Alphonso Smith, CB, DET - It’s been a wild couple of years for Smith. The Denver Broncos were so enamored with the 2009 draft prospect that they traded their 2010 1st-round pick (which ended up being Earl Thomas – ouch) for the chance to take him in the second round. Josh McDaniels and company soured on Smith so quickly that they basically gave him away to the Lions prior to the start of this season, keeping instead two rookie corners in Perrish Cox and Syd’Quan Thompson. Cox was a fifth-round pick and Thompson was a seventh-rounder. It has only been eight games, but it is looking like McDaniels was a bit trigger-happy on sending Smith out of town. Smith has five interceptions so far for Detroit – all of them coming in his last six games.
Donte Whitner, S, BUF - As long as all you are looking for is tackle production, Whitner has been solid gold this year. Outside of a three-tackle game against Green Bay, Whitner has totaled at least eight tackles in every game. He is at 73 (52 solo) through eight games, which puts him on a blistering pace for 146 by the end of the season.
Brent Grimes, CB, ATL - Grimes was correctly identified by most as a solid IDP option in the secondary prior to this year, but in the past month or so he has been one of the best. Grimes has 37 tackles (33 solo) and two interceptions in his last five games, leaving him in a sort of DeAngelo Hall-Lite category of defensive back IDPs.
John Abraham, DE, ATL - Many wrote off the 32-year old end after last year's 5.5-sack season, but he has arguably been as good as ever in 2010. Abraham has eight sacks in nine games, and it seems as if any decline in his game has been negligible. One area that Abraham could improve is his consistency – he has four games this year with no sacks – but he is generally proving to be a bargain in most leagues.
Terrell Suggs, DE/OLB, BAL - Suggs is an odd case because despite playing unambiguously as an outside linebacker in Baltimore’s defense, he is still often classified as a defensive end in IDP leagues. As you might guess, the gap between defensive end and outside linebacker production is usually quite drastic, making Suggs very valuable in such types of leagues. Even outside of those leagues, Suggs is on the upswing in 2010. After a sluggish three-year stretch where he totaled just 17.5 sacks, Suggs has 6.5 through nine games in 2010. That leaves him on pace for 11.5 sacks this year.
Julius Peppers, DE, CHI - Do you think the Bears would have handed over $42 million in guaranteed money if they knew Peppers would have two sacks through eight games? Even though the signing reeked of a desperation move, we’re thinking the Bears would have been able to pass on that offer.
Rolando McClain, LB, OAK - Although his on-field play has presumably been better than his statistics might indicate, McClain has been putting up embarrassingly bad numbers for a starting middle linebacker – particularly a middle linebacker selected eighth overall. He has 42 tackles (26 solo) through nine games, leaving him on pace for 75 tackles (46 solo). If that projection does come to fruition, it might be some sort of record-low for a 16-game starter at middle linebacker. On the bright side, McClain’s numbers have nowhere to go but up, and he should improve with experience.
Brian Cushing, LB, HOU - Cushing has not produced through four games like he did in his rookie season. He has 10 total tackles in his last two outings, and just four of those tackles were solo. Furthermore, he has no sacks, interceptions, or forced fumbles at this point. Cushing has time to get it together, but his performance so far hasn’t eased the fears that we might have another Shawne Merriman case here – dominant on PEDs, average without them.
Barrett Ruud, LB, TB - Ruud is having a perfectly fine season by most standards, but he is falling a bit short of the bar that he set in past seasons. Ruud is on pace for 120 tackles this season after totaling 279 tackles in his last two seasons. More importantly, he is not piling up solo tackles like he has in past years. Out of his 60 tackles to this point, 44 have been solo. That's an average of 5.5 per game, whereas last year he averaged 6.7 per game, and 6.4 per game in 2008.