The first quarter of the season is over, and most teams, excluding the Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts, have played four games.
Defensive depth charts continue to change weekly. Injuries and performance issues have seen some players emerge as surprisingly effective fantasy performers (Russell Allen comes to mind) and other big names have struggled mightily out of the gate (I’m looking at you, Jared Allen). Let’s keep moving forward in our quest to locate the perfect sleeper options for Week 5.
Craig Robertson, OLB, Cleveland at New York Giants:
Showing excellent versatility as a situational linebacker, Robertson has been a pleasant fantasy surprise. Through four weeks, he has more than 25 total tackles, two interceptions and three passes defended. There are concerns that when James-Michael Johnson returns from injury that Robertson will fade back to the bench, but I’m not buying it. The kid has earned his playing time and it will continue in a nice matchup against the Giants in Week 5.
Calvin Pace, OLB, New York Jets vs. Houston:
Pace returns to the sleeper list for a second consecutive week as the Texans are coming to town. Houston is an excellent matchup for linebackers, and Pace put up a respectable Week 4 performance, mainly due to a sack and forced fumble. Look for better tackle numbers in Week 5 for Pace as Arian Foster and company pound the rock at the Jets defense.
Melvin Ingram, OLB, San Diego at New Orleans
: Ingram has been getting close to the quarterback in his rookie campaign; he just hasn’t finished the deal, yet. He has been credited with eight quarterback hurries and deflected two passes through four games. Look for Week 5 to be his coming out party. He’s being utilized as a pass rushing specialist and the Saints love to throw the ball. Ingram will see increased playing time and the Saints are a mess right now. That equates to a very productive fantasy week for the rookie.
Koa Misi, LB, Miami at Cincinnati:
Misi is a matchup play this week as he struggles in coverage but plays well against the run. His snap count will be up this week against the Bengals, after playing a season-low 38 snaps last week against the Arizona Cardinals. He did contribute a couple of big plays last week with a forced fumble and 1.5 sacks. Solid tackle numbers and the potential for a big play or two in Week 5 make Misi a very nice sleeper candidate against Cincinnati.
Ryan Kerrigan, OLB, Washington
Kerrigan is the last man standing in Washington as far as being a pass rushing threat. He managed to pick one up last week against Tampa Bay, while also batting down a pass and picking up three solo stops. Matt Ryan was sacked seven times in Week 4, and Kerrigan is the only show in town, sack wise, for Washington. He’s a sneaky good fantasy option in Week 5.
Connor Barwin, OLB, Houston at New York Jets:
Barwin has been very quiet this season, amassing a meager six solo tackles and no sacks after four weeks. The combination of the fact that he is too talented to continue to struggle this way and the staggering Jets offense coming to town make for a breakout week for Barwin. He is overdue for a big game and a solid LB3 for fantasy purposes.
Albert McClellan, OLB, Baltimore at Kansas City:
McClellan has been an up-one-week, down-the-next-week IDP option to date in 2012. Coming off of a nice eight-tackle performance against the Cleveland Browns, look for that trend to end as he puts together another nice fantasy outing against the Chiefs. Kansas City loves to run the ball, and McClellan plays more snaps against teams that do not spread their formations. More snaps will equal sneaky good fantasy production against the Chiefs for McClellan.
Robert Mathis, OLB, Indianapolis vs.
A nice rule of thumb is to get all pass rushing threats into your fantasy line up when playing the Packers. Mathis has adjusted seamlessly to his new designation as linebacker, racking up four sacks, a forced fumble and fifteen total tackles in three games. This week he gets to chase down Aaron Rodgers behind a shaky offensive line and that will lead to more sacks. The return of Dwight Freeney will ease some of the attention that Mathis will draw along the defensive front, look for a very nice fantasy Week 5 for the veteran.
Rob Ninkovich, OLB, New England vs. Denver:
Ninkovich has found his niche in New England. He is a solid, rotational pass rushing threat and notched his second sack of the season last week against the Buffalo Bills. He is tied for the team lead in sacks with rookie Chandler Jones, and has added 13 tackles and a forced fumble. Look for coach Bill Belichick to find ways to bring pressure on Peyton Manning and for Ninkovich to be a big part of those plans.
Demorrio Williams, ILB, San Diego at New Orleans:
Williams has always been a surprisingly good fantasy producer when he gets consistent playing time. Look for him to get that playing time in Week 5, as the Chargers will be employing the nickel package as their base defense against the Saints and their pass-happy offense. Williams posted five solo tackles on a season-high 30 snaps last week and will have every opportunity to surpass that total in this juicy match up.