Eyes of the Guru - AFC East
By John Norton
June 21st, 2010

Welcome back IDP addicts, to year fifteen of the Eyes of the Guru! If you're looking for in depth coverage on the defensive side of the ball you have come to the right place. No one covers the game better than The Footballguys and I am proud that both I and the EOTG are a part of the team. You will find nothing but fantasy football in this report. No contract talk, no police reports. Only the stuff that matters.

As many of you know, I changed up the format of the preseason article last year. The feedback I received from some of you was mixed. Some liked that it was a shorter read and easier to manage while others missed the depth of previous years. The next step in the evolution is here. This year I will follow the old format by breaking down each team level by level, but I am going to break it up into eight divisional installments over the course of the summer. This should make life a little easier for me while providing you the same product you expect and deserve. These should come out about every two weeks from now through the middle of August.

For reference, when I mention where guys finished in the rankings last season, my model will be the recently updated Footballguys scoring system which is nearly identical to the North American Fantasy Football Addicts (NAFFA) league I have run for the past 15 years. Feel free to check it out. Defensive scoring in this league is the standard stuff but keep in mind rankings will vary a bit from league to league. From time to time I will reference the "rookie corner rule". Those of you who are familiar with the EOTG report know what that is. For those who are new, the rookie corner rule is basically the fact that in the NFL, starting a rookie at corner is like throwing chum to the sharks. Offensive coordinators will target young and inexperienced players as weaknesses thus these guys have an accelerated number of opportunities. Most often these guys are the cream of the crop at the position (which is why they are starting so soon) and their numbers will begin to drop sharply after their rookie seasons. When I mention tackle numbers, I do not lump assists and solo tackles together. Unless I make a reference one way or the other, I am talking about solo tackles. Without further adieu... Lets get busy.

Buffalo Bills

Defensive Linemen

Aaron Schobel has long been among the most dependable defensive linemen in the fantasy game and Kyle Williams has been a top 10 defensive tackle in each of the past two seasons. None of that matters now as the Bills are following the trend and shifting to a 3-4 this year. The initial thought is that Schobel will move to OLB but as of mid June it looks more and more like he will retire instead. The 32 year old Veteran has not participated in the team's offseason program or mini camps. Schobel began talking about retirement at the end of last season, even before the club had committed to the new scheme. He still has gas in the tank so there is always hope he'll be traded to a 4-3 club and elect to play a little longer. If you are sitting on him in a dynasty league you may not want to be too quick on the trigger. The Bills have made several moves this offseason to prepare for the new scheme. The drafted nose tackle Torrell Troup in the second round, Alex Carrington in the third and added former Raven Dwan Edwards. What we don't know is where and/or how guys like Williams, Marcus Stroud and Spencer Johnson will fit in to the new puzzle. Troup is almost certain to start at NT eventually but the coaches will take a look at both Stroud, Williams and maybe even Edwards at the position. My educated guess is that the opening day lineup will be Williams and Edwards at the ends and Stroud in the middle. Williams could still retain a little value, especially if your leagues database leaves him as a DT. He's the kind of player who could post 40+ tackles and 5-6 sacks even as a 3-4 end. That said, nothing is certain here. We thought Corey Williams would make a successful transition when he went from Green Bay to Cleveland a couple of years back but that experiment failed. Williams is a very similar player. The bottom line here is that as usual, a 3-4 scheme will be very limiting on the box score production of anyone in the front three. Take a shot on Williams late but don't get too excited about any of these guys.

Fantasy Outlook

  • DE Kyle Williams - Depth in most leagues with a little upside
  • DE Dwan Edwards - Minimal value at best with no upside
  • DE/NT Marcus Stroud- Possible starter in tackle required leagues
  • NT Torrell Troup - Potential starter in tackle required leagues
  • DE Spencer Johnson - No value
  • DE Alex Carrington - Good fit as 3-4 end but potential is limited by the scheme
  • DE John McCargo - No value, may not even make the team.
  • Linebackers

    Don't make the mistake of downgrading Paul Posluszny because of the 3-4 scheme. In fact it may even be a plus for him if one of their NT prospects plays well. He'll line up at the weak ILB position which is generally the most productive in these schemes, and will be an every down player. The Bills are not going to be very good on offense this year (unless they can get a QB) and anytime a team transitions from 4-3 to 3-4 there is a learning curve. Not to mention that it takes at least a couple of years to get the right personnel in place. All this points to the defense being on the field for a ton of snaps and Posluszny having a great deal of opportunity. Despite missing four games last year he put up 87 solo stops with 3 picks, 3 forced fumbles and a sack. I expect a career best in the tackle columns from him though his big play potential may take a hit in the first year of the scheme. The only risk I see here is that Posluszny has struggled just a little to stay healthy during his three years in the league. Don't mark off too many points for that though... There is an interesting battle brewing at the other ILB position between Kawika Mitchell and Andra Davis. Both are solid veteran options. Mitchell has more big play ability and is not as much a liability in coverage but is coming off a knee injury that ended his '09 season. Word is that he'll be ready for camp but being able to participate and being 100% aren't the same thing. There is also some possibility that he'll be moved outside if none of the young/unproven guys pan out there. At 253 pounds a healthy Mitchell should be a very good fit at the strong ILB position. He has the size to take on blockers and enough speed and athleticism to be used on the blitz or in coverage. If he's healthy I would expect the job to be his. What Davis has going for him is experience in the scheme and the ability to be a force versus the run. Barring an injury to Posluszny, neither Mitchell nor Davis are going to put up big numbers. That said, when you consider the situation, the winner of this job is going to have plenty of opportunity even if they are only on the field for early downs. Watch this one closely and don't hesitate to grab the winner as a late round backup... The success of any 3-4 scheme relies largely on the ability of the OLBs to pressure the QB and make game changing plays. When teams make the switch from a 4-3 they often struggle to find guys who can get the job done. The Bills have some guys with the skill set to be successful but they have no one with experience. Aaron Maybin and Chris Kelsay are the favorites to be the opening day starters. Maybin was the team's first round pick last season but made no impact at DE. He was considered by many as a 3-4 prospect coming out of college and probably has the most potential to succeed. Kelsay put up strong tackle numbers from the DE position but has never been better than average as a pass rusher. If Kelsay is still listed as a DE he could have pretty good value in a balanced or tackle heavy scoring system. If you are looking for a late round sleeper in your big play league, Maybin is your best shot here.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • ILB Paul Posluszny - Quality LB #1, likely top 10
  • ILB Kawika Mitchell - Late round depth in most 12 team leagues if healthy
  • ILB Andra Davis - Depth in most leagues if he can win the starting job
  • ILB Keith Ellison - No value, on the roster bubble entering camp
  • ILB Reggie Torbor - No value
  • OLB Aaron Maybin - Sleeper in big play scoring systems
  • OLB Chris Kelsay - Should have value in tackle heavy leagues that list him at DE
  • OLB/DE Aaron Schobel - Unlikely to play in Buffalo if at all
  • OLB Chris Ellis - Could push for playing time
  • OLB Arthur Moats - Developmental prospect
  • OLB Dan Batten - Developmental prospect
  • Defensive Backs

    Injuries provided opportunity for several players in the Bills secondary last season and have created a real dilemma for IDP owners this summer. There will be four guys battling for the starting safety positions when camp opens. 2006 first round pick Donte Whitner could end up on the bench here after rookie FS Jairus Byrd lit up the league for nine picks in 13 games last year. That's 5 more than Whitner has in his career. The veteran might move to SS but his path there will likely be blocked by transplanted WR George Wilson who started the final 13 games in '09. Wilson's 70 solo stops were second on the team and he added 4 picks of his own for a very impressive top 12 finish. The other player in the mix is Bryan Scott who is kind of getting the shaft in all this. Scott was playing well at SS when injuries at LB prompted the coaching staff to move him to WLB where he was soon injured himself. That move/injury opened the door for Wilson at safety, and the switch to the 3-4 makes Scott a poor fit at any of the LB position. Byrd seems a lock to start at FS and Wilson will enter camp as the favorite for the SS job, but this one is far from a sure thing. What is a sure thing is that the SS position in Buffalo is going to be a target rich environment again this season and whom ever comes away as the starter has top 10 potential. Drafting any of these guys is a risk but if you get the right one the reward could be huge. What you don't want to do is spend an early pick on Byrd. Sure the picks were impressive but the chances of his repeating that production is slim to none, and he only put up 33 solo stops. Someone will pick him way to early, don't be that someone. The other factor to consider here is the new defense. While we generally spend all our time talking about the differences in the front seven between the 3-4 and 4-3, there is an impact in the secondary as well. With more linebackers on the field the FS position on a 3-4 club is rarely productive. Especially in the tackle columns. Wilson should be the first of these guys off the board... For years the Bills corners have been solid for us. Nate Clements as few years ago and Terrence McGee more recently, have annually been among the most consistent producers at the position. The 3-4 will likely bring that to a halt as well. In their previous cover 2 scheme the corners would play more press coverage where they would be positioned closer to the line of scrimmage at the snap and had run support opportunity. The 3-4 calls for more of the traditional zone coverage and will likely keep all the Bills corners out of the top 25.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • S Donte Whitner - Likely the odd man out
  • S George Wilson - Possible top 10 DB if he lands the SS job full time
  • S Bryan Scott - Sleeper/injury pickup who will produce if he gets on the field
  • S Jairus Byrd - Overvalued, stay away unless your scoring is big play based
  • CB Terrence McGee - Possible starter in corner required leagues
  • CB Leodis McKelvin - Depth in corner required leagues
  • CB Reggie Corner - No value
  • CB Drayton Florence - No Value
  • New England Patriots

    Defensive Linemen

    The Patriots remain deep along the DL even after shipping mainstay Richard Seymour to the West Coast last season. The additions of veterans Damione Lewis and Gerard Warren more than sufficiently restocked the shelves and likely saved some cash as Seymour was at the end of his contract and looking for a payday. Mike Wright stepped in after Seymour departed and did a fine job. He will enter camp as the starter and likely hold off any challenge from the veteran additions. Ty Warren is locked in at the other end position and Vince Wilfork's NT job is not in jeopardy despite the presence of '09 second round pick Ron Brace. While the Patriots have assembled a strong unit with plenty of depth, there is just not much to get excited about from a fantasy perspective. Back in 2006 Warren had a great season with 56 tackles, 28 assists and 7.5 sacks, but his three seasons since have produced just 6 total sacks and an average of 32 solo stops. Wilfork has put up 40 or more tackle three times in the last five years but has averaged just 1 sack per season over his career. When you consider that the Patriots like to give everyone a role and will likely use a rotation along the DL, we need to look elsewhere for our needs. The only possible exception being that Wilfork may be roster worthy in larger leagues that require interior linemen.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • DE Ty Warren - Minimal value at best
  • DE Mike Wright - Minimal value at best
  • DE Damione Lewis - No value
  • DE/NT Gerard Warren - No value
  • DE Brandon Deaderick - No value
  • NT Vince Wilfork - Possible depth in tackle required leagues
  • NT/DE Ron Brace - No value
  • NT Myron Pryor - No Value
  • Linebackers

    Many owners will make the mistake of just looking at a guy's overall numbers from the previous year. Don't be that owner when it comes to Jerod Mayo. If you add the four games he missed last season to his 70 tackle total it would have put him well over the 90 solo mark. Mayo went 100-28 as a rookie and is very productive in the tackle columns, averaging just over 6 solo stops a game. The only thing holding him back is a glaring lack of big play production. In 28 NFL games Mayo has just 1 fumble recovery, 1.5 sacks, 4 passes defended and he's still looking for that first interception. I consider him just outside the second tier of linebackers, making him a quality #2 starter or excellent #3... There could be an interesting competition for the other ILB job in New England. Veteran Gary Guyton held the job last year and did an adequate job in NFL terms, but he didn't perform well enough to keep the team from drafting Brandon Spikes in the second round. Guyton is not the physical run stuffing type but excels as a coverage guy. In 2008 he worked almost exclusively in the nickel packages. With Spikes on board, Guyton could return to a similar role. On the other hand, Spikes is a 6-3, 249 pound wrecking ball when it comes to run support, but lacks the speed and coverage skills to be an every down player. He reminds me a lot of Bills ILB Andra Davis and seems likely to contribute the same kind of production as a two down participant. The wild card here is 2009 third round pick Tyrone McKenzie. McKenzie missed all of last season after tearing up his knee in mini camp, but could throw his name in the hat for playing time if he can get back to 100%. He's not a big or physical as Spikes or as good in coverage as Guyton but may be a better all around player. Even if he is not a factor for the starting job next to Mayo, he could be the guy that plays every down should Mayo be injured... One problem the Patriots have is the lack of a dominating OLB. Tully Banta-Cain starts on one side. He led the club with a career best 9.5 sacks a year ago but only recorded 35 solo tackles. Despite the very respectable sack numbers, he's simply not a special player. Derrick Burgess went 27-7-5 last year and was resigned to compete for the other OLB job, but the 32 year old former DE didn't exactly excel as a stand up LB. The club used a second round pick on Jermaine Cunningham in hope that he can improve the position for them, and they get last year's third round pick Shawn Crable back from injury. He was turning some heads before going down and the coaching staff hopes he can pick up where he left off. The bottom line here is that until someone steps up from this group, there is not a lot of help for us here.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • ILB Jerod Mayo - Quality LB2 or excellent LB3
  • ILB Gary Guyton - No value
  • ILB Brandon Spikes - Probably no more than quality depth but has a little upside
  • ILB Tyrone McKenzie - Deep (injury) sleeper
  • OLB Tully Banta-Cain - Minimal value, possible depth in big play heavy scoring systems
  • OLB Derrick Burgess - No value
  • OLB Jermaine Cunningham - Sleeper, especially in big play scoring systems
  • OLB Pierre Woods - No value
  • OLB Shawn Crable - Deep sleeper in big play scoring systems
  • Defensive Backs

    With a couple of starting jobs up for grabs there is a lot of uncertainty in the Patriots defensive backfield. The two guys who we know will start are Leigh Bodden on the corner and Brandon Meriweather at free safety. As corners go, Bodden is productive enough to deserve some consideration as a second starter or depth in leagues that break out the DB positions. With the Browns in 2007 he was the game's top fantasy corner with 76 solo stops and 9 takeaways. As a Lion in '08 those numbers dropped substantially. His first year with the Patriots produced a modest 47 tackles but was a bounce back year for Bodden in the big play columns. His 5 picks and a fumble recovery helped him to finish as the 22nd ranked corner. 50 tackles and half a dozen big plays are reasonable expectations for him... Meriweather is among the most overrated safeties in the fantasy game. I continually see owners take him as their #1 DB and see experts rank him 10+ slots too high. Don't get me wrong here, Meriweather is a fine NFL player, but in fantasy terms he just doesn't produce at a top fifteen level. In 2008 he totaled a career best in tackles at 61, and added 4 interceptions to finish as the #27 DB overall. His reputation was aided greatly that season when he shifted to SS down the stretch and put up some pretty strong tackle numbers in November and December. He returned to FS last season going 53-30 in the tackle columns with a career best 5 picks and a final ranking in the low 20 range. That's about what we should expect from him this season. In general the FS position in a 3-4 schemes tend to be a little restrictive when it comes to run support duties, but does tend to provide big play opportunity. Meriweather makes the most of what opportunity he has and is a viable DB2 or a strong DB3 for most of us. Bump him up considerably if your league emphasizes big plays... The corner position opposite Bodden will be heavily contested during training camp. Last year's second round pick Darius Butler played pretty well when pressed into action during the second half of the season. He will battle third year man Jonathan Wilhite and this year's first round pick Devin McCourty. If one of these guys can establish himself as the every down guy, he will likely provide good value in corner required leagues. This would apply to McCourty in particular as the rookie corner rule would come into play. My fear here is that all three of these guys will see action with no clear cut option for us... As in most 3-4 schemes, the SS position provides the most fantasy potential here. The problem is we don't know for sure how the playing time will be broken down. The Patriots used a second round pick on Patrick Chung last season. He's a fast, athletic and physical 212 pound safety that the club envisioned as the next Rodney Harrison. Chung however, was never able to claim a full time role as a rookie. In fact he saw much of his action in nickel packages when the coaching staff used him and Brandon McGowan in what was almost a pass rushing OLB role. Both players saw time at SS but McGowan was given the majority of the time in the base defense. This positional battle with be renewed during camp and a year in the league/scheme may be all Chung needs to claim an every down role. Keep a sharp eye on this one as there is a great deal of potential here. If you draft before we get any clarification on this situation, take a shot on Chung as a sleeper/backup with high upside.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • S Brandon Meriweather - Solid DB2 or excellent DB3, mark him up higher in big play scoring systems
  • S Patrick Chung - Strong sleeper with big upside
  • S Brandon McGowan - Quality player with DB2 potential if he wins an every down role
  • S James Sanders - No value
  • CB Leigh Bodden - Decent #2 or strong #3 in corner required leagues
  • CB Darius Butler - Potential CB2 if he wins the job
  • CB Devin McCourty - High potential if he wins the job, rookie corner rule
  • CB Jonathan Wilhite - Dark horse sleeper at best
  • New York Jets

    Defensive Linemen

    The Jets may be just a little thin on the DL this year. Both Shaun Ellis and Kris Jenkins are quality players but both are on the wrong side of 30 years old and Jenkins is coming off a knee injury that landed him on IR after just six games in 2009. Marques Douglas filled out the starting lineup last season but he too was 33 years old and has moved on. That leaves the Jets with fourth year backup Mike DeVito and former first round pick Vernon Gholston to compete for the open DE job. DeVito is a former undrafted free agent with 38 tackles and half a sack to show for his first three years in the league, while Gholston returns to DE after failing to make the conversion to the OLB position he was drafted to fill. Coach Ryan has sung the praise of Gholston as a DE over the offseason but with Ryan it's hard to tell if he's spewing truth, attempting to instill confidence or maybe just blowing a smoke screen over a bad situation. It's hard to say at this point... Sione Pouha did an excellent job filling in at NT for Jenkins last year. He's a strong run defender and anchor but lacks the extra gear and play making ability that Jenkins brings to the table... As 3-4 end go Ellis is one of the most productive and consistent in the game. Since the 2006 season he's averaged nearly 37 solo tackles and slightly better than 5.5 sacks per season. He'll be 33 years old this summer but thus far has shown no signs of decline. The upside is pretty limited but at least with Ellis we know what we are getting. That being quality depth and a good bye week fill in, but not a guy we want to depend on as an every week starter... A healthy Jenkins is a strong option for owners in tackle required leagues. His first year with the Jets ('08) produced a very respectable mark of 38-14-4. There is obviously risk with the knee but all the reports are positive and he participated in mini camp which is a very good sign... If Ryan is telling us the truth, Gholston sounds like the favorite capture the other DE job. It's a situation to watch but not to get excited about until proven differently.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • DE Shaun Ellis - Solid depth in larger leagues but limited upside
  • DE Vernon Gholston - Deep sleeper at best, let someone else take the chance
  • DE Mike DeVito- No value
  • NT Kris Jenkins - Healthy risk but likely a quality starter in tackle required leagues
  • NT Sione Pouha - Injury sleeper who could provide depth at DT
  • Linebackers

    When the Jets added Bart Scott last year we all wanted to know if it would be he or David Harris that would become the fantasy standout. Just like when he was in Baltimore, Scott ended up in the sidekick role. Harris' 82 solo tackles may have been a little on the light side but the score keepers were more than generous in awarding 45 assists to make his tackle production pretty strong overall. When you add in the big play explosion that included 4 takeaways and 5.5 sacks, Harris managed a top 10 finish among ILBs. He's not quite on par with the elite at the position but can be counted on as a very solid second tier LB1... Many people expected Scott to be the standout IDP option but if you were a FBG reader, you weren't one of them. He was even more disappointing than expected last year, posting just 66-25 in the tackle columns with virtually no big play impact. Those numbers were very similar to his production over his final two years in Baltimore. The only difference being that Harris is young so there is no hope that Scott will ever be the long term centerpiece... Calvin Pace is the best 3-4 OLB that people never hear about. Guys like DeMarcus Ware, James Harrison, Shawne Merriman and LaMarr Woodley get all the face time while Pace quietly goes about his business. He missed the first four games last season and still finished with 46 solo stops and 8 sacks. If you average out his '09 numbers over a full season he would have a mark of roughly 62-14-10.5. That's pretty strong production for a 3-4 OLB. He has exceeded the 60 tackle mark and improved his sack production in each of his three seasons with the Jets. Consider Pace a solid #3 starter or excellent backup in most leagues and jump him way up in big play scoring systems... The Jets were pretty pleased with the play of their linebackers in general last season but there is room for improvement at the OLB opposite Pace. Bryan Thomas has been adequate at that position over the last three seasons but adequate is not what the club is looking for. The club had wanted Vernon Gholston to provide an upgrade at the position but after giving up on that idea they have turned to 35 year old Jason Taylor as the short term answer. This is a great fit for everyone involved. Taylor gets to step in and likely finish his career playing for a contender, and the Jets get a future hall of fame player who fills their need and can contribute at a high level until they can address the position long term. From the fantasy perspective Taylor is nothing to get real excited about. He could have a full time role and should post 6-8 sacks, but chances are he will be spelled more often than most full time players. Look at him as depth in leagues that emphasize big plays.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • ILB David Harris - Second tier LB1
  • ILB Bart Scott - Depth in 16 team leagues at best
  • ILB Lance Laury - Special teams ace, maybe an injury sleeper
  • OLB Calvin Pace - Decent LB3 or quality depth in most leagues, jump him way up in big play scoring systems
  • OLB Jason Taylor - Depth in big play scoring leagues
  • OLB Bryan Thomas - No value
  • OLB Jamaal Westerman - Developmental guy that the club seems to like
  • Defensive Backs

    The Jets parted ways with Kerry Rhodes over the offseason because he was not a good fit for the scheme. Jim Leonard and Brodney Pool may fit better but that doesn't necessarily mean they will be any more productive in the box scores. The Jets were #1 in total defense in 2009 at only 252 yards per game. Only the Bengals and Cowboys were on the field for fewer snaps. That and the very strong front seven translates to a limited number of opportunities for either of the safeties. A closer look at the players doesn't lend much reason for optimism either. As a four year starter in Cleveland Pool never put up more than 60 tackles on a bad team. Leonhard is 5'8" and only 184 pounds. Not only does he lack the tools to be physical, other than a short stint in Buffalo he too has failed to provide any consistent production. Eric Smith could also be in the mix for a starting job at safety but he would fare no better. While there is very little value to be had from the safety positions in New York, the corners may be a different story depending on how your league is set up. Darrelle Revis is arguably the best corner in the NFL but like many great corners he is not thrown at often, which limits his tackle opportunities. Revis is also a perfect example of the rookie corner rule. In 2007 offenses tried to take advantage of his inexperience and he was picked on. That season Revis totaled 74 solo tackles and 3 picks. His two seasons since have produced 92 tackles and 11 picks between them. What really boosted Revis' value last season was the league high 31 passes defended. That number may be tough to equal based simply on the fact that he will likely have fewer opportunities this year. Antonio Cromartie is a quality NFL corner but given the choice to challenge Cromartie or Revis, who would you pick? I don't expect Revis to finish as high in the final DB rankings as he did last season and would be reluctant to count on him as more than a #3 starter in balanced scoring systems that don't break out the positions. If however, you are in a league that requires corners, he will have much more value... After a couple of very average seasons its easy to forget that Cromartie led the league with 10 interceptions in 2007 and he put up 60 solo tackles in 2008. With Revis on the other side, Cromartie is likely to see a great deal of opportunity this season and he has the ability to make that pay off big. He should be considered a strong sleeper and will likely be a quality option for corner required leagues. The wildcard here is first round pick Kyle Wilson who will likely work as the nickel corner this year and push Cromartie for the starting job next. Wilson is a very talented player who doesn't shy away from run support and has a knack for the big play. The Jets nickel package should be called upon often, so it will come as no surprise if Wilson puts up decent numbers even in this part time situation. So long as Revis is on the field the other corners will be targets and that goes for future years as well. Dynasty owners in corner required leagues may want to stash Wilson away for safe keeping.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • S Jim Leonhard - Minimal value at best
  • S Brodney Pool - Minimal value
  • S Eric Smith- No value
  • CB Darrelle Revis - Strong starter in corner required leagues, decent DB3 or quality depth in standard leagues
  • CB Antonio Cromartie - Strong sleeper in corner required leagues, probable depth in standard leagues
  • CB Kyle Wilson - Rookie corner rule could come into play, good long term potential
  • CB Dwight Lowery - No value
  • Miami Dolphins

    Defensive Linemen

    Fantasy productive 3-4 linemen are a rarity in general, but every year there are a few guys who break the stereo type and give us some quality numbers. In 2009 Randy Starks was one of those guys. His 42-14-7 were good enough to land at #11 among all defensive linemen, and #2 behind only Justin Smith among 3-4 linemen. The problem here that that while top 12 production from a 3-4 lineman is rare, a repeat performance the following season is extremely rare. Starks has entrenched himself as the starting right end and will have an opportunity to join Smith as the rare exception but I would strongly warn against selecting Starks as more than a DL2 or depth... Kendall Langford took the majority of the snaps at the other DE position with Philip Merling spelling the starters on occasion. These two have been good players for the Dolphins over the past couple of years but will be looking over their shoulders this summer at first round pick Jared Odrick. The coaching staff is looking for more plays to be made by the left DE and will give Odrick every chance to show that he can provide them. Regardless of who gets the call here, fantasy owners should stay away... Jason Ferguson will have an extended offseason thanks to a four game suspension and will be replaced once again by Paul Soliai. Soliai stepped in when Ferguson was injured mid season and did an adequate job down the stretch. Ferguson is old (36) and injury prone; Soliai is a decent young player but is not special. There is no production to be found at NT here.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • DE Randy Starks - Decent DL2 or quality depth, don't expect a repeat of last year's numbers
  • DE Kendall Langford - No value
  • DE Jared Odrick - Deep sleeper, wait until he produces and pick him up off the wire
  • DE Philip Merling - No value
  • NT Jason Ferguson - No value
  • NT Paul Soliai - No Value
  • Linebackers

    One key component that Miami has been missing since the departure of Zach Thomas is a playmaking ILB. Channing Crowder was supposed to be that guy but has never been able to fill the role, so the Dolphins went out and got a proven commodity in Karlos Dansby. Dansby will be a difference maker for this club. He fits perfectly in a 3-4 scheme and the two seasons he spent in Arizona's 3-4 were the most box score productive of his career. He averaged 92 solo tackles over those two years, adding 9 takeaways and 5 sacks along the way. There is always some risk when a player changes teams but I see no reason to expect less from Dansby going foreword. He's not an elite fantasy option but is a quality second tier LB1 or an excellent #2... Crowder reached the 90 tackle mark in '08 but makes very few game changing plays and is just not a difference maker. He will move into the complimentary ILB role and may even feel some heat from former Charger Tim Dobbins. Dobbins was never able to claim a full time job in San Diego but played well as a spot starter over the past two seasons. If he can move past Crowder on the depth chart, Dobbins may be worth a shot as a bye week fill in. Dynasty owners may want to take a late round flier on rookie A.J. Edds. The 4th round pick was pretty productive for the role he played at Iowa. He's not a naturally gifted player but has adequate skills and is a very smart player. Just the kind of player Bill Parcells loves and often molds into a fine football player. Parcells may not be the coach here but don't underestimate his influence. Especially when it comes to personnel... The other need that Miami addressed this offseason was the OLB position. Then 35 year old Jason Taylor led the club with 8 sacks in '09 and has moved on. To replace him the Dolphins used a second round pick on Utah's Koa Misi. Misi played mostly DE in college. His numbers weren't exactly impressive but he has the skill set and work ethic to make a successful transition to OLB in the 3-4. The Dolphins are banking on him developing into a very successful pro at the new position. He may not start right away but should see playing time early and if things go according to plan, be the starter by or before his second season. Going into training camp Cameron Wake and Charlie Anderson are the projected starters. Wake was a very pleasant surprise and another of the NFL's come from nowhere stories in '09. He earned playing time early last year as the team's third OLB and saw an increased workload as the season wore on, finishing second on the team with 6 sacks. it's too early to compare Wake to James Harrison (Harrison was also undrafted) but the Dolphins like what they have seen thus far and are counting heavily on Wake... Anderson will enter camp as a starter but may be little more than a place holder for Misi. Entering his 7th season, he has never been able to nail down a starting job and with only 6.5 career sacks, just doesn't seem to have the necessary skill set to do so now.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • ILB Karlos Dansby - Second tier LB1 or excellent LB2
  • ILB Channing Crowder - Minimal value at best
  • ILB A.J. Edds - Dynasty sleeper with some upside
  • ILB Tim Dobbins - Sleeper with limited upside
  • OLB Koa Misi - Sleeper/Dynasty prospect for leagues that emphasize big plays
  • OLB Cameron Wake - Big play league sleeper
  • OLB Charlie Anderson - Minimal value at best in big play leagues
  • Defensive Backs

    With 191 solo tackles, 19 passes defended and a pretty good sprinkling of big plays, Yeremiah Bell has been a top 5 DB in each of the past two seasons. When you consider his week to week consistency its hard to argue against having him at the top of your draft board at the position. Granted the addition of Karlos Dansby could take a little bite out of Bell's plentiful opportunities but the fact that Gibril Wilson is gone could counter the Dansby addition to a large extent. Everything else basically remains the same so there is no reason to expect a significant drop in production for Bell... Wilson was a scapegoat for this defense last season but the guy still put up 75 solo stops. Last year's fifth round pick Chris Clemons is the projected replacement for Wilson but I for one am not sold on that. Late in '09 there was a lot of speculation that Clemons would replace Wilson in the lineup for the final few games but it never happened. In fact, even though the Dolphins were eliminated, Clemons saw significant action in just one game in December. That's not a good sign for a guy who you plan to start in the near future. Tyrone Culver is not an NFL caliber starter but don't be surprised if rookie Reshad Jones gets a long look. The knock on Jones coming out of Georgia was that he is inconsistent, misses some tackles while going for the big hit and is generally a little lacking in discipline (on the field), but no one questions his speed, athletic ability and big time potential. In short, the issues that caused him to fall to the 5th round in the draft are things that can be fixed by good coaching. He's raw and has a way to go but has by far the most upside among the team's free safeties. Keep an eye on this situation as the summer moves on since whoever comes away with this job is going to be worth a late round shot... Since I started playing this game in 1992, the Dolphins have never given us a corner who was even remotely worthy of fantasy consideration. Vontae Davis may be as close as they have ever come. As a rookie his meager 49 tackles were aided enough by his 4 interceptions to possibly make him worthy as a backup in deep corner required leagues. Davis' big play ability is undeniable but its unlikely that he will ever see a 50 tackle season.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • S Yeremiah Bell - Should be the #1 DB on your draft board
  • S Chris Clemons - Sleeper with limited upside
  • S Reshad Jones - Dynasty/Sleeper with good upside
  • S Tyrone Culver - No value
  • CB Sean Smith - No value
  • CB Vontae Davis - Backup in corner required leagues at best
  • CB Jason Allen - No value
  • CB Evan Oglesby - No Value
  • That does it for part one. The NFC East is coming up next. Look for it in the next week or so. Until then, questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to norton@footballguys.com.