Fantasy is a fickle endeavor; a pursuit in which owning elite commodities like Adrian Peterson and Aaron Rodgers in the fantasy playoffs likely leaves you in the consolation bracket. Meanwhile, Rex Grossman and LeGarrette Blount are spearheading surprising championship runs. The same can be said on the defensive side of the ball, where upstarts also replace superstars on the weekly leaderboard. Consider it equal parts erosion and experimentation; as the weeks wear on, rosters are eroded and new names must emerge, while losing teams look to infuse youth into their rosters with an experimental eye on the future.
So it's within this somewhat hazy climate that we are asked to put our best product forward in order to claim imaginary, albeit coveted, fantasy glory. As we've done over the past few weeks, we'll lay out some surging talents that could be a boon to your teams in these critical twilight weeks.
Linebackers: Seek out the "Free Bird" that is Jamar Chaney, who posted 16 tackles in his first start replacing Stewart Bradley in the middle for the Philadelphia Eagles. No matter Peterson's status for this week's Sunday night tilt, the Minnesota Vikings can be expected to run early and often, as a means to stave off the pass rush and keep whoever is under center in favorable down and distances. ... The Green Bay Packers' Desmond Bishop continues to produce in place of an injured Nick Barnett. With two critical matchups coming up against somewhat sloppy passing games, Bishop could be the spiritual infusion your team needs. ... Having hyped the Detroit Lions' DeAndre Levy over the past two seasons without considerable returns, it's nice to see him finally posting some big numbers as the team is testing his long-term viability.
Defensive Backs: Staying in South Philly, the Eagles' Quintin Mikell is re-emerging as a dangerous ball-hawk thanks to the return of Asante Samuel, who provides Mikell with coveted freedom to play a center field-like role on obvious passing downs. According to Pro Football Focus, Mikell leads all NFL safeties in effectiveness versus both the run and the pass, with the lack of a consistent pass rush the main element holding him back from league-wide recognition. Essentially, Mikell is an impact player in real considerations, and now is starting to convert that into fantasy value. Look for him to finish strong as two careless passing games are on the way. ... If the New York Giants' Terrell Thomas is available in your league, you should be compelled to acquire him. He has been stellar from a statistical perspective, as he's solid in coverage and often draws top talents on his side, leading to a volume of tackle and pass defense opportunities. ... I've mentioned him a number of times as a savvy addition but few have taken notice, as the Cleveland Browns' T.J. Ward continues to produce as teams pass often on that secondary.
Defensive Linemen: Consider going to Israel this week, the Chicago Bears' Israel Idonije, that is, if you are in a league that rosters defensive tackles. Idonijie could even merit consideration as a general defensive lineman given his production of late. If you can believe it, he's posting a remarkably similar campaign to the highly touted Ndamukong Suh in terms of getting depth into the backfield and posting QB pressures and hits. ... After posting just 18.5 sacks in his first lackluster five campaigns, former first-rounder Jason Babin has posted 12 in his sixth go-round. The Titans have long been able to get the most out of their lineman, and this is no exception. If you are struggling with disappointing stars and need a sack-infused boost to your roster for these final two weeks, there are few better, and more available commodities than Babin.
The weekly word on the world of defenders
Christmas Sleepers: The Arizona Cardinals' Calais Campbell was a premier sleeper entering the season but failed to live up to the hype. He has, however, recently emerged as a sound source of production with 11 tackles and a sack last week. He could do well again hunting down Jon Kitna behind a porous line. ... Dallas Cowboys linebacker Bradie James has struggled with lingering ailments this season but should be good to go this Saturday and faces an Arizona Cardinals offense that should feed him a number of tackle and potentially turnover opportunities. ... Kerry Rhodes has a ton of Twitter follower but a scant few fantasy loyalists. This will change next season when his spectacular season will be placed in perspective.
Extra Mayo: The New England Patriots' Jerod Mayo might just have taken the crown from Patrick Willis as fantasy's top linebacker. While Mayo doesn't boast the playmaking résumé of Willis, his absurd tackle totals will likely see him post the best tackle campaign of the past 12 seasons (when tackles became a tabulated stat by the league). For those in keeper and dynasty leagues, there are few better 'backers to retain than Mr. Mayo.
IDP Rankings Week 16: The Top 10 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: 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).
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