The end of the fantasy season always feels like the last day of summer camp: Saying goodbye to often temporary friendships followed by having to spend more time with your family. I joke, but it really is a bittersweet time of the year for us fantasy football nerds, one only buffered by the high drama awaiting us in the next month of postseason football. We'll get right into our IDP MVP selections and defensive player of the year discussions, followed by a full set of Week 17 rankings for those of you still chasing a championship.
Overall IDP and Linebacker MVP: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Lavonte David won't net a ton of votes in the Defensive Player of the Year race (which we detail below), but he sure won the hearts of fantasy investors with a campaign filled with huge plays and steady tackle production. If you like a healthy blend of sacks and turnovers to go with well over 100 tackles, this is your guy.
Defensive Back MVP: Dallas Cowboys safety Barry Church was often the last line of defense playing behind a porous front seven felled by injury and underperformance. Church's tackle production was fitting of a three-down linebacker rather than what we often see from a DB, as he posted only one game with fewer than five tackles this season.
Defensive Line MVP: The St. Louis Rams' Robert Quinn takes this one and it's not really even close. With five multisack games and 10 games with at least one sack, Quinn was the rare lineman to provide consistent big-play production. While J.J. Watt still turned in an amazing season, one arguably just as strong as his 2012 effort if we dig below the surface, this season Quinn made "the leap" that Watt did last fall, entering the elite echelon among linemen.
Front Four: The weekly word on the world of defenders
DPOY Race: The last few years have seen the single-season sack record legitimately challenged by the likes of Von Miller, J.J. Watt, Jared Allen and Aldon Smith. While it's unlikely Robert Quinn will vie for the record, as he sits 4.5 sacks back with just four quarters left, his massive breakout season could deservedly net him a Defensive Player of the Year trophy in what has become an intensely close battle for the honor. One factor that I believe should play into Quinn's candidacy is the fact that he's played on a team with an anemic offense that rarely held a significant lead, making his sack production that much more impressive.
The San Francisco 49ers' NaVorro Bowman seems to have made a surge for DPOY with that pivotal prime-time pick-six this past Monday, but his case was really built in the 14 brilliant games leading up to the emboldening win over the Atlanta Falcons. ... The Carolina Panthers' Luke Kuechly was our top linebacker heading into the season, and while the results haven't always been as stellar from a fantasy perspective, he's been amazingly consistent (one game with fewer than six tackles) and just turned his best fantasy performance of the season in what for many leagues was the title game. Kuechly's 24 tackles this past Sunday (Carolina coaches suggest the number was actually 26 after film review) was the most in a single game since the New York Jets' David Harris posted as many in November 2007. On what is appropriately considered one of the best defenses in the NFL, Kuechly's DPOY candidacy could be buoyed by his presence as one of the few premier names on the Carolina defense.
Those who deem J.J. Watt's season a disappointment likely didn't watch many, or possibly even any, Houston Texans games. In a fantasy context, it's clear Watt fell well short of his gaudy 2012 results, but he was still a top-five DL asset in any format -- or your format is to blame -- and actually has registered more pressures on the pocket through 15 games this season (79 pressures) than his 2012 epic (76), according to Pro Football Focus' game charting. As long as health is not an issue, Watt will be my top fantasy lineman for next summer.
The Seattle Seahawks' Richard Sherman has a worthy case once again as the DPOY, leading the league in interceptions once again, and might just take it as the face of the league's most revered defense by the national press. ... The Arizona Cardinals' Karlos Dansby was a revelation in a revival reason in the desert this fall for the Cards and fantasy investors alike. Dansby not only earned another big payday this offseason, he should also earn a good deal of attention in this defensive MVP race.
As you can see, this is a rich race for DPOY, one that might even include Sherman's teammate Earl Thomas or the Cincinnati Bengals' Vontaze Burfict to lesser degrees. My personal choice would for the award would be Bowman, who simply showed up on film every week, if not every snap, and led what is still among the league's most imposing defenses. The fantasy results weren't prolific for Bowman per se, but like Kuechly, a steady season capped by an awesome finish had to have helped managers who had the Penn State product for their Week 16 championship games.
Cole after Christmas: As much as we seek singular roles in position eligibility decisions for defenders, the nature of hybrid defenses and offseason overhauls can lead to some tricky balancing acts when determining a player's eligibility in a fantasy context. The Philadelphia Eagles' Trent Cole spent his entire professional career before this season playing a traditional 4-3 defensive end role, but with a new coaching staff came Billy Davis' 4-3 under scheme that comes with a variety of looks. The net result was Cole's having both linebacker and defensive line eligibility for this season, an element that clearly boosts his value for those using him as a defensive lineman, given just how shallow this position is for fantasy investors. After a slow transition with just one sack through Week 10, Cole is now leading all linebacker-eligible players in sacks since Week 11 and is just half a sack behind Justin Tuck among linemen over that span. Available in 90 percent of leagues, Cole isn't just a nice deep-league addition but rather a top-10 play among linemen this week.
Week 17: 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 (4), Pass defended (.5), Blocked kick (3).