The 2017-18 season had the usual ups and downs from an IDP fantasy standpoint. There were the players who seemingly came out of nowhere to put up excellent fantasy production (I’m looking at you, Joe Schobert and Kevin Byard). On the flip side were the players who underperformed to expectation and these are some the players we’ll take a closer look at today.
A down season can be a blip on the radar, as a given player can bounce back in the following season to regain their standing in the fantasy realm. These are not those players. The players today are IDP options who had a down 2018, and I don’t expect a 2018 bounceback.
A lot of people have reached out to me questioning Wilkerson’s value in 2018 and the title of this article should answer those queries. The whole “change of scenery will be good for his fantasy value” line of thinking feels a bit “pie in the sky.” That’s especially true considering Wilkerson’s performance from a fantasy standpoint over the past two seasons, in which he’s failed to reach DL2 status in 12-team balanced-scoring formats.
Wilkerson’s time in New York came to an unceremonious end as he was basically benched for the final three games of last season and shortly thereafter released. After a dominant 2015 season in which he posted 64 total tackles and 12 sacks, Wilkerson signed a five-year, $86 million contract with $37 million guaranteed in the first two seasons. Let’s just say that things went south in a hurry.
In the past two seasons, Wilkerson has 8 total sacks with 38 quarterback hurries and 11 hits according to PFF. In the 2016 season he was credited with 45 hurries and 23 hits on the quarterback. In his seven years in the league Wilkerson has finished with DL1 numbers just twice and DL2 numbers once. In the other four seasons he has finished outside the top 24 in defensive linemen scoring.
This may sound strange, but I come here not to bury McKinney but to praise him — from a NFL stand-point that is. At 6-4 and 250 pounds (there are reports that McKinney would like to drop 10 pounds prior to the season) McKinney is the prototypical inside linebacker and has averaged over 930 regular-season snaps over the past two seasons. Heading into a contract year, McKinney will once again be playing a three-down role, which is what IDP owners generally covet, and McKinney did rack up 129 total tackles while posting LB2 numbers in 2016.
It appeared that McKinney was a player on the rise heading into last season after his big sophomore season, but things didn’t play out as expected. In 2017 McKinney finished outside the top-40 in scoring. After having no real competition for tackles outside of veteran Brian Cushing in 2016 (Cushing has been released), McKinney had rookie Zach Cunningham playing alongside him last season. A second-round selection out of Vanderbilt, Cunningham lived up to his reputation as a tackling machine, finishing the season with 90 total stops despite playing 100 fewer snaps than McKinney.
For McKinney to retain fantasy relevance, it would have to be based on tackle numbers as he’s not a big-play type of linebacker. While McKinney does have eight sacks across his three seasons, a closer look at last season shows he rushed the passer 269 times, managing just three sacks and a combined 16 quarterback hurries and hits. He’s also forced just two fumbles in his career and been credited with only three passes defended.
Recent reports regarding Burfict are that he may face a four-game suspension for violating the league’s PED policy. Should that be the case then Burfict will be sitting out the beginning of the season due to suspension for the third consecutive year. Burfict missed the first three games last season as a result of a preseason hit on Anthony Sherman and the first three games of the 2016 season due to the blow to the head he delivered to Antonio Brown in the playoffs. It’s hard to be a fantasy factor when a player doesn’t hit the field.
Speaking of hitting the field, Burfict hasn’t played more than 11 games in a season since 2013 missing 28 regular-season games in that time due to injuries and suspensions. A main talking point regarding Burfict is that when he does play he produces, but his reckless style of play lends itself to injury. Burfict has suffered multiple concussions in the past five years and that is worrisome as well. He always seems to be one play away from a possible injury or to deliver a blow that lands him on the bench. Burfict has just a single LB1 season to his credit and that back in 2013. Facing a shortened season once again in 2018 it’s just too hard to trust that Burfict can stay on the field on a consistent basis.
The veteran safety emerged as a fantasy force in 2016 posting top-10 numbers as a member of the Arizona Cardinals. Jefferson posted 96 total tackles along with two sacks, two forced fumbles (with recoveries), and five passes defended. Jefferson signed with the Ravens prior to last season and was roundly considered a top-15 player among defensive backs. There were some concerns that the pairing of Jefferson with Eric Weddle — while a good NFL move — could see the duo eat into each other’s fantasy value. Those concerns proved to be valid regarding Jefferson in particular.
While both Jefferson and Weddle were credited with playing 1,084 snaps last season, it was Jefferson’s numbers that would dip nearly across the board. Jefferson did manage a half sack more than he put up in 2016 but would have just one more big play to his credit with an interception. Weddle posted 10 big plays including six interceptions. Jefferson had just one double-digit total tackle performance after posting three during his 2016 breakout campaign. After finishing outside the top 60 in scoring while playing alongside Weddle last season, there’s no reason to believe things will change heading into 2018.
The main question regarding Peppers after the Browns selected him 25th overall in the draft was just where the rookie would line up in the defense. Billed as a jack-of-all-trades player coming out of Michigan, Peppers mainly lined up at free safety and had little fantasy or NFL success. Peppers played 806 snaps and graded out poorly in run defense, pass rush, and coverage according to PFF. He finished outside the top 100 in scoring, putting up just 58 total tackles in 13 games played.
Often used as a linebacker during his time at Michigan, Peppers would line up within eight yards of the line of scrimmage on run snaps just 71 times (roughly 20 percent) and fail to post double-digit tackles in any games. Fellow safety Derrick Kindred would end up lining up in the box on 72 percent of run snaps. The latest reports out of Cleveland are that newly signed Damarious Randall will take over the free safety position and that Peppers will be used at strong safety. That could boost Peppers’ value, but he’ll need to beat out Kindred for the starting role and play much better than he showed as a rookie. Even if Peppers does secure the starting role, there may not be many tackles to be had as the linebacker duo of Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey combined for 282 total tackles in 2017. This is a buyer-beware situation as the undersized Peppers appears to be a work in progress that is far from completion.