- Jim McCormick, Fantasy Sports
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The summer-like pace of the football season has us somehow already in the midst of Week 11. The only takeaway here is to cherish this last stretch of spectacular Sundays (and Thursdays, Saturdays and Mondays) that we have left.
Given how vital these next three to four matchups are, the salient question is how to spot a defender primed for a big week. When evaluating defenders, there are some production indicators to consider. For example, look for linebackers and safeties playing behind weak defensive lines. One way to spot them is perusing the worst rush defenses. You'll see this week that players behind generous lines get regular tackle opportunities. The Buffalo Bills' Paul Posluszny, for example, has produced stellar tackle totals from nearly every possible linebacker position this season thanks to playing behind the league's most porous defensive line.
It's within these next few weeks that fantasy seasons are truly judged, as positioning for the playoffs consumes owners and leagues alike. With that in mind, here is a collection of talents that make up my "Sub-60 Club": players with less than 60 percent ownership in ESPN leagues who could help fuel your drive to imaginary, but nonetheless rewarding, glory.
Defensive Backs: New Orleans Saints safety Roman Harper is readily available in over 40 percent of leagues, thanks to the combination of some lingering ailments throughout the season and his recent bye week. Now healthy, Harper, whose name sounds more like a publishing house than a punishing safety's, enjoys a favorable upcoming schedule full of sloppy pass offenses and, before the bye, had his best game of the year, posting 10 solo tackles and a sack. Similarly, the Denver Broncos' Brian Dawkins is widely available, thanks to a recent injury. He should be amazingly busy this weekend pursuing Bolts. The New England Patriots' Pat Chung has battled his own injury issues, but when healthy he has produced at an elite level. It's also worth noting that his mom was a famous reggae singer from the '80s that landed a hit with "Girlie Girlie", if that converts into fantasy value at all. The Tennessee Titans' Michael Griffin faces an incredible stretch of pass-happy offenses and is a notorious ball-hawk. Both Donte Whitner and Eric Weddle have proven to be steady tackle sources of late and remain widely available in ESPN leagues.
Linebackers: Apparently there is a penalty in 47 percent of ESPN leagues for rostering a player with a Thor-like appearance, as Clay Matthews remains criminally underowned despite leading the league in sacks and blonde hair. Fellow QB predator DeMarcus Ware, a player who is always capable of a monster outing but is also somewhat like a defensive end given his boom-or-bust tendencies, faces an inviting series of matchups beginning with the Detroit Lions this Sunday. The Baltimore Ravens' Terrell Suggs might be the most likely to rack up multiple sacks this week, as he faces Brian St. Pierre and company. The Kansas City Chiefs' Derrick Johnson continues to pile up the numbers if you're into that kind of thing.
Defensive Line: The San Francisco 49ers' Justin Smith is among the most durable lineman in the league with 151 uninterrupted games and faces a great stretch of porous offensive lines. While I'm not a huge Will Smith fan, whether we're discussing the actor or the lineman, it's hard to dismiss his series of great upcoming matchups that begins with a Seattle Seahawks team that has already allowed 24 sacks. The St. Louis Rams' Chris Long quietly, almost silently, has five sacks in his past four games and is enjoying the resurgence of linemate James Hall.
Front Four: The weekly word on the world of defenders
Atlanta Abe: The Atlanta Falcons' John Abraham has struggled with durability for much of his career, but thanks to limited snaps and a specific role on obvious passing downs he's remained healthy and quietly has amassed eight sacks. Mind you, he's recently been dealing with a groin injury just as I praise his newfound health, but it seems to be a minor ailment that shouldn't factor in to his potential to produce this weekend.
Get Ruud: Tampa is finally using Barrett Ruud's speed to collapse the pocket and pursue the signal-caller, as last week's numbers indicate. His ownership has dipped this season somewhat, thanks to some middling production, but his new role as a blitzer should see his numbers swell down the stretch.
Put Paul Anywhere: On the inside of a 3-4, outside of a 4-3 or back into the friendly confines of his traditional "Mike" gig, Paul Posluszny has proven independent of positioning and is one of the most readily-available and steady tackle sources on the market.
Extra Mayo: Somehow Jerod Mayo had the audacity to post only nine tackles last week, ending a substantial streak of double-digit outings. In a feat that is going widely unnoticed, he remains on pace for the best tackle season of the past decade and yet is still available for the click of a plus symbol in a quarter of ESPN leagues.
IDP Rankings Week 11: 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).
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.