Los Angeles Rams
The Rams cleaned house with their coaching staff and landed one of the better defensive minds in recent memory. Wade Phillips, who was the man behind the Broncos defense that carried them to a Super bowl victory just a few years ago. Phillips will now be in charge of Aaron Donald and the Rams. The big change here is that Phillips runs a 3-4 scheme compared to the 4-3 Los Angeles previously used, however Phillip’s scheme has some 4-3 aspects. The biggest difference between a 3-4 and 4-3 scheme, other than the amount of lineman, is gap responsibilities. The linemen in a classic 3-4 are responsible for two gaps while in a 4-3 they only have one. What this means is 3-4 DL tend to be focused more on reading the play and reacting while 4-3 DL want to penetrate into the backfield through their assigned gap. Phillips runs a variation of a 3-4 that uses one-gap assignments rather than two-gap because he prefers to pressure the opposing offense rather than attempt to control the line of scrimmage.
Aaron Donald excels with his quick burst and power to wreak havoc in the middle of opposing offensive lines so it is likely he will continue to do so, however there is definitely concern about his fantasy football value (particularly in DT required leagues). If Phillips implements his standard scheme, Donald could play one of three down lineman positions. The nose tackle in Phillip’s scheme (Sylvester Williams in DEN) usually lines up on the outside shade of the center and is responsible for the A gap. Donald could play this position; However, he is much smaller than typical NTs (285 lbs. compared to profile NT of 315+) and teammate Michael Brockers (6’6” 322 lbs.) fits the role much better. Brockers has also played this position in the past under Gregg Williams’ multiple front defense. Donald would still keep DT eligibility here but his production in the box score may decrease slightly due to the nature of a NT alignment compared to that of a 4-3 DT. The strongside DE (Malik Jackson/J.J. Watt position) is also a primary one-gap assignment that Donald could play. This position lines up farther outside than Donald’s natural position and tends to profile better for tall linemen that use their length (which Donald doesn’t have at only 6’1”) and explosion to get penetration. Brockers could also be a fit at this end position. Finally, the weakside DE (Derek Wolfe position) from an alignment standpoint is closest to Donald’s current alignment as this position is a 2/3 technique defensive end. The one hold-up is that the weakside DE is the one position that has two-gap responsibilities sometimes, depending on the play call which is something Wolfe excels at, but it wouldn’t be using Donald to the best of his abilities. The biggest issue from an IDP standpoint of the last two positions discussed is Donald would lose DT eligibility and be reclassified as a DE. Any way you spin it, if Phillips wants his new team to play the scheme he made famous, this likely will take some type of hit to Donald in your IDP league if you have separate DT-DE position classifications. Nevertheless, Phillips is a brilliant coach and he is going to continue to put Donald in a position to be an elite NFL impact player, however it just may not be an upgrade to your fantasy football squad.
Robert Quinn also takes a huge hit with a scheme change as he will now be re-classified as a linebacker since he will play weakside OLB (DeMarcus Ware’s position) for the new and improved Rams defense.
Alec Ogletree will slide into the MIKE linebacker role (Brandon Marshall’s position) which will leave him more uncovered than in the past. This means Ogletree will need to shed more blocks to get to the ball. Mark Barron will man the WILL that gets a bit more protection as he is behind the weakside DE that will have more two-gap assignments. This scheme change is not a death sentence to either but it will be hard to duplicate their gaudy numbers from last year (136 and 117 total tackles respectively). I would expect a minor decline but do not panic sell as both can still be extremely productive. For instance, Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall had 109 and 101 tackles each in 2015. While this seems like quite a decrease, they did so on the fourth-rated NFL defense so they had far fewer opportunities for tackles compared to the Rams’ 23rd-ranked 2016 defense.
In conclusion, this is going to be a huge offseason for the Rams defense because they do not have a first-round pick (due to Jared Goff trade) and have a desperate need to fill the third DL spot as well as strong side linebacker (Von Miller position) if Wade Phillips wants to run his scheme the same way he has done in the past.
The Jaguars said goodbye to Gus Bradley as head coach, however they did retain defensive coordinator Todd Wash. The 4-3 under scheme was put in place by Bradley and Wash, who did a decent job of implementing it, but there may be changes. At this point in time it is unclear which scheme Wash will implement but he has a lot of puzzle pieces to do so. Regardless of whether he chooses 3-4 or 4-3, he has two potential edges with Dante Fowler ideal for the strong side and Yannick Ngakoue to man the weak side. My best guess at this stage would be that they will move to a more standard 4-3 with all three linebackers off the ball so he can use Telvin Smith and Myles Jack to the best of their abilities, however it is still very much up in the air. Malik Jackson will anchor the interior of the line regardless of scheme since he has the flexibility to do so.
The Bills have moved on from Rex Ryan and hired former Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott. This is great news for IDP since McDermott’s 4-3 scheme will move Jerry Hughes and Shaq Lawson from linebacker to defensive ends in fantasy football. An even front is also great news on the interior where DT Marcell Dareus should have opportunities for more box score production and Kyle Williams will be able to gain DT eligibility. The Bills could save $7 million in cap by cutting Williams, however he continues to play at a very high level and his roughly $8 million dollar salary is fair, or even team-friendly. 2017 is the last year of his contract and at his age, look for Adolphus Washington to take over his spot in 2018.
The Broncos have hired former Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph as head coach and it sounds like he is bringing his football philosophy but not his scheme with him. Joseph has made it known many times in his career that he prefers to make a scheme that fits players rather than the other way around. When he was hired by Miami, he actually considered himself a 3-4 DC, however it was clear the Dolphins were more suitable for a 4-3. Rather than take years to change personnel, he adjusted his own ways and figures to do the same in Denver. Joseph inherited Ndamukong Suh and played towards his strengths, expect him to do the same with Von Miller. Assume the Broncos stick with a 3-4 going forward.
San Francisco 49ers
The Niners fired Chip Kelly and are being patient hiring a new one and it is not yet known who will run the defense, but it’s assumed they will stay with a 3-4 scheme. San Francisco’s last two 1st round picks, DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead, are ideal 3-4 DE and the future of this team.
Gregg Williams left Los Angeles but brings his extremely aggressive and complex 4-3 scheme to Cleveland. After this move, we should all be rooting for Jamie Collins to re-sign with the Browns as he will be used as Williams’ new Alec Ogletree. It’s possible that Collins will actually play base SAM and Demario Davis will be at (MIKE, Ogletree’s position) but it is nothing to be too afraid of. Davis is sorely lacking in coverage skills and should be a two-down player at most, while Collins is an explosive blitzer who is also capable of running downfield with almost any TE in the league. Collins will be an every-down ‘backer next to Chris Kirksey, most likely the base WILL, and both should continue to be great IDPs going forward. This scheme change also is helpful on the defensive line for IDP as Emmanuel Ogbah should gain DE eligibility and also opens the door for Cleveland to add the best rookie IDP in this upcoming rookie class. Myles Garrett, highly regarded as the No. 1 in this draft, projects close to or even superior to Jadeveon Clowney as a prospect and may be the Browns’ first selection of the draft. Garrett should have many leads, which won’t allow pass rushers to pin their ears back and get to the QB, which is an ideal scenario for the talented end out of Texas A&M.
The Panthers lost their defensive coordinator to the Bills, but they have already promoted their secondary coach, Steve Wilks, who plans on keeping the Panthers’ current scheme. The most important task for Wilks this year for IDP will be to see how he utilizes Shaq Thompson and his ability to get the most out of the talented linebacker even when both Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis are on the field.
The Jaguars fired Bradley but that doesn’t mean he is not capable of coaching a very successful defense. As of right now, it sounds like Bradley is most likely going to the Chargers. This would be an ideal fit for Joey Bosa for IDP purposes since it eliminates the risk of him losing DE eligibility, however it would put a damper on the value explosion of Melvin Ingram if he re-signs with the Chargers as some owners are currently hoping. In Bradley’s scheme, I would expect Ingram to play and excel at SAM linebacker in base while sliding down to pass rushing edge in sub-packages. It sounds like the Redskins are also in play for Bradley but more unlikely. If the tides turn and Bradley goes to Washington, it is unknown which current OLB (Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith or Trent Murphy) would get a significant value boost by playing LEO (weak side DE) and who would continue to be stuck as a LB in IDP to play SAM linebacker.
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