So much of our energy goes toward the seemingly smallest decisions in fantasy football.
Drew Brees and Adrian Peterson undoubtedly are awesome assets to any fantasy team, but the only curiosity they incite is how many touchdowns they'll score in a given week. It's the third receiver, the fill-in quarterback and the spot-start defensive back who are of weekly interest to fantasy owners.
The fun stress of fantasy doesn't lie in our stars but in our scrubs. This is what makes playing with individual defenders so fun; there simply are fewer "safe" plays out there. Outside of a handful of trusted weekly defenders, IDP owners are regularly on the search for talent to fill out their starting rosters. I ask that you enjoy the hustle of this format and the minutia it entails.
Front Four: The weekly word on the world of defenders
Injuries: Bad week for defensive backs who claim Phillips as their surname, as both the New York Giants' Kenny Phillips and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Jermaine Phillips were placed on injured reserve. Will Allen fills the safety vacancy left in Tampa, for now, until the suspended Tanard Jackson returns, while C.C. Brown takes over for Big Blue. Sadly, none of these replacements is immediately worthy of your attention. ... In other ill news for the Giants, all-everything lineman Justin Tuck has a partially torn labrum, although he's saying he endured a similar injury in college and was able to play through it. I'm not so convinced, as the dreaded IR tag has been tossed around already. ... Ernie Sims also has a significant shoulder injury, and the high-tackle terror will miss up to a month, with Jordon Dizon or rookie DeAndre Levy filling his spot. My money is on Levy taking the snaps.
Early Standouts: Antwan Odom was owned in just 3 percent of ESPN leagues heading into his ridiculous five-sack meeting with the Green Bay Packers, giving him an incredible seven on the season after he recorded just 15.5 in his first five NFL seasons. I'm impressed, as is everyone, with Odom's emergence, but let's be clear: The Packers are making a lot of guys look like Bobby Boucher, with the Odom being the prime example. I endorse adding Odom and placing him in starting lineups, just not over proven names just yet. ... Mike Peterson is enjoying a statistical renaissance for the Atlanta Falcons, and should have plenty of opportunities this week for tackles and impact plays against the New England Patriots' suddenly plodding offense.
Deflated Defenders: Preaching patience and practicing it are two completely different things. While it's been harsh owning the disappointing DeMarcus Ware so far, stick with him, as he still is due for a monster campaign despite growing doubts. The loss of Greg Ellis has allowed opponents to regularly chip and double-team Ware, limiting his shots at the pocket. Consider this week against a susceptible Carolina Panthers line as a breakout outing. ... Shawne Merriman's bid for a big payday with a monster campaign has not played out as he and his fantasy investors had hoped. Like Ware, it's still quite early to declare his season a bust, but unlike Ware, Merriman doesn't post enough tackles to keep owners afloat. Temper your original expectations somewhat, but remain loyal, as the sample size is too small so far to make any long-term reads. ... Ed Reed is a fantasy investment that requires the utmost patience. You drafted him for the huge outings in which he single-handedly wins you a matchup. You didn't draft a high-tackle guy here, but rather a game-changing playmaker who is known for his boom-or-bust tendencies.
Rookie Report: James Laurinaitis, Brian Cushing, Louis Delmas and Rey Maualuga all are available in more than half of ESPN leagues, with several of them available in even more leagues. Laurinaitis got plenty of love in last week's column and continues to be my pick for defensive rookie of the year, although former USC stars Cushing and Maualuga are starting to make some noise in their own right. All three standout rookie 'backers are worthy of being owned, with Laurinaitis meriting a weekly starting spot in most leagues. Delmas is the most interesting of the group, though, as he is available in more than 90 percent of ESPN leagues and could post a top-10 defensive back season at an incredible discount in a Detroit secondary that will be flush with ball carriers all season.
IDP Rankings Week 3
So that we're working from agreed parameters, we'll use what many consider to be traditional scoring modifiers for IDP leagues:
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
Akeem Jordan just might turn out to be the most valuable Philly defender for fantasy purposes, as he utilizes his absurd athleticism versus the run and more notably in the passing game, already racking up two interceptions. ... Former safety and now outside linebacker Keith Ellison has been the Buffalo Bills' most trusted fantasy source so far thanks to his volume of tackles and rangy speed. ... Justin Durant's steady stats have him creeping up rankings lists with each week -- take notice. ... Sabby Piscitelli might be a butcher in vertical coverage, but he's a stout run-stopper playing behind a Bucs front seven that lets more runners through its paths than Central Park. ... The likely-Canton-bound Darren Sharper can be considered the older version of Ed Reed, a boom-or-bust big-play talent who has been booming more of late.
Sean: I love playing with individual defenders but the dearth of information and analysis makes it difficult sometimes. Thank you for your weekly column! Anyways, what happened to Osi Umenyiora on Sunday night with just one tackle? Did the Cowboys just do that good a job on him or can we expect him to be this streaky the rest of the season?
I guess I'm starting to look around for alternatives at the position now, because the success of Antwan Odom against Denver and Green Bay has me thinking Greg Ellis and/or Chris Long could be good plays this weekend -- any thoughts? Both are available on the wires. Others still sitting out there include Andre Carter and Alex Brown. Think any of them could end up being productive, reliable starters?
Jim: Per your first question, Umenyiora remains an elite fantasy defender despite his anemic Week 2 stats, as the position he plays might leave you wanting some weeks. Reliability and defensive ends usually aren't great friends, at least not statistically. Unlike most offensive positions, a defensive lineman can have a very solid "real" day without accumulating stats in the box score. Umenyiora recorded the only quarterback hit this past week, and it should be noted that the Dallas Cowboys' Tony Romo is one of the craftier in the game at alluding pressure. When it comes to elite fantasy ends like Umenyiora and Jared Allen, expect some lean weeks in between their monstrous outings.
In terms of the other names you mentioned, it's clear that Odom is worth owning just to see if his numbers aren't an aberration, but rather the beginning of a monster breakout season. Ellis is a proven source for sacks and is playing across from Richard Seymour in Oakland, although his historically meager tackle numbers suggest he's prone to leave you with some lean outings. We all would like to see Long meet his potential, but I'm not sure he has enough help to do so just yet. I'd leave Brown and Carter on the wire given your other options, but really just advise that you stick it out with Umenyiora while possibly adding Odom or Ellis for depth.
Josh: I love IDP and am glad ESPN devotes at least one column a week to the glory of it. My question is this: What's up with Jon Beason? He was a tackling machine for me last year, usually getting 8-12 per week, but now it seems that stupid Thomas Davis is getting all the tackles. I would think that the middle linebacker would benefit the most from Carolina missing depth at defensive tackle. I haven't had the chance to watch any Carolina games, so I was wondering if you could help me understand what's going on.
Jim: Beason admitted this week to thinking too much on the field so far this season, versus acting instinctively during a play. He attributed some of this to the constant overhaul on the interior of the defensive line, which has allowed guards to get past the line and swallow Beason more on blocks than in the past. His teammate Davis has enjoyed a less congested path to the ball and thus gaudier numbers. Look for some balance to be restored as Beason continues to heal from his lingering knee ailment and gets back to acting on the fly as he did during his prolific first two NFL seasons.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org with all your IDP concerns.