As the preseason draws near, it's time to look at this year's IDP (Individual Defensive Player) sleepers. These guys have likely never spent a day on a fantasy roster, but look for them to become solid contributors in 2010.
Analysis is based on the four main statistics for most IDP leagues (solo tackles, sacks, passes defensed and takeaways) in three-position formats (defensive linemen, linebackers, and defensive backs).
Chris Clemons, DL, Seattle Seahawks
Fact is, Clemons should be sitting on the waiver wire by the end of your draft. But sack-heavy leaguers should keep an eye on him. He's a pure speed pass rusher and he's going to play more snaps than he ever has in his career. Clemons is certainly too small (6-feet-2, 240 lbs.) to hold up as an every down guy, but he's going to fill Pete Carroll's elephant role (hybrid pass rusher on passing downs) as well as see part-time work on early downs. In 2007, he had eight sacks as a passing down specialist in Oakland, before seeing his role further reduced in two ineffective years with Philly. If everything breaks right, he's looking at double-digit sacks this season.
Vontae Davis, DB, Dolphins
Vernon's little bro is far from an unknown after entering the league as a first-round pick with a freak athlete reputation, but he was out of site and out of mind for the first half of 2009. After stepping into the starting lineup midseason, Davis put up an IDP stat line that was hard to ignore. In nine starts, he had 36 solo tackles, nine passes defensed and three interceptions. He's one of the few corners who combines big-play ability with a willingness to help in run support. He has DB1 upside.
Charles Godfrey, DB, Panthers
I'm not crazy about Godfrey's upside; I think he's a solid DB2, but only a borderline DB1 in deep leagues. But the move to full-time strong safety bodes well, especially in tackle-heavy scoring formats. We'll have to wait and see how comfortable he is in the box, but he certainly has the straightline speed and range to make a lot of plays, especially as another Thomas Davis injury has left the linebacking corps in shambles again.
Brad Jones, LB, Packers
As with Clemons, there's not any reason to burn a draft pick on Jones, but he's a guy who belongs firmly on waiver-wire radars. The Packers are high enough on the 2009 seventh-rounder that they're handing him the starting job opposite Clay Matthews. And playing across from Matthews, who will command his share of double teams this year, is a good place to be. Jones delivered after taking over for an injured Aaron Kampman last year, delivering 21 solo tackles and four sacks in six starts (his seventh start was the meaningless regular season finale in Arizona, in which he barely played). He's better rushing the passer than playing the run, so Jones can be ignored in tackle-heavy formats. In sack-heavy formats, he could end up being a pleasant, double-digit sack surprise.
Sean Jones, DB, Buccaneers
It's been three years since Jones had fantasy relevance, as the starting strong safety in Cleveland. If he can beat out Sabby Piscitelli for the same role in Tampa this year, he'll emerge as a possible DB1. The Bucs defense will spend a lot of time on the field, as the Bucs won't exactly ground it out on offense. That opens up plenty of opportunities for tackles, and Jones has better ball skills than your average strong safety. He has the potential for 70 solo tackles to go along with a handful of interceptions.
DeAndre Levy, LB, Lions
He seems to be everyone's favorite sleeper in tackle-heavy leagues. It's easy to understand why. Last year, Larry Foote averaged five solo tackles per game as Detroit's middle linebacker. Levy is far more athletic than Foote and will cover a lot more ground as the starting MIKE this year. He had 13 solo tackles in the final two games of the 2009 regular season, filling in for an injured Foote. Considering how much time Detroit's D will spend on the field, he has a realistic chance at 100 solo tackles in '10.
Anthony Spencer, LB, Cowboys
Spencer has a chance to be this year's LaMarr Woodley. Teams obviously will make DeMarcus Ware the focus of their protection. A year ago, that allowed Spencer to wreak some havoc in the backfield -- as in 28.5 QB knockdowns, third in the NFL, and one of five players with a combined 40-plus knockdowns and hurries -- but he came up a little short in the sack department. Spencer finished with only six sacks, but they all came in the last six games of the season. He also added a sack in each of their two playoff games. He's a darkhorse to lead the NFL in sacks this year, and he's serviceable against the run (50 solo tackles last season). For sack-heavy scoring formats, he should be considered an LB1 with big upside.
Kyle Vanden Bosch, DL, Lions
It's a blast from the past, but the stars are aligning for Vanden Bosch to have a renaissance in Detroit. He's in a similar situation to his Tennessee heyday, 2005-07 when he had 41 sacks and 152 solo tackles over three years. He's playing under head coach Jim Schwartz, his coordinator in Tennessee, and playing alongside Ndamukong Suh, who, like Albert Haynesworth once did, should draw attention away from KVB. Schwartz has all but guaranteed Vanden Bosch will be his right defensive end. You could do a lot worse with a late-round flier.