While injuries, particularly to top tight ends and Indianapolis Colts players, were the biggest fantasy stories of the week, the league's decision to suspend players for certain dangerous hits dominated the defensive realm.
I've been asked several times this week how this might impact the fantasy value of individual defenders. The fact is that you can't predict any potential suspensions. Players known for crushing hits, such as James Harrison and Bernard Pollard, retain considerable fantasy value despite this new climate. This hitting discussion is very contextual, with each collision unique. It seems the real determinant for suspension will be technique and the way the body and helmet are specifically used to deploy a hit. Some will say that the big-hit, highlight-driven culture incites most of these collisions, but it's also just an element that has been in the game for some time that we are becoming more sensitive to as protection of player health becomes more paramount with the revelations stemming from ALS research and concerns for the post-career conditions of these players.
I would consider the suspension risk of a hard-hitting defender to be somewhat comparable to that of an injury risk; even if a player is purportedly prone to injury, or known for jarring hits, we simply can't predict what hasn't yet happened on the field.
Front Four: The weekly word on the world of defenders
Fun Facts: I was never much of a math guy, but these are the kind of numbers that are fun to delve into. Detroit Lions stud tackle Ndamukong Suh is on pace for 12 sacks from the defensive tackle position. It's safe to assume that he has a "DROY." trophy being engraved as long as he stays healthy. ... Jerod Mayo is on pace for 195 tackles, which is like, pretty good. Read further to see where this pace stacks up historically. ... Eight of Osi Umenyiora's 16 tackles are sacks. He's on pace for an absurd 19 forced fumbles. The all-time forced fumble record is a tad foggy, since the league started officially recognizing the stat in 1998, but from what I gather, Dwayne Harper's 10 in 1993 is the unofficial best. ... Without having much of an historical context for this one, Laron Landry's pace of 168 tackles is pretty good.
Ram-sacked: The St. Louis Rams' pass rush has been a revelation this season thanks to their duo of emerging lineman. The Rams are currently tied for sixth in the NFL with 17 sacks. Defensive ends Chris Long and James Hall have combined for 8.5 sacks thus far, and both merit fantasy consideration, particularly Hall, a cagey veteran who had 11.5 sacks for the Lions in 2004. Long is being lauded for finally developing consistent technique and low-pad level, after spending his first two seasons relying on his considerable physical gifts. For immediate returns, I'd seek out the 11-year vet first, as Hall has been collapsing the pocket and forcing fumbles. In a keeper context, Long is regaining lost luster and could be an ideal commodity going forward if he can continue his sound season.
LT3: Lawrence Timmons is the Arian Foster of defense this year, only more consistent; a promising player who rose up draft boards as the season approached and has been simply sensational for his ecstatic investors. Continuing on the numbers fun from above, Timmons is on pace for 189 total tackles to go with nine sacks and three fumbles and interceptions. He's currently the top fantasy defender in nearly any scoring system. The most alarming number, however, is his 62 percent ownership in ESPN leagues.
Tackle King? The NFL did not start keeping the tackle as an official stat until 2001. Prior to this most teams recorded their own tackle stats, employing their own interpretations for what constitutes a solo and half tackle and what not. In the unofficial realm, former Atlanta Falcons linebacker Tommy Nobis wears the single-season crown, when unofficially recorded 294 tackles during his 1966 rookie campaign. That was over the course of a 14-game season, meaning that Nobis averaged an incredible 21 tackles per game. That's just amazing. The 214 tackles by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Hardy Nickerson in 1993 and the 222 by the Dallas Cowboys' Eugene Lockhart in 1989 are considered to be the best totals of the "modern" era. It's interesting how little the league focused on defensive statistics in the past, with the late '90s and early 2000s actually defining the official era for several defensive statistics. If you were wondering, Mayo's current pace for 195 tackles would be the "official" record, besting Patrick Willis' 174 in his rookie campaign.
IDP Rankings Week 7: 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
E.J. Henderson is owned in just over a quarter of ESPN.com leagues but is playing a mean middle for the Minnesota Vikings. He nearly singularly swayed the crucial game against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 6 with his two timely interceptions. ... Kerry Rhodes recorded touchdowns in consecutive outings before last week's bye and he faces a Seattle Seahawks offense that will likely look to the air a good amount. For those willing to take the risk on his upside, Rhodes is an ideal consideration. ... Jason Babin keeps getting to the quarterback and faces his former team this week. ... The New England Patriots' Rob Ninkovich often lines up as an outside backer but has defensive end eligibility, adding considerable value for those seeking a cheap and consistent lineman. ... Tamba Hali put up the dreaded goose egg last week, but you can capitalize on his ownership dip and enjoy a nice outing against a fallible Jacksonville Jaguars front. ... San Diego Chargers linebacker Kevin Burnett now has five sacks in his past three games, and yet the market hasn't reacted.
Mark in Syracuse: I lost my best linebacker this past week with DeMeco Ryans going down. First, who is in line to take over his spot and possibly his production? Second, any unheralded tackle-machines out there in most leagues that I could target?
Jim: Hey Mark, the loss of Ryans is tough for both the Houston Texans and fantasy owners alike. The good news is that you can replace his production, possibly even improve on it on the waiver wire. Meanwhile, the Texans likely will look to special teams ace Kevin Bentley to fill in for Ryans. There's no considerable value to be found in Bentley, if only because he's recovering himself from a knee ailment and the team has several other versatile backers to plug in, such as Xavier Adibi. In terms of some underappreciated commodities, I'd look to the Green Bay Packers' Desmond Bishop, who is ironically Nick Barnett's replacement at the inside 'backer spot. Bishop has tallied tackles and has even been deployed in a number of blitzes, and he's available in the vast majority of leagues.
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.