The NFC North may no longer carry the moniker “The Black and Blue Division” it boasted back in the days of the yore, but it still possesses some of the top Individual Defensive Player (IDP) fantasy options at certain positions.
While there are no more ‘Purple People Eaters,” “Monsters of the Midway” (yep, this division had some sweet nicknames) or even “The Silver Rush,” there are elite level IDP players to be had.
Let us continue our preparation for the 2013 season and examine just how talent laden the NFC North is from an IDP standpoint.
1. Chad Greenway, SLB, Minnesota:
Greenway has averaged 148 total tackles per season over the past three years and is as consistent as they come at the outside linebacker position. He also brings a big play component to his game amassing 11.5 sacks, six interceptions and seven forced fumbles in those three seasons. Greenway had his knee scoped in early June in what was described as a ‘clean up’ procedure and is expected to be ready for training camp. He’s a solid top-12 selection in 2013 IDP fantasy drafts.
2. Brad Jones, ILB, Green Bay:
Jones stepped in for the injured Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith last season and won himself the starting WILB position with his play down the stretch. Once inserted as a starter in Week 7, Jones played 669 of a possible 674 regular season snaps and put up 54 solo tackles with two sacks and a forced fumble. Jones is in a prime position to post excellent fantasy numbers for 2013 and is a solid LB2 with definite LB1 upside.
3. Desmond Bishop, MLB, Minnesota:
Two things kept Bishop from the second spot on this list behind new teammate Greenway. First is the status of his surgically repaired right hamstring that was ruptured last August. Secondly, are the Vikings actually going to utilize him as their starting middle linebacker? After back-to-back triple-digit tackle seasons in 2010 and 2011, Bishop was an ascending fantasy talent and will need to line up at his familiar inside linebacker position to maintain a lofty fantasy status. He’s also amassed nine sacks along with seven forced fumbles and an interception in 69 total regular season games bringing big play potential to his game. If healthy, and in the middle this season, Bishop is a LB1 candidate for certain. Monitoring reports out of Minnesota during training camp is vital.
4. Stephen Tulloch, MLB, Detroit:
Tulloch may never again see the lofty totals he amassed in 2010 for the Tennessee Titans when he had 111 solo tackles and 159 total, but he continues to be a solid high end LB2. Since signing in Detroit, Tulloch has posted 111 total tackles in 2011 and 112 total stops in 2012 bringing nice consistency and leadership to the defense. Fantasy owners will take that production all day long, and if he can boost his big play numbers a bit (he did have three sacks with two interceptions in 2011), he could approach low-end LB1 numbers.
5. Lance Briggs, WLB, Chicago:
As an IDP owner, one thing I covet in my starting linebackers is consistent production. Staying in line with that philosophy, I give you Lance Briggs. He has registered 100-or-more total tackles in eight of the past nine seasons and averaged 86 solo tackles per season over his 10-year career. He has at least one more productive season in him and the departure of Brian Urlacher could even mean an uptick in tackle opportunities this year. Draft him in the middle rounds, plug him in as a high end LB3 with LB2 upside and just let him rack up the tackle totals.
The middle linebacker position vacated by the aforementioned departure of Brian Urlacher in Chicago leaves a juicy fantasy position to be filled in the Windy City. Veteran D. J. Williams was signed and looked to be a prime candidate for Comeback Player of the Year as the replacement for Urlacher. Williams was a fantasy monster from 2007-10 while manning the middle in Denver, averaging 91 solo tackles per season.
However, Chicago drafted inside linebacker Jon Bostic out of Florida in the second round of April’s draft and he will battle Williams for the starting middle linebacker job. Whoever comes out on top of that competition will hold solid LB2 fantasy value with LB1 upside, but, until it has played out, both remain just outside the top-5 in the division. Stay tuned to the battle and jump on the winner early in IDP drafts.
Poor Erin Henderson can’t catch a break in Minnesota. Last season the coaching staff saw fit to limit his snaps by increasing the playing time of the oh-so-mediocre Jasper Brinkley. Just as it appeared that he would have the chance to be an every down player as the starting middle linebacker in 2013, the Vikings go out and sign Desmond Bishop. Don’t buy the hype that Henderson is in a competition with Bishop for the middle linebacker job because, if he’s healthy, it is Bishop’s gig. Henderson could still hold value if he’s pushed outside to WLB and can stay on the field for all three downs. When Henderson gets ample playing time he can produce. He amassed 79 total stops with three sacks and a forced fumble while playing only 701 regular season snaps. I personally see Henderson manning the WLB slot for Minnesota and playing all three downs, giving him solid LB4 value this season.
When evaluating A.J. Hawk of Green Bay and DeAndre Levy in Detroit, I harken back to the immortal words of Dennis Green, “They are who we thought they were.” Hawk had a career-high 120 total tackles last season but remains a liability in coverage and comes off the field in passing situations. He will post the occasional big play and had three sacks last season but isn’t consistent enough to garner more than LB3 consideration.
Levy is even less apt to post triple-digit tackles (he’s done so once in his career) and has battled numerous nagging injuries during his stint in Detroit. Levy is a decent complement to Stephen Tulloch and the Lions chose to resign him as opposed to the more productive Justin Durant but his fantasy value is not optimal. He’s a low-end LB3 with a middle-of-the-pack LB3 ceiling.