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

Welcome back for par two of this year's article. 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 article. No contract talk, no police reports. Only the stuff that matters.

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.

New York Giants

Defensive Linemen

Most clubs would be very happy with the 32 sacks the Giants put up in '09. For the Giants however, anything short of 40 is sub par and so was their middle of the pack run defense. Going back several years the defensive line, and the pass rush in particular has been a strength for this club. 2009 was an off year for them but there is clearly no lack of talent here. In fact the G-Men may well have the most talented and deepest DL in the league. Justin Tuck is entrenched as one of the starting defensive ends. After racking up 13 sacks in 2008 his 7 last season may have been a disappointment to him, but the 47 solo tackles, 5 forced fumbles and 8 passes defended he put with them were enough to make him the #2 fantasy lineman. In fact Tuck has averaged 49 tackles and right at 10 sacks over his three seasons as a starter. That makes it hard to argue with anyone who has him at the top of the DL draft board. Once we get past Tuck there is some uncertainty. The Giants will open camp with Mathias Kiwanuka penciled in as the starter opposite Tuck but Osi Umenyiora will have something to say about that before camp breaks. Umenyiora opened the '09 season as a starter but was relegated to third down duties during the season when it became obvious that he was not at full speed. He still managed to finish second on the team with 6 sacks but totaled just 18 tackles. A healthy Umenyiora put up 40 tackles and 14 sacks in 2007, and went 48-22-14.5 in his career best '05 campaign. He is now two years removed from the knee injury and should be 100%. I look for him to regain the starting job and have a big year. With this situation Umenyiora is likely to fall into the late rounds in most drafts, where he could be a major steal... Kiwanuka is complaining about his contract when he should be worrying about his starting job. With the addition of rookie Jason Pierre-Paul, Kiwanuka may soon be the 4th best DE on his own team. Strong tackle numbers (45-15) were enough to make him a quality option for us last year but he only got to the QB 3 times. There is no doubt that he is a good player and will have a significant role but drafting Kiwanuka with the expectation that he will be a starter or an every down player could be a mistake as there is just too much talent here... Pierre-Paul is considered raw but is an exceptional talent. Barring injuries its unlikely that he will have any shot at a starting job this year but the coaching staff will get him on the field. How much playing time he gets will depend on how quickly he develops and what he does with what opportunity he gets early. Dynasty owners should be all over this kid because even a healthy Umenyiora may not be able to keep him on the bench down the road... The Giants are just as deep at the tackle positions. Barry Cofield will be one of the starters and Chris Canty is projected to replace Fred Robbins who moved on via free agency. Rocky Bernard and Jay Alford round out the top four spots on the depth chart. All of these guys are starter quality NFL players. The problem for us is that all four of them will likely see significant playing time. That will limit the opportunity for any of them to be box score productive. Especially when you consider that the team has a pass rush package that employs four defensive ends across the front line. There is a chance that Canty or Cofield could have some value as depth in tackle required leagues but we shouldn't even count on that.

Fantasy Outlook

  • DE Justin Tuck - Top 5 DL with potential to be #1
  • DE Osi Umenyiora - Comeback player with risk but big upside
  • DE Mathias Kiwanuka- Decent DL2 or excellent depth with upside
  • DE Jason Pierre-Paul - Dynasty special with huge potential
  • DT Barry Cofield - Depth in tackle required leagues
  • DT Chris Canty - Depth with some upside in tackle required leagues
  • DT Rocky Bernard - Injury sleeper at best
  • DT Jay Alford - No value
  • Linebackers

    The loss of Antonio Pierce left the Giants with a big hole to fill at MLB last season. The club looked extensively at Chase Blackburn and Jonathan Goff but neither player was particularly impressive. Speculation has it that the team had targeted Rolando McClain with their first round pick. When McClain was gone they went in a different direction, waiting until round four to address the MLB need with the selection of Phillip Dillard. Goff and Dillard both saw extensive work with the first team during mini camp and the team will go into training camp with a wide open competition at the position. Blackburn and Goff have already had their auditions for the job and the coaching staff was obviously not excited about either of them. They are counting on (or at least hoping for) Dillard to distinguish himself over the course of the summer and preseason. The scouting community gave the rookie mixed reviews but the bottom line for me is that he was not particularly productive at Nebraska where he was only a one year starter. Dillard will be given every opportunity to claim the job and is worthy of consideration as a late round sleeper but don't overpay. His dynasty value is a question mark as well. He may win the job but still be no more than a place holder until the club can better address the position... Last year's second round pick Clint Sintim battled injuries early in his rookie campaign, that set back his development. He managed to get on the field in a part time role during the second half of the season and left the coaching staff very optimistic. After his year of grooming they appear ready to plug him in at the position. It is unlikely that Sintim will make a splash in the box scores but he has the potential to make a difference on the field, particularly when it comes to the pass rush. They are expected to use him similarly to the way Mathias Kiwanuka was used at the position early in his career. That means 50 tackles and 5-7 sacks are a fair expectation... The one proven veteran presence that the Giants can use as a foundation at the LB positions is WLB Michael Boley, who could also be a steal for us this season. He missed five games during the first half of '09 and still managed to finish second on the club in tackles. Boley averaged a very strong 6 solo stops per game (that's 96 over a 16 game season) and was one of the few highpoints in a forgettable season for the Giants defense. Unless Dillard surprises, it doesn't seem as if Boley will have a great deal of competition for tackles. He could very well push the 95-100 solo mark, and if he can manage a little big play impact like he did during his time in Atlanta, could finish among the top 20 linebackers. His low overall numbers from last season will have many owners looking over him on draft day. Boley should make a quality #3 starter with #2 potential and you might get him when others are drafting for depth.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • MLB Jonathan Goff - Depth at best even if he wins the job
  • MLB Phillip Dillard - Sleeper with a little upside
  • MLB Chase Blackburn - Depth at best
  • WLB Michael Boley - Quality #3 starter with #2 potential
  • SLB Clint Sintim - Possible depth in big play scoring systems
  • OLB Bryan Kehl - No value
  • OLB Gerris Wilkinson - No value
  • Defensive Backs

    The secondary and particularly the safeties took a lot of heat for the Giants defensive woes last season. Star FS Kenny Phillips played in just two games before being lost to a knee injury and the club quickly regretted allowing James Butler to leave via free agency. Michael Johnson failed to step up as expected in the full time role and the team's depth at the position (C.C. Brown and Aaron Rouse) struggled. To guard against a repeat of last year's problems the Giants spent dearly in signing Antrel Rolle to a huge contract. Then added former Seattle starter Deon Grant to improve their depth. Phillips underwent micro fracture surgery after his injury but there remains serious concern that he may not be ready for opening day. He was off to an excellent start with 9 tackles and a pair of picks in just less than two games of action last year. We shouldn't expect the same player in 2010, at least not early on. If Phillips is not ready, Grant would open the season as a starter. He is a versatile and experienced player who can line up at either position, but has been never been a fantasy factor despite some excellent opportunities over his career. Grant give us nothing to get excited about but Rolle is a different story. In fact he is one of my favorite sleepers this year (if you can call him a sleeper) and a player that I expect big things from. At '6"0 and 208 pounds Rolle is a physical player who doesn't shy away from run support but has the speed and ability to make plays in the passing game as well. He was productive even as a corner in Arizona, posting 79 solo tackles and 11 passes defended in '06. Rolle made a very successful switch to FS in '08 where despite being in a less than stellar situation he put up respectable numbers in each of the past two seasons, including 60 tackles and 4 picks in 14 games last year. When you consider the situation he is coming to you will see why I am so high on him. Dating back several years the Giants safety positions have perennially been a gold mine of fantasy production. Even the backups were putting up excellent numbers last year. In fact Brown and Rouse had 9 games with 7 or more solo tackles between them in '09. Phillips is not likely to be the same, Grant is not the kind of player who will compete strongly for tackles and there are question marks at two of the three linebacker positions. The key to any IDP stud is finding a quality player in a great situation. Rolle is a perfect example of this. I will be surprised if he fails to reach the 80 tackle mark or is not a top 10 DB at the end of the season... The Giants were injury bitten at the corner position in '09 as well. The difference being that Terrell Thomas proved to be a quality replacement when Aaron Ross was lost. So much so in fact that he may remain the starter in 2010. Thomas managed to lead the club in both tackles with 70, and interceptions with 5. The fact that the coaching staff is now talking about using Ross as a kick returner may be a sign that Thomas has a hold on the job. Corey Webster seems locked in as the other starting corner. He has been solid on the field during his five year tenure but short on big play production and not much of a fantasy factor at all. Keep an eye on training camp to ensure that Thomas holds the job. So long as that is the case he should be a quality option for those in corner required leagues.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • S Antrel Rolle - Quality player in a great situation, likely a top 10 DB
  • S Kenny Phillips - Health is a big concern for the short term, great chance for dynasty owners to buy low
  • S Deon Grant - Minimal value at best
  • S Michael Johnson - No value
  • CB Corey Webster- No value
  • CB Aaron Ross - No value
  • CB Terrell Thomas - Probable starter in corner required leagues
  • CB Bruce Johnson - No value
  • Dallas Cowboys

    Defensive Linemen

    The Cowboys have assembled a solid group of linemen to anchor their 3-4 but as is the case with most of these schemes, there is not much box score production to be found here. Igor Olshansky has broken the 30 tackle mark just once in his previous 6 NFL seasons. That coming back in '07 when he was with the Chargers. '09 was his first year in Dallas and produced a stat line of 29-11-1.5. Marcus Spears starts at end opposite Olshansky. He has never broken the 30 tackle mark (just 17 solo last season) and has a career best of 2 sacks. Jason Hatcher and Stephen Bowens will see time in the rotation but neither of them have the potential to break out here. The only possible fantasy option among the Cowboys front three is nose tackle Jay Ratliff who is a probable starter in leagues that require defensive tackles. Over the past two seasons he has averaged 31 solo stops and recorded 13.5 sacks. Not stellar production but not bad considering the glaring lack of quality options across the league at the position.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • DE Marcus Spears - No value
  • DE Igor Olshansky - No value
  • DE Jason Hatcher - No value
  • DE Stephen Bowens - No value
  • NT Jay Ratliff - Starter in leagues that require interior linemen
  • NT Junior Siavii - No value
  • Linebackers

    The success of any 3-4 scheme is dependent on quality play from the linebacker positions and Dallas is loaded. With DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer the Cowboys OLB positions are particularly strong. Ware is a force and easily one of the best in the league at the position. 2008 was by far the high point of his career to date, when he recorded a career best 69 tackles and led the league with 20 sacks. Based on those numbers Ware was drafted very early by many owners last season. If you were a FBG reader you probably weren't one of them. I and some of my colleagues warned against a drop off after Ware's huge '08 season. The reality is that when a defender becomes so dominant, NFL offenses will game plan in an effort to limit their impact. In the case of a 3-4 OLB that game planning can come in many forms. They can run the other way, designate additional blockers in pass protection etc. Ware still put up very good numbers in '09 but the expectations were so high that his 45 tackles and 11 sacks were a disappointment to many. This is an example of why we say that you never want to depend on a 3-4 OLB as you LB1. They just don't give us the consistency we need in that spot. Obviously scoring system has to be considered here. If you are in a league that emphasize the big play these guys are gold. Ware should bounce back a little this year. I expect somewhere in the area of 55-60 tackles and 12-14 sacks from him, but its unlikely that he will ever repeat the 69 tackles or the 20 sacks... With Greg Ellis moving on in '09, Anthony Spencer finally got his shot at a full time job. At a glance his overall numbers of 51-16-6.5 seem pretty average but we need to take a closer look. Over the first half of the season Spencer was very quiet. Then in week 10 the light seemed to come on. He racked up 7 solo stops against the Packers in that game and went on to put up 37-10-6.5 over the final eight contests. With offenses determined to slow down Ware, Spencer will continue to have a great deal of opportunity. This situation mirrors the one in Pittsburgh where James Harrison had been so dominant and then last year LaMarr Woodley had a breakout season. It will be no surprise to see Spencer blow up for 55+ tackles and 10-12 sacks this year... The Cowboys don't have dominant players on the inside but they are very solid at those positions as well. Keith Brooking came over from Atlanta last season and was a good addition. Having played in the scheme earlier in his career, the transition was easy for him and even at age 35 he still has some gas in the tank. The one problem with Brooking last season was consistency. In six games he posted 6 or more tackles, but in six others he put up 4 or fewer. Much of the inconsistency can be attributed to game plans and situations. On some weeks he was a three down player while in others he left the field in passing situations. The later seemed to be the case more frequently late in the season. The end result was a total of 75-31-4 for Brooking. Decent numbers for a backup but not what you want from an every week starter. Bradie James recorded very similar overall numbers (81-33-2) last season but holds a little more value because he's 29 years old and because the club seemed to settle on him as an every down LB late in the season. Like Brooking he was inconsistent for the most part but with 22 tackles a sack and 2 passes defended over the final three games, there is more reason for optimism. Even so we should target James as no more than a serviceable third starter or quality depth... The wildcard in the mix here is rookie Sean Lee who will replace the departed Bobby Carpenter this year and see time on passing downs. Lee has a lot going for him. He's fast, has a high football IQ, is a leader and has all the physical skills to be an every down player. This could be the last year for Brooking and Lee is a more complete player than James who is not strong in coverage. It looks as if the Cowboys drafted Lee with expectations that he will soon be the focal point of their defense. That should happen by next season if not before the end of this one. Lee has more upside than either of the starters and could be a top 20 (or better) LB down the road. Dynasty owners should be all over him.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • ILB Bradie James - Decent LB3 or quality depth
  • ILB Keith Brooking - Quality depth at best
  • ILB Sean Lee - Dynasty special with plenty of potential
  • ILB Stephen Hodge - No value
  • ILB Jason Williams - No value
  • OLB DeMarcus Ware - Quality LB3 with LB2 upside. Top 5 LB in big play oriented scoring
  • OLB Anthony Spencer - Depth with upside in most leagues. Seems poised for a big year
  • OLB Steve Octavien - No value
  • OLB Brandon Williams - No value
  • OLB Victor Butler - No value
  • Defensive Backs

    If the Cowboys defense has a weakness it is at the safety positions. This has been a problem for the club over the past few years and they have gotten through by putting band aids on the wound until they can seriously address the need. Unless they can acquire one via trade or someone cuts a solid veteran during camp, the trend will continue. Gerald Sensabaugh is in his second year as the starting SS. He's a serviceable player in NFL terms but is not a difference maker by any stretch. The best production of his five pro seasons came in 2008 when he was still in Jacksonville. That year he recorded 59 tackles and 4 interceptions as the Jags starter. The Jaguars were obviously not impressed and let him walk to Dallas after that season. Sensabaugh started 14 games last year for the Cowboys totaling 47 tackles and 1 pick. He's not particularly fast, big or physical and is likely little more than a seat warmer for Dallas... The release of Ken Hamlin came as somewhat of a surprise considering that they really don't have anyone else to step in. Third year man and former corner Alan Ball has been working with the starter most of the offseason and seems to be the favorite heading into camp. Pat Watkins and Michael Hamlin may also get a look during camp. The coaching staff knows what they have with Watkins who is entering his 5th year with the club. He has been a decent backup and special teams contributor throughout his career. Hamlin is a developmental guy who was drafted in the 5th round last year and made all of 6 tackles as a rookie. He had a productive college career at Clemson and may prove to be their best option in the end. The bottom line here for us, is that no Dallas safety has been worthy of a roster spot since Roy Williams put up 73 tackles with 3 takeaways back in 2007. Nothing is likely to change this season... The Cowboys may be a little thin on the corners but are in good shape when it comes to the starters. In NFL terms Terence Newman may not be on par with the elite corners in the game but he is a quality cover man. On the fantasy side he is a serviceable starter in corner required leagues. If you take out the '07 season when he missed several games with injury, Newman has averaged 56 tackles, 3 picks and 16 passes defended over his seven year career... Dallas sent Adam Jones packing last year and went with 2008 first round pick Mike Jenkins opposite Newman. Jenkins was up to the task, going on to lead the club with 5 interceptions but his 45 tackles leave much to be desired for our needs. He could improve a little on those numbers this year but we can grab him off the free agent wire if he does... Orlando Scandrick rounds out the Cowboys top three. He will handle the nickel duties again this year and would be a serviceable replacement if called upon to play every down. He has seen extensive action over the last two years and is a solid cover man but is lacking in the big play department. If they are forced to go any deeper than Scandrick the Cowboys are in trouble.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • S Gerald Sensabaugh - Minimal value at best
  • S Alan Ball - Deep sleeper at best, not likely to make an impact
  • S Michael Hamlin - Possible dynasty sleeper
  • S Pat Watkins - No value
  • CB Terence Newman - Second tier starter in corner required leagues
  • CB Mike Jenkins - Possible backup in deep corner required leagues
  • CB Orlando Scandrick- No value
  • CB Jamar Wall - No value
  • Washington Redskins

    Defensive Linemen

    The Redskins are another in the long line of NFL clubs following the 3-4 trend. This was a bit of a shock following a 2009 season in which the club finished among the top 10 in most important defensive categories. The questions now become how quickly they can adapt and do they have the personnel to fit. The first question will take a while to answer but the second one we can get a feel for pretty quickly. Just ask Albert Haynesworth. The additions of Adam Carriker and Vonnie Holliday will help greatly. Carriker missed all of last season with an injury and the 2007 first round pick was pretty much a bust as a tackle for the Rams. There are however, many who feel that he was miscast in that role to begin with and will fit much better as a 3-4 end. At age 35 Holliday is a little long in the tooth but he has plenty of experience as a 3-4 end. He's also nearly three years younger than Phillip Daniels who is currently listed as the starter. Daniels must have some compromising pictures of Dan Snyder or something. He was never a great player and should have been out of the league years ago... The Skins picked up Jeremy Jarmon in last year's supplemental draft with the hope that he would make a good bookend with Andre Carter in their 4-3. He didn't work out as well as they would have liked as a rookie but could still be in the mix for a starting job in the new scheme. Any way you look at it, there just doesn't seem to be much potential for fantasy production from the DE position. There is some potential at nose tackle but only if Haynesworth decides to play up to his ability. As we all know by now this guy is a real head case. All the NFL shows have beat this story into the ground so I won't go through the whole thing. The bottom line is that he's not happy, he's all about himself and not the team, he's playing for the money and not love of the game or a ring, and since he already has the money there is a good chance he'll lay down again this year like he did last. If/when something motivates Haynesworth he can be a dominating player and put up numbers that prove it. As it is, he may be worthy as depth with upside in tackle required leagues. Kendrick Golston and Ma'ake Kemoeatu provide veteran depth at NT but neither of them have much box score potential.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • DE Philip Daniels - No value
  • DE Adam Carriker - Minimal value at best
  • DE Jeremy Jarmon- Deep sleeper with limited upside
  • DE Vonnie Holliday - Minimal value at best
  • NT Albert Haynesworth - Big potential in tackle required leagues but draft him as no more than depth with upside
  • NT Kendrick Golston - No value
  • NT Ma'ake Kemoeatu - No value
  • Linebackers

    It seems like London Fletcher has been a fantasy stud since the age of dinosaurs. He is one of the leagues great stories and would be a first ballot addition to the fantasy football hall of fame if there were one. The undersized, undrafted free agent out of John Carroll University has missed just one game since becoming a starter for the Rams way back in 1999 and has racked up at least 90 solo tackles for 10 consecutive seasons. The last three of those with the Redskins. Fletcher has never played in a 3-4 scheme but don't let that change your perspective of him. There are obviously differences between a 4-3 MLB and a 3-4 ILB but those differences are not as drastic as many of the other positions. If there is any reason for concern over Fletcher it would be that his age (35) and years of service have to begin taking a physical toll at some point. We may have gotten a glimpse of this last year when his over all numbers of 95-47-2 with a couple of takeaways, were very good, but his previously uncanny week to week consistency waned a little. In '09 Fletcher recorded 4 or fewer tackles in 6 games. It would probably be wise to drop him out of your top 12 on draft day but don't hesitate to grab Fletcher as your LB2 in redraft leagues... Rocky McIntosh is expected to land the other ILB job in the new defense but don't count on him to become the main man once Fletcher finally calls it quits. McIntosh has given us some productive games over the last three years but no consistency. In fact his career best is just 68 tackles. McIntosh checks in at only 231 pounds which is on the light side for the new scheme, and has battled a degenerative knee problem since early in his career. The knee has not caused him to miss any time in the last couple of seasons but it could be an issue down the road... H.B. Blades has shown flashes over his three pro seasons and was once though to be the heir to Fletcher's throne. That may still be the case at some point but he hasn't been given enough opportunity to tell for certain. Blades is bigger than McIntosh and could challenge for that starting job during camp... Chris Draft is a veteran addition who could also be in the mix for the starting job. He's been very productive on the field whenever given an opportunity and could be a good fit. Draft may have the most fantasy value of the group if he lands the starting gig... One player to keep a sharp eye on here is 4th round pick Perry Riley. The scouting report on this rookie says thing like physical, stout versus the run, ran well at the combine, football smart, attacks downhill, tough. A lot of these are the same words we might use to describe Fletcher. Riley is not a superb natural athlete and will need to prove that he is not a liability in coverage, but the coaching staff will be looking hard to see if he can be Fletcher's replacement. Dynasty owners should be looking hard at this guy in the later rounds... Brian Orakpo has already made a successful move from college DE to a pass rushing 4-3 SLB. There will be some learning curve between the schemes but the way he was used as a rookie was very similar to what he will be asked to do in the 3-4. Orakpo piled up 11 sacks last season but only 38 tackles. He could improve on both numbers in 2010 and could very soon emerge in the same conversation with the DeMarcus Ware and James Harrison's of the world. If those guys are quality targets in your scoring system, move Orakpo way up your list... Andre Carter projects to start at OLB opposite Orakpo. This is the second time in his career that his team has switched to this scheme and tried to make him an OLB. He struggled with the change in San Francisco and there is no reason to expect anything different here. What we can count on is that unlike Albert Haynesworth, Carter will keep his mouth shut and give the team his best effort. He had an outstanding year in '09 but don't expect a repeat. Carter will probably beat feet out of Washington the first chance he gets. Meanwhile he will be a serviceable OLB for the Redskins with little or no fantasy value... Chris Wilson joined the team as an undrafted free agent in 2007 and has spent the past three years as an undersized backup and 3rd down pass rush specialist. The change of scheme might be just what the doctor ordered for him. We will be watching his progress during camp to see if he has the cover skills that Carter lacks. If so he could see a lot of snaps this year and possibly become a starter down the road.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • ILB London Fletcher - Quality LB2 with a little risk due to age and scheme change
  • ILB Rocky McIntosh - Limited value at best
  • ILB H.B. Blades - Deep sleeper with dynasty upside
  • ILB Perry Riley - Dynasty sleeper with strong upside
  • ILB Chris Draft- Deep sleeper who could provide quality depth if he wins the job opposite Fletcher
  • OLB Brian Orakpo - Could soon be among the most productive 3-4 OLBs in the game
  • OLB Andre Carter - Not a good fit as a 3-4 OLB, look elsewhere
  • OLB Chris Wilson - Deep sleeper for big play scoring systems
  • OLB Lorenzo Alexander - No value
  • Defensive Backs

    2009 was by far the best statistical season of Laron Landry's young career, but it barely scratched the surface of his potential. At 6'2" and 210 pounds Landry has the combination of size, speed and athleticism to be among the best safeties in the game. He was drafted 6th overall in 2007 with the intention that he would be paired with Sean Taylor to give the Redskins a dominating safety tandem. The Taylor tragedy circumvented that plan and landed Landry at FS for a couple of years, but the new coaching staff wasted no time moving him back to SS where he belongs. They have made clear their plan to take full advantage of his abilities by playing Landry up near the line of scrimmage on a regular basis. It is not a case of coverage being a problem, but Landry is an intimidating physical presence who can do the most damage when he's right in the thick of things. He managed a strong 77 solo stops last season but came up a little short in the big play columns. In 2010 Landry could challenge for the league lead in tackles by a DB, and provide more big plays along the way as well. It will be a surprise if he is not among the top 10 fantasy DBs at the end of the season... Reed Doughty and Chris Horton battled for the other safety job last season until Doughty won by default when Horton was injured. Both of these players have been very productive when holding a full time role. In fact, either Horton or Doughty have totaled 7 or more tackles 13 times in the Redskins last 22 games. Their competition will be renewed when camp opens late this summer and 2008 6th round pick Kareem Moore may throw his name in the hat as well. The new scheme could be a factor regardless of who comes out on top, as the FS position is often at a box score disadvantage in the 3-4. This is a situation we will be watching when camp opens. If you draft before we get any answers, take a flier on Doughty in the last round if you need to fill in your depth... None of Washington's corners put up big numbers in 2009 but don't overlook DeAngelo Hall if you are in a corner required league. His 49 tackles in '09 are a little deceiving as they don't reflect the three games he missed with injury. Hall posted 63 stops in each of the two prior seasons and has at least 4 picks in each of the last five years. The new scheme should not have much effect on the position, so Hall remains a very dependable option if you must play corners... Carlos Rogers mans the other corner position. He is a quality NFL cover man but that has never translated well to his box scores. He's put up more than 49 tackles just once in his five year career and has never picked off more than 2 passes in a season... With the release of Shawn Springs there will be competition between veteran Phillip Buchanon and third year man Justin Tryon for the nickel job. This competition will be noteworthy only because Rogers has struggled to stay healthy during his career. If Buchanon or Tryon were forced into a full time role there might be a little in season waiver wire value for deep corner required leagues.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • S Laron Landry - Solid DB1 poised for a big year
  • S Reed Doughty - Late round sleeper
  • S Chris Horton- Deep sleeper
  • S Kareem Moore - Dark horse sleeper
  • CB Carlos Rogers - No value
  • CB DeAngelo Hall - Quality #2 starter in corner required leagues
  • CB Justin Tryon - No value
  • CB Phillip Buchanon - Injury sleeper at best
  • Philadelphia Eagles

    Defensive Linemen

    With the number of 4-3 schemes on the decline, stud defensive ends are quickly becoming an endangered species. Trent Cole is among the few remaining can't miss prospects. Over the past four seasons he has averaged 50 solo tackles and nearly 10.5 sacks, never falling short of 43 and 8. It seems as if he's been around much longer but Cole is just 27 years old and in the prime of his career. A few more stellar seasons should be in the cards for him. Since his emergence the Eagles have been searching for a bookend to pair with Cole. Juqua Parker has been the starter for most of the past three seasons and is coming off a career best 8.5 sacks and 30 solo tackles in 2009. That however, didn't stop the Philly brain trust from continuing their search by first signing Darryl Tapp away from the Seahawks and then drafting Brandon Graham at #13 overall. The Eagles like to shuffle guys in and out to keep them fresh. Cole did his damage last year on about 75% of the team's defensive snaps. Parker was on the field for roughly 65% of the snaps. Parker checks in at around 250 pounds so we might expect that he would struggle against the run. Yet the Eagles sub rotation seems to have nothing to do with game situation. Parker was spelled just as often in passing situations as he was on early downs last season. That could change this year with the addition of Tapp who is 270 pounds and a stout run defender. With the Seahawks already shorthanded at DE due to the retirement of Patrick Kerney, it was a surprise that they let Tapp get away. He had started most of the games in Seattle over the past three seasons with a career best of 46 tackles and 7 sacks. Tapp has reached at least 40 tackles in three consecutive seasons but could only muster 2.5 sacks in 2009. When the Eagles inked him during free agency it was easy to speculate that he would challenge Parker for the starting job and would likely end up in a time share. Then the Eagles used a first round pick on Graham and really muddied the waters. Reading Graham's scouting report one might think they are describing Trent Cole. Pure pass rush ability, rushes with power, strong physical tackler, good instincts, intense, competitive, tenacious, all the things you would want people saying about your defensive ends if you were a coach. The only real knocks on Graham are that he's a little short at 6'1" and sometimes struggles against bigger blockers. If his college game translates to the pros, Graham and Cole will soon be one of the best DE tandems in the NFL. The rookie will be given a shot right away but with the pair of solid veterans in front of him and the complexity of the Eagles scheme, it may be a while before he claims the position. This is another situation that warrants a lot of attention this summer... Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley give the Eagles a formidable interior line. Both players are strong at the point of attack and do a very good job of keeping blockers off the linebackers. Bunkley lines up at the nose or under tackle position and demands a double team on most running plays. He is very important to the success of the defense but his contributions often go unrewarded in the box scores. Patterson works from the more box score friendly 3 technique. He generally sees fewer double teams and remains on the field in passing situations more often. As a result his numbers tend to be strong for an interior lineman. Patterson's career best of 50 solo stops and 3.5 sacks came in 2007 but his 42-13-1.5 last season were enough to make him a top 10 DT. He will never get enough sacks to have a big impact but is a quality starter in tackle required leagues... The Eagles cut ties with Darren Howard this offseason, which comes as a surprise considering he led all NFL DTs with 10 sacks in '08 and recorded 6.5 last season. Howard had been replacing Bunkley on passing downs and seeing a little time at DE as well for the past couple of years. His release likely means more playing time for '08 second round pick Trevor Laws. It could also mean that Victor Abiamiri will get a look at tackle on passing downs when he is healthy. Abiamiri had micro fracture surgery over the offseason and his 2010 season is in jeopardy.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • DE Trent Cole - Consistent top 5 stud
  • DE Juqua Parker - Adequate depth at best
  • DE Brandon Graham- Dynasty alert! Huge upside
  • DE Darryl Tapp - Potential short term DL2 but draft him as late round depth
  • DE Victor Abiamiri - No value
  • DT Brodrick Bunkley - Possible depth in DT required leagues
  • DT Mike Patterson - Solid DT1
  • DT Trevor Laws - Injury sleeper at best
  • Linebackers

    Starting with the knee injury suffered by MLB Stewart Bradley in training camp, the Eagles LB position was a disaster in 2009. That injury started a snow ball effect that had the club scrambling and moving guys around much of the season and eventually trading for Will Witherspoon as a stop gap. As a result no Eagles LB even reached 60 tackles on the season. Bradley has been participating in mini camps and it appears as if he'll be full speed for training camp. That is great news for the Eagles and good news for fantasy owners as well. As the starter in 2008 Bradley led the club with 86 solo tackles, adding a sack, 3 takeaways and 6 passes defended to finish among the top 20 linebackers in most scoring systems. If he is healthy as expected, Bradley should return to form and possibly even improve on those numbers... Witherspoon performed fairly well during his short stay so it is somewhat surprising that the club made little or no effort to retain his services. Instead they picked up underachieving former Lions WLB Ernie Sims. Sims had one good year in Detroit when he posted 96 tackles and 4 takeaways in 2007 but has done very little in his other three pro seasons. In 2008 the Lions went 0-16, which means Sims was obviously in a target rich environment, yet he could only muster 72 solo stops with no big play impact at all. He spent much of last season on the sideline with a hamstring injury and finished with 32 tackles in 9 games. Sims is not particularly strong as a blitzer but is good in coverage. The Eagles will plug him in at WLB on most downs but could play him over the TE in some passing situations. He's only 25 years old so maybe all the loosing in Detroit was too much for him. The change of scenery could be just what Sims needs to rekindle his spirit and make him a more productive player. That said, between his history and the fact that the Eagles WLB position has never been a particularly productive one, I'll be leaving Sims on the board for someone else come draft day. Akeem Jordan entered last year's training camp as the starting WLB but moved inside when Bradley was injured. Omar Gaither moved into the lineup at WLB but obviously that situation didn't work out very well for either of them. Chris Gocong was the Eagles starting SLB last season but was traded to Cleveland, leaving an opening on the strong side. Jordan and Gaither will likely get a look at that position but neither of them seem to have the necessary skill set to be successful on the strong side, so Moise Fokou will likely emerge from camp as the starter. The Eagles like to blitz so former college DE Ricky Sapp could get a long look at SLB as well and would probably have the most fantasy potential of the group.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • MLB Stewart Bradley - Quality LB3 with LB2 potential
  • MLB Joe Mays - No value
  • MLB Omar Gaither - No value
  • WLB Ernie Sims - Sleeper with a little upside, draft him as depth
  • SLB Moise Fokou - No value
  • OLB Akeem Jordan - No value
  • OLB/DE Ricky Sapp - Deep sleeper in big play heavy scoring systems
  • OLB Alex Hall - No value
  • Defensive Backs

    We are still a month away from training camp and the Eagles have already suffered a significant injury in the secondary. Former Colt Marlin Jackson was expected to give the team a boost at the FS position but a knee injury during mini camp will sideline him for the season. The presence of second round pick Nate Allen makes this injury much more bearable than the loss of Bradley last season. The coaching staff expected that Allen might challenge for the starting job anyway. In the Eagles scheme the safeties are basically interchangeable. Depending on the offensive formation and situation, the free safety will sometimes move up into the box just like the strong safety does. Allen is not the most physical player and may be best suited as a center fielder, but he has the size, speed and skill set to be very successful in the Eagles pressure defense. He's a very smart player but the question that remains is how fast can he pickup and become comfortable in the complicated scheme? Once he does that, Allen should be an excellent compliment to SS Quintin Mikell. Mikell is an excellent fit in the Eagles scheme. He possesses the speed, cover skills and play making ability the coaches desire but loves to be a physical in the box safety when given the opportunity. He led the club with 70 tackles in 2009 and his two years as the full time starter have yielded 9 takeaways, a pair of sacks and 21 passes defended. The safeties may be considered interchangeable but Mikell will be called upon to play up in the box more often than Allen and barring injury, is all but certain to lead the club's defensive backs in fantasy production. Mikell is not one of the elite fantasy options at DB but is a strong second or excellent third starter in nearly any scoring system... Asante Samuel tied for the league lead with 9 interceptions in 2009. That statistic will have him rated way to high by many owners in corner required drafts this summer. Samuel is an excellent NFL corner and a playmaker for the Eagles, but counting on him to match those gaudy interception totals would be a mistake. Yes he picked off 10 passes back in '06 so his 2009 season was not a complete fluke but look at the rest of his numbers. 6 picks in '07, 4 in '08 and he has averaged just under 40 tackles per season over his seven year career. He gets a lot of passes defended but still has been a top 20 corner only twice. If you draft him as anything more than bye week depth you are overpaying... The Eagles continue to search for a permanent fixture at the other corner position. since the exit of Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown, no one has stepped in and really impressed. Veterans Joselio Hanson, Ellis Hobbs and Dimitri Patterson will battle youngsters Trevard Lindley and Macho Harris to determine the pecking order. when you consider that Philly corners traditionally make very few tackles, none of these guys are likely to make much impact in the box scores.

    Fantasy Outlook

  • S Quintin Mikell - Solid DB2 or excellent DB3
  • S Nate Allen - Sleeper, depth at worst with DB2 potential
  • S Quintin Demps - Injury sleeper at best
  • S/CB Macho Harris - No value
  • CB Asante Samuel - Bye week depth in corner required leagues
  • CB Joselio Hanson - No value
  • CB Ellis Hobbs - No value
  • CB Trevard Lindley - No value
  • CB Dimitri Patterson - No value
  • That's going to do it for part two. The AFC North is up next. Look for it shortly after the holiday. Until then, questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to norton@footballguys.com.