In this column, we're always trying how to identify production and potential in an individual defender. Who is ripe for the picking (or rather, ripe to do some picking)? Given the lack of readily available metrics for defenders compared to what we have at our disposal for our offensive commodities (such as touches and targets), we must dig a little deeper on this side of the ball.
It appears fairly simple to favor a defender playing a sloppy offense versus a protective and efficient one, but you'd be surprised how often IDP managers simply set their roster without the same matchup scrutiny and analysis they employ with their offensive players. As basic as it seems, we should use many of the same indicators that prove helpful when deciding on which team defense/special teams units to trust in a given week. There are a few especially helpful indexes to pay particular attention to, among them ESPN's NFL stat pages, specifically the giveaway/takeaway results, so that you can target the league's exceptionally sloppy offenses, and the opponent defense statistics, which lends some insight into the sacks, turnovers and tackles that specific offenses allow to opposing defenses.
Front Four: The weekly word on the world of defenders
Posluszny Proving Otherwise: So the move from the middle to the outside kind of worked out for Paul Posluszny's hopeful owners. I predicted the opposite for him, but instead, he recorded 17 tackles from the outside last week, proving that against a run-heavy opponent, we should expect him to continue to produce at an elite level. It's worth noting that the Buffalo Bills switched back to a 4-3 scheme, often playing small up front and utilizing a nickel package, which deflated Andra Davis' role and features "Poz" as the premier ball-pursuer. Posluszny remains available in 35 percent of ESPN.com leagues and while the Chicago Bears might not be apt to run nearly as much as the Kansas City Chiefs had, a series of short passes and a likely increase in their running game can be expected. In other Bills backer news, the waiver acquisition of Shawne Merriman speaks to how desperate the team is to muster a pass rush, especially given how they just recently switched out of their 3-4 looks on account of lack of proper personnel. Whether the team employs some 3-4 in order to get Merriman comfortable or instead ask that he play from the strong side or as a light lineman, he doesn't bear much, if any, fantasy value outside of considerably deep leagues.
The D in Detroit: The imposing Detroit Lions trio of rookie tackle Ndamukong Suh and ends Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril makes for one of the better defensive lines in the league, especially after each notched two sacks with healthy tackle numbers in Week 8. I was tempted to focus solely on Suh's amazing campaign so far, but his colleagues' merit mention as they've both helped and benefited from Suh's presence. All three bear fantasy value, with Avril best served as a matchup and bye-week plug-in (with pronounced keeper value) while Suh and Vanden Bosch are proving to be weekly and often elite starting commodities. In a league that focuses so much on enigmatic wideouts and endorsement-laden signal-callers, it's nice to see the guys in the trenches get some shine.
Eric over Matthew: Of the fantasy relevant Berrys, I'm leaning towards Kansas City's Eric Berry. While the Madden version of Matthew, a physical and ornery middle linebacker, would make for an interesting IDP presence if not for being trapped in a video game, we can say for certain that Eric Berry has been heating up lately and getting his hands on the ball, with three turnovers in the past two weeks to go with respectable tackle and deflection totals. The market for Berry has been somewhat cyclical this season; early demand was strong as he was viewed as an immediate starter with some expecting immediate results, but some disappointing returns until recently have his ownership currently below 30 percent in ESPN leagues. It's tough to gauge what a rookie will offer from any position, but what has become clear is that Berry is finding his stride just in time to make an impact as the fantasy playoffs loom.
Minuscule Minny: With little change to the defensive roster and a seemingly healthy front seven, it's become increasingly difficult to diagnose the Minnesota Vikings' profound pass-rush struggles this season. The 2009 version of this group led the league with 48 sacks but they are currently tied for last with a paltry six so far this season. Jared Allen, he of consecutive 14.5-sack campaigns over the previous two seasons, has one lonely sack after being the top defensive lineman drafted this season in ESPN leagues. Some say that fellow defensive end Ray Edwards has disappeared in a contract year, allowing opponents to double and chip Allen regularly. I would counter that Allen has seen such schemes before and capably produced despite their presence. This is seemingly similar to the malaise that has taken over the Dallas Cowboys this year; an indefinable but assuredly present aura of poor play. Regardless of the factors that are inhibiting the Vikings' pass rush, it's become clear that there is little to no value to mine from this scenario. For Allen's devastated owners, I would suggest giving him this lone last shot against the Arizona Cardinals this week. If any player can turn around his season in just a few snaps it's Allen, but I wouldn't extend his lease past this week if he were unable to corral Derek Anderson a few times.
IDP Rankings Week 9: The Top 10 linebackers, lineman 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 (0.5), Tackle - Assist (0.25), 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
Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Stylez G. White not only holds the Arena League record for sacks in a single season (15) from his time with the Orlando Predators (sounds like a Chris Hansen show), but he's also starting to be productive on the NFL level with sacks in consecutive games. For leagues that reward "Teen Wolf"-inspired names, there are few better acquisitions than White. While he's on a bye, it's still worth noting that St. Louis Rams defensive end James Hall broke his hand on Sunday but continued playing nonetheless, making it possible and even likely that he'll suit up once Rams resume their season. In a similar story, Indianapolis Colts linebacker Clint Session posted eight solo tackles and a sack in the midst of suffering a dislocated elbow and a broken arm. There's some rumors that Chuck Norris looks up to Sessions given his amazing toughness, but his status for this Sunday and beyond is murky, leaving the recently demoted Philip Wheeler as his likely replacement. Houston Texans backer Zac Diles thrived playing from the outside with double-digit tackles and should keep busy against the San Diego Chargers this week. The Chicago Bears moved Israel Idonije from tackle to a fixed spot on the outside as an end and he's responded with a nice collection of sacks and fumbles since making the switch. It's also possible that you could complete your international geography collection by owning Idonije as well as Paris Lenon and London Fletcher. But really, this kid makes for a great plug-in against the Buffalo Bills this week. Lance Briggs doesn't meet the ownership criteria for this section, but I had to find a place to mention that his recent ownership dip due to injury can be exploited now that he's likely to return and faces a savory matchup with Buffalo. Both Briggs and Brian Urlacher are sound plays this week.
Jim McCormick is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com, as well as a regular contributor to the Washington Post's "Behind the Helmet" and Sirius XM's Fantasy Sports Channel. You can reach Jim with your questions and comments at JMcCormickESPN@gmail.com or on Twitter @JMcCormickESPN.