Twilight Triumphs: Late-round IDP gems
The late rounds of a fantasy draft are often called a crapshoot. In fact, it can be argued that rolling dice on green felt has significantly better odds than picking from the scraps in those finals rounds. There's no "pass" line here.
The twilight of an Individual Defensive Player (IDP) draft can be considered even more of a gamble than traditional leagues. Instead of NFL teams' third wide receivers and third running backs, fantasy owners are choosing from platoon defensive ends and random defensive backs. The final rounds of an IDP draft can be intimidating for even the most veteran fantasy nerd.
As a salve to this stress, consider the players below as valid value picks who could net you mid-round production at a late-round expense. Call it the "All-Ambien Team," defensive sleepers broken down by position, many of whom should slip into the later rounds of your drafts.
Stewart Bradley, Eagles: True middle linebackers in a 4-3 scheme are often nabbed early, but Bradley is one guy you likely can land in the later rounds. Bradley will be buried on draft lists, given his 18 total tackles last season, but don't let that scare you away. Now the Eagles' starting Mike linebacker, Bradley's big frame should net you ample solo tackles with some legit sack and fumble potential in defensive coordinator Jim Johnson's aggressive scheme.
Zach Thomas, Cowboys: The definitive IDP legend, Thomas has tallied more than 1,500 tackles during the past decade. So why is he on a sleeper list? The 35-year-old throwback was released this offseason by the Dolphins because of age and health concerns and is now bidding for time on the Cowboys' talented front seven. While his concussion issues loom, the risk of taking him late is well worth the rewards of a healthy, triple-digit tackle season.
Freddy Keiaho, Colts: Before his season was cut short by injury, "Fast Freddy" was on the way to a 117-tackle campaign in '07. He enters 2008 as a breakout candidate as a weakside linebacker in the Colts' Tampa 2. Target him as a depth player with the potential to force his way into your starting lineup.
Bart Scott, Ravens: Just two seasons ago, Scott put himself among the IDP elite with a potent combination of sacks, tackles and turnovers. A down 2007 saw his sack total dip to just one after posting 9.5 in '06. This season, the Ravens' new staff looks to get Scott back to his menacing ways. Invest in Scott for a dime on the dollar.
Jonathan Vilma, Saints: After establishing himself as a top IDP talent with an absurd 173 tackles in 2005, the Jets switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme and suffocated Vilma's preternatural ball pursuit skills. A major knee injury and the emergence of David Harris contributed to Vilma being shipped south. Now back to his natural 4-3 middle linebacker role in New Orleans with hopes of a career resurrection, he could be the steal of the draft if his knee holds up.
Brandon McGowan, Bears: The favorite to win the competition for the strong safety gig, McGowan could be an elite tackle source cleaning up the front seven's scraps in Chi-town.
Eric Wright, Browns: Wright was effectively a top-five fantasy defensive back until his rookie campaign was cut short by injury. With an improved front seven and emerging pass rush in Cleveland, look for Wright to enjoy a breakout season.
Eric Weddle, Chargers: A true ballhawk in college, Weddle and fellow Charger safety Clinton Hart form the league's most underrated safety tandem. Weddle likely will be available in the late rounds, and he merits a spot on your bench.
Tamba Hali, Chiefs: The Penn State product enjoyed a stellar '06 rookie season, but lost his fantasy luster after a down 2007. With Jared Allen now in Minnesota, Hali moves to the more sack-conducive right side of the line and looks to make up for the glaring void that Allen's departure leaves. As a late-round depth flier, Hali makes for a nice late pick.
Justin Smith, 49ers: A bit of a tweener, Smith likely will line up as a 3-4 outside linebacker in the Bay, a true boon to his fantasy prospects. If he were listed solely as a linebacker, he'd boast average fantasy value, at best. But he's regarded as a defensive lineman in most fantasy setups, making him an awesome tackle source with some sack potential as a stand-up edge-rusher.
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John Abraham, Falcons: Once an elite Pro Bowl end for the Jets, Abraham has been lost in the mess that has been the Falcons the past few seasons. That said, both Abraham and promising second-year end Jamaal Anderson could be a nice late-round sack values if they can stay healthy.
Ray Edwards, Vikings: This Jared Allen guy seems to be having quite a peripheral effect in fantasyland. Playing opposite Allen, and with the huge Williams boys in the middle, Edwards has free reign to pursue the quarterback, affording him legit sack potential at a bargain-basement price.
Jim McCormick is an IDP analyst for ESPN.com Fantasy.