For the past few seasons, Ohio State got rewarded with dominate play makers. With the 2016 NFL Draft approaching, most of the Buckeye defense decided to migrate to the NFL and one of their biggest pieces is linebacker Darron Lee. He reminds many people of the Steelers weak side backer Ryan Shazier with whom they share a school and amazing athleticism. I reviewed several of Lee’s 2015 games against Michigan State, Notre Dame, Hawaii, and the last two Michigan contests to get a better feel for what this young man brings skills and attribute-wise to the next level. These are my thoughts:
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With the NFL Draft less than a month and a half away, there are plenty of players that many draftniks get excited about, but we aren’t quite sure how they will fit at the next level. One of those players is Washington’s Shaq Thompson. He got recruited as a safety and running back, but played much of his college career as a linebacker. I watched five of his games against BYU, UCLA, Stanford, Oregon State, and Illinois to get a feel for what skills he will bring to an NFL team. Much like NFLN’s Mike Mayock, I believe he could be a better strong safety than a linebacker. Scheme and coaching will make their mark too, but here is what I saw:
S/LB Shaq Thompson, Washington 6’ 228 lbs.
Cons: His size is that of a traditional NFL safety, not of a linebacker as he is more long and lean than stout and muscular. His timed forty at the Combine of 4.64 is not outstanding either, but well within a slower defensive back or slightly above average linebacker. My first concern is that he prefers to run around blocks instead of stepping up and shedding blockers. This extra time getting to the ball carrier might not be so costly in college, but it could be the difference between a two yard rush and a twenty yard play. Thompson makes about half of his tackles right around the ankles; it will be harder to bring down the best runners in the NFL that way. He is not strong at the point of attack and appears to absorb more force than he delivers. In pass coverage, the linebacker does well playing zone, but seems to struggle in man to man situations chasing someone all-round the field. Thompson has a little Troy Polomanu to his game with his gambling tendencies when he instinctively jumps gaps and/or launches himself towards targets when the outcome has not been decided.
In fantasy football, there are some new trends that I enjoy writing about: dynasty leagues, and individual defensive player leagues. This weekly column will combine two of those by discussing two young IDPs. I will give my scouting thoughts on how they played a particular week. Today I will be discussing the two young Jacksonville linebackers James Thomas and Telvin Smith.
LB-James Thomas, JAX- I am breaking my usual rookie to three years in the NFL clause with Thomas, because he did not play a snap in the NFL during his rookie season. In fact prior to this season, the fourth year linebacker accumulated statistics in 13 out of 48 possible games. The injury to stalwart Paul Posluszny opened up the door for this defensive outburst. He is a versatile linebacker who plays on the outside on normal down and distance, but lines up as an inside backer on passing downs. Thomas does a good job reading the quarterback’s eyes to get an idea of where he is going with the ball on passing downs and breaks quickly on the ball with good lateral agility. He steps up to attack the blocker on running plays, but doesn’t always show the physicality in shedding blockers.
The début of CBS Thursday Night Football featured two first round linebackers playing against each other from their college days into their now bitter rivalry in the AFC North. In every single rookie or start-up IDP draft I participated in this spring and summer, former Ohio State backer, Ryan Shazier, got drafted first. Then perhaps a few picks later former Alabama backer, CJ Mosley, got selected. Each linebacker has a talented veteran anchoring the inside along with them in 3-4 defenses, giving the rookies more of a free flow to the ball with fewer responsibilities. Let’s look at their performances against each other’s teams to get a better feel for their fantasy and NFL futures.
The NFL preseason is now over. Many younger and/or fringe players are fighting for roster spots on NFL and fantasy football teams as you read. We got slight glimpses into the thought pattern of some teams with how much or how little these athletes played and others we will never know. Here are my general thoughts about some of the more interesting younger players or free agents from the first half of their last preseason game.
Browns vs. Bears
This is one of those games only the fantasy community and the greater Northeast Ohio area could love (I speak from experience coming from Wayne County). Johnny Manziel plays like a crazy man. One minute the quarterback shows patience in the pocket, sets his feet, perhaps he bootlegs one side or the other, and then throws with a solid motion connecting downfield. On the very next play, the rookie tosses a wobbly duck across his body. Two plays after that Manziel doesn’t feel pressure and gets strip sacked. Fast forward to the next series, he runs around in the backfield trying to give his receivers time to get open downfield then runs for a five yard gain. Inconsistency is the name of his game. The running back race just got a lot tighter with rookie Isaiah Crowell showing up in the third quarter to have over one hundred yards on 13 carries. Yes, most of the people playing at that time are not NFL employees anymore, but the troubled free agent rookie finally shined carrying tacklers with him. Crowell got low, ran thru defenders, and demonstrated a high effort.
The witching hour is finally here. Preseason game three, the dress rehearsal for every NFL franchise and the most important game for fantasy football. The players get placed in real game scenarios and get game planned against. The only constant about the NFL is that it is always evolving and this week’s games are no different. I watched at least three-quarters to get the best idea about how these players would be used. Here are my observations:
Steelers vs. Eagles
Biases aside, this was an ugly game for Pittsburgh. You could almost feel the shadow of the drug arrests from the day before on runners Le’Veon Bell and LaGarrette Blount. Bell got touches early, bounced off some of the defenders, but left a lot of blocked openings unanswered. The second year back took a head shot, but came back a series later. Blount, however, appears strong/powerful at the point of attack with quick feet and good balance. Rookie Dri Archer got sent in motion the majority of the time he lined up in the backfield. The Eagles front seven seemed more ready for his quicks and wiggle than the other teams the Steelers faced as they did not allow many openings in the first three-quarters of play. Chemistry issues plagued second year receiver Markus Wheaton and Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben tried to get him involved early, but either their timing was off or Wheaton would bobble the pigskin. Last week’s highlight reel, rookie backer Ryan Shazier, was less active. He did not do as good of a job using his speed to prevent plays; instead the youngster spent most the game chasing down ball carriers several yards down the field. Ertz caught him out of position twice.
Here it is, another week of NFL preseason games. Hopefully your fantasy football players are more involved this week, so we might get a better idea about how each team will look like in the regular season. It’s critical to keep up with the NFL changing landscape, because it gives you a jump on the waiver wire and possible trade scenarios. My efforts concentrated on the younger players and/or new team additions. Here are some quick observations based on around the first three-quarters of each game:
Falcons vs Texans
The hype train led by HBO’s Hard Knocks and most of the fantasy community including myself is cooling in regards to rookie running back Devonta Freeman. He was the fourth member of the Atlanta backfield to show up. Sure he looks more productive against his competition, but then again much of the defense he played against won’t be in the league. The back got three snaps in the first half and one of those was for a kneel down play. The young player who is for real is second year inside backer, Paul Worrilow. He flows quickly to the ball, decoding the play almost instantaneously. Worrilow plays the run a little better than the pass, hits hard, and holds his own in pass coverage.
The monster known as Jadeveon Clowney made his presence felt against the Falcons first team offense. He anticipates where the ball is flowing, gets there before the offense, and strikes. His combination of vision, speed, and power is uncanny. Arian Foster owners take note, there are two backs that are vying for his scraps or an injury to him. Jonathan Grimes runs with power and balance. He is the steady back that has a little penance using a spin move or snaring a ball out of the air with his soft hands. The rookie Albert Blue gets lower and is much more explosive. The problem with Blue is that he doesn’t have the patience for the blocking scheme yet. Ever since Mobile, rookie tight CJ Fiedorowicz keeps growing on me. He is a good blocker who is always on the field and sneaks out for passes. Considering the uncertainty at quarterback, the tight ends and backs might be the most popular offensive weapons.
Today I’m reviewing the fantasy rookie draft connected with the 14 team league that I did a replacement owner draft (yesterday’s article). The most interesting part of this draft is that only around half of the owners had picks in the first round. There were two power player teams that were willing to trade out for a high price. I took a few notes on some picks that either surprised me or were good value. For inquiring minds, you can find the rookie draft here: http://football11.myfantasyleague.com/2014/options?L=48665&O=17.
1.08 WR Marqise Lee, Jaguars
Despite being able to start five wide receivers, I found this selection to be quite high. Will he be the WR1 or WR2 or WR3? There are still some injury concerns floating around with him and this was the earliest I saw him drafted.
The NFL Draft caused a major shift in my initial rankings due to defensive schemes used by certain teams and what roles each will play. I am ranking these linebackers in a three to four-year window. They got slotted by their total contribution: tackles, sacks (worth 2 1/2 times a tackle), and turnovers (worth double a tackle).
1.Jadeveon Clowney, OLB, Texans
It was a sad day for all IDP fantasy football players, because Clowney will play for the Texans as an outside linebacker, instead of a defensive end. An ultra-talented defensive end is quite difficult to find. Clowney remains disruptive force with his ability to rush the passer, force turnovers, and work all over the line of scrimmage. With JJ Watt also collapsing the pocket, expect double-digit sacks and plenty of forced fumbles. In leagues that aren’t so generous with rewarding point for sacks, drop him down to the middle of the linebacker pack.
First I would like to apologize to all the IDPers out there for the tardiness of my first defensive player list. We will look at the combined linebacker position and I rated them with a balanced scheme focus so a sack would be worth about two and a half times what a tackle is worth. I will also admit to a Senior Bowl bias as most of these players I got to see up close there.
1. OLB Khalil Mack, Buffalo
He is a thick, powerful backer with good burst to the ball. Mack disengages with blockers quickly keeping them off his body. Finds the ball quickly which helps him cause turnovers and negative plays for the offense. The outside linebacker moves around well, but struggles somewhat in pass coverage. In big play leagues, he is the best linebacker bar none!