With the news of MLB Lofa Tatupu’s pectoral injury, a new sleeper is being thrust upon the IDP world quickly: Akeem Dent.
Make no mistake; Dent has been a sleeper candidate all along. There were rumors that the Falcons privately longed for Dent to win the MLB job over Tatupu in camp and that Tatupu was really signed as both insurance and as a means to push Dent for the job. However, if the pectoral injury that Tatupu suffered last week during training is a torn pectoral muscle or anything close to serious, Dent will be the unquestioned starter at MLB in Atlanta.
D’Qwell Jackson missed two straight seasons due to torn pectoral muscles and that injury is no joke. At the bare minimum, Tatupu is likely to miss valuable training camp time where Dent will begin to take the reigns as the new man in the middle for Atlanta.
Some folks will question whether Dent has high value or if his upside is limited due to being a likely 2-down LB. It is a certainty that WLB Sean Weatherspoon will be a 3-down LB and will be the guy to own in Atlanta. However, I am not so certain that Dent will not eventually be a 3-down guy as well. Despite all of the knocks on previous MLB Curtis Lofton’s abilities in pass protection, Lofton still played on passing downs quite often. Was this because Atlanta had more faith in Lofton than SLB Stephen Nicholas in coverage? Was it to limit the snaps of Weatherspoon as a rookie? Only the Atlanta staff can answer that for certain. That being said, Lofton played a lot (and was exploited a lot) on passing downs and unless Nicholas is a suitable Nickel defender, Dent could crack the Nickel lineup and become a 3-down guy.
Lofton was 6’0” 241. Dent is almost identical in proportions at 6’1” 239. He has the size to hold up. Also, Dent is a spectacular special teams player. If you trust a guy to chase down speedy returners in the open field, chances are he can play in space and can contribute on passing downs.
Lofton averaged 123 total tackles per season in his four seasons starting at MLB in Atlanta. He averaged 133 tackles a year if you exclude his rookie year when he was learning on the fly and playing limited snaps. From 2001 through 2008 Keith Brooking averaged 122 tackles per year manning the middle in Atlanta. The potential for the Atlanta MLB is 100+ tackles at a minimum.
If Dent can be roughly 80% as productive as Lofton, he would be a 106 tackle guy. Basically the chances are that Dent is a 100 tackle player with even higher upside if he can lock down that MLB job. His potential gets greater if he also plays in Nickel packages as the season goes on.
Tatupu’s injury has just opened the door for a potential gem of a sleeper.
Keep a close eye on this situation and the severity of Tatupu’s injury. Also make sure that Atlanta does not sign another star MLB to compete with Dent. The signing of Mike Peterson to offer up some depth is actually a good sign for Dent. Peterson is familiar with the system and is being signed for depth and insurance, not to challenge Dent or take his starting spot. However, with guys like E.J. Henderson and Gary Brackett still hanging around monitor the situation and the transactions as acquiring either of them could steal Dent’s thunder if they are signed.
If not, get ready to grab Dent as a low risk, high reward sleeper for 2012!