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Top Rookie Individual Defensive Players and IDP Primer—Eric Kendricks, Stephone Anthony LB Targets

For fantasy owners that are bored of the typical 12-team, standard scoring fantasy football leagues, there are plenty of different league formats to try. One of that is becoming more popular, and my personal favorite, are leagues that incorporate Individual Defensive Players (IDPs). Instead of focusing strictly on one side of the ball, it requires owners to become familiar with the defensive side of the ball.

Here is a quick IDP primer. Players that produce a high amount of tackles are usually very valuable. Those players tend to be linebackers. Players that rely on turnovers and sacks, primarily defensive ends and defensive backs, can be inconsistent (except the freakishly athletic J.J. Watt who can seemingly do anything on the field). Knowing your league’s defensive scoring rules before going into the fantasy draft is crucial, and IDP scoring does tend to vary more from league to league than offensive scoring.

Knowing an NFL team’s defensive scheme (3-4 or 4-3) will help guide which positions should be getting more tackles, linebackers or defensive linemen. Teams with weak offenses will obviously have their defense on the field much more, which translates to more fantasy points. Matchups are key assessing which teams give up more points on average to opposing DL, LB and DBs.

As for rookies, some step right into an ideal situation due to lack of competition at their position. Some have to prove themselves before earning a starting gig, or a spot that has the opportunity to produce good defensive stats and fantasy numbers. Here are my Top 10 Rookie Defensive Players, for fantasy football, for the 2015 season:

1. LB Eric Kendricks, Vikings

Talk about an amazing landing spot for linebacker Eric Kendricks with the Minnesota Vikings. Kendricks should slide right into the middle linebacker position and play alongside veteran Chad Greenway and former college teammate Anthony Barr. Although a bit on the short end for a linebacker (6’0”), Kendricks makes up for it by being very athletic and a tackling machine. He is great in pass coverage and should immediately start as a three-down player. Kendricks is clearly the best IDP rookie prospect given his situation.

2. LB Stephone Anthony, Saints

The New Orleans Saints definitely needed to improve their defense and they took a giant step in the right direction by drafting Stephone Anthony. Anthony, like Kendricks, is very athletic and a great tackler. Although Anthony has struggled a bit in pass protection, he is great against the run. With minimal competition at linebacker, Anthony should start Day One and get plenty of opportunity for tackles.

3. LB Benardrick McKinney, Texans

The Houston Texans cannot seem to catch a break with linebackers. They either get hurt or continue to underperform. Benardrick McKinney is next up for the Texans as he should start immediately and make a name for himself on an already impressive defense. McKinney is an excellent pass rusher and run defender, but struggles in pass coverage, which may limit him early. With his physical play and persistence, McKinney will impress the defensive staff and his fantasy owners.

4. DE/LB Vic Beasley, Falcons

It is yet to be seen where Vic Beasley will play for the Atlanta Falcons, but either way, the Falcons need help on the defensive side of the ball. His best fit is at defensive end where he is a nightmare for opposing offensive linemen. He excels at the pass rush and he could push for 10+ sacks his rookie season, but he needs to improve his play at stopping the run. Beasley has great talent and is full of energy, so he should instantly improve the Falcons defense. Fantasy owners make sure to lobby for Beasley to be considered a defensive lineman in your league.

5. LB Denzel Perryman, Chargers

With Manti Te’o underwhelming in 2014, Denzel Perryman has the opportunity to step in immediately and prove he is a Day One starter for the San Diego Chargers. Perryman has the upside to be a three-down linebacker and a tone-setter, which is greatly missed in defenses around the league nowadays. Perryman is light on his feet proving he can move well side to side. With only Te’o standing in his way, it will not be long until Perryman is starting for the Chargers and he could hold onto that job for many years.

6. LB Jake Ryan, Packers

It is still unknown if veteran Clay Matthews will stay at linebacker (as the Green Bay Packers experimented with in 2014) or go back to defensive end. However, either way, he is a force to be reckoned with. Jake Ryan will immediately make an impact for the Packers. A Mid-Western native, Ryan is used to playing tough. He is a great tackler and athletic enough to play any linebacker position for the Packers. With no competition for a starting position, Ryan has a fantastic opportunity ahead of him for an elite team. He has sleeper appeal written all over him for IDP leagues.

7. LB Shaq Thompson, Panthers

Shaq Thompson is a great athlete and a turnover-forcing machine. Unfortunately, IDP owners may have to be patient with Thompson as he lands with the Carolina Panthers who already have elite linebackers in Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. With the addition of Thompson, that makes the Panthers’ linebacker corps one of the best in the league. Given Thompson’s athleticism, the Panthers will find a way to get him on the field, likely in a third-down role as he is a great pass defender. Give him some time to work his way into the defense and he will be a stud.

8. DE/LB Randy Gregory, Cowboys

Going into the 2014 season, all the talk surrounding the Dallas Cowboys was how bad their defense would be due to injuries and lack of depth. Well, they held their own and impressed the skeptics. For 2015, they added some defensive line depth by drafting Randy Gregory. Gregory is a small defensive end at 235 pounds, but is a great athlete. He has an opportunity to play opposite recently acquired Greg Hardy (once he comes back from suspension). Given his lack in size, Gregory has some room to improve, but has a bright future ahead of him on team that always seems to be in the spotlight.

9. S Landon Collins, Giants

The New York Giants defense had some huge holes in 2014. To start plugging them up, they drafted safety Landon Collins. Yes, defensive backs in IDP leagues are easy to find. However, defensive backs that play in the box and put up linebacker-type tackles are rare, and that is exactly what Collins is. He will instantly help the Giants. He is not a great pass defender, but that didn’t stop Bernard Pollard from consistently producing top 10 defensive back performances by racking up tackles. Expect Collins to do the same and become a top defensive back for fantasy.

10. OLB Preston Smith, Redskins

The Washington Redskins have a sneaky good linebacker corps. With the addition of Preston Smith, he joins Keenan Robinson, Ryan Kerrigan, and Perry Riley Jr. Smith should make an immediate impact as he is a natural defender. He might not rack up the tackles next to those other linebackers, but he will be a “big play” stopper. It will take some time for him to become fantasy relevant week in and week out, but he is a great stash for deep IDP leagues.

Two More To Monitor

DL Leonard Williams, Jets

Easily the best defensive linemen and arguably the best all-around player in the 2015 NFL Draft, Leonard Williams was taken by the New York Jets. Unfortunately for Williams, the Jets already have two really great defensive linemen in Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson. Williams’ best chance for year one success is via a rotation. However, Williams is the next man up for the Jets and has incredible talent, so consider him a longer-term quality stash even if he doesn’t produce immediately.

OLB Alvin “Bud” Dupree, Steelers

A team that is desperate for a pass rusher, the Pittsburgh Steelers went with Bud Dupree in the 2015 NFL Draft. Dupree still needs time to develop his game, but given the Steelers history developing outside linebackers, Dupree is in the right place to learn and become very good. He could eventually become a good fantasy option, but will rely more heavily on sacks, so factor that into his value for your IDP leagues.

Top Rookie Tight Ends—Potential Immediate Impact from Baltimore Ravens Maxx Williams

While we typically don't expect much fantasy production from rookie tight ends, Baltimore Ravens Maxx Williams has an opportunity to make an early impact.

While we typically don’t expect much fantasy production from rookie tight ends, Baltimore Ravens Maxx Williams has an opportunity to make an early impact.

When someone mentions the 2014 Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots, what immediately comes to mind? Do not say Deflategate!

As a fantasy football player the first thing I think of is Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski (Gronk) is the best tight end in the game. He is an absolute beast, worthy of a touchdown dance called the “Gronk Smash”.

Gronk is in an elite tight end tier by himself, while Jimmy Graham and Greg Olsen are a tier below. Beyond those three guys, the tight end position is a bit of a toss up for fantasy production. Tight ends take more time to develop than most positions, and even a player who is very valuable to his team may spend more time blocking than catching passes.

Although history shows tight ends do not produce relevant fantasy stats their rookie year (2014 top rookie tight ends Eric Ebron and Austin Seferian-Jenkins scored a combined 54 points in standard scoring leagues), with NFL teams and coaching staffs searching for and pushing to create the next Gronk, you never know when someone may breakout.

Here is my list of top rookie tight ends for 2015:

1. Maxx Williams, Ravens

Clearly the best tight end taken in the 2015 NFL Draft, Maxx Williams goes to the Baltimore Ravens. With Dennis Pitta coming off his second hip injury, it is very uncertain if he’ll be ready at the start of the NFL season. That being said, it was very clear the Ravens were planning on adding a tight end during the draft regardless of Pitta’s status. The Ravens like to use one tight end who plays as a threat up the seam or in the flat. New Ravens offensive coordinator Marc Trestman, during his tenure in Chicago, relied heavily on tight end Martellus Bennett, with Bennett finishing in the Top 5 tight ends in 2014. The main competition for Williams is Crockett Gillmore. Any positive showings in the passing game from Williams during mini-camp and preseason could land him a starting position. With quarterback Joe Flacco constantly looking at the tight end as a check-down option, Williams should have a bright future with the Ravens, and perhaps even make an immediate impact as a rookie.

2. Clive Walford, Raiders

Chalk up another young weapon to the Oakland Raiders. Wide receiver Amari Cooper should gobble up targets and catches from sophomore quarterback Derek Carr, however, the Raiders offer Clive Walford the opportunity to become an integral part of their offense for the next few years. Many compare Walford to Indianapolis Colts tight end Dwayne Allen. I believe Walford has more upside and athleticism in terms of pass catching. Mychal Rivera had a decent year in 2014 with Carr, however, there is much room for improvement at the tight end position and Walford has an opportunity to fill that void. With the Raiders still limited in offensive weapons, Walford might see a fair share of targets from Carr, making Walford a good investment for future years.

3. Jesse James, Steelers

With arguably the best fantasy wide receiver in the game in Antonio Brown, the Pittsburgh Steelers are looking for more weapons to help spread the defense out. Veteran Steelers tight end Heath Miller is aging quickly, so Pittsburgh invested in Jesse James in the 2015 NFL Draft. Although Miller is getting older, he still was able to produce a Top 10 fantasy performance in 2014. James still has some development to work on, but he can offer quarterback Ben Roethlisberger an additional weapon in the red zone with his large size (6’7”). James’ price in fantasy drafts is extremely cheap, so his potential to surpass Miller makes for a worthy investment in dynasty leagues.

4. Tyler Kroft, Bengals

The Cincinnati Bengals are in need for a consistent, healthy tight end. The Bengals’ first “Tyler” at the position, 2013 rookie draft pick Tyler Eifert, is close to being considered a bust. His rookie season was a typical rookie tight end season with 39 receptions for 445 yards and two touchdowns. In 2014, Eifert suffered a dislocated elbow in the first game of the season and was out the remainder of the year. The Bengals haven’t seen much production from Eifert for their investment. Tyler Kroft is an all-around complete athlete who could have a better pro career than his modest college stats suggest. With the Bengals affinity to run two tight end formations, Kroft should see the field quickly with a chance to earn valuable targets in the red zone.

5. A.J. Derby, Patriots

Any tight end playing with quarterback Tom Brady and opposite Gronk has a chance for success. A.J. Derby might not see the field immediately but Gronk sees double coverage every play and the wide receivers for the New England Patriots have not been spectacular, so the opportunity for a tight end to thrive in this offense is there. Derby is a speculative add for deep dynasty leagues.

Top Rookie Quarterbacks—Winston, Mariota Potential Redraft Options, Plus Handful of Dynasty Prospects

Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie QB Jameis Winston has quite a bit more to work with on offense than Tennessee Titans Marcus Mariota. There is some redraft potential here.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie QB Jameis Winston has quite a bit more to work with on offense than Tennessee Titans Marcus Mariota. There is some redraft potential here.

Almost every year there are one or two highly touted rookie quarterbacks that fans expect to thrive their first season in the NFL. It does not help that the NFL hype machine is working overdrive with respect to these players, focusing so much attention on them.

In 2013, it was EJ Manuel and Geno Smith, both of whom have been disappointments. In 2014, Johnny Manziel was a major bust and Blake Bortles was underwhelming, while Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr showed promise but were not particularly useful for fantasy.

Perhaps the 2012 class of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson, in which each of these players finished Top 12 in fantasy points per game, is too fresh in our memories. This group is the exception though, not the norm. It usually takes at least one season for a quarterback to get a true feel for the NFL and enter fantasy football relevancy.

Even though fan bases put pressure on teams to start their new young quarterback early, and teams often bow to that pressure, the best approach for fantasy players is likely set expectations low and hope for the best. The player will quite possibly be overwhelmed like Manuel, but may fall into an ideal situation and blossom like Griffin (as a rookie).

Do we have a Griffin situation for 2015? Here are my post-NFL Draft Top 5 Rookie Quarterbacks:

1. Jameis Winston, Buccaneers

With the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, quarterback Jameis Winston went to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. One of the most hotly debated rookie quarterbacks coming out of college due to off-field issues, the Buccaneers made sure to do their research on Winston. Boasting a BCS Championship, a Heisman Trophy and a 26-1 career record as a starter in college, Winston is, arguably, the most NFL-ready of all rookie quarterbacks. Winston will be under center Day One. He gets the pleasure of throwing to veteran WR Vincent Jackson, last season’s rookie sensation receiver Mike Evans, and tight end sleeper Austin Seferian-Jenkins. With Charles Sims likely assuming a larger role in the running game, this means Winston should be spreading the ball around and utilizing quick reads. With the franchise in his hands and weapons to be dangerous, consider spending a higher rookie pick on Winston than usual for a QB in your dynasty leagues. While we are keeping redraft expectations in check, he is a fringe starter in QB-flex leagues, and is a potentially useful bench player in 12-team or larger, traditional start one QB leagues.

2. Marcus Mariota, Titans

The most speculation leading up to the 2015 NFL Draft was when Marcus Mariota will be drafted and to which team. Rumors were swirling the former Oregon Ducks quarterback would be reunited with his former coach Chip Kelly in Philadelphia, or go the San Diego Chargers, or Cleveland Browns, but none of that came to fruition. Instead, Mariota went second overall to the Tennessee Titans. With a 36-5 record as a starter for the Oregon Ducks, Mariota is a dual-threat quarterback. He doesn’t have as strong an arm or pocket presence as Winston, but can hurt defenses with his legs. The Titans offense is in complete rebuild mode. Not only are the receivers young, between Justin Hunter, Kendall Wright and rookie Dorial Green-Beckham, but the Titans running game is also a work-in-progress, featuring sophomore Bishop Sankey and rookie David Cobb. Tough to say whether the Titans will roll out Mariota or let Zach Mettenberger take some lumps first, but the Titans travel to face the Buccaneers Week 1, so we know who the NFL has in mind for this matchup.

Dynasty Prospects

Outside of Winston and Mariota, the other quarterbacks drafted in 2015 were selected as backups who may develop into future replacements for current starting quarterbacks. All are dynasty stash and hold picks, and not draftable for redraft leagues.

Bryce Petty, Jets

In 2014, the New York Jets were abysmal at the quarterback position between Geno Smith and Michael Vick. In Week 8 last season versus the Buffalo Bills, Geno Smith had more interceptions (3) than completions (2, of 8 attempts). Yes, the Jets are in desperate need for a franchise quarterback. New Head Coach Todd Bowles is hoping Bryce Petty will be that guy. Unfortunately, Petty still has some developing to do and may not get a chance to start for another year or two; that is unless the very-opined Jets fan base has anything to say about it. In Petty’s first full season for the Baylor Bears, he passed for 4,200 yards, 32 touchdowns and only three interceptions. He also rushed for 14 touchdowns. The Jets have some offensive weapons in Eric Decker, Brandon Marshall and Jace Amaro, but if Smith falters the Jets likely turn to veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick before Petty this season.

Garrett Grayson, Saints

Garrett Grayson has the privilege to learn from Super Bowl winning quarterback Drew Brees. The investment in Grayson in the third round of the NFL Draft shows that Head Coach Sean Payton is preparing for the future without an aging Brees. Brees is still a few years away from hanging up the towel, so that gives Payton time to develop Grayson into the future franchise quarterback. With the acquisition of running back C.J. Spiller, and trading away Jimmy Graham and burner receiver Kenny Stills, it is apparent the Saints are leaning towards a more run-based offense, which takes pressure off of Brees and may help extend his career. Still, at 36 years old, it is a good time for the Saints to develop Brees’ successor.

Brett Hundley, Packers

Just like Grayson, Brett Hundley lands immediately into the backup role and opportunity to learn from one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers. The Green Bay Packers coaching staff likes athletic quarterbacks and Hundley fits that mold. Hundley needs to work on his pocket presence, but that develops with practice and time. While Hundley is not any sort of immediate threat to Rodgers, should A-Rod get injured then Hundley has an excellent supporting cast to work with and help streamline his development.

Sean Mannion, Rams

St. Louis Rams made a surprise trade during free agency when they traded away oft-injured quarterback Sam Bradford for former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles. Foles had an impressive rookie season in 2013, finished third in fantasy points per game, but was off to a bad start for the Eagles last season prior to breaking his collarbone. Now with the Rams, Foles will have a short leash with Head Coach Jeff Fisher. Mannion is a big man with a big arm; and will definitely be groomed for a future in St. Louis, and could find himself starting sooner than expected.