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Friday, September 5, 2008
D Up! Week 1

By Jim McCormick
Special to ESPN.com

Welcome, my IDP brethren, to another highly anticipated season of fantasy football (free live scoring!). Every Friday, all season long, D Up! will provide you with the insight and info to help you maximize your IDP roster and thus dominate your league.

The palpable buzz at this early stage of the season resonates in both real and fantasy football. Every NFL team is still in the playoff hunt (except for maybe the Chiefs and Falcons). Every fantasy football roster appears to be dominant (at least according to its owner). It's only a matter of time, however, before some semblance of reality sets in. As the weeks pass, you'll find yourself considering dropping your once potential-laden eighth-round pick for a bye-week defense on the wire, or soon realize that in fact your favorite NFL team is not playoff-bound.

Don't let the post-draft euphoria cloud your judgment. No doubt you should have confidence in your fantasy roster this early in the season, but be proactive at the same time. Your team is rarely as good as you project it to be. One of the biggest contributing factors to a fantasy team's success is timing. Sure, you wish you added Jon Beason or Ryan Grant last year like that "lucky" guy did, but you waited. Just remember that in just a few short weeks, the waiver wire is going to be full of surprisingly productive players whom everyone will want. Get a leg up on the competition and at least consider some of the names below for depth or simply target them with an eye on adding them later.

Starters

Consider using these players if you are in immediate need of impact defenders, especially in deep leagues.

Paul Posluszny
Paul Posluszny only played three games last year because of a broken forearm.
Linebackers and linemen: While most fantasy managers find little value in Atlanta outside of Roddy White and Michael Turner, we defensive-minded folk can find plenty on the other side of the ball. Curtis Lofton, for example, a punishing rookie 'backer out of Oklahoma, is entrenched as the team's starting MLB and deserves to be rostered in 12-team leagues for his upside alone. Currently owned in just 4.9 percent of ESPN leagues, Lofton is the ideal example of a player who'll be gobbled up in just a few weeks after he posts lofty tackles totals. … Bills MLB Paul Posluszny was on his way to a breakout IDP season before injury ended his rookie campaign. He enters the season with a nagging ankle injury but is listed as probable and should rack up double-digit tackles on near weekly basis, starting with Seattle on Sunday. … Just a few years ago Jacksonville's Mike Peterson was considered among the elite IDP commodities. Yet, after two seasons besieged by injury, he has essentially dropped off the fantasy radar. Now healthy and available in 80 percent of ESPN leagues, target Peterson before the masses realize he's back to form. … After a prolonged holdout and subsequent slow start to the season, the Bucs' Gaines Adams finished his rookie campaign on a strong note with a nice stretch of production in the final weeks. With a full offseason and an improved surrounding defense, Adams could very likely post double-digit sacks for your fantasy team this season.

Defensive backs: After years of struggling with injury and acclimation, Antrel Rolle makes the switch from corner to free safety, forming an imposing safety tandem with Adrian Wilson. Look for Rolle to continue his big-play ways from last season (three defensive touchdowns) and significantly add to his tackle total. … The Bengals have tabbed second-year safety Chinedum "Nedu" Ndukwe to replace free-agent loss Madieu Williams. Ndukwe was effective in spot starts last season and could break out in what has historically been a productive role for fantasy purposes. … Brian Williams makes the switch from corner to strong safety for the Jaguars and could enjoy his best statistical season paired with talented free safety Reggie Nelson. … For some reason, Brian Dawkins is available in the majority of ESPN IDP leagues. Add him now if you have the room and take a gamble that he can hold up, because he's long been among the top fantasy defenders when on the field. … Chargers safety Clinton Hart quietly enjoyed a breakout 2007, yet is still getting very little love and loyalty in IDP leagues.

Sleepers

Target these guys for depth and bye-week plug-ins with an eye on their potential to be full-fledged starters.

Linebackers and linemen: More famous at this point in his career for his love of poetry and bow ties (he has his own line of them), Dhani Jones could enjoy a renaissance season manning the middle in Cincinnati. Jones is widely available in fantasyland and merits consideration if you are in need of a cheap source of tackles. … A breakout season is brewing as Carolina's Thomas Davis makes the favorable switch to the weak side after racking up solid numbers from the strong last season. … Veteran journeyman Nate Webster takes over for D.J. Williams as the middle linebacker in Denver. Williams, now at his natural weakside spot, posted 141 tackles last year from the "Mike," making Webster, owned in a minuscule 0.7 percent of ESPN leagues, is an early fantasy gem to consider. … Channing Crowder takes over for Zach Thomas as the primary tackle machine in Miami. Look for his 7 percent ownership to spike dramatically in the coming weeks as he posts elite tackle totals. … With Jared Allen and the Williams boys taking on regular double-teams in Minnesota, defensive end Ray Edwards will often be one-on-one in pursuit of the quarterback. Keep an eye on Edwards in these early weeks to see if he can capitalize on his favorable scenario.

Defensive backs: Kansas City's Bernard Pollard enjoyed an excellent 2007 and yet is still undervalued in fantasy circles. Target or even add Pollard now before he forces his way on a competitor's roster. … Atlanta's Lawyer Milloy could have a high-tackle outing chasing Kevin Smith and Lions wideouts all day. … For a spot start for this week, consider Baltimore's Jim Leonhard a premier option. A productive sub for the Bills last season, Leonhard is starting in place of the oft-injured Ed Reed and could be asked to fill the role regularly as doubts mount over Reed's neck injury. … Rookie Tyrell Johnson is filling in for the injured Madieu Williams in Minny and, much like Leonhard, could be in for a long-term role if Williams' neck injury is slow to heal.

Jim McCormick is an analyst for ESPN.com fantasy football.