his snaps, be ready to jump on this kid in the middle of IDP fantasy drafts. Kevin Burnett is coming off of a 109 total tackle season for the Miami Dolphins in 2012 and adds another more than able-bodied inside linebacker option for the Raiders.
I envision Roach as the middle linebacker with Burnett and Moore manning the strongside linebacker and weakside linebacker positions, with all three holding fantasy value in 2013. Last season’s inside linebacker Miles Burris is recovering from offseason knee surgery and looks to have lost his hold on a starting gig in Oakland.
There is talk that Nate Irving will finally get the chance to show his stuff as the starting middle linebacker in Denver. With little competition for the job and the aging Stewart Bradley as the primary backup middle linebacjer, Irving should be in for a very nice season. Grabbing him late in fantasy drafts could pay big dividends.
In Kansas City, the bookend outside linebacker duo of Tamba Hali and Justin Houston combined for 19 sacks last season and hold added value in big play scoring formats. Houston totaled 66 tackles while adding an interception as well as forced fumble. Of the two, Houston holds more value in standard IDP scoring formats and is an ascending IDP talent.