It's easy to tell who is leading the league in sacks, tackles or interceptions. These are entirely important things, of course -- the surface statistics that convert into fantasy currency. We chase sacks, tackles and turnovers each and every week we set our lineup. But sometimes, it takes more than poring over box scores for "surface" stats when we are looking for the best possible roster decisions and transactions. Sometimes, it can help to delve just a little deeper, and get a little bit nerdy.
One great resource to use is a signature stat from Pro Football Focus, pass rushing productivity (PRP), which values not just taking the quarterback down, but also influencing the pocket with hits and hurries in a formula to determine some of the most prolific pass-rushers. The correlation between creating pressure and accumulating sacks doesn't always seem to hold equal, but using such an advanced measurement can at least help to identify a pool of talent that could be surfacing as true sack mavens. I like to think that a great PRP rating over time will convert into sack production, sort of the way we often expect doubles in baseball to eventually translate to more dingers and overall power metrics. One notable name that I love for IDP purposes who grades out particularly well in PRP and continues to be under-owned in leagues is New England Patriots end Chandler Jones, who could be well on his way to a major breakout season and already grades out seventh among 4-3 defensive ends so far in the metric. Jacksonville's Jason Babin and Tennessee's Derrick Morgan are both shining beyond just sacks, and could both serve as valuable and inexpensive additions for those seeking more pop on the line.
It's also still very vital to identify the guys putting up the big box scores, and one way to make that easier for yourself would be to tab this very helpful ESPN stats link that can help organize which offenses in the league are providing the most defensive production. It's really an important and simple tool in the hunt for that next great acquisition before your league even notices. It's all about getting an extra edge for those close fantasy matchups on the horizon, and hopefully some of these resources could help toward that end.
Front Four: The weekly word on the world of defenders
Kiko the rook: Per ESPN Stats & Info, professional freshman Kiko Alonso isn't just leading the Bills in defensive snaps played, but all of football through two weeks with 165 snaps. Opportunity is being converted into fantasy currency; the former Oregon Duck has 19 total tackles, one sack and a part in three turnovers (forced fumble, fumble recovery and interception) already in the young campaign. Alonso is a key investment playing a key role for a new regime in Orchard Park (the Bills are the only team in the league with two full-time linebackers coaches). As Pro Football Focus noted this week, Alonso is one of only 10 inside or middle linebackers in the NFL without a missed tackle per their charting system. In 85 percent of ESPN leagues, Alonso can be had for just a few free clicks.
Landry the linebacker: Looking at that tackle leaderboard just a couple of weeks in, you'll find some rogue names that won't be anywhere near the top of the list come December. But when it comes to Colts safety LaRon Landry, it's not surprising or unsustainable for him to be atop the league in takedowns. This hulking safety has 26 tackles through two weeks (192-tackle pace) and while every week won't be a double-digit effort, the 150-tackle range is entirely reasonable for his role and skill set. Invest in Landry where possible (available in more than 30 percent of ESPN leagues) and however possible, as the hits will keep on coming.
Saints' safety shift: It's not a secret that veteran banger Roman Harper has long struggled in coverage, and we are beginning to see his usage dip (played 69 percent of the Saints' snaps in Week 2) as the Saints have two first-round investments at the position in Malcolm Jenkins and Kenny Vaccaro. With a cool name that sounds oddly like a publishing house, Harper spent the past four seasons as an IDP superstar, averaging 102.5 tackles per season while posting an elite blend of sacks (12) and turnovers (14 total turnovers). It took, of course, a full complement of snaps to accumulate all those awesome numbers over the years. I'm not saying that Harper's famously gray hair is a definitively foreboding sign for his fantasy future -- because it's been shades of gray since he was 25 -- but diminishing snaps can really only lead to diminishing totals. A model of consistency for so many years at a largely fickle fantasy position, it would be wise to keep your options open as a Harper investor if this trend begins to stall his production.
Super Mario 2: While he's not quite as valuable as the quality sequel in the video game franchise, Mario Williams did just feast on Carolina with 4.5 sacks to remind us just why the Brinks trucks backed up for him last year. An incredibly inviting stretch of matchups awaits Williams over the next month. Williams should be owned in far more than the 72 percent of leagues currently investing in his services.
Bargain bin -- Defenders available in more than half of ESPN leagues
Minnesota Vikings defensive end Brian Robison has been touted as a sleeper for a few seasons playing opposite the menacing Jared Allen, and he might just finally be waking up. Robison is applying consistent pressure and faces a great number of drop-backs on a generous defense, affording him some enduring upside at a shallow position. … Bears safety Major Wright is a cheap tackle resource on a big-play defense, so the upside is here for the taking. … Lions 'backer DeAndre Levy is owned in just 1.5 percent of ESPN leagues but is off to a hot start with picks in consecutive games. … Colts outside 'backer Robert Mathis is proving that his older motor still works, with sacks in both starts. … Keep an eye on the status of Colts 'backer Pat Angerer, who is a tackling machine whenever he's actually active.
Week 3 Rankings
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 (0.5), Blocked kick (3).