We are all well aware that fantasy football, and sports in general, is rife with clichιs. We forgive the impossibility of "giving 110 percent" since we've heard it so many times in postgame sound bites. "Play the matchups" is a particularly prominent one that we fantasy nerds are accustomed to hearing. On the offensive side of the ball, we're well versed with what trends and indicators to look for when setting our lineups.
More than anything, we crave attention for our players. By attention, I mean that we want our offensive players to get the targets and touches that convert into fantasy points. It's relatively simple; we covet the guys who are consistent cogs in their respective offenses.
On defense, though, it's more difficult to determine a defender's role given that there are few established metrics to account for his potential. While we can estimate a certain amount of touches for a tailback, how do we determine how many production opportunities a linebacker or safety will net in a given outing?
Essentially, how do you spot a defender primed for a big week? I guess this is where I come in as the resident defensive nerd. When evaluating defenders, there are some production indicators to consider. One way, for example, is to look for linebackers and safeties who play behind weak defensive lines. You can find them by perusing the worst rush defenses. This week, guys like Detroit's Paris Lenon and Indianapolis' Freddie Keiaho play behind sieve D-lines, and thus will have increased tackle production as a result. Keiaho is on pace for 144 tackles for this very reason. Next week, we'll delve deeper into determining these indicators and spotting the defenders who are primed to produce.
Consider using these players if you are in immediate need of impact defenders, especially in deep leagues.
Linebackers and Linemen: Defenders fall off the fantasy radar rapidly with a down year or even an extended poor stretch of production. Bart Scott is proof of this. He was an elite commodity in 2006, then suffered a down 2007. Now, Scott is rostered in just over 7 percent of leagues. But he has a nice matchup this week against a run-heavy Miami offense. Calvin Pace was looking like a first-round bust after a slow start to his career, but he has flourished the past two seasons and is now a bona fide QB menace. Consider Pace an elite sack value this week against the Raiders. Curtis Lofton won't put up spectacular stats, but he is a nice steady tackle source to target during the bye-week stretch. Consider him a defensive version of Bobby Engram or Derrick Mason in that he'll rarely dominate but is still a safe start. I'm confused as to why Ernie Sims is still languishing on the wire in over 55 percent of ESPN leagues. He's on pace for 134 tackles and is on a defense that plays behind often, leading to lots of shots at the ball carrier late in games. Thomas Davis' eligibility at both safety and linebacker bumps his already considerable value up and allows you to get 100-plus tackles out of your DB slot. Davis is a full-time linebacker, but was a safety prospect coming out of Georgia a few years back and that seems to have resonated with the position czar at ESPN. Point being, you can get a nice linebacker or an awesome safety out of Davis on any given week. Paul Posluszny hasn't broken out with a big turnover or sack outing just yet but it's on the way. While you wait for the coming-out party you'll still enjoy a steady clip of solo tackles from Poz, particularly facing LT's Chargers this week. Takeo Spikes' ownership spiked 15 percent this week, the largest jump in ESPN leagues. I'm not convinced it's sustainable. Last season, Spikes enjoyed a few big outings similar to this recent stretch of productivity only to disappoint fantasy owners in the end. While he's a nice backup and depth option in the midst of this stretch, don't bank on him being healthy and or consistent enough during the fantasy playoffs.
Defensive Backs: Chinedum Ndukwe's stellar play of late is a positive on what has otherwise been a nightmare campaign for the Bengals. Even when former starter Dexter Jackson returns from injury, it shouldn't affect Ndukwe's reps given his awesome production and big-play ability. Eric Weddle can be had in just over half of ESPN leagues and is on pace for 133 tackles. He'll pad that total this week chasing down Marshawn Lynch and the Buffalo passing attack. Yeremiah Bell is on pace for an even better tackle total than Weddle, with a 134 total on the horizon. Drop your interception-dependent cover corners and add these diesel safeties to your roster. Speaking of corners, Eric Wright and Cedric Griffin are particularly useful and are of greater value in leagues that have specific CB spots. Although he's off this week, Arizona's Adrian Wilson is owned in just 32.8 percent of leagues and enjoys a great stretch after the bye. Stash him immediately and reap the rewards. Donte Whitner should flourish this week chasing down LT and Antonio Gates, leading to another solid outing. Ronde, not Tiki, is the likely Hall of Famer to come from the Barber household. Much like Bart Scott, Ronde's been left for dead by the fantasy crowd and presents a great value against a reeling Seattle defense. Look for Barber to nab his first pick of the season this week. Oshiomogho Atogwe now goes by O.J. for some reason. I'm guessing his name was butchered a few hundred times by the bottom-tier broadcast teams that cover the Rams. Despite the phonetic challenges, Atogwe is an established interception threat and should post a nice blend of tackles and pass defenses this week hosting Dallas.
Target these guys for depth and bye-week plug-ins with an eye on their potential to be full-fledged starters.
Defensive Backs: Chicago's Corey Graham has filled in ably for the injured Nathan Vasher and could play an even larger role with Charles Tillman now ailing as well. Graham has posted nice tackle totals in recent weeks and remains a nice spot play as long as he's starting. Detroit's Daniel Bullocks could enjoy a huge week against a productive Texans offense that loves to spread the ball around to its many receiving weapons Much like the Broncos' linebackers, Marquand Manuel has inflated tackle numbers because of the numerous runners who make it into the second level against the Denver defense. For those out there in fantasy land in the rare leagues that reward this anomaly, Rashied Davis, the Bears' converted wideout and former defensive back, has eligibility at DB and WR in ESPN leagues. The scrappy Jim Leonhard continues to get the nod in Baltimore since the secondary is ravaged by injury. Leonhard is an ideal spot start this week against the tight end- and run-heavy Fins.
Jim McCormick is an analyst for ESPN.com fantasy football.