For the majority of you, the fantasy season is over. If you won a championship, congratulations! If you didn't, well, there's always next year. And if you're still contesting your league in Week 17 ... what are you doing?
But that's another conversation for another time. We here at Reading the Defense have already turned our eyes toward 2015. Much like we did for offensive players in our Way Too Early series, we're going to take a look at some potential sleepers and busts for the season to come -- all before the season that currently is has a chance to finish.
Aaaaand we'll have a little news at the bottom for those of you still playing. We might admonish it, but we also still have love for you.
Khalil Mack, LB, Oakland Raiders: His fantasy numbers weren't eye-popping -- he's currently 48th among linebackers -- but in the second half of the season, Mack started to pass the eye test. The Raiders are in need of quite a few more pieces before anyone could reasonably consider them to be contenders. But if you believe that Derek Carr is a good centerpiece on the offensive side of the ball (and why wouldn't you?), then it's equally reasonable to believe that Mack is his counterpart on the defensive side.
Jelani Jenkins, LB, Miami Dolphins: Jenkins had a strong start to the season, scoring double-digit fantasy points in two of his first three games. After enduring a mid-season slump he rebounded only to have a late-season foot injury slow him down. Regardless, it's hard to deny that the Dolphins have a potential playmaker in the midst of their defense. After showing marked improvement (thanks to more playing time) in his second season, Jenkins appears poised for a true breakout campaign in Year 3.
T.J. McDonald, DB, St. Louis Rams: McDonald might not be a true sleeper since he sits among the top 10 players at his position in 2014, but how many people were truly checking for the young Rams safety at the start of the season? Nonetheless, he's a legitimate playmaker in an underrated defense that looks like it will only get better in the years to come. Pretty soon, McDonald -- much like his former All-Pro father -- will be a name that everyone is familiar with.
Ndamukong Suh, DL, Detroit Lions: When Suh is at his best, there's no denying how beastly he can be. The problem is that he has also been the picture of discontent and inconsistency during his tenure in Detroit. With the possibility that he could be playing his final games in Honolulu blue the future leads to plenty of uncertainty. Can he continue to be a monster along the defensive line without the likes of Nick Fairley and Ziggy Ansah occupying opposing offensive linemen?
William Gay, DB, Pittsburgh Steelers: This isn't a commentary on any particular skill set eroding or major overhauls coming in the Steelers defense. This is simply a look at the numbers. Part of what has made Gay a fantasy stud this season is that he has three interceptions -- and all three have been returned for touchdowns. Sure, it could happen again next year. But it doesn't seem likely.
Jared Allen, DL, Chicago Bears: Raise your hand if you forgot early in the season that Allen played for the Bears. It's okay, you're among friends here. While the veteran picked up his play at the end of the season, it's apparent that he's not the same player he was just a few seasons ago. It's not a diss, just reality. Father Time remains undefeated. Look for him to add Jared Allen to his ranks in 2015.
» It's hard to consider Justin Gilbert a bust after just one season, but the Browns cornerback has not been the impact player the team hoped he'd be in his first year. Head coach Mike Pettine severely reduced Gilbert's playing time in Sunday's loss to the Carolina Panthers, keeping the defensive back on the bench for the entire first quarter. With Joe Haden having one cornerback spot locked up and Buster Skrine currently occupying the other corner, Gilbert will have to step things up to get into the lineup consistently. Fortunately, veteran Karlos Dansbyhas some advice for the young player.
» Add Marcus Smith to the list of 2014 rookie disappointments. The Eagles linebacker couldn't get on the field even after the team lost Trent Cole to a broken left hand. No one expected Smith to beat out Brandon Graham for the starting job in Cole's absence, but many expected that Smith would see some snaps. Nope. In a defense that has been repeatedly burned for big plays, Smith's inability to play any sort of role is a major indictment of where he currently stands in his development.
» The season is over for Washington linebacker Trent Murphy. The rookie was placed on injured reserve after breaking his hand in the Week 16 win over the Eagles. His 2.5 sacks won't blow anyone away, but he provided some occasional bright spots in a defense that was generally devoid of them all season long.
» Not all the news is bad -- Denver got some promising updates regarding T.J. Ward. The defensive back was found to have a neck strain and is listed as day-to-day after suffering a scary fall in Monday night's loss to the Bengals. The best news is that Ward avoided any apparent major damage. Keep an eye on him to see if he'll suit up this week against the Raiders.