Is it me or has this simply been a down year for the fantasy superstar? Don't get me wrong, we've seen some amazing performances from both sides of the ball, but it seems that there just aren't as many consistently prolific point producers. I submit no statistical analysis behind this theory; it's simply a general appraisal, the results being that the pronounced parity of the league has somehow trickled down to the individual production level. The studs in fantasy are still with us, but there seemingly aren't as many to go around, just as the numbers are still there, they just appear to be spread amongst more players.
This rings especially true on the defensive side, which has long been the more fickle fantasy market. This year has seen a number of purported defensive studs dramatically disappoint their owners. If on offense the questions are whether and when to give up on the likes of Ronnie Brown and Larry Fitzgerald, on defense it's deflated commodities like Jon Beason, David Harris, Eric Weddle and Jonathan Vilma that have dragged down rosters. It can be difficult to give up on a previously proven player given the steep investments made in them, whether in the draft or via trade, but it can also become increasingly difficult to bear unproductive bums on your team. We have a thing for big names and respected reputations; they tend to blur our reasoning. A month ago, I would have preached patience, but just six weeks or so from the start of the fantasy playoffs, it's fast becoming time to clean house.
In fantasy football, we invest in past production and predicted upside to begin each season, but soon the mentality must shift to what a commodity presently offers you. In IDP leagues especially, you can utilize the waiver wire and free-agent market in order to maximize your roster each week, even if it requires making some intrepid decisions, like cutting a renowned but underperforming talent and adding some of the names below.
Front Four: The weekly word on the world of defenders
Bishop of Green Bay: A few years back, I wrote an editorial piece for the Washington Post about religion and football, and it turned out that Green Bay has, or had at the time, both a Catholic and Protestant chaplain. Well, now it has a Bishop as well. Desmond Bishop, that is; a non-denominational emerging fantasy force who saw the field due to the erosion of the Packers' front seven. In the three weeks that he's been elevated to starting status he's posted 31 total tackles, a sack and a pick-six, or a "T.A.I.N.T," as Bill Simmons coined. With the devastating losses to the Packers' roster, particularly in the front seven, it's safe to expect Bishop (owned in just 3.8 percent of ESPN leagues) to remain in a productive role.
Chad Cincuentados: Keeping with the Ochocinco translation system (butchery), I figured the best Chad in fantasy deserved a go as well. This Chad we speak of is Chad Greenway, the Vikings' stout and steady outside linebacker who happens to rock 52 on his jersey. Much more important than hastily and incorrectly concocted Spanish monikers is the fact that he's been one of the most consistent producers this season, never dipping below eight total tackles in a game and regularly topping out at 12. The ancillary stats haven't materialized just yet, but this guy has proved proficient in his career at collecting fumbles and making plays in the passing game. Greenway is owned in exactly half of ESPN leagues, the smart half.
Push for Cush: There has been a great deal of discussion amongst us defensive nerds this season about Brian Cushing. At first, the topic was whether he'd return from suspension to his '09 glory and propel fantasy teams with a rare blend of statistics. But now that he's actually back on the field, the focus is on the fact that, due to DeMeco Ryans' unfortunate season-ending injury, he'll man the middle of the Texans' defense as their MLB. So now that Brian is "Mike" for Houston, what does it mean statistically speaking? We can look to Ryans' numbers as some indication and expect a solid stream of solo tackles to come his way, but we must also take into account the freedom that his strong-side gig afforded "Cush," one that allowed him to blitz and drop into coverage last season, which fed his amazing numbers. Essentially, there is a compromise to be made here; for an increase at shots at the ball carrier and a volume of tackles, we're possibly losing out on some of the opportunities that afforded him such profound value last season. Either way, it's a really interesting and unexpected shift for Cushing's real and fantasy career, even if it's only for this season.
Buffalo Blues: A recent piece from a Buffalo beat scribe proclaimed that 'tweener defender Aaron Maybin might just be the worst player in the league. There is no way to prove this, of course, and more importantly it seems largely contextual given that most teams have suffered through first-round busts, particularly when it comes to pass rushers. The larger story on the Bills' defense is the switch made from a 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 look. A culmination of personnel issues and purely ineffective play from the 3-4 led to its demise, as coach Chan Gailey said, "It's a shift in necessity more than it is a shift in philosophy." This return to the 4-3 has some resonating impact on the few relevant fantasy defenders for the Bills. Paul Posluszny was touted as a fantasy star this season (in part by me) given his high-tackle history and a secure inside 'backer role behind a porous defensive line. But now with this shift he'll make the unlikely move to the weak side, not the bountiful middle role that one would expect. Instead, veteran journeyman Andra Davis, who was once a fantasy stud in Cleveland, will man the middle and should see a dramatic boost to his tackle production and fantasy profile.
IDP Rankings Week 7: Top 10 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 (2), Pass defended (1), Blocked kick (2).
Bargain Bin: Worthy defenders available in more than half of ESPN leagues
The Packers' A.J. Hawk just missed my top-10 'backers for this week and yet is owned in about 25 percent of ESPN leagues. Playing aside Bishop, he's racked up 45 tackles in his past four outings. A larcenous Baltimore legend returns, not Omar from "The Wire" but rather Ed Reed. He's as boom-or-bust as they come, but the booms are pretty enjoyable. He's scarcely owned and if you can afford to stash him on his bye that's ideal, but it's also likely that he'll remain available into next week. Eric Berry of the Chiefs is starting to come into his own and faces a pass-happy and mistake-prone Bills offense that should lead to his best tackle total yet. Greg Toler is on pace for 125 tackles and only a few savvy managers have taken notice. Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson is coming off a huge game and enjoys another nice matchup this week with Bills. Cowboys linebacker Bradie James isn't affected at all by the Tony Romo injury, if that helps at all; he's also been a beast lately and faces a reeling Jaguars offense.
Jim McCormick is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com, as well as a regular contributor to the Washington Post's "Behind the Helmet" and Sirius XM's Fantasy Sports Channel. You can reach Jim with your questions and comments at JMcCormickESPN@gmail.com or on Twitter @JMcCormickESPN.