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The tendency in the NFL, as well as fantasy football is to continuously be on the lookout for ‘the next big thing’. Individual Defensive Player (IDP) formats are no different. We diligently watch the combine, gobble up every piece of film and information on all the young talent entering the league and prepare to pounce on these raw prospects. Beating our leaguemates to the punch and getting these players on our rosters becomes a priority.
We DVR the draft, allowing us to go back and listen to Mike Mayock wax poetic about the third-round linebacker drafted out of Oklahoma that resembles a young Ray Lewis. Oh yes, come fantasy draft day we will jump all over this kid and wait for the tackle totals to roll in. The problem with that philosophy is that there is still a veteran that is likely ahead of the kid on the depth chart, and we have no idea exactly how the youngster will adapt to the size and speed difference that the NFL offers as compared to college football. Meanwhile, there is a plethora of older, proven, fantasy-point producing veterans that are overlooked in this quest for youth.
This ‘out with the old, in with the new’ concept that many owners are driven by, will consistently allow the savvy IDP owner to snatch a solid fantasy point producer at an excellent value while others are chasing the new kids on the block around the draft board. Obviously, I am referring to more of a re-draft format here as in dynasty and keeper leagues it is necessary to keep replenishing our rosters with young talent to be ready to step in and replace the aging players in order to remain competitive in the future. However, unless your roster is in a complete rebuilding mode and undergoing a complete overhaul in this type of league, it is a good idea to keep some proven fantasy producers on board.
Sure, Luke Kuechly has IDP star written all over him and will patrol the middle of the Carolina defense for years to come, but first he must supplant Jon Beason. While awaiting that transition, there are veteran players that can provide excellent fantasy production for teams and lead you to a championships. In an effort to fight age discrimination (I cannot deny that I am getting up there myself), let’s take a look at some IDP studs that are at least 31 years of age and offer top-level fantasy potential for 2012.
London Fletcher , ILB, Washington, age 37: Gary Davenport broke down Fletcher in his excellent ‘Linebacker Value Picks’ article, and there is not a lot to add to what was covered there. It seems like every year Fletcher is overlooked while we wait for his skills to erode and his numbers to drop, and every year “Old Man River” puts up elite level fantasy production. Rookies such as Luke Kuechly, Lavonte David and Bobby Wagner may put up top-level fantasy production in 2012, while Fletcher will absolutely reach that level. Give me the proven point scorer on my roster every time.
Ray Lewis , ILB, Baltimore, age 37: Lewis is pure and simply one of the best to ever play the position. He has reportedly dropped quite a bit of weight this offseason, and he has stated this is the lightest he has reported to camp in the past 17 years. In an effort to adjust to the new ‘pass happy’ NFL, Lewis has dropped the weight that will allow him to stay with quicker running backs and tight ends in the flat and over the middle. He has always been a tackling machine and racked up 95 stops and two forced fumbles in only 12 games last season.
There were some rumblings that the Ravens were possibly going to consider using Lewis in more of a two-down role moving forward, and it appears that Lewis has decided to fight aging by increasing his physical fitness level. Lewis has led the Ravens in tackles 13 of his 15 seasons with the team and is still undoubtedly one of the fiercest competitors in the NFL. What he has lost in speed due to aging, he more than makes up for with his vast knowledge of the position, exceptional anticipation and he can still hit like a wrecking ball. Look for him to maintain his three-down role in the middle for Baltimore and continue to amass big fantasy totals. Besides, would you want to be the coach that tells Lewis that his role is being reduced?
Charles Woodson , CB/SS, Green Bay, age 35 : Woodson will actually turn 36 in October and shows no signs of slowing down. He has been lining up at strong safety in the Packers base defense so far in training camp and moving down to cover the slot receiver when Green Bay employs its nickel defense. Woodson has been the ultimate playmaker at the cornerback position and has amassed seven or more interceptions in four of the last six seasons. He has snatched more than 50 interceptions in his career and scored 11 touchdowns as a result of those picks.
Woodson has been an effective force in run stopping as well, putting up 240 total tackles over the last three seasons. He has also forced 10 fumbles in that time span and is a big-play threat for fantasy purposes, with an uncanny ability to strip the ball. The move to safety is an excellent one for fantasy purposes, as Woodson will have the chance to freelance more and not have to concentrate on one player or particular part of the field. Green Bay is looking to put him position to make more big plays and that means more fantasy points for his IDP owners.
Brian Urlacher , ILB, Chicago, age 34: Urlacher missed the Bears’ organized team activities and mini-camps while recovering from MCL and PCL ligament injuries but has reported that he will be a full go for training camp. He is another high-level fantasy-producing linebacker. Age may have slowed Urlacher down a little bit but he has made up for it with excellent anticipation and has amassed more than 225 total tackles the past two seasons. He has always been a big-play threat for the Chicago defense as the Bears have utilized his athleticism in coverage as well as in certain blitz packages. He did intercept two passes in 2011. It’s a little concerning that after racking up four sacks in 2010; he did not manage to register a single one last season and has put up a goose egg in that category four of the past six years. Look for the Bears to get him more involved in their pass rush in 2012 and for Urlacher to have a real shot at returning to the Top 10 fantasy scoring linebackers.
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