Talk about a fantasy player. Imagine when George Blanda not only threw 30-plus touchdowns but also dabbled at linebacker and safety and was the one of the better kickers in the league. It's fitting, then, that he was purportedly the first pick in the first organized fantasy draft back in the 1960s.
With the days of the two-way "iron man" player long gone, specialization reigns in the modern NFL. Given the advent of the third-down and goal-line backs and the increasingly prevalent spread-style offenses that share the ball opportunistically around the field, fantasy football has become more challenging. But at least on offense we can look at a number of indicators to help guide our rosters: Targets, touches and the generosity of the opposing defense all factor in to how we evaluate an offensive commodity in fantasy. So how do you evaluate the defensive side?
With more and more managers joining IDP leagues every year, the questions I field are no longer about merely how to play, but how to excel at this format. It's not quite as easy as selecting a receiver, but there are some relevant determinants that we can look to for guidance.
The best place to start is by perusing weekly game logs to see how players perform on a weekly basis, versus looking just toward season totals. It's simplistic, but even on offense, totals are weighted far too heavily in fantasy. The vast majority of us play in weekly head-to-head leagues, which means that consistent production is far more valuable than sporadic brilliant outings. Antwan Odom has turned heads in IDP leagues thanks to his gaudy eight sacks. But if you take away his five-sack outlier against the porous Green Bay Packers offensive line, Odom is a marginal fantasy commodity. Meanwhile, Trent Cole has just 3.5 sacks but has at least 0.5 in every outing and posts usable tackle totals. One more trick is to look toward ownership trending, for while it's not that useful on the offensive side given how many waiver-wire articles we wade through each week, it is of value on this side. The deeper IDP leagues host some of the savviest managers in fantasy, and a growing ownership percentage can indicate where value and production lies.
Front Four: The weekly word on the world of defenders
Waiver wonders: Each year, on both sides of the ball, a number of out-of-nowhere talents emerge to save seasons and shake up the marketplace. Emerging defenders take longer to get publicity and fantasy love than their offensive brethren, and that's why we're here to make note of the upstart defenders. While Gaines Adams was finally supposed to break out this season, it seems that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Jimmy Wilkerson got the memo instead. With five sacks in his past four games and a healthy tackle clip, Wilkerson makes for an ideal addition for those looking for a worthy defensive lineman. The Baltimore Ravens' Jarrett Johnson likely won't get near double-digit sacks this season, but he will post a uniquely high number of tackles and get to the quarterback with the right matchups, like this week in Minnesota. Derek Cox, Danieal Manning and Brandon McGowan are all producing on a weekly basis and could be the answer to your defensive back woes.
Buffalo blues: Three middle linebackers have gone down this season in western New York. First it was Paul Posluszny with his annual forearm fracture; then Marcus Buggs and Kawika Mitchell hit the IR this week. The good news is that the widely available Posluszny is likely returning this week and makes for a nice depth addition in deep leagues that heavily reward solo tackles. The lone "healthy" Buffalo Bills linebacker, Keith Ellison, remains a nice option as their only enduring starter this season.
Rookie report: For those in keeper leagues or simply looking for a quality defender to tap for depth or a bye-week solution, consider some of the impressive rookies that are widely available in ESPN leagues. The exploits of Brian Cushing and James Laurinaitis are well documented, but rookie linebacker Clay Matthews is worthy of consideration in deep leagues, as he's eligible as a defensive end, which adds significantly to his value. The Washington Redskins' Brian Orakpo also has defensive end eligibility and has 2.5 sacks in his past two outings and faces the generous Kansas City Chiefs front this week.
Defensive MVP: I don't mean the best defender; rather, I'm proposing that Jared Allen is changing games and influencing results the way that a league MVP does. What makes Allen's season so impressive so far is that he's on a team with Adrian Peterson and Brett Favre and is still widely regarded as the best at his position in football, if not the best overall defender. Patrick Willis deserves some love in this regard as well. Makes you wonder whether we'll ever see another defender get the award à la LT in '86.
IDP Rankings Week 6: Top 10 linebackers, linemen, 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 (0.5), Sack (3), Interception (3), Forced fumble (3), Fumble recovery (3), Touchdown (6), Safety (2), Pass defended (1), Blocked kick (2).
Bargain bin: Worthy defenders available in more than half of ESPN leagues
The Washington Redskins' Andre Carter is owned in just 17 percent of ESPN leagues and is in line for a big week against the Kansas City Chiefs. LaMarr Woodley's ownership has dipped to 16.8 percent thanks to a weak first month, but he's starting to heat up and could go off against the feeble Cleveland Browns front. Speaking of the Browns, Kamerion Wimbley has sacks in four of five games so far this season and the Pittsburgh Steelers line is known to give up some ground. Daryl Smith hasn't posted fewer than six tackles in a single outing and has three forced fumbles as well. Punishing safety LaRon Landry does his best linebacker impersonation every week, and his tackle numbers reflect this.
Mark Newsome: How do I execute a trade with defenders? More specifically, how do I make a move that involves some mix defenders and offensive players and what not?
Jim: Good question here, as it deals with an enduring concern for managers: how to mix offensive and defensive players in transactions. The best place to start, Mark, as simple as it sounds, is with the numbers. IDP leagues are known for their varying scoring settings, so having a clear grip on the value of a player's production must be in hand before any market mobility is considered. I often follow the standard stat modifiers we have posted above the weekly ranks, so in that system, a guy like Elvis Dumervil or London Fletcher puts up production similar to that of an elite tight end or a moderately productive secondary receiver or running back. If you can find a manager in your league who's willing to consider moving a top-flight defender for a marginally useful offensive asset, like a Glen Coffee for example, then pursue that move. The market often ignorantly values offensive commodities higher than defensive, and you can play to this reality with some shrewd offers.
Jim McCormick is an IDP and fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com, as well as the editor and publisher of Blitz magazine, a print and online publication covering football from prep to pro. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org with all your IDP concerns.