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IDP SLEEPERS: Five Young Players to Watch in OTAs

It took the St. Louis Rams a while to get with the program, but as of June 3 every team in the National Football League has begun organized team activities (OTAs).

They had to change the name. Back when they were called “minicamps,” the offensive linemen kept demanding s’mores. It’s the real reason the World Football League went belly up back during the marshmallow embargo of 1975.

It’s a chance for veterans and rookie alike to get to know one another, and a chance for new coaching staffs to see their entire squads on the practice field for the first time, even if it’s just in shorts and shells.

It’s also a chance for teams to tinker with different starting lineups and personnel groupings. Mind you, this isn’t to say these groupings will stick into the season or even into training camp.

But, as Jene Bramel of Football Guys pointed out when we spoke during the
Kellogg’s Komments podcast

recently, there aren’t as many of these workouts under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement as there once was.

As Dr. Bramel put it, “the coaches are trying things they want to see work.”

That means, that while there may not necessarily be any “earth-shattering” developments to come from OTAs, they still offer astute IDP owners the chance to identify some potential value plays, players for whom a change of circumstance could mean a significant increase in fantasy production.

Mind you, this isn’t to say that you should immediately acquire these players, regardless of how many of your leaguemates you have to beat up for that to happen. That would be foolish (and more than a little insane).

However, these players are at the very least worth keeping an eye on as fantasy draft season gets going and we approach training camp. If they continue to impress and their situation continues to improve, acquiring these players before they break out could pay big dividends on a modest draft-day (or even waiver wire) investment.

Wallace Gilberry/Margus Hunt, DE, Cincinnati

We’ll list these players as a pair, since how each performs in OTAs and training camp could have a major impact on the IDP fortunes of the other.

It will fall to Gilberry and Hunt to “replace” the departed
Michael Johnson
at defensive end for the Bengals. Gilberry actually played quite a bit in 2013, logging 7.5 sacks for the Bengals (more than twice as many as Johnson) in 520 snaps. Hunt, on the other hand, played sparingly as a rookie, as the immensely talented but incredibly raw second-round pick from Southern Methodist struggled to acclimate to the NFL.

In OTAs, Hunt was the nominal “starter” at left defensive end opposite, with Gilberry rotating in and then kicking to tackle in passing situations according to
Coley Harvey of ESPN

.

It’s unknown if that will remain the case once Geno Atkins returns, and the Bengals rotate their defensive linemen as much as any team in the NFL. However, if you amortize Gilberry’s production last year out per snap, and then extrapolate that to even 700 snaps, we’re talking about low-end DL2 numbers.

That makes the winner of the Gilberry/Hunt “battle” a player who will very much be on the IDP radar, especially when you consider the amount of attention from opposing offenses that
Carlos Dunlap
and a healthy Atkins will draw.

In fact, it hasn’t that hard to imagine a scenario where both Gilberry and Hunt could have more than a little IDP value, provided that each is able to get decent per-snap “bang for their buck.”

Jerry Hughes, DE, Buffalo

On many levels,
Jerry Hughes
already broke out. Playing outside linebacker behind a stacked defensive front in Buffalo, Hughes quietly recorded 10 sacks in 2013, which were twice as many sacks as he had in his first three seasons combined.

Now however, with new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz bringing both the 4-3 and the “Wide-9” defensive line to Western New York, Hughes will be making the switch to defensive end. So far, so good, according to
Chris Brown of the Bills’ website

.

“Hughes was effectively using an inside rush on some offensive tackles that were oversetting on pass plays,” Brown said. “He’s still asking lots of questions of the position coaches when he’s not getting live reps, but he’s making progress.”

Granted, the position/scheme switch, last year’s career numbers (and then some) and an offseason street race with
Marcell Dareus
that led to the latter’s arrest are all causes for some level of concern.

Well, maybe not that last one. Dareus is quickly becoming old hat at getting arrested.

With that said, though, if Hughes can come close to approaching last year’s statistical production, we’re talking about a solid IDP DL2. That’s from a player who isn’t even being drafted in many IDP leagues.

Jelani Jenkins, OLB, Miami

If Hughes is the “surest” bet (relatively speaking) of any of the players on this list,
Jelani Jenkins
is the longshot of the bunch. Still, with each passing day it appears the odds that Jenkins could play a larger role on defense for the Dolphins in 2014 grows.

That’s because
Dannell Ellerbe
continues to find himself squarely in the doghouse with the Miami coaching staff after signing a fat free agent deal only to stink up the joint last season.

First, Ellerbe was supplanted in the starting lineup at middle linebacker in workouts by
Koa Misi
, an arrangement the Dolphins are reportedly in no rush to alter. Then, as
Erin Brown of Fox Sports Florida

reported, it was Jenkins bumping Ellerbe from some first-team reps on the weak side.

Now, that may well just be tinkering by the Miami staff, and Ellerbe makes an awful lot of coin to be flat-out benched. Still,
Danny Williams of The Phinsider

thinks the move could stick.

“It’s clear that Jenkins will be given opportunities to unseat one of last year’s disappointing linebackers,” Williams said. “Jenkins will also likely be one of the linebackers on the field when the Dolphins are in the nickel package.”

If the second-year pro can add some base reps to those nickel snaps, we could be onto something, as Jenkins is a far more athletic linebacker than Misi.

Sio Moore, OLB, Oakland

Moore, who was a favorite of many IDP pundits entering the 2013 NFL draft, had a decent first year for the Raiders, notching 50 tackles and 4.5 sacks in 15 games (including 11 starts). That success didn’t really translate to IDP, however, with Moore finishing 88th among fantasy linebackers in
Fantasy Sharks Default IDP Scoring

.

This season brings with it big changes for Moore and the Raiders defense. With the arrival of fifth overall pick
Khalil Mack
in Oakland, Moore has kicked to the weak side in OTAs.

As Moore told
Jason Leskiw of SFBay.ca

, moving around in the formation is nothing new for him, dating back to his time at the University of Connecticut.

“I’m doing what I’m asked to do, Moore said.” Playing the WILL (weakside linebacker) spot right now. I did this in college, you know. I started out as a WILL, and then moved to SAM (strongside linebacker), where SAM was outside linebacker and down free safety. Moving from SAM to WILL here, again, it’s nothing that’s abnormal. I just try to use my versatility and continue to show my coaches and teammates.”

Moore may not have blown up the stat sheet in 2013, but he ranked a very respectable eighth among 4-3 outside linebackers
according to
Pro Football Focus

. Moore also possesses the athleticism necessary to earn subpackage snaps. If he can pull that off, playing in Mack’s “shadow” may be a very nice place for Moore in 2014.

For IDP owners, that is, as the more press Mack gets the better the chances Moore slides a bit in fantasy drafts.

D.J. Swearinger, SS, Houston

Of all the players in this article, Swearinger will all but certainly see the most snaps. The second-year pro is the presumptive starter for the Texans at strong safety after a rookie season in which the former South Carolina star started 10 games and made 71 tackles.

It was, as rookie seasons often are for defensive backs, an uneven year for Swearinger. For every big hit, there was a missed tackle. For every batted pass, there was one where Swearinger found himself out of position and got beat in coverage. It showed in his ranking of 72nd among safeties at
Pro Football Focus.

However, Swearinger has reportedly looked more comfortable so far in OTAs, and Swearinger recently told
Tania Ganguli of ESPN

he’s been hard at work learning new defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel’s scheme.

“It’s a lot of adjustments, but it’s all adjustments for the better,” Swearinger said. “We like it. I like it a whole lot better than last year because it gives us flexibility. We’ll be able to confuse a lot of the quarterbacks, switching up calls and stuff like that. I like it. Just ready to keep going with it.”

So long as Swearinger continues to develop, there should be ample opportunities for IDP production in 2014 at the back of the Houston defense. Enough so that Bramel slotted Swearinger in a tier of players that includes Arizona’s Tyrann Mathieu and Cleveland’s Donte Whitner. “(The) talent is there for big numbers behind (Brian) Cushing and (Brooks) Reed,”
Bramel wrote

.

Given that Swearinger isn’t among the Top 25 safeties off draft boards so far this summer according to early average draft position data at
My Fantasy League

, if Bramel’s right (and he is far more often than not), Swearinger could be an excellent value pick for prudent IDP owners who wait to address the defensive back position.

As IDP Draft Season gets underway in earnest, Fantasy Sharks has you covered. Whether it’s player rankings for redraft and dynasty leagues, projections, player spotlights, sleepers and busts or strategy tips, IDP Staff Writers Walton Spurlin and Mike Woellert and IDP Senior Staff Writer Gary Davenport have all the information you need to dominate your IDP league in 2014.

Also, for additional IDP information be sure to check out
IDP Manor

, and for the latest IDP news and player updates follow
IDP Manor on Twitter

.

Gary Davenport is the IDP Senior Staff Writer at Fantasy Sharks and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and Pro Football Writers of America. Davenport’s IDP work has been featured in a number of national print publications and on both satellite and terrestrial radio, and he was a finalist for the FSWA Web Article of the Year in 2013.

About Fantasy Sharks

FantasySharks.com began in 2003, disseminating fantasy football content on the web for free. It is, or has been, home to some of the most talented and best known fantasy writers on the planet. Owned and operated by Tony Holm (5 time Fantasy Sports Writer Association Hall-of-Fame nominee,) Tony started writing fantasy content in 1993 for the only three fantasy football web sites in existence at the time.