Players acquired by new teams:
Jelani Jenkins (LB, signed by Oak from Mia) – Jenkins switches coasts as a possible replacement for Malcolm Smith.
Fantasy Analysis: Back in 2014, Jenkins was a speedy LB2/LB3, putting up 108 tackles and averaging 7.1 FPG. Since then, he’s battled injuries and the inconsistency that usually is bred from injuries. He hasn’t played a full 16-game season since that promising 2014 campaign. But Jenkins is still young – just 25 – and if he can stay healthy and keep his legs underneath him, he would be a great fit to replace Malcolm Smith as the WILL. Smith was a solid LB2 in his time in Oakland, and Jenkins is faster and better in coverage. A risky draft pick, Jenkins could prove to be a sneaky LB2/LB3 if he makes it to Week One healthy, and happens to stay that way for most of the year.
Manti Te’o (LB, signed by NO from SD) – Te’o will join a gaggle of LBs vying for playing time in New Orleans.
Fantasy Analysis: After the failed experiment of signing veteran James Laurinaitis last offseason, New Orleans has seemingly taken the “throw enough LBs at the wall, and a few are bound to stick” approach (which may have also been my draft strategy early in my IDP career). Te’o is still recovering from a torn Achilles’, but is expected to be at full strength in time for the regular season. Of course “full strength” Te’o wasn’t a dominant fantasy option in San Diego, and now he joins A.J. Klein, Stephone Anthony, Dannell Ellerbe, Nate Stupar, Craig Robertson, and Hau’oli Kikaha as the seven (yes, seven) LBs capable of earning a starting role. In the past, New Orleans LBs were solid at MLB and WLB for fantasy, but the SLB spot was barren. Te’o will need to break camp as the undisputed starter at the MIKE or WILL to be fantasy relevant.
Kevin Minter (ILB, signed by Cin from Ari) – Minter is headed to Cincinnati on a one-year deal, which should help solidify an aging LB corps. Minter is set to switch jobs with former Bengal Karlos Dansby, who moves into Minter’s spot in Arizona.
Fantasy Analysis: Minter has done a solid job in his first four years in the NFL, but hasn’t been much of a fantasy producer. After racking up 91 tackles in 2015, he put up 81 in 2016, failing to improve on his production and play. The troubling part is that ILB Deone Bucannon didn’t have a great year next to him, meaning Minter had the opportunity to be a fantasy factor, yet he only managed 4.9 FPG. Minter will get a fresh start with the Bengals, as they look to replace Karlos Dansby next to OLB Vontaze Burfict. Burfict – when healthy and not getting suspended – is a tackle-eater. This means Minter may have a tough time finding enough tackles left out there to make him more than the LB5 Minter has been over the last two years.
Malcolm Smith (OLB, signed by SF from Oak) – The former Super Bowl MVP moves across the bay to fill a huge weak spot for San Francisco. The deal is for $7 Million over two years, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.
Fantasy Analysis: When NaVorro Bowman went down with an Achilles’ injury, the 49ers scrambled to find a suitable replacement. Also, IDP owners everywhere cried, as the curse of the San Francisco LBs continued. After several defenders tried to fill the enormous shoes left by Bowman, it quickly became apparent to the 49ers (and their opponents) that LB was a black hole after Bowman. Enter Smith, who quietly put up another solid LB2/LB3 season in 2016, with 6.8 FPG. It’s the second year in a row he’s eclipsed 100 tackles as the WLB in Oakland. Smith should still offer solid value playing next to Bowman, but if Bowman’s recovery doesn’t go well, or he suffers yet another major injury (he’s had two in his last three seasons), Smith will be in line to soak up a ton of production, and make a run at LB1 value.
Paul Worrilow (LB, signed by Det from Atl) – Worrilow is likely to repeat his veteran backup role as he moves to Detroit on a one-year deal, per D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Fantasy Analysis: This is a friendly reminder that Worrilow proved too slow as a starter in Atlanta, and was replaced by a younger, faster LB corps. Worrilow isn’t likely to supplant Tahir Whitehead, but with WLB DeAndre Levy released, he does have a path to a starting job. He also might see some time at SLB, so he’s one to watch post-draft and in OTAs. He’s likely just some veteran insurance, who would need a series of unfortunate events (for the Lions) to be a legitimate fantasy option.
Lawrence Timmons (ILB, signed by Mia from Pit) – The Dolphins finally get some help at LB, inking Timmons for two years and $12 Million, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Fantasy Analysis: Timmons moves back home to South Florida, where he should pair up with fellow ILB Kiko Alonso as the nickel linebackers. While Miami is known as a 4-3 defense, and both Timmons and Alonso are considered ILBs, that isn’t likely to be an issue. Miami typically uses 2 LBs in Nickel, and Timmons played next to an ILB in Ryan Shazier in Pittsburgh. Timmons has been about as consistent as they come – he’s posted between 7.1 and 7.6 FPG for the last five seasons – but he is switching teams and schemes, and he’ll have stud SS Reshad Jones to compete with for tackles, so there’s likely to be a little dip in production. However, Alonso has an injury history, so Timmons would almost certainly see a bump if Alonso misses time.
John Simon (OLB, signed by Ind from Hou) – Simon inks a three-year deal as Indy looks to replace OLB Erik Walden.
Fantasy Analysis: Simon was sneaky good last season. He put up 4.8 FPG with 51 tackles and 3.5 sacks in just 11 games, with at least 5 FP in 6 of his first 10 games before getting injured. Surrounded by talented EDGE players in Houston, Simon benefitted from all the attention paid to his teammates on the field, and consequently flew under the radar. Whether or not Simon can keep getting clean looks at runners and QBs without Jadeveon Clowney next to him is the question. He could be a solid LB3 if he can build on his 2016 campaign.
Karlos Dansby (ILB, signed by Ari from Cin) – Dansby returns to Arizona for the third time in his career, according to Kent Somers of The Arizona Republic. This is likely where he’ll finish his long career.
Fantasy Analysis: Another season, another 100+ tackles for the 14-year ILB. Arizona doesn’t seem happy with the nickel LB combo of Kevin Minter and Deone Bucannon, as Minter isn’t getting any better, and Bucannon took a step backward in terms of development. HC Bruce Arians also repeatedly lit up his defense publicly for not sticking to their assignments, so he is likely looking for Dansby to be a veteran presence who knows the Arians coaching philosophy well. Dansby is on the wrong side of 35, so he is most likely going to be a 2-down LB in Arizona. If that happens, he may see his tackles dip below 90 for the first time since 2006. But we’ve all been expecting his tackles to drop for awhile and still he manages to be a solid LB2+ in tackle-heavy formats.
Julius Peppers (OLB, signed by Car from GB) – Peppers reunites with his former team, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
Fantasy Analysis: Peppers was surprisingly productive in Green Bay, considering many thought he was past his prime when he signed there. He had 19 sacks over the last two seasons in Green Bay, including 8.5 in 2016. He remained fantasy relevant in big play leagues with 15 big plays on the season, but his tackle numbers were the lowest of his career (30). He’ll be right back at home in Carolina, but he’ll likely continue to be just a pass rush specialist, with boom-bust value in big play leagues. Also, Carolina’s front seven is considerably more talented than the ones Peppers played on in Green Bay, so Peppers might have a harder time finding production, but with the trading away of DE Kony Ealy, there might be enough playing time for Peppers to post another 10-15 big plays in 2017.
Players re-signed by their 2016 teams:
Kiko Alonso (LB, Mia) – Miami continues to show a ton of faith in Alonso, signing him for another four years.
Fantasy Analysis: Alonso’s rise and fall as a premium LB has been well-documented, but he did a solid job for Miami in his first year there. With 121 tackles (70 solo), 2 INTs, 2 fumble recoveries, and a forced fumble, Alonso was a serviceable LB2/LB3. Again he battled injuries, but the Dolphins clearly liked what they saw, slapping a first-round tender on him before signing him to a four-year deal. But things are not all roses, as the Dolphins also signed veteran ILB Lawrence Timmons, and have brought in a few other LBs to visit (such as Zach Brown). So while Alonso’s home may be in South Florida, his on-field home is still TBD. Miami could move him to the WILL (to replace Jelani Jenkins) and allow Timmons to run the defense. Some pre-season action should give us more clues, but for now Alonso’s fantasy value is holding steady.
Keenan Robinson (LB, NYG) – Robinson will stay in the Meadowlands, but isn’t guaranteed a starting job.
Fantasy Analysis: Robinson put up pedestrian numbers last season, with just 80 tackles and 4.6 FPG. That’s LB6/LB7 range. He’s been a disappointment for the Giants and the team spent much of last season rotating Robinson with 2 other LBs. It would take a lot to go his way for Robinson to work his way into LB3/LB4 range, including the Giants not taking a talented LB early in the draft.
Lorenzo Alexander (OLB/DE, Buf) – Alexander returns on a two-year deal, after a strong season. A defensive scheme change is coming in Buffalo, so his role in up in the air.
Fantasy Analysis: Alexander’s 12.5 sacks pop off the stat sheet, and are certainly enticing as what we might expect from him in the future. However, he has a scheme shift coming his way, as the Bills are likely to move back to a 4-3 defense. That shouldn’t kill his production, but he wasn’t nearly as productive in the past under a 4-3 scheme. He’s also 34 and 2016 was easily his best season, creating a lot of variables to assume he’ll have another impact season in 2017. What might help? Moving to a 4-3 could get him re-designated as a DE, in which case his value rises.
James Harrison (LB, Pit) – The Steelers announced they have reached a two-year contract with Harrison.
Fantasy Analysis: One of the most fascinating stories in the NFL, Harrison is now signed for his age-39 and age-40 seasons in Pittsburgh. He isn’t much of a fantasy asset anymore, tallying just 5.0 sacks in 2016, but he remains one of the more effective 3-4 OLBs in the entire NFL, and is a critical piece of Pittsburgh’s defense. He’s still in great shape, and likely took less money to stay with the Steelers than he may have gotten elsewhere.
Nick Perry (OLB, GB) – According to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, the Packers locked up one of their young pass rushers, to the tune of five years/$60 Million. The 27-year-old Perry had a breakout season in 2016, both as a pass rusher and as a run stopper.
Fantasy Analysis: Perry’s 59 tackles and 12 sacks made him a solid LB2 in big play leagues, and as he enters his prime in a system he excelled in, he could improve on both his tackle numbers and his big play production. Perry played part of the season with a club on his hand after breaking several fingers. Perry should also see a bump in opportunity, as the Packers let OLB/DE Julius Peppers walk. That should clear the way for Perry to try and improve on his breakout year.
Melvin Ingram (OLB, LAC) – The Chargers announced that they have placed the franchise tag on Ingram.
Fantasy Analysis: Even though the Chargers are planning to switch to a 4-3 under new DC Gus Bradley, they determined Ingram too valuable to let go. In 2016, Ingram developed in coverage and finished the year with 60 total tackles (46 solo, 14 assists) and averaged 5.3 FPG in 16 games. The Chargers are confident Ingram can play with his hand in the dirt, but also that Bradley can develop a role for him like he did with Bruce Irvin in Seattle and Dante Fowler in Jacksonville.