The concept of it being "early" is no longer applicable now that we are more than 30 percent of the way into the 13-week fantasy season. Bye weeks, injuries and underwhelming production are realities for nearly every fantasy roster at this stage, and a key differentiating factor for success at this point includes how deftly we can manage our depth and game-day decisions. Roster depth will undoubtedly be tested during these heavy bye stretches, and our "bargain bin" below is a strong weekly resource to lean on when seeking out those available spot-start stars. For help in finding the ideal matchups and deciphering between close lineup calls that can often swing fantasy wins, we can seek out some helpful resources in the ESPN NFL stats section for any potential indicators. We pointed you to our NFL Opponent Defense Statistics page a few weeks ago, and with specific results regarding how opposing defenses are accruing tackles, sacks and all the numbers we hunt in individual defender leagues, it remains an invaluable and simple source of information. Below, for example, we can find the top 10 offenses in the NFL in regard to the volume of tackles opposing defenses have made so far in 2013. These are offenses we'd want to face when chasing cheap tackles.
Total tackles by opponents versus offenses
Front Four: The weekly word on the world of defenders
Chaos rate: The passing pocket is a uniquely expensive piece of real estate; NFL front offices pay to protect it on offense and will spend a premium to attack it on defense. Mining for pass-rush production isn't easy in reality or fantasy -- at least consistent production. We can look to the teams that afford the most sacks to opponents so far as one useful indicator, but for finding individual commodities who disrupt the passer on a regular basis (which often converts into valuable surface stats like sacks and turnovers), we can turn to a unique statistic employed by the crack ESPN Stats & Info team we can coin "DDP," or disrupted dropback percentage. DDP uses a simple equation to determine which NFL defenders are disrupting the dropbacks of opposing signal-callers at the highest rates. The equation goes: (sacks + passes defended + interceptions + batted balls) divided by (total number of opposing team's dropbacks). The result is an indicator of who might be causing chaos in the pocket at the highest rate.
We find some usual suspects near the top of the list like Kansas City Chiefs pass-rush menace Justin Houston, who leads the league with a 6.5 DDP rate (this means that on 6.5 percent of the dropbacks he's faced, Houston has interrupted the play with one of the measured statistics), and Houston Texans' all-word lineman J.J. Watt (sixth in the NFL with 4.3 DDP rate), but you might be interested to know that some widely available fantasy commodities measure very well in this unique quantifier. Robert Mathis of the Indianapolis Colts ranks fifth so far with a 5.1 DDP clip and is on the way to the quietest 32-sack season in the history of football. Mathis is available in well over 90 percent of ESPN leagues. Washington Redskins 'backer Ryan Kerrigan is similarly productive so far (3.8 DDP rate ranks eighth) and has at least seven tackles or a sack in each game to start the season. We'd be remiss to not mention the Baltimore Ravens' Daryl Smith, not only the all-time tackles leader in Jacksonville Jaguars history, but the top IDP linebacker in most formats so far and a capable DDP candidate (ranks 10th with a 3.6 DDP rate). Smith's blend of tackles, sacks and plays in the passing game should prove sustainable enough for a top-19 fantasy season at the position, and yet he's still available in more than half of ESPN leagues.
The other Daryl: While Daryl Smith has been a revelation in place of Ray Lewis in Baltimore, the Daryl who originally forced his way into my spell check with massive fantasy production was Arizona Cardinals star Daryl Washington, who returns from suspension this weekend. Washington is a top-five fantasy linebacker for the rest of the season given his elite output in the past several seasons. No other linebacker offers such a rare blend of high-tackle production and consistent sack upside. The dude is available for free in well over 90 percent of ESPN leagues.
Less hair, same value: The Green Bay Packers' Morgan Burnett has been sidelined for the first several weeks of the season, but like the Cardinals' Daryl Washington, a return to elite form and fantasy prominence should be quite rapid for the revered safety. As NFL Nation's Packers beat scribe Rob Demovsky wrote this week, Burnett chopped his famous long locks off to make his mom happy, but the key part of the story is that Burnett is ready to return for a patchwork Packers secondary that desperately needs his playmaking. Fantasy teams could also use the boost Burnett can offer, and given his injury, he's still out there in nearly 30 percent of ESPN leagues. Burnett was our top defensive back heading into the season and as long as he can handle the full allotment of work, there's little doubt he can provide elite fantasy production going forward.
Bargain bin -- Defenders available in more than half of ESPN leagues: The Seattle Seahawks' Chris Clemons jumped from 16 snaps in Week 3 to 61 this past weekend as he works his way back from a major knee injury. The defensive end has 11, 11 and 11.5 sacks in the past three seasons and it's become quite clear that the scheme and coaching staff in Seattle regularly get the best out of their ends, as evidenced by the strong play from fellow bargain bin buy Cliff Avril and the recently injured Michael Bennett. Clemons is owned in just 12 percent of ESPN leagues, while Avril can be had for free in more than 80 percent of leagues. ... Dallas Cowboys safety Barry Church has been a busy man patrolling the passing and running lanes and is on pace for the rare feat of 100 solo tackles. ... Sticking in Dallas, it's become quite clear that opposing arms aren't afraid to throw at veteran corner Terence Newman given that he has at least five tackles in each outing this season and is on a career pace for tackle production. ... Titans 'backer Zach Brown makes his way into this part of the column too often, as his strong production isn't being recognized on the market.
Week 5: The Top 25 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 (.5), Tackle Assist (.25), Sack (3), Interception (3), Forced fumble (3), Fumble recovery (3), Touchdown (6), Safety (4), Pass defended (.5), Blocked kick (3).