If you Google “fantasy football sleepers” (after you read this…one thing at a time, bud) your computer screen will light up like it’s Christmas morning with hundreds of articles touting this guy or that guy as the next big thing.
From big site to little, shiny lights and pretty graphics will scream “THIS IS THE GUY YOU HAVE TO DRAFT AND SEND GARY DAVENPORT MONEY IN SMALL DENOMINATIONS!!!”
Or something to that effect. (and large bills are fine…I’m not picky.)
The problem is, most of those players aren’t sleepers. “Sleeper” has just become a word that means a player is undervalued in drafts. I won’t pretend I’m not guilty of it too. If I write an article about “Undervalued Players”, six people will read it (including my mom). However, if I crank out one on the “Five Biggest Fantasy Football Sleepers of 2013” that number jumps to like 11.
That’s the big time, folks.
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson can’t be a sleeper. He was a top-three fantasy passer down the stretch last year. Neither can New England Patriots running back Shane Vereen, because everyone and their mother expects him to have a big year in 2013.
Not my mom though. She says his ears are too big.
The same thing happens in the world of IDP. I recently saw an article touting Cleveland Browns inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson as a “sleeper” for 2013.
Jackson was fantasy football’s top linebacker two years ago. I’m pretty sure his ass is awake.
That isn’t to say that all those players shouldn’t be targeted on draft day. Given their present average draft positions, they should be. However, they aren’t sleepers in the true sense of the word. A sleeper is a guy like Washington Redskins running back Alfred Morris was in 2012, a player who was barely a blip on the outskirts of the outskirts of draft-day radars at this time last year.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that any of the players listed here will do for your IDP team what Morris did last year and post a top-10 finish. Trying to dig this deep and shoot that high is crazy even for my tastes.
However, for those of you wondering which player to take with that last pick to round out your roster at each of the “main” IDP positions, here’s one guy at each spot that has a puncher’s chance of working his way into your lineup as more than just a bye-week fill-in.
Olivier Vernon – DE, Miami Dolphins
There are three indisputable truths in IDP. You can never have too many linebackers, defensive backs are like Mark Sanchez turnovers (plentiful and always just around the corner), and everyone loves the shiny new toy.
About eight seconds after Dion Jordan was drafted third overall by the Dolphins in April, everyone forgot that Miami spent a third-round pick on Olivier Vernon last year. Except, that is, for the Miami coaching staff.
Meanwhile, Hal Habib of The Palm Beach Post reported that Vernon has generated “a lot of buzz” in training camp, while Armando Salguero of The Miami Herald recently pointed out that Vernon has been regularly abusing starting left tackle Jonathan Martin in practice.
Most importantly, it’s been Vernon, and not Jordan, who has been lining up at end opposite Cameron Wake in the base defense so far in the preseason, with Jordan rotating in and/or rushing the passer standing up. The 22-year-old did manage 3.5 sacks in limited duty last year, and Vernon is a player who teammate Randy Starks said is “ready to make plays” for the Dolphins according to Habib.
Daryl Smith – LB, Baltimore Ravens
When Ray Lewis rode off into the sunset after the Baltimore Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII, it left a big hole in the Baltimore defense. After the team selected Kansas State’s Arthur Brown in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft it was widely assumed that Brown would slide into Lewis’ old spot at WILB.
Not so fast, my friend!
A sports hernia stalled Brown’s development, and when the Ravens opened the preseason against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers it was veteran Daryl Smith, and not the youngster, who started inside for the Ravens.
Smith fared well, tallying five total tackles and nearly notching a strip-sack. The 10th year pro, who joined the Ravens in free agency after nine years in Jacksonville, has also made a favorable impression on his new coach, with John Harbaugh telling Matt Zenitz of The Carroll County Times that Smith’s performance was “great in every way.”
There’s still a very real chance that Brown, who played in subpackages against the Bucs, could work his way into the starting lineup, but at the very least Smith is pushing for the starting job beside him. Smith is a tough, versatile defender who was a top-25 fantasy performer as recently as 2011, and there’s more than a little IDP upside here than can be had very cheaply.
T.J. McDonald – SS, St. Louis Rams
The St. Louis Rams cleaned house at safety in the offseason, jettisoning 2012 starters Quintin Mikell and Craig Dahl. When the team drafted USC safety T.J. McDonald in the third round in April the general consensus was that McDonald would challenge for the starting job at free safety, with fourth-year pro Darian Stewart slotting at strong safety.
That isn’t what has happened, however. McDonald has been running with the first team at strong safety according to Jim Thomas of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and has apparently fared well, with Thomas writing that McDonald “has been a quick study.”
McDonald, who the NFL Network’s Mike Mayock called “a physical presence,” paced the Rams with five total tackles in their first preseason game against the Cleveland Browns, and there should be ample of opportunities for further production given that Dahl and Mikell combined for nearly 180 stops in 2012.
McDonald is a great example of why it’s wise to wait on defensive backs in IDP drafts. There’s more than a little IDP upside with McDonald, but he can be had very late in drafts, as he’s going undrafted in most fantasy football leagues.
If it works out, then fantastic. If it doesn’t, then who cares? You haven’t really invested anything in the youngster, so he’s essentially a no-risk pick.
Gary Davenport is the IDP Senior Staff Writer at Fantasy Sharks, an NFL and Fantasy Football Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report, a Contributing Author and Associate Editor at Football Diehards, and the Owner of IDP Manor. A member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association, you can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPManor.