As preseason football is underway and the NFL season inches closer, the opportunity for players to gain momentum as sleepers increases as the media covers every second of training camp, joint practices and preseason games. We spend a lot of time focusing on offensive sleepers, but IDP owners are always looking for the next Everson Griffin and Chris Borland.
We are going through the entire league, division-by-division to 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 AFC North.
James Harrison, OLB
Yes, he’s old enough to owe God a quarter, but he still gets the job done when he’s on the field. The coach staff trusts him and while he doesn’t run like he used to, he’s still excellent against the run. Last season, Harrison had 45 tackles in 11 games, with 29 solos and 5.5 sacks. He only started four games though, which will probably be the case this year. He sits behind Jarvis Jones on the depth chart at the ROLB spot. Profootballfocus.com graded Harrison with a rating of 18.7 last season, an excellent score for anyone, but especially for 37-year-old linebacker.
Most dynasty players will be scared off by his age, which means you should be able to pick him up for next to nothing. Snatch him up where you can and feel confident that you can plug him in as a productive bye-week filler and if Jones goes down, you could find yourself with a nice little LB3 play.
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Christian Kirksey, ILB
Just about the entire Browns defense could be considered sleepers, but Kirksey has a chance to make some noise this season. We all know the Browns are not very good, so there should be plenty of opportunity for Kirksey to make tackles from his inside linebacker position as teams emphasize the running game while looking to drain the clock.
Last year as a rookie, Kirksey had 81 tackles (47 solo) and two sacks while starting only eight games. With a full year of NFL experience under is belt, he should find himself in better positions to make tackles and break up passes.
This year he will be the starter for the entire season, which means more snaps and more opportunities for tackles. It’s not unreasonable to assume Kirksey is rostered somewhere in your league, as he was touted as a breakout candidate for part of the season last year. Of all the players in this article, he’ll probably be the one that will cost the most to acquire. I see him as a LB3 with excellent upside that could end up being in the upper-LB2 range.
Darqueze Dennard, CB
A much ballyhooed draft pick last season, Dennard didn’t see much action in 2014. He is still listed as the backup to Dre Kirkpatrick at left corner, but I think he’ll see a lot more playing time this season.
Dennard has good size (5-11, 197 pounds) and ran a good 40-yard dash at the combine. With a year of experience under his belt, the coaching staff should feel more comfortable with him on the field. He’s probably sitting on your waiver wire right now and is worth a roll of the dice on the back end of your roster. If he’s on someone’s team, Dennard is the perfect guy to ask for as a throw in.
Will Hill, SS
In ten games last season, Hill turned in 42 tackles. Part of that has to do with the Ravens’ outstanding front seven and part of that was he only started eight games. This season he comes in as the starter and there is not much competition behind him.
Last year, profootballfocus.com gave him a 13.6 grade. He only had one game where he had a negative grade, and that was a meaningless Week 17 game against Cleveland. Just like everyone else on this list, Hill’s price tag should be inexpensive. If you need to start two or more defensive backs in your league, Hill should make a sneaky-good DB2 play.