The first few weeks of fantasy football are an interesting time. After months of evaluating an effectively static market, with mostly minor shifts in the valuation of certain players, values begin to fluctuate rapidly from week to week, and seemingly from snap to snap. There is a balance we must seek between trusting the commodities we invested in on draft day, while also monitoring the market for emerging talents. On the defensive side of fantasy, we are constantly tasked with evaluating emergent commodities. For every Kevin Ogletree on the offensive side, we likely get five or six such scenarios to consider on defense. This is a good thing, mind you, as there is great potential to improve your roster with the mere cost of a few clicks. The real key is keeping up with the ever-changing market for talent, because as we learned in the '80s from those G.I. Joe PSAs, knowing is half the battle. The other half seems to be actually acting on the knowledge.
Front Four: The weekly word on the world of defenders
Blonde Hawk Up: It's unfair and likely unrealistic to expect any one Packers linebacker to replace the lost production of Desmond Bishop. There is still immense value at the position, however, given how well A.J. Hawk played in the team's Week 1 loss to San Francisco. While he may never live up to the lofty hype as a top draft pick years ago, Hawk was all over the field this past weekend as his 14 total tackles and 10 solos confirm. Fellow Packer 'backer D.J. Smith enjoyed a strong outing, as well, with nine solos on the day. Hawk is owned in just over 13 percent of ESPN leagues, while Smith is rostered in just under 2 percent of leagues. Versus a Chicago offense that will still steadily lean on its backfield talents, expect solid production from this undervalued duo Thursday night and going forward.
High Wattage: The Houston Texans were able to watch Mario Williams bust the bank in Orchard Park because they had an incumbent pass-rusher in J.J. Watt who they felt provided more consistent pressure than their former No. 1 pick. Watt rarely wastes steps and is what scouts love to call an efficient player, as his nonstop motor and five-technique skills keep him steadily around the pocket despite not having the physical prowess of a Williams. The market is waking up to Watt, especially after a strong first week that saw him net 1.5 sacks, as he's now owned in just over 40 percent of ESPN leagues. Don't hesitate to acquire Watt if you have the room on your roster or own an overrated, big-name commodity like Dwight Freeney. Staying in division, another defensive end worthy of consideration is Tennessee's Derrick Morgan, a former top pick who is finally emerging as an on-field force. Morgan is lined up across from Kamerion Wimbley, giving the Titans one of the more underrated defensive end tandems in football.
Rising Rooks: While Luke Kuechly looked a bit lost in his first real foray into Sunday football, New England's duo of freshmen Dont'a Hightower and Chandler Jones looked like instinctive vets versus the Titans. Hightower's touchdown return off of a Jake Locker fumble certainly inflated his fantasy production, but the tape suggests that he was consistently around the ball and should be a pivotal playmaker for a revamped Patriots defense. Jones, for his part, forced the fumble that led to Hightower's touchdown, while also amassing five tackles and a sack. Jones was on the field for nearly 90 percent of New England's defensive snaps from the right end spot, which is very high usage for a rookie lineman. Hightower is worthy of consideration in deeper leagues and those that start three or more linebackers, and certainly is of value in a dynasty or keeper format. Jones bears immediate attention in even shallow IDP leagues given that he's a defensive end and this is a historically shallow position.
Bargain Bin: This section is reserved for discussing players who are owned in fewer than 40 percent of ESPN leagues. We'll begin this bin with Arizona's Paris Lenon, who is coming off a monster performance versus Seattle that saw him net two sacks, nine tackles and a fumble recovery in a comeback win. While Lenon can't be expected to maintain such an absurdly productive clip, he does have 218 tackles and five sacks over the past two seasons for the Cards. Target Lenon in deeper leagues for the low price of a mouse click (owned in just 1.3 percent of leagues). Atlanta's Stephen Nicholas has been a situational 'backer for much of his career but could emerge as a steady force for what bodes to be a strong front seven this season. With a breakout season debut (12 tackles and a pick) and minimal ownership (just over 13 percent owned), there is little risk and considerable potential for reward here. Carolina's Dwan Edwards should get a great deal of work at tackle for the Panthers given how thin they were at the position in 2011. Edwards might never post the type of performance we saw in Week 1 (two sacks, seven tackles) again, but for leagues that roster defensive tackles specifically, there is legitimate upside in Edwards. Minnesota's Erin Henderson remains a vastly undervalued commodity and should post a 100-tackle season with some valuable ancillary contributions. Lost in the shuffle of the Giants' secondary woes is the valuable fantasy contribution of Antrel Rolle; owned in just over 21 percent of ESPN leagues, Rolle is a premier pickup to consider. Tennessee linebacker Akeem Ayers is a rising fantasy star, yet he's owned in zero percent of leagues. Give the man the home he deserves.
IDP Rankings Week 2: Top 30 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 (1), Tackle - Assist (0.5), Sack (3), Interception (3), Forced fumble (3), Fumble recovery (3), Touchdown (6), Safety (2), Pass defended (1), Blocked kick (3).