I've recommend four players at each of the 3 defensive positions (DL, LB, DB) who I believe will be significantly undervalued heading into the 2012 fantasy season. This list will be continually updated throughout the off-season.
|LDE Michael Bennett (TB) – The all but season-ending Achilles injury suffered by DaQuan Bowers opens up the door for Bennett to establish himself in IDP circles. He holds up very well against the run and could push 6-8 sacks this year with the amount of snaps he’ll likely receive. DL3+ production is a reasonable expectation.|
|LDE Andre Branch (JAX) – Jacksonville is an ideal fantasy landing spot for Branch. Similar to Jabaal Sheard a year ago, he will receive a very healthy amount of playing time early on in his rookie season. He's an underrated run defender with good straight line technique/speed and could surprise a lot of owners with his fantasy production in 2012. Of all the rookie defensive linemen this year, Branch is probably the safest choice for consistent box score numbers.|
|LDE Lawrence Jackson (DET) – Jackson, a former 1st round pick out of USC, has yet to produce in the NFL like many expected. His coming to Detroit may eventually revitalize his career, however. He's currently stuck in a rotational role behind Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril, but he's one injury/hold out away from being a starter on one of the best defensive lines in the league. He's definitely worth a flyer late in fantasy drafts and is an intriguing dynasty prospect.|
|RDE Trevor Scott (NE) – Scott was a great sleeper play for us back in 2009 and I think he can be that once again this season. He's been working at the end/outside linebacker hybrid role during OTAs and there's a chance he starts opposite rookie Chandler Jones, while also serving as depth behind LB Dont'a Hightower. If this turns out to be the case, he should be able to amass a fairly large amount of snaps per game and provide owners with, at the very minimum, nice tackle numbers. He has very sneaky DL3 upside and is worth a roster spot as your DL4/5 in deeper leagues.|
|LILB Kavell Conner (IND) - The transition to a 3-4 scheme this season will slide Conner inside. For a 7th round pick, Conner has adjusted quite well to the speed and difficulty of the NFL game. According to Football Outsiders, he led the league last season with 13 run tackles for a loss and made his average run tackle after a gain of just 2.1 yards, more than a yard closer than any other Colts linebacker. He projects as an every down linebacker on one of the league's worst teams and should therefore see a ton of tackle opportunity. He has great upside for a player currently being drafted outside of the top 60 linebackers. If the scorekeeping in Indy approves, it wouldn't be a surprise at all if he cracked 80-85+ solo tackles this season.|
|MLB Kelvin Sheppard (BUF) – Sheppard has drawn high praises from the Buffalo coaching staff and has quickly become of this year's top IDP "sleepers." However, it seems as though the Bills are still hesitant to insert Sheppard into an every down role. Until this happens, he remains a week-to-week matchup type play against run-heavy teams. With this said, he eventually projects to an every down role which makes him not only a great dynasty pick, but a great redraft gamble if he's still hanging around late in drafts.|
|WLB Wesley Woodyard (DEN) - Although undersized, Woodyard is a smart, instinctive player who commands the respect of his teammates. With D.J. Williams suspended for the first 6 games of the season, Woodyard will get his chance to shine on the weak side. In the three games he started for Williams last season, he averaged nearly 10 tackles a game and came close to notching 100 total tackles for the year (not too shabby for a rotational player). Obviously, Woodyard's value will be short-lived, but there's no reason to think he can't produce solid LB2 numbers early on while starting.|
|LILB Bruce Carter (DAL) - After a strong showing in OTAs and the preseason, Carter reportedly has the edge over recently signed Dan Connor for the "TED" linebacker spot next to Sean Lee. Carter has the talent to become a very good NFL linebacker and if not for a knee injury his senior year, he probably would have been a top 10 pick in last year's draft. If he starts, he figures to be a three down linebacker and could easily put up LB3+ numbers. At this point, there is still an outside chance that Connor wins the job or cuts into Carter's snaps, so there is some inherent risk with selecting Carter.|
|SS Tom Zbikowski (IND) - Zbikowski never really got a chance to prove himself in Baltimore. First it was Dawan Landry then Bernard Pollard standing in his way. Now he's the clear cut starting strong safety on a defense in Indy that could very well led the league in snaps played. The Colts linebackers really struggled in run defense last season and those woes are likely to continue this year as the players transition to a new scheme. Expect there to be plenty of scraps for Zbikowski to pick up in the secondary.
|FS Michael Huff (OAK) - Huff is only two years removed from a stat line of 77 solo tackles, 3 INTs, and 4 sacks. Injuries essentially killed his season last year. Now healthy and playing under a new scheme that will play to his strengths, Huff could be in line for a bounceback season. He's going undrafted in virtually every league and is worth a flyer at the very end of deep leagues.
|SS Brandon Meriweather (WAS) - The Redskins snagged Meriweather off the waiver wire after he was released by Chicago. As of right now, he looks to be the heir apparent to LaRon Landry at strong safety. If this turns out to be the case, he could be in for a very nice fantasy year. He's shown good fantasy potential before and a change of scenery may be all he needs to become a DB2+ again.|
|SS Quintin Carter (DEN)- Carter will be taking over for long time safety Brian Dawkins. He didn't do a whole lot from a pure numbers perspective in his rookie season, but the organization seems ready to let him off the leash and give him the playing time he needs to develop into a significant contributor on their defense.
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