With the season about to kick off, a look at some of the breakout candidates for 2010.
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).
Finnegan has been squarely on IDP radars since his wonderfully fluky, four-INTs-in-three-games start to 2008. He's flashed big-play ability since then, but this season he could become a more consistent week-to-week player. Finnegan has asked to shadow opposing top receivers, and with second-year CB Jason McCourty likely to start on the other side, Finnegan will likely get that chance. Expect Finnegan to be targeted more than ever this year; not only will it lead to more big play opportunities, but he'll also put up more tackles and PDs.
Teams are going to try and run all over the rebuilding Bucs, so there should be enough tackles to go around for Barrett Ruud and Hayes. A rangy weakside linebacker, Hayes is in the right system as Tampa goes back to their Cover-2 roots. His upside is that of a young Lance Briggs; Hayes had 66 solo tackles in 13 starts last year. He should finish 2010 among the NFL's top 10 tacklers.
Joseph sometimes gets overshadowed by Leon Hall, but Joseph is just as good as a cover man on the other side. The two put up nearly identical numbers last year (Hall had 52 solo tackles, 24 PDs and 6 INTs while Joseph went 58/20/6). There's every reason to think Joseph will put up a similar line in 2010. In 2008, before a foot injury cut his season short, Joseph put up 31 solo tackles and 13 PDs over just seven starts.
Landry was badly (and sometimes laughably) miscast as a centerfielder in Greg Blache's defense. But thankfully for Landry, Blache is out and Jim Haslett is in, and the new defensive coordinator is going to deploy Landry as a rangy strong safety to take advantage of his aggressiveness (or over-aggressiveness), not unlike the way the Steelers use Troy Polamalu (not to say Landry is anywhere near the same class as Polamalu, but he's at least in that mold). Landry should duplicate his tackles numbers of a year ago (78 solos) with a chance for some more big plays.
Posluszny actually led the NFL in solo tackles per game last year (88 solo tackles in 12 games). His long injury history will always be a concern, but there are too many positives to keep Posluszny out of the elite class of linebackers in tackle-heavy scoring formats. Along with last year's totals, the Bills have made the switch to a 3-4 (the same alignment Poz thrived in at Penn State) and will funnel ballcarriers to him even more. If healthy, Posluszny will be right there with Patrick Willis and Jon Beason among the NFL tackles leaders.
With Keith Bulluck gone, Tulloch becomes the leader of the Titans' rebuilt linebacking corps. He had 93 solo tackles manning the middle last season and should top that number with the uninspiring duo of Will Witherspoon and Stanford Keglar flanking him. He's not much for big-play leagues (three sacks and zero turnovers forced over the past two seasons), but Tulloch should be a potentially elite LB1 in tackle-heavy scoring formats.