Welcome to my 2022 Fantasy Football IDP Sleepers!
In my last article, I covered potential IDP busts for the coming season. This week the focus has shifted towards players who may be flying a bit more under the radar but could prove to be valuable assets come draft day.
Just as there is no exact science to determining which players will end up as busts, many of the players on this “sleepers” list come with some concerns. Regardless, landing one of these lesser appreciated players could end up swinging the tide of your league.
Let’s take a look at some defensive sleepers for the 2022-2023 NFL season!
2022 Fantasy Football IDP Sleepers
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Zaven Collins, LB, Arizona Cardinals
After the 2021 NFL Draft, there was speculation that incoming rookie Zaven Collins would be given the reigns of the Cardinals defense alongside sophomore Isaiah Simmons. Instead, fantasy managers were forced to watch as Jordan Hicks soaked up most of the snaps, posting 116 tackles and four sacks. Collins would only see 220 total snaps, roughly 13 plays a game on average, and produced 25 total tackles and three passes defended. Now with Hicks gone, I believe Collins is ready to validate his first-round pedigree.
The first promising sign is that both Isaiah Simmons and Hicks were able to eclipse 100 total tackles in 2021. With Collins looking to takeover Hicks snaps there should be little concern that the Cardinals can support two IDP-relevant linebackers. Collins flashed the physicality necessary to battle along the line of scrimmage and showed a willingness to close up rushing lanes. At 6’4 and 260 pounds, the Tulsa standout should have no problem bringing down ball carriers.
The second aspect of Collins's upside lies in the versatility he showed during his college career. In just eight games during his final season at Tulsa, he not only managed 54 total tackles but had four sacks, four interceptions, two forced fumbles, and scored two touchdowns. There is a reality where Collins has over 100 tackles alongside a handful of sacks, interceptions, and forced or recovered fumbles in 2022. The physical upside combined with the volume he should see as a full-time starter could see him well outperforming his 28th linebacker rating over at Fantasy Pros.
Za’Darius Smith, LB/DL, Minnesota Vikings
The last time we saw Za’Darius Smith he was sitting out almost the entire regular season before returning in the Packers' home playoff loss. While back surgery at the age of 29 shouldn’t be taken lightly, there is reason to believe Smith can return to fantasy relevancy playing for the Packers' divisional rival.
During his back-to-back Pro-Bowl campaigns in 2019 and 2020, Smith was a force as a pass rusher. He averaged 54 tackles and 13 sacks in those two seasons and found a knack for forcing fumbles with seven loose balls forced or recovered. Playing alongside Danielle Hunter, who is also coming back from injury, should make rushing the passer easier for Smith. Teams will have to respect both players' ability to disrupt the offense which should limit double teams along the line of scrimmage. In leagues that reward other pass rushing statistics such as tackles for a loss or QB Hits, there is a good chance that Smith outperforms his 48th ranking defensive linemen here at Fantasy Six Pack.
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) July 1, 2022
In 2021 Brian Burns of the Carolina Panthers finished as the 9th overall defensive lineman with 50 total tackles and nine sacks. He is currently projected as the 12th lineman for 2022. I believe Smith can match that production and can be drafted much later in the middle rounds of your draft. Perhaps the Purple People Eaters may be back in Minnesota with Smith and Hunter rushing quarterbacks.
Nick Bolton, LB, Chiefs
Nick Bolton does not have the name recognition of the previously mentioned players but could quickly become an IDP staple. As the 58th pick in the 2021 draft, Bolton established himself as a valuable linebacker for fantasy. Despite only starting 12 games and not producing a single sack or interception he finished the year as the 32nd overall linebacker.
If a top 30 finish as a rookie is Bolton’s floor it should excite fantasy managers in 2022. With a full-time starting gig locked up, he’s all but guaranteed to bump up his tackles numbers which is the most important stat in IDP leagues. He also has some potential to bump up his fantasy production in pass protection. In college, Bolton found some success in pass coverage defending five or more passes in both 2019 and 2022 while at Missouri.
Bolton has a clearly defined role and already has a safe fantasy floor. Going into his sophomore year I predict Bolton will finish no worse than an LB2, which puts him as a top 24 player at his position in a 12-team league. With even more tackles and a few other stats, a top 15 or 12 finish is possible.
Taylor Rapp, S, Los Angeles Rams
Defensive backs tend to be the least valuable position among IDP leagues. Yet, you likely still need to start a few cornerbacks or safeties. With that being said instead of investing higher draft picks into your secondary, players like Taylor Rapp can fill the position well enough. This allows you to focus on premier positions like linebacker.
Finishing as the 31st defensive back in 2021 doesn’t seem overly impressive until you realize he was only 29 points from a top ten finish. He outscored some of the biggest names in the NFL such as Marshon Lattimore, Darius Slay, and Xavien Howard. When healthy he is a threat to break 100 total tackles and will likely pull in a few interceptions and passes defended as well.
Perhaps the most enticing aspect of Rapp’s game is how often he drops down into the box each week. In fact, almost a quarter of his time on the field is spent down by the line of scrimmage which bodes well for opportunities at increased tackle numbers. While Rapp does have a tendency to disappear some weeks, if he can parlay his great opportunity down into more consistent weekly production, he could easily climb into the top 10 of all defensive backs.
While I don’t expect any of these players to finish as the number one player at their position, each one should provide great value at their ADP. Like on the offensive side of the ball most fantasy leagues are won in the middle or late rounds. Given that most of these players fall outside of the top 20 in current rankings you won’t have to pay a premium for players that could help you walk away with a championship.
Get more great advice by checking out our 2022 Fantasy Football Draft Kit