Everyone has their favorite fantasy sleepers so as we enter the final stretch before the regular season starts it’s time to pick out particular targets for those final fantasy drafts. Below is a look at some of the players I think can outperform their current industry rankings and projections this season in IDP leagues.
Vernon has long been overshadowed by his edge-rushing teammate, Cameron Wake, but 2015 could well mark the season in which Vernon overtakes Wake as the premium fantasy D-End on the Dolphins roster. Entering the final year of his rookie contract he’ll certainly be motivated to post career-best numbers, and for a player with 18 sacks and 104 total tackles in the last two years, those are likely to be borderline DL1 numbers. Vernon currently ranks No.14 in our DL projections, but his ADP suggests he is valued as more of a low-end DL2, which makes him a considerable value. Achieving 50 total tackles and 10 sacks is well within his reach, so don’t let him slide too far on draft day.
One of my most-drafted players this season, I’m “all-in” on Williams this year as he’ll be returning to playing as a five-technique defensive end for Rex Ryan’s 3-4 system in Buffalo. Williams’ best ever season came in the same role in 2013 when he posted 68 total tackles and 10.5 sacks, and although I’m not quite predicting a return to those figures, he has broken the 50 total tackle mark five times in his career and looks set to do so again in 2015. His sack total is where his fantasy upside will come, and other than 2013 he has never recorded more 5.5 sacks in a season, although five sacks look like his floor because he’s hit that mark (or more) in each of his last four seasons with 15-plus games.
I took Williams as my DL2 and the 17th defensive lineman selected in the RotoWorld IDP Mock draft to partner Jason Pierre-Paul in my starting line-up, but Williams makes for an excellent third defensive lineman on your roster in leagues that start two, although bolder owners should be well served by him as their high-floor DL2.
Hankins was impressive in his first year as a 16-game starter, but has yet to garner much attention as a fantasy asset because he’s a defensive tackle. In leagues that require owners to start a DT, Hankins is a must-own player, but even in ones that use a DL designation he’s well worth rostering. His 51 total tackles, seven sacks and a forced fumble helped him earn high-end DL3 honors last season, and now he’ll have new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo calling the shots. Spagnuolo may have washed out as a Head Coach but he’s been a great defensive coordinator when it comes to producing defensive linemen, so it should pay to invest in Hankins this season.
Like Williams, Hankins has a high floor because of his tackle output, so his ultimate value will be tied to his sack total. If he can reach seven or higher again, which is entirely possible, he’s a threat to be a low-end DL2.
We’re definitely delving a little deeper with Crick, and he’s only recommended as a target in deeper leagues. Crick has just one season as a starter, but (you’ll notice a theme here), he was good against the run and recorded 56 total tackles. His sack total was less impressive – just 3.5, but many more and he wouldn’t be that deep of a sleeper! The reason Crick is of interest is his edge-rushing team-mates, J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. Watt is the only player to ever record two 20-plus sack seasons and commands double and triple-teams, while Clowney, the No.1 overall pick in 2014 is a pass rushing phenom in his own right, albeit at the college level. What that essentially means is that Crick will be facing favorable 1-on-1s all year, and has a real chance to double his sack productivity. Crick’s going undrafted in most leagues, but it doesn’t take too much imagination to see him posting 50-plus tackles and six or seven sacks. If he does that, he’s a decent DL3.
Last season showed just how talented a player Matthews really is. Asked to play significant time as an inside linebacker from Week 10 onwards he had a career-best 61 total tackles, as well as 8.5 sacks. From Week 10 onwards Matthews was a fantasy revelation, ranking as the 7th highest scorer in that period and scoring 14.7 points-per-game (12th best), which is where the optimism for this season comes from. Although the Packers have listed him as an outside ‘backer on their depth chart, Matthews is expected to play as an inside linebacker on base downs, so he has the potential to post decent LB2 numbers, which would rank him alongside the likes of Lawrence Timmons and Kiko Alonso. Matthews won’t have quite the same double-digit sack upside as previous seasons, but seven-plus is well within reach. Most elite fantasy linebackers record two or three sacks, so if Matthews can record four or five more than his peers still, he can post approximately 15 fewer total tackles, depending on scoring system, and be an effective fantasy asset.
I like Matthews as the third or fourth linebacker on my roster, but his popularity is rising as people clue in on just how valuable he was at the end of last season. That being said, I wouldn’t be comfortable with him as my LB2 unless I had waited heavily on IDPs and stacked my offensive roster.
Probably my favorite sleeper heading into 2015, Brown was set to breakout last year as an inside linebacker, but tore his pectoral muscle which put him on the sidelines for the whole season. Keep the faith though as Brown looks set to make his breakthrough this season instead.
In his career to date Brown hasn’t been used in an every-down role, so he has yet to play more than 800 snaps in a single season (vs 1,000+ for the elite LB1s), but has still recorded 90-plus tackles in both years, with a combined 9.5 sacks, four interceptions (two for touchdown) and two forced fumbles. Clearly a playmaker, what’s more interesting to me is his tackle totals, as they strongly suggest he has a high tackle floor, and a triple-digit tackle output could be forthcoming if he is given the opportunity. Brown has previously ranked as an LB2 and LB3, so with an increased snap count he should be able to at least match that level of performance.
Depending on how savvy your league-mates are, target Brown as your first backup or final starter at linebacker (assuming you start three) and reap the rewards. Currently taken outside the top 50 linebackers in most leagues, even with some very conservative projections for Brown he comes out as a borderline LB2/3.
Bradham has a career-year in 2014, registering 105 total tackles after two seasons in a situational role, averaging just 55 tackles per year, and looks set for a repeat in 2015. There are several factors working in Bradham’s favor here, most notably the fantasy-friendly home stat crew in Buffalo, who consistently award more tackles than other crews in the league. Another boon for Bradham is the fact the Kiko Alonso won’t be in Buffalo this season to steal tackles, and Bradham will now move to the weakside, which is also another positive for his value.
Bradham’s performance last year isn’t miles away from his peak value, when he ended the season as a borderline LB2/3. It’s worth noting though that Bradham missed two games, and his average points-per-game total was close to Paul Worrilow and Jelani Jenkins, so he was actually scoring like a top LB2, and his current draft stock is much lower. He was the 26th linebacker taken in the RotoWorld IDP mock draft, while his ADP is outside the top 30 linebackers, so Bradham makes for an excellent upside third linebacker on your roster. Pairing Bradham and Brown as your LB3 and LB4 will give you the opportunity to put together an explosive offensive roster and a very solid IDP roster.
Every year there are a handful of safety sleepers that the IDP community latches onto, with perhaps 2011 George Wilson is one the best examples in recent memory. However, cornerbacks seem to be regularly overlooked in leagues that combine safeties and corners, which is criminal considering over they have been well represented in the top-20 defensive backs over the last three seasons; nine in 2012, and five in 2013 and 2014.
The No.1 target should be Giants’ cornerback Prince Amukamara. Amukamara has struggled staying healthy so far in his career, but his one 16-game season showed his fantasy potential as he recorded 85 total tackles, one interception and two forced fumbles, decent DB2 numbers. Last season he had 45 tackles and three interceptions in eight games, so was on pace for a career-year, and I’m expecting similar totals in 2015. There is a decent chance Amukamara can crack the top-20, yet his draft stock is nowhere near that high. He was the 28th DB selection in our experts’ mock draft, and his ADP is outside the top 30 defensive backs.
When given a starter’s role Alterraun Verner has been a very consistent performer. He’s topped 75 total tackles three times, and has 13 career interceptions, including a single-season high of five in 2013. Last year he didn’t quite crack the top-30 defensive backs, but did miss two games and scored more points-per-game than All-Pro safety Earl Thomas, which would have put him in the top-20 in a complete season. Verner went undrafted in the experts’ mock and makes for an excellent late round pick as a high quality back-up who could start if needed.
DeAngelo Hall is another I’m keen on, but he’s well-known in fantasy circles, recovering from multiple Achilles ruptures at 31-years old, and now fighting for the CB2 spot in Washington, which takes the shine off of him. He’s still someone I’ll be monitoring in late rounds, but not actively pursuing. Instead I’ll prefer to take a last round flier on second-year man, Jason Verrett. The Chargers corner looked at home as an NFL player last year in six games before he suffered a torn labrum which sent him to injured reserve. Verrett reminds me of tackle-machine Antoine Winfield, who had the second most tackles by a defensive back in the 2000s (behind Ronde Barber), so he’s a player I want to keep on my side. The great thing about targeting tackle-monster cornerbacks in the final few rounds of drafts is that they are dime-a-dozen, so if they don’t pan out it’s not difficult to scour the waiver wire for a replacement. Take a punt on Verrett in deeper leagues.