Once the clock winds down on Sunday night's Cowboys versus Redskins game, we'll have about 256 days until the next regular season NFL action. There is no doubt that over this dormant stretch we'll desperately miss watching J.J. Watt absolutely dominate games and long for Luke Kuechly's ridiculous tackling talents. In one sense, the offseason is a painfully long stretch without fantasy football, but it's also time for reassessment and research with an eye on coming into 2013 with deft drafting expertise. Just remember that for us dedicated football nerds, there is a pretty sweet offseason plan in place; the playoffs end in February and give way to the free agency frenzy in early March, and then on to the annual job fair in April. By the time the draft concludes, our attention is already fixed on a summer filled with mock drafts and preparation for the next season. We can take solace in the fact that while the 2012 season is ending this weekend; it never really has to end for us.
For those playing for it all this weekend, we'll certainly delve into the rankings at each position, but with so many leagues already decided , we'll also dedicate some time to wrapping up the campaign by recognizing the best defensive efforts with our annual IDP Awards.
Overall MVP and Defensive Line MVP: There was no competition here. None. It's the Texans' Watt, of course, who takes home the imaginary hardware for both overall IDP MVP and for linemen. With the Texans still in pursuit of the AFC's top playoff seed, it's possible that we could see him establish a new single-season sack record given that he's currently sitting at 20.5 sacks, just two away from Michael Strahan's perch. But even if he doesn't tie or break the record, his 2012 effort should stand the test of time as one of the greatest seasons ever submitted by a defensive end.
It wasn't just the sacks that made Watt's season so special; he has already set a new all-time high for passes defended by a lineman with 15, which is tied for 12th in the league with top cover talents Charles Tillman and Patrick Peterson. At least three of the passes he tipped at the line led to interceptions for his team, with one leading to a touchdown in a drubbing of the Ravens. Both Pro Football Reference and NFL Advanced Stats deploy a unique statistic called positive expected points added (EPA), in this metric Watt more than doubled the next closest lineman in football. Pro Football Focus has Watt down for 23 QB hits so far, which leads the league by 13. If we only counted the first eight weeks of fantasy production for Watt, he'd still rank as the seventh overall lineman for the season. You get the idea; in just his second year in professional football, Watt established himself as the most dominant defensive force in the league, and without question. The only question now, is how high do we draft him in 2013?
Defensive Line Honorable Mention: The Bengals' Geno Atkins was already a respected commodity coming into the campaign thanks to his strong 2011 effort, but he's entered the elite echelon this season. His 12.5 sacks from the defensive tackle position are astounding, and compelled me to look up the most sacks ever by a tackle; Keith Millard recorded 18 in '89 for the Vikings on his way to Defensive Player of the Year recognition. Atkins was the rare fantasy superstar manning an in interior position, and for this, we recognize his significant contributions. ... Miami's Cameron Wake merits mention as one of the top fantasy performers for regularly collapsing pockets and capably making the transition from outside 'backer to true end.
Linebacker MVP: The Cardinals' Daryl Washington paced the position thanks to a rare blend of sacks and tackles. The tape confirms Washington's reputation as one of the league's best playmakers at the positions, and the fantasy future remains remarkably bright going forward.
Linebacker Honorable Mention: Carolina's Luke Kuechly capably transitioned into the starting middle role and should hold down the spot at an elite level for the next decade. ... Von Miller is an assuredly worthy candidate thanks to his otherworldly production in collapsing pockets and disrupting opposing passing games. ... Minnesota's Chad Greenway proved to be a weekly monster, and merits mention as an elite fantasy 'backer.
Defensive Back MVP: In addition to a healthy tackle rate, the Bears' Charles Tillman forced fumbles this season at an unprecedented rate for the cornerback position. With ten forced fumbles entering this weekend, "Peanut" is currently tied for the all-time record for forced fumbles in a given season with Osi Umenyiora (2010) and Dwayne Harper (1993).
Defensive Back Honorable Mention: Morgan Burnett of the Packers and freshman Harrison Smith have proven to be elite fantasy commodities at the position. ... Bucs stalwart Ronde Barber merits mention as an ageless and prolifically productive commodity.
IDP Rankings Week 17: The Top 30 linebackers, lineman 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 (0.50), Sack (3), Interception (3), Forced fumble (3), Fumble recovery (3), Touchdown (6), Safety (2), Pass defended (1), Blocked kick (3).