It's not always the case that the best defenders in football are considered the best commodities in fantasy football. Every year, I field questions about my lack of respect for Darrelle Revis and why he's not considered an elite option in fantasy leagues. Revis has had his moments as a relevant fantasy producer, but more often than not, opposing arms have avoided his side of the field altogether, leaving him with few opportunities to accrue the statistics we covet in fantasy. Pundits, scouts and talent evaluators often consider Revis to be an elite cover corner and the top defensive force in football, but with Revis sidelined for the season, the two top candidates for the title of the league's best defender are proving to be awesomely effective in both real and fantasy regards.
Houston's J.J. Watt can change the course of a game with a batted pass at the line or a devastating hit on the quarterback. Chicago's Charles Tillman has been equally influential in games, and this is from the corner position. Tillman's four forced fumbles last week is an impressive total for any defender for an entire season. While Tillman, on account of the impending arrival of his child, could sit out the tilt this Sunday night that sees his larcenous defense face off with Watt's team, it remains an awesome reality that the two best defenders this season also rank among the true elites in fantasy. (I ranked Tillman this week, not surprisingly in the top spot, but keep a close eye on this scenario in case he decides to miss the game.) In a league where offense reigns supreme and we marvel at prolific passing numbers and high scores, it's a welcome treat to see two aggressive and imposing defenses take center stage.
Front Four: The weekly word on the world of defenders
Buffalo Blues: For several seasons, Buffalo's George Wilson has been a dynamic fantasy force. His path to becoming a starting safety in the NFL is unique, as he was a two-time all-state wide receiver as a prep and ended his Arkansas Razorbacks career second in receptions and third in receiving yards in school history. But when it came to the NFL, he was undrafted and relegated to special teams and even the practice squad until a rare opportunity presented itself in 2007 while with the Bills to become a safety for a decimated secondary. Since then, the converted wideout has posted two seasons with more than 100 tackles and has a proven nose for turnovers, vaulting him into consideration as a top-tier defensive back in IDP formats. Yet lately, the Bills captain is being rotated on the field with Da'Norris Searcy, effectively deflating his value as a fantasy force. For those fantasy investors still expecting top production from Wilson, it's more than unlikely to materialize with him watching Searcy from the sideline on almost half the snaps. Feel free to move on here, and seek out some sleeper safeties such as the Giants' Stevie Brown (coming off a 10-tackle performance) or the Saints' Malcolm Jenkins.
Rising Corners: While I often preach that safeties are the safest when it comes to defensive backs in fantasy, it's been quite a year for the corner position. As offenses are increasingly reliant on the pass and with younger corners proving to be more physical and aggressive with each draft class, it's a position on the rise in IDP leagues. Packers rookie Casey Hayward has been a versatile contributor at the corner position of late, with an increasing role on the outside and working the slot/nickel role. In the past five games, Hayward has been making quite an impact as a big-play threat, with five turnovers and seven passes defended. According to Pro Football Focus, Hayward has allowed just 24 receptions on 49 targets sent his way. You should consider the Vanderbilt product in deeper leagues, as he's available in more than 98 percent of ESPN leagues. Miami's Nolan Carroll has averaged seven tackles during the past five games and has been heavily targeted by opposing quarterbacks. We love when our wideouts get lots of targets, and the same basically rings true for defensive backs. Baltimore's Cary Williams has a pick in four of his past five games and faces a pass-happy and mistake-prone Oakland offense this weekend.
One More for 54? His best is undoubtedly behind him, but it could be a bit premature to say that Brian Urlacher's days as an impact defender are over. What we can confirm is that, after a slow start to the season that saw him on somewhat of a limited snap count due to a knee ailment, he has been on the field for the majority of snaps -- no fewer than 83 percent of snaps in a given week since Week 1, according to Pro Football Focus. So what to make of Urlacher's fantasy value? Well, since the team's Week 6 bye, he has averaged seven total tackles and has contributed four turnovers and even scored a touchdown Sunday. The remainder of the campaign could be the final worthy stretch of fantasy production we see from the iconic 'backer, and it's worth noting that he is available in more than half of ESPN leagues. A return to his prime production isn't going to happen, but the big-play potential and the rewards of working on an aggressive and elite defense are compelling elements when considering him as a fantasy commodity. As your third 'backer or even a low-end second option, you could do worse than trusting this Canton-bound playmaker.
Bargain bin: Defenders available in more than half of ESPN leagues
In a similarly impressive return from an offseason Achilles tear, Tampa's Da'Quan Bowers made his return from the IR last weekend and recorded a sack versus the Raiders. While he is a boom-or-bust producer as a sack specialist on a limited snap count, there is some upside to targeting him in deeper formats and in keeper leagues that dismissed him due to injury. Chad Greenway is on pace for a monster season, but his fellow purple 'backer Jasper Brinkley is coming off of a strong week and is a worthy matchup play versus run-heavy opponents. Zach Brown has been seeing a lot of work for the Titans and should provide a steady tackle clip given the volume of snaps. Jacksonville's Derek Cox should be busy Thursday night chasing down the Colts' wideouts. Thanks to some boom-or-bust tendencies, Von Miller remains available in more than half of ESPN leagues. Go get the surging sack master, as he is heating up and could go on a binge in the coming weeks. Seattle's Bobby Wagner didn't steal your lunch, or at least I assume he didn't, so why is he still available in far too many ESPN leagues? Go out and get this guy on your team.
Week 10 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).