The 2013 NFL draft was ripe with talent on the defensive side of the ball, and there are quite a few guys picked that should go on to be perennial Pro Bowlers. But even the best defensive players may not start lighting up the stat sheet until the end of their first season, or even later. JJ Watt and Jason Pierre-Paul didn’t take the league by storm until their second year, Ronde Barber didn’t truly break out until his fourth season in the league, and we’re still waiting on Vernon Gholston to show us what he’s got.
From a fantasy perspective, this year’s draft doesn’t have anyone who is likely to match Luke Kuechly’s LB1 output in 2012. In fact, we’ll be lucky to see something like Vontaze Burfict’s LB24 finish. The top talent is probably at Defensive Tackle, and while the big boys are vital to a team’s defensive success, they don’t tend to have much of an impact in IDP leagues that don’t require their presence.
But that doesn’t mean we won’t have any impact rookies this year, it just may take some time to figure out who they are. Here is a look at each position and how relevant the rookies will be in 2013 IDP leagues.
Arguably the most loaded position in the draft, these mammoths are rarely rosterable in IDP leagues unless it is mandatory to start a DT. Even then, rookie D-Tackles struggle to stay on the field for three downs, and most play limited snaps. My favorite DT in the draft was Sheldon Richardson, but he’ll likely line up as a 3-4 DE for the Jets, so that leaves Star Lotuleli, Sharrif Floyd, Sylvester Williams, and Jordan Hill as the most relevant names.
Of that group I like Star’s talent the most, and his ability to get tackles will likely make him the most consistent producer over his career. In terms of situation, Floyd has a dream landing spot in Minnesota. He will take over between Jared Allen and Kevin Williams, a slot that Pat Williams patrolled for years that included about 50 tackles and 2 sacks per year, as well as one very eventful cruise on Lake Minnetonka. Williams and Hill have also found good spots in Denver and Seattle respectively, but I’ll need to see production before I deem either of them rosterable in 2013.
The D-End position became an interesting one after the draft. My top pre-draft DT (Richardson) and OLB (Dion Jordan) both got picked by teams who will likely use them at DE, and many of the top DE prospects joined already solid pass-rushing units, turning this year’s crop into a potential big play gold mine.
Dion Jordan – Miami clearly knew what they wanted, passing up other needs at LT and CB to take Jordan at #3 overall. He’ll line up opposite Cameron Wake, and while I’m not sure if he profiles best in the 4-3 scheme, he will certainly see a lot of one-on-one sack opportunities. There are rumors of Jordan getting some time at LB as well, which will only increase his value, but for now he should be the first rookie DL off the board. I like him as a high-upside DL3 at this point, but I could easily take him as my other starter opposite a reliable DL1 depending on preseason reports.
Ezekiel Ansah – The Ansah/JPP comparisons are as common as Amanda Bynes/Lindsay Lohan comparisons at this point, but that doesn’t make them any less accurate. I had originally pegged Ansah as a dynasty league stash for 2013, but his Motor City landing spot is very intriguing. Unlike Jordan, I’m not comfortable starting him Week 1, but I’ll look to get this physical freak on as many rosters as possible this year.
Sheldon Richardson – I was ready to take him early in DT-required leagues, but I can only assume the Jets will use him at 3-4 DE, as his frame does not profile as a nose tackle. Richardson is extremely athletic, but a DE classification definitely hurts his value. This is a situation to monitor, however, because if the Jets play more 4-3, then Richardson jumps to the top of my DT rankings among rookies.
Datone Jones – I wasn’t very high on Jones pre-draft, and thought his IDP value would be heavily reliant on the situation he landed in. A 3-4 scheme doesn’t sound ideal, but lining up opposite Clay Matthews will certainly help. Many are assuming that Jones steps right into the Cullen Jenkins role from 2010, but I’ll let another owner take him this year until I see some actual production.
Outside of the Round 1 guys, the biggest names for 2013 will be Margus Hunt, Tank Carradine and Damontre Moore. Hunt should see a starting role immediately opposite Michael Johnson in Cincinnati, making him a late round target in 2013 drafts. Carradine and Moore joined stacked pass-rushing units with the Niners and Giants, so that will lead to lots of big play opportunities if they earn some playing time. Sleepers at DE include Quanterus Smith, Devin Taylor and Malliciah Goodman.
This year’s crop of LBs isn’t as flashy as years past, both in the middle and on the outside, but the draft was kind to a few of these guys, and we should see solid production from the start.
Arthur Brown – My favorite LB pre-draft landed the dream job of replacing Ray Lewis. He may not have the dance moves, the persona, or the excessive eye-black, but Brown should produce from Day 1 in the revamped Baltimore defense. Expect him to be the first rookie IDP off the board come draft time, and he should finish the year near the top 20 LBs.
Manti Te’o – Obviously one of the more controversial players in the draft, Te’o landed in a great spot for IDP value. The big issue with Te’o, other than the abundance of fake women in Southern California, is talent. He looked like a top 10 pick at times last year, but disappeared completely in the BCS Championship game, and his high interception total masks a relative weakness in coverage. I doubt he ends up on any of my teams this year, and I would avoid in dynasty unless you have a glaring weakness at LB.
Jarvis Jones – I don’t know who was happier after the draft, Jones or Dick LeBeau. This is a perfect match of player/team, talent/situation, and skill-set/coaching scheme. Stepping into the James Harrison role, Jones won’t get a ton of tackles (60 solo/15 assists sounds about right), but he should be a force in big play leagues right off the bat.
Alec Ogletree/Barkevious Mingo – The Rams already have James Laurinaitis at MLB, and Cleveland had Jabaal Sheard slated for OLB, making these guys somewhat redundant at first glance. Ogletree should slide over to WLB and has a chance to play three downs, but his value would have been much higher in the middle. It would make sense for the Browns to trade Sheard at this point, but if they don’t, Mingo may not be guaranteed playing time opposite Paul Kruger. Ogletree is worth a late round pick this year, but I would pass on Mingo entirely.
Bjoern Werner – Previously a top DE prospect, Werner loses any and all value as an OLB. He should not be on the IDP draft radar in 2013, even in big-play leagues.
Kiko Alonso – This is a guy who will end up on a few of my teams this year. In the Bills hybrid scheme, Alonso will compete with Nigel Bradham for snaps in the middle. I expect him to take over for three downs by the end of 2013, so he’s worth a late pick in redraft leagues and he becomes a nice dynasty stash.
The best of the rest include Sio Moore, Khaseem Greene, Jon Bostic and Kevin Minter. Moore’s value will depend where exactly he lines up, as the Oakland LB corps (and their roster as a whole) is in a state of flux, but he has a high ceiling in 2013. Greene and Bostic become the replacements to Brian Urlacher and eventually Lance Briggs in Chicago. I like Greene’s talent more, but Bostic should put up better IDP numbers overall, starting in 2013. Minter’s situation got a lot more interesting given Daryl Washington’s recent legal issues. We’ve seen how productive Washington can be in the Arizona defense, so while I don’t love Minter’s talent, he’s in a great situation for IDP production. Sleepers at LB include Nico Johnson, Gerald Hodges and Zaviar Gooden.
In standard leagues, safeties will take up the majority of the DB roster spots, but rookie CBs do provide interesting buy-low opportunities. Quarterbacks pick on rookie corners relentlessly, often very successfully. That’s good news for IDPers, especially those in CB-required leagues, as the chance to rack up tackles, deflections and interceptions is higher for rookies than for established shut-down corners.
Dee Milliner, Xavier Rhodes and Desmond Trufant should all see a ton of playing time in 2013 and have the most immediate value of this crop of rookie corners. In dynasty leagues, two names to watch are Jonathan Banks and DJ Hayden, with Banks in a crowded secondary and Hayden coming off a scary heart surgery. Neither figures to have a big impact in 2013, but they could be relevant in 2014 and beyond.
There are certainly some big hitters in this year’s safety class. I have a feeling that the new stadium in Miami will be funded primarily from fines paid by these rookies. This position is deep in 2013, and also has a few sleepers who will be heard from for years to come.
Kenny Vaccaro – Watching Vaccaro play here in Austin last year, I always thought he cared more about laying a big hit than actually making a tackle. So he should fit right in with the rest of the Saints’ secondary. It’s unclear at this point if Vaccaro will be playing alongside Roman Harper or replacing him, but either way he will have a ton of opportunities to rack up IDP stats and he should be the first rookie DB off the board.
Eric Reid – Reid must be a happy camper, stepping into a starting role in a San Francisco defense that is one of the best in the league. From a fantasy perspective, his tackles may be limited by the talent around him, but that should also give him more big play opportunities.
Matt Elam – Much like Arthur Brown, Elam becomes an immediate starter in a defense that routinely cranks out IDP studs. I value him very similar to Vaccaro, but his price tag should be a little lower on draft day, meaning he’ll likely be on a few of my teams.
Johnathan Cyprien – Considering his landing spot, Cyprien might be the safest rookie safety in 2013. The Jacksonville defense (and offense for that matter) is a mess, so Cyprien will be on the field a lot, and should get plenty of tackle opportunities against the run. I don’t like his talent as much as Vaccaro, Elam or Reid, but his situation could easily put him in DB1 territory from Day One.
Tyrann Mathieu – The biggest name at this position, the Honey Badger moves to an interesting spot in Arizona. He should start at FS for the Cards, and more interestingly, take over the return duties from Patrick Peterson. There is a huge floor/ceiling gap here, but I would have no problem taking a late flier on Mathieu as my DB3 this year.
The rest of the safeties are a mixed bag. TJ McDonald will start right away for the Rams, but it’s unclear if playing time will translate into stats for him. DJ Swearinger and Shamarko Thomas will back up the dynamic but oft-injured Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu, but both will be great options if and when they get playing time. Sleepers at safety are JJ Wilcox, Shawn Williams, and Bacarri Rambo.