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NFC IDP Sleepers, Stashes and Breakouts

On the offensive side of the ball, we published a detailed sleeper article per team throughout the summer. That left many IDP fans thirsty for a more detailed discussion on sleepers and breakout players. With that, we decided to put together an article per conference discussing players to watch, target, and/or stash for each team. Some of the listed players will only immediately relevant for deeper leagues, while others are targets for all types of leagues.

The discussion below will focus on three types of players:

Break-out: These are players primed for a breakout season who are currently undervalued in dynasty leagues and start-up drafts. Quite simply, they demand more attention then they are receiving. They represent players who are on the cusp of becoming dominant weekly options at their respective positions.

Sleeper: These players will vary in their level of sleeper. Some will be long-term sleepers who may take a year or two to develop, while others are players who are older and presented with a new role that results in increased fantasy value which is currently downplayed by the masses.

Stash: These are players who are not talked about much, but deserve to be placed at the end of benches in IDP leagues due their talent or opportunity. Many of these guys will take a few years to emerge and become household fantasy names. These are targets for the deeper IDP leagues.

Here is the link for the AFC write-up published a few weeks ago.

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys: Barry Church, SS (Sleeper)

With the release of Brodney Pool early in August, Church became the Cowboys’ starting strong safety. Church is a solid tackling safety, but pass coverage has always been a weakness for the former undrafted free agent. Throughout the 2012 offseason, Church worked with Gerald Sensabaugh and Jason Witten to improve his pass coverage skills, but it remains to be seen how improved they are. Given that the Cowboys are sticking with him as the starting strong safety, the coaching staff must be confident in it.

Church hasn’t seen the field much in his two-year NFL career playing less than 200 total snaps. However, in limited action last year Church was very active from a tackle standpoint when he played snaps. That bodes well for Church from an IDP perspective in his first year as a starter. I haven’t seen Church rostered in many leagues, but given his production in limited snaps in 2011 and the potential improvement in pass coverage, he could be looking at a surprisingly productive 2012.

Others to watch: Bruce Carter, ILB (Breakout); Victor Butler, OLB (Stash)

Philadelphia Eagles: Vinny Curry, DE (Stash)

Curry is my Chandler Jones of the NFC. The rookie defensive end possesses freakish natural ability. Like Jones, he’s a very raw player and will need time to develop, but the difference between Curry and Jones is opportunity. Jones had little competition ahead of him in New England, while Curry has Jason Babin and Trent Cole, along with Brandon Graham and Phillip Hunt to compete with in Philadelphia. Given the defensive line rotation that defensive line coach Jim Washburn likes to use, coupled with the fact that both Cole and Babin are getting a bit older, the younger players should rotate in fairly regularly. Babin is also struggling with apparent minor injuries.

I expect many to become impatient with Curry through the 2012 season with limited production anticipated due to relegated role. It’s likely that we’ll see Curry hit the waiver wire by mid-season in many leagues. If that happens, scoop him up. Not to overuse the Jason Pierre-Paul comparison, but Pierre-Paul was also drafted in to a situation with dominant defensive ends ahead of him a few years ago. It took him a year before he saw meaningful snaps, but once he did he took over. I can see a similar path for Curry in Philadelphia. Be patient with Curry for a year plus. If he’s dropped, snatch him up and stash him.

Others to watch: Brandon Graham, DE (Stash); Jaiquawn Jarrett, SS (Sleeper);

New York Giants: Jacquian Williams, OLB (Stash)

Williams played primarily in passing situations in his rookie season in 2011 and played quite well. He finished his rookie year with 50 tackles on roughly 500 snaps. Despite that, you don’t hear much about Williams. Jesse Armstead, a Giants legendary linebacker, scouted Williams and compared Williams to himself. Despite the favorable comparison and productive rookie season, the Giants linebackers are clawing at each other for playing time in 2012 given the volume of capable players at the position and Williams is squeezed for snaps.

Despite it being unlikely that he’ll have a full-time role in 2012, the increased demand for coverage linebackers should keep Williams on the field in sub-packages. He may even be worth a spot start throughout the year when the Giants play a pass heavy offense.

At this point, he’s not worth rostering unless you’re in a deeper league, but Williams could be an ultimate starter as he continues to mature. He apparently put on quite a bit of weight in the off-season and filled out his frame while maintaining his speed.

Others to watch: Linval Joseph, DT (Sleeper); Mark Herzlich, MLB (Stash); Prince Amukamara, CB (Sleeper)

Washington Redskins: Keenan Robinson, ILB (Stash)

Despite how unlikely it may seem, London Fletcher will eventually retire. That’s going to leave a big hole in the middle of the Redskins’ 3-4 defense. Perry Riley has one inside linebacker position locked up for the near term and, likely, long-term, but the other spot is open once Fletcher calls it quits. Robinson was drafted as the heir to Fletcher in the 2012 NFL Draft, which should happen in the next year or two.

Robinson has the ability to be an every down linebacker with his speed and athleticism, but he’s moving from the outside linebacker spot which he played in college to a 3-4 inside linebacker. He still has to learn the position and apparently was a little slow in camp, but he has one of the best in Fletcher to learn from.

Robinson is destined for limited snaps and special teams in his rookie year, but he must be stashed in deeper leagues and be watched in shallow leagues. He’s going to be a starting inside linebacker for the Redskins in the near term. He’ll also be an immediate add if Riley or Fletcher go down with an injury since he’s the primary backup after Jonathan Goff’s season ending injury earlier in camp.

Others to watch: Dejon Gomes (Stash)

NFC North

Chicago Bears: Henry Melton, DT (Breakout)

Melton was inconsistent in 2011 as a rotational player when he played mostly in passing situations. The inconsistency was evident from the first few weeks last year. He’d show up on the stat sheet with a few sacks some weeks and others he was non-existent. As an example, in week one of 2011, Melton racked up two sacks, three quarterback hits, and three tackles. The following week, he posted a mighty tackle. He ended the year with six sacks, nine quarterback hits, and twenty-three hurries, though, which ranked top ten in each category.

Melton possesses a ton of upside given his pass rushing ability. He just needs be more consistent. The good thing for Melton is that with Amobi Okoye gone, he’s positioned for an increase in snaps. The other positive factor working in his favor is that according to the Chicago Sun-Times, Melton was one of the most consistent defensive lineman in Bears camp this Summer. Given his success in a rotational role in 2011, natural pass rushing ability, a forecasted increase in snaps, and early improvement in consistency in camp, Melton’s primed for a breakout in 2012.

Others to watch: Brandon Hardin, FS (Stash); Shea McClellin, DE (Sleeper)

Detroit Lions: Lawrence Jackson, DE (Sleeper)

The former first round pick struggled with the bust label prior to being traded from the Seahawks to the Lions back prior to the 2010 season. In the second half of 2010, Jackson showed why he was drafted in the first round as he attacked the quarterback tallying seven sacks and ten quarterback hurries in the final seven games of the season. He did much of the same in 2011 before getting injured. In the first eight games he put together 14 hurries, but only one sack. It’s evident that he’s getting to the quarterback.

With all the success in a rotational role, if Jackson puts together a full season with that pressure, those hurries will turn into sacks and he’ll be a sneaky match-up or big play option in IDP leagues. Increased snaps will also help Jackson’s fantasy emergence in all leagues. He may see that with aging Kyle Vanden Bosch struggling with knee issues.

Jackson is still slated for a rotational role in 2012 barring continued injury troubles for Vanden Bosch. He’ll continue to fight fellow defensive end Willie Young for snaps, but Jackson currently has the edge over Young. Vanden Bosch missed some time in the preseason and Jackson started over Young in each game.

Others to watch: Amari Spievey, SS (Sleeper)

Green Bay Packers: DJ Smith, ILB (Breakout)

With the season ending injury to Desmond Bishop this preseason, Smith will be an every down linebacker in 2012. He’s a great option as a solid second linebacker who still possesses upside. While it appears that Smith will assume a replacement role in 2012, much like he did in 2011 with Bishop injured, Smith also appears to be have moved passed AJ Hawk and indications prior to the Bishop injury were that he was potentially going to steal some snaps from the underachieving Hawk anyway.

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers had this to say about Smith, “He’s got good command of the huddle, he moves well, and is a physical guy. He’s got good instincts in there. If they want to run the ball, he’s going to show up in the right place.” Even his teammates are publicly calling him “a natural born leader” and said “he knows the defense better than a lot of guys that are here.”

If Smith continues to perform like he did last season filling in for Bishop, he’s a good bet to be a long-term fixture in Packers defense. He may not maintain the every down role when Bishop returns, but he’s a good bet to start alongside Bishop making him a valuable long-term IDP asset.

Others to watch: MD Jennings, SS (Stash)

Minnesota Vikings: Audi Cole, MLB (Stash)

Let’s face it, Jasper Brinkley is mediocre. With the departure of EJ Henderson in the offseason, there is a big hole at the middle linebacker position. Right now Brinkley is the starter, but Cole put on a show against the Bills this preseason with two interceptions returned for touchdowns. He’s not going to steal Brinkley’s starting position based on that performance, but it gave a glimpse into Cole’s athletic ability and potential.

Throughout the draft process, Cole was knocked for his speed after a poor showing at the combine, which resulted in a seventh round selection. However, early reports from the Vikings coaching staff are that Cole looks quick on the field.

While he’s unlikely to see significant snaps in 2012 and is destined for special teams, Cole should be stashed in anticipation of fighting for the starting middle linebacker position in 2013 or if Brinkley falters later in 2012. Just keep in mind that he’s currently listed behind both Brinkley and Tyrone McKenzie on the Vikings’ depth chart.

Others to watch: Christian Ballard, DT (Sleeper); Brian Robison, DE (Sleeper); Josh Robinson, CB (Stash)

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons: Ray Edwards, DE (Sleeper)

Edwards was a huge disappointment in 2011 in his first season with the Falcons. He finished the season with an underwhelming three and a half sacks. He claims that the 2011 lockout-shortened offseason prevented him from getting completely healthy following off-season knee surgery.

Unfortunately, Edwards again had knee surgery during the 2012 offseason, but claims he’s finally healthy. Looking back on 2011 Edwards said, “It was very frustrating not being able to perform at the top of my abilities. I couldn’t go out there and do my job as well as I know I can, and I was putting a lot of pressure on myself with the new contract and things of that nature. Now I’m just going back to having fun and being me.”

Coach Mike Smith agreed that injuries really hampered Edwards’ 2011 season saying, “It was a tough year for Ray last year in terms of injuries. Some of them not well publicized, but he fought through a lot. He showed a lot of resiliency.”

Clearly, we can wash away 2011 due to the injuries and look towards 2012. With a new defensive scheme under Mike Nolan that’s expected to feature more blitzes and pressure, Edwards is positioned to bounce back from the disappointing 2011. With many snake-bitten from last year’s bust season, Edwards is currently being undervalued and represents a nice target for solid defensive end production.

Others to watch: Lawrence Sidbury, DE (Stash)

Carolina Panthers: Thomas Keiser, DE (Stash)

Greg Hardy better be concerned. Keiser is gunning for a starting spot. In the 2011 NFL Draft, Keiser went undrafted, but was signed by the Panthers soon after. Mid-season, he was promoted from the practice squad and finished the year with four sacks. That was good enough for second on the team which matched Hardy’s output in a full season of snaps. In the 2012 preseason, Keiser continued to turn heads with four sacks in four preseason games.

Keiser is not the most naturally talented end, but his motor is non-stop and he continues to outperform expectations. He’s likely to begin 2012 with rotational snaps, but if he continues to get to the quarterback like he did towards the end of 2011 and thus far in the preseason of 2012, it’s going to be able to keep him off the field.

Others to watch: Charles Godfrey, SS (Sleeper), Haruki Nakamura, FS (Stash)

New Orleans Saints: Patrick Robinson, CB (Breakout)

Robinson had a rough first few weeks in his 2011 rookie year when he started the first four games before losing his starting spot. He didn’t start again until the end of the season, but still posted 48 solo tackles. Entering his second year, Robinson is in a perfect situation. With Tracy Porter gone, he’s a starting corner on one of the most explosive offensive teams in the league. That’ll mean plenty of opportunities in the passing game and a high volume of tackles.

Conservatively, Robinson is well positioned to be a top 20 cornerback and possesses upside given his situation.

Others to watch: Jonathan Casillas, WLB (Stash); Cameron Jordan, DE (Breakout)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mark Barron, S (Breakout)

It was difficult to select anyone as a sleeper, breakout, or stash on the Bucs considering their two high 2012 draft picks of impact defensive players (Lavonte David and Barron) and average or established players otherwise. Barron should be an immediate top ten safety given his situation and playing style.

Barron is a safety who will play in the box and immediately start for the Bucs. Given the average talent of the Buccaneers linebackers (aside from David), Barron should rack up the tackles immediately in 2012 for a rookie breakout season.

Others to watch: Lavonte David, WLB (Breakout); Daquan Bowers, DE (Stash-injured)

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals: Sam Acho, OLB (Stash/Sleeper)

After posting seven sacks in ten starts in 2011, Acho must be watched in all leagues in 2012. He has double-digit sack potential in his second season as he’s slated for an every down role for the Cardinals. The increase in snaps as compared to last year should yield an increase in tackles and sacks, especially if he continues to develop as quickly as he did in his rookie year.

Acho played defensive end in college, so his rookie season was centered on transitioning to a two-point stance as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Given the seven sacks in his rookie season, it’s evident that Acho developed quickly. As he continues to improve, becomes more comfortable standing up, and stays on the field for more snaps, he’ll be a solid match-up play in tackle-heavy leagues and potentially more depending on how extreme his development is (stash) and a must roster in big play leagues given his upside (sleeper).

Others to watch: Quan Sturdivant, ILB (Stash); Jamell Fleming, CB (Stash)

San Francisco 49ers: Aldon Smith, OLB (Sleeper/Breakout)

Smith is a pass-rushing machine – a sack specialist. In his rookie season, Smith compiled 15 sacks, 13 quarterback hits and 36 quarterback hurries. That’s tremendous given that he only played half of the team’s snaps in 2011. He’s a tremendously productive 3-4 outside linebacker who can also effectively play the run. Because of that, he’s earned more snaps in his 2012 Sophomore season as an every down player.

Given the expected every down role in 2012, double-digit sacks are a lock with 15 plus a realistic projection. Smith has the potential to be a DeMarcus Ware type of player as top five linebacker in big-play leagues (breakout) and top 25 linebacker in tackle heavy leagues (sleeper).

Seattle Seahawks: Richard Sherman, CB (Breakout)

Sherman started the last ten games of 2011 and over that time, he was a top five cornerback. It seems that people are forgetting that considering where he’s being drafted and ranked. With the way Sherman played last year, he knows how much cushion to allow a receiver and often ends up allowing the receiver to catch the ball, but quickly closes in for the tackle. That’s gold for IDP leagues considering tackles are generally king.

Considering 2011 was Sherman’s rookie season, it’s important to monitor him throughout 2012 to ensure his coverage skills don’t improve too much limiting his tackle opportunities, but all indications point to Sherman being an undervalued option who possesses top ten cornerback ability.

Others to watch: KJ Wright, WLB (Sleeper)

St Louis Rams: Janoris Jenkins, CB (Sleeper)

Jenkins appears to be the starter opposite Cortland Finnegan as a rookie for the Rams. He’s a talented corner with prior off-the-field issues, but most importantly he’s a rookie cornerback. Any starting rookie corner is worthy of the sleeper tag. Rookie corners will always be the focus of opposing quarterbacks. They’re the weakest link on the field. That means a lot of balls thrown their way, increased opportunities, ballooned tackles, and a great starting cornerback in an IDP lineup.

Not only is Jenkins a rookie corner, but he’s an above average tackler who should be productive in both coverage and against the run. He’s a must start throughout the 2012 season with the potential to be the top IDP rookie corner.

Others to watch: Robert Quinn, DE (Breakout); Aaron Brown, WLB (Stash)

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Chris Mertz
9 years ago

Great article. Any plans for an AFC version?

Chris Mertz
9 years ago

Nevermind. Just away it already exists.

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