We often spend these late weeks scrambling for immediate solutions after yet another erosive week of football sees once-stable rosters felled by injury. While some impact additions rise seemingly from thin air -- commodities like the Colts' Da'Rick Rogers on offense or the Vikings' Audie Cole on defense -- there are also some key veterans hitting their stride at this most opportune time for fantasy investors.
The Giants' Justin Tuck had just 1.5 sacks entering Week 12 in what was trending toward another lost season, but in the past three games he's amassed seven sacks -- the most in the league over this span -- and a forced fumble. Understandably dropped from a number of rosters earlier in the season, Tuck is available in more than half of ESPN leagues and could be quite the boon for rosters at such a shallow and fickle position. Arizona's John Abraham and Atlanta's Sean Weatherspoon are two more proven commodities putting in strong work lately, yet are still available in the majority of ESPN leagues. Youth is undoubtedly being served as we enter this final phase of the campaign, but make sure to check on any left-for-dead vets who may have quite a bit left to offer.
Front Four: The weekly word on the world of defenders
Larcenous Linebackers: A few weeks ago, we discussed the fact that Detroit's DeAndre Levy was leading the league in interceptions, and how this was particularly interesting given that a linebacker hasn't led the league in interceptions in the modern era over a full season. With just three weeks left, Levy continues to pace the league in the picks with six on the season. It's not only Levy proving larcenous at the position, as Tampa's Lavonte David sits just one behind Levy with five interceptions, while Buffalo's Kiko Alonso and Dallas' Sean Lee each have four. If the current leading tally seems a bit low at first glance, consider that three players shared the league lead with seven interceptions in 2011, while Ed Reed paced the league in 2010 with eight picks. It hasn't been a particularly great year for interception production at the linebacker position overall, as the current tally of 87 interceptions from the position is an expected pace based on the past few seasons and far short of anything historic. Rather, it's really been about these unique playmakers so far, and for Levy, just a few more big plays could alter the record books. Atlanta's Al Richardson in 1980 and the Jets' Lance Mehl in 1983 tie for the modern-era high at the position with seven interceptions in a single season, leaving Levy just one shy of joining this duo. David and Lee have been viewed as top IDP commodities since joining the league, but Levy's breakout campaign vaults him into a new tier after several seasons of hollow hype.
Valuable Vet: We've touted Arizona's John Abraham already this season, not that the active leader in sacks should need a ton of promotion, but after another awesome outing he merits even more attention. Not only is Abraham leading the league in sacks since Week 7 with 11, but he also just passed Lawrence Taylor on the all-time sack leaderboard. A 14-year vet, Abraham now sits solely in ninth place with 133 sacks. While he's a pass-rush specialist at this stage of his career, pressuring the pocket has long been the hallmark of his game since entering the league out of South Carolina. It was thought by some that the clock was running out for Abraham, since he floated for some time in free agency before landing in Arizona this offseason. Couple this with the fact that he had just 10 tackles and no sacks through six weeks this season, and it appeared these doubts were proving true. But since forcing two fumbles and recording two sacks in Week 7 versus the Seahawks, Abraham has been arguably the most valuable DL-eligible asset in fantasy. Working from an outside linebacker post in the Cardinals' aggressive 3-4 scheme, Abraham's ascent on the all-time leaderboard continues into this weekend, but his low ownership (available in 95 percent of ESPN leagues) should see a shift.
Rookie Ram: St. Louis' Alec Ogletree has made some glaring gaffes in coverage this season, but such growing pains are to be expected for the rookie. A sluggish statistical pace for the middle portion of the season, however, has given way to 30 tackles, one sack and a forced fumble in the past three weeks. Available in more than 70 percent of ESPN leagues, a strong finish is in the works for this potential-laden linebacker.
Bargain bin -- Defenders available in more than half of ESPN leagues
Detroit's Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah has four sacks since Week 12, tied for fourth-most in the league in that span. … Oakland's Nick Roach remains an ideal addition with a criminally low ownership rate. … Washington's Brian Orakpo could feast on a porous Atlanta line Sunday. … Saints rookie Kenny Vaccaro is tied with teammate Malcolm Jenkins for sixth among defensive backs in tackles over the past three games and is becoming an intimidating force in Rob Ryan's aggressive secondary scheme. … Minnesota's Harrison Smith is set to return to the field for the first time since Week 6 and immediately merits starting consideration as a top-25 rest-of-season asset at the defensive back position, although it's possible he won't get full-time snaps Sunday against the Eagles.
Week 15: 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: Solo tackle (0.5), Assisted tackle (0.25), Sack (3), Interception (3), Forced fumble (3), Fumble recovery (3), Touchdown (6), Safety (4), Pass defended (0.5), Blocked kick (3).