It’s always tough to determine what makes a player a sleeper or a bust during the preseason. JJ Watt was being drafted as a top 10 DL last year, but he finished as the #1 DL by a wide margin, so did that make him a sleeper? Jared Allen, on the other hand, was typically the first or second DL off the board, yet finished at DL16 for the season, so did that make him a bust? This question is best answered by looking at opportunity cost.
If you’re like me, and spent most of college playing endless seasons of Madden instead of going to Economics class, opportunity cost is the value of the best alternative forgone. In fantasy football terms, it is the value of the player you didn’t draft. So while Watt was being taken over Danny Amendola and Kyle Rudolph, Allen was being taken over Stevan Ridley and CJ Spiller. Taking someone like Watt a few rounds after Allen in 2012 not only netted you a better DL, but allowed you to improve your team in other spots as well.
The top Defensive Linemen are always the first IDPs off the board, so if you’re going to reach for a DL, you better be sure that he’s going to pan out. Watt is currently going in the 5th round of early drafts, over Tom Brady and Frank Gore, and a full three rounds before the second IDP off the board. I’m not about to label Watt as a bust, but if you’re set on getting him in 2013, be prepared to pay the price.
Here are some guys who will likely out-perform their ADP in 2013, followed immediately by some that will disappoint:
Muhammad Wilkerson – He finished as the #3 DL overall in 2012, but no one seems ready to hail Muhammad in 2013, as he’s currently being taken as the 17th DL off the board. For a 3-4 DE, Wilkerson is a tackling machine, posting 3 or more tackles (solo + assists) in all but 2 games last year. His 33 assists were tops for all DLs in 2012, and a high assist rate usually leads to an increase in solo tackles the following year. Wilkerson isn’t known for his pass rush skills, but his 16 sacks + QB hits are similar to those of Chandler Jones, who is being taken four rounds earlier in 2013 drafts. In a balanced scoring system, Wilkerson has all the makings of another DL1 year, for a fraction of the price.
Anthony Spencer – I’ll be putting out a column on the position switch for Spencer and Demarcus Ware, but the preview is that I’m very high on both of them. Spencer’s tackle production is likely to drop with his hand in the dirt, but that could benefit his pass-rushing. With teams forced to double team Ware most of the time, Spencer will get plenty of shots at the QB and he’s certainly worth more than the 24th round pick he’s currently going at.
Lamarr Houston – The 2013 Raiders are going to be terrible. That’s good news for Houston, who will see a heavy dose of runs his way as opposing teams nurse their leads. He finished with the third most solo tackles among DLs in 2012, and he should only get more opportunities in 2013. The only caveat here is that he doesn’t do much in the way of rushing the passer, and teams won’t need to pass much against Oakland this year, so I would avoid Houston in big-play leagues.
Dwan Edwards – I would not want a Defensive Tackle as my top DL, but I’m more than willing to plug in a DT as my DL2-3, and Edwards is near the top of that list. With opposing offenses focusing on blocking Charles Johnson, Greg Hardy and Star Lotuleli, not to mention Carolina’s stable of LBs, Edwards should have free reign in the middle. His 25 assisted tackles (in only 14 games) ranked 5th among all D-Linemen and he added a respectable 6 sacks on top of that. Edwards is currently going undrafted in most 2013 drafts, so scooping him up with a late round pick or waiver claim is more than worth it for DL depth.
Nick Fairley – Maturity issues and injuries have marred his career so far, but 2013 is primed to be a breakout year for the former first round pick. Like others on this list, Fairley is flanked by quality players on the line, and will benefit from a lot of 1-on-1 chances at the QB. He put up a nice stat line with 34 total tackles and 19 sacks + QB hits in only 12 games in 2012, so if he can stay healthy (and stay off drugs), Fairley could be a DL2 this year.
Geno Atkins – As I mentioned with Edwards, I’m never comfortable relying on a DT to be my DL1. Atkins finished as DL10 on the year for 2012, but some of his numbers look less than sustainable. He should maintain his tackles, but his 12.5 sacks were 4.5 more than the next highest DT and the most by a DT in 12 years. If 4 of those sacks disappear in 2013, Atkins drops from a low-end DL1 to a low-end DL2. He’s still a beast, but should not be the 8th DL off the board, like he is right now.
Jason Babin – After breaking out in 2010 with 58 tackles and 12.5 sacks, Babin went crazy in 2011 with 18 sacks. That led to a top 10 DL ADP in 2012, and Babin responded by getting cut by the Eagles halfway through the season. He finished with only 37 tackles and 7 sacks, but someone will invariably get drawn to those 30+ sacks from 2010-11, and talk themselves into a Babin resurgence. Don’t be that guy. Also don’t be the guy who sends back his steak for being medium, not medium-well. It’s an Applebee’s, and you probably wanted it medium anyway.
Bruce Irvin – Being from New Jersey, I’m pathologically drawn to anyone named Bruce. You win some (Isaac Bruce, Bruce Smith), you lose some (Bruce Gradkowski), but it’s always fun. I was high on Irvin last year, and he played pretty well in limited snaps. I can see him putting up similar numbers this year, which is not necessarily a bad thing given that he’s suspended for the first 4 games, and Seattle brought in Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett. The thing about Irvin that has me worried is his price. He went undrafted most of the time last year, but now he’s going as the 24th DL in early drafts, ahead of upside guys like Ziggy Ansah and Da’Quan Bowers. There are better ways to spend your late-round pick, and Irvin’s owner will likely drop him during the first month anyway.