In an effort to reach a little bit deeper and attempt to provide some quality deeper sleepers, the next few IDP sleeper articles will try to focus on some players that are a bit under the radar and might have some unexpected success this coming season. The first player on the list to highlight is Austen Lane, DE, Jacksonville.
Lane was a rookie last season and like most rookie defensive linemen he did not do a whole heck of a lot. It typically takes young defensive linemen a couple of years to come in and get the hang of things. This is particularly true with later round picks and small school prospects, of which Lane is both.
Jacksonville is also a fairly difficult location to put up big IDP statistics for defensive linemen. Why is that? Mainly because they are not on the field a whole lot and also they do not have many passes thrown against them either. Jacksonville was second to last in the league (31st) amongst defenses in the number of plays from scrimmage. This means there are fairly few chances for the defenders to shine and make plays. This is particularly true with the Jags playing more of a ground-and-pound, ball-control offense in order to keep games close. The Jags’ defense is also only 26th out of 32 teams in terms of the number of pass attempts against them per game. This also can limit the ability for their defensive linemen to have much of an opportunity to rush the opposing quarterback and put up decent sack numbers.
Speaking of which, the Jaguars were second to last in the NFL in sacks last season, recording only 26 sacks on the year. Only Denver was worse. So with all of this in mind, why the heck am I picking Lane to break out? Truthfully it is just a hunch. Anyone that tries to tell you differently when it comes to these deep sleepers is lying to you. That said, those ghastly pass rush numbers are the exact reason why the Jags keep drafting defensive ends over and over and over again. They are desperate to find someone that can get after the QB and can help hurry some plays and force some turnovers.
Lane has a history of doing this at the college level. At Murray State, Lane started out at only 220 pounds. Over his four years playing there, he was able to bulk up 50 pounds to slightly over 270 lbs and yet still wreak some havoc in the backfield. In his final two seasons at Murray State, Lane had 12 and then 11 sacks and 22 and then 19.5 tackles for a loss. He is very solid in back-side pursuit and has the adequate size and weight to play the strong side defensive end spot quite well.
Lane gained some adequate experience late last season. He started at RDE in place of Aaron Kampman once Kampman went down with a season sending injury. Lane started nine games at RDE and while he did not do much, he did show some glimpses of success. He was decent at hurrying the QB, but just did not finish plays. This was particularly encouraging when you consider that Lane was a 5th round pick, a small school prospect, playing on a team with limited chances for statistical success and playing on a d-line with no other viable pass rush opposite of him to draw any attention away. In his final 7 starts, Lane totaled 19 tackles. That would be good for 41 over a pro-rated 16 game season. While that isn’t anything spectacular, it still would be good enough for roughly a top-40 finish amongst DLs and would make Lane a decent DL3 prospect if he can add some sacks to the tally.
Lane has a couple of big things going for him heading into this season. First, he plays on a D-line with two dominating DTs in Tyson Alualu and Terrance Knighton. These two guys suck up a ton of attention in the middle of the line and free up the DEs for quite a few one-on-one match-ups. Additionally, with Kampman coming back this year, rumor has it that Lane will be switched to the LDE spot and is slated to start there. If that is the case this is good for him on two accounts. Firstly, Kampman will draw some attention on the other side and will free Lane up for quite a few man-to-man pass rush situations. Secondly, Lane will face less athletic and elite offensive lineman on the strong side when compared to their counterparts on the weak side.
Do I expect Lane to be a top-10 DL this season? Not at all. However, if you are looking deep for someone with the chance for some spot starts and maybe a chance to be a decent DL3 with some low DE2 upside for 2011, Austen Lane could be the guy to give you a decent return on a late round pick investment.