|ESPN.com: 2013||[Print without images]|
You'll want to sit down for this. After this upcoming week, we will be more than halfway through the fantasy football regular season in many leagues. I know what you are thinking: Leaves are still mostly on trees and golfing remains a viable option (outside of Sunday afternoons, of course), for those of us in cold-weather regions, but we must accept the reality that we're 46 percent of the way into this run. While wires on the offensive side of the ball are often somewhat barren by this stage of the campaign, we can still find a good deal of free defenders with the potential to positively impact our remaining fantasy matchups. With the midseason point essentially upon us, we'll look into some of the top widely available defenders worthy of being rostered and deployed for the all-important stretch run. No matter your record at this point in the season, with byes and injuries afflicting rosters, we could all use a nice profitable pickup. In lieu of the "Bargain Bin" section of the column, we'll break down some ideal acquisitions at each position.
|Kiko Alonso has been a big-time playmaker as a rookie, as evidenced by his 66 total tackles and four interceptions.|
Linebacker: There was some fear that Karlos Dansby would see a dip in production when Daryl Washington returned from suspension, but the return to the desert continues to pay dividends for Dansby's production. Dansby is essentially, and surprisingly, putting up the gaudy numbers we would have projected for a full season from Washington, with a pace for a career-best 152 tackles (an absurd 147 being solo tackles). We would be remiss not to mention the veteran linebacker's current pace for eight sacks and nearly 10 turnovers. The sack production is buoyed by Dansby's awesome usage, as he's rushing the passer on 22.1 percent of his snaps, good for third among inside linebackers this season. Dansby doesn't even need to keep up his elite pace to remain a worthy LB2, so even a correction in the tackles department and less success rushing the pocket would result in a banner season for the 10-year vet. Dansby has been a top commodity before, so an enduring return to glory is quite realistic here. … The Chiefs' defense is firing on all cylinders right now, thanks in large part to Tamba Hali's play. The fantasy crown isn't buying Hali (10.6 percent owned in ESPN leagues) nearly as much as his teammate Justin Houston (48.6 percent owned), who is tied for the league lead with 9.5 sacks. However, it's worth noting that Hali is rated third among all 3-4 outside linebackers by Pro Football Focus behind only Houston and the Ravens' Elvis Dumervil, and is still heading for 19 sacks given his current clip. Hali might not ever be an ideal every-week option given his sack-dependent fantasy value, but up until the team's Week 9 bye, the schedule is ripe for some more big games from the former Nittany Lion. … On pace for 130 tackles and 10 sacks, yet owned in just 15 percent of ESPN leagues, Packers 'backer A.J. Hawk is quietly enjoying a career season. Hawk is being deployed as a pass-rusher on 20.5 percent of his snaps, which ranks fifth among all inside linebackers.
Defensive Line: Patriots defensive lineman Rob Ninkovich plays a variety of roles for the team, reminiscent of Mike Vrabel. Now the touchdown catches might not emerge like they so famously did for Vrabel back in the day, but a spike in numbers could develop given the team's series of major injuries on defense (including IDP stud Jerod Mayo going on IR this week). Ninkovich is second in the NFL with 200 pass-rushing snaps according to Pro Football Focus and his 25 total pressures on opposing quarterbacks ranks third among all defensive ends in football. The wily vet is available in well over half of ESPN leagues. … Dallas has to eat a lot of salary with the release of defensive tackle Jay Ratliff, but the Cowboys are profiting big on the play of Jason Hatcher, who is on pace for 13 sacks and a robust (for his position) 56 tackles. … Cleveland's Desmond Bryant, most famous for having nearly the same name as a certain mercurial superstar wideout, has been making a name for himself with the Browns thanks to consistent pressure on the pocket from the Harvard alum (on pace for 11 sacks).
Defensive Backs: Fantasy (and real life!) legend Charles Woodson wasn't supposed to be this busy in his return to Oakland, but given some injuries around him in the secondary, he's been pressed into playing full-time, and the numbers are showing up (top-20 defensive back in nearly any format). While he's on bye this weekend, Woodson faces an inviting series of sloppy pass-happy offenses in the coming weeks. … Tyrann Mathieu, better known as "The Honey Badger," has proved to be a draft-day steal so far for the Cardinals, as the LSU product has played well under the direction of former college teammate Patrick Peterson. While I've received a good deal of email asking that we switch Mathieu to safety, he's actually played as the slot corner in the vast majority of his snaps so far this season. On pace for more than 100 tackles and a significant total of big plays, Mathieu could be a difference-maker for your fantasy team.
|Karlos Dansby is averaging more than nine tackles per game this season, in addition to his 2.5 sacks and interception.|
Full-Time Job: We touted Bills rookie Kiko Alonso all offseason because several indicators (i.e., rookie quarterback, patchwork secondary) suggested he would be on the field for an awesome number of snaps in his three-down role manning the middle for a Bills defense that employs two linebackers coaches on its staff (the only staff I know of that does so). Leading the league in tackles and on pace for an insane 176 for the season, the production is legitimate given that Alonso leads all defenders with 447 snaps. His pace for 1,192 defensive snaps would be 96 more snaps than Dawan Landry played for the Jaguars last season when he led the league in the category. ESPN Stats & Info has snap data going back to 2007, and Alonso's pace would be the most snaps by a good margin in that time. In the tradition of Patrick Willis and DeMeco Ryans and their awesome debut seasons, this year's top fantasy linebacker might just be a rookie playing in Orchard Park.
Larcenous Levy: Detroit's DeAndre Levy was a frustrating fantasy commodity in years past thanks to heaps of hype but not a ton of production. Of course, he has started to produce once we stopped hyping and hoping the guy would become a factor, but we will take it. With a league-leading four interceptions and a pace for 131 total tackles while playing for a high-scoring team (thus opponents are passing a good deal), a post-hype breakout is well in the works.
Safety Sanctuary: Playing safety for the Buffalo Bills leads to some awesome fantasy results, as the past several years have proved. Similarly to his teammate Alonso, Da'Norris Searcy gets plenty of snaps, which we value as opportunities to produce. Also like Alonso, Searcy is making the most of his work with a series of big plays and significant fantasy efforts. Despite being on the roster bubble in August, Searcy is now firmly entrenched as a starter for the Bills and has the potential to turn in a top-10 fantasy season for his position.
Not The Tight End: Cameron Jordan isn't a word scramble for the Browns' breakout tight end Jordan Cameron; instead it's the name of a breakout defensive end for the Saints. Lost in the Rob Ryan lovefest during the Saints' defensive revival has been Jordan's dominant play. He enters the bye with the most pressures among all 3-4 defensive ends and has an inviting schedule on the way. Available in nearly half of ESPN leagues, Jordan is heading for a career season.
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 (4), Pass defended (0.5), Blocked kick (3).