By: Gary VanDyke ll (Twitter: @HBogart27)
FFD260 IDPs: Primed
Here we are in the later part of June and starving for some football. Minicamps are underway, or about to be, and we feel that feeling we get just wanting to get on with it. Free agents have been signed for the most part and the rookie draft hangover is just about over. And all we want are reports and some news of some type to feed the fire that we have our fantasy rosters in good shape before the main camps start. While all the time praying for no injuries to occur to our players. What a rush!
With that said, yearly there are only so many “under the radar” players for IDP purposes to be found. I still have a few in my pocket but have been waiting for those reports to pass them on. That part is getting harder now, so as I throw out some more players make sure you use good judgment on what I have to say. The last thing I ever want anyone who may be reading these articles are to make a move that they regret in the end. I’ll do my best to let you know at the end at this point on each “take” if the player is a sure thing or a guy worthy of a roster spot as a wait and see. If you have the roster spot add them, if you don’t then put them on your watch list. We don’t want any hard feelings about anything that doesn’t work out. Thank you!
So now on to the two players I’d advise to take hard looks at as possible roster worthy “finds”. I’ll be starting out with Washington’s FS/SS D.J. Swearinger. Who I do believe is worth a pick up now and a real sure thing to end up being productive for your lineup. If you’re looking for that extra defensive back, he is a good one to add. Then I will be moving on to Minnesota’s LB Edmond Robinson, who is currently the front-runner to replace Chad Greenway as the new weak side linebacker (WLB). And add why I think he will win the position and actually have a productive 2017 season. Now let’s get this rolling with my “take” on Swearinger.
Washington FS/SS D.J. Swearinger
H/W: 5’10” 205lbs
Pro: 5 yr
Drafted: 2013 / Houston / Rd 2, pick 25
College: South Carolina
2016 Snap count: 837 / 77.9% / Ranked 3rd
Mr. Swearinger has been a bit of an enigma for some time now. A highly touted IDP rookie in 2013 that just couldn’t put it together. He was drafted by Houston and didn’t work out well. They ended up cutting him noting his attitude as a “team” player was not on par after just 2 seasons. Then Tampa Bay gave him a go and there were good indications he had adjusted that attitude while receiving positive reports on his skill set. Indications even where he’d be in line for a nice role with the starting defense. It didn’t happen. He spent the season playing special teams, only to be cut in November of the 2015 season. And considering the state of the Buccaneers defense at that time it wasn’t a good sign. I’m sure it was a humbling point of his career. Lucky for him that Arizona gave him another swing at the ball to see if he’d strike out. And yes a baseball pun, for shame on me!
Arizona signed Swearinger to their practice squad a month after his release from Tampa Bay. He did manage to be activated to their active roster but did not see any meaningful snaps to speak of. It’s at this point he has fallen off the fantasy radar for the most part. Not to mention that coming into 2016 Arizona was holding a good depth chart at the safety position. Entering the season we were looking at Tyrann Mathieu, Tony Jefferson, and Tyvon Branch securely ahead of Swearinger. But as we know injuries happen in the NFL and Swearinger was in the perfect spot to redeem himself for any misunderstandings from his past. Both Mathieu (again) and Branch went down with nagging injuries that plagued their season and limited their play time.
Swearinger was called upon to fill the voids and did a good job of it. He ended up starting 12 games total playing third highest snaps among the safeties. He had his best season of his career while doing so. His play on the field earned him an 86.1 grade overall from Pro Football Focus that made him a top 10 graded safety in the league for 2016. The result was entering the 2017 off-season as a highly sought after free agent. And it was not long until Washington came calling and signed him to a three-year, $13.5 million contract, currently 31st among active safeties. With 32 NFL teams and two safety spots in each lineup (64 total), somewhat impressive for a player who had been struggling. It should also be looked at as a great indication that Washington will depend on him in the future as their main free safety (FS).
Swearinger hasn’t had significant statistics over his four years while bouncing around. So this limits me in throwing out any of those. Last year he had a modest 64 combined tackles and two sacks. But here is what stands out, he had 3 INTs with 8 passes defended. Those are nothing to overlook. They are capable playmaker type numbers for a player who only played 77.9% of the available snaps. With the state of the Washington safety position over the last few seasons these must be a big part of what they want out of him. They have had numerous mediocre signings over the last couple of season that haven’t come close to working out. And none of them signed have even been retained on the roster past a season.
Looking over the current depth chart it doesn’t appear anyone there that could threaten his playing time. Su’a Cravens has been moved back from a nickel linebacker to strong safety (SS), and I must add I question exactly how he will perform there. Craven’s rookie year wasn’t outstanding at all and was a borderline disappointment considering the hype behind him being drafted in the second round last year. We should consider the possibility that he could struggle in his new role and that the coaches are forced to insert Swearinger into that position. It is easier to replace a free safety with a cornerback than it would be to replace a strong safety. A switch to the SS would only boost Swearinger’s tackle production and boost his value.
We can keep an open mind during the rest of the summer and see how it plays out. For now we can expect a full-time role and a nice amount of production as he manages the Redskins secondary in 2017 from the FS position. I mention he’ll manage the secondary because I don’t think Cravens is ready or will be ready for that role. Swearinger has experience all over that area and should inherit the role by default due to that. If he can repeat his 2016 performance on the field this season he could be a viable weekly play in fantasy. At the minimum he will be a solid bye week or injury replacement.
2017 production level: High DB2
Minnesota WLB Edmond Robinson
H/W: 6’3” 245lbs
Drafted: 2015 / Minnesota / Rd 7, pick 15
2016 Snap count: 0 defense / SP ™ 160
WHO???… OK, I know what we all are thinking. But hear me out. I’ve actually been keeping tabs on him for a few months now, even holding him on my own roster after suggesting in March to a new owner needing some “fliers” to grab him off the waiver wire. I then later made a trade with the owner and have been sitting on him ever since. And now there are reports since OTAs that he has been getting the largest majority of snaps at the weakside linebacker (WLB) position that the former great Chad Greenway used to man. Imagine my delight! Not only has he been the main guy so far, he has had glowing reports and is making plays. Now he has not locked up the role and at this time of year is far from doing so. Here is a list of other linebackers I recently seen were possibly in the mix:
Emmanuel Lamur – Age 27 (6’4″ 245 lbs.).
Elijah Lee– Age 21 (6’2″ 229 lbs.)
Kentrell Brothers – Age 24 (6’1″ 242 lbs.)
Ben Gedeon – Age 22 (6’2″ 244 lbs.)
Eric Wilson – Age 23 (6’2″ 225 lbs.)
Shaan Washington – Age 23 (6’3″ 220 lbs.)
Emmanuel Lamar has reportedly been the main other option and as recently as the first day of minicamp splitting first team snaps with Robinson. That same report stated it was Robinson who stood out by leaping in front of a receiver and deflecting a pass in the red zone. And then had an interception later on in practice.
Lamur has missed all but minicamp activities this off-season for undisclosed reasons. This will remain a competition to keep our eyes on. We should consider something as we do, Lamur could not beat out an aging Chad Greenway who lost a step around 3 years ago. And that Lamar has had a history of injuries along with his level of play while being in the NFL has been mediocre. When head coach Mike Zimmer was the defensive coordinator for Cincinnati they tried to make Lamur a full-time starter and it did not work out there. I believe Lamur was more than likely signed by Zimmer to help transfer his defensive scheme to Minnesota when he was hired as the head coach. This does happen in the NFL. New head coaches not only like to have a coaching staff be familiar with what he wants to do, but a player(s) as well. They can help translate the language and terms on the field as they practice. Either way this goes, I don’t think Lamur is a day one starter anywhere on the field. And I will go out on a limb here and go as far as saying he may not even be on the roster by week one. After all it has been a couple of years now and the Minnesota players know the scheme. I see this chance for Lamur as his “last call” in Minnesota.
Using multiple resources, those two players at this time are the only players being connected to WLB position directly. Brothers has been linked by name only so far. Gedeon has also had his name mentioned, while all indications from those multiple resources has him with the second team as the middle linebacker. And as for 2017 7th round rookie Elijah Lee, nothing there to indicate what he is doing. But I’d like to mention I think he will eventually be the one to squeeze Lamur off the final roster. The rookie has skills, just not pro ready yet. As for the rest of the players on the list, I have nothing to pass on. It is real early, but I like what I’m seeing so far for Robinson.
When asked about Robinson and if he was the starting WLB, this is what Zimmer had to say:
“We’re going to look at all the guys in there. So, like I said before, Edmond has had a couple good days here the last couple days. I think he’s feeling more comfortable with it, so, we’ll just see. You know I’m not opposed to one of these younger guys if they end up being the guy.”
Clear as mud, right?
Now why exactly do I think Robinson would be worth a roster spot on a fantasy team. Recapping what I already said I do believe he will win the WLB position as long as he doesn’t falter between now and week one of the season. And so far there is no real indication he has had any struggles. When we examine Zimmer’s defensive scheme, going back as far as when he was leading the Cincinnati defense as the defensive coordinator, there are a couple of things that stand out. First would be, up until Chad Greenway lost a step a couple of years ago the WLB had always been an every down player for Zimmer’s scheme. It wasn’t until the team started drafting replacements for a mediocre linebacker corps other than Greenway it changed.
They drafted Anthony Barr and then Eric Kendricks in Zimmer’s first and second year as head coach with high draft picks. At that point Greenway was still a team leader and remained a default starter. Zimmer found himself needing to keep his younger and faster drafted linebacker on the field all the time. Kendrick’s strength so far has been his speed. Barr is a great all around player but has never completely excelled being used as he has. He actually took a step backwards last year. Pro Football Focus had pointed this out after the 2016 season concluded with this “take”:
*Note: 6th was the units overall rank.
6. Minnesota Vikings
Top overall grade: DT Linval Joseph, 83.3
Lowest overall grade: LB Anthony Barr, 43.1
It’s amazing that the Vikings are among the top 10 on this list with Sharrif Floyd playing only 25 snaps all season long and Anthony Barr disappearing for long stretches of play. Helping quell those losses, though, were the performances of second-year players Danielle Hunter and Eric Kendricks. Hunter was 15th among edge players in pass-rushing productivity, while Kendricks was seventh among inside linebackers in run-stop percentage.
Let’s also have a look at Barr’s pass defended stats over his three seasons:
2014: total of 3
2015: total of 7
2016: total of 2
And here is NFL.com’s combine/draft analysis insert on Barr:
Developing instincts — late to locate the ball and too easily fooled by play-action and misdirection. Motor runs hot and cold — does not always apply himself. Can be locked down too easily when engaged — unrefined hand use. Lacks variety of pass-rush moves and relies too much on natural speed. Average eyes, anticipation and awareness in coverage with marginal feel. Average base strength — moved off the ball too easily by tight ends (plays tall). Needs more time in the weight room — 15 bench-press reps were tied for the fewest among linebackers at the combine.
*** 12 total passes defended in three seasons.
***Average eyes, anticipation and awareness in coverage with marginal feel.
It doesn’t exactly scream out that pass coverage is what Barr excels at. We also have to remember this is being on the field every defensive snap. Barr was a defensive end in college and when I look back on his scouting reports from any resource I do not see it say anything about his coverage skills being good. Normally in year three would be when a player puts it all together and should have a good season across the board. Now I’m not hinting that Barr isn’t still a beast and will struggle going forward. But I am saying I see an indication that how he has been used on the field is not exactly ideal for his skill set at the pro level. We should think the ideal situation Zimmer would want is to
NFL.com combine/draft analysis insert on Robinson:
Freakishly long with a frame that could easily add much more weight and muscle. Played over tight end against run teams, matched up on slot receivers and even rotated back to safety on a couple of snaps. Good initial quickness and ability to engulf his targets when tackling. Good pursuit laterally.
I do realize those three reports are from the same first day of minicamp. My point being, in a scheme that hasn’t had a WLB on the field during passing situations for a few seasons, why is Robinson?
It’s been stated Robinson is a better football player than the day he was drafted in the 7th round in 2015. I’m personally becoming a believer that he is. If you have a “flier” or just an open spot on your roster he is well worth a wire pick up and a hold. If he is on a roster I’d go as far as saying he is worth a trade offer that doesn’t break the bank. As for me, I’m holding until it plays out and then will either sell for starting linebacker value or keeping as a potential starter or depth player.
2017 potential production level: LB2