With nearly a third of the season in the books, it's difficult not to make enduring assumptions about players. Busts and breakouts seem to get confirmed by this point in the season, whether accurate or not. When we, as fantasy owners, feel a player is letting us down, the market shifts pretty quickly in accordance. Even though it seems like reputations and expectations for players are being to set, we must remember that there is still great potential for seasons to shift and fortunes to change (in both directions).
We are all comfortable with the concept of buying low in fantasy; when the market, or even one manager, is soiled on a particular player who could emerge from their statistical slumber and revive their reputation. The sample size, even though it doesn't seem like it when we are battling to contend in a competitive fantasy league, remains somewhat small. In baseball, we'd be fewer than 50 games into the season at this same point in the football campaign.
With all this said, it is entirely understandable why reputations and values are evaluated this intensely in fantasy football; after all, there are a finite amount of weeks to work with. Sticking with the baseball comparison, one week of NFL football equates to nearly 10 games of baseball. We can find value in the short windows that football forces fantasy managers into, as we should seek to capitalize on commodities we still believe in, even when most other managers are ready to move on.
Below, we've compiled some of the notable commodities that could provide a boon to your fantasy season going forward.
Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers: With some strong games before the team's current bye, the highly touted freshman is starting to warm up after a sluggish start to the season. In his last outing, Kuechly registered 11 total tackles and a pick, and has six stuffs in his past three games. Translation: the hype and talent are translating into production, which should give him increased snaps and opportunities. He was drafted to be a fixture in IDP lineups, but with a slow start there is potential to acquire him at a relatively cheap price, especially since Carolina is off this weekend. Taking the concept of "buying low" to a new level, as in "buying free," the talented rookie is available in nearly half of ESPN leagues.
Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks: Another rookie to pursue is Seattle's middle man, who has been increasingly deployed on blitzes and is starting to work behind the line more. Instinctive plays hunting down the ball are becoming more common, and he will face a New England team this Sunday that leads the league in rushing attempts.
Von Miller, Denver Broncos: Some were quick to call Miller a bust. And based on my inbox, I was overrating him on a weekly basis. With a commodity like Miller, there will be some weeks where the stats don't surface, but his impact is still very real in terms of providing pressure on the pocket and influencing the game. Big days are ahead, and the window for buying him at even a slight discount will close once he starts truly converting the pressure into production. (We have more on Miller below.)
Kyle Williams, Buffalo Bills: Even as a defensive tackle, Williams is worthy of consideration as a general defensive lineman in most leagues. With a healthy tackle clip on a line that will see opponents run early and often at them, Williams is the rare lineman who can provide a nice floor for production via tackles, while also producing legit sack potential.
Jason Babin and Trent Cole, Philadelphia Eagles: The absentee pass rush in Philly has been disconcerting given that it was supposed to be the hallmark of the team's defensive approach. Natural, four-man pressure was a key ingredient to this scheme, but it hasn't materialized on a consistent basis. Both Babin and Cole have been hurting fantasy teams en masse, and while cutting bait is certainly tempting and even understandable in shallow leagues, now is an ideal time to buy into them. Simply put, they are seeing more attention from opposing protection schemes, getting chipped and doubled with regularity. That said, the Eagles face some suspect protection schemes in the coming weeks, and if the Birds start to dial up more added pressure from the secondary and linebackers, things could really open up. On talent and pedigree alone, investing in Babin and Cole at a discount is wise.
John Abraham, Atlanta Falcons: As we will discuss in the section below, Abraham, like Miller, has been really effective at creating pressure on the pocket this season, even if the surface numbers don't always confirm it. A true pass-rush specialist, don't expect many tackles from Abraham and be prepared for some lean weeks. However, with an elite offense spotting his defense points, Abraham will be hunting the pocket with some valuable consistency this season.
Alterraun Verner, Tennessee Titans: Getting picked on is never fun, but when it comes to defensive backs in fantasy, it can be pretty fun to own a corner who gets picked on by opposing arms. On a suspect secondary in general, Verner gets a great deal of targets and attention, which affords him regular opportunities to defend passes and pile up tackles. With a fairly low profile in terms of fantasy value, there are few corners with steadier statistics.
DeAngelo Hall, Washington Redskins: After being a boom-or-bust fantasy commodity for many seasons, one whose value was highly dependent on big plays (think Vincent Jackson), Hall has transformed into a steady fantasy commodity over the past few campaigns with a consistent tackle clip. The big-play days are still possible, albeit less common. But on a defense that opponents are comfortable passing on, Hall will be busy this fall.
Antoine Winfield, Minnesota Vikings: This is simply a case of a former fantasy star who lost credibility due to a lack of durability over the past few seasons. Now healthy and on an emerging defense, Winfield is back to being the physical, tackle-heavy corner that made him a fantasy star for so long.
Front Four: The weekly word on the world of defenders
Pressure Production: If you're not down with PRP, you should be. Pass Rushing Productivity is a custom stat from Pro Football Focus that employs a formula which accounts for hits, hurries and sacks with an eye on discovering which pass-rushers are proving effective beyond just the surface statistics (namely sacks).
Denver's Miller, for example, leads their first edition of the statistic this season by producing pressure on more than 21 percent of his pass rushes. Miami's Cameron Wake has been a popular endorsement in this space for several weeks, and he grades out as an elite force as well. Some more surprising names in the study might be Kansas City's Justin Houston, who is a bit boom-or-bust in fantasy terms, but we can at least expect some more boom given how often he's applying pressure.
Rookie Bruce Irvin on the Seahawks is the top freshman to make the cut, as he's proving to be the player Seattle expected when they placed a great deal of stock in him this past April. PRP is a very useful and interesting evaluation of pass-rushers, a stat that helps to inform us as both fantasy managers and football fans.
Eligibility Boost: Gaining eligibility is much more common on the defensive side of the ball than on offense. An added role can really boost a player's stock, and New England's Rob Ninkovich is an ideal example of this, as he's gained defensive end status in ESPN leagues thanks to his role shift to an end after years as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.
The transition was slow for Ninkovich, as his blank stat sheet in the opener versus the Titans was the first time in 31 career starts that he failed to register a statistical contribution. However, he's starting to warm up to the new gig, and his numbers are becoming increasingly valuable. Keep an eye on him as a bye-week fill-in or a depth play, as he's beginning to excel in this new role.
Infirmary: Two big fantasy stars went down last week. In Cleveland, D'Qwell Jackson suffered a head injury and has been held out of practice this week. L.J. Fort appears to be the next man up, and could be a valuable plug-in this week. Jackson's injury doesn't appear to be one that will keep him out long, so he could be viewed as a buy-low option of sorts.
The major injury news from Week 5 is undoubtedly the torn ACL that star linebacker Brian Cushing suffered versus the Jets on "Monday Night Football." It's a big blow to their defense and to a player who was making an impact all over the field. Tim Dobbins will likely fill his shoes for the foreseeable future, but the real boost likely goes to Bradie James, the other starting inside linebacker who should be on the field more as the every-down inside guy going forward.
Bargain Bin: While his ownership is spiking, Rams defensive end Robert Quinn is still available in far too many leagues for the production and potential he brings to the field. … Tennessee's Zach Brown could be getting a good look as a starter going forward as an outside linebacker and has considerable potential to become a viable fantasy commodity. ... Safety Mike Adams has been productive for Denver and could be quite busy in a shootout of sorts on Monday versus the Chargers. … On a secondary that is inviting for opposing quarterbacks, Cleveland safety Usama Young has some legit upside in tackle-heavy leagues.
IDP Rankings Week 6: The Top 30 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 (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).