We often hear about how early in the season it is, but just like a good party, the campaign goes by amazingly fast. All of a sudden, it's 3 a.m. and you are eating pizza or tacos (or both). That or you realize it's somehow Week 10 and you are eating pizza or tacos (or both). Considering that the standard fantasy regular season is 13 weeks long, we are going to be just over 15 percent of the way through the fantasy campaign come the conclusion of Monday night's AFC North battle between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals.
With that in mind, it's really never too early to reassess your team and consider how the market for talent outside of our roster could help you going forward. The easiest route toward mending any post-draft issues on your roster is to hit the wire or free agency, where an infusion of talent can be acquired for a few clicks. As we see on offense every season, some of these early claims can really result in fantasy gold. It's certainly advisable to allow your star players to find their footing, but for those somewhat unproven players in your portfolio, it's always worthy to compare them to the freely available talents. St. Louis Rams third-year man Robert Quinn, for example, is a guy we hyped last week as a breakout candidate and he didn't let us down in Week 1, with three sacks and two forced fumbles. Quinn is owned in just 37 percent of ESPN leagues and is just one example of the many emerging commodities floating in free agency at this stage of the season.
Front Four: The weekly word on the world of defenders
Fast Football: I covered the Philadelphia Phillies a few seasons back and learned the unique lexicon of former manager Charlie Manuel well. When it comes to how the advent of rapid-fire, no-huddle offenses in the NFL might effect defensive production, Manuel might tell us something like (in a garbled Southern drawl), "The more times a guy runs, well, um, the more times you can hit him." This imagined "Charlie-ism" rings true for how a Chip Kelly or Bill Belichick offense affords opposing defenders far more shots at tallying tackles, however exhausting that might be.
In these types of systems, the numbers of plays dramatically inflates and, of course, so do the statistics. The Washington Redskins' Perry Riley posted 15 tackles versus the video-game Eagles offense. While Riley has been a productive linebacker before and was on the rise heading into the season, the production level was much more about opportunity than transcendent play. It's no surprise to see defenders from the Buffalo Bills, Redskins and Minnesota Vikings dominate the leaderboard for defensive snaps from Week 1 given the offenses they faced. The sample size is small, but the effect on inflated tackle totals and the like will prove enduring. If you are seeking out value plays, seeking out the high-octane snap machines in Philly, New England, Detroit and Denver and the like would be a wise strategy for maximizing matchups.
Savvy Stashing: This isn't a discussion of Mike Ditka's famous facial stylings, but rather a focus on some of the key names coming off suspension in the coming weeks and how we can best navigate these scenarios. The Arizona Cardinals' Daryl Washington can return in Week 5 and he was the only other linebacker contending with Luke Kuechly for the No. 1 spot at the position when his suspension came down. While stashing an IDP commodity in many formats can prove quite difficult, in leagues with some room on the bench, there is no greater stash in the game than Washington at this point. Expect an elite blend of sacks and tackles from the moment he hits the field. Washington is currently available in over 95 percent of ESPN leagues. … Von Miller isn't going to return for the Denver Broncos until Week 7 at the earliest, and even that isn't clear at the moment. At this point, I'd much rather have shares of Washington than Miller (owned in 11 percent of ESPN leagues).
H2-Poe: After years of expensive draft investments, the Chiefs defense might just be the real deal. If it's a passing league, predicated heavily on quarterback play, having Dontari Poe up the middle and Justin Houston and Tamba Hali on the ends is going to help the Chiefs contend thanks to the consistent pressure this trio can produce most Sundays. Call it "H2-Poe," while Houston and Hali hunt down the pocket from the outside lanes, Poe is causing havoc up the gut. Hali and Houston are fine matchup plays, and Poe, in particular, has immense fantasy value in leagues that roster defensive tackles.
Rising Rushers: The Tennessee Titans' Zach Brown had 5.5 sacks as a rookie last season and already has two after just four quarters so far in 2013. With regular deployment on blitzes and six turnovers produced in 2012, there is a lot to like about Brown's booming fantasy impact. … Dwight Freeney is back at it as an effective pass-rush specialist for the San Diego Chargers. With eligibility at defensive end due to his hybrid history of usage, some strong value is present for those seeking help on the line. … Tampa Bay Buccaneers middle man Mason Foster is the rare 4-3 "Mike" who has healthy pass-rush upside each week out.
Bargain bin -- Defenders available in more than half of ESPN leagues
Denver Broncos backer Wesley Woodyard remains criminally underappreciated in fantasy circles despite proving beyond any doubts that he's a fantasy star. If you like guys who can net you well over triple-digit tackles and a rare blend of sacks and turnovers, "Wes Wood" is your man. … Linebacker Bruce Carter claims a very valuable outside role in the Dallas Cowboys defense and much like Woodyard, he has the potential to contribute a rich stat line. … While he was in danger of even making the cut this August, Bills safety Da'Norris Searcy is now starting on a depleted secondary rich in production opportunities at the safety position. … Rookie Bills 'backer Kiko Alonso was a favorite of ours in the offseason, and Week 1's work only helped confirm our suspicion that he could walk right into a starting fantasy role. … Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark could post linebacker-like tackle numbers this year chasing down ball carriers. … Keep an eye on St. Louis Rams rookie Alec Ogletree, who might help make up for that Kevin Oglretree waiver claim you made last September.
IDP Rankings Week 2: The Top 25 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 (.5), Tackle - Assist (.25), Sack (3), Interception (3), Forced fumble (3), Fumble recovery (3), Touchdown (6), Safety (2), Pass defended (.5), Blocked kick (3).