Muted message boards, stressful decisions and rosters rife with "Marlon Randos" help to define the fantasy playoffs. A "rando," if you were wondering, is that random player you might not have even heard of before this season, or even just a few weeks ago, who has made his way onto your roster at the most crucial of times. The attrition of the season often leaves us in tough spots this late into the season, forcing us to consider creative solutions.
When you drafted Mario Williams as your top defensive lineman in August, you never expected him to have such an uninspired season, or be on IR when it all mattered. But he did, and he is, and now you need a replacement level player to help decide your bid for imagined, but still rewarding, glory. In IDP, the influx of the random boon to your roster is even more evident than on offense. As the erosion of the season wears on and new names step up, those of us who are keen to the scene can reap the rewards. Below are some solid playoff contributors who are available to many of you for just the click of a plus symbol.
Linebacker: LaMarr Woodley not only has an upper cased "M" embedded in his name, but he also just turned in his best performance of an otherwise middling campaign. "Wood," as he's known in the locker room, is available in half of ESPN leagues and has a good shot at continuing on his recent hot streak with a matchup against a reeling New York Jets offense, led by a regressing Mark Sanchez. For leagues that reward sacks heavily, this is your guy. ... The Miami Dolphins' Cameron Wake is not just in the hunt, but likely should lead the league in sacks. ... Brian Cushing is coming off his best outing of the season and faces a Tennessee Titans offense that has should feed him a number of tackles via the ground and the short passing game. ... For those in deep leagues with seemingly barren waiver or free agent options, consider Arizona Cardinals rookie Daryl Washington, who has recently taken over a starting inside gig that should lead to a volume of solos as he hunts down the Carolina Panthers backfield this Sunday.
Defensive Back: The Arizona Cardinals' Adrian Wilson boasts a sound statistical résumé but remains available in nearly half of ESPN leagues and faces a mistake-prone Carolina passing game. ... Kansas City Chiefs rookie Eric Berry has been stellar over the past two weeks and should excel against the St. Louis Rams' pass-heavy attack. ... Fellow rookie safety T.J. Ward has been strong for the Cleveland Browns over the past month and could do well chasing down the Cincinnati Bengals' veteran wideouts.
Linemen: With nearly 20 tackles and a handful of ancillary stats over the past two weeks the New York Jets' Sione Pouha has returned to fantasy relevance after a strong start to the season followed by a down stretch. The Pittsburgh Steelers offense will feed him a series of tackle opportunities on the ground and some solid sack-potential. ... The Carolina Panthers' Charles Johnson is due to break out next season and should be on many sleeper lists come next summer. For now, he's a solid plug-in play facing an inconsistent Arizona Cardinals front. ... Darnell Dockett is yet another Arizona Cardinals defender that merits consideration as he faces a green quarterback playing behind a patchwork line.
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Brian's Back: Brian Urlacher is back to being a premier enforcer and fantasy star. With 38 tackles in his past three outings to go with a handful sacks, there are few hotter IDP commodities. Despite his household-name status, he remains available in over a quarter of ESPN leagues and should finish strong with a series of inviting matchups.
Play Clay: In today's NFL, it's not uncommon for linebackers to top the leaderboard for sacks. With 12.5 sacks, good for second in the league, it's absurd that Clay Matthews is available in a good deal of leagues (nearly half). Combine this with the fact that the New England Patriots have allowed nine sacks to linebackers this season, and he makes for a compelling playoff acquisition for those hunting for a breakout performance.
Is the alarm broken?: Because you have yet to "Wake up" and realize that the Dolphins' Cameron Wake is not just in the hunt, but should likely hold onto his current league-leader status in sacks. He's owned in less than 11 percent of ESPN leagues, and that is simply wrong.
Atlanta's Abraham: John Abraham is looking for his sixth multiple sack outing of the season as he heads to face the Seattle Seahawks this week. He's available in over half of ESPN leagues despite his penchant for big games. It would behoove you to consider him as a starting option. I said behoove, checking off the bucket list.
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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).
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 JMcCormickESPN@gmail.com or on Twitter @JMcCormickESPN.