Most who follow Matt Schauf of RapidDraft.com on Twitter seethe at each “IDP” tag and wonder how he can make light of internally displaced persons. In this case, however, we’re talking individual defensive players, who add realism to your fake football leagues and gripes for the whiny leaguemate who always finishes last anyway. Schauf will be stopping by once a week to help you beat ol’ whiny even worse.
He has gone out and put up three sacks in each of his first two games, giving him two more than anyone else in the league so far. He leads all defenders in fantasy points in my preferred scoring system — 1 per solo tackle, 0.5 per assist, 3 per sack, etc. — and sits nearly 20 points ahead of the No. 3 linebacker. (James Harrison is in second by just 3.5 points.)
I think it’s safe to say that we all look at Clay Matthews right now and see a beast.
My question, though, is if he will no longer be a beast once he truly loves another and has her love him in return. Will that break this spell? Will Matthews become human once again and feel pain in his hamstring? Do young daughters ever tire of Disney stories? (Please?)
Short of the village beauty coming to live at Matthews’ castle, I predict a continuation of this pace and an NFL-record 48 sacks to finish the season. OK, the final numbers might fall a little short of that, but Matthews is for real.
Weeks 1 and 2 certainly provided him favorable matchups in a Philly offense that had blocking problems throughout the exhibition games and a Buffalo line that isn’t even good enough to have “blocking problems.” This week presents Jay Cutler behind the small paper wall behind which Mike Martz prefers to have his quarterbacks work, so it’s not a matter of whether Matthews remains a good starting option. The only uncertainty is whether he’ll be facing murder charges this time next week.
Behind him in the NFL sack rankings sit some other interesting cases for fantasy owners, particularly those with DL positions to fill.
Seven other players have more than two sacks to this point, and you shouldn’t need me to tell you that Mario Williams, Dwight Freeney, James Harrison and Robert Mathis are for real. What about the other three guys, though?
Mathias Kiwanuka might be a little tougher to trust coming off a three-sack season, but he had eight the year before in his only campaign as a full-time starter. Plus, beyond the three sacks of 2009 lay 39 combined hits and hurries (according to the 2010 Football Outsiders Almanac). The difference between a hit or hurry and a sack can often be a pump fake, a step by the defender or a half-second less of blocking.
Whether he’s technically starting or not in a given week, Kiwanuka has done more than enough to remain a key contributor up front for the Giants — so important a defender that the team has lined him up (out of position) at linebacker at times to keep him involved. Justin Tuck is the top Giants lineman in fantasy, but Kiwanuka comes next.
Juqua Parker has similarly remained a staple in the Eagles’ pass rush over the past several seasons, but he’s a bit more iffy. Parker has provided underrated production as a rusher and spent most of the past two seasons starting at left end. However, Philly jumped up in the first round (actually, it made a trade to acquire a higher draft position) to grab Brandon Graham, who took over as the starter before the season began.
The right shoulder injury that took Graham out of Sunday’s game early appears minor and shouldn’t keep him out at all, which blocks Parker from starting at that spot. The 32-year-old veteran will continue to get rush chances, but he’ll have to acquire monster sack numbers to support a tackle total that will be lacking. Parker has never topped 33 solos in a season and doesn’t seem likely to this year. Even that total would have tied him for 41st among linemen last year.
Before we get too far here, let me say that Marcus Benard’s fantasy scoring is probably going to be limited this year for much the same reason as Juqua Parker’s. Unless some other folks in a fairly crowded linebacker group get hurt, he’ll simply have trouble getting consistent snaps – and that might get even tougher whenever D’Qwell Jackson gets back.
That said, it wasn’t a fluke that Benard opened this year with a sack and a half in Week 1 and another in Week 2. He emerged last season in that screwy, icy Thursday night Browns win over Pittsburgh with a pair of sacks and turned in 1.5 more over the final two weeks. He was my Browns pick in this year’s series of deep IDP sleepers (which I always start and never manage to finish). Benard might well be the best pass rusher Cleveland has now, and he’s just 25. He’s a player to stash in a keeper league and see what develops.
One other sleepy sack dude
A little secret here: Gaining playing time is easier for a pass rusher on a team that needs pass-rush help. Why? I can’t figure it out. The Bucs tallied the fifth fewest sacks in the league last year (28), and thus could use some help. DE Tim Crowder has shown flashes here and there and once seemed on track to become a staple in Denver. Then the Broncos went 3-4, and he went away. He has two sacks so far this year after garnering scant playing time in his first season in Tampa.
Matt Schauf is the senior football writer for RapidDraft.com and the brains behind (or would that be inside?) the “Suit” character in their free fantasy football game. Draft against him and 10 other fantasy Pros in RapidDraft Weekly every week (hence the name).