Fantasy IDP rankings for Week 12

Updated: November 21, 2012, 4:51 PM ET
By Jim McCormick | ESPN.com

Hindsight is said to be 20/20, but in fantasy football it's more appropriate to say that we view the past through a lens of points. As in, fantasy hindsight focuses on the amazing 39 points that Texans QB Matt Schaub posted in Week 11. Since the Houston quarterback started in just 27.2 percent of ESPN leagues, there is a good deal of room for regret. It's difficult to have reasonably predicted such an explosive outing from an otherwise middling fantasy quarterback, but it's just one of those scenarios that undoubtedly leads to second-guessing and a batch of what-ifs. There have certainly been times when I've sadly stared at my screen, wistfully analyzing why or how I left some spectacular performance on my bench. Seasons are on the line in these late, crucial weeks, so getting it right and fielding optimum lineups can sway the fortunes of the entire season.

[+] EnlargeAldon Smith, John Skelton
AP Photo/Paul ConnorsAldon Smith has more than one sack in half of his 10 games played this season.

Similar to Schaub, 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith posted a game for the ages on Monday night versus the Bears  with a "Monday Night Football" record 5.5 sacks -- but the dynamic pass-rusher started in just under 12 percent of ESPN leagues. So many of us missed out on that epic outing, but since Smith is available in more than 80 percent of leagues, there is potential to get in on the ride before it's too late, before regret truly sets in. With the explosive performance, Smith leads the league with 15 sacks and is on pace for an all-time record of 24. If you recall just how hot Smith finished the 2011 campaign, with 7.5 sacks in his final seven games, then you realize just how real his chances at the record might be. There is undoubtedly a hit-or-miss statistical style for Smith -- such is the nature of a sack specialist -- but in leagues that handsomely reward getting to quarterback, there are few, if any, better options sitting on your wire.

We can't go back and retroactively plug these prolific performances into our lineups; I have looked into it, and it's a no-go. But we can learn from whatever roster regrets we might have, and pledge to be aggressive and proactive managers in the coming weeks. Fantasy seasons, or at least playoff berths, come down to just a few points in many cases. It's make-or-break time in many leagues, and I'd rather go down swinging with proactive management. If studs like Von Miller (available in more than half of ESPN leagues) or Luke Kuechly (available in nearly 40 percent of leagues) are on your wire, or can be had at a reasonable price before the trade deadline, be aggressive in consolidating your roster and roll out your Sunday best in these all-important matchups.

Front Four: The weekly word on the world of defenders

Malcolm in the Middle: Saints defensive back Malcolm Jenkins' conversion from college corner to pro free safety has taken some time, but he's finally thriving from a statistical standpoint. As the center fielder of sorts for the Saints' soft defense, Jenkins is in the middle of a great situation for statistical success. While Jenkins doesn't grade out great in the eyes of Pro Football Focus, he has had some big plays this season, and for fantasy purposes, he's making a strong argument for the top spot among all defensive backs. Consider that the former Buckeye is on pace for a linebacker-like 134 tackles, 93 the coveted solo variety. Playing on a generous defense that seems to invite weekly shootouts, the numbers are reasonably sustainable for Jenkins. While an elite fantasy DB like Charles Tillman is owned in nearly 90 percent of ESPN leagues, Jenkins remains available in nearly 60 percent of leagues and is an ideal addition for the stretch run. Another widely available surging safety is the Rams' Quintin Mikell, who has 18 tackles, a sack and two forced fumbles over the past two weeks.

Get Carter: When the Cowboys lost impact inside linebacker Sean Lee to injury, many felt it would be impossible for the team to capably replace his stellar play and production. Bruce Carter was asked to slide over to Lee's spot, asked to assume play-calling duties and essentially lead the front seven into battle each week. So far, Carter has been a revelation as a replacement. In the three weeks in the role, Carter has been credited with 28 tackles, five behind the line for loss, while flashing stellar sideline-to-sideline speed. "I never thought he'd have the ascension that Sean Lee did, but he has," Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said. "This guy has become a hell of a football player right in front of our eyes this season." Carter hasn't missed a single defensive snap from scrimmage since Lee went down, playing all 337 snaps since, according to ESPN Dallas.

Good Metrics: Last week, we discussed some potentially helpful, if also simple, research that we could do to help illuminate good matchups for defensive players. Taking it a step further, there are some cool advanced metrics we can look to in an attempt to give us more insight and info as we seek out the best prospects each week for our rosters. Over at Advanced NFL Stats, an interesting statistical formula is employed that focuses on "net positive" plays from specific defenders. It's not an all-encompassing or perfect way to find prospective commodities, but it is at the least another interesting tool to employ as we search for ways to get the best possible roster out there each week.

Bargain bin: Defenders available in more than half of ESPN leagues

The Pats' gamble on mercurial talent Aqib Talib seems to be paying off so far, as he turned in a pick-six in his first game with his new club. While weekly trips to the end zone won't be the case, you could do far worse in leagues that include cornerbacks, given how often opponents will need to pass versus the Pats and their prolific offense. … Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy has been somewhat of a hollow hype player for several seasons, but with some strong production of late and a low ownership clip, the reward now outweighs the risk. … Cleveland's Ahtyba Rubin has been a big disappointment after a stellar 2011 effort, but he is warming up just in time to make it up to you. … We've championed the Saints' Will Smith for a few weeks now, and he remains a great addition while riding a hot streak. … In leagues that include defensive tackles or in keeper and dynasty formats, Fletcher Cox has been the rare bright spot in an otherwise deflating season in Philly. … The Jets' Muhammad Wilkerson is the rare lineman, let alone defensive tackle, with a steady tackle clip. … Carolina's Greg Hardy could feast on the Eagles' replacement-level line this Monday. … Packers corner Casey Hayward has been heavily targeted by opposing arms, leading to some strong statistics.

Week 12 Ranks: Top 30 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 (1), Tackle - Assist (0.5), Sack (3), Interception (3), Forced fumble (3), Fumble recovery (3), Touchdown (6), Safety (2), Pass defended (1), Blocked kick (3).

Jim McCormick is a fantasy football and fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.

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