Every season, there are a handful of rookie IDPs that are fantasy relevant. In some cases, they’re downright studs. Last season, Brian Cushing and James Laurinaitis were top-10 LBs. Jacob Lacey and Louis Delmas were top-25 DBs. Let’s take a look at a few rookie linebackers, defensive linemen and defensive backs that may matter in 2010.
Rolando McClain (OAK): This is a no-brainer to lead the LB class. McClain will start at MLB for the Oakland Raiders, on a defense that allows a ton of rushes to get past their front four. Kirk Morrison has been a top-10 LB for 5 straight seasons, so McClain has an opportunity to put up very big numbers.
Daryl Washington (ARI): Gerald Hayes was thought to be the beneficiary of the departure of Karlos Dansby, but it very well could be the rookie from TCU. Plug-ins Monty Beisel and Paris Lenon may appear to be the starters while Hayes is out, but Washington will get time in the middle of the Cardinal linebacking corps and will excel.
Sean Lee (DAL): Lee, hailing from “Linebacker U” (Penn St.) will get significant playing time in the excellent Cowboy linebacking unit, backing up stalwarts Bradie James and Keith Brooking. Brooking isn’t exactly a spring chicken, but hasn’t missed a game since the 2000 season. Lee will need to impress to get significant playing time.
Pat Angerer (IND): The ex-Hawkeye is flying under the radar a bit, but could be a household name if the one-dimensional Gary Bracket starts to show his age or gets hurt.
Koa Misi (MIA): He’s not in the greatest of schemes (Miami’s 3-4) nor is he listed in a great position, fantay-wise (strong side). But he’s a high-energy pass rusher, who, paired with Cameron Wake on the opposite side, could provide a decent, under-rated pass rush for the Fins.
Sean Weatherspoon (ATL): Weatherspoon was probably the best all-around LB in this class, but finds himself buried on the Falcon depth chart. As with most talented rookies, he should find his way onto the field quite a bit. If one of the incumbent LBs gets injured, his value will skyrocket.
Brandon Spikes (NEP): Coach Bellichick typically doesn’t give rookies much responsibility (read: playing time), but in the cases of Jerod Mayo and this year’s LB stud-to-be, Spikes, he may make exceptions. Spikes’ value took a hit as he developed at Florida, but has obvious talent and could produce some game-changing plays if given time. All he has to do is beat out Gary Guyton for playing time.
Jamar Chaney (PHI): Stewart Bradley is coming off a significant injury, and has already been dinged in the early pre-season. Omar Gaither, who would be the primary MLB backup for the Eagles, has also showed some penchant to get hurt. Chaney can play any LB spot and could be a sleeper if any of the Eagle LBs get injured.
Others to Watch: Navorro Bowman (SF), Sergio Kindle (BAL), Roddrick Muckelroy (CIN)
Ndamukong Suh (DT – DET): Suh’s talent is undeniable. But this is the NFL, where everyone is stronger, faster and just plain better. Will Suh be able to shake off double-teams? Can he change the course of games as he did in college? All remains to be seen, but with DT being such a paper-thin position, you’d probably take the risk.
Jerry Hughes (DE – IND): Hughes was regarded as one of the best pass rushers in the country a couple years back and finds himself in a pretty nice situation in Indianapolis. Behind Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, Hughes will see significant playing time and would be a starter should either of the two vets go down.
Austen Lane (DE – JAC): Sleeper alert! Lane is a terrific athlete that was already slated to push the somewhat disappointing Derrick Harvey for playing time. This is Harvey’s third season and if he doesn’t show that he can put pressure on the passer, he’ll see more time on the sidelines.
Everson Griffen (DE – MIN): If the spot opposite Jared Allen were to open up (by an injury to Ray Edwards), it would likely be Griffen (not Brian Robison) that would get the majority of playing time. We love ends opposite studs as sleepers. Just as Ray Edwards has some sleeper value, so too would Griffen if anything would happen injury-wise.
Jason Pierre-Paul (DE – NYG): For the time being, all seems to be quiet on the Giant front in terms of their unhappy DE Osi Umenyiora. Pierre-Paul was brought in as insurance, but the guy can flat out play. In redraft leagues, Pierre-Paul won’t have value unless one of the regulars gets hurt.
Derrick Morgan (DE – TEN): Morgan was a perfect fit for the Titan defense and should push for immediate playing time from the get-go. Careful, though, as he’s been battling some calf injuries to start his NFL career.
Brandon Graham (DE – PHI): Graham was a linebacker at Michigan and makes the move to rush end for the Eagles. He’s a tremendous talent and could make a ton of noise if new Eagle Darryl Tapp fizzles or if there’s an injury.
Gerald McCoy (DT – TBB): If you’re in a league that starts DT, McCoy is definitely worth a look. But if you’re in a league that lumps DT in with DE, McCoy’s a risky pick. He’ll get the starting nod, but may not put up enough consistent tackle numbers to play for your fantasy team on a weekly basis.
Others to Watch: Terrence Cody (DT – BAL), Dan Williams (DT – ARI)
Eric Berry (S – KCC): Berry may be the second-best rookie defender, at least fantasy-wise, in this draft class. He’ll start on the strong side for the Chiefs, who will allow their share of big plays both running and passing. Berry will be in on a bunch of plays this season.
Morgan Burnett (S – GBP): With Atari Bigby hurt (and struggling with consistency), Burnett looks to have secured the Packer SS spot. He’s a nice sleeper in all IDP leagues.
T.J. Ward (S – CLE): Look, the Browns are going to have a ton of problems stopping anyone this season, and Ward looks to have locked down the FS spot for the Browns. Ward is a big hitter than can play on the strong side as well. If he really starts laying the lumber, look for him to shift over to Abram Elam’s spot.
Joe Haden (CB – CLE): Haden is a talented corner with big-play ability, and as noted above, the Browns will have issues on defense, which could mean their IDPs will have some solid numbers.
Darrell Stuckey (S – SDC): The position has traditionally not net very good fantasy numbers, but it appears the rookie out of Kansas will have a chance to start at the SS spot for the Chargers.
Nate Allen (S – PHI): Like Stuckey, it looks like Allen will have a chance at starting as a rookie, but the position traditionally hasn’t been great in terms of fantasy production. Still, the Eagle defense is solid and will turn out some solid individual defensive players.
Kyle Wilson (CB – NYJ): If Darrelle Revis’ holdout continues, Wilson will have some nice value opposite the improving Antonio Cromartie. If Revis signs soon, though, Wilson will only have value if one of the Jet corners goes down with an injury.
Others to Watch: Earl Thomas, (S – SEA), Larry Asante (S – CLE), Taylor Mays (S – SFO), Major Wright (S – CHI)