In this piece, I will cover two players in Buffalo’s Jerry Hughes and newly signed A.J. Klein with the New Orleans Saints. Both have very interesting outlooks as Hughes makes another position change back to the defensive end position and Klein has recently signed with his former NFC South rival after four years with Carolina. I believe both will be very productive in 2017 to the point that both of them top my list at their positions in finding IDPs that are under the radar. Hopefully, after reading this article you will understand why I’m holding these two players in such high regards.
Buffalo DE Jerry Hughes
H/W: 6’2” 254lbs
Pro: 8 yrs
Drafted: 2010 / Colts / pick 1.31
2016 Snap Count: 860 / 80.1% / ranked 3rd
Jerry Hughes has been far from being an “unknown” player since being drafted by Indianapolis in the first round in 2010. He has never really been able to fulfill his fantasy production potential just yet. The key problem has been the many changes in positions he has endured while playing in his eight years in the NFL. He has had 4 position changes since being drafted by Indianapolis. You could actually say 6 position changes if you would count his designated “edge rusher” seasons. Those were when he was used more as a “hybrid” defensive end / outside linebacker at the same time. But I suppose that would be considered splitting hairs at this point. But sticking to the changes in designated defensive end and outside linebacker as his main positions are really what counts here. Along with the fact of him holding those two positions in two different defensive schemes with two different teams. There were two changes while with Indianapolis from a 3-4 defensive end to a 3-4 outside linebacker, with one hybrid season. After not being utilized in Indianapolis the right way for 3 years he was then traded to Buffalo in early 2013. Where the carousel of head coaches continued to hamper his fantasy production with the same two position changes as the defensive schemes changed with each new head coach.This is a huge amount of flip-flopping in terms of becoming an on the field force. 2014 was clearly his best fantasy year as a 4-3 defensive end in terms of production. In that year, as a full-time player at a 4-3 defensive end, he finished the year ranked 14th by PFF (Pro Football Focus). He was well on his way to becoming a top tier player as a defensive lineman in fantasy at that point. Then Buffalo again hired a new head coach in Rex Ryan in 2015. Ryan came in and changed the Buffalo defensive scheme to more of a 3-4 based hybrid scheme and once again Hughes moved to outside linebacker the majority of that time. This was again the “wall” that ended the run to a top ten, or maybe even a better play in fantasy football as a defensive lineman for Hughes. His stats took a dip as he was designated as a linebacker for fantasy purposes in all fantasy sites once again. Let’s have a look at his stats and position changes over his eight-year career.
2010 (IND) at 3-4 DE: 6 combined tackles (0.5 for loss) 0 sacks, Rookie year
2011 (IND) at 3-4 DE/OLB(hybrid): 15 combined tackles (1.5 for loss) 1 sack, Disappointing 2nd year.
2012 (IND) at 3-4 OLB: 41 combined tackles (8 for loss) 4 sacks, 1st year at mostly OLB.
2013 (BUF) at 4-3 DE/OLB (hybrid): 46 combined tackles (9 for loss) 9.5 sacks, the light came as used at DE mainly.
2014 (BUF) at 4-3 DE: 53 combined tackles (13 for loss) 13 sacks, Pure DE title and ranked 14th best by PFF.
2015 (BUF) at 3-4 OLB: 52 combined tackles (8 for loss) 5 sacks, Rex happened! OLB designation.
2016 (BUF) at 3-4 OLB: 48 combined tackles (8 for loss) 6 sacks, same as 2015. OLB and not worth the play.
When you see the outside linebacker seasons he endured you may say those are not terrible stats. But as I’ve pointed out in a recent article, they are very average seasons in terms of production if using him as a designated linebacker for fantasy purposes, and really amounts to nothing but a depth player at best for your fantasy roster.
2017 Outlook: It would seem pretty clear from the stats above that his best option is being used as a defensive end in a 4-3 base defensive scheme and not a stand-up pass rusher as an outside linebacker in any scheme. That would be in fantasy or real life to me personally. Now here we are entering 2017 with Buffalo hiring yet another new head coach in former six-year head defensive coordinator Sean McDermott from the Panthers. He brings with him his 4-3 based scheme to Buffalo. After coaching the likes of defensive end Charles Johnson and company in Carolina we have to think that he’ll know exactly what to do to get the best out of Jerry Hughes. As he will again be a designated defensive end in the NFL and soon, if not already, will be in fantasy football sites everywhere. Hughes is not your prototypical defensive end at a short and stout 6’2” 254lbs, which is a typical LB build. He is a former 1st round 28-year-old player still in his prime and ready to explode in 2017 while finally getting a scheme that fits him instead of fitting him to the scheme. It’s my personal opinion that with this change in coaching personnel in Buffalo and Hughes potential as a former first-round defensive end draft pick that we could be looking at a comparable 2014 season or even better. He is a “hands in the dirt” player with a low center of mass that can bend around offensive tackles and get to the ball.
His combine profile by NFL.com speaks volumes of his instincts and potential. If not being drafted by Indianapolis into the wrong defensive scheme and then flip-flopped from position to position I believe he would already be ranked as a top five player at the defensive end not only in fantasy but in the NFL. Let’s just hope that he has a few more years to show it as his younger years were wasted by design and poor judgment by teams he played for. So go check those waiver wires or try a “buy low” offer on him now.
2017 production level: DL1 with top 10 potential
H/W: 6’1” 240lbs
Pro: 5 years
Drafted: 2013 / Panthers / pick 5.15
College: Iowa State
2016 Snap Count: 351 / 32.8% / ranked 4th
A 2013 5th rounder A.J. Klein has been a journeyman with the Panthers for the last 4 years behind “stud” veteran Luke Kuechly. While being mainly a standout on special teams he has received some action over that time as a starting middle linebacker. In 2016 he received starts from weeks 12 to 17 and performed very well. Unfortunately, it was at the expense of Kuechly who received a terrible concussion in week 11 against New Orleans Saints. I’d like to also note here that Klein was sitting out that same contest with his own concussion that could have affected his play on the field in the following weeks. This is only an assumption on my part based on the research that I’ve done over the last six months. But now on to what I’ve learned about him as a player. There have been a few camp reports from his now former Panther teammates and coaching staff stating how they felt that Klein would be (not could be, would be!) a starter on most of the teams in the NFL. These started surfacing after Kuechly was put into the concussion protocol and Klein was named the next man up. I’ve also learned this past fall that the team recently started using a GPS system to analyze practice reps and that Klein was among the fastest players to read and react to the offensive plays during those sessions. With that being said I kept it in mind but didn’t think much of it until I watched the Panthers and Raiders game in week 12 last season. That is when I seen this play unfold late in the contest that I’ve included as a clip below. This was Klein’s first true start of the season and had to be his moment to audition for teams going into 2017 as a future free agent. As you watch you will notice that there is no help in coverage from the free safety Tre Boston (#33), who can be seen lingering towards the bottom of the clip, while Klein (#56) starts from his spot in the middle of the field. Let’s take a look and then break the play down.
So we see that Klein had been isolated but in a position to cover a very good wide receiver in Michael Crabtree (#15) in a short to mid-field route. But then when he saw Crabtree kicking it into high gear for a long route down the middle of the field that he also noticed that the free safety was out of position and not able to pick up the coverage. I’m assuming this because there has never been a defensive play called that isolates a middle linebacker on a wide receiver running down the field on purpose that I’ve ever seen. In the end, it might have been a great catch by Crabtree, but the clip does show that Klein can really run and can see the entire field. That was a 50-yard sprint by a 6’1” 240lb linebacker with a WR who had a step on him due to the blown coverage. If Klein had turned his head one split second earlier before the catch and kept his feet under himself it would have been a highlight reel for sure. In a sense, I believe it still was and shows just what Klein has in store going forward.
The Saints snatched Klein up real early in free agency this offseason with a really nice contract for a free agent linebacker. Making him the highest paid linebacker on the roster by a nice margin. The details are very telling with a three-year, $15 million deal, with nearly $10 million guaranteed. That is basically $5 million a year and not something to overlook. Contracts to me are always important to look at in finding players with a future and becoming relevant in fantasy football, and this one stands out. They have paid him “starter” money for a reason and I believe we will see exactly why in 2017.
2017 Outlook: The New Orleans Saints happen to use the same defensive scheme as the Panthers, so Klein will be able to step right in and showcase his speed and instincts easily for them. He is a big linebacker that can shed blocks and help shut down the run game while adding his experience of being the defensive play caller on the field. I believe he was brought in to man the middle linebacker position and lead the New Orleans defensive unit this year. There will be no downside in obtaining him through a trade or off the waiver wire. At the moment he is my #1 suggested pick up in finding IDPs for 2017.
2017 production level: Solid LB1
Thanks for reading and good luck finding your IDP glory.