2012 fantasy football profiles and projections (LM 1-12)

Statistical projections are provided by EA Sports

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Following in the footsteps of athletic pass rushers such as Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck, Pierre-Paul broke out for the Giants in 2011. He recorded an impressive 16.5 sacks with 86 total tackles (third-most on the club) and had seven passes defensed. Based on those totals, he finished first in fantasy points at his position - not bad for a second-year player. The talented lineman out of South Florida also accomplished all of this at the age of just 22, so he's clearly on the cusp of stardom - both on the field and in fantasy football. Pierre-Paul is just one of very few defensive linemen who is well worth a middle-round selection in all IDP leagues.

Allen is as close to a sure thing as there is at the defensive lineman spot. In fact, he's averaged 13 sacks and 46 tackles throughout his eight-year NFL career. Then there are the things you probably don't know - he's had at least one interception in each of the past three years and recovered eight fumbles in that same stretch. He's also durable, having missed just three games in his entire career. Another 22-sack season, like Allen's 2011 campaign, probably isn't in the cards, but with six division games against the pass-happy Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions, the total should be high again. Allen will be one of the first defensive linemen to come off the board in 2012.

Cole has long been one of the elite defensive linemen in all of fantasy football. Over the last six years, he's averaged at least 44 total tackles per year with no fewer than nine sacks. What's more, he has averaged a robust 11.2 sacks per year since 2009. Though he did lose a bit of his luster in 2011 with Jason Babin in the mix, it's tough to argue Cole's overall track record for fantasy success. The team's wide-9 defensive scheme will continue to allow him plenty of chances to attack the quarterback and, at the same time, score points for fantasy leaguers. The talented veteran out of Cincinnati will be one of the first players selected at his position in IDP formats.

Williams is coming off an injury-riddled 2011 campaign that saw him play just five games, but his IDP value is on the rise after signing with the Bills. Playing left end in the team's new 4-3 scheme, the veteran should push for double-digit sack totals. Williams will also be in a great spot to record more tackles, something that he had lacked in his final two seasons with the Texans. As long as he can avoid injuries - Williams added some weight in the offseason, in part to be more durable - there's no reason he shouldn't post stellar numbers this season. He's a surefire top-five option among defensive linemen and worth a middle- to late-round pick in all IDP formats.

Unlike the 2010 season, which saw Peppers spend a little more time in pass coverage, he was much more of a dedicated pass rusher in his second season with the Bears. The veteran out of North Carolina saw his sack total increase by three, although there was a drop-off in just about every other IDP category. The most disturbing drop, from a fantasy perspective, was his lack of tackles - he posted just 37 total, his lowest output since 2005. Still, Peppers can be a disruptive force against just about any offense and is still one of the better defensive linemen in the world of fantasy football - especially in the NFC North, with its elite quarterbacks and pass-heavy offenses.

Tuck is coming off a brutal season from a fantasy perspective, ranking 58th among defensive linemen based on points. That was due in part to missing four games, which he attributed to poor conditioning during the lockout-marred offseason. The veteran vowed not to let that happen again, however, so a bounce-back season should be in the cards. The fact that Tuck was so unproductive fantasy-wise in 2011 could push his average draft position down this season, so there's a chance he could be quite a nice bargain. The Notre Dame product will come off the board somewhere in the middle to late rounds in most IDP drafts.

A fifth-year veteran out of Miami (FL), Campbell has seen his tackle totals increase every season since he was a rookie. His rise culminated in a 72-tackle campaign in 2011 that helped him finish in the top five in fantasy points among defensive linemen. Campbell, who also posted what was a career-best eight sacks, is only 25 years old and clearly in the prime of his career. So while he might have hit his statistical ceiling from a fantasy standpoint last season, there's no reason to believe he can't duplicate that level of success in 2012. Consider him a legitimate No. 1 fantasy option and worth a late-round selection on draft day.

Early in his career as a linebacker, Babin was considered a good pass rusher. This past season, his second as a defensive end, he became a great pass rusher, opening eyes with 18 sacks. Among defensive linemen, that total was second only to Jared Allen's 22. With a total of 30.5 sacks in his last two years, the late-blooming Babin is proving that he is by no means a fluke. In fact, he's now considered a legitimate No. 1 fantasy option at his position. Look for the veteran to come off the board somewhere in the late rounds in most IDP formats.

Johnson was the heir apparent to the departed Julius Peppers as Carolina's leading pass rusher, and after two seasons in that role, he's done a pretty good job. His numbers dipped somewhat in 2011, but it wasn't the type of precipitous decline that sets off warning bells. In what will be his second season under head coach Ron Rivera and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, Johnson should be expected to have a better handle of the scheme. As a result, Johnson should see some improvement in 2012. With that said, fantasy leaguers should consider him in the late rounds as a borderline No. 1 or 2 fantasy defensive lineman.

The veteran defensive end is in a protracted contract squabble with the Giants, so his future is still very much in doubt, but his ability is unquestioned - just check the nine sacks he piled up in an injury-shortened nine-game season. The problem is that Umenyiora could be the odd man out on a defensive line that features Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul. The sack master from Troy will turn 31 years old next season, so he still has plenty left in the tank. At worst, Umenyiora will be worth a late-round pick as a borderline No. 1 or 2 fantasy option at his position.

Avril is coming off his best season at the NFL level, recording 36 total tackles to go along with four passes defensed, one interception and a career-best 11 sacks. Those numbers helped him finish fourth in fantasy points at his position. More importantly, though, were the pair of touchdowns Avril scored off of takeaways. Remove those 12 fantasy points, and he's barely in the top 10. Regardless, the Purdue product has become a nice playmaker and pass rusher on what is an improving Lions defense. He's well worth a late-round look as a low-end No. 1 or high-end No. 2 defensive lineman.

Sheard had a solid rookie season, racking up 8.5 sacks for the league's second-ranked passing defense. Just as impressive, however, was Sheard's knack for punching the ball out - he put up five forced fumbles in 2011. Of course, the question in fantasy circles is whether or not he'll suffer from a sophomore slump. In his second time through the AFC North, teams didn't seem to do any better stopping him than the first time, which is promising. But since he's still an unknown quantity, chances are he'll be worth no more than a late-round selection in drafts.

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