Fantasy Football 2012: The Top 25 IDP Rankings on This Year's Draft Board
This one is for all my true fantasy nerds out there.
I'm talking about the ones who aren't satisfied with the typical, run-of-the-mill fantasy rosters predicated on a strong running back/quarterback combo; the ones who feel as though a real fantasy team should consist of players who can also stop touchdowns from happening, rather than ones who are only relied upon to visit paydirt on occasion; the ones who think that a sack should provide just as much value to their squad as a passing touchdown—you know, the true fantasy heroes.
Even the most ill-informed fantasy owner knows that guys like Arian Foster, Ray Rice and LeSean McCoy should be the first three guys off most league draft boards, but it takes a real champion to put in the time and effort needed to build out a complete fantasy squad.
I realize that most leagues do not feature individual defensive players and will instead go with the tried-and-true overall team defense format.
But for all of the crazy (and I use this as a term of endearment) fantasy players out there like myself, here are the Top 25 IDPs for the 2012 season to help get you prepared for this year's championship run.
DISCLAIMER: This article is geared toward leagues that actually place a value on tackles, and not just sacks, interceptions and touchdowns. Also, Green Bay Packer linebacker Desmond Bishop—a top-five defensive stud—will not be included in this article after suffering what could be a season-ending injury in last Thursday's preseason opener.
1. D'Qwell Jackson, LB, Cleveland Browns
D'Qwell Jackson might be the most underrated defensive player in the entire NFL, but due to an incredibly unfortunate string of injuries, he has not been able to garner the type of respect that he truly deserves.
After getting drafted in 2006, Jackson burst onto the scene with a 93-tackle effort in his rookie season, followed by two straight seasons with over 100 total tackles.
Yet, he only played in six games in 2009, and then missed the entire 2010 season due to a pectoral injury.
Missing almost two full seasons in a row would be enough to derail anyone's career, but that was not the case for Jackson.
Last season, the sixth-year middle linebacker finished second in the league in tackles with 158, and also finished with the most sacks amongst those that finished in the top-10 in total tackles.
Obviously, there might be some concern regarding his injury history, but when given the chance to draft a guy who has averaged 156 total tackles in his last two full seasons, I suggest you jump at the chance, and jump early.
2. James Laurinaitis, LB, St. Louis Rams
Not many things went well for the St. Louis Rams last season, but the play of their starting middle linebacker was at least one bright spot. Though he is not a household name just yet, if he continues to put up numbers like these, he'll find his name up there with some of the league's best.
Although he finished eighth in the league in total tackles last season, only one player had more tackles along with a greater amount of sacks, and only three players had higher tackle totals with the same amount of interceptions—numbers that demonstrate Laurinaitis' all-around ability.
He's not a sack artist, and he's certainly not a ball hawk, but he is a tackling machine capable of putting up solid numbers in both of the other two categories at the same time.
3. Patrick Willis, LB, San Francisco 49ers
2011 season: 97 TACK (74 solo), 2.0 SACK, 1 INT, 4 FF, 2 FR, 0 TD
2011 was a below-average season for Patrick Willis.
Even though he was the undisputed leader of last season's fourth-ranked total defense, his 97 tackles were far below his career average of 149.
Willis was hampered a bit by a hamstring injury, which may have contributed to the low output, but for a guy that has been considered the best middle linebacker in the league over the past couple of seasons, there is no reason to believe that he can't reassert his dominance in 2012.
He also provides even more value than most middle linebackers due to the fact that he has had three seasons in which he put up over four sacks, including a six-sack effort in 2010.
When deciding whether or not to take Willis in your draft this year, put more emphasis on his entire career than his subpar—yet still very impressive—2011 season.
4. NaVorro Bowman, LB, San Francisco 49ers
Bowman may be the main reason for Patrick Willis' dip in production last season.
The second-year linebacker finished seventh in the league in total tackles last season, and added one more element to an already devastating 49er defense, helping them to the NFC championship game.
The fact that he was able to put up so many tackles playing alongside a guy who is considered the best linebacker in the game is nothing short of remarkable, and it is a true testament to just how talented Bowman really is.
His two sacks and eight pass breakups also demonstrate his versatility and do-it-all playing style.
While everyone else will focus on grabbing his more well-known teammate, it might serve you well to wait a little longer and take Bowman, who could actually end up being the better pick this season when all is said and done.
5. Derrick Johnson, LB, Kansas City Chiefs
The eighth-year linebacker out of Texas followed up his first 100-tackle season in 2010 with yet another one in 2011.
Not only did he put up 131 tackles last season, but he also registered two sacks, and he is one of two guys on this list so far that had more than one interception. His ball-hawking skills have actually been one of the most underrated aspects of his game throughout his career, as evidenced by the fact that he has picked off nine passes since 2007—a pretty impressive feat considering the position that he plays.
It finally seems as though the former first-round pick has put it all together and is ready to cement his status as one of the best all-around linebackers in the NFL.
6. Curtis Lofton, LB, New Orleans Saints
After four years in Atlanta, Lofton has a new home in New Orleans this season.
Many were surprised that Atlanta did not put forth more of an effort to keep the fifth-year linebacker after he averaged 123 tackles per season during his time as a Falcon.
With Jonathan Vilma suspended for the entire season—although that could change depending on how his appeal plays out—Lofton will be expected to be the leader of the Saints defense in 2012.
He may not put up great sack or interception totals, but he has been one of the most consistent tacklers in the NFL since 2009, and is a definite LB1 in any fantasy league.
7. Jason Pierre-Paul, DL, New York Giants
Here is where we see the first non-linebacker on this list, and for good reason.
JPP is every defensive coordinator's ultimate dream. Whereas most DE/OLB sack specialists are used just for that purpose—to get sacks—JPP provides even more fantasy value due to the fact that he can also put up solid tackling numbers.
Not only does he strike fear into the hearts of opposing signal-callers, but he is also stout in run support as well.
Though he only finished fourth in sacks last season, none of the three players who finished above JPP in this category were able to surpass the 70-tackle mark.
Since sacks and interceptions are the two stat categories that usually provide the most fantasy points per single occurrence, you should always make sure to have a guy who specializes in at least one of those two areas.
But, much like receptions in a PPR league, you should never neglect the value of a guy who can also pile up tackles.
JPP is easily the best all-around defensive stud available in any draft this year.
8. Jared Allen, DL, Minnesota Vikings
Aside from being one of the most entertaining figures in the NFL, Jared Allen is also one of the very best pass-rushers that the league has seen throughout the last quarter-century.
His 105 career sacks rank second among all active players, and his 22 sacks led the league last season.
There is no denying that Allen is still quite on top of his game.
Although he will never be near the league leaders in terms of tackles, he has always been one of the leaders in this category at the defensive end position.
Furthermore, his four forced fumbles from last season show how involved he is in almost every play, and this provides even more fantasy value for those that own him.
Already one of the most lovable guys in the league, Allen should have fantasy owners falling for him all over again this season.
9. London Fletcher, LB, Washington Redskins
The wily 15-year veteran has actually been one of the most consistent, yet vastly underrated defensive players in the NFL throughout the last decade.
Not only did he lead the league in total tackles last season, but what's even more impressive is the fact that 2011 was the 15th straight season in which he was able to play in all 16 games—a stat that demonstrates his incredible durability.
Fletcher is the captain that steers the ship for the Redskins defense, and somehow at age 37, he has shown no signs of slowing down.
He's never been one to post high sack totals, but he is a model of consistency that any fantasy team should be happy to have as their LB1.
10. Brian Cushing, LB, Houston Texans
Minus the 2010 season, when he was suspended for four games due to a failed drug test, Brian Cushing has been one of the best all-around defensive players in the league over the past three seasons.
He was named the 2009 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year after he posted 134 tackles to go along with five sacks and four interceptions, and in 2011, he continued to show his all-around skills with four sacks and two picks while still recording well over 100 tackles.
Some people may still associate the young player with PED abuse, but as long as he stays clean, it is time to let bygones be bygones and realize how incredibly talented the 25-year-old truly is.
Once the top seven middle linebackers are gone, Cushing should undoubtedly be the next linebacker coming off of league draft boards.
11. Daryl Washington, LB, Arizona Cardinals
Daryl Washington had a very impressive, albeit very quiet, season in 2011.
Out of the 34 players that registered at least 100 total tackles last season, Washington was one of only two guys with five or more sacks. This stat demonstrates just how tough it can be to grab a guy who excels at both wrapping up ball-carriers and pressuring the quarterback, yet Washington seems like he is more than capable of excelling in both areas.
The only reason he is not listed higher on this list is because this will only be his third year in the league, and he needs to prove that he was not a one-hit-wonder.
Since most casual NFL fans are still unaware of Arizona's hidden gem, you may be able to grab him a bit later than his true value dictates. And if he replicates his output from last season, Washington could end up being an absolute steal.
12. Stephen Tulloch, LB, Detroit Lions
Over the past three seasons, Stephen Tulloch has really started to hit his stride.
After being drafted in 2006, Tulloch had three mediocre seasons with the Tennessee Titans, but it was not until 2009 that he posted his first season of over 100 tackles.
Then, in 2010, he exploded onto the scene with an incredible 160 total tackles to go along with one sack and one interception.
For some reason, the Titans decided not to re-sign Tulloch after his terrific 2010 campaign, and last year Tulloch joined the Detroit Lions. Not only did he post his third consecutive 100-plus tackle season, but he also demonstrated a bit more versatility than he ever had previously after posting up three sacks and snagging two interceptions.
Even though he saw a significant drop-off in total tackles last season, his 111 wrap-ups were still good for 17th in the league. If he continues to improve in other areas of his game, Tulloch will be a solid leader on any fantasy squad.
13. Sean Weatherspoon, LB, Atlanta Falcons
After playing in only 11 games during his rookie campaign, Sean Weatherspoon started in all 16 games for the Falcons in 2011 and put up some very solid numbers.
The third-year player out of Missouri will be the one responsible for leading the Falcons' linebacking corps this season after the departure of Curtis Lofton. While he may not be quite the tackling machine that Lofton is, Weatherspoon does possess a bit more pass-rushing ability.
His numbers from last season were actually not that far off from Cushing's or Washington's—they were actually better in some areas—and it would not be a surprise at all to see Weatherspoon as the best player out of these three by season's end.
For now, though, view Weatherspoon as the third-best option when picking out of this particular trio.
14. Chad Greenway, LB, Minnesota Vikings
After averaging 106 tackles in his first three NFL seasons, Greenway has come on strong in the last two years by piling up 144 tackles in 2010 and then recording 154 more last season.
His sack numbers have gone down significantly since his 5.5-sack output of 2008, but his two sacks from last season are still pretty much right on par with most of those at his position.
The fact that he has put up over 140 tackles in each of the last two seasons shows how valuable he can be, and it seems as though he is primed to become one of the premier linebackers in the NFC in 2012.
15. Paul Posluszny, LB, Jacksonville Jaguars
After an injury-plagued rookie season, the former Penn State standout has piled up 490 total tackles over the last four NFL seasons. Posluszny is the leader of an underrated Jaguar defense that could really surprise some people in 2012 after finishing 15th in the league in total defense last season.
Perhaps he may not reach the 150-tackle mark that he did in 2010, but he's good for anywhere between 110-130 total tackles, with a few sacks and interceptions along the way.
Posluszny is one of the last top-level all-around linebackers left at this point on the list.
16. Antoine Bethea, S, Indianapolis Colts
2011 season: 139 TACK (80 solo), 0 SACK, 0 INT, 2 FF, 1 FR, 0 TD
Finally, we have our first defensive back.
Some of you might be wondering how in the world a safety that did not even muster up one interception last season could come in so high on this list, and that is pretty understandable.
But instead of focusing on one small category, you should look at the fact that he posted 139 tackles as a guy who plays in the defensive backfield.
Most safeties are considered studs if they record around 90 tackles, but this guy laughs at such a measly benchmark.
Over the last four seasons, Bethea has averaged 110 tackles per year and has served as a hammer on Indy's defensive unit. Before 2011, he averaged over two interceptions a season—including two years when he was able to haul in four—so it is not as though he is incapable of picking some passes off.
Since it is highly unlikely that he will go through another season with zero interceptions, Bethea should be considered the top safety on the board for 2012.
17. Nick Barnett, LB, Buffalo Bills
No joke, Nick Barnett has been one of the very best at the middle linebacker position over the last decade, yet nobody talks about him. Nobody.
So this ranking serves as a bit of vindication for Mr. Barnett. Had it not been for injuries that caused him to miss 19 games throughout the last four seasons, he would have actually been a couple slots higher on this list.
Taking away his injury-plagued 2008 and 2010 seasons, Barnett has averaged 121 tackles since his rookie season as a Packer in 2003. He also had three seasons in which he recorded three or more sacks, and his three interceptions from last season show off his decent ball-hawking skills.
Even though he may not get the credit he deserves from most other NFL experts, the numbers simply don't lie. Barnett would be a solid contributor to any fantasy lineup.
18. Jon Beason, LB, Carolina Panthers
2011 season: Missed entire season due to Achilles injury suffered in Week 1
Jon Beason is worthy of a top-12 ranking, but durability issues have started to mount for the 27-year-old. He missed the entire year last season due to injury and has been limited in the preseason this year with a hamstring issue.
Yet the Panthers do not seem to think that this will hold him out for much longer, and the guy who has averaged over 135 tackles a year for the team before last season is being counted on to come back and lead a young defense in 2012.
Though he only has four career sacks in six NFL seasons, he does have eight career interceptions, showing that he is not just a one-trick pony.
If Beason stays healthy this year—and all reports out of camp seem to indicate that he will—he could end up being a top-10 IDP in 2012.
19. DeMarcus Ware, LB, Dallas Cowboys
Nobody in the league—besides maybe Jared Allen—has been responsible for more nightmares and intensive therapy sessions for opposing quarterbacks over the last half-decade than DeMarcus Ware.
The only thing that Ware has been knocked for throughout his career is that he does not have a great all-around game. This is not to say that his only skill is rushing the passer, but since he plays mostly from the stand-up linebacker position, as opposed to defensive end, he has been cited for not wrapping up enough ball-carriers when he's not in the opposition's backfield.
Yet, Ware does have two seasons with over 80 tackles on his resume (the last one coming in 2008), and his 58 tackles from last season are really nothing to be ashamed of considering his incredible effect in pass-rushing situations.
If you need sacks and are willing to take a bit of a hit in the tackle department, Ware is your guy, as he is the last of the top sack artists left at this point.
20. George Wilson, S, Buffalo Bills
2011 season: 106 TACK (78 solo), 0 SACK, 4 INT, 2 FF, 1 FR, 0 TD
Wilson serves as one half of the best safety duo in the NFL today.
The seventh-year safety recorded over 100 tackles for the second time in his career last season, and that is even more impressive if you consider the fact that he only played in 13 games.
His 10 interceptions over the last three seasons are also quite impressive, and he is certainly the best all-around defensive back available in any fantasy league in 2012.
I'll admit that I was able to get Wilson off waivers a few weeks after the season started last year, but there is absolutely no way that he should not be one of the top two safeties taken off the board in 2012.
21. Sean Lee, LB, Dallas Cowboys
2011 season: 105 TACK (71 solo), 0 SACK, 4 INT, 1 FF, 0 FR, 0 TD
The third-year linebacker out of Penn State is quickly becoming a fan favorite in Dallas.
Lee came on strong for the Cowboys last season, and big things are expected out of him in 2012.
It is a bit disconcerting that he has yet to register even one sack in his young career, but he does have six career interceptions that demonstrate his knack for getting to the ball in the air.
As previously mentioned, Dallas loves this young kid and they are expecting him to lead the defense this season along with DeMarcus Ware. His tackling numbers should increase significantly in 2012, and who knows, maybe he'll even record a sack or two at some point.
22. Kam Chancellor, S, Seattle Seahawks
2011 season: 97 TACK (75 solo), 1.0 SACK, 4 INT, 3 FF, 1 FR, 0 TD
Besides the duo of George Wilson and Jairus Byrd in Buffalo, Kam Chancellor serves as a part of the NFL's other top safety duo out in Seattle.
When you watch Chancellor play, it is impossible not to notice his incredible impact on the game, as it seems like he is involved in almost every play.
Not only is he a great robber over the middle, but his five forced fumbles over the past two seasons only further the notion that this guy is out to not only stop the opposing offense, but to take the ball away at every given opportunity.
With the heart and desire this guy plays with, he could ultimately end up becoming the best safety in the game in no time.
23. Tamba Hali, DL, Kansas City Chiefs
Tambi Hali is not only one of the game's premier pass-rushers, but the guy also seems to have a knack for taking the ball away from opposing offenses when he is not jumping down the quarterback's throat.
His 22 career forced fumbles show just how much of a nuisance he can be to opposing ball-carriers, proving that he is more than just a sack artist.
But pass-rushing is what he is known for, and for good reason. Hali has posted two straight double-digit sack seasons after averaging just 6.5 sacks through his first four years in the league.
His 66 tackles from last season are also a nice total for the role he is expected to play on defense.
After the top three sack specialists are gone, Hali should be the next one off the board.
24. Tyvon Branch, S, Oakland Raiders
Since he began starting during his second season in the NFL, Tyvon Branch has not had one season in which he has failed to accumulate at least 100 tackles—a very impressive stat for someone that plays the safety position.
The only issue with Branch is that he does not really have good ball skills, and some might be hesitant to draft a safety who has only hauled in three picks in four seasons.
Still, much like I said with Antoine Bethea, this is not always the most important stat, and his tackle totals more than justify his ranking as the fourth-best safety on this list.
Who knows, since interception totals really are a crapshoot each and every year, Branch could end up finding himself in the right spot a few times this season and haul in a couple bad passes.
25. Eric Berry, S, Kansas City Chiefs
2011 season: Missed entire season due to a knee injury
Heading into the 2010 NFL draft, Eric Berry was touted as one of the best safety prospects to come out of college in years, and he really impressed during his rookie season.
Unfortunately, a knee injury suffered in the preseason last year wiped out the entire 2011 season for the promising young defender.
All reports seem to indicate that he is fine heading into 2012, and his 92-tackle, four-interception and two-sack output from his rookie campaign should provide fantasy owners with all that they need to know about this guy's incredible skills.
With last year's freak knee injury in the past, Berry seems ready to put on an absolute show for NFL fans this season, and he will look to cement his status as an elite NFL safety.
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