It seems like just a few days ago we were drafting our fantasy teams with hopes of domination. Some of you are laying it to your league, and we congratulate you, but many of us are still seeking tweaks and refinements, as imperfections in our rosters have been made evident in just this first month of football.
The best part of fantasy football really begins around this time of the season: wheeling and dealing and proactive roster management. Our teams are no longer mysteries, and now it's our task as fantasy owners to begin to solve what ails them. On the defensive side of the ball, feel free to look for what is free in your league, as unheralded but productive players linger on the wire or sit on an opponent's bench ready to be snatched in a seemingly minor trade.
Front Four: The weekly word on the world of defenders
Roman vs. Berg: One of the best names in football, if not in sports in general, must be Roman Harper of the New Orleans Saints. For one, it sounds like an established book publisher, and two, he's been a relevant fantasy commodity ever since he donned the crest out of Alabama some years back. What makes Harper of such interest to us fantasy nerds is his 3.5 sacks already in this young campaign. Even without the sack production, the hard-hitting safety is a coveted statistical source thanks to a steady tackle clip and penchant for jarring the ball loose from ball carriers. Now that he's on pace for a ridiculous sack total, around 14 for the season, he's making his claim as an elite fantasy force. His career high in sacks previous to this season was four in 2007, a very respectable total itself, but now we find him nearing that career threshold before Week 5 kicks off. The all-time sacks record for a defensive back is Mike Berg's nine in 1979. Owned in just over half of ESPN leagues, Harper merits immediate ownership for those fantasy owners who like owning dominant defensive backs.
New York Shuffle: I received an email last week from a reader claiming East Coast bias was running amok in this here column: "Why do you need to mention the New York Giants' defensive line every week?" Good question, reader, but sadly (for you, I suppose) I'm going to go ahead and continue to mention the Giants' defensive line since it's the most relevant single source of defensive line talent in the league. This week's point of interest, Osi Umenyiora, returned to action in Week 4 and in somewhat limited snaps recorded two sacks and forced a fumble, while Justin Tuck sat out and is again doubtful this weekend. Umenyiora is available in nearly 40 percent of ESPN leagues, while the same can be said of young linemate Jason Pierre-Paul. I swear we'll tone down the Giants talk, once they tone down the rotation of injuries and alternating huge weeks.
Rookie Watch: I'm starting to track youngsters who might merit mention for fantasy purposes. We'll start off with Washington Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, who enjoys some sweet defensive end eligibility and continues to prove that his Week 1 splash onto fantasy leaderboards was no fluke. Owned in just 34 percent of ESPN leagues, Kerrigan has a fixed role in an aggressive 3-4 scheme should keep the stats coming and with the boon of his eligibility situations. … If you are in a league that rewards ridiculously awesome glasses worn in a player's ESPN profile pic, then Von Miller is the top pick without question. After exhaustive research, we've found that his specs are the coolest, and his five sacks in the past three games aren't so bad either. Owned in less than 17 percent of ESPN leagues, Miller will have some boom-or-bust to his production but remains a worthy consideration for those valuable boom outings.
Bargain Bin: Here are some players that are owned in less than 40 percent of ESPN leagues (with many well below this threshold); the Houston Texans' Antonio Smith has a sack in each of the first four games this season. While he's not a star option, as the bye weeks creep up, he's available in all ESPN leagues and could do well as a spot-start. … The Tennessee Titans' Jason McCourty is emerging as an elite fantasy defensive back and is owned in fewer than 20 percent of ESPN leagues. … The same can be said for Buffalo Bills safety George Wilson, who used to line up at wideout in his early days as a pro, but is now a fixed starter in the secondary. … The Indianapolis Colts' Kavell Conner has a cool name and a productive game, with 43 tackles this season, just seven behind teammate Pat Angerer for the league lead.
IDP Rankings Week 5: The Top 20 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 (0.5), Tackle - Assist (0.25), Sack (3), Interception (3), Forced fumble (3), Fumble recovery (3), Touchdown (6), Safety (2), Pass defended (0.5), Blocked kick (3).
Jim McCormick is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com and the high school football editor for ESPNHS.com. Contact him at JMcCormickESPN@gmail.com or @JMacPhillies on Twitter.