- Jim McCormick, Fantasy Sports
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However incalculable the influence, we have to admit that luck plays into sports. It's even more so in fantasy sports, where we've all been struck by both sides of the luck spectrum at one point or another.
Whether it be a tipped pass, a turned ankle, a fortuitous bounce of the ball or a last-second Hail Mary heave, luck has decided the outcome of numerous fantasy matchups. More than luck, however, skill has to factor in our fantasy fate.
Determining skill in fantasy football isn't just a litmus test of how much we know, a la Stump the (Matt) Schaub (or Matthew Berry). Rather, it's about one's ability to act on that knowledge. In this age of voracious information consumption, particularly among fantasy football fans, knowing about a sleeper player or a favorable matchup is, as GI Joe taught us, merely half the battle. The distinguishing factor between those who succumb to their "bad luck" in fantasy and those who counter it is the ability to make bold decisions. It wasn't solely luck that your buddy picked up Steve Slaton or Eddie Royal before they became future Fantasy Hall of Famers; nay, it was his proactive decision to make the move that netted the talent. It could very well have not panned out, as most waiver moves are apt to, but you'll never be like Jed Clampett if you don't shoot the ground (mind you, I'm not advising that you literally shoot the ground).
I've been in far too many leagues where managers are crippled by the "next week syndrome," vowing that next week they'll make the necessary trades or additions to improve their team. Most of us are playing in non-keeper, traditional redraft leagues, meaning that this is a one-shot deal with your given team. So why not play with some gusto? Particularly in leagues with IDPs (individual defensive players), with so much talent emerging as the season progresses. Think about some of the names below as a means to excel in your league, no matter your record or penchant for bad luck.
Consider using these players if you are in immediate need of impact defenders, especially in deep leagues.
Linebackers and linemen: Is Joey Porter's famously big mouth getting in the way of his fantasy ownership? It doesn't seem to affect Terrell Owens, and Porter is actually producing. Porter is the league's leading sack artist and yet is sitting next to a plus symbol in 65 percent of ESPN IDP leagues. Make room for him on your roster. Karlos Dansby has been among my favorite fantasy defenders for years thanks to his annual clip of roughly 80 tackles, five sacks, with two picks and two forced fumbles per season. This year, 'Los in on pace to meet his career averages in sacks and turnovers but more importantly is set to destroy his career high in tackles (117). In other words, the guy is a fantasy stud but has flown under the radar thanks to playing his whole career in the Arizona desert. He's available in 40 percent of ESPN leagues and has a very favorable NFC West-heavy schedule to enjoy. Despite being stuck on an otherwise horrid Detroit defense, Dewayne White is making his bid for a trip to Honolulu with his stellar play and is deserving of a spot on your roster if you like piling up sacks and fumbles. Zac Diles' ownership is finally catching up with his production, but he's still left out in the cold in the majority of leagues. Much like how David Thornton outperformed resident fantasy stud Keith Bulluck in Tennessee last year, Diles is outpacing DeMeco Ryans this season. James Farrior has been outshined so far by Lamar Woodley and James Harrison, but he is still a key cog on the Steelers' D and could be of use to your fantasy team down the stretch. Shaun Rogers' thumbnail picture suggests that he can and will eat you, as in literally eat you. In leagues that have spots specifically for defensive tackles, there are few better options than Rogers.
Defensive Backs: Sean Jones, Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes were the consensus top three fantasy DBs drafted in IDP leagues this past August, but after injuries and underperformance, all three can now be added for free in the vast majority of leagues. A feared intimidator in the vein of Ronnie Lott, Wilson is rounding back into form after battling injuries and is an incredible addition for a fantasy playoff run. Jones, for his part, is back in action for Cleveland and could immediately afford you better production in your DB slot if you can acquire him. Rhodes has been the most disappointing because he's been healthy and has simply not produced as expected. Consider Rhodes a nice buy-low given his inviting upcoming schedule. What if I told you that there's defensive back available in your league on pace for nearly 80 tackles, seven picks and a handful of fumbles? Is that something you might be interested in? If so, meet Chris "I didn't hear a hoo" Horton, a young safety owned in just 17 percent of ESPN leagues. With an incredibly favorable playoff schedule against mistake-prone and/or pass-heavy offenses, Horton could help propel you to a fantasy championship.
Target these guys for depth and bye-week plug-ins with an eye on their potential to be full-fledged starters.
Linebackers and Linemen: Mathias Kiwanuka is doing his best Osi Umenyiora impression of late, even better than Frank Caliendo could. That is, I doubt a short chubby comedian could sack Ben Roethlisberger three times in a game. "Kiwa" is owned in just 20 percent of leagues and is an ideal addition in a deep league. Kyle Vanden Bosch is back for the Titans this week and should join the sack party immediately. Get the stud at a value before he gets gobbled up en masse. I don't own and or play a horn, making it increasingly difficult to toot my own, but last week's endorsement of Leroy Hill worked out quite well and should hold true again this week against the Eagles. Chris Long is starting to heat up and is available in over 70 percent of leagues and has some immediate usefulness against a sackable Kurt Warner. Derrick Johnson simply hasn't lived up to the considerable hype, especially compared to his dominant college career, but he's still a solid pro nonetheless. Playing behind the league's most generous defensive line in Kansas City, he'll continue to pile up tackles and is widely available in ESPN leagues. Travis LaBoy is enjoying a career-year and this week faces a Rams offensive line that is allowing 3.4 sacks per game. Curtis Lofton is owned in a scant 5 percent of leagues and is a nice option for tackles versus what could be a run-heavy Oakland offense this week. In deep leagues, consider the Cards' Bertrand Berry against the matadors that play offensive line in St. Louis. Once a superstar in both real and fantasy worlds, Berry is now relegated to spot-start duties until he can prove his health and consistency.
Defensive Backs: Just a few years back, Ronde Barber was an elite fantasy option, and now he finds himself in the sleeper section thanks to a weak '07 stat line and a middling '08 to date. Look for Barber to rack up nice numbers this week blanketing Dwayne Bowe. Keep in mind that Barber is always a threat for a pick-six. Dwight Lowery garners a bevy of targets from opposing QBs on account of playing aside Darrelle Revis, which leads to healthy tackle and pass-defense number totals. Jabari Greer will be covering heavily targeted wideouts Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery this week and is a nice sleeper interception value given Brett Favre's recent (last 15 years) penchant for throwing picks. Brandon Meriweather is starting to pay dividends for the Pats and it's just in time, as they need him to replace Rodney Harrison's playmaking over the middle. Look for him to enjoy a breakout second half. Little-owned Jason Craft is a nice value in deep leagues for depth and is of particular use this week guarding the target-rich Arizona wideouts.
Jim McCormick is an analyst for ESPN.com fantasy football.