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Walking Wounded: IDP Players Poised to Return from Injury

The 2014 NFL Combine is officially in the books. We can check off another box (see what I did there?) as we continue to move towards the kickoff of the 2014 Individual Defensive Player (IDP) fantasy football season.

Next up will be the opening of free agency in early March and that’s when things get really interesting. Where will some of the big name free agents end up signing? What IDP standouts will be let go for salary cap purposes?

Oh, yes. Things are ramping up in the IDP realm and it is full steam ahead!

Lost among the excitement of the young prospects coming out of the draft and the expectations of veterans in their new surroundings are those players that suffered injuries last season. The IDP walking wounded if you will.

Players that were relied on for excellent production who fell way short because of significant time missed due to injury.
Out of sight, out of mind is the credo here. When many IDP owners begin assembling their draft lists, they tend to overlook the old guard that finished the previous season on the Injured Reserve list.

Some scorned owners let the frustration of having an injured player who just so happened to mar their season, cloud their judgment when it comes to drafting that player the next season.

Do not be that owner. There are many players poised to return to IDP fantasy prominence once they’ve recovered from their injuries and can be had at an excellent position of value in drafts.

Here is an early look at a few such players that have caught my eye.

GENO ATKINS, DT, CINCINNATI

Atkins would finish the 2012 season with an impressive 12.5 sacks from the defensive tackle position and also rack up 54 total tackles. Those numbers would see him finish as the fourth-highest scoring defensive lineman in IDP formats ahead of such luminaries as
Mario Williams
,
Jason Pierre-Paul and
Jared Allen
.

The sky seemed the limit for Atkins as he entered his fourth NFL season having averaged 50 tackles and 10 sacks over the past two years. He had also proven to be a big play threat from the interior by forcing six fumbles in that time span.

The 2013 season would prove to be quite frustrating for Atkins (and IDP owners who drafted him), as a torn ACL would end his season after only nine games. While he had managed to rack up six sacks, Atkins had only totaled 20 tackles before being lost for the season.

Truth be told, Atkins was having a down season before suffering his knee injury. That doesn’t mean he was necessarily having a bad season but was definitely underperforming for his average draft position, which was the sixth defensive lineman off the board according to MyFantasyLeague.com.

At the time of his injury, Atkins was the 30th-highest scoring defensive linemen according to Fantasy Sharks Default IDP scoring and had produced a pair of goose egg performances.

Atkins is expected to ready for Week 1, and after falling so short of expectations last season, will absolutely see a free fall in 2014 IDP drafts. Nobody holds a grudge like fantasy football owners and Atkins burned plenty last year.

Atkins will still only be 26 years old when the 2014 season kicks off and remains one of the most disruptive interior linemen in the game. Since entering the league in 2010, Atkins leads all defensive tackles in sacks with 29. It’s highly unlikely that Atkins will match the production he put up two seasons ago but he will still be a dominant interior force.

In formats that separate the defensive tackle and defensive end positions, Atkins remains a top-5 selection at defensive tackle but will likely slide into the late 20s area in overall defensive linemen ranks, making him a nice value pick later in IDP drafts. Take advantage of those grudge-holding IDP owners and snatch him up in the middle rounds of your draft.

ANTHONY SPENCER, DE, FREE AGENT

Feeling lucky? This one is a potential roll of the dice but one that could pay off very nicely in 2014. Spencer played a total of 38 snaps last season before ultimately being shut down and having to undergo microfracture surgery last October.

Not exactly the way a player would choose to enter free agency, especially one who just turned 30.

However, the latest news out of Dallas has the Cowboys starting initial talks with Spencer regarding a return and he shouldn’t be too expensive. With the real possibility that Dallas will be releasing DeMarcus Ware due to his large cap number, Spencer could have sneaky good value if he re-signs.

Quite frankly, the Cowboys need to work some salary cap magic and Spencer will likely garner little interest in free agency, making him a cheap signing.

In 2012, Spencer graded out as the top outside linebacker according to
Pro Football Focus, putting up 95 total tackles and 11 sacks while forcing two fumbles. He’s shown the versatility over the years to play defensive end and outside linebacker while being productive from a fantasy standpoint at both positions.

Spencer faces an uphill battle to reach the potential he showed as a Pro Bowl player back in 2012 and must prove his body can take the wear and tear of a full season. He does bring solid DL2 value if he stays healthy, and risking a very late-round draft pick on the kid from Purdue is a roll of the dice that I’m willing to take.

Yes, I am feeling lucky and other IDP owners should too.

STEVIE BROWN, FS, FREE AGENT

After a pair of non-descript seasons with the Oakland Raiders (2010) and Indianapolis Colts (2011), Brown burst on to the IDP scene during the 2012 season playing 846 snaps at free safety for the New York Giants. He would finish the year with 60 solo tackles on his way to 76 total stops.

Even more impressive, was the big play scoring that Brown brought to the table by racking up two forced fumbles as well as a pair of recovered fumbles and an impressive eight interceptions. The interception total would tie him for second in the league with Seattle’s
Richard Sherman
,
one behind the league leader,
Tim Jennings
 of the Bears
.

Brown would also be credited with 11 passes defended and had locked up the starting free safety position alongside strong safety Antrel Rolle heading into the 2013 season. A torn ACL in a preseason game last August would sideline Brown for the year (ironically he would suffer the non-contact injury returning yet another interception).

Instead of building on the momentum from his 2012 season, Brown would be faced with a lengthy rehab as watched his position be admirably filled by second-year safety Will Hill. Showing the fantasy goodness that the free safety position offers for the Giants, Hill would post 77 total tackles along with two forced fumbles and a pair of interceptions (one returned for a score).

You may be wondering why IDP owners should be paying special attention to a free agent safety that is a year removed from actually being on the field that looks to have lost his job to a younger player. Well, as is often the case in IDP, fantasy football looks can be deceiving.

The Giants and Brown are both very interested in reaching an agreement that would keep him in New York as Brown stated in early January, “It’s definitely a place I want to be,” adding, “It’s just now we’ve got to talk to everybody upstairs and see where it goes from there.”

As for having lost his prime fantasy position on the Giants defense to Hill, don’t count on it just yet.
In his first two NFL seasons, Hill has already been suspended for eight games. In 2011, he was suspended for four games due to violating league policies on Performance Enhancing Drugs (Hill claims it was Adderall) and then he served another four games last year after failing multiple marijuana tests.

Wait, it gets better for Brown’s chances of regaining his role. In December of last year Hill was arrested on a warrant related to being more than $9,000 behind on child support. Furthermore,
The Newark-Star Ledger was informed that officers detected a strong odor of marijuana from the vehicle Hill was driving.

Long story short is that whether or not Hill is suspended again, the Giants are likely to cut bait on this time bomb and look elsewhere for safety help. It will be a back to the future scenario once they come to an agreement with Brown. Monitor his contract situation, and once he signs with the Giants add Brown to the top 20 defensive backs on your 2014 draft list.

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.