The bye-week blues are hitting fantasy hard this season. Some might suggest it's foolish, but I rarely pay attention to byes when drafting in late August and early September. I do notice them as the draft builds and realize there might be one devastating bye down the road for my team, but talent and upside rank far higher in evaluation. We can't let losing some of our best players to the bye ruin an otherwise glorious weekend of football. We must instead go out into the wilderness of "Waiverville" and allow several strangers onto our teams. With some really talented teams taking the weekend off, I'm hit hard in several leagues with some difficult decisions to make. In some cases, I have to cut some worthy talents to field a full team, but it's always best to stay aggressive and competitive. Fielding a full team is always better than sacrificing a spot to avoid a tough decision.
There are some great talents out there in the vast majority of leagues that not only could be ideal for filling in during bye weeks but could emerge as enduring starters given considerable upside. If you are fresh out of linebackers, Seattle's Bobby Wagner is a rising rookie who for some reason is still available in more than 90 percent of ESPN leagues. A dynamic duo of youngsters is forming in Tampa, as the play of Mason Foster and Lavonte David has been a big reason the Bucs have improved so greatly versus the run since last fall. First, Foster has a cool name that would work great for a boxer, baseball player, linebacker, you name it. Second, he's in his sophomore campaign in pewter and is excelling as the middle man for an improved defense. As a run-stopping thumper behind one of the league's best interior lines, there is potential here for plenty more than 100 tackles. David, a rookie out of Nebraska, might have even more upside than Foster thanks to his role as a playmaking outside linebacker.
Front Four: The weekly word on the world of defenders
Replacing Ray: Although the All-22 tape suggests that Ray Lewis wasn't playing at the consistently high level we've come to expect from the Canton-bound 'backer so far this season, his injury is a devastating loss for the Ravens and for Lewis' fantasy investors. If he had some issues shedding blocks and closing off lanes, his tackle pace didn't suffer on account of it, as he was on track for his highest tally of solo tackles since 2003. Just like when an elite running back is felled by injury, we can't expect the replacement production to be elite, but there is inherent value in simply inheriting the opportunities for production that Lewis leaves in his wake. Stepping in for Lewis is Jameel McClain, who has been starting already this season but now takes command of the valuable inside role Lewis served. With play-calling duties shifting to McClain, there is strong potential for a bump in production, and his ownership should rise once the team emerges from its Week 8 bye. In some surprisingly good news for Baltimore after being decimated by injuries of late, linebacker/defensive end hybrid Terrell Suggs potentially could return as early as this week. There is great value in taking a flier here on Suggs, who at his best is a weekly beast, and the cost is minimal given that he's available in the vast majority of ESPN leagues. Another notable injury to discuss is Green Bay's D.J. Smith going down for the season with a serious knee injury. The primary beneficiary in terms of fantasy stock is A.J. Hawk, who assuredly will see a full plate of snaps and increased usage on blitzes going forward.
Blasts from the past: Although it's undoubtedly exciting to invest in rising stars, it's also wise to have a share in proven commodities the market might have overlooked given age and expected decline. Even in the twilight of his career, Atlanta's John Abraham remains a feared force when it comes to pressuring the pocket. He's on a bye this week, but make sure to target Abraham coming into the second half of the season. He's always been prone to be boom-or-bust, given his role as a situational specialist, but, with some inviting scenarios on the way, beginning in Philly in Week 8, a top-10 season at defensive line is a strong possibility. Not quite in the final phase of his playing days, but an overlooked vet nonetheless, DeMeco Ryans has been a tackle monster the past two weeks and remains widely available in ESPN leagues. Questions about his ability to regain his former playmaking form are beginning to be answered. A big second half is quite possible playing on a defense primed to improve with a new defensive coordinator at the helm. We've been championing Minnesota's Antoine Winfield's renaissance season for several weeks now. With picks in consecutive games and the potential for a volume of tackles (10 in Week 6) each game out, a top-10 season at defensive back is in the works.
Rising rookies: While Wagner stars in Seattle, some other rooks also are playing like proven vets around the league. New England's Chandler Jones has been a revelation for a defense that desperately needed an infusion of pressure on the pocket. It's rare for a rookie pass-rusher to show up so consistently, but Jones is proving to be an exception. He grades out really well with applying pressure, and with Vince Wilfork returning to form, a top-15 year at defensive line is likely. Fellow freshman Mark Barron is the rare rook to outperform considerable hype and expecatations. He's a top-10 defensive back without a doubt.
Bargain bin: Louis Delmas made a triumphant return to the field for the Lions this past week and should be busy patrolling the passing lanes going forward. Chris Kelsay is starting in place of Mark Anderson in Buffalo and has proved effective in several roles for the Bills over the years. A capable tackler with some range at the position, Kelsay is an ideal bye-week buffer. In related news, Shawne Merriman is getting another shot with the Bills, it seems. No need to add or consider him as a stash, but just an interesting story to watch unfold. Defensive end Matt Shaughnessy has been playing well for Oakland, and, at a shallow position, merits attention in deeper leagues. Philip Wheeler is playing well as a three-down 'backer in Oakland and is the top guy to own on that team. A diminished role for Rolando McClain is in the works as he loses his grip on the "Mike" gig in Oakland, with Miles Burris taking snaps from him. Keep an eye on Burris, but give up on McClain. Jo-Lonn Dunbar brings a cool name to the game and has had three big weeks for the Rams this season. Target Dunbar in leagues that reward sack production handsomely.
IDP Week 7 Ranks: 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 (0.50), Sack (3), Interception (3), Forced fumble (3), Fumble recovery (3), Touchdown (6), Safety (2), Pass defended (1), Blocked kick (3).