In the fantasy football marketplace, the easiest way to make some fast coin is with individual defenders.
There's a decided lag on this side of ball in terms of pursuing emerging talents. Glen Coffee gets gobbled up in the majority of ESPN.com leagues this week thanks to his short stretch as a starting tailback. With no proof of production, no certificate of statistical authenticity, managers find that he's a worthy addition given his opportunity alone. Yet on the defensive side, a budding talent like Curtis Lofton, coming off a ridiculous 19-tackle effort, is owned in just 27 percent of leagues.
Now, I get it, running backs are coveted commodities and a shot at a starter, if even for a stint, is a valuable addition. But at the same, numbers are numbers, and Lofton is just one example of the type of proven talent that languishes on the wire in most leagues. Be fluid with your defensive roster and look into undervalued talents like Lofton, Elvis Dumervil, Antoine Bethea and Justin Durant. It might just make up for missing out on that cup of Coffee.
Front Four: The weekly word on the world of defenders
Safety warning: Continuing on the undervalued theme, there are a number of productive safeties floating around leagues who could be the salve to your defensive back issues. Danieal Manning, Chris Hope and Abram Elam are players who will provide you with steady tackles and have turnover upside as well.
Infirmary: That red cross next to a player's name is never fun, but given the realities of football, we must deal with the injuries that befall our fantasy teams. Dwight Freeney's impact on a game doesn't always translate to the box score, but the pressure he regularly applies feeds numbers to his linemates and secondary. He will likely miss the next two weeks with a strained quad and should be targeted in leagues where impatient owners couldn't wait for him, as he was well on his way to a double-digit sack campaign before the injury. Jilted Shawne Merriman investors finally have a documented injury to blame for his utter lack of production, as he's now dealing with a groin injury. Wait a few more weeks with Merriman to see if he can regain his former dominance, but don't afford him much more than that.
Tackle kings: Tackles are the most important stat for individual defenders. Sacks and turnovers may get the headlines, but a trusted source of tackles drives a defensive roster in fantasy. The early results have London Fletcher pacing the league with Lofton, Keith Ellison, Thomas Davis and Barrett Ruud filling out the top five. Ellison, a former safety like Davis, is rostered in only 26 percent of leagues and should keep his lofty numbers going behind a porous line in Buffalo.
Sorry sack totals: James Harrison and DeMarcus Ware were drafted near the top in every IDP league, and for good reason, as their production over the past two seasons has been gaudy and seemingly enduring. The young season has been a disappointment for both, to say the least, as talk of Ware breaking the single-season sack record has dissipated quickly since he hasn't dropped a signal-caller so far, while Harrison has just made one visit to the turf with quarterback in hand. Ware is simply facing too much attention and needs teammate Anthony Spencer to alleviate some pressure, while Harrison simply needs to get untracked as offenses are scheming for him now that he's a premier name. Be patient, as both will get going in time.
IDP Rankings Week 4
So that we're working from agreed parameters, we'll use what many consider to be traditional scoring modifiers for IDP leagues:
tackle -- solo (1), tackle -- assist (0.5), 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
Daryl Smith is owned in only 8 percent of ESPN leagues and should rack up the tackles as teams run though Jacksonville's middling defensive line. Eric Smith is most famous for delivering the brutal blow that busted Anquan Boldin's face last season, but he's also a pretty solid fantasy value. With a matchup against the pass-happy Saints, he could near double digits in takedowns this week. Terence Newman has been the rare bright spot in a maligned Dallas Cowboys secondary. He should feast on Kyle Orton this week. Brian Cushing is quietly making his early bid for defensive rookie of the year with his steady play. Teams will run on Houston's undersized line all season, and "Cush" will the rack up the solos. Abram Elam has been steady so far and should continue to be a stable fantasy value as teams pass on Cleveland throughout the season.
J. Ewars: Jim, for the love of IDP production, what is going on with LaMarr Woodley? From hero to zero!
Jim: Woodley hasn't been laying the wood as he had last season, there's no doubt about that. But to be fair, fellow Pittsburgh 'backers James Harrison and James Farrior haven't fared much better. Woodley will get his, but keep in mind that his 11.5 sacks last year came in just eight games, so some lean weeks are to be expected from a 3-4 linebacker like Woodley. Look into a more steady option, like a Stephen Cooper, and play Woodley only against pass-happy offenses and weak offensive lines.
Brett Sand: Unfortunately, my No. 1 pick for IDP was Jonathan Vilma. I know he has the ability to be top-5 every year, but with New Orleans putting up monster points each week, it seems as though his ability for solid numbers is gone. I have options such as Akeem Jordan, Andra Davis and E.J. Henderson in free agency, but I feel like it's too early to give up on Vilma. Do you see him bouncing back to IDP stardom, or should I look toward one of these other players for consistent stats? Thank you for your help!
Jim: You called it, Brett, Vilma's best numbers come in games when the opponent is running the ball throughout the day, and the Saints' offensive prowess has put opponents in pass-heavy catch-up mode. I do think you should practice some patience with Vilma, though, with this week against his former team as a good test for what he's capable of in a close contest. If he continues to be limited by his offense, which somehow makes sense, look into the steady Henderson as a replacement.
Jim McCormick is an IDP and fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com, as well as the editor and publisher of BLITZ Magazine, a print and online publication covering football from prep to pro. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org with all of your IDP concerns.