We’re not even halfway through the preseason yet, and injuries have already significantly reshaped the IDP landscape.
The biggest news is that Green Bay linebacker Desmond Bishop will likely miss the entire season due to a hamstring tear, depriving the IDP pool of a player who totaled 115 tackles (90 solo), five sacks and two forced fumbles in just 13 games last year. Bishop’s absence paves the way for backup D.J. Smith, the top-ranking riser for this week, to emerge as an IDP force.
Indianapolis suffered a major injury in the linebacking corps, too, losing its top player in Pat Angerer for at least the first three games of the season with a broken foot. Angerer’s top backup is Jerrell Freeman, though some sort of rotation could occur at the spot.
Meanwhile, a couple of role changes also appear to be under way. Tennessee safety Robert Johnson seems likely to break into the starting lineup at some point this year, and Jordan Babineaux is the player whose IDP value will suffer for it. In addition, rookie linemen Quinton Coples and Derek Wolfe are close to establishing themselves as starters, and Buffalo pass rusher Arthur Moats has surprisingly kicked Kirk Morrison out of the starting defense for the Bills.
D.J. Smith, (3-4) ILB, GB
Desmond Bishop is one of the league’s best inside linebackers, so his (likely) season-ending hamstring injury is certainly a big loss to the Packers and Bishop’s IDP owners, but D.J. Smith is a strong replacement for both. He had 27 tackles (19 solo) and an interception in three starts last year, and he figures to maintain a 130-tackle pace as he replaces Bishop in the Green Bay 3-4. Smith looks like a good player and he’ll certainly see a lot of snaps since Aaron Rodgers leads the Packers to the end zone so quickly, so everything is in place for a big year for Smith.
Kavell Conner, (3-4) ILB, IND
Conner is an athletic linebacker who totaled 104 tackles (50 solo) last year, and he’s likely to improve on those numbers in 2012 now that Indianapolis is moving him inside in the 3-4. His numbers are further aided by the broken foot suffered by Pat Angerer, who will miss at least the first three weeks of the year after finishing the 2011 season with 148 tackles (78 solo). With Houston and Jacksonville running the ball often in the AFC South and more tackles up for grabs with Angerer out of the way, it would disappoint if Conner didn’t make it to 120 tackles this year.
Quinton Coples, (3-4) DE, NYJ
Coples is a major athletic talent, and it looks like he’s in for a huge snap count on the Jets’ defensive line this year. He totaled five tackles (all solo) with a sack and a forced fumble in the team’s preseason debut against Cincinnati, showing the ability to play effectively at multiple points along the line. That ability to play inside and out means that Coples will generally only leave the field when he’s winded, leaving him with many opportunities to pile up tackles.
Derek Wolfe, DT/DE, DEN
The Broncos surprised most when they selected Wolfe with the 36th pick in the draft, but he was more than worth it. It’s becoming more and more apparent as the preseason progresses, as Wolfe showed very well in training camp and totaled three tackles and two sacks against Chicago in his preseason debut. Wolfe’s stock is also on the rise due to a triceps tear suffered by end Jason Hunter, leaving Wolfe with a clear route to a full-time role. Wolfe finished his senior year at Cincinnati with 70 tackles (37 solo), 9.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss in 13 games, so if he gets his snaps there’s reason to believe big numbers can follow.
Arthur Moats, OLB, BUF
Moats has displaced Kirk Morrison as Buffalo’s starting strong-side linebacker, a development that’s slightly surprising but still understandable given Moats’ superior athleticism and disruptiveness. Although Moats remains somewhat of a long shot for IDP relevance, he’s certainly a player to keep an eye on at this point. He could emerge as a standout pass rusher, and if he can push for seven or eight sacks he would become an IDP factor even if he settles around just 85-to-90 tackles.
Brian Urlacher, MLB, CHI
Urlacher has twice undergone surgery on his left knee this offseason – including an arthroscopic procedure Tuesday – and now his Week 1 availability is uncertain. Urlacher is obviously among the league’s toughest players and said he expects to play, but his owners need to recognize that Urlacher will be both an effectiveness and availability concern all year long. Urlacher himself said that the knee will likely be an issue all year, meaning that a full recovery seems close to out of the question.
Jordan Babineaux, S, TEN
Babineaux is a very solid IDP option when he's a full-time player – he had 93 tackles as a 14-game starter last year and 104 tackles as a 16-game starter in 2009 – but it appears that the job security that made him useful in 2011 is slipping away. Babineaux never was very effective as a starter, and Tennessee seems to be turning to 2010 fifth-round pick Robert Johnson for improvement. The Tennessean said Johnson is playing “a lot” with the first-team defense in training camp, and he isn’t getting those reps at the expense of Michael Griffin. Johnson’s gains will directly result in a loss of snaps for Babineaux.
Davon House, CB, GB
House previously appeared to be in the lead for Green Bay’s starting cornerback spot opposite Tramon Williams, but a dislocated shoulder suffered August 10 has his availability for the beginning of the season in serious question. He’ll be out until at least the end of August, and a surgery may be necessary from that point. Although cornerbacks aren’t typically great IDP options, the Green Bay secondary offers the occasional exception, because opposing offenses are forced to throw the ball with great frequency in order to keep up with Aaron Rodgers. That would result in a good number of tackle opportunities for House, or second-round pick Casey Hayward if House misses games.
James Harrison, (3-4) OLB, PIT
Harrison underwent arthroscopic knee surgery Wednesday, leaving his Week 1 effectiveness and, to a slightly lesser extent, his Week 1 availability, somewhat in question. He should play if he’s at all able – although the Steelers have solid depth behind Harrison thanks to Jason Worilds and Chris Carter, neither player can bring Harrison’s ferocity or leadership – but as a 3-4 outside linebacker Harrison needs sacks to justify an IDP start, and a creaky knee won’t help him find the quarterback. If you have a decent backup, you might want to play them over Harrison in the first week of the year.
Brandon Flowers, CB, KC
Flowers is one of the league’s best cornerbacks and a surprisingly strong IDP option in leagues that reward points for passes defended – he has a ridiculous total of 70 in just 60 NFL games – but a troublesome foot injury has kept him on the sideline in August. He is expected to play sometime soon, though, so as long as Flowers’ absence doesn’t last for the whole preseason, he should be up to his usual standard of play by Week 1. Just keep an eye on the situation if you’re an owner or a prospective owner.