Charles Johnson, DE, CAR - Johnson did not show much in his previous three seasons in the NFL, or even in the first two weeks of this year; but since then, he has been one of the top defensive line IDPs, posting 8.5 sacks in 11 games. That includes five sacks in the last four games, so the fantasy owners who were smart enough to pick up Johnson earlier in the year were rewarded with valuable production just as the playoffs started coming around.
Terrell Thomas, CB, NYG - Thomas continues to show that last yearís performance, which included 85 tackles (70 solo), one sack, five interceptions, one forced fumble and one touchdown, was no fluke. Through 13 games this season he has 77 tackles (62 solo), one sack, five interceptions and three forced fumbles. His 19 passes defensed significantly outpace his 13 from all of last year, so it is clear he is doing a better job finding the ball. If Thomasí current pace holds up, he will rightfully be in the discussion for 2011ís top defensive back IDP - a significant accomplishment for a cornerback.
Cameron Wake, LB, MIA - If you had said prior to this season that Wake would have a league-leading 14 sacks heading into Week 15, itís doubtful you would have found anyone to take you seriously. But here we are, and Wake has a 1.5-sack lead over the next closest pass rusher, Green Bayís Clay Matthews. Itís unlikely that Wake will ever be a significant source of tackles, but thatís just how things work for 3-4 outside linebackers. Still, in leagues that reward sacks heavily, Wake turned out to be one of the elite IDPs of 2010. Whatís remarkable is Wake is accomplishing all this with no other competent pass rusher on his team - opposing offenses are focusing solely on him and still canít slow him down.
Chris Clemons, DE, SEA - Clemons showed off his pass-rushing ability back in 2007, when he posted eight sacks as a situational player for Oakland. The two seasons between then and now, however, saw him total just seven sacks. Seattle took a gamble on Clemons this year by installing him as a starter, but it seems to have paid off. He has 10 sacks through 13 games to go along with 43 tackles (30 solo). Clemons has been a bit hit-or-miss as a pass rusher - all of his sacks came in just seven games - but he has still been a bargain this year for his IDP owners.
Asante Samuel, CB, PHI - After missing three games with a knee issue, itís looking like Samuel will be back for Sundayís game against the Giants. Samuel intercepted two passes the last time he faced off against Eli Manning, which was coincidentally the last game he played. With seven interceptions in just nine games, Samuel goes back to being a must-start this week as long as he plays.
Justin Smith, DE, SF - Even before Smith got tossed from Thursdayís game against San Diego, his production in recent weeks had been lacking. Smith started the season with 42 tackles (35 solo) and five sacks in his first nine games, which left him on pace to finish the year with 75 tackles and nine sacks. Those numbers would have more than justified the high draft slot it typically took to land Smith in IDP leagues, but he has really fallen off of late. In the last five games Smith has totaled just 12 tackles (eight solo) and a half sack, which is basically useless for IDP owners.
Barrett Ruud, LB, TB Ė After recording a career-high 142 tackles (106 solo) in 2009, there was reason to believe Ruud would be one of the safest IDP picks in 2010. Instead, Ruud has been one of the more disappointing linebacker selections Ė he has made just 96 tackles (68 solo) through 13 games. Compared to his 2009 numbers and his 2008 total of 137 tackles (102 solo), thatís a huge drop-off, particularly in terms of solo tackle production. Ruud is currently on pace for just 84 solo tackles, which would be his worst numbers since 2007, when he finished with 83 solo tackles in 15 games. All things considered, this is looking like Ruudís worst IDP season since he became a starter.
DeMarcus Ware, LB, DAL - After totaling eight sacks in his first six games, it was looking like Ware would be in contention for the league lead in sacks. But for some reason, he hasnít been at all effective as a pass rusher since that point. Starting with a zero-tackle, zero-sack game against Jacksonville in Week 8, Ware totaled just 1.5 sacks in his next seven games. Heís the kind of player who can go off at any time, but this season still marks Wareís worst since his rookie year.
Lawrence Timmons, LB, PIT - Timmons is still having a fine season as a whole, but his production has slowed significantly since piling up tackles at a blistering rate during the first seven weeks of the season. Over that span, Timmons totaled 74 tackles (56 solo), three sacks and an interception. The six games that followed led to just 34 tackles (20 solo) and an interception, so Timmonsí production was basically cut in half. Itís tough to bet against him in the fantasy playoffs when you consider his early-season production, but itís quite possible that he wonít be useful again until 2011.
James Hall, DE, STL - No one can blame the soon to be 34-year-old for falling back to earth, but the 6.5 sacks Hall totaled in his first seven games were almost certainly an aberration. Since that point Hall has brought the opposing quarterback down just once, and he is in the midst of a four-week drought over which he has not recorded a single sack and has just seven tackles. Itís quite probable that Hallís decrease in production is due to opposing offenses devoting more attention toward him, but that wonít help his IDP owners in the playoffs.