Is there anything more exciting than a big hit?
Maybe a pick-six that changes the fortunes of a game, or the Super Bowl, in a split second?
Long touchdown receptions, runs and returns certainly have their place in the hearts of every football highlight reel, but for my money and time, the defensive side is more appealing. Pursuit and punishment define the role that many NFL defenders play every week, and many do it well. Given how exciting the defensive side of the ball is on the real field, we should then give this side of the ball its proper due on the fake side of things.
Hey man, how's that Chicago team offense treating you this season? Doesn't sound so cool that way, does it? Nothing against relying on team defenses -- actually, that's not true, we IDP nerds are somewhat against it -- but the pitch on this side is that using individual defenders enhances both the experience and your knowledge of the league. You wouldn't be so interested in competing in a system that featured team offenses, and we are merely applying this notion to the defensive side.
We try to tweak and improve this column every season, and this year the plan is to rank the top 20 every week from each of the three major positions: linebacker, defensive back and defensive line. Each week, we'll get defensive and dive into the stories, stars and sleepers from the IDP side of things.
Front Four: The weekly word on the world of defenders
Return of the King: The tabloids were right on this one -- the king is back, the 2009 sack king Elvis Dumervil. After a 2010 season lost to a devastating pectoral injury, there is immense value here for a commodity owned in just over half of ESPN leagues. Don't let the cool name fool you, this guy hunts quarterbacks for sport and will be allowed to go at the pocket as a full-time defensive end with regularity in the same system and pass rush scheme that saw Julius Peppers and Charles Johnson enjoy great success in Carolina. It's also worth targeting fellow Bronco end Robert Ayers, who should excel in the shift from outside linebacker in a 3-4 system to coach John Fox's 4-3 scheme.
Giant Steps: With Osi Umenyiora recovering from knee surgery, second-year stud end Jason Pierre-Paul moves into the starting gig and could flourish on a line that bodes to be dominant if they can get healthy. Another player benefiting from a void in the lineup is Minnesota defensive end Brian Robison, who stands to benefit playing opposite Jared Allen and the regular attention opposing lines give him. Both of these young ends have breakout potential to consider.
Buffalo 'Backer: Former Packer Nick Barnett is set to have a strong season in Buffalo and he's widely available in ESPN leagues. Health, not production, has been the issue holding back Barnett from fantasy stardom. With an every-down role on a porous rush defense, triple-digit tackle potential is present.
Maualuga in the Middle: Finally in his natural position on the inside, manning the middle for the Bengals, the USC product might finally live up to his substantial promise coming out of school. An impressive preseason and praise from coaches and teammates hasn't incited much fantasy interest, as he's owned in just 0.5 percent of ESPN leagues. You read that correctly, and it's not right. Go get this guy if you are dealing with injuries at linebacker (D.J. Williams for example) and enjoy the production, as the Bengals' defense will be on the field a good deal this season.
IDP Rankings Week 1
So that we're working from agreed parameters, we'll use what many consider traditional scoring modifiers for an IDP league: Solo tackle (0.5), assisted tackle (0.25), sack (3), interception (3), forced fumble (3), fumble recovery (3), touchdown (6), safety (2), pass defended (0.5), blocked kick (3).
Please note the injury designation regarding the players' status in parentheses where applicable: (D): Doubtful, (Q): Questionable, (P): Probable.
Top 20 Linebackers
Top 20 Defensive Linemen
Top 20 Defensive Backs
Jim McCormick is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com and the high school football editor for ESPNHS.com. Contact him at JMcCormickESPN@gmail.com or @JMacPhillies on Twitter.