I always hesitate to use the word sleeper because readers often associate that word with "no-name players." I prefer the word "undervalued."
As a drafter, this is what I am always looking for: value. If I can get a 3rd round value in the 6th round, it gives me a significant advantage over my opponent. The following players (e.g. Justin Durant) most people have heard about and really aren't considered "sleepers." However, this doesn't mean Durant can't provide just as much relative value as a no-name player that comes out of nowhere.
In this article, I recommend three players at each of the three defensive positions (DL, LB, DB) who I believe will be significantly undervalued heading into the 2010 fantasy season.
Here are my 2010 IDP Sleepers:
1. RDE Chris Long (STL)—We have been waiting for Long to do something since he was drafted with the 2nd overall pick in 2008. He has the talent, he just needs another stud on the line to help alleviate some of the double teams he's receiving.
He was utterly horrible in the 1st half of the 2008 season (zero sacks). However, in the last nine games of the season, he registered five sacks. If the Rams decide not to draft a QB with the 1st overall pick and go with DT Ndamukong Suh, Long's value substantially increases.
2. RDE Cliff Avril (DET)—Avril is in a similar situation to Chris Long. He was drafted in 2008, and many IDP owners thought he would be an impact player heading into the 2009 season. So far Avril hasn't done much. This fact could change come April when the Lions take a stud DT in the draft (either Suh or Gerald McCoy).
Having a serious threat at defensive tackle will force opposing teams to double team the tackle, thereby leaving Avril in one-on-one matchups with the left tackle. If he can pull his head out of his ass and beat DeWayne White out for the starting RDE job, he could be a nice late-round grab.
3. LDE Mathias Kiwanuka (NYG)—It seems as though Osi Umenyiora has been permanently demoted to a 3rd-down pass rusher. Bad news for Osi owners, good news for Mathias owners.
Kiwanuka has shown that he can be a serious IDP producer. In 2008, filling in for the injured Umenyiora, "Special K" compiled 8.5 sacks. He's also a steady tackler. As long as O.Y. doesn't re-enter the picture, Kiwanuka could provide good value in 2010 fantasy drafts.
1. MLB Justin Durant (JAX)—I fully expect Durant to be a top-10 linebacker in 2010. His overall 2009 numbers were a bit lower than I expected, however, he missed three games due to injury and was playing with lingering concussion symptoms towards the latter part of the season. Also, the Jaguars began experimenting with multiple fronts last season, and this held Durant out of some plays.
Coach Jack Del Rio has recently said that for the 2010 season, the Jaguars will move exclusively back to an aggressive 4-3 scheme. Durant, being the middle linebacker and the leader of the defense, benefits greatly from this transition. Mike Peterson had some very solid years in Jacksonville in that scheme. Heading into next season fully healthy, Durant should be a safe bet for 95+ solo tackles and 30+ assists.
2. WLB Michael Boley (NYG)—In 2007, Boley had career highs in total tackles, sacks, forced fumbles and INTs. Many IDPers were high on Boley after he signed on with the Giants in the offseason to play WLB. Many people figured that Boley, moving from SLB to WLB, would be able to produce solid LB2 numbers.
If you look at Boley's 2009 stat line (66 solo tackles, 19 assists and two sacks), you may be disappointed. However, Boley missed five games. If you extrapolate this numbers over 16 games, he would have finished with 96 solo tackles, 27 assists and three sacks. These are D.J. Williams type numbers. In addition, the Giants just signed defensive coordinator Perry Fewell who tends to use the Tampa-2 scheme frequently. This should further increase Boley's value next season.
3. WLB Geno Hayes (TB)—This kid really started to turn it on in the last few games of the season. Hayes registered 38 solo tackles, three sacks and two INTs over his last five games. Tampa Bay isn't going to be much better next season, which means Hayes should be on the field a ton and will consequently see a lot of tackle opportunities. His big-play production down the stretch is an added bonus as well.
1. SS Mike Mitchell (OAK)—Tyvon Branch, a 4th round pick out of Connecticut, put up top-five DB numbers out of the SS spot in Oakland. His production is a result of the system not of the player (sorry Tyvon). Gibril Wilson put up gaudy numbers in that same exact position in 2008. Once he signed with Miami, Wilson's numbers fell back to mediocrity. Neither one of these players are stand-alone IDP studs.
However, the Oakland system and situation made them into studs. With this being said, Oakland spent a 2nd round draft pick to draft Mike Mitchell. If Mitchell can earn the starting SS in Oakland, he could exceed the numbers that Branch put up this year.
2. SS Kenny Phillips (NYG)—Phillips entered the 2009 season on many IDP sleeper lists and was performing well until he went down with a season-ending knee injury in Week 2.
Backup safety, C.C. Brown, had some monster games in Phillips' absence (back-to-back games recording 10+ solo tackles in Week 6 and 7). Granted, much of that production was due to Brown having absolutely no cover skills. If Phillips can fully recover from his 2009 injury, he should have good value moving into the 2010 season.
3. FS LaRon Landry (WASH)—Landry is one of the hardest-hitting safeties in the NFL, but he often struggles in coverage. In real-life, this can be frustrating for coaches and fans. However, in fantasy football, this is what IDP owners love.
Landry has the talent and awareness to be around the ball a lot. As he continues to learn and grow, he should be able to improve his tackle numbers. He started to come on during the last four or five games of the season, and I think he will carry that performance into next year.
If you liked this article, make sure and read my companion article: 2010 IDP Busts.
Also, take a look at this video clip which pretty much sums up the feelings of Vikings fans around the globe: Minnesota Vikings Announcers .