D Up! OLBs are A-OK in 2009


It seems like there is a telling theme to every fantasy football season that in some sense influences the market for that next year. Last year saw "anti-receiverism" come to an end as a number of stud wideouts produced at elite levels, forcing their way into the first round this past August as committee backfields diluted the tailback position. There was certainly a growing presence of established top receivers the past several seasons, but many consider last year to be a transformative point in the way we view the position.

In individual defender leagues, last season can be considered the year of the high-tackle safety. We saw the likes of Eric Weddle and Yeremiah Bell post gaudy, linebacker-esque tackle clips, as it became more common for defenses to ask their safeties to help bolster the rush defense behind unique schemes and undersized front sevens around the league. There have always been a handful of 100-tackle safeties each campaign, as Rodney Harrison's career numbers prove, but last year saw 15 defensive backs reach the 90-tackle threshold. This season should bear similar results, with at least 16 players on pace for 90.

Defensive back has long been a volatile position in fantasy. That makes this emerging crop of high-tackle safeties (and the rare cornerback) highly coveted. Although last year's elite production from the safety position might not produce the exact same cast of characters, you can find amazing value in this emerging breed of high-tackle talents in guys such as Erik Coleman, Antoine Bethea and Danieal Manning. If you're having to rely on interception-dependent corners or disappointing safeties such as Adrian Wilson, peruse the wire for a high-tackle option, as such a player will drive your team with sustainable production.

Front Four: The weekly word on the world of defenders

So, what does 2009 forebode? Well, it's still very early, but this season may well end up being considered the year of the outside linebacker. So far, guys such as Chad Greenway, Thomas Davis and Brian Cushing are dominating the leaderboard on a weekly basis from an untraditional position. Call it the Lance Briggs effect. We'll get into what implications this potential theme might have going forward, but for now, we're still enjoying this wave of dominant defensive backs.

Sharper's shadow: New Orleans' Tracy Porter wowed the masses with his amazing pick-six on "Monday Night Football" a few weeks back but he's more than just a big-play threat, as his steady tackle numbers make him the rare cornerback who can sustain fantasy production without relying on interceptions. … Fellow Saint Roman Harper also has been lost in the Sharper shuffle; he's another 100-tackle candidate to consider.

Fresh Prince: Given that he's been putting in more work than his more famous namesake, it's time the "other" Will Smith gets his due. We've been waiting for another dominant campaign from Smith ever since his breakout 2006 effort, and it seems as if he finally is giving us the sequel, thanks to his recent stretch of awesomeness. There are few better current buys at defensive line with Smith available in nearly 75 percent of ESPN.com leagues despite inviting games against the Rams and Bucs coming up.

Infirmary: The aforementioned Thomas Davis went down into the fetal position after he planted his leg awkwardly this past Sunday. Moments later, his hand was waving to the New Orleans crowd as he was carted off, soon to find that his season was over with a serious knee injury. The loss of Davis is huge for the Panthers and for his fantasy owners, as he was on pace for a career campaign in all aspects. Veteran Landon Johnson replaced Davis and merits some consideration in deep leagues, but it's really Jon Beason who gets the bump in value as he'll be asked to do more without his partner in crime by his side.

IDP Ranks Week 10: 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).


Defensive Linemen

Defensive Backs

Bargain Bin: Worthy defenders available in more than half of ESPN leagues

Anthony Hargrove has come on strong of late, and playing opposite a raring Will Smith can only help his prospects as the little-owned end heads into a savory series of matchups on the schedule. … On pace for 88 solo tackles and a variety of fumbles and passes defended, Brandon McGowan is the Patriots defensive back to target on a weekly basis. … Louis Delmas is the beneficiary of playing behind the porous Detroit front seven, a reality that will not change for some time. … Tanard Jackson makes huge plays on a regular basis. This is a good thing. … In a twist of irony, Jerod Mayo is actually a mustard fan, but he's also a fan of violently tackling the ball-carrier, which is pretty cool for his few fantasy owners.


Mark Gunther: My league just started using defensive tackle as a position this year as opposed to general defensive lineman in years past, can you name a few defensive tackles that you think are good on a weekly basis?

Jim: The variations in every league make IDP so much fun, forcing owners to seek numbers from a traditionally weak position. Given the dearth of production from the position, owning a few industrious tackles can really afford you weekly margins over opponents. That said, I'll try to mention a few guys who are widely available in ESPN leagues and could be of use in specific position leagues such as Mark's. I'd consider Jonathan Babineaux from Atlanta a nice emerging tackle, given his recent penchant for collapsing the pocket, as well as Dallas' Jay Ratliff and Miami's Randy Starks. Both Jason Jones and Glenn Dorsey are young talents who afford you steady enough production and could emerge as second-half studs.

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 espn.idp@gmail.com with all your IDP concerns.