Saturday, July 5, 2008

Fantasy Football Rookies: Defense

Individual defensive player leagues have become increasingly popular in Fantasy Football. While the majority of leagues still use 'total defense' as statistics, these individual players can have a huge impact in garnering points from: solo tackles, sacks, interceptions and touchdowns. Defensive Rookies often times will see more playing time in their 1st years, capitalizing on athletic ability and natural instincts when playing, while mastering various defensive schemes as the games go on.

In 2007, a few Rookie Linebackers amassed a ton of 'tackles' for their respected teams: Patrick Willis (49ers) 174 total 135 solo; Jon Beason (Panthers) 140 total 106 solo; and David Harris (Jets) 127 total 90 solo. In terms of picking off the quarterbacks, rookies such as CB Leon Hall (Bengals) 5 INT and FS Reggie Nelson (Jaguars) 5 INT finished in the Top 10 in the entire league. While getting to the quarterback is extremely difficult for any defensive player in the NFL today, rookie DE Gaines Adams (Buccaneers) and DT Amobi Okoye (Texans) each had 6.0 and 5.5 'sacks' respectively. All of these players made an immediate impact cracking the starting line-up and look to have even bigger years this season.

So, what can we expect coming from the 2008 rookie class? Here is a breakdown of who has the best opportunities to lead their respected categories:


1) Curtis Lofton (Atlanta Falcons) Picking this speedy ILB from Oklahoma will allow the Falcons to move LB Keith Brooking back out to his natural position of OLB. Loften is a gifted athlete who is known for having a nose for the football and making plays. He will likely start right away this season and will be a huge inside presence in stopping the run. He has great instincts, downhill closing speed and has the knack to shed off blocks easily to make tackles. I would compare him to Pro Bowl LB DeMeco Ryans (Texans).

2) Beau Bell (Cleveland Browns) Despite being drafted in the 4th round in Aprils NFL Draft, Bell was technically the 1st pick by the Browns. While traditionally MLB's in a 3-4 defense don't make a ton of tackles, Bell should be able to use his bulky 6'2 248 pound frame to fit in well next to fellow LB's Andra Davis, LB Willie McGinest and LB D'Qwell Jackson. Bell smashes ball-carriers, has an endless motor, plays big, and can move well. While his measurables are not dynamic, Bell could simply be a "football player". He will get plenty of opportunities to make tackles playing behind newly signed free agent DT's Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams.


1) Aqib Talib (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) If this young CB can stay out of trouble (busted for pot smoking in college and fighting a teammate at the Rookie Symposium) he has potential to be a shutdown cornerback in the Cover 2 defense. At 6'1 202 pounds, Talib is a physical player and displays quickness and good instincts when closing on the ball. Playing opposite Pro Bowl CB Ronde Barber will help speed up his learning process and should get plenty of opportunities to make plays in a talented Buccs defense. He has good good leaping ability, great hands and experience as a WR should help him in snagging some INT's come 2008.

2) Brandon Flowers (Kansas City Chiefs) This is a sleeper pick at the CB position. I expect Flowers to get a lot of playing time for a weaker Chiefs secondary and playing for the departed CB Ty Law. At 5'10 189 pounds, Flowers isn't the biggest player but more times than not he will lay out an opposing WR, showcasing his talents as one of the hardest hitting corners in this year's rookie class. He has quick feet and good change of direction but has the tendency to over purse receivers. He is a great tackler and shows big play potential when picking a ball off and has the ability to 'take it to the house'. While he lacks ideal size, Flowers still gets his hands on the ball for pass deflections and should get quite a few opportunities to make an INT this season.


1) Derrick Harvey (Jacksonville Jaguars) This DE from Florida can get to a QB, and he will need to when playing in an AFC South division with rival QB's like Payton Manning (Colts) and Vince Young (Titans). At 6'5 252 pounds, Harvey is a natural pass rusher, great athlete and has a dangerous first step when coming off the line. He will be plugged into a solid Jaguars defense where he can use his ideal frame, good instincts and fast motor to chase after quarterbacks all day long. While he may lack the ideal size to bull rush 300 pound offensive tackles, he can gain separation with good hand placement and speed to get around the edge.

2) Chris Long (St. Louis Rams) This 'blue chip' draft pick and son of Hall of Famer LB Howie Long (Raiders) will make an immediate impact in a weak NFL West division. At 6'4 275 pounds and a non-stop motor, Long will be the edge rusher in the Rams 4-3 defensive scheme with an eye on the QB. He is a smart, physical player that has the uncanny ability to read blocking pressure and locate the football. His long arms and frame make him difficult to block coming around the corner and his relentless pursuit and hustle allows him to make a lot of tackles. Long needs to do better against double-team blocking, which will become more likely as teams begin to recognize his big play ability. In any case, expect a solid year from this top college prospect and an immediate impact on the Rams defense.

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