Summer Sleeper: NFC North IDPs

Steve Wyremski


So far this summer, the focus on sleepers here at DLF has been on the offensive side of the ball. However, Eric Olinger and I have been rolling out IDP summer sleepers across the conferences over the last few weeks.

As always, these sleepers will be of varying levels – some of the stash variety and others who could breakout in 2014.  As we’ve highlighted previously, scheme changes, coaching changes, and position changes can significantly alter IDP value and create arbitrage opportunities for owners.

Based on those items and training camp thus far, here are some NFC North sleepers:

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Detroit Lions

Devin Taylor, DE

Much of the talk surrounding the Lions’ defensive line typically involves Nick Fairley, Ezekiel Ansah and Ndamukong Suh, but it may be Taylor who is the best value play. Currently, he’s battling veteran Jason Jones for the starting spot opposite Ansah. While Jones shouldn’t have an issue holding the spot in 2014, as Jones has issues staying healthy, Taylor is an intriguing long-term option.

With a defensive line sprinkled with first round talent, Taylor wasn’t expected to see meaningful time as a rookie in 2013. However, with Jones out with a torn patellar tendon, he started two games, posted two and a half sacks, two forced fumbles, nine solo tackles and 15 quarterback hurries on 33 percent of the team’s snaps. Not bad for a guy who many expected to take time to develop.

Earlier this off-season, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin tabbed Taylor as someone who showed tremendous growth from 2013. Taylor put on some weight, improved his conditioning, and gained upper body strength as well – positive marks across the board for Taylor this offseason.

Through camp thus far, both Jones and Taylor both appear to be ideal fits for the new staff given their versatility. That’s exactly what defensive coordinator Teryl Austin is seeking. In essence, Taylor is seeing time at defensive end and is sliding inside at defensive tackle in subpackages. He played some of that role last year as a rookie, but expects it to expand in year two as the third man in the Lion’s defensive end rotation.

Reportedly, the 6’7” end has been working on leveraging his tremendous height and long arms to shed blocks more efficiently than he did as a rookie. If he’s able to accomplish that, the expected role expansion should occur and IDP production should ensue.

Chicago Bears

Christian Jones, MLB

Undrafted in 2014 out of Florida State due to a diluted urine sample at the Combine (considered a fail by NFL teams), Jones has received a lot of attention at Bears’ camp thus far.

The original linebacker focus was on Jon Bostic, Shea McClellin, and DJ Williams, but it quickly shifted to Jones with many now expecting Jones to contribute in 2014. While Williams appears to have the middle linebacker spot secured, Bostic, McClellin and Jones are fighting to be a starter on the strongside.

Originally projected as a third round selection, Jones began his NFL career fighting for a roster spot, but immediately worked his way on to the second team after impressive minicamp and OTA performances.

Most importantly, Coach Marc Trestman appears to be in Jones’ corner. Early in August, he noted Jones is “showing he deserves the opportunity to work and practice, and it’s fun to see because he’s coming from a long way to put himself in this position,” The athleticism is there. The explosiveness is there. The burst is there. The physicality is there. It’s evident that he’ll play that way. It’s just the learning process; there’s just so much for a young guy to know.”

Linebacker coach Reggie Herring supported the view stating, “we’ve got a young Jones player from Florida State who is doing an incredible job and flashes and shows he has a chance to be a good player.”

Given his natural athleticism and the potential three down linebacker and the Bears’ need for talent on the strongside, Jones may see snaps sooner than expected. The strongside isn’t ideal for IDP value, but with Lance Briggs an expected free agent in 2015, there’s going to an improved IDP opportunity ahead.

Other Sleeper: Will Sutton, DT – Reports are positive thus far and long-term exists with an aging Jay Ratliff atop the depth chart.

Green Bay Packers

Micah Hyde, FS

Hyde is making the transition from corner to safety, much like Aaron Williams did for the Bills last year and it’s working out. Coach Mike McCarthy called the transition “seamless” and Hyde is currently starting over first round rookie Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix at free safety. ESPN even reported Morgan Burnett may be the odd man out with Clinton-Dix and Hyde the starters. Not sure we’re at that point, but it shows the confidence in Hyde’s capability at safety.

Given Hyde’s flexibility to play safety or corner, as well as his rookie season success at corner, he’ll see snaps at both spots. If he holds the starting spot up through week one, he’ll be an interesting safety option.

Other Sleeper: Jamari Lattimore, ILB – Brad Jones appears to have the upper hand to start next to AJ Hawk, but frankly, Lattimore should be with the first team. He is seeing some time with the first team defense.

Minnesota Vikings

Scott Crichton, DE

Everson Griffen is situated for a breakout season in 2014, but with a one-dimensional Brian Robison the only obstacle to playing time, Crichton is in a position for long-term success. Coach Mike Zimmer is known for using his defensive line with success and getting the most out of his players, which bodes well for Crichton.

Zimmer already praised Crichton noting he’s “done really, really well” and “he is a very try-hard guy, which I like that. He hasn’t made a lot of mistakes.” On the other side of the relationship, Crichton called Zimmer a “genius”. It’s clear the relationship is there.

Crichton is unlikely to be anything more than a rotational defensive end as a rookie, but the long-term role is appealing especially given the early signs of a solid player-to-coach relationship.

Follow Steve on Twitter @SteveWyremski