With most Fantasy championships in the rearview mirror, it’s time for owners to start looking toward next year. Sure, it’s too early to start your draft prep, but alternative league owners (and more specifically IDP owners) know better than anyone that having an early leg up can make all the difference. This week I take a look at some players that have made a big leap forward in 2011 and are poised for even bigger and better things in 2012.
Regular readers have heard a lot about Sean Lee this season and with good reason. The second-year man out of Linebacker U (Penn State of course) is up to 94 tackles on the season and is tied for the league lead among linebackers with four INTs. Lee dislocated his wrist in Week 8 and has struggled a bit since (51 of his tackles and three of his picks came before he started playing with a cast) but that’s all the more reason to hold out hopes for a big 2012 season for Lee. With Keith Brooking and Bradie James both being outplayed by Lee, and both going to free agency this offseason, Lee is locked in as the opening day middle linebacker for the Cowboys and a tackling machine option for IDP owners.
Kam Chancellor is looking for some Fantasy love Photo Credit: IconSMI
Arizona’s sophomore backer Daryl Washington is just a hair ahead of Lee in tackles with 95. Like Lee, he’s also had some success in coverage with two INTs. Unlike Lee, Washington has established himself as a presence in the pass rush with four sacks. With Washington’s 95 tackles, he’s already blown past his rookie total of 78 and he looks to be poised to join the upper echelon of backers in 2012.
Much has been made of Philadelphia’s weakness at the second level, but for his part, Jamar Chaney has done his best to hold onto respectability. Chaney has 91 tackles, three INTs and one sack on the season. There’s a strong possibility the Eagles will look for help at linebacker this offseason, but Chaney should still be a big part of their plans going forward and that makes him an IDP draft target next season.
The Chargers drafted Donald Butler in the third round in 2010, but he missed his entire rookie season with an Achilles tendon injury. Their patience has been rewarded, as Butler has become a strong player for San Diego with 86 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception. Butler was known as an aggressive run-stuffing presence in his years at Washington, and he’s carried that reputation forward in his first active NFL season. With a debut like that, he’s sure to be the centerpiece of the San Diego defense in the future and it’s easy to envision him far surpassing 100 tackles on a consistent basis.
Carolina’s injury woes at linebacker have been shocking. Thomas Davis’ tragic career may be over after he tore his ACL again and Jon Beason tore his Achilles tendon in Week 1, costing him most of the 2011 season. Beason and tackling machine James Anderson will be back, but in the interim, Jordan Senn has emerged as a presence for the Panthers. Since taking over as a starter in Week 11, Senn has amassed 55 tackles, forced two fumbles and picked off one pass. Carolina’s management has already gone on record stating that Senn is a big part of their future plans, and IDP owners would be wise to consider doing the same.
Colin McCarthy has slowed down a bit after initially blazing onto the scene in place of the injured Barrett Ruud, but it’s worth noting what he’s done over the entire timeframe. Since Week 10, McCarthy’s first as a starter, he’s totaled 55 tackles and recorded a forced fumble and an interception. Ruud signed just a one-year contract with the Titans, and the play of McCarty likely means it’ll be Ruud’s only season in a Tennessee uniform. McCarthy will enter 2012 as a starter and an instant impact IDP player.
Sure, the linebackers dominate this list, but I’d be remiss to ignore the impact of a Seattle safety in the Seahawks’ impressive defensive turnaround. Much-hyped draftee Earl Thomas has been a strong addition to the Seahawks secondary, but Kam Chancellor’s surprising improvement is what has really sparked Seattle. Chancellor has done a little bit of everything with 89 tackles, four INTs, two forced fumbles and a sack. In each of those categories, he leads his teammate Thomas with the exception of tackles (Thomas has 92) yet Thomas is the one headed to the Pro Bowl and the one IDP owners have talked about more. Stop the insanity and put Chancellor on your short list of defensive back targets.
I could write about several Browns defensive linemen in this space. Ahtyba Rubin’s 74 tackles and four sacks are incredible for a defensive tackle and Jabaal Sheard has seven and a half sacks in addition to five forced fumbles, but Rubin seems to have reached his career potential and Sheard offers very little in the way of tackles. Phil Taylor on the other hand, is on an upward-pointing career path. Taylor has 57 tackles, four sacks and a forced fumble to his name. Taylor has faded a bit down the stretch, he hasn’t recorded a sack since Week 10 and he’s got just nine tackles in the last three games, a sign that he needs some conditioning work. Cleveland will work with him on that to help him push through a complete 2012 season. For those that draft DTs and DEs as opposed to general defensive lineman, Taylor is a prime target (Rubin is as well), and he will be good for depth in DL draftee leagues as well.
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