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IDP Analysis: Steel City Resurgence

Mario Puig

Mario is a Senior Writer at RotoWire who primarily writes and projects for the NFL and college football sections.

Promising St. Louis end Robert Quinn showed up on the injury report this week with a concussion, so one has to assume he's questionable for Sunday's game against San Francisco. It's a surprising development given that Quinn played 64 snaps against the Cardinals. The 2011 first-round pick has 8.5 sacks in 11 games this year, his first season as a starter. Meanwhile, Minnesota rookie Harrison Smith appears to have a good shot at playing this week after leaving Sunday's game against Chicago with a concussion.

Quinn and Smith aren't the only noteworthy IDPs dealing with concussions, as Tennessee middle linebacker Colin McCarthy sat out practice Wednesday and Thursday. He played a full snap count against the Jaguars on Sunday, but sitting out the first two practices this week seems to have his status very much in question for this week's matchup with Houston. Injuries were a large reason why McCarthy fell to the fourth round of last year's draft, and durability turned out to be an issue for him this year - he has just 38 tackles in seven appearances.

The Bears could be without two star defenders this week, as Charles Tillman is dealing with a chipped bone in his foot and Lance Briggs has an ankle sprain to account for. Both players were limited participants in practice Thursday, though, so owners should consider both players no worse than questionable for this week.


James Harrison, (3-4) OLB, PIT

As of three weeks ago it appeared as if Harrison was finally starting to lose it. The 34-year-old linebacker headed into Week 10 with just 18 tackles in five games, and just one of those tackles was a sack. In the last three games, though, Harrison has mostly looked like the guy who was one of the NFL's unique terrors from 2007 to 2001, piling up 24 tackles and two sacks. Harrison has been one of the rare 3-4 outside linebackers who maintained strong IDP value across scoring systems due to his ability to post double-digit sacks and triple-digit tackles at the same time, and the last three weeks give reason to hope for Harrison to return to that rate of production. If he does, he could be a game changer in IDP league playoffs.

Miles Burris, OLB, OAK

It appears that the Raiders might cut ties with 2010 eight overall pick Rolando McClain, locking Burris into a nickel formation role for the rest of 2012. The rookie fourth-round pick from San Diego State plays nearly all of Oakland's snaps, along with Philip Wheeler, and with McClain gone Burris has a good chance of keeping it that way beyond this year, solidifying his value in dynasty formats. In the last six weeks Burris has 46 tackles and a sack, including a 13-tackle performance against Cincinnati last week. Despite opening the year as Oakland's third linebacker behind Wheeler and McClain, leaving him off the field on passing downs, Burris could still make a push for triple-digit tackles this year, as he has 64 tackles in 11 games and seems to be picking up steam.

Zach Brown, OLB, TEN

Brown has come to life lately as an IDP and, while he isn't likely to break into the tier inhabited by players like Luke Kuechly, Bobby Wagner and Lavonte David, Brown is doing his part in making the linebackers from the 2012 draft class look very, very good. Although he started the year as a backup, Brown is up to 65 tackles (46 solo) in 11 games, thanks in large part to an outburst of 24 tackles (19 solo) over his last three games. He's playing most of Tennessee's nickel snaps since Akeem Ayers is playing at defensive end much of the time, so there's no reason to think Brown won't continue producing on an LB2 level to finish the year. With McCarthy dealing with a concussion, the short-term is looking especially strong for Brown, who also has 2.5 sacks, an interception and a forced fumble this year.

Cameron Jordan, DE, NO

Even if the New Orleans defense as a whole is a trainwreck, the Saints can find some solace in Jordan's emergence this year. The 2011 first-round pick appeared to be a disappointment as he finished his rookie year with just 31 tackles and one sack in 15 starts, but Jordan has turned into one of the league's most promising young defensive linemen this year. After adding five tackles (four solo) and a sack against the Falcons on Thursday, Jordan is up to 51 tackles (31 solo) and seven sacks in 12 games, leaving him within range of double-digit sacks. Jordan isn't all that fast or explosive and profiles as a strong-side edge setter rather than a dominant edge-rushing threat, so the sack totals don't figure to be especially high with him, but he's a high motor run stopper with great functional strength who could become one of the league's best tackle sources at defensive end. He's on pace for 68 tackles and nine sacks at the moment, which puts him at least on a DL2 level in most leagues.

Bobby Wagner, MLB, SEA

Wagner's value has been high since October, and the rookie second-round pick just keeps ascending. Veteran Leroy Hill couldn't keep Wagner out of nickel formations for long, and as an every-down player Wagner is looking like an LB1 in all formats for the foreseeable future. Since Week 6 the athletic and disruptive Wagner has 62 tackles in six games, adding a sack and an interception over that span. Along with fellow rookies Luke Kuechly and Lavonte David, Wagner should finish this year strong and head into 2013 as one of the elite options in any format.


Rolando McClain, MLB, OAK

It's looking as if McClain's time in Oakland is nearing its end. Although he wasn't formally cut as of Thursday, McClain was kicked out of practice Wednesday and seems to remain separated from the team. Some team will probably give McClain a second chance given that he's not even three years removed from getting selected eighth overall in the 2010 draft, but there's generally not much reason to be optimistic about his chances of succeeding in the NFL. It seems safe to say that McClain was badly overrated as a talent when he came into the league, because rookie fourth-round pick Miles Burris and modest free agency acquisition Philip Wheeler both were playing more snaps than McClain, who has just 244 tackles (173 solo) in 41 games. That projects to just 95 tackles per year.

Jason Babin, DE, JAC

Babin's departure from Philadelphia and subsequent landing in Jacksonville might look like a blessing for his IDP value on the surface - he could very well see a bigger snap count with the Jaguars, where there's much less defensive line talent than there was in Philadelphia. The problem with Babin's IDP potential is that he's an extremely one-dimensional player who has basically no track record of success outside of a very particular defensive line scheme called the wide nine, where the ends are basically instructed to line up very wide and rush straight upfield with negligible contain responsibilities. More specifically, Babin has only had success under the watch of defensive line coach Jim Washburn, and Washburn isn't in Jacksonville. There are some defenses where Babin's one-dimensional game might have worked - Chicago and Minnesota come to mind - but on a team like the Jaguars he'll have to deal with more attention from blockers than he has in the past. Between the bulls eye on him and the potential for being a schematic misfit, Babin only figures to be worth using in deep IDP formats.

Akeem Ayers, OLB, TEN

Although he's still a player you'll want to hold on to in dynasty formats if possible, it's looking like Ayers' value in redraft IDP leagues is probably no higher than LB3 in most formats - a significant disappointment given how well he started the year. Ayers made 45 tackles in the season's first month, but injuries and a general lack of talent at defensive end in Tennessee resulted in the Titans playing Ayers at defensive end more often, with his snap count getting decreased in order to account for the greater physical toll of playing on the line. As a result, Ayers has only 35 tackles in his last seven games, though the decrease is offset a bit by the three sacks he's posted over that span. Still, with Ayers playing snap counts like the 34 he did against Jacksonville last week, it's difficult to see him reliably posting tackle totals to a useful extent in most leagues.

Jabaal Sheard, DE, CLE

It's far too early to describe him as a disappointment in real football terms, but as an IDP Sheard has fallen quite a bit short of expectations this year. After totaling 55 tackles (40 solo), 8.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss as a rookie last year, Sheard heads into this week with just 33 tackles, three sacks and five tackles for loss in 11 games. It's looking as if his production may have suffered due to the absences of Ahtyba Rubin (calf) and Phil Taylor (pectoral) at their respective points, as the duo is one of the NFL's most promising defensive tackle tandems, and their presences presumably make it easier for Sheard to get into the backfield. Given that, there's reason to hope for a strong finish out of Sheard, as Rubin and Taylor are both healthy, and Sheard has shown some signs of life lately - perhaps not by coincidence. In his last three games Sheard has two sacks on eight tackles.

Andre Branch, DE, JAC

Branch's value was never high in IDP leagues - especially redraft formats - but the rookie second-round pick from Clemson probably should see his dynasty value knocked down a fair amount in light of Jason Babin's arrival in Jacksonville. Although he looked like a starter for Jacksonville heading into the regular season, Branch has just 11 tackles and one sack on the year, and even before Babin's arrival he was splitting snaps with a handful of no-name ends. Branch played 24 snaps against Tennessee last week, while Austen Lane played 30, George Selvie played 22 and John Chick played 22. It's fair to wonder whether Branch will even be active with Babin around. The fact that Jacksonville claimed Babin off waivers is especially disturbing for Branch's long-term value because the Jaguars have no hopes of making the playoffs - they invested in Babin with 2013 in mind at the least, and Branch is nowhere near the level of the team's other starting end, Jeremy Mincey.