D Up!: The finish line
The fantasy football season is over for most of us. We are left to enjoy the NFL playoffs, compete in the Gridiron Playoff Challenge, and then watch this stuff called basketball and hockey for a few months. An offseason rife with dreams of drafting Arian Fosters and Jerod Mayos awaits us -- one we hope includes a fresh and timely collective bargaining agreement so these dreams don't devolve into nightmares. But for those who are still playing, and for their respective league's crown no less, we've put together some choice commodities to consider for this unique final week of the campaign. Just as Michael Vick and Tom Brady are apt to sit or play sparingly this week, there are some interesting considerations on the defensive side. I suggest following the same path you would with offensive options and avoiding the talents on teams likely to take a preseason or even bye week approach to this final tilt. With that in mind, peruse the collection of "Playoff Performers" below as a salve to any potential roster concerns you might be facing.
Week 17 Playoff PerformersConsider using these players if you are in immediate need of impact defenders during this crucial championship week.
Linebackers: While Paul Posluszny is likely owned in your league, I would wager that his peer in Buffalo, Akin Ayodele, remains available for the click of a plus symbol, given his zero percent ownership in ESPN leagues. Since netting a starting gig in Week 11, Ayodele has posted solid tackle totals, peaking this past week with a 17-tackle effort. His first name is short for Akinola, which in Yoruba means undefeated warrior. Not saying you'll be assuredly undefeated if you roster him, but with the run-heavy Jets up next, another double-digit outing is likely. ... The Seahawks' David Hawthorne finished last season in Jamaal Charles fashion with a series of huge outings and is starting to heat up again. He remains available in 99 percent of ESPN leagues and faces a Rams offense that features a workhorse tailback and a short-passing game, leading to a number of statistical opportunities for Hawthorne. You might also want to consider Hawthorne's teammate Lofa Tatupu as another promising linebacker this week. ... DeAndre Levy's touchdown this past week made good on my endorsement of him, but I'd prefer to see lots of tackles rather than a lone big play. That said, he'll be busy hunting down Joe Webb and the Minnesota backfield this week, and should be a reliable source of tackles.
Defensive Line: Have I mentioned this kid in Carolina, Charles Johnson, has capably replaced Julius Peppers and has amassed seven sacks since Week 11? I think I have, but repeating an endorsement never hurts when the production meets the hype. ... The long awaited breakout campaign has finally come for Chris Long, in large part due to the stellar play of line peer James Hall. Both are widely available (Hall more so) and should be busy chasing down Charlie Whitehurst in what is a de facto playoff game.
Defensive Backs: Carolina's Nic Harris can be considered the defensive Joe Webb in that he is afforded safety status in ESPN leagues but will be the starting "Will," or weakside linebacker, this week versus Atlanta. Linebacker numbers in a defensive back spot are always welcomed. ... Cleveland's Joe Haden has the biggest set of ears I've seen since Alf was ruling prime time, but that's not what is helping him compile such a stellar second half of his rookie campaign. It's his deft reads and sure hands that are helping to that end. He's available in nearly 80 percent of ESPN leagues, so consider the Florida product as an ideal option for those in leagues that specifically roster cornerbacks and as an equally ideal keeper commodity. ... Donte Whitner's days in Orchard Park could be coming to an end, as his rookie deal is expiring this offseason. Fantasy owners, however, can enjoy the bittersweet close of his inconsistent time in Buffalo, as he ironically has finally proved to be a sound safety, particularly from a statistical perspective.
And now, our annual positional MVP discussion, perfectly suited for the many of us who are simply IDP nerds and have little else to ponder in this final frame of the season.
The best of the bestThis isn't an ode to the mysteriously watchable 1989 Eric Roberts karate vehicle; rather, it's a celebration of the best IDP players this season by position. Derrick Thomas Award (Top Linebacker) DT was a menace to opposing quarterbacks and led many early IDP players to victory with his ridiculous production (the man had seven sacks in one game; just ask Dave Krieg).
While there are other linebackers who have posted bigger games and stronger stretches than Jerod Mayo, none have matched his consistent tackle production. Mayo's historic pace dipped a tad in these past weeks, but he'll likely near the 180-tackle threshold, which is just silly, and record-setting for the past decade.
Honorable Mentions: Welcome back to fantasy awesomeness, Brian Urlacher. The Chicago icon endured the entire campaign without major injury and posted a statistical line reminiscent of his prime. While we can't bank that he'll be able to repeat this renaissance effort next season, given his long injury history, he merits mention as the comeback player of the year. ... Clay Matthews factored into the discussion here, but he'll likely be involved in the more compelling conversation for defensive player of the year. "The Claymaker" could be considered the Eagles' MVP, though, as his hit on Kevin Kolb in the opening game opened the door for the Michael Vick era.Bargain Bin 'Backer: Derrick Johnson was essentially written off as a bust of sorts last season when he couldn't crack the starting lineup for a lowly Kansas City defense. The sage Romeo Crennel helped in resurrecting Johnson's career, and the fantasy managers who were smart enough to pick up on his re-emergence enjoyed quite the statistical ride. I find it comforting that I have Crennel in my spell check.
Reggie White Award (Top Defensive Lineman) The "Minister of Defense" recorded some of the best IDP seasons ever and should be further canonized for his 21-sack effort that came in just 12 games in the 1987 strike-shortened season.
Outside of a sorry stretch that sandwiched the Giants' bye week, Justin Tuck has been somewhat of a monster this season. While he doesn't have the sack numbers John Abraham claims, his involvement in 11 fumbles is insane and he remains a sound source of tackles at a fickle position.
Honorable Mention: Ndamukong Suh's name is clearly in my spell check as well, in addition to being engraved on the defensive rookie of the year trophy. Suh's dominant play helped redefine the Detroit defensive line, a unit that was fearsome when completely healthy with Kyle Vanden Bosch in tow. I'm not sure I've ever seen such a bankable fantasy commodity from the defensive tackle position since the days of Warren Sapp or Kevin Williams' sack-savvy seasons.
Bargain Bin Lineman: Jason Babin's career arc mimics that of Derrick Johnson in that he was deemed a bust after struggling to find a role in the league as a 'tweener. He finally found a home as a speedy end in Tennessee and earned a trip to the Pro Bowl. It's safe to assume that Babin wasn't drafted in any league outside of his own (even in that one, I doubt it), but it's also safe to assume that he'll be regarded as a fantasy starter heading into 2011.
Rodney Harrison Award (Top Defensive Back) Long regarded as the dirtiest man in football, Harrison also has been a fantasy stalwart with his linebacker-esque tackle totals and his 30.5 career sacks.
Terrell Thomas took part in 11 turnovers (counting both fumbles forced and recovered) and was a consistent source for production at a generally inconsistent position. Even in his worst tackle effort, against Seattle in Week 9, he was able to net a pick and stay relevant in fantasy terms.
Honorable Mention: Kerry Rhodes now can claim a large Twitter following in addition to a renaissance campaign in Arizona. Rhodes was a fantasy superstar in his best days as a Jet and has new life in the desert thanks to an unexpectedly great statistical season.
Bargain Bin DB: The Brown's T.J. Ward enjoyed a strong rookie season buoyed by stellar tackle totals (116 and counting) and can be tabbed as one of the best fantasy free-agent additions in all of the IDP landscape.
IDP Rankings Week 17: The top 10 linebackers, linemen and defensive backsSo 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).
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 firstname.lastname@example.org with all of your IDP concerns.
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