Written By Brian Filler @Brian_Filler
Every year we try to forecast the next wave of “sleepers” for the upcoming season; the group of players flying below the radar but still produce at elite levels. The first batch of players to examine is always the incoming rookies, followed by free agents who have transitioned to new markets. Missing from this equation are players with established abilities or opportunities but were lost to injury in the prior season. Below we will examine three key players (one per IDP position group) that have been forgotten by many but should be on the minds of every serious IDP fantasy player.
Defensive Line: Nick Fairley (DT, Detroit Lions)
Nick Fairley struggled to earn playing time in his rookie season but appeared to turn that around in 2012. Over the second half of last season, Fairley was emerging as a dominant threat, compiling 23 tackles and 4 sacks in his final 5 games. The season was eventually lost as Fairley landed himself on injured reserve with a shoulder injury.
Coming into 2013, IDP players need to keep Fairley’s name in the back of their head. Typically, logic dictates fantasy players should target a defensive end to fill their “DL” spot but Fairley may challenge that narrative. The former Auburn standout has rare athletic ability and playing next to Ndamukong Suh will free up Fairley for some free release attacks. The Lions will be without their top two defensive ends (Avril & Vanden Bosch) from 2012 this year and will be depending on Fairley to showcase his first round talent. The addition of DT Jason Jones also suggests that the Lions may use multiple sets with Fairley seeing time at defensive end.
Keep an eye on Fairley in the later parts of your IDP drafts and do not be afraid to take a gamble in the last few rounds. Fairley represents a low cost investment with the potential to explode onto the IDP scene early in 2013.
Linebacker: Brian Orakpo (OLB, Washington Redskins)
Brian Orakpo was off to a great start in his career, earning back to back Pro Bowl appearances his first two season. After switching to a 3-4 and pairing Orakpo with Ryan Kerrigan, the former Longhorn appeared ready to dole out some damage in 2012. However, a torn pectoral muscle in Week 2 would ultimately sideline Orakpo for the entire season.
After eight months of rehabilitation, Orakpo is back and ready to resume his natural place, in quarterback’s nightmares. With a healthy body and a pro bowl caliber sidekick in Ryan Kerrigan the stage is set for Orakpo to reemerge as a double-digit sack artist. On top of everything working for Orakpo, the Redskins have elected to wait on offering a contract extension; providing an even greater incentive for him to deliver a career season.
Linebacker is a position where IDP philosophies diverge as this group represents the greatest source of points. Risk averse players are more likely to settle with inside linebackers, such as Patrick Willis, that deliver a steady stream of points each week. If you are more likely to gamble with greater productions from sacks and turnovers, outside linebackers represent greater upside. While the points will have much greater volatility, a player like Orakpo can represent the difference between a win or loss each week.
Defensive Back: Lardarius Webb (CB, Baltimore Ravens)
After cementing himself atop the Baltimore depth chart, Lardarius Webb was in the process of establishing himself as a top corner in the NFL prior to his injury. Webb was showcasing potential shutdown corner skills along with great turnover ability. Low and behold the violence of the NFL took its toll and delivered Webb a torn ACL in Week 6, ending his 2012 season.
Coming off of a serious knee injury, many fantasy players will be quick to steer away from Webb but they should think again. Not only does Webb have great turnover ability but he also acts as a threat in the return game. While not as elusive as Patrick Peterson, Webb represents a dual threat defensive back that is worth drafting and stashing in deeper IDP leagues.
Defensive backs depend on turnovers and return ability to deliver elite production in IDP leagues. The biggest question for Webb will be how he handles his return from injury. Webb is worth a late stash in deep IDP leagues to see how he performs in the first few weeks of 2013. If anywhere close to his 2012 form, Webb will be a forgotten gem that can solidify your team’s fantasy secondary.
All three of these players represent deep sleepers that will not be a fit for all league sizes. Shallower leagues or smaller benches will likely not permit fantasy players to take advantage of these players. However, deeper leagues with large benches or multiple starting defensive spots will be looking to gain every advantage possible. Injuries are one of the easiest ways to forget about a proven player and that is where you find your advantage here. These players have all proven the ability to produce in the NFL but will be overlooked because of their recent injuries. Take this opportunity to take a low cost roll of the dice on one of these players and develop a reliable starter or valuable trade piece.