Star: Von Miller - Looking at the 2017 Broncos defense, you may be surprised to learn that not a single player ranked in the top 16 in any position. This is a case where the sum of the parts, exceeds the individual value. Regardless, Von Miller is the star of this defense. Here are his PFF grades since he entered the league: 90, 93.4, 91.5, 90.6, 92, 90.5, 91.5. That is the epitome of consistency.
Falling Star: Todd Davis - The former Saint had a rough 2017 season, logging less than 600 snaps, finishing outside the top 50 LB, and receiving a grade of 66 from PFF. A two-down thumper, he is being replaced in the nickel package by 3rd-year safety Will Parks. With Josey Jewell and Zaire Anderson behind him, don’t expect a bounce back season.
Sleeper: Josey Jewell - During the rookie draft season, Jewell was receiving little attention. The tide may be changing. Reports out of camp cite his instincts and the proverbial, nose for the ball. Keep an eye on rotation during preseason games and pick him up in deeper leagues.
Kansas City Chiefs
Rising Star: Chris Jones - The 3rd-year defensive end finished as the 20th-ranked DE in 2017 despite playing in a 3-4 defense. PFF graded him at 89.7, easily the top-rated box player for KC. Look for him to improve on last year’s numbers while his snap count increases.
Falling Star: Eric Berry - Eric Berry has been a remarkable story for his ability to battle back from adversity multiple times in his career. He was able to beat a cancer diagnosis and is now faced with a recovery from a ruptured Achilles tendon. While I don’t doubt his will or heart, I am not sure if he will be able to regain his former speed and agility. Look to divest after his first good game.
Sleeper: Dorian O’Daniel - I can feel myself falling for another speedy linebacker/safety tweener and this time his name is Dorian. I consider Dorian to be a picture of the new nickel-backer that have become popular in the NFL. Expect him to be brought along slowly, but this 3rd round pick is ready for a Wilde time.
Rising Star: Joey Bosa - After exploding onto the scene in his rookie season, Joey Bosa was able to become an even better player last year. Finishing with 12.5 sacks, Bosa had opposing offensive linemen saying “whoa”. As long as he remains healthy, you can pencil him in for 50+ tackles and 10+ sacks. If you don’t have him, it is probably too late to get him.
Falling Star: Jahleel Addae - The 5th-year safety recorded his strongest statistical season in 2017. Even with those stats, he was only the 50th best DB last season. With the addition Derwin James and the presence of the veritable swiss army knife, Adrian Phillips, it may be time to bid adieu to Addae.
Sleeper: Kyzir White - The rookie OLB convert is currently sitting behind Jatavis Brown on the depth chart. I was torn between choosing the 4th-round rookie or his teammate drafted two rounds earlier, Uchenna Nwosu. White is faster and has more of an opportunity to stay on the field on 3rd down. I think we will see both of these players receiving snaps by the end of the season.
Star: Khalil Mack - Khalil Mack is the man. Easily the best defensive player on the Raiders, Mack ranked as the 6th best edge rusher according to PFF. He has not reported to camp and may be on the trade market. I am casting a voodoo spell and hoping that my beloved Jets can somehow land him, bringing us our first pass rusher since John Abraham.
Falling Star: Reggie Nelson/Marcus Gilchrist - There once was a saying, “The sun never sets on the British Empire.” Unfortunately for these grizzled safeties, they are not the British Empire and the sun is definitely setting on their playing careers. The depth chart is in their favor, especially with unexpected release of Obi Melifonwu. They may surprise us in the short term, but cash out at your earliest opportunity.
Sleeper: Derrick Johnson - This corp of linebackers is not the strongest in the NFL. The Raiders have done a poor job of drafting and developing players, which has left them with few exciting options. Tahir Whitehead is the player going earliest in drafts, but I believe Derrick Johnson can be a sleeper in 2018. He is expected to be a three-down thumper, who may rack up 70+ total tackles. Although not a long-term solution, this long-time Chief might win you a few games this year.