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Defensive Weak Spots - AFC & NFC East


Preseason Matchup Analysis

By Doug Orth | 6/9/20 |


Ever since I began my fantasy writing career in 2000, my focus has been the same: provide the information and insight I felt was necessary to help readers win as many fantasy championships as possible. That will not change. However, it would be negligent on my part to pretend as if society doesn't have more important things to focus on at the moment.

As a child, I can remember studying American history and thinking how cool it would have been to be alive to witness certain points of it and how fortunate I was to avoid other parts of it. (I'm sure I wasn't the only one.) For better or worse, this year will be one of those significant points in our history that children will study in the generations to come. Do we want them to remember it as a year where Americans were strong enough to survive a pandemic AND take a major step forward from a human rights perspective? We have the power now to make that history lesson a positive one for those kids. I often joke that I constantly have to remind myself human beings are supposed to be the most evolved creatures on the planet (usually when someone does something stupid for likes or views on social media), but there comes a time where I wish I didn't feel compelled to make that joke. (I shared some thoughts on Twitter last week that I believe are relevant to where we are and what is happening in our country right now.)

Making the transition from real life to fantasy football, I am sometimes blown away by the amount of information available to us now as opposed to when I started playing this game more than 20 years ago. Unfortunately, almost all of the analysis is focused on the offensive side of the ball. It makes sense. Fantasy football is an offensive game, after all. However, ask most analysts about placing more than a minimal amount of emphasis on potential matchups for the upcoming season and the answer is usually some form of "defense is highly volatile or too unpredictable from one year to the next" and not seriously worth considering when ranking players. For those folks, do you know what else is highly volatile from one year to the next? Injuries, touchdown production, job security, etc. That hasn't stopped the industry from hiring injury experts, trying to predict TD production or writing articles when Tua Tagovailoa will overtake Ryan Fitzpatrick in Miami.

Ignoring potential defensive matchups is somewhat akin to taking a rowboat or kayak out on the ocean, in my opinion. Sure, the water may be peaceful and allow the rower to go from Point A to Point B without incident eventually. But what if the water is choppy? I realized as early as 2004 that I didn't like the idea of my players then having to face the Ravens or the Steelers, especially during the fantasy playoffs. Certainly, my approach has evolved quite a bit from that initial premise, but I think my track record of success speaks for itself and suggests there is substantial value in forecasting what the ocean will be like before the rower before he/she attempts his/her journey. The key is giving potential matchups the proper amount of weight to a player's evaluation.

That brings us to our focus for the next two weeks. With defenses operating out of sub packages (nickel, dime, quarter, etc.) almost 70 percent of the time in today's game, it makes sense to take a look at what each team will probably look like in base and sub-package personnel. Furthermore, it helps to have an understanding of how each veteran defensive player who will be in those packages in 2020 graded out and/or performed last year. With the help of sites like Pro Football Focus, Sports Info Solutions and Pro Football Reference, we can do that.

Defense is a team endeavor, so the process is never as easy as spotting a player with a weakness and exploiting that shortcoming over and over. An important part of coaching in any sport is the ability to maximize players' strengths and mask their weaknesses, so players will either get help or they'll get benched before too long if they are struggling. Nevertheless, the goal of any good offense is to isolate the weak link in the passing defense as often as possible or take advantage of what may be a "soft" side of a run defense (assuming that matches up with the run-blocking ability of the offensive line). It's also important to understand that no defender lines up across any offensive player on every play, so we are playing odds and not dealing with virtual certainties (i.e. shadow cornerbacks sometimes "shadow" only 50-60 percent of the time.

Let's get to some fundamental points about Preseason Matchup Analysis before we start:

1) My color-coding system has never been about last year's results or last year's "strength of schedule." My PMA color coding has always been predictive, not reactive;

2) The color coding in this four-part series is based on last year only because we have no information about this season. Last year's results help set the stage for this year, but they do not define the stage.

3) A "base" is typically deployed on probable running downs, so the content below for "Base" will be primarily how front-seven defenders stack up against the run. Likewise, sub packages focus on slowing down passing games, so my thoughts for that area will focus primarily on coverage players.

The purpose of this article is simple, even if the execution of it is not: attempting to identify what defenders present fantasy owners with an opportunity for success. There is a heavy amount of subjectivity that goes into my color coding when I analyze matchups in advance of the Big Board. It is my hope this process will reduce a lot of that and give my readers a look under the hood, so to speak.

Key:

SHAD - A CB that shadowed receivers in roughly half of the team's games last year and/or is likely to do so again this season.
Green box - Player graded 80 or higher in that particular discipline per PFF (100 point scale)
White box - Player graded between 70 or 79.9 in that particular discipline
Yellow box - Player graded between 60 or 69.9 in that particular discipline
Red box - Player graded 59.9 or lower in that particular discipline

Italic (player name) - Rookie or Free Agent likely to return to the team
Bold print (player name) - Over 30 years of age or will turn 30 by the start of the season

Grades - Run defense (RD), pass rush (PR) and coverage (COV)
Catch % - Catch percentage allowed in player's coverage
QB rating - Passer rating allowed in player's coverage
Percentages (left, right, etc.) - How often a defensive back lined up at left or right cornerback or in the slot. For safeties, time at free safety or in the box is included to provide insight as to how often he is asked to help against the run as opposed to how often he plays center field.

AFC EAST

Buffalo

2019 rushing yards allowed/game: 103.1 (10th)
Yards allowed/carry: 4.3 (18th)

2019 passing yards allowed/game: 195.2 (fourth)
Net yards allowed/attempt: 5.2 (third)

Pos Player RD
Grade
PR
Grade
Cov
Grade
Catch
%
QB
Rat
Left
%
Right
%
Slot
%
FS
%
Box
%
DE A.J. Epenesa
DT Ed Oliver
DT Star Lotulelei
DE Trent Murphy
OLB Matt Milano 77.4% 93.3 0.0% 0.0% 4.8%
MLB T. Edmunds 80.0% 109.0 0.0% 0.0% 3.3%
OLB A.J. Klein 82.4% 120.3 0.0% 0.0% 5.4%
LCB T. White 56.0% 46.3 67.3% 20.4% 4.0%
RCB Josh Norman 69.6% 133.3 75.3% 10.3% 7.3%
SS Jordan Poyer 77.3% 111.9 0.9% 0.9% 7.6% 47.2% 37.3%
FS Micah Hyde 63.3% 80.1 0.2% 0.4% 14.3% 54.2% 27.1%

Base: If a defense is going to have a personnel weakness at any one position when it comes to stopping the run, outside linebacker would probably be the choice. Klein is more of a versatile try-hard guy than anything else who belongs inside, but Edmunds is the long-term answer there. Lotulelei turned 30 last winter and has graded out as a yellow-level run defender in each of the past five seasons. There's a possibility Murphy gets released to make Jefferson a full-time player, but Murphy has graded out well in the run game often enough in his career to justify keeping him around to keep Addison, Jefferson and Hughes fresh enough to rush the passer.

Pos Player RD
Grade
PR
Grade
Cov
Grade
Catch
%
QB
Rat
Left
%
Right
%
Slot
%
FS
%
Box
%
DE Mario Addison
DT Ed Oliver
DT Quinton Jefferson
DE Jerry Hughes
LB Tremaine Edmunds 80.0% 109.0 0.0% 0.0% 3.3%
LB Matt Milano 77.4% 93.3 0.0% 0.0% 4.8%
LCB Tre'Davious White 56.0% 46.3 67.3% 20.4% 4.0%
RCB Josh Norman 69.6% 133.3 75.3% 10.3% 7.3%
SS Jordan Poyer 77.3% 111.9 0.9% 0.9% 7.6% 47.2% 37.3%
FS Micah Hyde 63.3% 80.1 0.2% 0.4% 14.3% 54.2% 27.1%
NB Taron Johnson 76.4% 100.6 0.4% 7.7% 80.4%

Dime Levi Wallace 65.2% 93.2 15.4% 71.1% 5.1%

Sub: Buffalo's most noteworthy vulnerabilities through the air should be whenever an opponent isolates Klein against a running back or tight end or attacks a corner whose last name isn't White. Receivers in White's coverage last season managed a catch rate of only 56 percent and did not score a touchdown. Norman was added in the offseason presumably because he is one of HC Sean McDermott's guys from their days together in Carolina, but quarterbacks posted an 8:1 TD-to-INT ratio and compiled a passer rating of 133.3 while throwing in his coverage last season. He figures to be much better in the Bills' zone scheme, but a return to his glory days is unlikely considering he'll turn 33 before the end of the season.

Miami

2019 rushing yards allowed/game: 135.4 (27th)
Yards allowed/carry: 4.5 (T-22nd)

2019 passing yards allowed/game: 262.4 (26th)
Net yards allowed/attempt: 7.4 (T-30th)

Pos Player RD
Grade
PR
Grade
Cov
Grade
Catch
%
QB
Rat
Left
%
Right
%
Slot
%
FS
%
Box
%
DE Shaq Lawson
NT Davon Godchaux
DE Christian Wilkins
OLB Emmanuel Ogbah
ILB Raekwon McMillan 86.7% 118.8 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
ILB Elandon Roberts 70.0% 94.6 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
OLB Kyle Van Noy 70.0% 129.6 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
LCB Xavien Howard 66.7% 117.9 37.6% 47.8% 9.6%
RCB Byron Jones 56.6% 94.1 0.1% 84.5% 5.5%
S Eric Rowe 58.5% 81.6 12.1% 11.6% 21.1% 8.0% 41.6%
S Bobby McCain 78.6% 107.1 1.1% 0.7% 3.7% 82.6% 9.3%

Base: It's OK to take most of the color codes attached to the Dolphins above with a grain of salt. Except for Godchaux and Wilkins, just about every other projected starter on the base defense got hurt or was playing somewhere else in 2019. Bringing in former Patriots linebackers Roberts and Van Noy was critical to bring some respectability to the run defense. However, it will fall on the shoulders of Wilkins and his ability to attract double teams that will likely determine if Miami can raise its play to a level where it can field a league-average run defense.

Pos Player RD
Grade
PR
Grade
Cov
Grade
Catch
%
QB
Rat
Left
%
Right
%
Slot
%
FS
%
Box
%
DE Shaq Lawson
DT Raekwon Davis
DT Christian Wilkins
DE Emmanuel Ogbah
LB Raekwon McMillan 86.7% 118.8 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
LB Kyle Van Noy 70.0% 129.6 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
LCB Xavien Howard 66.7% 117.9 37.6% 47.8% 9.6%
RCB Byron Jones 56.6% 94.1 0.1% 84.5% 5.5%
S Eric Rowe 58.5% 81.6 12.1% 11.6% 21.1% 8.0% 41.6%
S Bobby McCain 78.6% 107.1 1.1% 0.7% 3.7% 82.6% 9.3%
NB Noah Igbinoghene

Dime Nik Needham 59.5% 116.6 54.4% 17.1% 21.1%

Sub: Many of Bill Belichick's coaching disciples tend to be proponents of man coverage, and HC Brian Flores fell in line last year by using man coverage at the fourth-highest rate in the league. He did that despite losing Howard halfway into the season and cycling through cornerbacks at a dizzying rate. So it goes without saying that adding Jones and Igbinoghene to a defensive backfield that returns Howard means Flores will be relying even more on man coverage. It's important to keep in mind Howard was not playing well before hurting his knee last year and Jones has been called out for his inability to turn pass breakups into interceptions (he has only two picks in five pro seasons). All this is to say that while Miami may become a nightmare matchup for receivers in the near future, there's no guarantee of that happening right away - especially considering Miami still needs help pressuring the quarterback. Expect quarterbacks to be conservative with Howard initially while they try to rough up Igbinoghene in the slot in sub packages. Given the choice between just Howard and Jones, recent history suggests opponents will try their luck with the latter.

New England

2019 rushing yards allowed/game: 95.5 (sixth) 112.9
Yards allowed/carry: 4.2 (T-13th) 4.3

2019 passing yards allowed/game: 180.4 (second)
Net yards allowed/attempt: 5.0 (second)

Pos Player RD
Grade
PR
Grade
Cov
Grade
Catch
%
QB
Rat
Left
%
Right
%
Slot
%
FS
%
Box
%
DE Lawrence Guy
NT Beau Allen
DE John Simon
OLB Chase Winovich 100.0% 102.1 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
ILB Dont'a Hightower 74.1% 119.8 0.0% 0.0% 2.8%
ILB Ja'Whaun Bentley 83.3% 91.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
OLB Shilique Calhoun 0.0% 39.6 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
SHAD Stephon Gilmore 49.0% 47.4 39.1% 42.1% 16.2%
CB J.C. Jackson 49.2% 37.0 33.1% 36.7% 20.2%
S Devin McCourty 63.3% 44.4 3.1% 1.1% 9.6% 47.6% 33.4%
S Patrick Chung 70.5% 99.4 3.9% 3.3% 19.9% 4.4% 51.1%

Base: Belichick probably has his work cut out for him more with this year's defense than at any point in at least 10 years. Granted, he didn't lose anyone on the level of Richard Seymour, Willie McGinest or Ty Law, but Miami and Detroit alone robbed his team of five starters or solid complementary players who logged significant snaps last year. Given the fact New England's vaunted secondary remains intact, the Patriots play man coverage about as much as any team and the front seven lacks a player that demands a double team, it should come as no surprise if they play zero coverage (no deep safety help) and load the box at a higher rate than they did last year.

Pos Player RD
Grade
PR
Grade
Cov
Grade
Catch
%
QB
Rat
Left
%
Right
%
Slot
%
FS
%
Box
%
DE Deatrich Wise
DT Beau Allen
DT Lawrence Guy
DE Chase Winovich 100.0% 102.1 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
LB Dont'a Hightower 74.1% 119.8 0.0% 0.0% 2.8%
LB Ja'Whaun Bentley 83.3% 91.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
SHAD Stephon Gilmore 49.0% 47.4 39.1% 42.1% 16.2%
CB J.C. Jackson 49.2% 37.0 33.1% 36.7% 20.2%
S Devin McCourty 63.3% 44.4 3.1% 1.1% 9.6% 47.6% 33.4%
S Patrick Chung 70.5% 99.4 3.9% 3.3% 19.9% 4.4% 51.1%
NB Jonathan Jones 63.5% 112.3 9.2% 10.0% 68.5%

Dime Jason McCourty 57.1% 63.3 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%

Sub: The recipe is here for running backs to be extremely busy. The Patriots have perhaps the best cornerback in the game right now in Gilmore and two other very good ones in Jackson and Jones. Devin McCourty graded out in coverage at 89.1 and is a good bet to silence all but the most elite tight ends he'll face. However, the bulk of New England's linebacker corps weighs at least 250 pounds. Bulk alone is not enough of a reason to suggest a linebacker might struggle in coverage, but it doesn't take a master strategist much time to realize it's a much better idea for an offense to try its luck isolating scatbacks on Hightower and Bentley as opposed to challenging the likes of Gilmore, Jackson or the McCourty brothers.

NY Jets

2019 rushing yards allowed/game: 86.9 (second) 112.9
Yards allowed/carry: 3.3 (T-first) 4.3

2019 passing yards allowed/game: 236.2 (17th)
Net yards allowed/attempt: 6.1 (13th)

Pos Player RD
Grade
PR
Grade
Cov
Grade
Catch
%
QB
Rat
Left
%
Right
%
Slot
%
FS
%
Box
%
DE Quinnen Williams
NT Steve McLendon
DE Henry Anderson
OLB Tarell Basham 64.3% 56.5 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
ILB C.J. Mosley 62.5% 30.7 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
ILB Avery Williamson
OLB Jordan Jenkins 100.0% 118.8 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
CB Pierre Desir 63.9% 100.2 62.8% 19.6% 5.3%
CB Blessuan Austin 61.8% 92.4 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
S Marcus Maye 45.0% 76.0 0.6% 0.2% 12.0% 66.1% 20.1%
S Jamal Adams 60.6% 79.1 2.3% 1.3% 13.7% 31.0% 41.8%

Base: It is shocking New York only had two players assigned with green grades against the run last season, especially considering Mosley missed most of the season and Williamson didn't play at all. The Jets finished right at the league average in terms of the number of rushing attempts they faced per game (26.1), so their stoutness against the run was not necessarily a product of opponents simply attacking them through the air and ignoring the run. The return of both inside linebackers - plus a return to form by Anderson - and the continued standout play of Adams could make defense nearly impenetrable at times. The only potential weakness that could be exploited along the front seven is at outside linebacker (Basham and Jenkins), both of whom are better pass rushers than run stoppers.

Pos Player RD
Grade
PR
Grade
Cov
Grade
Catch
%
QB
Rat
Left
%
Right
%
Slot
%
FS
%
Box
%
DE Tarell Basham
DT Quinnen Williams
DT Henry Anderson
DE Jordan Jenkins
LB C.J. Mosley 62.5% 30.7 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
LB Avery Williamson
CB Pierre Desir 63.9% 100.2 62.8% 19.6% 5.3%
CB Blessuan Austin 61.8% 92.4 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
S Marcus Maye 45.0% 76.0 0.6% 0.2% 12.0% 66.1% 20.1%
S Jamal Adams 60.6% 79.1 2.3% 1.3% 13.7% 31.0% 41.8%
NB Brian Poole 62.3% 71.6 1.2% 0.9% 83.7%

Dime Bryce Hall

Sub: The Jets desperately need Adams and Poole to remain stalwarts at their spots, respectively, as Desir fell off precipitously following a banner 2018 campaign. He will turn 30 at the start of the season and be counted upon to be the team's top corner despite the fact cornerback-needy Indianapolis released him. Austin was limited to seven games as a rookie after entering the league as a sixth-round draft pick in 2019. If anyone can find a way to make Desir and Austin a formidable duo, it is DC Gregg Williams, but make no mistake about it: Desir and Austin enter the season as the defense's weakest links by a wide margin. Hall has the potential to be the secondary's saving grace, but he slipped to the sixth round of this year's draft after suffering a serious left ankle injury in 2019. While he should be fine long-term, there's no guarantee he'll be 100 percent by Week 1.

NFC EAST

Dallas

2019 rushing yards allowed/game: 103.5 (11th)
Yards allowed/carry: 4.1 (T-eighth)

2019 passing yards allowed/game: 223.5 (10th)
Net yards allowed/attempt: 5.9 (T-eighth)

Pos Player RD
Grade
PR
Grade
Cov
Grade
Catch
%
QB
Rat
Left
%
Right
%
Slot
%
FS
%
Box
%
DE Demarcus Lawrence
DT Antwaun Woods
DT Dontari Poe
DE Gerald McCoy
OLB Leighton Vander Esch 79.1% 113.5 0.0% 0.0% 10.8%
MLB Jaylon Smith 77.8% 100.2 0.0% 0.0% 11.7%
OLB Sean Lee 83.9% 100.1 0.0% 0.0% 12.9%
LCB Chidobe Awuzie 62.2% 94.4 84.9% 0.4% 3.8%
RCB Anthony Brown 59.1% 81.1 3.9% 26.6% 63.5%
SS Xavier Woods 73.1% 56.4 0.1% 0.6% 5.7% 76.9% 15.2%
FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix 66.7% 69.2 1.0% 0.3% 8.3% 61.9% 25.8%

Base: The Cowboys took a hit from a talent perspective defensively this offseason when they lost Robert Quinn and Byron Jones, but the front seven should be better with the additions of Poe and McCoy as well as the healthy return of Vander Esch. Lee has long been a standout for Dallas, but he'll turn 34 before the start of the season and has been a mostly average player at best over the last two years when he has been on the field. He's the weakest link among the front seven as things stand at the moment - at least when it comes to running downs.

Pos Player RD
Grade
PR
Grade
Cov
Grade
Catch
%
QB
Rat
Left
%
Right
%
Slot
%
FS
%
Box
%
DE Demarcus Lawrence
DT Gerald McCoy
DT Neville Gallimore
DE Tyrone Crawford
LB Leighton Vander Esch 79.1% 113.5 0.0% 0.0% 10.8%
LB Jaylon Smith 77.8% 100.2 0.0% 0.0% 11.7%
LCB Chidobe Awuzie 62.2% 94.4 84.9% 0.4% 3.8%
RCB Anthony Brown 59.1% 81.1 3.9% 26.6% 63.5%
S Xavier Woods 73.1% 56.4 0.1% 0.6% 5.7% 76.9% 15.2%
S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix 66.7% 69.2 1.0% 0.3% 8.3% 61.9% 25.8%
NB Jourdan Lewis 70.2% 103.3 6.1% 5.9% 76.1%

Dime Trevon Diggs

Sub: McCoy figures to benefit greatly from the presence of Lawrence and give Dallas a 1-2 defensive tackle-defensive end punch that it hasn't had in years. Assuming those two men live up to their reputations, Gallimore could make this defense a formidable one if he plays up to his talent level and comes on quickly (a big ask for any rookie defensive lineman). Vander Esch and Smith are solid in coverage at linebacker, leaving the cornerback position as the biggest question mark in sub packages. Brown has had his good moments in four years with the Cowboys, but he's as stretched as a second corner just as much as Awuzie is as the top corner. If the pass rush doesn't bring it as expected, quarterbacks and fantasy owners should feel free to target this secondary. Both safety spots should be in good hands with Xavier Woods and Clinton-Dix - a duo that allowed one touchdown pass in its coverage last year.

NY Giants

2019 rushing yards allowed/game: 113.3 (20th)
Yards allowed/carry: 3.9 (T-fourth)

2019 passing yards allowed/game: 264.1 (28th)
Net yards allowed/attempt: 7.1 (T-28th)

Pos Player RD
Grade
PR
Grade
Cov
Grade
Catch
%
QB
Rat
Left
%
Right
%
Slot
%
FS
%
Box
%
DE Leonard Williams 100.0% 91.7 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
NT Dalvin Tomlinson 0.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
DE Dexter Lawrence 0.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
OLB Markus Golden 100.0% 118.8 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
ILB Blake Martinez 84.1% 90.8 0.0% 0.0% 1.9%
ILB David Mayo 76.9% 97.1 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
OLB Lorenzo Carter 50.0% 61.5 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
CB James Bradberry 58.8% 77.9 61.1% 26.5% 1.9%
CB DeAndre Baker 62.5% 130.9 6.4% 79.0% 4.2%
S Jabrill Peppers 66.7% 74.1 0.7% 1.6% 13.0% 16.6% 63.5%
S Xavier McKinney

Base: The Giants are the most recent example of a defense where last year's stats can be quite misleading when projecting this year's potential performance. This unit has the chance to be very good against the run in 2020. Opponents ran on New York an average of 29.3 times (fourth-most) in 2019, yet the team's 3.9 YPC allowed was on par with a team like the Steelers (3.8). The Giants boast impressive depth and girth along their three-man front and every member is quite athletic, making a repeat of that performance very likely. Also helping the cause is the addition of Martinez to replace Alec Ogletree, who struggled mightily in the run game last year despite having the best protection an inside linebacker could ask for from his three-man line. Martinez's forte is in coverage, but he wasn't afforded the luxury of having Williams, Tomlinson and Lawrence eating up space in Green Bay last year. Outside of the line, Mayo may have been the next biggest reason for New York's ability to hold up against the run as well as it did.

Pos Player RD
Grade
PR
Grade
Cov
Grade
Catch
%
QB
Rat
Left
%
Right
%
Slot
%
FS
%
Box
%
DE Oshane Ximines
DT Dexter Lawrence
DT Leonard Williams
DE Markus Golden 100.0% 118.8 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
LB Blake Martinez 84.1% 90.8 0.0% 0.0% 1.9%
LB Lorenzo Carter 50.0% 61.5 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
CB James Bradberry 58.8% 77.9 61.1% 26.5% 1.9%
CB DeAndre Baker 62.5% 130.9 6.4% 79.0% 4.2%
S Jabrill Peppers 66.7% 74.1 0.7% 1.6% 13.0% 16.6% 63.5%
S Xavier McKinney
NB Grant Haley 86.0% 114.2 1.4% 0.7% 88.9%

Dime Darnay Holmes

Sub: New York obviously had issues in the secondary last season and wasn't able to fix them all this offseason, but the team took a few steps in the right direction. Bradberry shadowed Mike Evans (twice), Julio Jones (twice), Michael Thomas (twice), DeAndre Hopkins and D.K. Metcalf last year and gave up a single touchdown to the group as well as only two TDs for the season. McKinney should be the next in a long line of former Alabama safeties to perform well in the pros; along with Peppers, the Giants should prove to be formidable against tight ends. New York's biggest vulnerability, however, is the lack of a game-changing pass-rusher and the quality of its corners after Bradberry. Even if we assume Baker avoids any punishment for his off-field adventure this spring, he allowed quarterbacks to throw for eight touchdowns versus no interceptions and record a 130.9 passer rating in his coverage as a rookie. He should be better in Year 2, but he'll need to improve a lot just to get to average. Haley's size (5-9) limits him to slot duties for the most part, but he wasn't particularly good at that either last season.

Philadelphia

2019 rushing yards allowed/game: 90.1 (third)
Yards allowed/carry: 4.1 (T-eighth)

2019 passing yards allowed/game: 241.6 (19th)
Net yards allowed/attempt: 6.3 (T-15th)

Pos Player RD
Grade
PR
Grade
Cov
Grade
Catch
%
QB
Rat
Left
%
Right
%
Slot
%
FS
%
Box
%
DE Derek Barnett
DT Fletcher Cox
DT Javon Hargrave
DE Brandon Graham
OLB Nathan Gerry 78.8% 96.6 0.0% 0.0% 4.4%
MLB T.J. Edwards 50.0% 60.4 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
OLB Duke Riley 50.0% 85.4 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
LCB Darius Slay 58.3% 86.9 35.8% 43.2% 16.3%
RCB Avonte Maddox 63.6% 95.5 15.8% 0.2% 77.0%
S Jalen Mills 58.5% 105.0 76.2% 1.2% 6.4%
S Rodney McLeod 53.3% 52.5 0.3% 0.3% 13.1% 61.3% 18.1%

Base: The only significant change in the front seven was swapping out Timmy Jernigan with Javon Hargrave, who came into his own over his final two seasons with the Steelers. Gerry is a former college safety who has yet to consistently prove he can hold up well against the run, while Riley is also an undersized linebacker more known for his coverage skills. If there is anywhere to attack the front seven in the run game, it is those two players on the perimeter. Perhaps one of the three linebackers Philadelphia drafted can provide some assistance in that regard, but only third-rounder Davion Taylor projects as a player ready to contribute in 2020. Unfortunately, at 6-0 and 228 pounds, he's cut from the same cloth Gerry and Riley are.

Pos Player RD
Grade
PR
Grade
Cov
Grade
Catch
%
QB
Rat
Left
%
Right
%
Slot
%
FS
%
Box
%
DE Derek Barnett
DT Fletcher Cox
DT Javon Hargrave
DE Brandon Graham
LB Nathan Gerry 78.8% 96.6 0.0% 0.0% 4.4%
LB Duke Riley 50.0% 85.4 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
CB Darius Slay 58.3% 86.9 35.8% 43.2% 16.3%
CB Avonte Maddox 63.6% 95.5 15.8% 0.2% 77.0%
S Jalen Mills 58.5% 105.0 76.2% 1.2% 6.4%
S Rodney McLeod 53.3% 52.5 0.3% 0.3% 13.1% 61.3% 18.1%
NB Nickell Robey 62.9% 84.2 5.9% 3.8% 83.8%

Dime Cre'Von LeBlanc 60.0% 70.4 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%

Sub: Slay's red grade is not reflective of the threat he poses to opposing receivers. While he did give up 689 yards receiving and three touchdowns last year, he also limited wideouts to a catch rate of 58.3 percent for a Detroit defense that didn't get a ton of pressure on the quarterback. That shouldn't be a problem for Philadelphia. The only question is whether or not he will act as a shadow as often as he did for the Lions. Robey-Coleman has been very effective in the slot for several years and should be another matchup fantasy owners try to avoid when possible. The question then becomes if Maddox can step up in Year 3 or LeBlanc can bounce back. Mills is a converted cornerback who the Eagles hope can make a somewhat smooth move to free safety (never a guarantee considering the different pursuit and vision angles), while McLeod has consistently graded out well in coverage for six straight seasons.

Washington

2019 rushing yards allowed/game: 146.2 (31st)
Yards allowed/carry: 4.7 (T-24th)

2019 passing yards allowed/game: 238.9 (18th)
Net yards allowed/attempt: 6.5 (T-20th)

Pos Player RD
Grade
PR
Grade
Cov
Grade
Catch
%
QB
Rat
Left
%
Right
%
Slot
%
FS
%
Box
%
DE Chase Young
DT Da'Ron Payne
DT Jonathan Allen
DE Montez Sweat
OLB Cole Holcomb 85.7% 122.1 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
MLB Jon Bostic 78.8% 107.2 0.0% 0.0% 3.1%
OLB Thomas Davis 73.2% 92.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
LCB Fabian Moreau 80.0% 97.0 41.1% 15.5% 33.9%
RCB Kendall Fuller 75.8% 131.4 3.2% 1.8% 62.9% 8.0% 19.5%
S Landon Collins 69.0% 104.0 2.4% 2.2% 17.7% 23.7% 47.3%
S Sean Davis 100.0% 118.8 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%

Base: Put simply, if the additions of Young and Thomas Davis don't improve this run defense significantly, it's probably not going to happen. Washington is set to emulate the 2019 49ers as a team with five former first-round picks on the defensive line (only Ryan Kerrigan is expected not to start) and all of them could be unleashed under new DC Jack Del Rio. (Let's just say I have a low opinion of former DC Greg Manusky.) Assuming those players come anywhere close to maximizing their talent level, Washington could have a legitimately menacing defense - certainly against the run at least. Holcomb and Bostic are the wild-cards, and they will probably be the two players opponents will target in the run and pass game regardless of how they perform.

Pos Player RD
Grade
PR
Grade
Cov
Grade
Catch
%
QB
Rat
Left
%
Right
%
Slot
%
FS
%
Box
%
DE Chase Young
DT Matt Ioannidis
DT Jonathan Allen
DE Montez Sweat
LB Thomas Davis 73.2% 92.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
LB Jon Bostic 78.8% 107.2 0.0% 0.0% 3.1%
CB Fabian Moreau 80.0% 97.0 41.1% 15.5% 33.9%
CB Ronald Darby 62.9% 117.9 27.3% 63.8% 1.6%
S Landon Collins 69.0% 104.0 2.4% 2.2% 17.7% 23.7% 47.3%
S Sean Davis 100.0% 118.8 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
NB Kendall Fuller 75.8% 131.4 3.2% 1.8% 62.9% 8.0% 19.5%

Dime Jimmy Moreland 82.5% 110.4 6.6% 8.3% 75.2%

Sub: Young may be a top-10 defensive end in the NFL before he takes his first snap. His presence alone should make Ioannidis, Allen and Sweat better, and there is little doubt offensive coordinators will be forced to shift protection his way right away. Thomas Davis is getting old enough (37) that it should be expected that his coverage abilities won't rebound and Bostic has been a replacement-level player for some time now, so running backs and short-area tight ends (a player like Jack Doyle, for example) should feast in the passing game. Washington didn't lose anything by parting with Josh Norman, but the trade of Quinton Dunbar to Seattle was a big blow after he broke out last season. Moreau and Darby are both probably upgrades on Norman, but neither one can be expected to replace Dunbar. Sean Davis is coming off a lost season in which he played in only one game due to a shoulder injury, but neither he or Collins have ever graded out particularly well in coverage. All in all, the front four gives this defense a chance to improve on last year's numbers, but there are still too many weaknesses on the back end. Fantasy owners should not hesitate to target perimeter receiver matchups against this defense.



Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006 and been featured in USA Today’s Fantasy Football Preview magazine since 2010. He hosted USA Today’s hour-long, pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday in 2012-13 and appears as a guest analyst on a number of national sports radio shows, including Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive”. Doug is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.