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"IDP leagues still are more for the hard-core." -- from TMR's Week 12 Love/Hate column.
Indeed they are. Admittedly, IDP leagues are suited for the feverishly devoted few. We are not only attentive (and obsessive) with our offensive rosters, but also with our defenders. It's a little late in the season here to convert the masses, but trust us; it's really quite a way to augment and improve the fantasy football experience. You can take it as far on the fantasy nerd spectrum as you want. The extreme being a roster solely made of defenders, while the "normal" approach asks that you have four or five defenders in your lineup. Either way, you know that much more inane info about this glorious thing we call football. Who is that random linebacker on Denver? Ask the IDP guy, that nerd knows everything.
Speaking of hard-core, Spencer "Leatherhead" Larsen of the Broncos started at both fullback and linebacker and participated in special teams coverage last week. He's just the fourth player in the NFL to start on both offense and defense in the same game since 1990. The ironman feat was the result of the ridiculous rash of injuries that has hit the Denver linebacker corps, but it speaks to Larsen's toughness to endure that much action. While he's only available in ESPN leagues as linebacker, he has some value going forward if he can continue to man the middle for Denver in what has long been a productive fantasy spot (see Nate Webster). Just as you do with the offensive side of the ball, keep your eye out for guys like Larsen who step up when injuries strike.
Consider using these players if you are in immediate need of impact defenders, especially in deep leagues.
Linebackers and Linemen: Jerod Mayo has not only made it past the "rookie wall," he's seemingly leaped over it. With 20 tackles last week and a great mix of run-heavy and sloppy offenses on the docket, add some Mayo to your fantasy sandwich. Chad Greenway is available in 34 percent of leagues but deserves to be rostered in every IDP league. Now more than two years removed from a serious rookie-year knee injury, Greenway has been a beast this season and validated my lofty preseason evaluation. Stewart Bradley won't net you many sacks or turnovers but he's about as safe as they come. Consider him the defensive version of Wes Welker, in that he rarely provides prolific production, but is steady as they come given his volume of tackles. I've yet to encounter an IDP league that doesn't offer a handsome reward for sacks, but apparently 50 percent of ESPN leagues still find no use for Joey Porter's ridiculous pace. With a clip set for more than 20 sacks, you have no excuse not to own the biggest mouth in football. Jamie Winborn has capably stepped in and helped fill the void left by fantasy superstar D.J. Williams in Denver. Expect the numbers to continue as Denver's defensive line seems to be allergic to stopping ball carriers. Never to be confused with a geography savant, Channing Crowder is at the least a good value to consider as you approach the fantasy playoffs. On pace for 90 solos and 118 total tackles and with a favorable final stretch, you can forgive his geographical deficiencies. Adewale Ogunleye is a Nigerian prince, like an actual prince, not a purple pop star impersonator. That, and he's a really good option to consider against a very sackable (new word) Marc Bulger.
Defensive Backs: If a fantasy nerd tells everyone that Adrian Wilson is the human form of awesomeness on a weekly basis does anyone listen? Apparently not, given that the guy is available in 65 percent of ESPN leagues and has the breakout potential to single-handedly sway your matchup on any given week. If Eric Weddle weren't a 5-foot-11 guy named Eric he'd be much more feared. But give him time, he's building quite a rep as a hard hitter and a tackle machine with his ridiculous linebacker-esque clip that has him projected for 120 tackles. As we've mentioned before in this column, the San Diego front seven consistently allows the ball carrier to get deep into the second level, netting Weddle an abundance of tackles. Thomas Davis ranks a respectable 18th or 19th amongst linebackers in most IDP scoring formats. Yet with his safety eligibility in ESPN leagues, he's the third most productive fantasy DB behind only Gibril Wilson and the aforementioned Weddle. Much like how I used to watch two or three movies with one ticket, exploit the loophole my friends. Erik Coleman gets a lot of tackles, if you're into that kind of thing. Expect another steady diet of tackles from Coleman as he chases down the Carolina tailback tandem and their veteran receivers. Michael Lewis didn't write "Moneyball" or the simply awesome "The Blind Side." Well, he did, but not the one on the 49ers that is of concern to IDP leagues. The NFL's Lewis has been a stalwart safety for some time and while he rarely nabs an interception, he's a safe play for tackles and provides the occasional sack and forced fumble.
Target these guys for depth with an eye on their potential to be full-fledged starters.
Linebackers and Linemen: Wesley Woodyard is the third Denver linebacker to get a mention this week, if that means anything. The reason all three merit mention is they play behind a sieve of a line. Don't let the seemingly skewed matchup fool you: Oakland will be able to run on Denver and that should lead to a volume of tackles for the three replacement 'backers in Denver to share. Jay Ratliff is kinda like Theo Ratliff, in that he's an imposing defender named Ratliff. That's all I had on that one, guys. But as a fantasy source, he's starting to come into his own and faces some really generous offensive lines in the coming weeks in San Fran, Seattle and Pittsburgh. Eric Barton was a top sleeper last season but never materialized, as David Harris took much of the glory, and tackles, in New York. With Harris out, Barton has re-emerged and should flourish against what will likely be a run-heavy, short-pass Titans attack. Xavier Adibi is a great addition to your vocabulary and fantasy roster as he's locked into the outside 'backer spot in Houston and excelling in the role. Kamerion Wimbley's best numbers came in his rookie campaign in 2006, but he's since disappointed with sporadically productive outbursts. Lately, though, as the Cleveland line has jelled, he's getting better shots at the QB and could be in line for a nice day against the human turnover machine that is Sage Rosenfels. Bradie James is among the lesser-known Dallas defenders but he's nonetheless deserving of your attention. With a steady tackle clip and some matchups against some sloppy offenses in the coming weeks, James could be a boon to your playoff run. Clint Session sounds like a reggae artist but he's actually a legit fantasy linebacker in a similar situation to the Denver 'backers playing behind a weak defensive line versus the run.
Defensive Backs: Similarly to Weddle, Antoine Bethea nets a number of tackles each week because he's playing behind an undersized and often overmatched front seven. You've likely heard of the "Black Death" that is Nnamdi Asomugha. His name comes from the Raiders' famous color scheme and his penchant for making elite wideouts disappear. With DeAngelo Hall out of town, Chris Johnson is now the left corner for the Raiders playing opposite Asomugha. Hall racked up good fantasy numbers because QBs simply refused to target Asomugha's side, and now Johnson's numbers are swelling for the same reason. Consider Johnson an ideal addition for a spot play this week facing a rotation of Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal. Mike Brown was once a fantasy star thanks to his penchant for touchdown returns and healthy tackle clips. After several injury-plagued seasons, Brown is back in the secondary in Chicago and while he's no longer the weekly big-play threat, he's a cheap addition to your fantasy roster that could pay off as he enjoys a favorable finishing schedule. Teams pass on the Lions. Teams run on the Lions. At will. This means safety Daniel Bullocks should enjoy another healthy tackle outing regularly chasing down the ball.
Jim McCormick is an analyst for ESPN.com fantasy football.