This is the 12th in a series of opinionated fantasy football columns that will be posted daily in July and August, providing fantasy owners with some insights to consider as they prepare for their drafts. You can get an in-depth preview of the upcoming fantasy football season with the purchase of the Yahoo! Sports / Pro Football Weekly Fantasy Football Guide 2010, available now in newsstands and bookstores, or online at PFWstore.com.
Those participating in individual defensive player (IDP) leagues are on the same search for sleepers as those in more offensive-minded formats, and Pro Football Weekly aims to help as you seek a few low-round or waiver-wire steals. Here are five AFC North IDPs who could produce more than expected:
1. Ravens ILB Dannell Ellerbe — Ellerbe, a second-year pro from Georgia, is likely to start, and judging from the way he finished last season, 100 tackles are within his scope. Ellerbe, who started Baltimore's final five games (including the postseason), recorded 16 tackles in Baltimore's two playoff games. Also, he grabbed his first career interception in the Ravens' regular-season finale at Oakland. The Ravens are loaded with big-name defenders. Ellerbe doesn't fill that bill, and savvy IDP owners can target him in the late rounds.
2. Steelers ILB Lawrence Timmons — Timmons, 24, recorded a career-high 78 tackles and seven sacks last season in his first year as a full-time starter. The Steelers have three inside linebackers capable of starting (James Farrior, Larry Foote, Timmons), but Timmons' pass-rush ability and athleticism make him a vital member of the defense. He deserves late-round consideration.
3. Browns ILB Scott Fujita — Fujita figures to start for the Browns, and likely at inside linebacker. (He also could see time at outside linebacker, given that head coach Eric Mangini and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan like to move their LBs around to create confusion.) Fujita hasn't notched more than 100 tackles in a season since 2003, but he has recorded 90 tackles or more four times, most recently in 2007. Fujita has shown some pass-rush ability in the past (19 career sacks), and Ryan is known for not being shy when it comes to dialing up pressure. Fujita looks like a good fit in this scheme, and he figures to play a lot.
4. Bengals S Roy Williams — Williams has missed much of the past two seasons with forearm injuries, and spending anything more than a very late-round pick on him isn't advised. However, when healthy, he has been productive. Note that he recorded more than 90 tackles in three seasons from 2002-07, when he appeared in 95-of-96 regular-season games. Also, Williams, whose coverage skills have been panned, intercepted 19 passes in that span.
5. Steelers CB Bryant McFadden — In 2009, McFadden notched career-highs in tackles (69) and passes defended (15) for the Cardinals. Though he struggled in the playoffs, McFadden, who returns to Pittsburgh for a second stint with a starting role waiting for him, has shown potential throughout his career, and he said he played hurt at the end of last season.
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