No matter the results of your run at fantasy glory this season, a key objective in fantasy football has always been to enhance our knowledge of the actual sport. Competing in individual defensive player leagues undeniably broadens our knowledge base well past the roster boundaries of traditional fantasy football, teaching us about the intricacies of the "other" side of the ball. With many fantasy seasons in the books already, let's take a fun look at some of the top individual defensive performances of the 2014 campaign.
MVP -- DeAndre Levy, Detroit Lions: After years of tantalizing us with awesome outlier outings, but generally inconsistent statistical returns, Levy emerged last year as a true three-down stud. This season, Levy has been one of the handful of elite linebackers in the league. Pacing the league with 109 solo tackles along with a blend of complementary big plays, Levy led fantasy teams with an invaluably consistent campaign this fall.
Contenders: Both Carolina's Luke Kuechly and Tampa Bay's Lavonte David produced similarly elite fantasy efforts to Levy's, but the dominant share of solo tackles for the rangy Detroit 'backer earned him the final nod. ... Denver's Brandon Marshall was arguably the top waiver gem among 'backers this season, producing a solo tackle on 74.5 percent of his total tackles. ... We'd be remiss to not include the 49ers' Chris Borland in the discussion for most valuable fantasy linebacker. Similarly to Marshall, Borland's season was cut short due to injury, but his league-best 12.1 tackles per game as a starter remains something to watch on a deep depth chart in San Francisco.
MVP -- Morgan Burnett, Green Bay Packers: On 60 snaps per game, Burnett led all defensive backs who played at least 10 games with 8.3 tackles per game on the season, with a sizable lead over second place (0.7 tackles per game) in the coveted statistic. Throw in 1.5 sacks and two forced turnovers and Burnett's production pace almost mirrors a middle linebacker's.
Contenders: Timeless tackle machine Charles Woodson has posted consecutive seasons setting career highs in tackles in his 16th and 17th seasons, while also still producing his trademark blend of big plays (six fumbles, five interceptions) over the past two seasons in the East Bay.
MVP -- J.J. Watt, Houston Texans: Producing more than 40 percent more fantasy points than the next closest lineman, Watt is the top individual defensive asset and it's not even relatively close. It's as if Watt turns in Rob Gronkowski's top season every year, lording over an inferior crop of peers.
Contenders: The Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul might not ever be as capable and dominant as his breakout 2011 season, but he certainly timed his second-best fantasy campaign of his career well as he heads into free agency this spring. ... Creative deployment affords the Patriots' Rob Ninkovich a rare healthy tackle pace among lineman-eligible assets. Proving durable as the front seven around him crumbled, Ninkovich turned in another top-10 season at an often-fickle fantasy position.
Front four: The weekly word on the world of defenders
Surging safety: If the Rams' T.J. McDonald remains available (owned in just 14.7 percent of ESPN leagues) in your league heading into the final Sunday of the regular season, there are few steadier producers among defensive backs (McDonald has played 99.9 percent of the Rams' defensive snaps this season). With the run-heavy Seahawks up next, another double-digit tackle outing is quite possible for the bruising safety.
Bob Blanton: Second only to the Packers' Burnett in tackles per game among defensive backs to have played at least 10 games this season, the Vikings' Robert Blanton has amassed double-digit tackles in three of his past four games. You can add Blanton for a few clicks in nearly 95 percent of ESPN leagues.
Florida State freshmen: Jacksonville's rookie linebacker Telvin Smith (2.9 percent owned) has played 100 percent of the team's defensive snaps over the past two weeks on his way to 20 total tackles, with a whopping 15 coming in Week 16. Afforded true three-down usage on a depleted Jags' front seven, this Florida State product provides an instant infusion of double-digit tackle potential to those in need of help at the position during this unique late week of the season. ... Speaking of Florida State products, the Bears' Christian Jones is a first-year Seminole product surging late into the season (24 tackles over the past two games).
Brandon's breakout: The Eagles face a potentially significant shift in their pass rush personnel for 2015, as Trent Cole is finishing his 10th, and possibly final, season in Philadelphia. A fifth-rounder out of Cincinnati, Cole has been a special asset for the Eagles, ranking second in team history in sacks with 85.5. Beset with a big cap number in 2015, it's quite possible impending free agent Brandon Graham assumes Cole's role off the edge opposite Pro Bowler Connor Barwin for the "Birds" going forward. Replacing Cole, in addition to being known for being taken just ahead of Seattle's Earl Thomas in the draft, is a tough ask of Graham, but advanced metrics seem to suggest he's a special pass rusher in the making. Pro Football Focus grades Graham second overall behind only Kansas City's Justin Houston among 3-4 outside linebackers despite playing more than 500 fewer snaps than Houston. As one of the more imposing per-snap pass rushers in football over the past two seasons, Graham is likely to return on a sizable contract to the Eagles, one that will help make him an intriguing fantasy investment on the 2015 market. If Cole does leave town and regains defensive end status in a new destination, he too could see a surge in market value given the thin nature of the DL position.
Week 17: The top 35 LBs, DLs and DBs
So that we're working from agreed parameters, we'll use what many consider traditional scoring modifiers for an IDP league: solo tackle (0.5), assisted tackle (0.25), sack (3), interception (3), forced fumble (3), fumble recovery (3), touchdown (6), safety (4), pass defended (0.5), blocked kick (3).