Injuries can hit the gridiron with the randomness and devastation of a lightning strike. Just this past week, the Cowboys lost Sean Lee -- one of the league's best inside linebackers -- for the rest of the season to injury. There is no doubt that injuries hit every team, but some have the potential to significantly alter the identity of a team. Replacing Lee, who has developed into one of the most versatile and instinctive 'backers in the sport, won't be easy for Dallas, but at least the team has capable depth talent with fellow "Linebacker U" alum Dan Connor taking over the job. Injuries can fell fantasy teams, as well. The loss of an elite producer immediately challenges the depth of a roster, whether in the NFL or in fantasy. The Cowboys will turn to Connor, but who will replace Lee on your roster? The key to surviving these significant losses is proactive management. As we discuss below, several potential second-half stars are still widely available in ESPN leagues.
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Looking to Luke: Carolina's Jon Beason was placed on injured reserve on Wednesday, adding to a long injury history for the former fantasy superstar, who has played just five games since signing a massive extension in 2011. The team's middle man of the future, rookie Luke Kuechly, is now set to take over the job for the rest of the season, and possibly the next decade. Somehow, the former Boston College standout, who averaged an NCAA record 14 tackles per game, is still available in nearly half of ESPN leagues. There is upside for top-five production the rest of the way. If you lost Lee or are simply looking for an infusion of talent, there is no better addition than Kuechly. As the rookie shifts to the middle, former fantasy stud Thomas Davis will shift into the weakside role for the Panthers, and is worthy of consideration in deeper formats.
Rapid Recovery: Jamaal Charles and Adrian Peterson have already reshaped our impression of serious knee injuries with such impressive returns to elite form. Even more amazing, it seems, is how Terrell Suggs responded and recovered to an Achilles injury suffered this past May. In just over five months, the All-Pro was back on the field, imposing his will on opponents. Suggs flashed at times in Baltimore's brutal loss to Houston, and any doubts of whether he could play at a high level so soon have been answered. Pro Football Focus has an interesting breakdown of his return, and all indicators suggest that a strong second half is a reasonable expectation for Suggs. Go get the miracle man right away in leagues that reward big plays like sacks and fumbles, as Suggs is available in more than 90 percent of ESPN leagues.
Rising Rookie: A few weeks ago we discussed how undrafted rookie linebacker Vontaze Burfict was being pushed into a starting role for the Bengals at a new position for him playing outside linebacker. The opportunity has led to Burfict proving capable as a pro, and quite interesting as a fantasy commodity. With a breakout game this past Sunday night versus the Steelers that saw him tally 15 total tackles, the ceiling is proving higher than we all imagined. With the Bengals on bye this week, you can probably wait to add him if the roster space is difficult to create at the time, but consider the rook (available in more than 98 percent of ESPN leagues) as we head into Week 9.
Bargain Bin: While Connor steps in for Lee in Dallas, the real fantasy impact here might just be the potential for inside 'backer Bruce Carter to see an uptick in production in Dallas. Harrison Smith is hitting his stride for an improved Vikings' secondary and has strong upside heading into the second half of the campaign. While we've been hyping Bobby Wagner in Seattle for several weeks, his teammate K.J. Wright has been emerging as a nice source of steady tackles. Veteran stalwart David Harris will be busy corralling the Miami running game this week and deserves serious consideration in deeper formats. Washington's Perry Riley has flown under the radar for much of the season, but has been a strong source for tackles over the past three weeks. With London Fletcher dealing with a hamstring ailment, Riley could see a marked uptick in tackle production this Sunday. If Fletcher were to sit Sunday out, it would end his 231-game streak of consecutive games played, the second most for a defensive player since the 1970 merger. Rookie standout Lavonte David continues to impress for a vastly improved front seven in Tampa and has strong potential to hit triple digits in tackles in his first campaign.
IDP Week 8 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 (0.5), Sack (3), Interception (3), Forced fumble (3), Fumble recovery (3), Touchdown (6), Safety (2), Pass defended (1), Blocked kick (3).