Commentary

D Up!: Brian Cushing back in action

Updated: October 8, 2010, 7:13 PM ET
By Jim McCormick | Special to ESPN.com

Quirky position-eligibility scenarios have had minimal impact on traditional fantasy football. It's not much of a loophole if no one really wants to go through the hole; fun but fruitless examples can be found in Chris Cooley's famous H-Back designation in his breakout season, and Julian Edelman's having had eligibility at quarterback and wide receiver. The only time I can remember there being a distinct advantage was Marques Colston's rookie campaign, when he was regarded as a tight end and wide receiver in many formats. This season, the trickery continues with Danny Woodhead, listed as a wideout because that was his designation in the New York Jets' system this preseason. While it's benign fun on offense, multiposition eligibility has long been an impact element in individual defensive player leagues.

I tend to compare the defensive and offensive sides of things often in this column. I guess I do so because it helps distinguish the differences in the IDP market from the traditional side. The distinct tactics and trends that arise on this side help make it such an engaging fantasy format. In the past couple of seasons, for example, there have been some famously awesome eligibility loopholes with defenders, who tend to play more varied roles. It's no so common for, say, a tight end to become a wide receiver, but for a linebacker to become an end or a safety to bulk up to play outside backer? This happens all the time. A few seasons ago, a special teams ace for the Atlanta Falcons, Coy Wire, led the league in rad names and was a fantasy gift in the sense that he had eligibility as a safety and a linebacker. The fact that he was a converted safety and was lining up as an outside backer gave him immense value over the short stretch that he started for the Falcons, as managers could plug him in as a safety and enjoy a linebacker's tackle clip.

Wire's story is just one of many that emerge on the defensive side of the ball. Throughout the season, we'll continue to discuss the eligibility element, and for this week I break down the growing faction of "Deolbs," or guys who have both defensive end and outside linebacker designations.

Front Four: The weekly word on the world of defenders

Brian Cushing
AP Photo/David J. PhillipBrian Cushing racked up 134 tackles, four interceptions and five sacks last season.

Cush: In no way are we discussing the flaky signal-caller from "Jerry Maguire." Rather, the controversial and menacing Brian Cushing of the Houston Texans returns this week from a suspension for banned substances, and he's wildly underowned on account of this. I had him tabbed as my fourth overall defender before the suspension hit. Last season saw him post a rare blend of statistics that he proved capable of compiling on a consistent basis. There might be an adjustment period getting back into game action this week, but I wouldn't bet on it. Don't wait too long on this one, as the market is going to wake up soon enough.

Transformers: Reader Mike Cook queried me about this year's crop of outside linebackers who also have defensive end eligibility, guys like Andre Carter, Tamba Hali, Chris Kelsay and Jason Taylor. In some of these cases, the player has only defensive end eligibility, but the idea is that these guys are really playing from an outside linebacker perch on most plays, adding considerable value to those who use them as defensive ends. It seems that ever since the 3-4 scheme swept through the league, a crop of talents previously considered "tweeners" have become coveted commodities; those thought to be too big to play linebacker but too small to be a down lineman have emerged as the beneficiaries of the scheme shift. Keep an eye out for any of these scenarios, often found on defenses that toggle between 3-4 and 4-3 looks, like the Washington Redskins have this season.

Big Game James: So James Anderson, outside linebacker for the Carolina Panthers, is atop the leaderboard for defenders. To be honest, there wasn't much of a progression here, no career arc that indicated he'd be a statistical force this season. Scouting reports describe him as an undersized speedster who had struggled with playing instinctively on the pro level, something he seems to have improved at this season. Had Thomas Davis not reinjured his knee, I'm not sure Anderson would even be on the fantasy radar, since he would just be another depth linebacker. But he is here, and his production has been transcendent, with last week's 16-tackle performance inciting the market to add him en masse. There's still time, in most leagues, to get aboard the James train, as he's still out there in just more than half of ESPN leagues. Keeping with the James theme, the St. Louis Rams' James Hall has four sacks in his past three outings and is owned in just 7.5 percent of leagues.

Blond Hawk Up: A few weeks ago, it seemed that A.J. Hawk's days with the Green Bay Packers might just be done, as well his fantasy value. But with a second lease, he's been solid for several weeks, and now that the Packers are dealing with a depleted front seven, it's clear that he'll enjoy an abundance of snaps going forward. For those in deep leagues that reward long but somewhat greasy Utley-esque hair, as well as a nice clip of tackles with potential for big plays, Hawk is a sound addition in the 92 percent of leagues in which he's available.

IDP Rankings Week 5: The 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 Arizona Cardinals' Kerry Rhodes is a former fantasy stud who is enjoying a return to relevance lately. Given that he's likely available in your league, the rewards certainly outweigh any risks. ... San Diego Chargers linebacker Kevin Burnett is owned in just 2.9 percent of ESPN leagues despite having dominated the last time he suited up. Oh yeah, and he plays the Oakland Raiders this week, which should lead to another solid outing. ... The Cardinals' secondary might be porous to the pass, but it is becoming a really nice fantasy resource, as Greg Toler has kept up the production with teams passing on him regularly. He faces this Drew Brees guy this week. ... Sticking with the desert theme, teammate Paris Lenon has been statistically awesome so far. ... Take a flier on Taylor Mays; he does the Dougie far better than Braylon Edwards and should see the field a lot with the team releasing veteran safety Michael Lewis after a dramatic faceoff with the coaching staff and front brass.

Mailbag

Regular reader and savvy commenter mike2espn had some solid queries for me this week; "Quite a night for the Giants defensive lineman, what do you make of Osi Umenyiora going forward?"

Jim: Much like the (in)famous game a few seasons ago when Umenyiora dominated the Philadelphia Eagles, thanks to then-turnstile Winston Justice, we have to temper our reactions to what happened this past Sunday night against the Chicago Bears. At the same time, it was a breakout game for a veteran player who had a cantankerous demeanor much of the offseason. With Mathias Kiwanuka suddenly going down last week with a neck injury, the roles on the Giants' line seem to have become more distinct, and Umenyiora stands to get consistent snaps now. He's long been a boom-or-bust guy -- three sacks one week and literally no production the next, but that's also the nature of the position. I'd value him as a really solid matchup asset but not a trusted weekly starter. Either way, his value certainly just inflated.

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.

Jim McCormick is a fantasy football and fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.

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