Fantasy Football 2012: 5 Individual Defensive Players to Watch

Rob TongContributor IIIMay 18, 2012

Fantasy Football 2012: 5 Individual Defensive Players to Watch

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    With free agency and the draft in the history books, you'll start to see an uptick in individual defensive player (IDP) rankings being cranked out.

    And as with offensive players, there are some defensive players that bear watching more than others.

    Compared to their peers, more volatility is associated with these particular IDPs. These players have big potential but have some question marks that warrant some skepticism.

    Here, I list some IDPs worth keeping an eye on during training camp and the preseason as they could outperform their current average draft position.

1. DE Mario Williams

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    Signing with Buffalo as the most prized defensive free agent this offseason, Williams returns to right defensive end in coordinator Dave Wannstedt's 4-3 defense after a stint as a 3-4 outside linebacker with the Texans last year before tearing a pectoral muscle.

    This return to his natural position will allow his natural athleticism to shine.

    On top of that, the Bills signed free agent pass-rushing specialist Mark Anderson—who had 10 sacks last year on a poor Patriots defense—on the opposite side of the line, which will keep offenses honest when dealing with Williams.

    Pairing them with impressive young defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams will form a strong defensive line that will showcase Mario Williams' talents.

    Furthermore, the Bills drafted top rookie cornerback Stephon Gilmore, whose cover skills are expected to give Mario Williams more time to get to the quarterback.

    In all, as highly as Mario Williams is currently ranked (an average of 11th overall), he could outproduce that, making him an IDP to watch.

2. DE Julius Peppers

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    Despite being routinely double-teamed, Peppers quietly notched 11 sacks last season.

    Yet, his tackles dropped from 54 in 2010 to just 37 in 2011, and the constant defensive attention took its toll on his production.

    This year, the Bears drafted all-around defensive end Shea McClellin with its first-round pick to provide some relief for Peppers from the constant double-teams.

    Chicago also spent its third-round pick on ball-hawking, hard-hitting safety Brandon Hardin, a very important position in Lovie Smith's Cover 2 defense.

    The Bears' goal this offseason is similar to the Bills'; get two defensive ends who can apply pressure to the quarterback and add a highly-regarded defensive back in the draft with good cover skills.

    Peppers may not get as much love this preseason compared to last preseason in IDP rankings but he's worth watching.

3. DE Elvis Dumervil

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    Dumervil had a forgettable first half of 2011.

    In the first eight games, he managed only eight tackles and zero sacks.

    Dumervil owners roundly declared him a bust.

    Perhaps Dumervil was still recovering from a torn chest muscle that caused him to miss all of 2010.

    Whatever the case, Dumervil exploded in the final eight games, racking up 34 tackles and 9.5 sacks.

    With quarterback Peyton Manning stabilizing the offensive side of the ball, Dumervil should continue to be a force on the defensive side.

    If he can stay healthy, Dumervil can build upon his monster second-half of last season to become a top five IDP at his position this season.

    His current ranking indicates he is not being considered highly for 2012, which would make him a great value pick as an IDP to watch.

4. LB Terrell Suggs

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    After tearing his Achilles' tendon playing basketball, Suggs has fallen off the IDP map.

    Even after Suggs' surgery, the Ravens have not indicated a time frame in which they expect Suggs back, and it still isn't known whether the tear was partial or full.

    For what it's worth, Suggs has promised to return this year, perhaps as early as November.

    If Suggs does return by then, the perennial top five pick at his position is certainly worth a late-round flyer. Granted, you'd have to stash him on your bench for at least half the season, but if he returns, he should be well worth the late-round investment.

    His recovery situation is one to watch, as he could give you that push down the stretch run of your fantasy league to put you over the top.

5. LB DeMeco Ryans

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    Jason Babin and Trent Cole form a devastating pair of defensive bookends for the Eagles, so IDP lists will—not surprisingly—feature them prominently.

    Meanwhile, newly acquired middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans is often considered an afterthought, generally 20th overall among linebackers and no earlier than 63rd overall.

    Don't you make the same mistake.

    The Eagles really loaded up their defensive front seven this offseason to make them a well-rounded unit.

    Philadelphia traded up to get defensive tackle Fletcher Cox in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft then picked up versatile linebacker Mychal Kendricks in the second round to pair with Ryans.

    The Eagles also nabbed pass-rushing monster Vinny Curry in the second round, not to mention that they still have last year's first-round defensive end pick in Brandon Graham.

    All this will be a boon to Ryan. Babin, Cole, Cox, Curry and Graham will occupy blockers and allow Ryans to do his thing.

    Ryans is still young (27 years old) and just two years removed from a 123-tackle season. In fact, Ryans started his career with four consecutive seasons of at least 112 tackles, including a career-high 155 tackles in his rookie campaign.

    No one is expecting those lofty numbers this year, but they do show Ryans' forgotten potential. And with a vastly upgraded Eagles defense to help keep blockers' hands off of him, Ryans is an IDP to watch this year.