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The business of predicting sleepers is a lot like playing cornerback. You have to have a short memory and get on to the next week. Week 1 is especially quirky as roles out of training camp have not been clearly defined and defensive rotations are still a work in progress. That said, we had a mixed bag of hits and misses in Week 1, with Barrett Ruud (did not play, he is officially fantasy irrelevant moving forward), Willie Young (Detroit), Lawrence Jackson (Detroit) and Shea McClellin (Chicago) standing out as players that underperformed and were absolute misses.
On the ‘hits’ side we had Paris Lenon (Arizona), Derrick Morgan (Tennessee), Justin Durant (Detroit), and Quentin Jammer (San Diego). The rest of the Week 1 sleeper candidates had middling fantasy output and acquitted themselves decently.
On to Week 2, where ‘decently’ doesn’t get it done anymore and these Individual Defensive Players (IDP) will step up big as sleeper options.
Calvin Pace, OLB, New York Jets at Pittsburgh: Pace looked healthy in Week 1 against Buffalo, and that in itself is a good sign because he lacked burst in 2011 after undergoing foot surgery. He put up five total tackles in Week 1, and while he failed to register a sack, he did put a couple hits on Ryan Fitzpatrick. Look for another strong game from Pace, including his first sack of the season, as the Jets face Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers in Week 2.
Jasper Brinkley, MLB, Minnesota at Indianapolis: Brinkley shook off the rust from a preseason that saw his playing time limited to post six total stops in Week 1. The Colts are notoriously tough on linebackers for fantasy scoring, but I have a good feeling about Brinkley this week. The bottom line is that he is the middle linebacker for Minnesota and will face a Colts team in Week 2 that may look to establish the run to help their rookie quarterback. Brinkley will also get the chance to try and cover Coby Fleener, who was targeted seven times over the middle in Week 1.
Koa Misi, SLB, Miami vs. Oakland: The Dolphins defense will be on the field a lot in 2012. Misi notched 59 snaps in Week 1, and that equals lots of fantasy potential for their linebackers. Misi amassed an impressive 10 solo tackles against Houston and figures to post similar numbers in Week 2 as the Raiders look to feed Darren McFadden the rock. While he may not see the massive number of snaps on a week-to-week basis that he did in Week 1, Misi should be on the field a lot against McFadden and the Raiders.
Tamba Hali, OLB, Kansas City at Buffalo: Hali will be chomping at the bit after having to sit out the season opener, and that is bad news for Ryan Fitzpatrick. The emergence of Justin Houston as a pass rushing threat to line up opposite Hali improves his chances to get to after opposing quarterbacks. Look for Hali to have a big day against an offense that is still looking for its identity in Week 2.
Michael Boley, OLB, New York Giants vs. Tampa Bay: Boley had a big interception and 51-yard return against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 1, despite having missed extensive preseason time with a hamstring issue. Look for a definite improvement on the single solo tackle he had in Week 1 as he returns to game shape. The Buccaneers will offer the chance for Boley to put up nice numbers as they look to establish the running game.
Bobby Wagner, ILB, Seattle vs. Dallas: Wagner is still coming off the field on passing downs, limiting his tackle opportunities. He only managed two solo and four total stops in Week 1. Look for an uptick in those numbers as the Cowboys will run the ball more than the 20 times Arizona did in Week 1. Wagner will eventually be a three-down player and not appear as a sleeper, but for now he is a low-ranked, viable fantasy option with great upside.
Anthony Spencer, OLB, Dallas at Seattle: Spencer had a nice start to his 2012 season by amassing seven total tackles and being very active from the outside. While he failed to register a sack, Spencer did apply some pressure and the solid tackle total made it a nice fantasy outing. Against the Seahawks, he will have ample opportunity to add to his tackle totals, but catching Russell Wilson may be difficult. As long as he continues to log more than 50 snaps a game, Spencer will get the chance to benefit from teams selling out to stop Ware and get to the quarterback.
O’Brien Schofield, OLB, Arizona at New England: We are going deeper here, but I like this matchup. Schofield failed to register a sack in Week 1 against Seattle but was a disruptive force from the outside for the Cardinals, causing offensive linemen to jump the count on a couple of occasions. He notched five total stops while applying consistent pressure and will have plenty of chances to get after Tom Brady in Week 2. Brady is not nearly as elusive as Russell Wilson proved to be in Week 1, so Schofield has nice fantasy potential this week.
Ryan Kerrigan, OLB, Washington at St. Louis : Kerrigan notched his first sack of the season against the New Orleans Saints in Week 1 and will look to add to that total by getting after Sam Bradford in St. Louis on Sunday. The Rams will be hurting along their offensive line as left tackle Roger Saffold tries to play through a neck sprain and center Scott Wells went on Injured Reserve with a fractured foot. With the Rams’ offensive line weakened, this is a very favorable matchup for Kerrigan and he should get at least one takedown of Bradford.
LaMarr Woodley, OLB, Pittsburgh vs. New York Jets: Woodley had only three total tackles and a fumble recovery during the Steelers’ Week 1 loss in Denver. The possible return of James Harrison for the tilt with the New York Jets will revitalize the entire Pittsburgh defense and free Woodley up to do what he does best. The Jets didn’t allow a sack in their win over Buffalo, but look for that to change as an angry Steelers defense sets its sights on Mark Sanchez.
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