Welcome back for another season of fantasy football. More specifically, welcome back to the other side of the ball, where we detail and discuss the intricacies and important information relating to individual defenders. The key goal of this column is to hopefully provide some useful insights into the realm of individual defensive leagues (IDP), while also building a sense of community on the comment board, on Twitter and in what will be weekly mailbags at the conclusion of each week's column. Feel free to get in touch (email link below) with your queries and suggestions for this distinctive space where we focus solely on the defensive side of the ball. Since it was such a long offseason filled with mock drafts, reading, research and anticipation, let's get started on Week 1.
Front Four: The weekly word on the world of defenders
Big Baby Bobby: You don't often hear of a 241-pound man referred to as a baby, but with Seattle Seahawks rookie Bobby Wagner being deemed a "Baby Patrick Willis" by former San Francisco 49ers and current Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson, it's a uniquely flattering comparison nonetheless. Wagner joined the Seahawks with fellow Utah State alum Robert Turbin, a promising rookie tailback, proving the team did well investing in the Aggies' program this past April. Wagner is owned in fewer than 2 percent of ESPN IDP leagues and this figure is bound to swell as the season matures and his production compels the public to pay attention. Beat the crowd and find room for Wagner on your roster before the hype machine grows louder.
Replacing Bishop: Second-year linebacker D.J. Smith flashed promising potential in his rookie campaign for the Green Bay Packers, but now that star inside linebacker Desmond Bishop has been placed on IR with a brutal hamstring injury (albeit, with the new caveat that he could return later this season), Smith is now in line for an every-down role in Green Bay. Expect A.J. Hawk to trot to the sidelines in nickel and dime scenarios while Smith remains on the field, affording him great opportunities to produce. While expecting production similar to the elite season Bishop posted in place of Nick Barnett a few years back could be a bit lofty, Smith does make for one of the savviest free-agent additions (owned in just 0.5 percent of leagues) an IDP owner can make at this early stage of the season.
Spoonman: Growing up in Philadelphia during the "heyday" of the mid-'90s 76ers was, well, amazingly depressing. A rare highlight of that era was our best player for several seasons, Clarence Weatherspoon, or "Spoon" for the indoctrinated. I'm admittedly partial to the name given the connection, but the Atlanta Falcons' Sean Weatherspoon merits admiration for far more than his name. With an every-down role on what promises to be an aggressive Falcons defense, consider Weatherspoon a premier fantasy commodity who remains undervalued (owned in 64.5 percent of leagues). Even from an outside 'backer role in a traditional 4-3 base defense you can expect elite numbers from this emerging star.
Best Buys: In going through the current ownership numbers in ESPN leagues I found some interesting names that merit mention as worthy additions to even shallow defensive rosters. We'll start this bargain bin off with Earl Thomas in Seattle, who, unlike his impressive peer Kam Chancellor, isn't owned in a majority of leagues and could be a premier playmaker in 2012. The breakout is on its way for Thomas on what could quietly be the top secondary in football. Kamerion Wimbley is owned in just over a quarter of leagues but is primed to enjoy a big season coming off the edge for the Tennessee Titans. You might be wary of investing in a linebacker-turned-lineman, but consider that Wimbley was a true hand-in-the-ground end at Florida State and is quite comfortable working the edge in a 4-3 system. Given how shallow and fickle defensive line commodities can be, there's little reason not to gamble on Wimbley's transition. The Green Bay Packers' Morgan Burnett (owned in just over 30 percent of leagues) is a talented safety who could prosper playing next to the Canton-bound Charles Woodson this season. If you are in the market for a middle linebacker to hold down your defensive roster, consider Mason Foster in Tampa. The Bucs are likely to struggle versus the run once again this season, but that could keep Foster busy patrolling the lanes this fall. It's rare that a true 4-3 middle man is so widely available (owned in just over 10 percent of leagues). If your league handsomely rewards passes defended, then consider the Titans' duo of corners, Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner, this week versus the New England Patriots' aggressive aerial attack.
IDP Rankings Week 1: The Top 20 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 (1), Tackle - Assist (0.50), Sack (3), Interception (3), Forced fumble (3), Fumble recovery (3), Touchdown (6), Safety (2), Pass defended (1), Blocked kick (3).