As preseason football gets underway and the NFL season inches closer, the opportunity for players to pick up momentum as sleepers increase as the media covers every inch and second of these training camps, joint practices and preseason games. We spend a lot of time focusing on the offensive sleepers of fantasy football but there are a large number of IDP leagues looking for the next Everson Griffin and Chris Borland.
We are going to go through the entire league, division-by-division and highlight IDP sleepers for each team. Some will be players who find themselves in new starting opportunities or currently in a rotation with another player but have the potential to stake claim sooner than later. Today we focus on the NFC West.
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Sean Weatherspoon, ILB
A lot of dynasty owners have a recency bias and when you have only played in seven games over the last two seasons, you aren’t very recent. He ruptured his Achilles last offseason and missed the entire 2014 season after suffering a Lisfranc injury in 2013 and appearing in just seven games. He signed with Arizona during free agency to replace Larry Foote and finds himself in position to produce LB2 numbers as a three down linebacker.
The big “if” with Weatherspoon isn’t ability, production or opportunity, its availability. He can’t score fantasy points sitting in the training room. If he can manage to put his leg issues behind him he has a big time opportunity provide tremendous value at his current ADP of 280.75 in the 24th round.
St. Louis Rams
Chris Long, DE
You can basically take everything I said about Sean Weatherspoon and repeat it when talking about Chris Long. His 2014 season was a big disappointment because of a week one ankle injury which landed him on the injured reserve/designated for return list. Even though he registered a sack in his first game back, he wasn’t the same player and finished the year with just five tackles.
Now, he enters 2015 fully healthy and looking to make a pass rushing impact on a fully loaded Rams defensive line made up of Robert Quinn, Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers and Nick Fairley with James Laurinaitis and Alec Ogletree attacking from the linebacker position. With blitz happy defensive coordinator Gregg Williams calling the shots, Long has the opportunity to approach 10 sacks this year. His biggest downfall has always been the overall low tackle numbers he finishes with each year, he’s never topped 43 total tackles in a season. Regardless, I’ll happily roll the dice on him in the 25th round at his current ADP of 297.5. That’s practically going undrafted in the 25 round DLF IDP mocks.
Cary Williams, CB
It’s not easy finding a sleeper on this defense. They’re returning 10 of 11 starters on this side of the ball and the lone newbie is Williams. He signed a three year deal worth $18 million this offseason and will start across from legitimate shutdown corner Richard Sherman. The two best kinds of cornerbacks to target in IDP leagues are rookie starters and players opposite shutdown corners because they both see a ton of targets. He should near the top of the list for owners who stream cornerbacks week to week.
Honorable mention: Frank Clark, DE
I’m going to throw another name out there because cornerbacks are boring. Frank Clark. He was Seattle’s top pick in the 2015 draft and should be in the defensive end rotation from day one. He is ferocious on the field and six kinds of stupid off of it. He was kicked off the Michigan football team last fall for domestic violence but landed with the best coach possible, Pete Carroll. A true leader of men, Carroll will hopefully be able to channel his aggression on to the field.
San Francisco 49ers
Aaron Lynch, OLB
Take everything I said about the Seahawks and now imagine the exact opposite. The 49ers offseason has been well documented and I don’t feel the need to re-live the nightmare as a fan of the team, but losing Patrick Willis, Justin Smith and Chris Borland hurts. The recent release of Aldon Smith is frustrating on one hand but it seems like he’s only active for a half a season every year anyhow, so it almost feels normal going into the season without him.
The player most likely to benefit the most from Smith’s departure is second year player, Aaron Lynch. As a rookie playing just 49% of the defensive snaps, he totaled six sacks in a part time role and finished tied for ninth in Pro Football Focus’s pass rushing productivity among 3-4 outside linebackers. He has all the talent necessary to take the next step in becoming a premier pass rusher in the NFL. His value in your league depends on your scoring system. If you play in sack heavy leagues he is a guy you definitely want to take a flier on. In balanced leagues he’ll be more of a matchup play but should still be rostered as a breakout candidate.
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