“The Amateur Ward:” Free Agency Round-Up: Jackson Jacking Up the AFC South and Other Impact Free Agency Moves
Free agency started off with a bang when the Jaguars signed Malik Jackson to a six year $78.5 million dollar deal after winning a Super Bowl with the Broncos as Peyton retired on top. However, that was not the only big-name front-seven player to change teams as free agency was extremely busy. The Falcons got arguably the top center available and Cleveland saw most of their good players leave as they try to resurrect RGIII’s career and give him an explosive receiver in the draft, in Corey Coleman. Teams will spend, splurge and see some of these deals blow up in their faces. That is why, in free agency, you aggressively pursue positions of need, but be careful on deals you give out. The Giants took a risk on Vernon continuing his domination post-Wake injury from Miami as they actively try to shore up the league’s worst defense from 2015. 2016’s offseason may not have been as loud as in seasons past, but there were some big names and huge sleepers changing uniforms.
- Malik Jackson (DE/JAX)- Jackson, who was an integral part of the Broncos Super Bowl run last season, signed with the Jaguars after the Broncos failed to reach an agreement with him. The impact of this loss for Denver cannot be put in any amount of words, as he finished tied for seventh among all interior lineman for pressures and can play a whole slew of defensive techniques. Jacksonville, who has been in rebuild mode for the past good number of seasons is officially a sleeper to make the playoffs, and Jackson was a must for the team as they usher in a ton of young talent. What Jackson brings to the table for the Jaguars is a versatile pass rusher who will be extremely effective in the run game and improve a unit that finished 15th in run defense and allowed 15 scores on the ground. Look for Jackson to post a career high in sacks this season while posting a solid line for stuffs and QB pressures. If he qualifies in your league for DT, he will be a top five guy there, but will see time at DT and DE this season for Jacksonville.
- Danny Trevathan (LB/CHI)- John Fox had Trevathan back when he was with the Broncos, and now he gets him again in Chicago as they transition to a 3-4 defense. Trevathan missed all but three games in 2014 to injuries, but recorded 109 tackles and two picks last season and then absolutely destroyed the Panthers in the Super Bowl, recording two recovered fumbles. He will be an immediate impact player from the inside linebacker position for the Bears who need help with stopping the run and a solid tackler who can get backs on the ground. While he may never be an elite source of sacks, he will be a stout defender against the run and will contribute some in the passing game as he has five career picks thus far and is only 26. He is a sleeper for all fantasy leagues and could put up LB2/borderline LB1 stats in his inaugural season in Chicago. He can do it all, and he is definitely a linebacker all fantasy owners should target as he is always a threat for getting the ball on the ground and does not miss tackles.
- Chandler Jones (DE-ARZ)- The biggest trade thus far this offseason has been the Patriots sending elite end Jones to the Cardinals for a second round pick and guard Jonathan Cooper. The cardinals biggest need in the offseason was pass rush help, and they got it. Jones joins an extremely stout front seven in Arizona and should make a nasty duo at defensive tackle with defensive end Calais Campbell, although Jones should also see time at end opposite Campbell. In 2015, for the Patriots over 15 games, Jones posted 12.5 sacks and four forced fumbles, and brings more explosion and versatility to a Cardinals defense that could make them Super Bowl favorites heading into the season. Despite needing to transition to defensive tackle in Arizona’s 3-4 defense, he is more explosive than most players that play the tackle position and will be an absolute nightmare for opposing quarterbacks and runningbacks as he gets off the line and block extremely quickly and pursues the ball. Depending on his designation in your fantasy league, he is a hands-down DE1, and could be a top 5 DT if that’s his primary designation heading into next season.
- Robert Ayers (DE/TB)- It is not a stretch to think that the Bucs defense is going to be a dominant force in 2016, and Ayers was a savvy signing for a defense that was already loaded in the front seven. It was bad enough when the rest of the NFC South already had Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander to worry about at linebacker and McCoy clogging up the run game, but now they also have to worry about a premier pass rusher in Ayers who had the highest marks for pass rush productivity in 2015. It is not out of the question that the Bucs will be a top 5 overall defense this season, and Ayers is going to rack up at least 15 sacks and 60 tackles, and I will put money on that, right now. He is a DE1 in all formats this season and is a game-changer, though he may not contribute a ton in the pass game, although he did create 14 hurried passes in 12 games last season.
- Olivier Vernon (DE/NYG)- 2015 was a tale of two halves for Vernon in Miami, or more specifically a tale of a healthy Wake, versus injured Wake. During the first half of the season, while Wake was healthy, Vernon was a disappointment after he had tallied only two sacks and five hurries through November 8th, versus the Bills. However, once Wake went down, Vernon took over, amassing five and a half sacks to go with thirteen and a half hurries. Quarterbacks just couldn’t get the guy off their tails as he was a monster in the passing game and seemed unblockable. After losing Ayers to Tampa Bay, the Giants snapped up Vernon and hope he can maintain that level of production as the Giants defense was the league’s worst and allowed the league high of nearly 300 pass yards/game and 27.6 points/game last season to opponents. If the second half was not the mere consequence of Wake going down, the Giants got a steal on their hands, if it was a fluke, the Giants will struggle mightily in all facets of defense once more in 2016.
- Karlos Dansby (LB/CIN)- ‘Los will step in and be the immediate replacement while Vontaze Burfict is serving a “light” three game suspension for blatant helmet to helmet contact with Antonio Brown in the Wildcard game last season versus Pittsburgh. An inside linebacker by trade, ‘Los is more than capable of playing on the strongside where he is entrenched as starter, following A.J. Hawk’s release. Throughout his career, Los has been known for being a tackling machine as well as a linebacker that holds his own in the passing and run game. The past couple seasons, the Bengals secondary has been a unit that has struggled versus opposing quarterbacks in coverage, and Dansby will certainly help take some pressure off the secondary as he is known for picking off passes and applying constant pressure in the backfield, affecting the adversary’s run game. In a way, Los was exactly what the Bengals needed, an outside linebacker that will contribute in all facets of the game and keep them in close games. He is a lock for 100+ tackles and will once more be a threat to end in the top 20 for all fantasy linebackers as he is an absolute tank.
- Derrick Johnson (LB/K.C.)- After missing all but one game in 2014, Johnson returned to being Mr. Reliable for the Chiefs, especially once Justin Houston went down with an ACL injury, missing the final five games of the season and being very limited during the Chiefs playoff run. Now, with questions about whether or not Houston will play in 2016, the Chiefs wisely re-signed the veteran inside linebacker Johnson and he should once more lead the team in tackles in 2016 and will continue to thrive as an off the baller defender in coverage and be a solid defender versus the run. With Houston likely missing at least substantial time in 2016, Johnson’s role could increase a bit, meaning he could post career highs in stuffs or passes defensed while being a solid contributor in both categories and providing a few sacks. He isn’t slowing down and is worth a look as your LB2.
- Jerrell Freeman (LB/CHI)- There are two things to know about Freeman, he is an absolute tackling machine and he is better than he would appear in coverage. That is exactly what Chicago needs, someone who will tackle everyone in his path and be reliable in coverage. He showed improved run support skills last season, but it remains to be seen if that will translate to Chicago. Freeman has a nose for the football and while he won’t force six fumbles like he did in 2013, he should jar two or three loose while posting over 120 tackles. The new inside linebacker tandem of Trevathan-Freeman is going to be troublesome for the NFC North as both are ballhawks, but Trevathan could be truly special for the Bears. Freeman is an LB2 in all leagues and a name that may fall a bit on draft day for those owners who only look at tackles and not the other aspects of Freeman’s game.
- Bruce Irvin (LB/OAK)- Irvin enters Oakland in a very interesting situation, as he will be joining one of the better young defenses in Oakland and help form a damn formidable pass rush duo playing opposite Khalil Mack, who absolutely abused QBs last season with 15 sacks and 12 stuffs versus the run. Irvin, who has seen his role grow over the past four seasons with Seattle, has improved his run defense and should thrive in Oakland where he will be able to focus on rushing the passer and stopping the run game. Where he is weak, is in coverage, where he will likely never be an above average defender in coverage, potentially limiting him to be a two down backer, but that will be perfectly alright with fantasy owners as he will get double digit sacks this season and see another career high in stuffs and contribute a handful of tackles for loss.
- Demario Davis (LB/CLE)- There is no way to sugarcoat this, the Browns offense in 2016 might be one of the worst in NFL history as we all know RGKnees won’t make it through the season in one piece, and then the other QB options ain’t any better. In addition to losing Karlos Dansby (cut), the Browns also lost center Alex Mack and a reliable tackle in Mitchell Schwartz. Davis may not be the fantasy producer in Cleveland that Los has been, but he will bring durability and a veteran leadership to a Cleveland defense that is in complete rebuild mode. From a fantasy perspective, Davis should contribute between 90-100 tackles and a handful of stuffs and sacks. His upside might be that of an LB3 in most leagues, but he is definitely roster worthy in leagues that have 16 or more teams.
- Charles Johnson (DE/CAR)- NFC South teams are not happy to see Johnson return, as we all know how big of a pass rusher he has been in the past, and was honestly a bargain for the Panthers at $3 million for one year. Johnson played in only 9 games last season before ending up on the injured reserve list with a hamstring injury. Fully healthy now, he is bad news for opposing quarterbacks and runners as he has a knack for making big plays on the ball. He will once more anchor one of the most lethal front sevens in the league, along with Kuechly and Davis while once more approaching double digit sacks en route to another solid season for the Panthers and fantasy owners alike.
- William Hayes(DE/L.A.)- With the departure of Chris Long (Patriots), retaining Hayes became paramount for the Rams, and he will now see an increased role in Los Angeles now that he no longer is a rotational player. Hayes is not a three down defensive end, but he is an elite edge run defender and will have the opportunity to anchor the Rams defensive line along with Robert Quinn and Aaron Donald who is an emerging superstar at defensive tackle after posting 79 total pressures, 51 run stops and missed an amazingly low 2 tackles the entire season, while being the most dominant defensive player last season. While Donald and Quinn will demand most of the offensive line’s attention, Hayes should not be ignored in L.A. as he will once more be a force in the run game and potentially see a ten sack season. If your league counts hurried passes, mark hayes in your queue as he is always harassing the QB, even when he doesn’t get the sack and has amassed 26 hurries and 15 stuffs the past two seasons.
- Courtney Upshaw (LB/ATL)- This could be one of the more underrated signings of the free agency season as Upshaw is an outstanding defender versus the run, and is still young enough that he could emerge as at least an average pass rusher. Currently penciled in as the starting strongside linebacker for the Falcons, Atlanta will also use him at end some while rotating their defensive ends/linebackers during the season to create mismatches and throw different looks at opponents. Upshaw will hopefully be an edge setter across from second year man Beasley as the falcons look to build the next Legion of Boom in Atlanta under Dan Quinn. The knock on Upshaw is he is a two down backer/end and will come off the field most third downs, but hopefully he will start developing into a bigger pass rush threat in addition to continuing to be among one of the better run defenders in the NFL.
- Damon Harrison (DT/NYG)- Runningbacks think twice before running into Harrison as the buck stops at him. He is the premier run stopping nose tackle in the NFL and was a huge reason why the Jets finished second in run defense last season, allowing only 83.4 yds/game. Dumbly enough, the Jets let him go in free agency as he now joins the other New York team, and he should immediately step in and help repair a defensive unit that got obliterated in every facet of defense last season by providing elite run defense and providing pressure on the passer, hopefully allowing other Giants to get to the QB. Since Harrison will never be an elite source of sacks or tackles, he will be a lower end DT1 in almost all formats, but should see a nice boost in leagues counting stuffs and tackles for loss.
- James Laurinaitis (LB/N.O.)- The über consistent, durable Laurinaitis brings the Saints a middle linebacker who will hold his own versus opposing tackles and rack up an elite tackle clip. The likely thought process of signing the middle linebacker was to use him as a mentor to the younger linebackers while providing stability in the middle of the defense, even with a torn UCL in his right elbow. The signing moves Stephone Anthony to the strongside, where the saints hope he will be able to use his ability versus the pass and drop in coverage to take advantage of Anthony’s skills. This move also gives the strongside man the ability to set the edge versus the run and help contain. The bottom line here is fantasy owners know what they get when they draft Laurinaitis, a hard-hitting, tank like linebacker who will provide them with triple digit tackles and hopefully contribute a few sacks or a forced fumble. The Saints needed a ‘quarterback’ for their front seven after last season where they were thrashed along the line.
- Jaye Howard (DT/K.C.)- The Chiefs were able to re-sign Howard after there was uncertainty as to whether or not he would return. Back in K.C., he will once more be integral in getting after the QB and be an elite defender against the run. Last season, he exploded statistically amassing over 150x his tackle production from 2014 and recording five sacks. With the uncertainty of Houston’s availability entering the season, Howard will once more be counted onto apply pressure on the QB while setting the edge for K.C.’s front seven and leaving their secondary to pick off the mistakes on what is an insanely good unit overall, and one that should challenge to be a top ten overall defense once more. Depending on his fantasy designation, he is a DT1/DE2 and will be a healthy source of stuffs, hurries and provide a decent sack clip.
While you could argue that a few other names deserve to be listed, these are the ones that should make the biggest impact on their new teams on the front seven. If you would like to make a case for another player, please feel free to contact me and we may discuss. Tune in next week for the top impact secondary moves of NFL free agency 2016.
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Major League Fantasy Baseball Weekly: Join Lou Landers and Kyle Amore live on Thursday May 19th, 2016 from 8-10pm EST for episode #14 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Weekly. This will run every Thursday as a live broadcast that will take live callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. Our Thursday night show will do some weekly recaps, player updates, and preview the coming week end games.
Our guests this week are Hernan Batista and Bryan Luhrs. Bryan is the owner of Real Deal Dynasty Sports, a writer with MLFS, and a key member of our organization. Hernan is a frequent guest on our radio shows and an owner in MLFB1 and MLFB2.
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Our guests this week are Zak Sauer and Calvin Martin, Jr. Zak is a writer with majorleaguefantasysports.com, a co-host of our Saturday football shows starting in June, and the co-host of Sports Buffet’s radio show “Sports Talk” every Monday with Lou Landers. Calvin is the commish of MLFB3 and owner in MLFB1, MLFB4, and MLFBC.
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