If you want to stay ahead of your league-mates keep your eye on teams that change schemes, because this could shift IDP production. This is how to find IDP Sleepers.
Arguably the most important factor in IDP value is the player’s situation. Situation is made up of the role they play in a defense, how many defensive snaps the team sees, game script when the defense is on the field, etc. My rough estimation is that a player’s role accounts for 60-70% of their value in IDP.
We see a lot of replacement level players put up huge numbers when put in the right scenarios. They may not sustain this over time in dynasty leagues, but they can still bring huge value in redraft. This article will look specifically at the teams that are making significant scheme changes and the players that are projecting to see new roles and how it impacts them from a fantasy perspective.
Staying ahead of the changes and understanding schemes can be potential chess moves to keep you ahead of the competition.
If you’re just starting to look at scheme changes now, you’ve already missed out on the high profile changes. Fortunately, there’s still value to be found by staying up to date on some of the depth chart changes. To fully utilize this strategy you need to try to stay ahead of the curve.
The first step is understanding your league scoring and roster settings to know how a position change impacts a player’s value. The biggest change we see is the 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 OLB conversion and visa-versa. However there are other subtleties to defensive schemes that can be extremely useful to understand.
For example some teams play a lot of cover 2 or cover 4 with both safeties deep versus teams that utilize more cover 3 and cover 1 with the free safety deep and the strong safety in the box more.
In Season Risk
With today’s heavy coverage of the NFL, we usually know which coaches are on the hot seat before the season ends. This can be the first time to aggressively start using this strategy. For example last year when the Raiders struggled, we knew Jack Del Rio was on the hot seat, this would’ve been a great time to try to acquire Khalil Mack at his LB price tag. Mack was typically a LB2 or LB3 but immediately projects to be a top 5 DL option.
This is an aggressive approach that can work well for teams that may already be eliminated or at the right price. I do not recommend selling the farm or making a contender worse to take these risks. These are like chess moves that will keep you a few steps ahead of your competition. The risk still remains that no scheme conversion happens, which means your trade should still be fair value, but you miss on the home run you were swinging for.
Once the season ends there’s a dead period where coaching carousel is still playing itself out. Even the changes that happen quickly still leave a lot of questions regarding potential scheme changes. Your moves for these guys are usually less risky because more information is available on the coaching staff and scheme than during the season.
But these moves usually don’t come at the same value that can be found during the season. Depending on how adept your league-mates are you can still get a lot of really good values during this period.
Post-draft and Mini-Camp
Then there’s the period of the offseason we’re at now where things are starting to clear up. Fantasy platforms start to make some of the position designation changes shortly after the NFL draft which clears up positional switches for most owners and eliminates a lot of potential values. Almost every owner knows when the big names like Khalil Mack and Chandler Jones change positions, but there are still lesser known players whose stocks are increasing that can be acquired free or at value.
2018 Scheme Changes
Arizona Cardinals – Converting to 4-3 Defense
Defensive Coordinator – Al Holcomb (Panthers LB Coach 2013-2017)
When people think of the Panthers defense under Wilks and Holcomb they immediately think of Luke Kuechly and the production from the linebackers. They’ve also generally gotten solid sack numbers from the defensive ends. Safety production wasn’t a big thing in this defense either.
The lack of safety production may have been a result of the stellar linebacker core eating up most of the tackle opportunities. The Cardinals have some interesting but mostly unproven pieces on defense and the depth is pretty non-existent. This lack of depth make the Cardinals a team to keep an eye on as some unknown guys are bound to emerge.
I also wouldn’t be surprised to see them add some veteran depth before the season starts.
The big news here is Chandler Jones getting the DE/DL designation. Jones immediately has top 5 DL potential as a dedicated pass rusher and gets a huge boost to his value.
Markus Golden will be the other defensive end and Jones and Golden should see a heavy share of snaps given the lack of depth. Golden is an interesting flier under the DL designation after managing 12.5 sacks in 2016 as a second year player. He missed most of last year with a torn ACL, but could fly under the radar following the injury and position change.
Benson Mayowa projects to be the depth piece; rotating in to prevent fatigue and filling in for any potential injuries. Another interesting, but admittedly far-fetched scenario could be Robert Nkemdiche playing some big end. Nkemdiche is a freaky athlete who started to flash last preseason before injury and could earn a big role given the lack of depth.
The solidified 3-down backer is Deone Bucannon who projects to play WLB. Bucannon should be a solid option in the Thomas Davis type role if he can manage to stay healthy. Josh Bynes projects to play MLB with Haason Reddick projecting to fill the SLB role.
Both of these guys are unproven and will battle it out with each to be the second 3 down linebacker – my gut feeling is that Reddick wins given his athleticism and ability to rush the passer. Jeremy Cash and Scooby Wright seem to be the favorites for backup roles; both are worth keeping an eye given the inexperience and injury history of the projected starters.
Behind a potentially shaky linebacker unit, the safeties could see better production than the safeties in the Carolina defense. Budda Baker has been hyped up in the IDP community this offseason because he’s filling the Cardinals SS role, which has been a gold mine in the past.
The scheme change is a bit of a flag for me but he is an intriguing player with massive upside. Antoine Bethea is penciled in as the free safety. The Cardinals have historically run a lot of three safety sets, but that may change given the scheme and personnel changes. Relative unknown, Rudy Ford, projects as the third safety at the moment.
In cornerback specific leagues it’s always wise to target the corner opposite one of the true stud cornerbacks like Patrick Peterson. Whoever wins that job should see a lot of targets, so Jamar Taylor is a name to keep an eye on as the early favorite for that gig.
Chandler Jones, Markus Golden,
Indianapolis Colts – Converting to 4-3 Defense
Defensive Coordinator – Matt Eberflus (Cowboys LB Coach 2011-2017, Passing Game Coordinator 2016-2017)
Eberflus’ scheme is expected to look a lot like Seattle’s with some Tampa 2 concepts blended in as well. This means aggressive press coverage on the outside with a playmaking free safety on the back end and a strong safety that should see plenty of snaps playing in the box. This should result in huge value at the strong safety position.
Jabaal Sheard is the big winner here and should see a boost in value going from LB to a DE designation. Several intriguing but unproven options are battling for the end position across from Sheard. Tarell Basham, Tyquan Lewis, Kemoko Turay, and Margus Hunt are among those competing for the job. It’s likely to develop into a heavy rotation, but my personal favorite especially as a stash in sack heavy dynasty leagues is Kemoko Turay.
Denico Autry projects be the 3-technique, but could also play some big end. He currently has a DT designation across most platforms and could be a real value in DT required leagues.
This area is definitely messy. Second year player Anthony Walker was taking most of the MLB reps in camp and looks to be the early favorite. The camp rotation and Walker’s concussion also saw Skai Moore, Tyrell Adams and others take reps with the first team.
Undrafted free agent Skai Moore was impressive which shouldn’t be a huge surprise given the coverage and playmaking skills he demonstrated in the SEC. The other big winner here projects to be rookie Darius Leonard at the WLB position. He should be able to secure a 3-down role and soak up plenty of tackles in the thin LB unit.
Leonard profiles as a LB2 or LB3 as a rookie with a lot of upside. Antonio Morrison will likely fill the SLB role, but likely won’t have much value unless injuries strike.
Malik Hooker is clearly the deep free safety in this scheme. Hooker has shown flashes of being a tremendous NFL player early on but he doesn’t project to be a strong IDP option. The real value here is the winner of the strong safety competition between Mathias Farley and Clayton Geathers. I normally avoid stacking players competing for the same positon on my fantasy rosters, but given the prices this is one I’m targeting.
Kemoko Turay, Clayton Geathers
New York Giants – Converting to 3-4 Defense
Defensive Coordinator – James Bettcher (Cardinals Defensive Coordinator 2015-2017)
The Giants started making moves to fit Bettcher’s scheme immediately. These moves includied moving Jason Pierre-Paul and acquiring Alec Ogletree to fill a huge hole at ILB. This scheme has been very aggressive in blitzing and will utilize a lot of press man coverage with one deep safety. This is good news for Landon Collins owners.
Damon “Snacks” Harrison remains a top DT specific option based on his ability to consistently generate tackles from his position. He has posted similar numbers as a 3-4 NT in the past so no concerns here.
The defensive ends aren’t likely to have much value. Bettcher likes to rotate bodies to keep everyone fresh and will kick some of the top pass rushers inside in passing situations. Dalvin Tomlinson, BJ Hill, Josh Mauro and Kerry Wynn should fill the DE roles, but aren’t likely to have much value.
Alec Ogletree will be the man to own and should push to be a top 10 LB option this year based on tackle volume. BJ Goodson will be his running mate at ILB and could well finish third or fourth on the team in tackles. Olivier Vernon will take the Chandler Jones role that tries to scheme him into advantageous rush situations.
This should lead to a big year but most leagues aren’t sack heavy enough to really give 3-4 OLBs much value. Kareem Martin, Lorenzo Carter and Romeo Okwara are among the candidates to man the other OLB role. Lorenzo Carter tested as an elite athlete at the combine and looks the part. Again, several of these pass rushers will kick inside to DL roles on passing downs.
Landon Collins has been the stud safety in the past and this will not change in Bettcher’s scheme. The strong safeties have feasted in Arizona under Bettcher, because the free safety typically plays deep and allows the strong safety to move around and make plays.
You can target Collins with confidence again this year. Darian Thompson will man the free safety position but likely won’t hold much relevance to IDP leagues. The Cardinals were one of the first teams to utilize a lot of the three safety sets, but I’m not sure if that will continue based on the Giants current personnel.
Oakland Raiders – Converting to 4-3 Defense
Defensive Coordinator – Paul Guenther (Cincinnati Bengals DC 2014-2017)
Looking back at Guenther’s past few years as the Bengals defensive coordinator, the Bengals pass rush from the defensive ends immediately comes to mind. Also, notable is the lack of production from the Bengals safeties under Guenther due to the multiple/versatile DB sets.
The positional switch everyone has been waiting on! Khalil Mack projects to have a DE (or DL) designation across just about every platform; this gives him a huge value boost over the LB tag. Look for Mack to be a top 5 DL and one of the first players off the board in sack heavy leagues.
Bruce Irvin appears to have the inside track to winning the other defensive end job. Irvin was praised heavily for his work in the offseason. Irvin and Mario Edwards Jr. lined up with the first team defense in minicamp with Mack out. Mario Edwards Jr. and pass rush specialist Arden Key will look to compete with Irvin for snaps.
Barring a breakout from Irvin, I don’t see much fantasy value from the Raiders’ other defensive ends. Sophomore Eddie Vanderdoes could be a decent DT required option, but he’ll be pushed at the 3 technique by uber talented rookie Maurice Hurst.
The Raiders appear to have some serviceable off ball linebackers in Derrick Johnson and Tahir Whitehead, but neither are really exciting. Derrick Johnson figures to settle in at the MLB position. Unfortunately, Johnson showed signs of decline last year in KC including reduced tackle numbers.
The good news is Johnson still graded out well in coverage. Tahir Whitehead projects to settle in at the less productive SLB position. Whitehead is an early favorite for a 3-down role despite his struggles in coverage. Emmanuel Lamur has the early edge to start at WLB. Even as the WLB Lamur will be limited to snaps in base formation.
This group will be pushed by sophomore Marquel Lee and rookie Azeem Victor. I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of Victor or Lee earn a big role. Lee is especially intriguing due to the run stopping ability he has exhibited as a rookie.
Paul Guenther has used a multiple safety look in the past. Essentially both safeties essentially share responsibilities, often dictated by the offensive look. In this scheme there is no true free safety or strong safety. This is why Cincinnati’s safeties have been largely irrelevant IDP performers.
Mack, Irvin, Vanderdoes
Lee, Hurst, Victor (supersleeper)
Follow Tyler Joseph on twitter (@ONUtyjo) for more of his IDP takes and knowledge.