By: Gary VanDyke ll (Twitter: @HBogart27)
FFD260 IDPs: Primed 3.0
Every season we see players rise and fall as they get better, grow old, are phased out and/or phased in. Their situations change while we sit and think that everything will remain the same and concentrate on other pressing issues at hand to keep our rosters in tip-top shape. We either benefit from it or we take the hit as we overlook the details that could have made the difference in how it could have played out. This is not in all cases of course, and not for the sake of this article. We will be covering a player that had a situational change that I believe has set him up now to make a “jump” for fantasy purposes and be “Tiered Up” by this time next year.
Cincinnati LB Kevin Minter
H/W: 6’0” 245lbs
Pro: 5 yr
Drafted: 2013 / Arizona / Rd 2, pick 13
2016 Snap count: 1003 / 93.3% / Ranked 1st
Current Tier 8 / LB61 per: FantasyPros
(Consensus of 43 “Experts” – Jul 16, 2017)
Now I’m sure there are various different tiers he may be in from site to site, but I like using Fantasypros for my rankings as they are a consensus of many “experts” from multiple sites.
Kevin Minter spent his career up to this point in Arizona as their man in the middle and holding his own as he did. This is why I believe his tier is at eight at the moment. It’s not that he hasn’t developed into a better LB than a tier 8, it is that he was in a scheme that held him in tier 8. Arizona traditionally likes using more than normal safeties on the field for speed. As we all know they even transitioned Deone Bucannon from a safety to a linebacker role.
Arizona runs their 3-4 scheme basically with smaller fast guys who can all cover with a “big man front” to get after the ball. Minter was the solid clog in the middle to hold it together and stop the run when needed. Here is a look at his stats from 2015 and 2016 when he assumed the full-time role.
2015/16 combined info; per: MFL
176 combined tackles
17 total tackles for loss
4 pass defended
32 total games, 0 missed games.
His PFF grade for 2016: 81.0 (good/high range per PFF chart)
Those are solid numbers for a player asked to do what he was in that scheme. Let the DLs do the dirty work and allow the speedy smaller guys cover who needs to be covered and don’t allow the big play up the middle. Simple right?
If we wonder why Arizona may have let Minter walk away in free agency we should consider the other two players that were allowed to walk also. Tony Jefferson was a complete beast in 2016 and has signed with Baltimore. D.J. Swearinger had his best season ever and has signed with Washington. Not to mention Calais Campbell is gone to the AFC South. I believe it’s simplest to say it was over money.
According to Sportrac here are their current top paid players:
They have a lot of money still wrapped up in QB Carson Palmer, CB Patrick Peterson, FS Tyrann Mathieu, LT Jared Veldheer, G Mike Iupati and WR Larry Fitzgerald. Then they recently signed OLB Chandler Jones to a five year $82,500,000 contract. As any team Arizona has to manage the money and letting some solid players walk in free agency is part of that. They were able to let Minter, Jefferson, and Swearinger walk and replaced them through the draft with LB Haason Reddick in the first round, S Bubba Baker in the second round, and S Rudy Ford with their last pick in the draft. We also have to think they hope to have a fully healthy Mathieu and Tyvon Branch back this season.
Then Arizona also has a few nice players who will be due to get paid soon also, our walk. Deone Bucannon has a fifth-year option coming up in 2018 worth nearly $9,000,000. Jaron Brown, John Brown and J.J. Nelson are all coming up in the within the next two years. And then there is the grossly underpaid David Johnson, who if he has any wheels left, will be a free agent in 2019. These are only a few of the names. It boils down to money, not all solid players can be retained. This is how the real NFL keeps a balance in the league.
So why I think that Minter will “Tiered Up” this coming season is pretty simple also. Cincinnati has been plugging and playing a trove of players the last couple of years at linebacker trying to get by. Rey Maualuga lost a step as a player a few seasons ago and the MLB position hasn’t been the same since. A much older Karlos Dansby had even been signed last offseason to bolster the depth for a year. He was by the end of the season the leading tackler as Burfict was SSPD for two games and missed three more. Burfict, as we know, is a beast at what he does. But he hasn’t been consistent at all due to SSPDs or injuries. Here is where Minter comes in for 2017.
Minter was one of the few top free agent linebackers this year worth signing. He has the experience and a solid track record. He is also only 26 years old. As in knowledge and age, this is the “prime” of his career.
Here are the details of his contract he was signed to:
Kevin Minter signed a 1 year, $4,250,000 contract with the Cincinnati Bengals, including a $2,100,000 signing bonus, $2,100,000 guaranteed, and an average annual salary of $4,250,000. In 2017, Minter will earn a base salary of $800,000, a signing bonus of $2,100,000, a roster bonus of $250,000 and a workout bonus of $1,100,000, while carrying a cap hit of $4,250,000 and a dead cap value of $2,100,000.
This contract is a great indication that the Bengals plan on him being on the field every down. I’m sure they would have liked to of signed him for a longer term, or they are thinking about a long term deal next year after they see how things pan out. But either way, we should look at this as an audition of sorts for Minter going forward as he still has a lot of good years of football ahead of him. We should expect his best on the field in 2017.
Traditionally a 4-3 defensive scheme likes to use their MLB and WLB linebackers on the field every down. Cincinnati wasn’t the exception until as I mentioned earlier, Maualuga lost his step. Minter has stayed healthy and not missed a game the last two seasons and on top of what he brings to the table as a veteran with starting experience, this fact is also very appealing. He won’t be used in the same type of role as he had been used with Arizona as Cincinnati asks much more of their MLB. He will have a huge roll of stopping the run and on passing downs he will see a few more coverage responsibilities. Unless the team makes a huge adjustment on passing downs for some reason, they have not been a team that uses so many safeties or DB’s in general on the field as often as Arizona. It’s not even close. Minter should see much more “hands on” the action as the middle of the defense will be less cluttered with bodies to make the plays. This is the situation as a fantasy owner we want to see. Opportunity is a big part of it if you’re going to “Tiered Up” and increase the stat sheet numbers. And by scheme change alone these opportunities will be there for Minter.
In summary: Minter has landed in a perfect situation to be “Tiered Up” by increasing his production on the field. At this time he is still being looked at as that past tier 8 type of LB, which is a perfect time to make a move to acquire him and benefit from doing so. Even if Burfict can manage to stay on the field in 2017 we could see Minters average of total combined tackles increase %20 – 25%, putting him well over the 110 total. Not to mention there will be more chances for him to be involved in turnover opportunities, and maybe even increase his sacks. I believe he can easily be “Tiered Up” from the 8 range to as high as a 4 range when it has all played out by this time next year. The question now is how to benefit from it and when should you make your move to add him.
2017 Production Level: (Past: High-end LB3/Low-end LB2) This
season: Low-end LB1 – Solid LB1.
*All bets are off if the increased opportunities lead to him not staying healthy.