D Up! Week 5: Knowing what you got
Fall is the new summer (for fantasy football fans, at least).
While most people complain about how fast the summer goes by and how they wish they could slow it down, I feel the same way about the rapidity of fall. Fall quickly leaps from game to game for me, from Sunday to Sunday.
Just a mere month ago we were drafting our then-"perfect" fantasy squads, and now we are a quarter of the way through the fantasy campaign. See, it happens quickly. It's right about that time in the season when you realize what kind of team you have. One or two weeks in and the jury is still out. But now that we have a full month of NFL action behind us, fantasy teams are starting to form an identity.
The identity or personality of a fantasy team, however abstract a concept, is essentially the idea that we can expect a certain level of production from the different components of our team. Some teams, for example, are awesomely stocked at wide receiver but are starting Chris Perry and Kevin Smith at running back. To ultimately contend, the owner of such a team must try to balance out his roster, or he will likely lose because of this disproportional production. Some teams host the ultimate underperformance collection, with the likes of Braylon Edwards, Randy Moss and Carson Palmer all on one incredibly depressing roster. You can either accept the makeup of your team and their developing identity, or you can craft and edit your roster into a more balanced and competitive group.
No matter your record at this stage of the season, you still have a shot at contending if you are acutely aware of your team's identity. For those Individual Defensive Player (IDP) managers still sitting on the defenders you drafted, regardless of their production so far, don't complain when you find yourself out of the race in your league. If you are suffering from Adrian Wilson's injury or Kerry Rhodes' utter lack of production, then make a move. Add a Donte Whitner or Brian Williams and tweak what hasn't worked for you so far. IDP, more than standard fantasy play, requires that managers consistently adjust and maximize their defensive roster. If nothing else, go down swinging, because the season isn't slowing down.
Consider using these players if you are in immediate need of impact defenders, especially in deep leagues.
Linebackers and Linemen: Karlos Dansby is available in more than half of ESPN IDP leagues and merits immediate attention in your league if he's available. While he hasn't busted out with a signature huge game just yet, his schedule after Arizona's Week 7 bye is appetizing and could lead many fantasy teams to the playoffs. Freddie Keiaho is wildly under-owned in leagues and is a breakout candidate to track as the season wears on. "Fast" Freddie plays behind an undersized defensive line in Indy that allows runners to regularly hit the second level, allowing him and fellow 'backer Gary Brackett to pad their tackle numbers. If he were on offense, his level of production would merit 99 percent loyalty in fantasy leagues, but Dhani Jones leads the NFL in tackles and yet is available in 45 percent of ESPN IDP leagues. Jones' linebacker peer, rookie LB Keith Rivers, is also deserving of some IDP love thanks to the sieve that is the Cincinnati defensive line. Zach Thomas remains a great value in fantasy leagues, as many managers have given up on him because of his age and injury concerns. At a cheap or even free price tag, pursue Thomas for the volume of solo tackles he'll rack up. DE Charles Grant is having a renaissance season and is piling up not only healthy sack numbers, but usable tackle totals as well. With the weak secondary behind him in New Orleans, expect Grant to have plenty more opportunities for sacks against opposing signal-callers. I continue to espouse how great Gaines Adams is playing, and yet he's still available in more than 60 percent of ESPN leagues, even though the man has more interceptions than Champ Bailey.
Defensive Backs: Donte Whitner is finally enjoying his breakout campaign and living up to his high-draft billing. With some injuries plaguing the surrounding secondary in Buffalo, Whitner could be in line for a huge tackle game against the pass-happy Cardinals. Yeremiah Bell is ridiculously underappreciated by my fellow IDP nerds and deserves a little more attention for those seeking productive defensive backs. Chinedum Ndukwe is an announcer's nightmare but could be a dreamy play for your fantasy squad. The hard-hitting Cincy safety looks like he has wrapped up the starting gig for the season and should put up prolific numbers on a weak Bengals defense. . FS Eric Weddle's 29 total tackles have him on an elite pace to top 100, and he also affords his fantasy loyalists a number of interceptions and fumbles to boot. Tennessee's safety tandem of Michael Griffin and Chris Hope continue to produce and remain awesome buy-lows as the fantasy market has yet to realize their true market price. Ronde Barber was an elite fantasy defensive back just a few seasons ago but a poor '07 and concerns over his age have seen him drop to a measly 20 percent owned in ESPN leagues. Look for Barber to enjoy a comeback season with this week's matchup against the pass-heavy Broncos being a particularly productive outing. Philadelphia's Quintin Mikell has taken a cue from mentor Brian Dawkins and is affording his owners a nice mix of tackles, sacks and turnovers.
Target these guys for depth and bye-week plug-ins with an eye on their potential to be full -fledged starters.
Linebackers and Linemen: DE Mathias Kiwanuka is available in nearly 90 percent of ESPN leagues, and that is simply absurd given his ability to track down both the QB and the tailback. If your league rewards difficult pronunciations then Kiwanuka gets an additional bump in value. Third-year 'backer Omar Gaither is the vet on a young Philly linebacker corps that has been among the league's best units so far. With a Redskins team likely to run early and often, Gaither is an ideal bye week plug-in and depth value to consider. DE Elvis Dumervil has been in a sackless funk of late -- better than a funky sack, I suppose. Either way, he's bound to get to Tampa's Brian Griese in what has the makings of a shootout in Denver. Champ's bro Boss Bailey enjoyed a productive Week 4 chasing down Larry Johnson, and could post similarly good numbers against the Tampa tandem of Earnest Graham and Warrick Dunn. The Chiefs' Demorrio Williams could rack up the tackles this week in Carolina filling in for the ailing Donnie Edwards and is an ideal spot-start to target. Juqua Parker, formerly Juqua Thomas, changed his name this offseason to honor his late father. So far, the new name has done well for him, as he has quietly racked up 3.5 sacks for Philadelphia and shows no signs of slowing on Jim Johnson's ever-aggressive defense.
Defensive Backs: Before injury cut his rookie season short, Cleveland's Eric Wright was on his way to an awesome fantasy line last season. Now healthy, Wright continues to be a fantasy beast with a healthy clip of tackles to go with a blend of interceptions and pass defenses. Marvin White is a safety for the Bengals. This is good for fantasy purposes. What this means is that he will continue to tally linebacker-esque tackles thanks to the glaring lack of competent run-stoppers that play in front of him on the front seven. . Much like an interim running back or momentarily promoted receiver, SS Mike Adams has nice short-term fantasy value to consider for your team. Adams has filled in ably for the Browns' stud safety Sean Jones. Consider Adams this week, and keep an eye on him and Jones' injury as a barometer of his value. Chris Horton is forcing his way onto the field by making big plays in limited opportunities. As the Redskins' current nickel safety, he doesn't have a ton of immediate usefulness, but target Horton, as he'll likely usurp current starting FS Reed Doughty in the coming weeks.
Jim McCormick is an analyst for ESPN.com fantasy football.