As the 2012 NFL playoffs get underway and four teams advance on to the divisional round, the savvy fantasy owner have already turned their attention to the 2013 season. Taking careful notice of players that may be able to help take their fantasy teams to the championship and finding excellent sleeper candidates is a year-round task.
They will often turn late-season opportunities for playing time into a chance to move up the depth chart for the following season or at least the chance to garner more snaps. The Individual Defensive Player (IDP) side of fantasy football tends fluctuate more from year to year than the offensive oriented formats, and deducing who is likely to sneak up draft boards before next August can never be started too early.
As we sit back and enjoy some excellent NFL playoff action, let’s also look ahead at some names that could be sneaky good fantasy sleepers on the IDP side of things. As it is very early in the ‘offseason,’ we’ll sprinkle in a few names at each defensive alignment and examine their fantasy appeal for the 2013 season.
Don Carey, FS, Detroit:
The Lions brought Carey on board in early November to help bolster a secondary beset by injuries and he produced some very nice totals down the stretch. He finished the season with 39 total tackles and a pair of interceptions while appearing in nine games. He was solid in run support and surprisingly effective in coverage with five passes defensed and allowed the Lions to release veteran safety Erik Coleman during the season.
Carey recently signed a one-year, $630,000 contract extension and is thought to be slotted into a reserve and special teams role for 2013. Louis Delmas has trouble staying healthy and is a free agent who may not be brought back, and the rest of the Detroit safeties are a motley group in disarray. Keep Carey in mind late in fantasy drafts as a stash with nice upside.
Nigel Bradham, SLB, Buffalo:
Bradham stepped in Week 6 to replace Arthur Moats at the SLB position for Buffalo and looks to have cemented a starting gig heading into 2013. His Week 17 total of 11 combined stops helped him reach 57 for the season along with a pass defended. The entire Bills defense played much better as the season progressed and Bradham led the way. He also produced his numbers in limited playing time as the rookie out of Florida State averaged only 30 snaps a game, leaving the field when the Bills employed their nickel package.
He was a solid compliment to veteran WLB Nick Barnett, and an entire offseason to work with the coaching staff (whoever that ends up being) on his pass defending skills will only help Bradham improve in Year 2. He has the potential to secure an every down role for 2013 and his fantasy value will increase substantially once he does.
Kendall Reyes, DE, San Diego:
The Chargers selected Reyes in the second round of April’s draft out of Connecticut and he had a very solid rookie campaign on a struggling team. His 3.5 sack explosion against the New York Jets in Week 16 brought his season total to 5.5 and he added 28 combined tackles. The Chargers moved him around a lot early in the season until finally settling on utilizing him from the left defensive end position starting in Week 10.
Reyes finished with the third-most sacks for San Diego last season and combined with right defensive end Corey Liuget for a total of 12.5 quarterback takedowns. There will be a new coaching staff in San Diego for the 2013, and look for them to put the 6-foot-4, 300-pound Reyes front and center in the pass rushing plans. The kid is poised for a breakout campaign next season.
Olivier Vernon, DE, Miami:
Vernon saw his snap count fluctuate from week to week as a pass rushing specialist for the Dolphins, and he ended his rookie season averaging 27 snaps per game. He finished the year with 3.5 sacks from the right side of the Dolphins defensive line and was surprisingly effective in run defense. Vernon totaled 25 solo tackles and 31 combined stops for the season and even held his own when forced to drop into coverage on occasion.
He looks to be in line to snag the starting defensive end position opposite sack master Cameron Wake moving forward, and that means plenty of singled up opportunities against offensive linemen as Wake draws the double teams. Vernon has the skill set and size to be the compliment to Wake that Miami has been searching for.
Andre Carter, DE, Oakland
: The Raiders signed Carter in September to bolster a miserable pass rush and though he would finish with only 2.5 sacks, by season’s end he finally looked be healthy. Carter had posted 10 sacks in 14 games for the New England Patriots in 2011 before tearing a quad and landing on the Injured Reserve. He did not see a snap for Oakland until Week 6 of the season.
He ended up playing more than 320 snaps at the defensive end position for Oakland and would be credited with eight quarterback hurries and another five quarterback hits to accompany his 2.5 sacks. The Raiders are looking to bring him back in 2013, and a fully healthy Carter should have at least one more productive season left in him. It is vital that wherever he signs next season Carter is lining up at his natural defensive end position and not being utilized as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Don’t fall asleep on the veteran next draft day as he represents excellent late-round value as a big play specialist.