Well here we are as we hit the month of February and are less than a week away from the Super Bowl and the end to the 2011 season. So as we look towards 2012 we are giving our readers a leg up on their competition as we try to identify some sleepers.
Those who followed our coverage closely last year saw how high I was on Sheppard. Before he had ever played a game I had him listed as my 24th ranked dynasty LB in our 2011 Dynasty IDP Linebacker Rankings. While Sheppard did not do nearly as well as I expected last year, he did have a solid ending to the season. I admit I had no belief that Nick Barnett would be as good as he was and he definitely stole a bit of Sheppard’s thunder. However, Sheppard finished his rookie campaign with 70 tackles and he actually gathered 59 tackles over the final 9 games of the season. This came out to around 6.6 tackles per game in that time and would have pro-rated out to a 105 tackle season over a full 16 games.
The fact that Sheppard did this as a SILB in the 3-4 playing next to Nick Barnett as Barnett racked up the tackles is quite an accomplishment. Now there is word that Buffalo will transition back to a 4-3 defense this year. Head Coach Chan Gailey is on record as saying Sheppard will be the starting middle linebacker in their new 4-3. "I know Shep's going to be in the middle," Gailey said. "Don't hold me to anything after that. Shep's in the middle, I know that."
This is great news for Sheppard’s immediate and long-term value. Buffalo has a very rich history of producing some ridiculously productive 4-3 MLBs. From 2002 through 2006, London Fletcher averaged 145 tackles per season and 9 performance plays per year as the MIKE. From 2007-2010, Paul Posluszny averaged 142 tackles per 16 game season and nine performance plays per year. Heck, in 2007 when Poz was hurt John DiGiorgio tallied 113 tackles as a fill-in and he was such a mediocre talent that he was out of the entire league only one year later. The table below shows each MLB's productivity.
[table id=172 /]
The point here is that if Sheppard hangs on to that MLB job he is almost a lock to crack 100 tackles and really has a floor of around 110-120 tackles over a 16 game season. History shows that he has a ceiling of 140+ tackles as the MIKE in Buffalo. He also should be good for 8-10 performance plays per year as well.
When Paul Posluszny left Buffalo and went to Jacksonville this year, his production dropped from 142 tackles per 16 game season to 119. He basically fell off by about 16.2%. If Sheppard makes strides and improves by even 15% over his prorated tackle numbers from the last 9 games of 2011, then he would fall in the range of 121 tackles.
I was telling people to target Sheppard as a LB3 last year with LB2 upside. Hopefully those in dynasty leagues listened. If not, go after him this year. He has LB2 potential at a minimum and could even produce like a LB1.