The reason that most of us who play in individual defensive player leagues do so is because it affords us more control over our teams. We don't choose a team offense for our fantasy team, so why do the same with the defensive side of the ball?
There is a price to be paid, however, for this higher degree of malleability of our rosters. That price is more time and attention. To get the most production out of our IDP talent, we not only need to have drafted well, but more importantly, manage deftly throughout the season. Just like how a few critical waiver moves can save your fantasy backfield, the same can be said of your secondary. The question we've been considering lately in this column is how do we identify production and potential in an individual defender? Who is ripe for the picking? Unfortunately, there is a lack of readily available metrics for defenders compared to what we have at our disposal for our offensive rosters, like touches and targets.
It's fairly elementary to favor a defender playing a sloppy offense versus a protective one, but you'd be surprised how often IDP owners simply set their roster without the same scrutiny and analysis they use when tending to their offensive talent. Let's look at one game this week as an example; in seven starts for San Francisco, J.T. O'Sullivan has been sacked 29 times, thrown 10 interceptions and fumbled nine times. That's about as attractive for individual defenders as the Lions' defense is to quarterbacks and the Chiefs' defense is to running backs. While Julian Peterson is rostered in nearly 60 percent of IDP leagues, fellow Seahawks Patrick Kerney, Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill are widely available, with Hill owned in just 15 percent of leagues. Point being, while the Seattle D has been among the NFC's worst takeaway units, this is the week, if ever, to get their defenders in your lineup.
As simple as it seems, we should use many of the same indicators that prove helpful when deciding on which team defense/special teams to employ in a given week. There are a few especially helpful sites and indexes to peruse, among them ESPN's NFL stats page, specifically the giveaway/takeaway results and ever-descriptive miscellaneous modifier, which breaks down total tackles and passes defended per team, both particularly useful IDP categories.
Consider using these players if you are in immediate need of impact defenders, especially in deep leagues.
Linebackers and linemen: Keith Bulluck was once the crown prince of IDP leagues, a perennial top-five pick, thanks to his robust tackle totals and nose for the ball. Bulluck's ownership is down to just 45 percent in ESPN leagues thanks to a disappointing 2007 statistically. While he's no longer the lone ranger on the Titans' defense, he's still their unquestioned leader and a valuable addition to your roster. I've always had a thing for Shaun Phillips. Is it me, or does fantasy football lead us to put together some strange sentences? But admittedly, I've long believed that he's an underrated player and an undervalued fantasy commodity. For a nice blend of sacks and solo tackles, Phillips is your guy and is available for free in 65 percent of ESPN leagues. Welcome back to fantasy relevance Leonard Little and Julius Peppers. These former QB menaces are getting their swag back and merit ownership in even the shallowest of leagues. Little is particularly valuable this week against a New England line that allows four sacks per game. Terrell Suggs definitely said some questionable things in regards to the "bounty" placed on Hines Ward by the Ravens, but he remains a nice fantasy value for sacks despite his loose lips. Against an Oakland offense that allows nearly three sacks per game, Suggs could net that total himself. Miami's Channing Crowder used to chase wild boars to hone his tackling technique. That alone merits fantasy attention, but his steady tackle-clip, low ownership (35 percent) and favorable schedule make him even more coveted. Playing behind a weak Detroit line and with opposing offenses running at will, Ernie Sims is a lock for 130-plus tackles and yet is still available in half of ESPN leagues. Now if the Lions can just draft a linebacker named Bert. The IDP crowd is finally taking notice of Zac Diles and his awesome numbers, care to join in?
Defensive backs: Further proof that memories are short in IDP leagues -- Sean Jones is rostered in just 32.4 percent of leagues. The elite fantasy DB has missed much of the season but is back for the Browns and has already resumed his productive ways. I've added Jones in every league that I could. You do the same. Last week, we discussed Thomas Davis as a valuable linebacker, this week he's a defensive back. And why not? Just like how some leagues had Marques Colston as a tight end or Chris Cooley as running back in years past, Davis' linebacker/safety distinction is an awesome position eligibility loophole to exploit. Chris Gamble has an ideal name for an aggressive defensive back. That, and he's on pace for a career-high in tackles and is entrenched in a ball-hawking Carolina secondary. Yeremiah Bell's ownership leaped nearly 20 percent this week, and for good reason -- the guy produces. Trust Bell for another nice tackle outing against an efficient Bills' passing attack. Oshiomogho Atogwe and Chinedum Ndukwe are phonetic nightmares who are also wrecking havoc on the field of late. Both are good for a steady diet of tackles with some legit big-play potential to boot. Washington's Chris Horton simply makes plays. Paired with LaRon Landry, for perhaps years to come, they form the most underrated and imposing safety tandem in football.
Target these guys for depth and bye-week plug-ins with an eye on their potential to be full-fledged starters.
Linebackers and linemen: The Jets' Shaun Ellis rarely will net you a "huge" game, but with sacks in five of six games, he's as steady as they come and faces a Chiefs' line that allows three sacks per game. Kawika Mitchell is a better "real" player than fantasy contributor, but against a run-heavy Miami offense, his tackle numbers could make him worthy of a spot-start in deep leagues. ... Juqua Parker has been quietly dominant of late and could be the rare defensive end that gives the Falcons fits. Much like Ernie Sims, Dewayne White is a productive Lion who merits more attention. The Redskins have been known to blow an assignment here and there and that could result in some nice numbers for White this week. After a hot start Bryan Thomas has been fairly boom or bust of late but is apt to boom this week against the hapless Tyler "Don't Call Me Yancey" Thigpen.
Defensive backs: Rashean Mathis will be blanketing the heavily targeted Braylon Edwards this week and that should net him a nice blend of tackles and pass defenses with inflated interception potential thanks to Derek Anderson's utter lack of accuracy. ... Daniel Bullocks deserves a depth spot in most leagues and could be of particular value this week against a Washington offense that will more than likely dominate the clock and thus lead to nice tackle numbers for Bullocks. Marlin Jackson and Melvin Bullitt are beneficiaries of the Colts' sieve of a defensive line, or at least their fantasy owners benefit. Indy is fifth in the league in tackles as a team because they get run on, netting Marvin and Melvin some nice numbers. Kevin Kaesviharn and Jim Leonhard have about the least imposing thumbnail shots in the league, but both are scrappy safeties who produce as long as they start. In abyss-deep leagues, look to stash Dunta Robinson and hope he returns to form for the playoff stretch. Just a few seasons ago Robinson was fantasy gold.
Jim McCormick is an analyst for ESPN.com fantasy football.