With the 2016 NFL season officially in the books, there are many things to look back on. Maybe the most significant in terms of IDP leagues is the possible position changes for some of the top pass rushers in the league. Rotoworld’s defensive depth charts set the positions for IDP leagues hosted on myfantasyleague.com, so below are some vital notes on four of the premium sack artists in the entire league. Keep in mind, IDP is always fluid and as it is early in the offseason many things can change between now and the start of next season. Here is a review of some of last year’s notable pass rushers and what to expect for their future.
The Oakland Raiders’ pass rusher was the hot topic of IDP leagues last offseason and it looks like that will continue. The signing of Bruce Irvin, who made a name for himself as a SAM linebacker in Seattle’s famous 4-3 under defense, brought a scheme change to the Raiders and a huge fantasy football value increase to Mack. It was a highly-debated topic since the Oakland front seven runs a variety of alignments but it was accurately predicted last season that the Raiders would run a 4-3 under base scheme for the majority of their plays. I personally charted every single play from the 2016 season and in the first nine weeks the Raiders employed some type of 4-3 defense for 58% of their base snaps. This included 4-3 under, which has Bruce Irvin on the line of scrimmage opposite Mack in a two-point stance next to a 5-technique DE, 4-3 looks with Irvin in the slot against WR packages as well a few plays of the standard 4-3 alignment with Irvin as an off-ball strong side outside linebacker. Everything was going great from a fantasy football perspective, but it could not be denied that it was not working out so well for the Raiders themselves. Going into the bye, they were sporting a fantastic 7-2 record, however it was not due to their defense playing well. The Raiders’ defense was constantly stomped on by opposing offenses to begin the year. In five of the first seven games, Oakland allowed opposing offenses to produce at least 400 yards of total offense, two of which were over 500 yards. As the Raiders came out of their Week 10 bye they made an obvious change; they were going to run more 3-4 looks.
Warning: Brace yourselves Mack owners. In Weeks 11-14, the Raiders used Mack as an OLB in 127 of 137 base snaps (92.7%) in a 3-4 alignment. This was not a pretty sight to see in terms of future IDP value, but it was working on the field. Mack ended up playing OLB in 84% of the snaps in eight games post-bye (including Wild Card playoff game) and the Raiders did not let a single opponent hit the 400 total yard mark. An eye popping stat is that in Week 5, the Oakland defense surrendered 423 yards at home to the Chargers, yet completely dominated Philip Rivers in a Week 15 matchup in San Diego, allowing a season-low 262 yards. Looking at the entire season as a whole, Khalil Mack played linebacker 63% of base defensive snaps which cannot be denied. His IDP position designation is far from safe and all fantasy owners need to take note. Add in the fact that the Raiders brought in John Pagano, who is a 3-4 mind, to be the Raiders’ assistant head/defensive coach and it’s not only a possible scenario that Mack will be moved to linebacker for IDP in 2017, it’s the most likely one.
Now that I likely have frustrated many of you reading this article due to the findings regarding Khalil Mack I might as well not sugarcoat this one either; Jadeveon Clowney may be a linebacker for IDP next year too. Just like Mack, the start of the 2016 season was smooth sailing for Clowney owners. The former No. 1 overall pick was finally healthy, playing well and to our pleasant surprise was playing full time base DE in Houston’s 3-4 scheme. This was the first time in his career playing inside and he was holding his own. It was even more encouraging that Clowney was playing DE when J.J. Watt was active so it did not look like he was just a short-term fill-in due to an injury to their best player. Everything was going great for the first 10 weeks of the season. Clowney continued to play every single base snap at DE while producing in the box score and showing people exactly why he was referred to by many as a generational talent. Then Week 11 came around and starting outside linebacker John Simon went down with an injury, which changed everything for Clowney. It was obvious from that point on that the reason Clowney started the year at DE wasn’t due to the Texans preference to use him there, but rather the desire to get all three of Clowney, Simon and Whitney Mercilus on the field at the same time. With Simon now inactive, Clowney moved back to outside linebacker and never played a single snap at DE in base for the remainder of the season (including two playoff games). Simon’s injury kept him out of all of those games but Week 16 so it was noticeable that they did not move Clowney back inside for that week. It’s entirely plausible that they limited snaps for Simon in his first game back to ease him back from injury but it is noteworthy that he played only in pass situation sub-packages and was used a few times as the third OLB to spell Clowney or Mercilus when they needed a break. So, what exactly does this all mean, you ask? It means that the Texans prefer Clowney at linebacker when they do not have a healthy combo of Mercilus and Simon to play with him. With Simon an unrestricted free agent this offseason, the Texans’ decision to bring him back or not will speak loudly about how they want to use Clowney in 2017.
Beasley had a massive breakout campaign and led the entire league with 15.5 sacks. A big reason for this is that he does not usually play any base snaps and instead the Falcons kept him fresh to unleash him only in pass rushing scenarios. The issue for Beasley in IDP is when he did play base defense, Week 5 against the Broncos, he clearly played SAM linebacker. The base SAM linebacker in 2016 was Phillip Wheeler and he is a free agent this offseason, so if you are hoping for Beasley to gain DE eligibility you should also be crossing your fingers that Wheeler re-signs in Atlanta. With Wheeler back in Atlanta, it opens up the door for Beasley to play some base DE but at the end of the day, it is not very likely. Looking at contracts, the Falcons will return four starting quality defensive ends in Brooks Reed, Adrian Clayborn, Ra’Shede Hageman and Derrick Shelby who all are very likely to continue playing over Beasley in base formation. Beasley’s best attribute is to use his speed around the corner to get to the quarterback and his weakness is holding up versus offensive tackles in the run game. Given Beasley’s 2016 success, expect the Falcons to continue to employ him as a base SAM linebacker with Phillip Wheeler and their top speed rusher in sub-packages.
He may not be as high profile as the first three pass rushers discussed but there is a lot of buzz in fantasy football circles regarding impending free agent Melvin Ingram. I hear a lot of rumbling that if Ingram re-signs with the Chargers, Gus Bradley’s scheme will grant him DL eligibility, but I firmly disagree. I think Ingram’s best chance to get a significant boost to his IDP value is if a team signs him that runs a standard 4-3 with all three linebackers off the line of scrimmage. One of Ingram’s best attributes is his versatility as an edge rusher but he also has the ability to play in zone or man coverage. After watching his entire 2016 season, I would estimate that Ingram drops into coverage about 10-15% of the time which is a mandatory trait needed for the SAM linebacker position in Bradley’s scheme and a wasted trait if he were to play weakside defensive end (LEO). While some people think Ingram will be a DE if he returns to the Chargers, I personally think his game mirrors that of Bruce Irvin (SAM), not Cliff Avril (LEO).
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