On Tuesday, we took a look at the impact (or lack thereof) that rookie players coming out of the 2011 draft might have at the Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver and Tight End positions. We didn't touch on D/ST or Individual Defensive Players, but there is time to make up for that here and now!
The problem with evaluating impact on D/ST, unless a team got a light's out return man like Devin Hester, is that you are looking at two 11 man squads and trying to estimate the impact of 1-3 additions, while also balancing the losses of that team's free agent/cut list.
The first thing I looked at was what teams went heavy on Defense, or got premiere defensive players to put in an already decent defensive unit. Teams like Chicago, Baltimore,New York Giants and Jets, Philadelphia Pittsburgh, and San Diego all added early round players to already good squads. Meanwhile defensive deficient teams like Buffalo, Carolina, Cleveland, Denver, Houston, New Orleans, and Tampa Bay invested heavily into defense this draft. So who takes the biggest steps? The first list was easy, and they are already typically top 15 defenses year in and out fantasy-wise... I think New Orleans and Detroit might take the biggest steps. Detroit didn't get mentioned above because they only spent 1 early pick on defense...but they added Fairley to an already nasty D-Line. New Orleans was pretty good two years ago, and their scheme isn't broken. Adding pass rush pressure from Cameron Jordan and Martez Wilson plus a good DB is in Johnny Patrick might help fix some of the back end leaking that stopped them from being top 10 last year.
But What About IDP? If you think calling team defenses is trickier than individual defenders, I would say you are right...most of the time. The problem is, its premiere Middle Linebackers and Strong Safeties that typically are predictable in fantasy football, because the staple stat is tackles and those positions usually get theirs. This was a DL, CB and pass rush OLB heavy draft. That may improve overall defenses, but its hard to pick fantasy studs out from those lists. DL usually take 1-3 years to transition to the NFL game. CBs are just as bad, especially because they tend to play more finesse college style than run stuffing NFL style at first, and its tackles, not picks, that makes leading fantasy scorers in most leagues. You probably wouldn't go wrong with CBs Prince Amakumara and Patrick Peterson, or Jimmy Smith for that matter, and Rahim Moore is probably going to get some decent stat lines at FS in Denver. Marcell Dareus, Stephen Paea, Muhammad Wikerson, and Nick Fairley may get decent stats too...But I doubt we have a top 10 player in their position groups in the rookie pool this year (That means DL, DB, and LB not specific positions). If I had to gamble I'd go with Paea and Dareus, as well as FS Moore. I may be a homer, but to me it seems obvious Paea will start from day 1, and snaps mean opportunities, and that's what it takes to get stats.
Final Thought: Avoid this year's class of linebackers for fantasy. It may be a flashy, pass-rusher focused class with a LOT of talent, but OLB Pass Rushers never outscore top 10 Middle Linebackers, especially in first year action (or when converting from DE for that matter) and there were not any solid Mikes in this draft.