August 20, 2009

All season long, Eight in the Box is the place for your weekly Individual Defensive Player Report. During the preseason, we'll be focusing on the four food groups of fantasy football: Sleepers, Breakout Stars, Busts, and Rookies.

This week, the Busts. Don't get caught reaching for these soon-to-be-falling stars on draft day.

Analysis is based on the four main statistics for most IDP leagues (solo tackles, sacks, passes defensed and takeaways) in three-position formats (defensive linemen, linebackers, and defensive backs).

Eric Barton, LB, Browns

Barton is an Eric Mangini guy who knows the system. But that's not the reason he blew up with 93 solo tackles for the Jets last season. Barton's success came thanks to the absence of David Harris for a chunk of the year. With David Bowens lost alongside him in November, Barton piled up 42 solo tackles in five games (including a 14-tackle performance in an overtime win in New England). In 11 games with a healthy Harris, Barton had 51 solo tackles, putting him on pace for a much more ordinary 74 over 16 games. With ILB D'Qwell Jackson eating up tackles for Cleveland this season, Barton is barely going to be worth a roster spot in 2009.

James Farrior, LB, Steelers

There's plenty to like about Farrior. His durability (56 starts in 56 regular and postseason Steelers games over the past three seasons) and sack potential (14 over the past three years) come to mind. But after recording 87 solo tackles last season, his highest total since 2003, he's set for a big letdown in 2009. There's the fact that he's a 34-year-old inside linebacker in one of the most physical defenses in the NFL. But, much more importantly, rather than the plodding Larry Foote playing next to him on first and second downs, Lawrence Timmons will now line up next to Farrior fulltime. An active, sideline-to-sideline hitter, Timmons is set to steal a lot of tackles from Farrior. Another 80 solo tackles for the veteran seems like a stretch.

Chris Gamble, DB, Panthers

Gamble is one of the league's better cover corners, which is why it's baffling that he was thrown at 120 times last season (only Charles Tillman was targets more often). He's willing to help in run support, so his tackles won't completely dry up, but with new starter Richard Marshall likely to overmatched on the other side of the field, Gamble won't be tested often. In all likelihood, Gamble will provide DB2 production at best.

Mathias Kiwanuka, DL, Giants

You don't need a graphing calculator to figure this one out. After a serviceable 2008 performance (8.0 sacks, 34 solo tackles), Kiwanuka's playing time is about to drop off. Osi Umenyiora is coming back, Justin Tuck is healthy, and the G-Men won't be moving Kiwanuka back to linebacker. He's going to see more action than your average back up as the Giants rotate their defensive ends, and with fresher legs and a lot of luck he could finish with double-digit sacks (he had 18.0 QB knockdowns last season). But tackles will be few and far between, and Kiwanuka will be far too risky to start unless injuries hit Umenyiora or Tuck.

Ed Reed, DB, Ravens

His ball skills are just ridiculously good, and Reed still belongs near the top of DB rankings in big-play leagues. But after nine interceptions and two TD returns last season (plus two picks and another TD in the playoffs), teams just have to start playing keep away from Reed, don't they? And if he's not near the top of the league in INTs, he's not going to be worth much. The Ravens front seven generally bottles up the run, and Dawan Landry plays closer to the line of scrimmage anyway. Reed had just 63 solo tackles over the past two seasons. The reward is potentially big, but Reed is leaning too heavily towards bust in 2009.

Lofa Tatupu, LB, Seahawks

He's been disappearing more and more frequently over the past two seasons, and I don't see how Tatupu is going to bounce back this year. With Leroy Hill and Aaron Curry flanking him, Tatupu could end up being the weakest link in Seattle's linebacking corps by midseason. Even worse, the Seahawks are getting a little less bulk in front of him. Free agent signee Colin Cole will occupy blockers, but Brandon Mebane has slimmed down and will play more of a classic three-technique role. Last year, Seattle was pretty much playing two space eaters in the middle of the line and Tatupu still only finished with 69 solo tackles. Yes, he was banged up last year. But the fact that Tatupu will see more traffic this season doesn't bode well for his 2009 production, even if he is 100 percent again.

Kyle Vanden Bosch, DL, Titans

You can flag me for piling on, as Vanden Bosch is coming off one of the worst seasons of his career. In the past, I've been a big fan of his in part because of his talent and motor, but moreso because teams had to double team Albert Haynesworth all the time. With Haynesworth gone, KVB will be a marked man on the Titans' defensive line. Injuries derailed him last season, but he's a long shot for double-digit sacks even if he's healthy. He's in for a long year.

Gibril Wilson, DB, Dolphins

Without looking at any average draft position numbers, I'm going to go ahead and say Wilson will be the most overdrafted IDP in fantasy football this year. He piled up 97 solo tackles as the strong safety in Oakland last season, but this year he'll be in a much different situation. Wilson will move back to free safety, alongside strong safety Yeremiah Bell, this year. He did have 70 solo tackles in 13 starts at free safety for the Giants in 2007, but that was playing alongside James Butler, hardly a force in the box. Bell had 100 solo tackles last season and will take down plenty of ballcarriers before they can get to Wilson. On top of that, the Dolphins front seven is much more effective than Oakland's, taking away even more tackle opportunities for Wilson. He doesn't have the ball skills to make an impact with interceptions or passes defensed, and he'll have a tough time getting even 70 solo tackles this season. Wilson will be drafted among the top five DBs based on last year's production, but don't view him as more than a DB2.

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