D Up: Exploiting eligibility rules
The first definition of the term "loophole" is a small opening through which small arms may be fired. But for our purposes, we are looking for the exploitive connotation of the word, not the gun-duel version.
The relevant kind of loophole, of course, is a weakness or exception that allows a system or set of rules and laws to be circumvented or otherwise avoided. A salient example would be starting the Green Bay Packers' Spencer Havner this week at linebacker for your fantasy team. So instead of positioning a pistol through a crevice, we are putting a newly converted tight end in at linebacker in our lineups. The newly converted Havner is now catching passes from Aaron Rodgers and is no longer at the back end of Green Bay's deep and talented linebacker corps. Is Havner a truly sound play? Not really, but in a deep league, he certainly makes for a fun and compelling consideration.
Savvy reader and regular commenter Mike Cook pointed out another sweet exception with the Buffalo Bills' George Wilson, who switched from wideout to safety in 2007 but is still eligible at both positions. In Mike's league, the scoring is such that Wilson actually makes for a nice bye week plug-in at wide receiver given his consistent production from the safety spot compared to free agents in his league such as Ted Ginn Jr. and Earl Bennett.
Last season, many shrewd managers enjoyed the safety eligibility and elite production of the Carolina Panthers' Thomas Davis, a high-tackle outside linebacker. Just as Marques Colston was listed as a tight end in his rookie campaign by several sites, there are a handful of these exceptions on the defensive side of the ball.
Using a player's eligibility to your advantage isn't always so dramatic as Havner or Wilson. An actual linebacker for the Packers, Aaron Kampman, enjoys eligibility at defensive end, a shallow position compared to linebacker, and he's been warming up of late as he transitions to a new position. Elvis Dumervil's already astounding value is magnified by his similar eligibility as a defensive end and linebacker for the Denver Broncos. Prominent loopholes exist in the IDP format every season, and tactfully exploiting them has been bountiful to those who have strategically pursued them.
Front Four: The weekly word on the world of defenders
Fun with numbers: Great, another Twitter reference. But wait, this one is actually pretty cool. ESPN's resident ice cream man, the "scoop master," Adam Schefter, posted this last week: After one game, Michael Crabtree has one more catch than Darrius Heyward-Bey does this season. Converted to the defensive side of the ball for us IDP nerds: New Orleans Saints safety Darren Sharper has more touchdowns so far than Calvin Johnson, Steve Smith "South" and Terrell Owens combined.
Infirmary: It was thankfully a light week in the nurse's office after an erosive Week 6 that saw fantasy stud D'Qwell Jackson lost for the season. In his place, though, rookie Kaluka Maiava posted five solo tackles and should see a steady stream of opportunities chasing down Matt Forte this week. In San Diego, Tim Dobbins had a monster outing last week filling in for an injured Kevin Burnett, and he could make claim to the gig long-term if he keeps up the production. Dobbins makes for an ideal injury or bye-week plug-in this week. The Seattle Seahawks' David Hawthorne will fill in for the seriously injured Lofa Tatupu in the middle. While he's not likely to repeat his 16-tackle Week 3 opus, he is in a great position to produce behind a porous line.
Spoonman: Pretty nice debut for the Philadelphia Eagles' Will Witherspoon, as he tallied eight tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and an interception returned for a touchdown against the Washington Redskins on Monday night. I was at the game and also watched the game tape again later in the week, and Witherspoon was even better than the numbers suggest, displaying the range and opportunistic play that saw him vault into the elite of fantasy defenders from 2006-07. Get "Spoon" (who is owned in just 24 percent of ESPN leagues) before it's too late.
Veteran Values: Calvin Pace would be owned in far more than 20.9 percent of ESPN leagues had he not been suspended earlier this season, but he was, and now he's back and putting up monstrous numbers reminiscent of his breakout 2008 campaign. Pace posted three sacks and two forced fumbles last week and faces a still-maturing Chad Henne this week. The Arizona Cardinals' Adrian Wilson was at his playmaking best last week and should excel against a sloppy Carolina Panthers offense.
IDP Rankings Week 8: The Top 10 linebackers, lineman 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 (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
Jason Taylor is a valuable source of production as a defensive lineman and should enjoy a nice day chasing down Mark Sanchez. The Cardinals' young defensive end Calais Campbell has been warming up lately and makes for a nice play against a sloppy Carolina Panthers protection scheme. Keep an eye on Vontae Davis, Vernon's little brother, as he has the tools to make an impact later this season for the Miami Dolphins' depleted secondary. The Minnesota Vikings' Chad Greenway is criminally undervalued in ESPN leagues, as he's available in more than 60 percent of them. The Tennessee Titans' Keith Bulluck was once a perennial top fantasy selection but has fallen off considerably over the past two seasons. But Bulluck, a cagey veteran, has posted elite numbers over the past several weeks and should be busy Sunday corralling Maurice Jones-Drew.
Tom Farber: How do you gauge a guy like Darren Sharper? He's putting up the best totals of all defensive backs but seems to be feast or famine from week to week?
Jim: Outside of Sharper's nine-tackle effort against the New York Jets in Week 4, he has not topped four and has seen all of his production come from interceptions and his three pick-six plays. I consider Sharper comparable to what we used to expect from Lee Evans on the offensive side; really nice year-end totals that stem from four or five huge games per season. A gambling defensive back like Sharper, especially in the way that coordinator Greg Williams uses him, is prone to be a boom-or-bust producer as he plays center field for the New Orleans Saints. That said, Sharper remains an elite fantasy commodity nonetheless, as he's in a prime position to record 10 interceptions for a team that is often leading big into the second half, which sees opposing signal-callers making daring throws late into the game. Just be prepared, as a Sharper loyalist, to endure some lean weeks mixed in with the big outings.
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 email@example.com with all your IDP concerns.