Morgan Burnett, S, GB - With Atari Bigby on the PUP list, Burnett has the starting strong safety spot to himself for at least the first six weeks. Although expectations should be modest for the rookie, his upside is definitely greater than Bigby’s. Burnett’s range and playmaking give him a great deal of potential on the playing field and as an IDP prospect. Like Bigby, though, Burnett needs to restrain himself a bit and resist playing impulsively.
Brandon Spikes, LB, NE - Spikes quickly and decisively proved to be the best inside linebacker on the Patriots roster not named Jerod Mayo, and he might even prove to be a better IDP than Mayo right away. While Mayo is more of a speed linebacker, Spikes will presumably specialize in diving into the heavy traffic, putting him at the point of attack on most running plays. Despite Spikes’ lack of foot speed, he has brilliant instincts that make him a threat to intercept a couple passes as well.
Chris Clemons, DE, SEA - The lopsided 4-3 experiment in Seattle is benefiting Clemons so far. As the split-wide, weak-side end in the equation, Clemons starts every play with blocking attention diverted far away from him. That allowed him to finish the preseason with seven tackles (six solo) and three sacks. Don’t be shocked if Clemons records over 60 tackles this year and posts somewhere in the range of eight sacks.
Earl Thomas, S, SEA - If anyone was wondering why Seattle took Thomas 14th overall in this year’s draft, his 86-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Vikings should have cleared things up. In leagues that reward turnovers more than tackles, Thomas has the skill set to immediately emerge as one of the best IDP options among defensive backs. He is unlikely to be much of a tackler anytime soon, however, so don’t expect more than 75 or so this year.
Greg Hardy, DE, CAR - We have a hard time advising owners to add Hardy to their roster at the moment, but he’s someone to put on speed dial in IDP leagues that mandate defensive line play. Hardy was a first-round talent in terms of athleticism, but reports of a poor work ethic to go along with his extensive injury history pushed him into the sixth round. The Hardy that showed up in the preseason looked like the first-round version, totaling 16 tackles (14 solo) and three sacks in four games.
Demorrio Williams, LB, KC - Williams is a journeyman whose role on any team is always at risk of being erased without notice, and Kansas City might have done just that when they recently announced that Derrick Johnson, not Williams, would start the regular season opener against San Diego. Despite posting 117 tackles a year ago, it looks like Williams’ time in Kansas City, at least as a regular contributor, could be ticking towards its end.
Calvin Pace, LB, NYJ - Pace entered the preseason as a potential sleeper candidate for owners whose leagues give hefty rewards for sacks after he posted eight sacks and three forced fumbles in just 12 games last year. However, he suffered a broken foot on August 27th and is expected to be out until around the first or second week in October. That’s not only a significant amount of time to be out, but it’s the kind of injury that seems likely to limit a player even upon his return. Without Pace, the Jets’ pass rush is significantly weakened.
Gary Guyton, LB, NE - Brandon Spikes’ gain is Guyton’s loss. Some had Guyton marked as a sleeper option for deeper IDP leagues after he posted 85 tackles (55 solo) as a starter last year, but he’s all but gone from the inside linebacker picture in New England with Spikes around. However, New England does need help at outside linebacker, and it’s looking like Guyton might find playing time (maybe even a starting spot) at the outside position. Still, we’d be surprised if he posted something more than 70 tackles and 5 sacks in 2010.
Trevor Scott, DE, OAK - Scott is a good player who should be productive for Oakland, but we list him here because he was apparently moved from linebacker to defensive end recently. Scott will not only rack up fewer tackles at defensive end, he might not see as much of the field either. Scott is likely to rotate with Matt Shaughnessy and Lamarr Houston at end rather than be a three-down player. There’s still a chance he’ll emerge as the team’s best pass rusher out of that trio, so he’s not valueless in deep leagues that reward sack production heavily.
Albert Haynesworth, DL, WAS - Haynesworth’s entire offseason has resulted in a steady drop in his IDP and real-life value, but he did actually have some value heading into this year as a defensive line IDP. Even in the 3-4, Haynesworth would have picked up plenty of tackles, and his strength would have made him a pass-rush threat even in a two-gap scheme. However, Haynesworth’s battle with Mike Shanahan seems to have reached (another) boiling point recently, and the Redskins are apparently renewing their efforts to rid themselves of Haynesworth’s shenanigans. Another thing hurting Haynesworth’s long-term value is a recent report that he might not actually consist of the matter that composes all other living humans, which could be a sticking point if he needs to pass a physical for whatever team he potentially ends up with.