All eyes are on Washington.
As fantasy owners, we're interested in great statistical feats. Rob Gronkowski's record-setting effort last season cemented his status as a feared force on the field and as a legend in fantasy leagues. LaDainian Tomlinson's 2006 season likely saw a marked uptick in babies named LaDainian in 2007 across the nation. On defense, arguably the most closely followed feat has been the single-season sack record, with Michael Strahan's 22.5 mark in 2001 still topping the list. Just last fall, Jared Allen challenged the record with 22, and who knows if he could have broken it if Brett Favre were still around.
Washington has eight sacks on the season. While he isn't a challenger to the all-time sack record, he is on pace to have the best sack total ever by an inside linebacker. This isn't a vaunted record to most, but fans of IDP leagues will assuredly celebrate a player on pace for 136 total tackles, including a whopping 120 solo tackles, and 16 sacks. The highest sack total for an inside linebacker is 13.5, posted by Charlie Clemons for the Saints in 2001. Clemons, the uncle of Seattle's standout defensive end Chris Clemons, had a somewhat forgettable career outside of that stellar season, but he remains the torchbearer for inside linebackers getting to the quarterback.
It's unlikely you can get your hands on Washington at a reasonable price now, but if you can pry him away from a team in need of some offensive help with a depth running back or receiver, it would be quite fun to own the stud linebacker as he chases this record.
Front Four: The weekly word on the world of defenders
Elite returns: Baltimore's Terrell Suggs resumes his remarkable comeback Sunday in Cleveland. As he has been a full participant in recent practices, it's time to get him on your roster and into your lineup. There's little risk in adding the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year, who is available in an absurd 95 percent of ESPN leagues. Entering the season, hopes were quite high for the fantasy prospects of Tennessee's Colin McCarthy. As the middle 'backer for the Titans, we expected a high number of tackles mixed in with some big plays from the University of Miami product. An ankle injury derailed much of the season's first half, but now that he is healthy enough to play a full game, McCarthy represents an immense value acquisition for the second half. The young stud middle man is available in more than half of ESPN leagues and could be a top-three tackler the rest of the way.
East Bay 'backer: The 49ers boast a bevy of elite linebackers, but it's about time we discuss their neighbors across the bridge. The biggest story on Oakland's defense might be the decline of former top pick Rolando McClain. With each week, McClain's snap count continues to dip, and his production has been listless. The focus should instead be on Philip Wheeler, who has quietly put together a strong statistical season for the Raiders. The crew at Pro Football Focus favorably grades Wheeler as one of the best outside 4-3 linebackers in the league, ranking behind only Denver's Von Miller this season. The real on-field product is strong, and the fantasy production isn't far behind for Wheeler. With an increasingly prominent role on the defense and every-down work, Wheeler, available in nearly 90 percent of ESPN leagues, should be viewed as a strong second-half breakout candidate.
The Wright stuff: While I've hyped Bobby Wagner for several months now, Seattle's other young standout 'backer now merits some promotion, as K.J. Wright is turning in an elite fantasy season. Wright, available in more than 80 percent of IDP leagues, is on pace for an elite 100 solo tackles. Much like Wheeler, Wright is an outside linebacker on the rise in terms of providing a versatile skill set on the field. He has proved capable versus the run and in coverage and has shown some upside as a pass-rusher. If the Seahawks begin to deploy him on more blitzes, which he proved worthy of in his 2011 rookie campaign, he could be an elite fantasy commodity going forward.
Bargain bin: Defenders available in more than half of ESPN leagues
Carolina's Greg Hardy has been a stout run-stopper and is now adding sacks to his résumé. With fellow end Charles Johnson flashing his elite form of late, Hardy's breakout season is looking sustainable. Denver's Wesley Woodyard had a ridiculously productive outing versus the Saints on Sunday, with 13 total tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a pick. He is unlikely to repeat such a monster outing, but to be worthy of fantasy investment he doesn't have to, as he is on pace for 139 total tackles. Tennessee safety Michael Griffin has been struggling in coverage this season, but his numbers aren't suffering because of it. Consider him a steady source of production at a cheap price. Giants safety Stevie Brown has been larcenous, with five interceptions on the season. Linebacker Brad Jones was called into starting duty in Green Bay, and his numbers have been impressive since doing so. Canton-bound Ronde Barber has transitioned well to safety and continues to have value in deeper fantasy formats. Kurt Coleman of the Eagles has some issues in coverage, but for fantasy purposes, this is a good thing. He should pick up plenty of tackles Monday night in an expected shootout in New Orleans. Sticking with Philly, DeMeco Ryans grades out well, according to Pro Football Focus, and should continue to provide fantasy investors with steady production.
IDP Week 8 Ranks: Top 30 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 (0.5), Sack (3), Interception (3), Forced fumble (3), Fumble recovery (3), Touchdown (6), Safety (2), Pass defended (1), Blocked kick (3).