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Friday, September 24, 2010
D Up!: The rise of Clay Matthews

By Jim McCormick
Special to ESPN.com

Comparisons and nicknames are two longstanding traditions of football fiends. We love making them, and we love giving them. Already this season, we've heard some inspired banter. Is Jahvid Best the next Barry Sanders? Can anyone escape (a healthy) Revis Island? Given this custom of creativity, I believe it's time to start crafting something for the league's most rapidly rising star, Clay Matthews III.

Matthews doesn't have a sanctioned nickname so far, but the sheer speed and hostility of his game merits one. I've heard that he's fond of "The Claymaker," which is admittedly pretty sweet. I'm throwing out "CM3" as my initial and somewhat lazy attempt. I ask my fervent fellow defensive nerds to help in this process if compelled to do so. We must consider that it's not too often that an amazingly strong and fast specimen with Thor-like locks takes the sport by storm. To put Matthews' torrid start into perspective, he needs to averageonly one sack per game in his final 14 games to hit 20. Notice how I said only one per game, that's the type of play we're seeing right now from Matthews, in which a sack per is apparently realistic. It must be mentioned that while he's on a "Strahanian" pace, Matthews is somehow available in over 30 percent of ESPN leagues. Dash, like CM3 would, to roster this monster.

Front Four: The weekly word on the world of defenders

Cameron Wake
Cameron Wake has seven tackles and two sacks in two games.

Wake Up: Here are a few versatile outside linebacker commodities that the individual defensive players (IDP) community should stop sleeping on. The Dolphins Cameron Wake leads this section because the wordplay was simply there for the taking, and I'm somewhat of a hack. That said, Wake has been collapsing pockets regularly this young season, and he should enjoy rare freedom to continue to do so because opponents must focus on his colleague Karlos Dansby. Similar to Wake, Oakland's Kamerion Wimbley isn't to be relied on for healthy tackle numbers but rather his penchant for getting to the quarterback. This week is as good as any to plug Wimbley into lineups in deep leagues, as he should have several chances to corral Derek Anderson. Minnesota's E.J. Henderson not only made a miraculous and speedy recovery from a gruesome leg injury suffered late last season but is ably manning the middle of the field for the Vikings. For a blend of tackles and the occasional big plays, Henderson is an ideal addition in the 70 percent of leagues where he remains available.

Cut Bait or Wait: Disappointed owners of David Harris, Eric Weddle, D.J. Williams and any unproductive expensive draft commodities need to strike a balance between being patient and progressive. By this I mean that while you should be patient with these talents, you should be on the hunt for depth and/or potential replacements over the next few weeks. Patience, in fantasy, seems to have an expiration date. It's nearly impossible to find the precise time in which to move on from an unproductive big investment, but with some insurance on your roster you will be better served than merely waiting. This might not come off as the most lucid pitch, but the idea is that you, the manager of your team, need to make tough decisions from time to time. In the end, returns can stem from the moves you make.

Secondary Sleepers: It often appears that every defensive position is fairly fickle from season to season in terms of consistent production, but defensive back is particularly inconsistent in this sense. At the end of each campaign, we seem to be looking at an almost entirely new crop of elite performers atop the fantasy leaderboard than in the beginning. Given this reality, I thought it would help to throw out some names of early upstarts for those struggling to cement their secondary. We'll start with Cleveland safety T.J. Ward. He has put up double-digit tackles in each of these first two weeks. Cleveland's front seven regularly allows ball carriers into the secondary, but Ward will be there to clean up for them. Miami's Jason Allen is finally making good on the hype his draft status earned him with a nice blend of tackles, passes defended and interceptions. Continue to keep an eye out for Arizona's Greg Toler, as the targets will keep coming his way. There are few better corners to target than San Diego's Antoine Cason, who is the player responsible for making Antonio Cromartie expendable.

Fantasy Factory: To be a linebacker for the Steelers means that you are a top fantasy commodity, or at least it seems that way. Apologies to James Farrior, who had a considerable stretch of statistical awesomeness, but it seems that Lawrence Timmons has taken the torch as the next tackle-machine for the black and gold. No doubt that James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley continue to be menacing predators that keep quarterbacks and slot receivers up on Saturday nights, but Timmons is regularly proving the be the first guy to the ball for Mike Tomlin's aggressive downhill defense. If you are sitting on a struggling Harris or an injured Paul Posluszny, I advise going out and acquiring Timmons, especially in the 60 percent of leagues in which he remains available with the mere click of an "add" symbol.

IDP Rankings Week 3: 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 (0.5), Tackle - Assist (0.25), 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

This is part promise, part threat, but all true: Daryl Smith will be mentioned in this section for as long as he's criminally under-owned. ... The question Titans fans, possibly Titans coaches and definitely fantasy owners are currently asking: Is Jason Babin for real? My answer is, not really. While the tweener is enjoying a great start to the season, we must consider that his snaps are up because of injuries on the line, and he's limited against the run. The deep line in Tennessee will see the production spread around this season. ... Carolina's outside 'backer James Anderson has been a revelation so far with rare production from the strong side. ... Washington's Rocky McIntosh merits ownership in nearly every format, because he's capably tallying tackles in his new inside role on the Redskins' savvy 3-4 scheme. ... The Giants' Jonathan Goff and Michael Boley should enjoy some nice numbers chasing down Chris Johnson and the short passing game of Tennessee. Be aware that Boley is subject to being taken off the field if the Giants go into their "Big Base" package, which shifts Mathias Kiwanuka from end to Boley's outside spot.

Mailbag

Seth in St. Louis: I'm in a league where you're forced to start one defensive tackle; can you give me your top 5 at the position? Every major site ranks defensive lineman as a group but I haven't found a strict tackle ranking anywhere yet.

Jim: Hey Seth, I hear what your saying. I think the lack of resources and information for tackles is comparable to the interest in the position. I also play in a few leagues that specifically start the position, but from what I gather it's not a common element of IDP leagues. I'll try from time to time to update my take on these big boys. For now, I'd say that Darnell Dockett is the top guy to target. His production has been steady for years now and he's the rare tackle that can turn in a huge multi-sack outing. Ndamukong Suh is a close second at the position. I've watched his first two games, and the ground he covers and the leverage he uses is amazing. Watching the goal line stand against the Bears in Week 1 is proof of his impact. Baltimore's Haloti Ngata is a nice source for tackles and the rare sack or fumble. Minnesota's Kevin Williams was an amazing fantasy source earlier in his career and remains a nice option for tackles and the occasional big game. I'd keep an eye on Kansas City's emerging Glen Dorsey, the player that was originally supposed to have Suh's level of impact on the field. Finally, I'd consider Tennessee's Tony Brown. If he's healthy, Brown and the Jets' Sione Pouha have sound potential to produce.

Jim McCormick is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com, as well as a regular contributor to the Washington Post's "Behind the Helmet" and Sirius XM's Fantasy Sports Channel. You can reach Jim with your questions and comments at espn.idp@gmail.com or on Twitter @JMcCormickESPN