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 Griffen and Chris Borland.
We are going to go through, 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 will focus on the AFC South.
Nate Irving, ILB
The former Bronco inked a three year deal with the Colts this off-season. The signing went virtually unnoticed by the fantasy community, but Indy locked down a very solid player. Starting the first eight games of 2014 for Denver, he quietly racked up 54 combined tackles while also grading out as profootballfocus’ fourth rated run stopping linebacker over that time. Unfortunately, his season ended when he suffered an ACL tear in week nine. Irving is a thumper, plain and simple, but any injury to incumbents D’Qwell Jackson or Jerell Freeman will immediately thrust him into a starting role. Jackson certainly isn’t getting any younger either, so the door may open for Irving as soon as the 2016 season no matter what happens this season. He needs to be rostered in deeper (55+) leagues.
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James Sample, S
Oh boy, this is my kind of player. The fourth round selection of the Jags, Sample is a physical, in the box safety who just flat “brings it.” He will have growing pains in coverage (as will most rookie defensive backs), but everything I have seen of him shows he is not afraid to get dirty and hit anything that moves. After suffering a broken arm in early June, he has finally been cleared to go and will be re-inserted into the wide open free safety competition. Free safety may not be his natural position, but with Jonathan Cyprien more or less locked in at strong safety, the coaching staff have to find a way to get Sample in the lineup. While it’s unreasonable to predict a starting job early in the season, there is very little standing in his way. He will find his way on the field this year. He should be rostered in all but the shallowest of leagues and a strong case for him being the second rookie safety off the board can be made.
Nobody. Zip, zilch, nada. Sad face emoji.
This defense is J.J. Watt and a bunch of nobodies. I started to write about a few different players, but there isn’t one single defender on the roster whom I would tag as a “sleeper.” A couple players to watch are inside linebackers Max Bullough and Akeem Dent, but neither are likely to amount to much especially as long-term dynasty linebackers. Rookie Kevin Johnson is another interesting name for those in cornerback required leagues. As a Texans fan, I desperately want for there to be more talent on this defense but it just isn’t there, at least not enough for me to endorse.
The Houston defense couldn’t bring one even decent IDP sleeper to the table, but the Titans give us a pair of defenders to make up for them.
Derrick Morgan, OLB
Morgan is not typically the type of linebacker I pursue in IDP leagues, but he has legitimate big play upside. It may be bold, but I don’t think 15 sacks are out of the question. He hasn’t touched his ceiling to this point in his career, but the addition of 3-4 guru Dick LeBeau and new running mate Brian Orakpo certainly gives reason for optimism. The Tennessee defense on the whole looks like an entirely new unit thus far in two preseason games. Although he has only seen just north of 20 snaps, Morgan looks rejuvenated. This may be the season he finally puts it all together and plays up to his 1st round NFL draft pedigree. Even if he doesn’t reach the big sack numbers, a stat line of 70 total tackles with 6-10 sacks is easily achievable and should be expected. He is very likely to be sitting on your waiver wire right now and is definitely worth a speculative add, especially in big play scoring leagues. Even if you choose not to add him now, a very sneaky play is to hit the wire late in the season for him(or any number of 3-4 outside linebackers) towards the end of the season. A change of scenery via trade, free agency, or scheme change can turn a bottom of the roster 3-4 linebacker into a 4-3 defensive end which will vault said player in value on both your roster and the trade market.
Da’Norris Searcy, S
Free of a less than desirable situation in Buffalo, Searcy is locked and loaded in his new home in Tennessee. He was incredibly effective on a per-snap basis in 2014, but the Bills secondary just had too many mouths to feed. I’m racking my brain trying to figure out how he is still a sleeper this late in the process, but here he is nonetheless. He will step in as the no brainer starter at strong safety, and absolutely feast in this scheme. His offseason ADP has risen from non-existent to respectable, but he is still practically free in IDP leagues at this very moment. I have him firmly in my top ten dynasty defensive backs with the potential to challenge for a top five fantasy spot this season and going forward. Get him on your roster now.