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2013 Rookie Rankings Defense

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When you have a guy who can rush the passer and cover slot receivers, you're dealing with an exceptional athlete. Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
When you have a guy who can rush the passer and cover slot receivers, you're dealing with an exceptional athlete. Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

IDP fantasy football may be the final frontier, but it’s not without struggles. It’s much more difficult scouting the defensive side of the ball in fantasy because sometimes the best IDP players are not the best NFL players. Keep that in mind when you’re considering your IDP options.

2012 was a bountiful year for rookie defensive performers with four Top 10 linebackers and two Top 10 defensive backs. You could get technical and take away Zach Brown’s insane Week 17 performance which puts him back into the 20s overall. Does this year’s class have enough talent to keep up?

As always, scoring systems are critical in your determination of which players are the best. If you give higher bonuses for sacks, defensive ends and 3-4 linebackers who rush the passer are going to shoot up the rankings. Naturally your tacklers are the guys to target, and that equals linebackers and safeties. Don’t forget the rookie cornerback rule. Rookie cornerbacks get targeted a lot, which leads to more tackles, broken up passes, and interceptions. Janoris Jenkins took advantage of that “rule” on way to a DB3 finish.

Which teams draft these players will be exceptionally important to their end results, and it’s why any rankings should be in pencil, at least until the NFL Draft has been complete. I’ll post five players to watch at each position, along with one sleeper. Note that with the fluidity of positions, I’ll post one list of guys who should be defensive linemen, the DE/LB “tweeners” and a list of pure linebackers before moving on to the defensive backs. It’s going to take until the draft to learn how to spell some of these names.

Defensive Ends

1.     Bjoern Werner – DE, Florida State (4-3 DE): Look at a lot of pre-draft rankings and note that Florida State had some monster talent last year.  Werner was a German exchange student who had less than two years of American football experience when he went to Florida State. As a junior, he won the 2012 ACC Defensive Player of the Year award. He’s projected to play the strong side, so his sack totals may take time to ramp up. Note that elite college defensive linemen often need a year or two before becoming elite fantasy options.

2.     Ezekial Ansah – DE BYU (4-3 DE): Ansah is a native of Ghana who initially was a basketball prospect at BYU before joining the football team in 2010. Bjoern Werner is a well-done steak compared to Ansah’s raw hunk of meat. He became a starter as a senior and played all over the field, lining up as a 3-4 OLB, a 4-3 DE, and even some nose tackle in the hybrid Cougars defense. NFL teams will draft him for the athletic upside. You’d be best served to take him as a long-term prospect

3.     Damontre Moore, DE Texas A&M (4-3 DE): Moore’s another prospect who played 3-4 rush linebacker and 4-3 DE in college. He played the latter role in 2012 for new head coach Kevin Sumlin. He had 21 tackles for loss as a junior.

4.     Sam Montgomery, DE LSU (4-3 DE): Montgomery played on the weakside opposite Barkevious Mingo. He’s another latecomer who started playing football in 2007. There are questions about Montgomery’s ability to play hard every play, especially when he admitted not playing as hard against weaker teams in an article by The Advocate in Baton Rouge. That wasn’t the smartest thing to say when he’s interviewing for the job of his life.

5.     Cornellius “Tank” Carradine, DE Florida State (4-3 DE): Carradine isn’t fifth because he his raw, it’s because he’s injured. As a senior, Carradine had 11 sacks and 13 tackles for loss. He also tore his ACL during a December game against Florida, putting his 2013 season in doubt.

Sleeper: Margus Hunt, SMU: Hunt is not an NFL draft sleeper, and in fact, he’ll probably be a second-day pick. He’s an unusual prospect in that he is 6’7 and 280 pounds. Oh yeah, he’s 26 years old. Older prospects get pushed down draft boards. Hunt’s 4.6 40 speed at 280 pounds and his 10 blocked kicks in college will earn him a good draft spot. Consider Hunt’s contributions on special teams as a bonus for your fantasy squad.

Defensive End/Linebacker tweeners

1.     Dion Jordon, OLB Oregon (3-4 OLB): Jordon’s been listed as a DE in a lot of pre-draft lists. He played defensive end and linebacker at Oregon, and last year he covered slot receivers on passing downs. A player who has the ability to cover the slot and rush the passer is rare. If he’s primarily rushing the passer, he has the potential to be the top 3-4 LB in this year’s class.

2.     Barkevious Mingo – DE LSU (4-3 DE or 3-4 OLB): Add Mingo to the list of raw athletic superhumans on this list. He’s a little small (241 pounds) to be an every-down defensive end, but he could fit in nicely at 3-4 rush linebacker. I bet guys who have played football since Pop Warner are annoyed by these latecomers being so highly touted. Mingo started playing football as a junior in high school.

3.     Jarvis Jones, OLB Georgia (3-4 or 4-3 OLB): Jones has no issues as a player. He had 14.5 sacks as a redshirt junior. Jones makes the plays that make IDP fantasy footballers drool with a ton of tackles for loss and forced fumbles. He suffered a neck injury as a freshman at USC before transferring to Georgia, and spinal stenosis could shorten his career.  He’s had a poor pre-draft season so far, and may drop to the second round, but few DE/LB prospects have more upside.

4.     Jamie Collins – OLB Southern Miss (3-4 OLB): While experts talk all the time about how the NFL Combine is just a part of the pre-draft process and has little impact on a player’s eventual landing spot, some guys just impress. Collins had one of the best combines of any defensive player with a 4.64 40 and a 41.5-inch vertical. He was a high-school QB, so you know the athleticism and leadership are there.  Collins has experience at defensive end and linebacker, which is a plus in today’s “multiple” NFL landscape.

5.     Sio Moore – OLB Connecticut (3-4 OLB/4-3 OLB): Where did Connecticut get so many NFL prospects? In Moore’s case, he grew up in Connecticut but was born in Liberia. Moore had almost 200 tackles in his final two years in college, including 32 for a loss.

Sleeper: Corey Lemonier – DE/OLB Auburn (3-4 OLB): Lemonier had a pedestrian statistical season in 2012 on an Auburn defensive line that was pushed around all year. An ankle injury may have slowed his progress. Lemonier had a fantastic sophomore year with 13.5 tackles for loss and five forced fumbles. Big-play potential is what you’re looking for from a 3-4 OLB.

Linebackers

1.     Kevin Minter, MLB LSU (MLB): If you can find a three-down middle linebacker, you have a potential fantasy bonanza. Think Bobby Wagner from last year. Minter was LSU’s MVP last year, and there’s a pile of LSU guys entering the draft. If he goes to a 4-3 team that has an immediate need at MLB, he’s your top LB draft target.

2.     Khaseem Greene, OLB Rutgers (4-3 OLB): Because of the advent of more 3-4 defensive schemes, it’s not as easy to track down a 4-3 weakside linebacker. Greene is that guy. He played safety his first two years of college and moved to weakside backer for his final two years of college. He racked up 276 tackles in those two years.

3.     Alec Ogletree, MLB Georgia (MLB): Ogletree probably is a better prospect than Minter at MLB and could be drafted higher in April. His problems are off the field. He started at Georgia as a safety, which shows his athleticism. Check out his blocked field goal returned for a TD against Alabama in the SEC Championship game, as an example of his athleticism. A recent DUI may move him out of the first round. If you like risk with tons of upside, Ogletree is your guy.

4.     Arthur Brown, OLB Kansas State (4-3 OLB/3-4 ILB): He’s not a sleeper as much as he is one of the best potential 4-3 linebackers in the draft. Arthur Brown is the brother of Bryce Brown. Nice bloodlines, dude. He played inside and outside in college, so he could fit as an OLB in a 4-3 scheme or an ILB in a 3-4 scheme.

5.     Manti Te’o: MLB, Notre Dame (MLB): Te’o’s poor BCS National Championship game and the tale of the invisible girlfriend that’s followed him all offseason have covered up his great senior year and career at Notre Dame.  Te’o had seven interceptions last year, which is pretty nuts for a linebacker.  It’s only going to take one team with a need at MLB to overcome the recent off-field nonsense and the so-so combine numbers.

Sleeper: Kevin Reddick, MLB North Carolina (MLB): Reddick led North Carolina’s defense in tackles in 2010, and that defense featured three other future NFL linebackers in Bruce Carter, Quan Sturdivant and Zach Brown. He may end up as an inside linebacker on a team that runs a 3-4. His blitzing capabilities makes him a good late target.

Defensive Backs

1.     Kenny Vaccaro, SS Texas: I prefer to take safeties over cornerbacks in fantasy, although I’ll go for a good rookie corner when the price is right. Vaccaro was a special-teams star at Texas who also was a cornerback in nickel situations. That’s a good sign in terms of athleticism and his potential for plenty of playing time.

2.     Dee Milliner, CB Alabama: If you’re taking a cornerback as a rookie IDP selection, get one who is going to be targeted a ton. If Milliner goes in the Top 10 to the Lions, as has been projected, he’s going to face guys like Brandon Marshall, Greg Jennings, and Jordy Nelson. Expect a lot of tackles in that scenario. Just know that he’s not likely to return kicks, which is where your cornerbacks can really rack up the points.

3.     Matt Elam, SS Florida: He’s the kind of in-the-box safety you want on your team. Elam likes to make the big hits. In the NFL, a sure tackler is going to have a longer career. He has the speed to play either safety position.

4.     Jonathan Cyprien, SS FIU: For a small-school guy to be in the Top Five list is a big deal. He started all four years for the Panthers of FIU and is the school’s all-time leading tackler. Cyprien is best suited for a SS role in the NFL.

5.     Eric Reid, SS LSU: Getting compared to Mark Barron, a Top 10 pick from last year’s draft, is never bad. He has potential in the box and in coverage. Being overaggressive can be an issue, but that’s the case with a lot of young athletic players. Like the rest of these guys, Reid is likely to get a shot to start as a rookie.

Sleeper: Tyrann Mathieu, CB LSU: I couldn’t resist not including the Honey Badger. He may be ideally suited as a nickel/slot corner in the NFL, which may limit his opportunities. If Mathieu can get on the field regularly, he’s an ace as a punt returner. Patrick Peterson was a beast as a returner and rookie corner. Mathieu doesn’t have the shutdown CB skills, but he gets a boost due to his return skills.