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Friday, November 20, 2009
D Up! Pick up Harrison, Hawthorne now

By Jim McCormick
Special to ESPN.com

"Nobody in football should be called a genius. A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein ..." -Joe Theismann

It's also likely that no one in fantasy football should be called a genius, either. But we all do have our Einstein moments from time to time, like when I endorsed Green Bay Packers linebacker-turned-tight end Spencer Havner as a sneaky and savvy play the very week he went off for two touchdowns. But then again, we also have our Norman (or Theismann) moments, when we assertively back players who don't perform well, or even play at all, as my confidence in Darren Sharper last week, who ended up sitting out, proved.

The reality is that a fantasy season is the culmination of our decisions, both shrewd and stupid, with the hope being that the net sum proves positive. So with the fantasy playoffs and league trade deadlines looming, we'll discuss some potentially Guinness-worthy additions to consider.

Go get 'em (if you can). These players are embedded in uniquely productive scenarios, so you should pursue them aggressively, likely via trade, or even the waiver wire in the rare chance that they're available.

James Harrison
James Harrison is a valuable IDP league player, to the point that he can net you a very good offensive player in a trade.

James Harrison, like Bill Simmons, must be a popular dude, as he's owned in nearly 96 percent of ESPN leagues. While he's an elite fantasy defender, we all know that defenders aren't often valued equally compared to offensive players of similar point production. That said, try to poach Harrison for offensive depth players if his owner is in need at a specific position. Either way, he's the kind of impact defender who could drive your team to a championship, given his savory schedule that includes the Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders and Green Bay Packers. Put it this way: Harrison finishing with 20 sacks is a very realistic possibility.

• If the Seattle Seahawks' David Hawthorne, owned in just 21 percent of ESPN leagues, is available in your league for some reason, add him now. Like immediately, we'll wait for you. Consider Hawthorne a more attainable version of Harrison in that he posts a similar blend of tackles and big plays, and boasts a sweet schedule that includes the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, St. Louis Rams, Green Bay Packers and Tennessee Titans. Brilliant!

• The New York Jets' Calvin Pace, an outside linebacker used largely as a pass-rusher, is bestowed with defensive end eligibility, as well. With the defensive line position being perennially shallow, a widely available yet productive commodity is a rarity this late into the season. Pace's value was deflated by a four-game suspension to start the season, but with several upcoming meetings with porous offensive lines and questionable quarterbacks, he's an impact playoff talent to target.

• The two defensive backs that I'd consider picking up are Brian Dawkins and Antrel Rolle. Rolle (available in 40 percent of ESPN leagues) is a prime candidate to be a dominant fantasy force with the requisite NFC West matchups, plus the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers, on the docket, as well. His unique blend of sustainable tackle production and big-play ability should sway some crucial fantasy matchups in December. Dawkins is simply a steady source of tackles and passes defended this season. While he hasn't posted the fumbles and sacks that made him an elite fantasy option for much of the decade, his schedule should incite some of the old magic with the Oakland Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs (twice) and his former team, the Philadelphia Eagles, on the schedule.

Front Four: The weekly word on the world of defenders

Allen & Edwards: While it sounds like an investment or law firm, it's actually the Minnesota Vikings' pair of defensive ends. And while I wouldn't necessarily ask Ray Edwards for stock tips or legal advice, I would like to invest in him as a fantasy commodity given his recent elite production. Thanks to Jared Allen's imposing, double-team inducing presence, Edwards has capably exploited his one-on-one battles with opposing tackles and should enjoy the Vikings' upcoming stretch of pass-happy opponents.

Red Rookie: The Washington Redskins' Brian Orakpo leads the class of '09 in sacks, with seven so far, 3.5 of them coming in the past two weeks. The tweener from Texas has seen time as both an outside linebacker and as a defensive end but is regarded as solely a defensive end in ESPN leagues, which affords him the most fantasy value, given the shallow nature of the position.

Infirmary: The Baltimore Ravens need Terrell Suggs, aka "T-Sizzle," back as soon as possible from the knee injury he suffered on the chop block that got Brady Quinn fined last week. Not only is Suggs their best pass-rusher, his persistent pressure is doubly missed given the shoddy play this season from the Ravens' corners. Keep an eye on Suggs' peer, Jarret Johnson, who will be asked to step up this week against the peerless Peyton Manning.

Mr. Mathis: Dwight Freeney gets the pub for his Iversonian spin move and mammoth contract, but Robert Mathis has been just as, if not more, productive and effective for the Indianapolis Colts over the long haul. Despite the disparity in tackles and turnovers in Mathis' favor, Freeney is owned in nearly the same amount of leagues. In the same sense as I recommend Calvin Pace going forward, Mathis is an impact player to pursue for the playoff run.

IDP Ranks Week 11: The Top 10 linebackers, linemen and defensive backs


So that we're working from agreed parameters, we'll use what many consider traditional scoring modifiers for an IDP league: Tackle -- Solo (1), Tackle -- Assist (0.5), Sack (3), Interception (3), Forced fumble (3), Fumble recovery (3), Touchdown (6), Safety (2), Pass defended (1), Blocked kick (2).

Bargain bin: Worthy defenders available in more than half of ESPN leagues

Tanard Jackson continues to light it up after serving his suspension and makes for an impact play this week against the pass-happy New Orleans Saints. ... Clint Session has been all over the field of late for the Colts and should see a steady stream of tackle opportunities come his way as the Ravens seek to control the game on the ground. ... Johnathan Joseph, meet Bruce Gradkowski, I have a feeling you'll be connecting on Sunday. ... Paul Posluszny has been a tackle-machine since returning from his annual forearm break and faces the bowling ball known as Maurice Jones-Drew this week.

Mailbag

Manny: I'm in a deep league that allows for a deep bench, and I've been thinking of streaming defensive linemen the rest of the way against just a handful of the league's worst offensive lines. Basically, is this a wise tactic to pursue the guys who play Detroit and Green Bay since defensive line is such a hit-or-miss position?

Jim: Hey Manny, good question. First off, streaming -- for the uninitiated -- is the tactic of constantly rotating players at a position, versus trusting a given stable of rostered players. Although it's more commonly seen in fantasy baseball and basketball, it's somewhat prevalent in individual defender leagues, as well. That said, I think it's a fine idea given the instability of defensive line production. Jared Allen, for example, while a fantasy monster, has netted 7.5 of his 10.5 sacks against those Packers that you mentioned. His line mate, Ray Edwards, whom I endorsed above, has netted his 5.5 sacks solely from meetings with Cleveland, Detroit and Green Bay.

Despite the Green Bays and Detroits of the league, we are in the midst of one of the leanest sack seasons ever. A myriad of factors play into this reality; more pass protection from the backfield, more shotgun formations and quicker passing games in the face of pressure, and so on. Either way, this makes the few truly susceptible teams that much more attractive to opposing defenders. So go for it, Manny, follow the inviting matchups and try to stream the best options for each week. Just like how in fantasy baseball you may play to a few players' splits to maximize the output, play to the games that are most likely to net your lineman some shots at the quarterback.

Jim McCormick is an IDP and fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com, as well as the editor and publisher of BLITZ Magazine, a print and online publication covering football from prep to pro. Contact espn.idp@gmail.com with all of your IDP concerns.