Each year at least one explosive defensive rookie makes a name for himself, but generally it’s not until his second or third year that most mature enough or get enough regular playing time to really make an impact at the NFL level.
In 2008, the New England Patriot’s, Jerod Mayo and the Atalnta Falcon’s, Curtis Lofton were exceptional rookie standouts. In 2007, it was San Francisco 49er, Patrick Willis.
Willis has been the top IDP fantasy pick both seasons since his rookie year. The 10 defensive rookies below all have a chance to make their mark on the field and on fantasy scorecards in 2009. My pick for 2009 IDP rookie of the year is James Laurinaitis at LB, Brian Orakpo at DE, and Patrick Chung at DB, but I think a couple of the other guys below could prove me wrong.
Defensive Linemen are football’s big play machines, and the primary sack magnets. Because of this it is hard to count on consistent points each week. A 17-point week may be followed by a two-point week. There are also fewer elite DL’s to be had, so it may be wise to grab one solid DL before going for your first Linebacker.
But in case you miss out, here are some nice rookie possibilities.
B.J. Raji, GBP ~ Raji is a monster run-stopper from Boston College. He will be a big play machine in Green Bay’s new 3-4 defensive scheme. He’s still admittedly raw around the edges, but he’s also hungry and confident.
“It’s football, so my confidence level is always going to be pretty high,” Raji said. “The next step is playing better, playing with better technique, being more aggressive.”
Because he’s not quite as polished as Orakpo or Maybin, below, Raji’s fantasy value in 2009 may be relegated only to extremely deep leagues or dynasty leagues. But be aware of him, and keep tabs on his progress. He may be roster worthy sooner than expected.
Brian Orakpo, WAS ~ The Redskins are in love with this guy, and you will be too. He is a Defensive End who will play Linebacker as well for Washington, which means lots of big play fantasy pointage. Yes, I like to make up words as I go. You have to love a linebacker you can snag as a DL in fantasy leagues. The Texas Longhorn has been pairing with Albert Haynesworth to wreak havoc as they did the other night against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“Brian created some great pressure off the edge,” Haynesworth told the Washington Post. “He was all over the field and made a lot of plays. He is a great young talent.”
With the shallow depth at fantasy viable defensive linemen, grab Orakpo late and enjoy linebacker benefits. He will be worthy of pick up in all fantasy leagues, especially dynasty.
Aaron Maybin, BUF ~ Pen State handed over Maybin to the Buffalo Bills who have wasted no time deciding he will start this season at defensive end opposite Aaron Schobel. This makes him a nice fantasy value this season in deeper and dynasty leagues. Maybin made his preseason debut against the Pittsburgh Steelers, sacking QB Ben Roethlisberger in his first game.
“He looked quick,” Coach Dick Jauron told the Buffalo News. “I thought he looked fast off the ball. Quite frankly, I was more pleased than I thought I’d be. I didn’t expect much from him tonight. I thought his legs would be very heavy and be way behind. But he came off the ball.
"I thought he got the edge on the guys a couple times. I thought he cornered well. In other words, he got back to the quarterback to attack around the edge. So I was very pleased. I thought he stunted inside, he stunted hard. That was probably a plus.”
Keep Maybin in mind late in your draft if you have a deep bench, or really miss out on the top tier DLs. He could be a surprise commodity this season.
Linebackers are the primary tackle machines in football and are generally the most consistent year after year in terms of fantasy production. They are also the most likely to make a fantasy impact as a rookie.
James Laurinaitis, STL ~ Laurinaitis was drafted in the second round out of Ohio State. The Rams bypassed Rey Maualuga, a projected first round pick, to snag Laurinaitis.
“We studied a lot of tape on a lot of guys, and there were a lot of guys on the board when it came to that pick,” Coach Steve Spagnuolo said last week. “We’re glad we took the guy we did.”
Laurinaitis was handed the starting middle linebacker slot early in camp and has been making Spagnuolo pleased with his decision. I can see Laurinaitis putting up a season similar to Jerod Mayo’s rookie year in New England. The Rams offense struggles often which means the defense will be on the field a lot, offering plenty of tackle opportunities. He is worth a roster spot in all 12+ team IDP leagues and dynasty/keeper leagues.
Aaron Curry, SEA ~ While the Wake Forest draftee hurt himself a bit by holing out before signing with the Seahawks, he ultimately got the deal done and will be handed the reins this season next to Lofa Tatupu. This makes him fantasy viable right away.
Don’t expect the missed time to slow Curry’s progress in anyway. “I’m feeling pretty comfortable,” he said. “One thing about playing defense, especially if you’re a linebacker, you can’t go wrong just playing fast and hitting something.”
I’m projecting 80-90 tackles in his first season. He would make a good late pick in deeper leagues, and a solid dynasty pick.
Rey Maualuga, CIN ~ As mentioned above, Maualuga, who has already been nick-named by his Bengals teammates as ‘Who-Dey Rey’, was considered to be a first round pick in this year’s draft. After slipping into the second round, he was snapped up three picks after the Rams passed him over in favor of Laurinaitis.
“Maybe the defense they had [St. Louis], they weren’t looking for the type of guy like me. When they picked James, it’s like...I don’t know,” said Maualuga. “He’s a good player, don’t get me wrong,” Rey qualified, referring to Laurinaitis. “And a good guy. He’s going to do great things for them.”
So far Who-Dey has been working with the second team, but expect him to get significant playing time this season. The USC star is already among the team leaders in tackles despite missing the first preseason game. Dynasty leaguers should grab him now. Unless you’re in a 14 team or greater league this season, I’d just keep note of him for now. He could be a nice pick up later on this year.
Bryan Cushing, HOU ~ The goal the Texans had in mind when they drafted Cushing out of USC was to toughen up their defense. Ironically, he suffered a sprained left knee early in camp that has kept him out of preseason play so far.
However, don’t let that stop you from considering him for your deeper fantasy leagues. He will be a tackle machine alongside DeMeco Ryans and Zach Diles. Cushing has been back on the field this week and is hoping to play in the preseason finale against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Defensive backs are arguably the most difficult IDP position to speculate on. Each season sees a high turnover in top performers from the season before. Last season saw only a handful of 100 tackle DBs. However, if your league includes return yardage points, then DBs can offer quite a bit of weekly consistency for those who get return duties added to their gig.
Patrick Chung, NEP ~ Pat Chung is Bill Bellichick’s kind of player. The former Oregon Ducks standout immerses himself in the game, and is a committed team player. Belichick is never one for gaudy words of praise for rookies, but last season he was unusually complimentary of Jerod Mayo, who had a mammoth first year. This season the coach seems to have a similar fondness for Chung.
“He’s got a great future.” Belichick told the Concord Monitor last week. “Patrick’s worked hard. He’s a very diligent kid. He’s smart. He takes a lot of notes. He pays a lot of attention to details, little things. He asks good questions. I think football’s important to him, he takes it very seriously.”
Coming from Coach B, that’s almost a marriage proposal. Through three games, Chung is tied for the team lead in tackles in limited duty, and he’s also been returning punts (for you owners who get return yards). Take a late round flyer on Chung in 12 team or larger leagues, and snap him up in dynasty leagues.
Michael Mitchell, OAK ~ Nobody thought much of Mitchell when the Raiders drafted the Ohio safety. At least they didn’t think him worthy of a second round pick, which is what the Raiders used. But apparently the Chicago Bears had their sights set on him two picks later. What do Da Bears and Raiders know?
The kid is a rocket that hits like a semi. He’s on the ball fast and the opposition like an anvil.
The only knock on the kid is he missed much of the preseason with hamstring injuries that will limit him when he returns for game one of the regular season. Coach Tom Cable says Mitchell’s simply missed too much practice time to jump right in. Keep checking those box scores, and when he gets on the field more, be prepared to snap him up if you are weak at the DB position.
Alphonso Smith, DEN ~ Smith is fighting for a shot to play opposite Champ Bailey for the Broncos. So far the Wake Forest alum’s preseason has been a mixed bag. However, he is the future at corner back for the team, and will get his chance sooner or later. If your league does not get return yardage, simply keep Smith on your radar.
However, he will be returning punts and kicks, if you’re league rewards such things. If so, he could be fantasy gold, and worthy of a roster spot.