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.
None other than Maurice Jones-Drew wrote last week in his fantasy column for SI.com (yeah, you read that right) that three weeks of the NFL season is enough for us to really start discerning trends.
Even though I’m taller than he is (and better looking), I’ve never played in the NFL, so I’ll take MJD’s word for it. I’m not going to bother pointing out to him that by his own logic we should expect his team’s offense to stink and him to let us down. I’ll simply go along with it and agree that we can really start trying to figure things out … at least until the next time a stocky white guy gashes the Baltimore run defense.
One simple-yet-significant stat is how many plays a particular defense faces. It’s not tough to make the leap that spending more time on the field will give a defensive player more chances to make things such as tackles (and act as Shaun Smith’s stress-relief doll). To that end, these teams are helping the fantasy value of some of their defenders.
Arizona (1st in defensive scrimmage plays)
Linebacker Paris Lenon is a guy I liked as a sleeper heading into the season, merely because he has produced in the past and stood to start in the middle of a defense that would really need him to make tackles. Derek Anderson’s triumph (?) in the QB battle only enhanced his value.
Through three games, Arizona’s defense has been on the field for more plays than any other, and Lenon sits tied for 12th in total tackles. He might face a playing-time crunch later in the season after Gerald Hayes returns, but for the time being you can have a guy who tallied 118 and 121 total tackles the last two times he started for a full season.
LaRon Landry looked like a good fantasy bet over the summer, as the team had plans to finally keep him in a truer strong safety role with much less of that pesky pass coverage involved. Washington’s interesting decision to enter the year with no running backs and only 1.5 wide receivers on the roster has helped Landry lead the league in total and solo tackles so far.
Behind him (well, technically, in front of him), Rocky McIntosh has also emerged as an IDP factor. The inside linebacker ranks third in the league in tackles after three games, completing a duo that can really only happen if your offense has an aversion to lined grass.
The Panthers are the last of the group of defenses that have faced at least 200 plays so far, but the Panthers sit second in most rushing attempts against. Not coincidentally, all three of the team’s starting linebackers reside among the top 32 in the league in tackles and the top 30 in fantasy scoring at the position.
Although the back seven is more often looked at from a tackle standpoint, the impact can be just as useful for defensive linemen. Buffalo, for example, faced more plays on defense than anyone last year and placed four linemen among the top 12 in tackles for the season. Only two of those guys ranked among the top 25 in fantasy points at the position, but the tackle opportunities can make for stronger week-to-week scoring consistency that might not show up as much in the full-season totals.
On the other end, Oakland has (somehow) faced fewer plays on defense than any other team. That’s not the sole reason that rookie middle man Rolando McClain is tied for just 68th in total tackles despite ranking second on his team, but it certainly doesn’t help.
Tyvon Branch has proved the only worthwhile tackle contributor so far, but that figures to change. The Raiders have faced Arizona, St. Louis and Tennessee to date, all of whom rank in the league’s bottom half in offensive time of possession so far. We’ll see if McClain can reach stud status, but he should at least get more opportunities.
A big part of reading the trends is looking forward to matchup advantages that can be exploited, so let’s check out a few players in good Week 4 situations …
Brian Orakpo, OLB, Washington: Washington’s top pass rusher has posted a sack in consecutive games and now gets a Philly team that has allowed more sacks than anyone. It was one thing for the Packers to be able to get into the Eagles’ backfield, but Detroit and Jacksonville shouldn’t have found the rushing as easy as they did. Right tackle Winston Justice will have a tough time matching up with Orakpo.
Will Smith, DE, New Orleans: Two slow weeks might have motivated many IDP owners to drop him, but Smith is among the league’s best ends and enjoyed a strong Week 3 against Atlanta. This week, he faces Jimmy Clausen in the rookie’s second start. Clausen took just one sack his first time out, but Smith could account for more than that himself here. Carolina allowed four sacks in each of its first two games this season.
Nick Collins, S, Green Bay: The Packers safety has broken up a pass in each game this year but has yet to grab his first pick. In Week 4, however, he faces a Detroit offense that is tied for fourth most pass attempts for the season and tied for fourth with five interceptions thrown. Collins intercepted at least six throws each of the past two years and could very well get his first of 2010 in this one … as long as he keeps his mouthguard around.
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 right now.