NFL Free Agency officially started on March 10th, and most players were signed by the end of the month. But to truly understand how Free Agency impacts the IDP landscape, we need to wait until the NFL Draft is over and the rosters are set. Dannell Ellerbe getting traded to New Orleans may seem like a significant IDP move at the time, but when the Saints drafted Stephone Anthony at #31 overall, it quickly changed the situation. Now that the dust has settled, let’s take a look at how the major moves in March will affect the 2015 season for IDP leagues.
Ndamukong Suh – No reason to bury the lede here. While it’s very easy to argue that my beloved Dolphins overpaid for him, they still got the best player on the market this offseason. From an IDP perspective this signing has a huge impact from the Motor City to South Beach, but let’s start with the man himself. Suh’s stats will likely be similar in Miami, where he’ll be surrounded by a defense that compares favorably with what he just left in Detroit. He should be a weekly starter at DL in standard leagues, and in DT-required leagues, he’s a top-3 guy. The larger impact will be on his future and former teammates.
Cameron Wake/Olivier Vernon – I’m sure no one was happier about the Suh signing than these two, who will now see less double teams, and should rain hell-fire on opposing QBs on third and longs. They were DL16 and DL35 respectively last year, and I would expect that to only improve in 2015, especially in big play leagues.
Ziggy Ansah – The opposite is true here. Ansah, despite the presence of Haloti Ngata, will be forced to fend for himself more than he has so far in his career. Losing both Suh and Fairley in the same offseason will force him to grow up quickly. Speaking of Big Nick…
Nick Fairley – He’s never come close to the individual fantasy impact that Suh has, but he’ll benefit his teammates in similar ways. As if the Robert Quinn/Chris Long/Aaron Donald trio needed any more help, they’re now essentially the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (copyright pending). I rarely dabble in the pathetic waters of Team Defenses, but Miami and St. Louis are two fantastic options in 2015, and their front fours will dominate my DL rankings all year.
Antrel Rolle – The Chicago secondary was miserable last season, but guys like Ryan Mundy, Kyle Fuller and Brock Vereen put up some solid (if inconsistent) IDP numbers. Rolle should provide an upgrade from both a reality and fantasy perspective in terms of talent and consistency. In a position known for variability, Rolle has been one of the more stable producers in the last five years, playing 16 games every season and putting up roughly 90 tackles like clockwork. Moving to the NFC North should allow him to maintain his value unless the aging curve (he turns 33 this season) catches up to him. I have him as a firm DB2.
Bruce Carter – A popular sleeper heading into 2014 thanks to Sean Lee’s injury, Carter had injuries derail his season as well. While on the field, he put up typically solid tackle numbers (and a shocking 5 interceptions after having none in 3 years prior) that prorate him as a weekly LB starter in most leagues if he played 16 games. But he has yet to do that in his career, and now he moves to Tampa Bay where he’ll likely start opposite Lavonte David. That should eat into his tackle opportunities a bit, but I’m more worried about him missing time with injury and being replaced by 4th round pick Kwon Alexander. Carter’s in LB4/5 territory for me and I likely won’t own any shares.
Sean Weatherspoon – Another constantly wounded warrior, Weatherspoon gets a chance to revive his career in Arizona. The Cards have had almost as much instability at their ILB slots as they have at quarterback, which is saying something. After playing 20 games total in the last 3 years, it’s easy to forget that Weatherspoon was widely regarded as a future IDP stud after his 2012 season produced 125 tackles and promising coverage skills. He’ll likely never reach those lofty heights, but someone needs to make plays in Phoenix and unless Kevin Minter figures things out quickly, ‘Spoon is one of their only options. I won’t pay a premium, but I like him as a late round flier.
Curtis Lofton – I really wanted the Miles Burris Experience to pan out in Oakland, but it’s no surprise that they wanted an upgrade over the offseason. The Raiders run one of the more traditional 4-3’s in the league, with Khalil Mack as the pass rusher, Sio Moore as the coverage specialist, and now Lofton as the hitter in the middle. With three above average talents, it will be a battle for IDP stats every week. I expect Lofton to lead the team in tackles, but he may need to do most of his work on first and second downs, which is worrisome for 2014’s LB8. I still like him as an LB2 on draft day, but his ceiling is lower than it’s been in recent years.
Adrian Clayborn – The Falcons were another team looking for upgrades this offseason, specifically around their pass rush. They were certainly busy, drafting Vic Beasley in the top 10 after signing Tyson Jackson, Justin Durant and Clayborn, and I expect it to pay dividends. Outside of Beasley (who will take some time to adjust to his likely 4-3 SLB designation), none of their front seven has an impressive pedigree, but collectively they should be solid at worst. Clayborn is the most interesting IDP name here, and although health has been an issue for him in the past, all signs point to him being 100% for 2015.
Michael Johnson – We’re getting the band back together! A year after leaving Cincy for greener pastures (and potential MRSA infections) in Tampa, Johnson returns to join Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins and Domata Peko in what should be one of the best front fours in the league. I doubt that Johnson will return to his 50+ tackle, 10+ sack 2012 stat line ever again, but he should be much better than he was last year. I’m a little worried about the lingering presence of former second round pick Margus Hunt, but not enough to avoid Johnson entirely. He’s in DL3 territory for now, but his upside is that of a weekly starter.
Cornerbacks – Big names like Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, Tramon Williams, Antonio Cromartie, and Byron Maxwell all changed teams this offseason. These guys will definitely have an impact on their new teams, but from and IDP perspective, the moves only really affect CB-required leagues. It will be interesting to see what the additions of Revis, Cromartie, and Buster Skrine mean for a Jets team that already has a former first round in Dee Milliner at corner, but my guess is that it hurts all of their individual IDP value.
A lot of the free agency news this year was of the less-exciting, and sometimes downright depressing variety. Guys like David Harris and Jerry Hughes re-signed with their former teams, Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Houston got the Franchise tag, and the whole NFL was shaken by the consecutive retirements of Patrick Willis and Chris Borland. With the relative lack of impact rookies, and a quiet free agency, 2015’s IDP leaderboard could look a lot like 2014’s. Then again, we get guys like Sean Lee, Kiko Alonso and Jerod Mayo coming back from injury, as well as a (hopefully) healthy season of Jadeveon Clowney next to J.J. Watt, so there are still plenty of reasons to be excited for IDPs in 2015.