A wise man named Morpheus once made a proposition to a naive, wet-behind-the-ears, blue-collar type named Mr. Anderson. After outlining the reasons for his being there, Morpheus gave Anderson a choice.
You can take the blue pill or the red pill, Morpheus said in his gravely voice.
Had Anderson made the incorrect choice, we never would have seen the depth of the rabbit hole and the Wachowski brothers would not have made millions and millions of dollars on one of the best sci-fi trilogies of our lifetimes, "The Matrix".
For those who have not yet seen it or have no inclination to, ignore the last three paragraphs.
In fantasy football, we are bombarded each and every week with choices. Will it be the blue pill or the red pill? Shall I draft this high upside player or this safe player?
In keeper and dynasty formats, such choices can shape the destiny of your team for years to come. A misstep and you are tumbling off the dance floor, leaving your league mates doing the foxtrot while you are on your butt.
I have more experience in dynasty formats, but many of the principles that apply to dynasty leagues apply to a large extent to keeper leagues.
It is straightforward enough to make the choice to retain the services of a Ray Rice or a Calvin Johnson, but what about a Morgan Burnett or a Charles Johnson? Individual defensive players can often reap similar rewards in terms of points.
As always, being on top of your scoring system is paramount to success.
Without further ado, let's identify some individual defensive players you should hang on to in your keeper leagues.
For the purposes of clarity, I have split this article into two parts:
- One will focus on the young defensive players under the age of 25.
- The other will identify some value players to target who are likely to out produce their ADP.
The Sub-25 Squad
Marcell Dareus (BUF)
Marcell Dareus, the 319-pound behemoth drafted third overall last year, did not disappoint the Buffalo Bills in his rookie season. Dareus was a consistently troublesome interior rusher from his left defensive tackle position and registered six sacks to go along with 32 solo tackles and 24 quarterback pressures. The Bills are settled with a 4-3 scheme under DC Dave Wannstedt. The additions of Mario Williams and Mark Anderson as well as the return of Kyle Williams make for a dominating supporting cast for Dareus to flourish in his sophomore season.
Outlook: Although not a piece to build a championship around, Dareus is a valuable commodity in DT-required formats and even those that combine DTs and DEs into one position. Do not sleep on the potential of this kid.
Carlos Dunlap (CIN)
Carlos Dunlap is a bit of an enigma to me. In my study of him, I have witnessed him overpower offensive tackles with his large frame, execute spin and rip moves and basically be dominant. On the flip side, I have seen him underwhelm and disappear from games. I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for 2012. Cincinnati did nothing in free agency to indicate that they are losing patience with Dunlap (unless you count the signings of Derrick Harvey and Jamaal Anderson as competition). Dunlap, despite playing only 448 snaps last season, registered five sacks and 29 pressures. His snap count should see a significant increase this year, but there is buyers beware associated with him. If you believe in his upside, hang on to him.
Outlook: Upside is tremendous, but can he be a consistent run defender as well as a dominant part-time pass rusher? He is worth a shot, in my opinion.
Derrick Morgan (TEN)
Titans head coach Mike Munchak stated a few weeks ago that he is "excited" about Derrick Morgan's return from injury and he believes Morgan will be a factor in 2012. Morgan put together a solid season in 2011 despite being only a few months removed from an ACL tear that ended his rookie year. The sixteenth overall pick in the 2010 Draft should be back to full health and will be unencumbered by the lingering effects of his ACL tear. The Titans may address the DE position in this year's draft, but the addition of Kamerion Wimbley will give their 31st ranked pass rush a jolt. Morgan is a player with decent upside who you should try to retain if you are lacking a young project at the DE position.
Outlook: Retain him if you have the room. He could pay huge dividends if he gets the opportunity. From the sounds of things, he will.
Darryl Sharpton (HOU)
The wise move by the Texans to trade LB DeMeco Ryans to the Philadelphia Eagles means opportunity knocks for Darryl Sharpton, the former University of Miami product. Sharpton's career thus far has been peppered by injuries, including a shoulder separation in his rookie year. Prior to that injury, Sharpton flashed some real potential in his maiden campaign in the league, putting up 23 tackles in limited time. The good news is that the Texans really like him by all accounts and he should slot right in beside Brian Cushing at WILB. Cushing is a handful for any offensive staff, meaning Sharpton - if he stays injury-free - should see his fair share of tackle opportunities.
Outlook: Sharpton has to prove he can stay healthy, but if he can I would expect low LB2 production with a top tier LB2 upside.
Colin McCarthy (TEN)
Colin McCarthy took to the NFL like a duck to water, taking the mantle of every-down LB from Week 10 onwards last season. In that period, McCarthy registered 54 tackles and made several key defensive stops to boot. McCarthy is a player with excellent foot quickness and range, making him an ideal three-down player. The former Hurricane has received praise from his head coach and is a player that fantasy owners must hold on to for the foreseeable future.
Outlook: McCarthy can be a mid-level LB1 if everything falls into place. A 100+ solo tackle season in 2012 is easily within his reach.
Jimmy Smith (BAL)
Trying to predict the value of defensive backs is like trying to pick the winning lottery numbers, but let's proceed for the purposes of this article. Jimmy Smith was a player who polarized the draft community when he came out of school last year. Smith is an incredible talent on the field who, with the right opportunity, can be a valuable CB2 in most leagues. Smith played only 337 snaps last season as he adjusted to the pro level. Fellow defensive back Cary Williams managed 61 solo tackles and it is likely that Baltimore will find a way to get Smith on the field more to take some - or most - of those tackles away from Williams. Smith will get his opportunity in 2012; I am very confident of that.
Outlook: Likely to be a CB2 purely based on playing time bump and sheer talent shining through. Playing opposite Lardarius Webb is also a key factor.
Quinton Carter (DEN)
Carter saw a lot of the field for the Broncos last season (849 snaps) and registered 48 tackles but never played up to his potential. This can mostly be attributed to the steep learning curve after the lockout, but Carter must step his game up in 2012 to secure a starting role. Reports of interest from the Broncos in Chris Crocker (who projects more as a FS) and the signing of veteran S Mike Adams could indicate either that the team wants veteran options or they are simply putting the pressure on Carter. It is one of the riskier plays amongst this list, but Carter could pay dividends for patient owners.
Outlook: Requires patience, but could be fruitful if you have the time and inclination to wait.
Cory Redding (IND)
If you are looking for an under-the-radar name on the waiver wire to pick up and take a flier on, Cory Redding may just fit the bill. The new Indianapolis Colt will be at home right away with his new team as his defensive coordinator from Baltimore, Chuck Pagano, has joined him. Pagano will be installing his 3-4 defense, which I anticipated will heavily feature Redding. Coaches value players who are familiar with their schemes (see Rex Ryan bringing Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard to the Jets). Redding registered a 29-14 line last year with 4.5 sacks. The 32-year-old is not a long term solution for you, but could be a decent DL2 if he sees as many snaps as he should.
Outlook: Decent upside as a DL3 at the very least. A bargain basement type.
Thomas Davis (CAR)
If you're the riverboat gambler type, Thomas Davis is a decent chip to put some money on. Davis started last season quite well. In his first two games, he returned to his usual sideline-to-sideline self, showing no signs of ill effects from his back-to-back torn ACL's. Unfortunately for him, he re-tore the same ACL for the third time. A comeback from that seems unlikely, but if you can acquire him for a 4th or 5th round rookie pick, I would pull the trigger.
Outlook: An LB2 at WLB for the Panthers if he can remain healthy; just don't count on it.
Erin Henderson (MIN)
The departure of his brother, E.J. Henderson, from the Vikings this offseason has paved the way for Erin Henderson to shine in 2012 and onwards. The 25-year-old ‘backer had an impressive 58 tackle season last year, playing only 590 snaps. He came off the field on passing downs, but with only Jasper Brinkley to compete with for nickel snaps, Henderson should be a three-down player this season. Chad Greenway will limit his upside, but Henderson is consistent and should be a sneaky player to acquire in all formats this season.
Outlook: A very high upside player in my opinion, who could reach a 90 solo tackle plateau if all pans out correctly. Steal him at the end of your drafts and watch your league mates squirm as he racks up points on your hunt for a championship.
Tom Zbikowski (IND)
Zbikowski, as well as having one of the cooler names in the league, should see plenty of snaps as the Colts' starting strong safety this season. The volatility of the safety position is well known in IDP circles, and keeping an eye on camp reports will give the alert amongst you the edge. For now, all we can do is project. New coach Chuck Pagano knows Zbikowski from his time with Baltimore, giving him the edge to start. Defensive backs should be reserved for the end of your draft anyway, so taking a flier on Zbikowski could present good value.
Outlook: His upside is a DB2 if the Colts spend as much time on the field as they did last year, which is a distinct possibility as they bed in a rookie quarterback.
Remember, this is the time of the year when leagues are won and lost. The preparation and research you begin now will serve you well as we enter the information overload period of training camp and the regular season.
There's an old Irish proverb that sums this up nicely: "Tus maith, leath na hoibre." (Toos my, lah nah hibbra.)
It means: "A good start is half the work."