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The midpoint of the season has come and gone, and some big names are returning to their respective defenses while preseason big names are finding their way on to sleeper lists. Colin McCarthy and Pat Angerer will surely alter the rotation of linebackers on their given teams, and knowing just who will benefit from a fantasy perspective is precisely why sleepers are so important.
Terrell Suggs has also returned from his Achilles injury and a shuffling of the defensive line is occurring in Baltimore. Keeping an eye on who is gaining and who is losing snaps is imperative and the basis for finding sleeper candidates.
We’ve done the heavy lifting for Week 9 and have come up with players to plug into an Individual Defensive Player (IDP) lineup for the best chance at a victory. To quote the great Mills Lane, “Let’s get it on!”
Jameel McClain, ILB, Baltimore at Cleveland: McClain had a quiet Week 7 against the Houston Texans and finished with only four total tackles and a pass defended. Dannell Ellerbe, on the other hand, put up 12 combined stops and will be the apple of IDP owner’s eyes. Don’t sleep on McClain as he played just as many snaps as Ellerbe and will get his tackles, too. Look for him to get on track starting this week against the Browns as he settles into his new every down role.
James Anderson, SLB, Carolina at Washington: Anderson is a tough call from week-to-week because it’s a mystery just what the Panthers may do linebacker-wise. With Thomas Davis missing practice Wednesday, there is always the concern that one of his damaged knees is acting up again. That puts Anderson back into an every down role. The Redskins present a decent matchup for linebackers as they will run the ball with Alfred Morris, presenting nice tackle numbers, and Robert Griffin III is also a threat to pull it down and go. The production will be there for fantasy purposes, and Anderson seems to always find a way to cash in.
James-Michael Johnson, ILB, Cleveland vs. Baltimore: A rookie, Johnson is finally getting the playing time to amass some nice numbers. He put up 10 combined tackles and forced a fumble in Week 8 and has settled in on the Browns defense. The Ravens will look to get Ray Rice involved early and often as they try to get back on the winning track in Week 9, and that will lead to a nice fantasy week for Johnson.
Erin Henderson, WLB, Minnesota at Seattle: The Vikings have relegated Henderson to a minimal role on their defense after he started the season strong with 22 total tackles and two sacks in Weeks 1 and 2. Minnesota has struggled mightily the last two weeks defensively and face a Seattle team that will pound the ball on the ground in Week 9. Henderson may see an increase in the number of snaps he plays this week due to the offensive scheme of Seattle, and the recent struggles Minnesota has shown in stopping the run. Look for a good week tackle number wise for Henderson as he offers up some big play potential if the Vikings decide to blitz rookie quarterback Russell Wilson.
Zach Brown, OLB, Tennessee vs. Chicago: Brown was on the field for 57 snaps last week for the Titans, and that trend may well continue with the return of Colin McCarthy. Akeem Ayers looks to have been moved into a pass rushing specialist role, which would keep Brown on the field more. Chicago is a nice fantasy matchup for an athletic linebacker such as Brown, with running back Matt Forte being dangerous in the passing game and bruising Michael Bush grinding out yards up the middle. Look for a very nice week for Brown.
Bryan Scott, OLB, Buffalo at Houston: Scott has put up solid tackle numbers in 2012 with 23 solos and 33 combined stops. He also brings big-play potential and has two interceptions and a forced fumble while playing above-average in coverage situations. The Texans will represent an opportunity for Scott to rack up big tackle numbers while also helping out in containing the Texans’ passing attack. Look for a very productive fantasy week from the converted strong safety.
Kelvin Sheppard, MLB, Buffalo at Houston: Sheppard has not had the breakout season that some folks expected after being named the middle linebacker for the Bills as he hasn’t been an every down player. He has 35 total tackles and a sack to his credit this season, but, more importantly has the Texans on the schedule this week. He will put up excellent fantasy numbers against a Top 3 matchup for fantasy purposes. Houston is that juicy of an opponent for even two-down linebackers.
Ryan Kerrigan, OLB, Washington vs. Carolina: Kerrigan remains the best pass rushing threat for Washington, leading the way with 3.5 sacks. The Panthers are a mess on offense right now and have given up 11 sacks over the past four games. Kerrigan is solid in run support and has added 23 combined stops as well as an interception and two batted down passes. Look for him to have a productive week nine from a fantasy standpoint.
Whitney Mercilus, OLB, Houston vs. Buffalo: Mercilus is coming off a big Week 7 game against the Baltimore Ravens in which he had three total tackles, his first sack and a forced fumble. He accomplished those numbers while playing only 16 snaps and may have earned more playing time off of that big game. Teams are having to sell out to account for defensive end J.J. Watt, and that is offering up sack opportunities for the likes of Mercilus, making him a nice sleeper option against the Bills.
A.J. Hawk, ILB, Green Bay vs. Arizona: The injuries at linebacker that the Packers have suffered have increased Hawk’s playing time, and the matchup with Arizona makes him a must-start. Hawk has only one sack on the season, but look for that to change after having the chance to line up against Arizona. The Cardinals are pathetic in pass protection, and look for Green Bay to relentlessly get after the quarterback this week and multiple players registering sacks, including Hawk.
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