- Jim McCormick, Fantasy Sports
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The fantasy playoffs are a time often defined by cold weather, close games, consolidated rosters and hushed message boards (those who've been knocked out usually quiet down). It's also a time when some real Marlon Randos make their way onto your roster. You know what I'm talking about: that lot of random guys that makes up your bench and possibly your starting lineup that you simply never expected to own.
When you drafted Marion Barber seventh overall in August, did you know who Tashard Choice was? (nevertheless predict you'd eventually need to own him?) This time of year, we must throw out reputations and expectations and go with the hot hand. The fantasy homeless find homes in these strange times. While first-round fantasy flops like Marshawn Lynch and Joseph Addai torment their owners, those who own the undrafted Pierre Thomas are making space on their mantles. Don't fear the unknown, especially when you're dealing with a distinctly depressing known commodity (see Addai). We've witnessed Ron Dayne lead teams to fantasy titles just as we have Tom Brady or LaDainian Tomlinson.
In IDP, the influx of the random boost to your roster is even more pronounced. As the attrition of the season wears on and new names step up, those of us who are keen to the scene can reap the rewards. Below are some solid contributors who are available to many of you for just the click of a plus symbol.
Consider using these players if you are in immediate need of impact defenders.
Linebackers and Linemen: David Harris led many to fantasy glory last December and he seems apt to repeat the run now that he's back from a prolonged injury-induced absence. Look for Harris to reclaim the leading-tackler role for the Jets as they look to reclaim their run-stopping identity against the reeling Bills. Bradie James may not boast the manliest of names, but at least he seems to take out his latent recess anger on opposing players. With a volume of tackles and a growing penchant for pressuring QBs and producing turnovers, James is an IDP star on the rise and is available in over half of ESPN leagues. I emphatically endorsed Robert Mathis last week and it worked out quite nicely for those who trusted him (and me), as he pillaged the Cincinnati offense. Next up is the offensive juggernaut that is Detroit, a savory matchup for both Mathis and Dwight Freeney that could extend your playoff run. After a career year in 2007 numbers-wise, Gerald Hayes has been a disappointment manning the middle in Arizona, but has recently awoken from his statistical slumber. With the assuredly run-heavy Minnesota offense on the docket, you can expect a volume of tackles for the little-owned (13 percent) Hayes. Consider Hayes a safe, if unspectacular, option for your squad. The carousel of linebackers in Kansas City seems to have slowed enough to make some sense of the fantasy value in the corps, as Derrick Johnson is now the man in the middle. Look for Johnson to tally elite tackle totals down the stretch for the 19 percent of you who own him. Jerod Mayo is essentially the last man standing among the New England linebackers, as they just put a call in to Andre Tippett. But seriously, Mayo has been a steady source of production lately and has Oakland and Arizona in the coming weeks. Paris Lenon's lowly ownership totals (12.7 percent) would likely land him in the sleeper section in any other week, but given his steady production and the immediacy of the playoffs, he's earned his spot amongst the starters. Last week was premature to want to include D.J. Williams in the starters' list, as his knee just wouldn't agree, but after a week of full practices it seems safe to plug the IDP superstar back into your lineups.
Defensive Backs: Thanks to the glut of injuries to the Green Bay secondary, Charles Woodson will be playing strong safety for the rest of the season. The move allows Woodson to pad his tackle numbers and gives him more freedom to ball-hawk. Seriously, what did Ronde Barber do over the bye week? The guy has been simply elite in IDP regards since the break, after having been pedestrian for much of the season. With rookie Matt Ryan and the highly-targeted Roddy White up next, another big day is likely for the better of the Barber brothers. Ed Reed is a confounding player to own and evaluate. One week he'll net you two tackles and the next two TDs, but in the fantasy playoffs the latter is enticing enough to buffer the risk. Owned in just a quarter of ESPN leagues and with pick-prone QBs Ben Roethlisberger and Tony Romo up next, Reed could be the catalyst to your fantasy championship. Quietly, almost silently, Quintin Mikell has established himself as a sleeper candidate for a Pro Bowl berth. That, and he's been a supremely steady source of production for his few fantasy owners. Adrian Wilson and Bob Sanders are two big-name safeties who have battled injury all year but are both ready to lead you to fantasy glory. I've endorsed Thomas Davis and his unique eligibility at both safety and linebacker ad nauseam this season. But it's the playoffs, and he's still owned in just half of ESPN leagues, and did I mention that he's a productive linebacker that you can play at DB?
Target these guys for depth with an eye on their potential to be full-fledged starters.
Linebackers and Linemen: Richard Seymour had long been the embodiment of a good "real" defender who is at the same time a poor fantasy defender, but now that honor goes to Oakland's Nnamdi Asomugha. Seymour has quietly enjoyed his best fantasy season of his career and has an enticing meeting with the Raiders to look forward to. For leagues that distinguish a spot for defensive tackles, Seymour is a top play this week. No matter how the injury scenario plays out in Denver, you can bet that Nate Webster will get his numbers. Much like his teammate D.J. Williams, Webster is back from injury and should pick up on his prolific production. As a nod toward Week 16, if New Orleans' Will Smith isn't suspended by then he's a great value against the Lions. I mention this now so that you can roster him before your league locks the wire on Sunday. Keith Brooking was once an IDP star but has become a depth play over the past few years as he enters the twilight of his career. For steady tackles, though, there's no harm in considering Brooking in a deep league. Elvis Dumervil has been collapsing pockets lately like the bully in Napoleon Dynamite, only without the tater tots. Napoleon Harris (unintentional segue) mans the middle in Minnesota and should rack up some good numbers chasing down the talented Arizona receivers.
Defensive Backs: Kelvin Hayden was brilliant for the few who started him last week and he has yet another inviting matchup as the Colts take on the hapless Dan Orlovsky-led Lions. The Pats landed Brandon Meriweather in the Deion Branch trade, and while Branch beat Meriweather and his fellow Pats a few times last week, New England still got the better end of the deal on this one. Meriweather has taken considerable time to mature into a legit starter, but has been productive lately and faces a supremely favorable schedule to finish the season. Known more for taking a shot from Steve Smith than anything else, Ken Lucas should ideally be known for his solid coverage skills and steady production of late. Available in the vast majority of leagues, Lucas could post a big game against the pass-heavy Denver offense this week. Bryan Scott seems to have secured a safety gig for the remainder of the season in Buffalo and is of value in deep leagues.
Jim McCormick is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com.
12hBy Jackie MacMullan