After a brilliant rookie season, we already knew Tampa Bay's Lavonte David was a special player. David was ranked as our No. 11 overall fantasy defender entering the campaign, but this season it has become quite clear he's the top commodity on the market for individual defensive players. His 2013 performance has been simply silly; David is the top 4-3 outside linebacker in both Pro Football Focus' run stop percentage metric and its pass rush productivity statistic. The surface statistics confirm his valuable versatility, as he already has five interceptions and six sacks to go with 126 total tackles. Since he joined the league last September, David's 202 solo tackles are third in the NFL overall, while his six interceptions over that span are good for second among linebackers. David is the key to an aggressive and talented front seven, and is the leading candidate to top the 2014 IDP rankings.
Whether you deserve congratulations or condolences at this stage of the fantasy season, it's always fun to celebrate the season that was. With this in mind, for next week we'll post our annual positional MVP awards (you can guess the top linebacker), and I gladly invite submissions and pitches -- please use the comments below or feel free to email or tweet your ideas my way -- for who you believe merits consideration for these honors, as well as the top rookie performances at each position.
Front Four: The weekly word on the world of defenders
Available Audie: A few weeks back, we discussed the surprising ascension of Vikings middle linebacker Audie Cole, as the second-year NC State product went from being waived to earning the starting "Mike" role within a matter of days. Now fixed in the every-down middle role, albeit with some considerable growing pains in coverage, Cole has the second-most tackles in the league since Week 12. This past week's weaker tackle production can be forgiven since the Eagles ran their backs just eight times on the afternoon, leaving Cole with fewer shots at sure tackles. Available in more than 97 percent of leagues, Cole should be busy chasing the Bengals' backfield this Sunday.
Sack Chase: For leagues that heavily reward sack production, there are few better sneaky playoff plays than San Francisco's Aldon Smith this week in Candlestick's final game. Facing a reeling Atlanta offensive line that has surrendered 15 sacks over the past four games, Smith is picking up valuable momentum heading into another postseason run for the 49ers and could be the rare late-season addition (available in 70 percent of ESPN leagues) worthy of participation in a championship fantasy lineup.
FDPOY: While it's not an award directly tied to statistical merit, it's often the case that the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year is also a highly productive fantasy asset. For our fantasy-centric purposes, however, it is purely about the numbers. Someone like Sheldon Richardson has become a dominant interior force for the New York Jets and a worthy DPOY candidate, but such a role doesn't always translate into fantasy acclaim. For fantasy, Buffalo's playmaking 'backer Kiko Alonso is pacing the crowd heading into the final two weeks, with Atlanta's Paul Worrilow making a strong case with a torrid second half that has seen him lead the NFL in tackles (by 26!) since Week 9.
Bargain bin -- Defenders available in more than half of ESPN leagues
The Eagles should see a healthy dose of Matt Forte this Sunday night, affording Mychal Kendricks some nice potential for a healthy tackle day to complement his big-play upside. Kendricks has rushed the passer on 20.1 percent of passing snaps he's played per Pro Football Focus, good for seventh highest among 3-4 inside linebackers. … Washington's Brian Orakpo has never really been a consistent fantasy force, but is a valuable asset when in the midst of a sack-heavy stretch. The Texas product has seven sacks in the past five games and faces a mistake-prone Dallas protection scheme. … Baltimore's James Ihedigbo leads all safeties in Pro Football Focus' run stop percentage statistic, and should be busy this Sunday corralling Patriots offenders. … Saints rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro has the sixth-most tackles among NFL defensive backs since Week 12, while teammate Malcolm Jenkins is ninth in tackles over that span.
Week 16: 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).