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The preseason can be a tricky time for fantasy managers.
On one hand, it’s important to stay abreast of the latest happenings as the exhibition season winds down. New York Jets running back Breece Hall may be an immensely talented youngster with a bright future, but it’s getting significantly harder to trust him as an every-week fantasy starter given that he has yet to unseat Michael Carter II atop the depth chart.
However, it’s equally important not to overreact to what happens in the preseason. After Dameon Pierce gained 37 yards on six carries in the preseason finale for the Houston Texans, Twitter went absolutely bonkers, anointing the fourth-round rookie as the next big thing. Never mind that Pierce has never logged an NFL carry that counts. Or that he has one game with over 15 carries since high school. Or that he plays for a team that was dead last in total offense and rushing in 2021.
Maybe he’ll be good. Heck, maybe he’ll be great. But the hype is getting out of control.
It’s the same with defensive players. Every year some players rise or fall on draft boards, whether it’s because of an injury, return from an injury, performance in camp, or some combination of all of the above.
All those developments are important considerations. But so is this—players were valued where they were entering camp for a reason. Drastic swings based on limited information result in overcorrections as often as not.
With that caveat in mind, here’s a look at some individual defensive players who have been moving up (or sliding down) consensus IDP rankings over the past couple of weeks.
DE Marcus Davenport, New Orleans Saints
After setting career-highs in both tackles (39) and sacks (nine) last year, Davenport was slowed this summer after having part of his little finger amputated in the offseason. Now, however, the 25-year-old is off the PUP list and back on the practice field, and per Jeff Duncan of NOLA.com, veteran linebacker Demario Davis expects Davenport to make a major impact in 2022.
“There’s a lot of great talk around our defense … but our unit doesn’t move without our defensive line,” Davis said. “Our D-line is the heartbeat of what we do. Marcus Davenport is a huge part of it, a guy that fast, strong, and explosive. Anybody that turns on the tape can see that he wreaks havoc.”
I confess that I have reservations about how much Davenport can improve on last season’s DL18 finish. But the former first-round pick is talented, he should see quite a few single teams playing opposite Cameron Jordan, and at least two of the IDP rankers here at Footballguys have Davenport slotted inside the top-10.
DE Gregory Rousseau, Buffalo Bills
As is the case with many rookie edge-rushers, Rousseau’s numbers in 2021 weren’t especially impressive—four sacks and six knockdowns in 531 snaps. As Collier Logan wrote for All Hurricanes, Rousseau said that while he’s working hard to improve in 2022, he’s not putting a set number on how many sacks he needs to do so.
“I feel like you when it comes to expectations, you can’t look like… ‘I’ve got to get this many sacks,’” Rousseau said. “Just got to come to work every day and know that your best is needed, … just keep on chipping away, keep on working, and you’ll be successful.”
I’d love to take credit for the increased buzz around Rousseau—I have been beating the drum for the former first-round pick for much of the summer. But it’s more likely that people are just figuring out that if Rousseau can maintain his per-snap tackle production in an increased role and 2022 and boost his sack totals, he could be a cheaply available top-15 defensive lineman.
ILB Deion Jones, Atlanta Falcons
It has been an interesting year for Jones—and not in a good way. The 2021 season was arguably the worst of his career, especially in coverage. Then came offseason shoulder surgery and rumors that Jones could be traded or released. Now, Jones is back at practice but working with the second and third team. Per Tori McElhaney of the team’s website, head coach Arthur Smith praised Jones’ professionalism while handling adversity—while making it clear he wasn’t guaranteed to get back in the starting lineup.
“I’ll give Deion credit because he’s going to come out here, and he’s going to compete,” Smith said. “He’s going to work his way back in. It’s going to be hard to get on the field in that room. And that’s what you want with that competition. Rashaan (Evans) and Mykal Walker are doing a great job. We gotta see what Troy (Andersen) can do. (Nathan) Landman, Dorian (Etheridge)? They’ve had good preseasons… It’s going to play itself out.”
It may well be that despite a $9.6 million base salary in 2022, Jones’ days as a starter are over. But while Walker has shown flashes, Evans is a liability in coverage, and Jones is probably still the best linebacker on the team. Jones was a top-15 fantasy linebacker last year and a top-10 option the year before. If he gets back in the starting lineup, he could be one of 2022’s bigger steals at the position.
That’s a pretty fat “if,” though.
ILB Malcolm Rodriguez, Detroit Lions
Not long ago, Rodriguez was a sixth-round rookie out of Oklahoma State. An afterthought. Now, he’s one of the most hyped rookies in the entire league after lighting up “Hard Knocks.” However, while Rodriguez has shined in camp and the preseason, Lions linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard cautioned that rolls need to be slowed.
“That’s all good and he’s deserved it, but we’re talking about the preseason,” Sheppard said via Benjamin Raven of MLive. “This is a kid who was drafted in the sixth round who hasn’t played a down in a regular season game. And I told him the same thing, you know? He deserves it in a way, but at the same time, I just want to put that out there because I know that narrative is out there right now, and that’s a lot to put on the kid.”
On one hand, Sheppard has a point—Rodriguez was a Day 3 pick for a reason, and he’s yet to be tested in a regular-season game. But Alex Anzalone is a middling talent, and youngster Derrick Barnes has struggled with both inconsistency and injury. There’s a path to real playing time (and IDP relevance) for Rodriguez as a rookie.
S Jessie Bates III, Cincinnati Bengals
For most of the offseason, Bates has been embroiled in a contract dispute with the Bengals—after slapping the franchise tag on the veteran safety, the Bengals made a long-term offer that wasn’t to Bates’ liking. However, the fifth-year pro finally reported to the team, telling reporters that he’s embracing the opportunity to go out and earn a fat payday.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to continue to present what I’m about to, who I am, to this franchise and other teams as well,” he said. “So, like I said, I’m looking at this as an opportunity to prove that I’m one of the best safeties in this league.”
Frankly, this was how this was always going to play out—the Bengals weren’t going to up their offer after drafting Daxton Hill, and Bates wasn’t going to leave $750,000 a week on the table. Last year was the first time he failed to hit triple digits in tackles, and now that he’s back with the Bengals, he’s an upside DB2 with DB1 upside.
S Jalen Pitre, Houston Texans
Dameon Pierce isn’t the only rookie in Houston who has turned heads and worked his way into first-team reps with the Texans. The reigning Big-12 Defensive Player of the Year has stood out defensively in training camp and the preseason, impressing Houston head coach Lovie Smith along the way.
“What we notice is when you’re making a whole lot of big flash plays,” Smith said, via Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk. “Jalen has been consistent throughout. He’s a smart player. He’s been like a sponge as far as learning. But he’s going to be around the ball. That’s what we’ve seen since OTAs. I’m excited about going forward with him and him lining up for us when Indy comes into town.”
Last year with the Bears, Pire piled up 75 total tackles, a whopping 18.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, and two interceptions. Pitre appears to be slated for more of a box safety role in the pros. If he can just back up last year’s per-game tackle production from last year, he’d be over 90 stops over a 17-game season.
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