As fun as playing fantasy is, we simply have to liven it up sometimes. All that time spent poring over the same names, seeking out often vague and at times insignificant updates, can become tiring, as sad and nerdy as that sounds. Trash talk is certainly a key remedy to these midseason and mid-week doldrums. I'm in several leagues where the banter and back-and-forth fuels interest in otherwise middling matchups.
Something I like to do to infuse some fun into the process is to find out some weird and inane facts about players that I own and/or particularly enjoy watching. For one, it's simply an interesting process; and two, it helps fuel the requisite chatter when watching the games with your friends. Like when Mike Wallace catches a touchdown and you explain that his real first name isn't actually Mike, but Burnell, the name he used for his first two seasons at Ole Miss. In this vein, I've compiled some unique and notable tidbits about some of the top fantasy defenders this season, some bearing a semblance of fantasy information, others not so much. Either way, it's just a reminder that while we are all invested in the grind and stress of the season, it's also vital to simply have fun.
• Houston's punishing safety and all-around fantasy superstar, Bernard Pollard, was nicknamed the "Bonecrusher" at Purdue. I just think it speaks to the power of football, and possibly pro wrestling, that a kid named Bernard from Fort Wayne, Ind., can go on to become known as the "Bonecrusher."
• Pittsburgh Steelers stud 'backer Lawrence Timmons' mom was a big-time hoops fan and apparent Phi Slama Jama loyalist, thus his middle name is Olajuwon, as in Hakeem (or Akeem depending on whether you prefer pre-1991 naming rules). I wouldn't want any other linebacker over this kid in my fantasy lineup going forward.
• The New York Giants' sack and forced-fumble master, Osi Umenyiora, is not only just the third British-born player to claim a Super Bowl ring, but his full first name is Ositadimma, a new entry into my spell check as well as a name of Igbo origins, meaning "from today things will be good." I'm not sure this rang true during Osi's tumultuous summer, but ever since he crafted the league's most dangerous strip sack, possibly ever, good things can continue to be expected.
• It's well known that Green Bay's Clay Matthews III was a walk-on at USC and went from a 165-pound high school senior to a 250-pound first-round NFL selection. What I didn't know until reading a cool piece in the L.A. Times from his college days was that his father, Clay Matthews Jr., a storied pro who is the oldest player to record a sack at 40 years, 282 days, was his son's defensive coach in high school and didn't even start him during his junior season. We all grew up on the Michael Jordan being cut from his high school team legend, but this one is pretty cool, as well.
• Arizona's Kerry Rhodes has some stiff competition from fellow Cardinal Greg Toler for the best fantasy campaign on the team, but only Rhodes can claim the title of the NFL's seventh-most popular Twitter feed, according to this unsubstantiated and outdated claim.
Front Four: The weekly word on the world of defenders
Purple reign resuming? I saw standup comedian Louis C.K. perform this past weekend and he told a joke about how poor the economy had to have performed for pirates to resurface in society, and then asked if Vikings were next. I laughed, but then my football-wired nerd-brain had me wondering if the Vikings, the Minnesota version, not Norse, would ever return to being a dangerous defense full of fantasy value. Then I realized I paid a lot for these tickets and should pay attention again. That said, if last week was Jared Allen's "man up" outing after an anemic first two months, he certainly came through with a big game. Was his production solely on account of a nice matchup with the Cardinals or a sign of things to come? With a somewhat sweet schedule going forward and fellow disappointing lineman Ray Edwards (available in more than 40 percent of ESPN leagues) finally heating up, Allen makes for an ideal late-trade target, and in the 19 or so percent of ESPN leagues in which he's available for a few clicks, he could help sway or save your season. This week's meeting with the Chicago Bears, a team that has allowed the most sacks in the league, should have Allen suddenly back in the mix as an elite option.
Play the DJs: Both Derrick Johnson and D.J. Williams face off this week and should be busy corralling ball carriers. While Williams is rostered in the vast majority of leagues, and for good reason given his amazing stretch of production from Week 4 on, it's Johnson who bears significant value to fantasy managers as he's owned in just 44 percent of ESPN leagues and not only enjoys a uniquely favorable schedule, but is currently playing the best ball of his career.
Donte sleep, Wake up: Time to wake up to Donte Whitner's amazing consistency over the past two months, a stretch in which he has never posted fewer than eight tackles since Week 3, a feat at such a fickle position. Consider that Whitner is playing behind a Bills front seven that often allows ball carriers into the secondary, feeding him consistent opportunities to make plays and sustain fantasy value. Meanwhile, in Miami, outside linebacker and former CFL standout Cameron Wake deserves much more pub and props for his nine sacks and relentless play. For leagues that highly reward sacks, it's worth noting that Wake is owned in fewer than 10 percent of ESPN leagues and is on pace for some gaudy numbers.
Season-saving shifts: It's funny how you often find on defense that the best salve for a struggling player is simply a return to their natural position. Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing's fruitless spell as the team's middle man is now done and he'll make the return to his comfortable perch on the strong side, where he does his best work. "Cush" is best served having an angle at the quarterback from the outside while also flexing his skills against the run and the pass often unencumbered from blockers, unlike the duties of the middle spot. In Carolina, can Jon Beason be beastly again now that he's back in his proper spot manning the middle for the Panthers, with Dan Connor on the IR? Beason has been arguably the biggest IDP disappointment outside of, say, David Harris or even Jared Allen, but now that he's back in middle, he should return to posting the elite numbers that made him a fantasy force the past few seasons. While Beason admitted that he'd "have to go back and look through my notes and watch more film and just get a little more comfortable," I think it's safe to assume that he can handle the gig he once mastered. One cool note from Carolina's game with the Saints this past week is that Jordan Senn, a linebacker fighting to fill the weakside spot that Beason left, took a direct snap on offense and picked up 5 yards, though I'm not sure if that adds to his somewhat questionable fantasy value or speaks to the woes of the Carolina backfield.
IDP Rankings Week 10: 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
Seattle Seahawks linebacker David Hawthorne was a prolific point producer last year, but with a new system and scheme he's struggled to prove consistent from an outside spot versus the middle gig he enjoyed last season. That said, he's starting to warm up and is literally not owned in ESPN leagues. ... The big mouth has had a big stretch of production of late as Arizona's Joey Porter is regularly getting to the quarterback, something he should build on against a beatable Seattle line. ... Rookie dynamo Eric Berry posted two sacks this past Sunday and should be busy against the pass-happy Broncos. ... Even though Desmond Bishop is on a bye, he remains a worthy addition for those looking to stash this underappreciated stud for the second half. ... Cleveland safety Abram Elam was once a touted fantasy sleeper and should bear some value as the team's capable rush defense forces opponents to test their secondary.
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