In the constant pursuit of upside in fantasy trades and free-agent acquisitions, we tend to allocate more attention and favor to young breakout candidates than proven, if unspectacular, veterans. It's quite natural to favor youth in a younger man's game, but we should also mind the meaningful vets who have plenty of hits, hurries and sacks still in them. Indianapolis Colts linebacker Robert Mathis and Chicago Bears stalwart Lance Briggs were both largely passed over in drafts (and rankings) this summer, but are putting up career seasons and profound fantasy production. The unintentional theme of the week is veteran stars from the 2003 draft providing major profits to those who were and are willing to reinvest. Maybe being 30 is bad for running backs, but the group of defenders we discuss below are proving that it's not just Peyton Manning teaching the younger guys how it's done.
Front Four: The weekly word on the world of defenders
The math on Bob: The transition from playing a decade at 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker for the Colts never really seemed appealing for Mathis' fantasy value. He was an annual double-digit sack threat from the end for a decade. Mathis was a trusted name at a fickle fantasy position who last season joined the deep and competitive linebacker market after shifts to the coaching regime and defensive scheme. Mathis' 2012 season was marred by injury and the positional transition, but he still posted eight sacks in his 12 games. This season, Mathis already has 9.5 sacks. In a career with 101 sacks (no really) that might just see him end up in Canton, Mathis is undoubtedly on his way to a career season. Just for fun, think about his pace for this season so far through five games: six forced fumbles and 32 sacks. At 32 and in his 11th season, Mathis (available in nearly 90 percent of ESPN leagues), is doing what we all wanted to see from Von Miller and Aldon Smith this season.
T-Sizzle: I interviewed Terrell Suggs a few years ago and we ended up talking about his impressive toy, or rather, action figure collection (as he made clear) that he has amassed over the years. Suggs waxed nostalgic about kung fu grips and cast iron Voltron sets. So far this season, Suggs has been an action figure himself, quietly notching at least one sack in each game this season while heading toward a ridiculous and career-best 115 total tackles to go with his 22-sack pace. While neither of these paces is sustainable, the idea that Suggs can't enjoy a career season at 30, and after a major injury in 2012, seems to be false given the results of the first third of the season. The tackle rate is assuredly aberrational here thanks to Suggs' ridiculous 17-tackle outing versus the Bills in Week 4, but how would 85 tackles and 15 or so sacks sound for a solid 11th season? Those numbers don't seem ridiculous at all to me. Go get the former Sun Devil in more than 57 percent of ESPN leagues.
Briggs in the backfield: Another Class of 2003 gem, Bears 'backer Lance Briggs, a third-rounder out of Arizona, is enjoying a career 11th campaign himself. Putting up the valuable blend of numbers we came to love and expect from Bears legend Brian Urlacher, Briggs is on pace for a career-best 163 tackles as well as highs in passes defensed, forced fumbles and stuffs (stops at or behind the line of scrimmage). Briggs now has at least two forced fumbles in each of the past four seasons and is putting together his best statistical work well after we were expecting it. Another overlooked veteran asset, Briggs is available in 45 percent of ESPN leagues.
Bargain bin -- Defenders available in more than half of ESPN leagues
For the longest time, Detroit's DeAndre Levy was the sleeper who would never wake up. But now firmly in his "post-hype" phase, we find the fifth-year pro enjoying a breakout season thanks to a healthy blend of tackles and playmaking (two picks and a touchdown already). Levy is available in nearly 90 percent of ESPN leagues. … Tamba Hali has four sacks in the past three games and makes for a nice gamble this week versus a scrambling young signal-caller in Terrelle Pryor. ... Washington's Ryan Kerrigan (owned in just 6.5 percent of ESPN leagues) is quietly doing all the destructive things we always wanted to see from his teammate, Brian Orakpo. ... The return of Daryl Washington doesn't preclude Karlos Dansby from sticking around as a top-25 linebacker; there is plenty of work to go around in the desert. ... Minnesota's Erin Henderson is proving to be a consistent and cheap source for tackles so far. ... A reader sent me a good message this week about Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes and his strong Week 5 effort. One thing I do like about Spikes is that he and Jerod Mayo are fixed behind a line missing their All-Pro run-stuffer Vince Wilfork, which should lead to a steady diet of runners in the second level for New England. ... If you like having big games out of your defensive backfield, John Cyprien is going to be a very busy man this week chasing down Broncos. ... Oakland legend Charles Woodson is producing worthy fantasy numbers even into his twilight.
Week 6: 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 (0.5), Tackle Assist (0.25), Sack (3), Interception (3), Forced fumble (3), Fumble recovery (3), Touchdown (6), Safety (4), Pass defended (0.5), Blocked kick (3).