The 2016 IDP Rankings Breakdown
My initial IDP rankings for the 2016 season have been released. Of course, since injuries and training camp battles may end up moving the needle on a few players, I'll continue to tweak the rankings throughout the offseason. The rankings are meant to establish a solid starting point for 2016 IDP drafters. Below, I’ll provide in-depth explanations for the rankings and I’ll also establish some tiers within each position.
Tier 1 (1-10)
It’s clear that the linebacker position is as deep and talented as it has ever been. However, offenses have countered with pass-heavy attacks that feature multiple wide receivers and force the defense to exchange linebackers for defensive backs, so it’s important to identify which LBs will be on the field for the majority of their team’s snaps.
Luke Kuechly and NaVorro Bowman are the two standouts at the position. Bowman returned with a vengeance last year after missing the entire 2014 season, notching 156 tackles (118 solo).
I have Telvin Smith ranked third after a breakout season for the Jaguars in 2015. Smith offers a nice mix of tackles and big plays.
Another name that will stand out: Alec Ogletree as LB8. If your league mates happen to use YTD points as basis of their drafting, Ogletree is going to provide an opportunity to take advantage of them this season. He was on pace for a monster year in 2015 before breaking his leg, producing a 16-percent tackle rate in four games. This year, Ogletree is going back to the middle for the Rams and could cannibalize Mark Barron’s tackle numbers.
Speaking of Barron, he’s now designated at LB since he’s manning the WILL (weak-side) this year; I have him ranked 26th. He finished as a DB6, but moves to a crowded group of talented linebackers.
While we're on the subject of cannibalizing numbers, this could be the last season that Lavonte David puts up top-5 numbers, thanks to the emergence of Kwon Alexander. David has had a monopoly on the tackles as WILL with the lack of talent at the LB position. I still don't have an issue with making him your top LB this year.
Tier 2 (11-26)
If you miss out on the top-10 guys, don’t worry -- some of the guys in spots 11 through 26 should be able to produce as LB1s, namely DeAndre Levy. Levy is another defender who represents an opportunity for drafters after he accumulated no points in 2015 due to a season-ending hip injury in Week 1, but looks to be ready in 2016. He recorded 0.28 points/snap in his last full season of work, so we know he has the upside to produce at a high level as far as tackles and big plays go. As of now, Levy is being drafted as LB19; he’s an LB1 coming in at a LB2 discount.
Danny Trevathan should log big snaps with the Bears and early ADP has him as an LB24, which he should exceed this year.
Deone Bucannon is another player who converted from safety to join the deep LB group. He’s going as LB11, and there are definitely a few defenders I’d grab ahead of him. But of the linebackers in this tier, Deone is one who could make the biggest leap in my rankings. He won’t have much competition for tackles, so the upside is there, no doubt.
Sean Lee always has upside, but always has injury risk as well. He has yet to play a full 16-game season in his career, but his 15-percent tackle rate over the last two seasons means 100 tackle upside is there. Lee is being drafted as the 31st LB off the board, but he’s a clear top-15 LB1/2 in my eyes.
Paul Posluszny is going to be polarizing. He’s been a tackle machine, still managing 103 solo tackles even with Telvin Smith’s breakout. But now throw in Myles Jack, and how will Posluszny get the tackles? I still have him ranked as LB18 (LB2 production).
My thoughts on Malcolm Smith seem to be in line with his early ADP. He came out of nowhere and finished as LB5 in tackle-heavy formats, and I have him as LB16. He’s still falling into that second to third tier, but has upside to finish in the top-10. However, he needs to prove he can produce 100-plus tackles again. Nevertheless, he was given a major opportunity last season with a career-high 1,142 snaps.
Ben Heeney gets a big bump with news that he's getting the dot. He'll wear the green dot as the defensive signal caller, so a three-down role is all but assured. He'll be a nice sleeper until word gets out. In the last four games of 2015, he produced three games of 11 or more fantasy points, averaging just over six tackles per game.
One guy I do like -- who I won’t mind reaching for -- is Jordan Hicks. Hicks took advantage of injuries to Mychal Kendricks and Kiko Alonso, notching 43 solo tackles (50 total) in just 451 snaps last season before a Week 9 injury landed him on IR. He’ll be calling the plays for Philly, so I’m looking for him to be a three-down LB.
If you’re looking for old-man value, look no further than D’Qwell Jackson. He’s being drafted as LB26, but I’ve got him in the top-15. With no Jerrell Freeman, Jackson has no competition for tackles.
I have four sophomores in my top-25, with Eric Kendricks and Stephone Anthony as fringe top-20 guys. Kendricks is going to have a full season at MIKE, while Anthony is coming off a 111 tackle campaign. I think Kendricks is being slightly over-drafted as LB10, ahead of guys like Levy, Lee, Hicks, Ryan Shazier, and Derrick Johnson, just to name a few.
One player who I just ranked out of the top-25 is Karlos Dansby. I wasn't quite sure what to make of him, however, he's locked in as SAM 'backer which torpedoes his IDP value and he could be spelled by Paul Dawson. He may not make it as a starter for the full season, so it might be best to let someone else take him in drafts.
Tier 3 (27-40)
The next tier (spots 27 through 40) offers upside and is where the first rookies appear. Myles Jack makes his appearance at 34, even though he is being drafted as LB11 in early ADP. Let’s pump the brakes here. If someone takes Jack as the 11th LB, don’t fret in redraft. I can see it in keeper or dynasty league, but otherwise I’d be happy taking guys like Stephone Anthony, Brandon Marshall, or DeAndre Levy instead.
One guy who is going unnoticed who I really like is Tahir Whitehead. Whitehead’s snap count decreased by 19 percent from 2014 to 2015, which led to a corresponding drop in tackle rate. However, he will be given an opportunity to compete for Detroit’s starting MIKE job, which is where he played in 2014 when he logged an 11.7-percent tackle rate.
I have two rookies ranked. I really like Deion Jones's upside as a rookie. I expect Jones to beat out the declining Paul Worrilow in Atlanta. Jones has been a tackle machine in the past (88 tackles last season for LSU), so the track record for production is there. Lee is another LB who should have opportunities. Darron Lee's (no longer ranked) stock has dropped after being bumped for Erin Henderson as starter, so Anthony Hitchens makes an appearance in the rankings as the Cowboys MIKE. Hitchens appeared in 538 defensive snaps in 2015, producing a 12.3-percent tackle rate, although it was a drop from 15.9 in 2014. As long as he remains on the field, he'll be a capable LB3.
Denzel Perryman is poised for a breakout sophomore year after recording a 15-percent tackle rate in 386 snaps as a rookie. I get chills extrapolating those numbers over a full season with 1,000-plus snaps. Oh, the possibilities. You can draft Perryman as an LB3/4 late and enjoy the LB2 upside.
Shaq Thompson is another sophomore linebacker that has made the jump into this tier. Like Perryman, he finds himself in the starting role and playing the IDP-friendly WLB position in Carolina's defense. A position that allowed Thomas Davis to average over 105 tackles per season over the last four. Thompson produced 13.7-percen tackle rate in 365 snaps and I look for him to make the jump to the 900 snap mark.
Tier 4 (41-55)
Spots 41 through 55 contain bench depth and some sleepers, one of which I really like is Todd Davis. Trevathan went to Chicago, so Davis will have an opportunity for snaps alongside Brandon Marshall. Over 426 career defensive snaps Davis has registered a near 10-percent tackle rate. He could line up in Trevathan’s old spot, a spot where Trevethan led the Broncos in tackles in two of the past three seasons.
You’ll be surprised to see Von Miller where he is. He really depends on your scoring format. In tackle-heavy formats, Miller finished as an LB58 in 2015. While he’s produced consecutive seasons of double-digit sacks, he hasn’t recorded 60 or more tackles since 2012. If you’re in leagues that favor the big plays and devalue tackles, Miller has LB3 upside.
Brian Cushing produced his first 100-tackle campaign since 2011 last season after struggling with injuries in the prior three seasons. Thanks to playing behind J.J. Watt, Cushing will get tackles for as long as he remains healthy.
Will Compton is expected to win the ILB job and over the last nine games of 2015, he averaged over seven tackles per game on his way to notching 94 tackles. If he's a three-down LB, he can push the 100-tackle mark and be had extremely cheap.
Blake Martinez is getting reps with the 1st team defense and has been turning heads already. He's on the re-draft radar and has the upside to finish as an LB3. Target him in this tier, but as news gets out, you might need to go a bit higher (which I have no problem doing).
I used to wait on the DL position, but with defenses seemingly more and more focused on getting to the QB, pass rushers are quickly becoming an important part of an IDP squad. With the depth at LB, you can draft one elite LB and one elite DL, and then wait on your DL2. I do think it’s becoming imperative to draft a DL that has the upside for 12 or more sacks.
Note: One guy you won’t see in my DL rankings, is Vic Beasley. It’s not because he’s not a talented rusher. Right now, Beasley is designated as a DL, but that’s going to change to LB, at which point his IDP value sinks. Unless you’re in a deeper league or big-play-scoring-dependent league, I’d avoid Beasley. It appears Atlanta is set on going with Courtney Upshaw as their LEO.
Tier 1 (1 and 2)
J.J. Watt is in his own tier and he’s going to come at a premium price. In IDP-mixed leagues, Watt’s ADP is around 35, which is a spot I don’t recommend taking him at. If you’re participating in all-IDP league, however, you can make an argument for drafting Watt first overall. He is one of the few defensive linemen that doesn’t leave the field and he has averaged 18 sacks over the last three seasons. He combines those sacks with rare tackle production for the DL position, averaging 78 per season. Watt is elite, but you’re going to pay Apple prices for his services.
Update: Watt underwent back surgery and is expected to miss the preseason. There's speculation he could miss the first few games of the regular season. Initial reaction is that I'm buying in re-draft leagues and looking to acquire via trade. Monitor his ADP to see if he falls. Doesn't change the fact that he's top DL and still one of the top IDPs off the board.
Khalil Mack enters the fray as MyFantasyLeague has updated their positional designations and Mack has moved to DL. His production surged in 2015, as he recorded 15 sacks and 77 tackles. Mack finished just behind in Watt in scoring, a Mack had seven games of 15+ points. In tackle-heavy formats, he finished as the DL2, which is where I see his 2016 ceiling. Watt and Mack are essentially 1a/1b in terms of tiers.
It’s tough to rank defensive tackles as high as defensive ends, but Aaron Donald is more than deserving of a top-5 ranking. In tackle-heavy and balanced formats, Donald finished as a DL3 last year, producing 11 sacks and 71 tackles. He also played over 900 defensive snaps and produced a solid 7.8-percent tackle rate. He’s turning into the defensive tackle version of Watt.
Carlos Dunlap appeared in 81 percent of the Bengals defensive snaps last season and notched 13.5 sacks. I don’t doubt him reaching similar numbers this season.
Robert Quinn dealt with injuries a year ago, but still managed five sacks in seven games and had a pressure rate of more than 25 percent. He’ll get back on track this season.
Some might think I have Olivier Vernon too high as he moves to a Giants defensive line with Jason Pierre-Paul, Jonathan Hankins and Kerry Wynn. Vernon produced a near 17-percent pressure rate last season, and if he duplicates that, I think he hits double-digit sacks for a defense that badly needs it.
Jabaal Sheard is set to shine on his own now that Chandler Jones has moved on from New England to Arizona. I loved Sheard’s 18-percent pressure rate last season, and he finished his last four games strong with four sacks. He should hit 10-plus sacks for the first time in his career this season and outperform his DL18 ADP.
Tier 3 (15-30)
At the 15th spot, my next defensive tackle makes his appearance; don’t sleep on Kawann Short. Short managed a near-14-percent pressure rate in 2015, which is elite for a DT.
Stephon Tuitt is ready to take the next step entering his third year and should be given every opportunity to get to the QB. Tuitt appeared on 78 percent of Pittsburgh’s snaps and managed a pressure rate around nine percent in 2015. If he can hit the 10 percent mark or higher, double-digit sacks should be within reach. It’s worth noting Tuitt has increased his pressure rate in each of his first two seasons and Pittsburgh continues to improve their secondary; better coverage leads to more pressure on the QB.
Don’t sleep on Robert Ayers, either, as he’ll be given every opportunity to shine in Tampa. Ayers produced a 13-percent pressure rate last season, resulting in a career-high nine sacks. It’s hard not to love the seven sacks in the last five games of 2015, and Ayers did that despite appearing in fewer than 50 percent of the snaps. I’m expecting a bump to around 65 percent in 2016.
The Miami defensive ends will be subject to debate all draft season. My guess is that Mario Williams and Cameron Wake will end up being the starters, with Andre Branch relegated to a rotational role.
Kony Ealy was one of my breakout candidates last year, and his rise should continue into 2016.
Tier 4 (31-55)
When you get outside of the top-30, you’re still looking at talent that can produce DL2/3 numbers. I love the Eagles combo of Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham. Graham will move from an edge OLB to a 4-3 DL and his coming off career-highs in tackles (39) and sacks (6.5). Curry managed to produce a 14-percent pressure rate despite appearing in only 35 percent of the defensive snaps, and appears to be on the verge of being freed.
I'm dropping Rob Ninkovich into this tier due to the combination of a triceps injury and four-game suspension. He's no more than a DE4 at this point.
Danielle Hunter enjoyed a fine rookie year in Minnesota and should capitalize on more snaps and blitzes as a sophomore. You can draft him as a DL3/4 and enjoy DL2 upside as he’s being drafted as a DL23.
Henry Anderson is another lineman that your league mates could be sleeping on. Anderson landed on IR in Week 9 of 2015 but should be good to go for Week 1 of 2016. He managed a pressure rate just under 10 percent and is one of Indy’s more talented defensive players.
Dante Fowler is a nice draft-and-stash as depth. He has the upside to produce as a DL2 if he appears in more than 50 percent of the snaps.
Tier 1 (1)
Defensive back is the most volatile position in IDP. There is no reason to reach too high here, so if you miss out on my top target, don’t worry. DBs are sure emerge throughout the year; look no further than Malcolm Jenkins last season.
My top DB is Reshad Jones and he’s in his own tier. Jones produces like an LB at the DB position, adding in a mix of big plays thanks to his ball-hawking skills. He recorded five interceptions and made a play on the ball on 16 percent of passes targeted at him. Jones was remarkably consistent, recording 17 or more fantasy points in 11 of the 16 games in 2015. He is an elite DB.
Tier 2 (2-15)
Tyrann Mathieu was on his way to an elite season until a torn ACL derailed him in Week 15. Before he went down, Mathieu was producing a 10.1-percent tackle rate, including 81 solo tackles, and was making a play on the ball just under nine percent of the time. He’s a slot corner that can also play safety, but should be fine no matter where he lines up as long as he’s healthy.
Corey Graham exploded onto the IDP scene in 2015 at safety. Graham’s career high in tackles was 91 up until last season, when he easily exceeded that with 127 (including 95 solos). Graham is a reliable player on the back end that hasn’t missed a game since 2007. He’s set to remain at safety, where he’ll be a solid DB3.
I’m surprised Eric Weddle didn’t get more attention on the free agent market. He should be playing with a chip on his shoulder in Baltimore, where he’ll replace an ineffective Will Hill. Weddle notched his lowest tackle total since 2007 (79) in 2015, but his track record suggests a rebound: he’s averaged 102 tackles over his last seven seasons.
Two of my favorite DBs in the 2 through 15 tier: Landon Collins and Kenny Vaccaro. Collins has the build of a linebacker and finished his rookie season with 112 tackles (10.2-percent tackle rate). He’ll continue to play safety and play near the line of scrimmage to help mask the Giants deficiencies at the LB position. Vaccaro produced a career-high 104 tackles, and even chipped in three sacks. He began to play near the line of scrimmage on more snaps last season, which should continue, especially if Jairus Byrd remains healthy.
Harrison Smith is entering a contract year, so he has some added motivation to produce. He has already missed 11 games over his four-year career, but has been productive when healthy, producing 12 interceptions, including four pick-sixes. In the two seasons he’s played in a full 16 games, he’s averaged 98 tackles per season. I think Smith’s ADP as the 6th DB off the board is about right -- he has the upside to produce DB1 overall numbers.
Jonathan Cyprien gets a bump into this tier with James Sample being put on IR by the Jags. Even though Cyprien has the knack for missing tackles, he's averaged nearly 108 tackles per season. His numbers could be cannibalized a bit with the Jags additional moves up front.
Tier 3 (16-25)
In the 16 through 25 group, I love Clayton Geathers, whom Chuck Pagano has already indicated will start at strong safety. In just 271 snaps, Geathers produced a 12.5 percent tackle rate, so the upside is there for DB2 production if he gets 900-plus snaps in 2016.
Marcus Peters is being drafted among the top DBs (DB4), which I can’t get on board with. In tackle-heavy formats, Peters finished as a DB13 for the Chiefs in 2015, and I can see him settling in around DB19. His upside is through the roof, however: he nabbed eight interceptions as a rookie and made a play on the ball on nearly 13 percent of the passes that were targeted at him.
Ronald Darby is another sophomore corner that had a productive rookie year, defending 21 passes and notching 61 solo tackles. I think Darby makes another leap and converts some of those defended passes into picks.
Lardarius Webb is an intriguing DB as he moves to free safety. I think he has DB2 potential because of his ball-hawking skills. He played at the safety last year, so the tackle upside is there, plus he’s defended eight or more passes in four of the last five seasons.
Washington’s addition of Josh Norman should help Bashaud Breeland see more passes. Breeland made a play on the ball nearly 18 percent of the time he was thrown at a season ago. With Norman discouraging opposing QBs on the other side, Breeland should see more targets, leading to more chances at interceptions and defended passes to go along with a solid nine-percent tackle rate.
There are a few DBs that can produce as DB3s and worth bench spots. Keanu Neal is the first rookie DB that appears in the rankings. He appeares set to start at strong safety and he should be on the field for the majority of snaps. Neal has been viewed as Dan Quinn's version of Kam Chancellor: a big hitting safety that’s going to line up wherever he’ll have the most impact. He’s this year’s Landon Collins.
Tier 4 (26-45)
Update: Su'a Cravens was removed since he's been moved to LB
Jahleel Addae is a nice DB sleeper. With Weddle gone, Addae gets an opportunity to play strong safety for the Chargers. Last season, Addae appeared on over 70 percent of the snaps and produced a nine-percent tackle rate.
Coming off an 86-tackle campaign, Bradley McDougald has DB2 upside this season. If he can reach upwards of 950 snaps, he could hit the century mark in tackles. He did produce a 9.6-percent tackle rate in 2015, so there’s a lot to like from the fourth-year Buccaneers DB this season. Rafael Bush appears to be line to get first crack at starting strong safety. Bush is flying under the radar after appearing in just a game last season. In 2013 and 2014, Bush produced a near 10-percent tackle rate in 982 defensive snaps. He can be had as bench depth, but he'll have to fend off Miles Killebrew and Tavon Wilson, but is still worth a flier late in your draft.
Two guys that are currently near the bottom of the rankings but could see a big bump are Sean Davis and Jaquiski Tartt. The Steelers are not happy with Shamarko Thomas’s development, so Davis will line up at strong safety with Michael Mitchell at the free. Davis can also play corner, but he’ll play the majority of the snaps at strong safety and should be tasked with covering athletic tight ends, thus, providing IDP value at the outset. Tartt will battle Antoine Bethea for the starting job after playing well in Bethea’s absence as a rookie, appearing on 63 percent of the snaps and producing a nine percent tackle rate. Tartt carries sleeper appeal and can be had late in drafts.
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