We’ve entered Week 5 of the 2012 season, and that means that one quarter of both the NFL and fantasy football seasons have been concluded, with IDP enthusiasts across the land having a four-game sample size from which to draw conclusions about their defensive stars.
There have been breakout performances and disappointments galore, so the Fantasy Sharks IDP team gathered to hand out their report cards for Individual Defensive Players to this point in the season.
FIRST DOWN: Name one player at each position that has significantly exceeded your expectations so far this year.
Gary Davenport: It was expected that Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt would build on his strong showing down the stretch last year, but I don’t know that anyone expected the second-year pro to become the scourge of NFL quarterbacks everywhere, leading all defensive linemen in fantasy points by a substantial margin spurred on by 7.5 sacks through four games.
Atlanta Falcons linebacker Stephen Nicholas stepped into a three-down role for the team this season with the departure of Curtis Lofton. So far this season the sixth-year pro has flourished, averaging nearly 7 solos a game and ranking well within the top 10 fantasy linebackers.
Nicholas hasn’t been the only pleasant fantasy surprise in Atlanta. Strong safety William Moore finally appears to be living up to the billing that accompanied him when he entered the National Football League. The third-year pro has racked up 25 tackles, a sack, two interceptions and a forced fumble this year while averaging the third-most fantasy points per game at his position.
James Elvins: DL – Derrick Morgan of the Titans. His problem has only ever been his health. He can dominate when healthy and I’m as pleased as anyone to finally get to see him get a run of games at his best under his belt. Long may it continue. Sean Lissemore of the Cowboys deserves an honorable mention for his play to date.
LB – Akeem Ayers? Phil Wheeler? Craig Robertson? Hard to say which one has been the bigger eye opener in the later rounds of IDP drafts, but if you snagged any of them to round out your roster late in the draft, then my guess is you’re probably not struggling for match-up plays or bye week coverage as some might. The name I’d probably sink for though is A.J. Hawk who has proven the biggest beneficiary of the Des Bishop fallout. Even bigger for me though is Russell Allen of the Jags.
DB – If I hadn’t already been pimping Atari Bigby this one would be more readily done, instead I’m going with Kurt Coleman in Philly. As long as Washburn is in charge of that line and Castillo at the helm, there should be enough tackle opportunities for Coleman to get his now that the musical chairs have stopped at safety from last year.
Steve Sheiner: LB – Stephen Nicholas, ATL – I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I had Nicholas as the 84th ranked LB in my preseason rankings. But he currently sits as the 7th ranked LB in balanced scoring leagues. 35 total tackles through four games. More and more strong side LBs are making an IDP impact and Nicholas is the latest.
DB – Cortland Finnegan, STL – I expected some good things from Finnegan this year, ranking him 33rd among all DBs for 2012. But through four weeks, not only is he the #1 DB in balanced scoring leagues, but he’s also the #10 overall IDP. 26 total tackles, 3 interceptions and a touchdown through four games is more than anyone expected.
DL – JJ Watt, HOU – How can it be anyone else? Even if I ranked him top-10 in the preseason (which I did not; had him 19th), he’s far outperformed any early season expectations. Plus, he’s been consistently outstanding on a weekly basis. 20 total tackles and 7.5 sacks through four games. He’s the top defensive lineman and the #6 overall IDP.
Walton Spurlin: Defensive Back- Atari Bigby, S, SAN DIEGO: After being written off as a flash in the pan, injury prone player, who had been relegated to back-up duties, Bigby has been channeling his 2007 performance for the Packers in San Diego this season. He’s flying around the field again, has racked up thirty two total stops, one pass defended and recovered a fumble. He won’t duplicate the five interceptions he had back in 2007 but is having a top-ten fantasy season after four weeks for the Chargers.
Linebacker- Philip Wheeler, OLB, OAKLAND: Wheeler is tearing it up out west for the Raiders. He leads the team in tackles, has forced a pair of fumbles, recovered another and has four passes defended. He has blossomed in an every-down role, is one of the top 4-3 linebackers so far in 2012, is coming off another solid game in which he posted nine tackles and a pass defended against Denver. The Raiders offense is struggling to find an identity, that will mean a lot of snaps for Wheeler and he is taking full advantage of his time on the field.
Defensive Linemen: Michael Bennett, DE, TAMPA BAY: Heading into the season, Bennett was considered solid depth along the defensive front, who would be rotated inside to make room for pass rushing ends like Da’Quan Bowers. Always a solid player against the run, injuries have now elevated Bennett to being the Buccaneers best defensive end pass rushing threat. With Adrian Clayborn lost for the season and Bowers not looking to be available until late in the season, the veteran Bennett has really responded and has posted four sacks to date in 2012.