IDP Sleepers: The AFC East

Mo Brewington

As preseason football concludes 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 East.

Calvin Pryor, S Jets

Second year safety Calvin Pryor is in position to blossom under new Head Coach Todd Bowles. The secondary upgrades New York made this off-season, combined with the dominance of their defensive line should allow Bowles to use Pryor in any number of attacking assignments, with the peace of mind that players like Darrell Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Buster Skrine can hold their own in coverage with minimal safety help. Bowles is known to adapt his defense to his personnel and his opponent, forgoing conventional alignments in favor of hybrid formations. As Defensive Coordinator for the Cardinals last year, he used rookie strong safety Deone Buccannon as a de facto linebacker, allowing him to play in the box, lending to his tackle opportunities. This would be an ideal situation Pryor, enabling him to play more downhill, and less in a back pedal, capitalizing on his aggressive playing style and raising the odds of him maintaining a three down role.

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bradhamNigel Bradham, OLB Bills

There is a definitive rise in the number of coaches openly proclaiming their defense to be neither “34” or “43,” but “multiple.” Add Rex Ryan into this lot. He’s stated his Bills defense will utilize multiple fronts to take full advantage of the diversity of his front 7 personnel. One of the most versatile players in that front is Nigel Bradham. It’s safe to say Bradham’s ability played a major role in the Bills comfort level trading Kiko Alonso to Philadelphia this spring. He can line up both inside and out, covering tight ends and backs or defending the run. He has very few (if any) limitations to his game. Both he and second year man Preston Brown give Buffalo the flexibility to defend run and pass, while staying on the field in any down and distance. He will be the Bills three down linebacker, free to roam the field and make plays, while the dominant Buffalo front seven gives blockers more than they can handle. A must own, who is still being cast aside in favor of lesser defenders, Bradham’s July ADP saw him being selected near pick 200 in IDP drafts. Passing on him is a mistake you’re too smart to make…

Olivier Vernon, DE Dolphins

Hardly an unknown, Vernon has finished in the Top 15 in fantasy scoring in 2013, before sliding to #30 last season. Many are predicting a monster season for his teammate, defensive end Cameron Wake, which I won’t dispute. I will, however, point out Wake is 33 years old and may not be the best long term investment for Dynasty Leaguers. With 16 sacks over the past two years, Vernon is more than capable of getting to the quarterback. He will likely reap the benefits of teams being forced to pay extra attention to Wake and Ndamukong Suh. There simply aren’t enough blockers to double team all three of them. At just 24 years of age, there is a great chance Vernon and Suh combine to anchor the ‘Fins pass rush for several seasons. At least until the fires of Salary Cap hell catch up with Miami and they’re forced to let one of them go.

Duron Harmon, SS Patriots

Since I gave you a known commodity on my last selection, I’ll go out on a limb for this one. Anyone who saw Patrick Chung play in 2013 for the Eagles was astonished to see him start for the Patriots in 2014. In Philly, Chung was the weakest link in a very bad secondary, frequently allowing big plays which took the air out of the stadium. Entering 2014, Duron Harmon was the player Patriots beat writers pumped up as the heir apparent at strong safety in New England’s super secondary, consisting of All-Pro’s Darrelle Revis, Devin McCourty and reclamation project Brandon Browner. Playing amongst these three studs, each with excellent cover skills, may have inflated the perception of Chung’s play. He wasn’t burdened to help out nearly as much as he would be in a group with lesser coverage ability. To the surprise of many, Chung leapt over Harmon on the depth chart, frequently serving as the box safety tasked with blowing up runs, while taking on limited coverage assignments. When the Patriots shifted extra defensive backs into the game, it was Harmon who joined McCourty in 2-deep looks. The results spoke for themselves. New England fielded their best defensive unit in years and went on to win The Lombardi.

With Revis back in Jets camp and Browner in the Big Easy, the Pats can’t afford to have their strong safety in the box as regularly as they did in 2014. For this reason, I’m confident Duron Harmon will make his way into the starting line-up as the Patriots every down safety, relegating Chung to a bit role as an extra run defender, and core special teamer. Offering superior man coverage and ball skills over the incumbent, Harmon’s ability will help offset the inexperience of the young cornerbacks tasked with replacing Revis and Browner. Rookie Jordan Richards is also in the picture at strong safety, but it remains to be seen how many new faces Coach Belichick is willing to rely on when the pressure starts to increase. Leading up to week one, owners will be able to claim Harmon off waivers for next to nothing. He’ll have plenty of opportunities to make plays, as teams inevitably challenge this untested young secondary.


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