In fantasy sports we talk a lot about "Sleepers and Busts," but more often than not, what we are talking about are players who are either overvalued or undervalued. Guys who are being drafted too soon or too late in drafts relative to their likely fantasy production.
Welcome to the first in our preseason over and under articles. If you play in leagues that use Individual Defensive Players (IDP) then you already know that the Defensive Lineman position is the hardest to fill: too few top end performers, too few surprise performers each season.
In 2009, only 7 DL's had double-digit sacks, and over the last decade the trend has been a dozen players or less with 10 or more sacks. There's no reason to believe that won't hold true in 2010.
The sack is the hallmark of the fantasy Defensive Lineman. Of the 7 who hit double-digit sacks last year, 6 of them were the top scorers at DL. The lone exception was Dwight Freeney who somehow managed an amazing 13.5 sacks in only 9 starts.
Here are 5 over and 5 under, Defensive Linemen heading into 2010:
Calais Campbell, ARI - Campbell was a nice surprise in 2009, with 6.5 sacks lined up alongside Darnell Dockett. This kid is a beast at 6-foot-8. His size is among many reasons why I believe the third year DL will breakout in 2010. Campbell could very will have had 10+ sacks in 2009, but he let several quarterbacks slip from his grasp, and he's said that still weighs on him. A good sign. The Cardinals also added first round nose tackle Dan Williams which boosts Campbell's value. The Cardinal have a friendly schedule this year, and they will spend more time on defense with Kurt Warner and Anquan Boldin gone. A healthy Campbell should see 50 tackles and 10+ sacks. Bank it.
Justin Smith, SF - I have Smith ranked as the 13th best defensive lineman heading into 2010. Coincidentally that was his final resting spot in 2009. In 2008, he finished 8th best. Despite that, he is being drafted around 10 picks later than his numbers warrant. Smith averages about 6 sacks a season and 40+ solo tackles. He is a very dependable DE in terms of performance, just like...
Alex Brown, NOS - Brown hits N'awlins from Chitown this season. He's always been a guy who flies under the fantasy radar despite being a model of fantasy consistency; averaging 6 sacks per season, and an average fantasy finish of 24th over the last 5 seasons. He's being drafted 30th overall, but aside from his historical 24th place average, Brown's peripheral numbers trend upward in even numbered years (he ranked 18 and 14th in 2008 and 2006). Wink, wink: it's an even numbered year. He's now on a team better suited to fantasy production at his position. All signs point to an above average season, but even at his average, he's undervalued.
Tyler Brayton, CAR - Brayton is one of two undervalued Panthers defensive ends. In a part time role for Carolina, he finished 2009 with 5 sacks, and ranked 28th overall in fantasy points for his position. Three spots ahead of Alex Brown, above. He finished 40th overall in 2008, and had 4.5 sacks. The departure of Julius Peppers to the Chicago Bears should mean more playing time. Right now he's not even being selected in fantasy drafts.
Charles Johnson, CAR - While all eyes are on Everette Brown in Carolina, Johnson is the likely starter with Brown (in the words of our friend, Ryan Sitzmann at IDPGuru.com) focusing "on a nickel rushing role," and "replacing Tyler Brayton on passing downs." This gives the Panthers and fantasy owners a nice trio of rotating defensive ends, with Brayton and Johnson being undervalued and Brown...
Everette Brown, CAR - Brown is going to be a solid fantasy performer, perhaps starting as early as 2011. But as he enters his sophomore 2010 season, he doesn't even have the starting DE job for the Carolina Panthers. He could win it outright before all is said and done, but at the moment it looks like he'll only play in selected packages. Yet, he's the 15th DL off the board--that's like a Dwight Freeney price tag. That's price gouging even if he does get the starting nod.
Ndamukong Suh, DET - Suh is going to be an awesome addition to the Detroit Lions defensive line. He's going to be one of the NFL's best defensive tackles for years to come. So far in early drafts he's being selected as the 11th defensive linemen overall. How overvalued is he? He doesn't even rank in the Top 50 fantasy DLs. Fantasy owners are jumping on his high draft selection and drooling over the thought of the next Jared Allen. Wrong answer. First, he's a rookie. Rookie lineman take at least one season to truly get the hang of the game at this level. Second, he's a defensive tackle. He's the guy that holds up the offensive linemen so his defensive ends (Cliff Avril, Kyle Vandenbosch) can slip through and hopefully sack the quarterback. DT's are generally fantasy black holes. Last season only two even scored in the top 25: Jonathan Babineaux (17th) and Jay Ratliff (20th). So don't be the guy that buys the big name rookie to watch him stink up your fantasy bench. Bonus Bust: Gerald McCoy, TB-- Another rookie defensive tackle who should not be drafted.
Derrick Morgan, TEN - Morgan offers a lot of promise as a fantasy DE...in a season or two. See Suh above about the rookie learning curve. Unlike Suh, Morgan is a defensive end, meaning he will score points. I currently have him ranked 49th at his position. However, he's being drafted immediately after Suh, as the 12th DE off the board. On a good day that's at least 30 DEs too early. Bonus Bust: Jason Pierre-Paul, NYG -- A rookie like Morgan, though not as skilled and not guaranteed a starting job in 2010.
Albert Haynesworth, WAS - The big man is being snagged 34th at the DL position. he had one notable fantasy season in 2008 with the Tennessee Titans, but he's a DT, so his opportunities are limited, and he has not fared well in Washington. Add to that a defensive scheme change for the Redskins from 4-3 to 3-4, and that spells fantasy disaster. Let someone else buy the name.
Dwight Freeney, IND - Speak of the devil. Freeney had 13.5 sacks last season, but I'm calling him overvalued? The 30 year -old DE has started all 16 games only twice in 8 seasons-- and not since 2006. Despite his sweet sack total in 2010, he ranked at 20th best for his position. In 2008, also 20th. 2007, 80th. And 2006, his last full season, 54th. He hasn't had a top 10 finish since 2005, when he ranked 9th. Yet his Defensive Lineman ADP is 14th. You're paying for the name, when it's production you want to pay for.