Navorro Bowman, LB, SF - Bowman hasn’t done much up to this point in his rookie season, but he will be auditioning for a 2011 starting spot in Week 17 with Patrick Willis (hand) out for Sunday’s game against Arizona. Those looking for a sneaky IDP play this week could find Bowman a bargain – he has the size and athleticism to make an impact.
Joe Haden, CB, CLE - It’s difficult to imagine quarterbacks throwing at him as often as they have, but Haden has been around the ball constantly as a rookie. Despite only starting six games, he has 58 tackles (51 solo), six interceptions and 17 pass defenses; and he even posted a sack and forced fumble in his last game. It’s entirely possible that we’d be looking at numbers in the range of 80 tackles, eight interceptions and 20 pass defenses had Haden been starting the entire season.
Carlos Dunlap, DE, CIN - Bengals fans don’t have too much to look forward to these days, but Dunlap has been an enormous exception to that rule of late. Sunday’s game against San Diego saw Dunlap secure the eighth sack of his rookie season - all of which have come in the past seven weeks. Dunlap reached that number despite playing limited snaps, meaning he could actually get even better in the future. Of course, odds are he will fall back to earth eventually, but he hasn’t shown signs of slowing yet.
Daryl Washington, LB, ARI - His 2010 numbers aren’t that great, but Washington should be a big deal in 2011. The rookie from TCU has Keith Bulluck-like athleticism, and the probable ineptitude of the Arizona offense means he and his fellow defenders will spend lots of time on the field. Expect Washington's averages in 2011 to be similar to the stats he posted in his last three starts: 22 tackles (20 solo) along with an interception and forced fumble. Over 16 games, that would project to an impressive 117 tackles. In addition to nice tackle numbers, Washington possesses the playmaking ability to show up in the sack and turnover departments.
Eric Berry, S, KC - The rookie is slowly turning into the playmaker he was expected to be as the fifth overall pick in the 2010 draft. After starting out the year a bit slower than most expected, Berry has looked the part in the past two months. His last 10 games have seen him total 58 tackles (51 solo), two sacks, four interceptions, nine pass defenses, one forced fumble and one touchdown. If he can maintain that level of play, that would project to 93 tackles (82 solo), three sacks, six interceptions and 14 passes defensed over a full season.
Lance Briggs, LB, CHI - With just 80 tackles (69 solo) through 14 games, Briggs has fallen a great deal short of the production fantasy owners have relied upon in the past. Missing a bit of time with injuries didn't help, but Briggs is highly unlikely to reach the 100-tackle mark he has hit each of the past six years. Briggs’ on-field utility has probably suffered little or no drop-off this year, but his IDP owners likely had to scramble for other options this year due to his slip in production.
Brian Cushing, LB, HOU - Cushing followed his three-tackle (two solo) performance in Week 15 with a five-tackle (two solo) showing against Denver on Sunday. It was a slight improvement, but a negligible one, and still well below the numbers expected of the 2010 Defensive Rookie of the Year. Cushing’s total of 71 tackles (49 solo) would leave him on pace for 103 tackles over 16 games, with just 71 of them being solo. This, of course, is well below his 2010 totals of 133 tackles, 86 of the solo fashion.
Osi Umenyiora, DE, NYG - Umeyiora has an incredible eight forced fumbles on the year, but he ends up on the fallers list because of how inconsistent he was in 2010. Umenyiora posted eight sacks and seven forced fumbles in his first five games; but in the nine games since, he has totaled just 1.5 sacks and one forced fumble. Those numbers illustrate that Umenyiora can go off at anytime, but his disappearing acts can be costly for his IDP owners.
Tyjuan Hagler, LB, IND - Hagler was only a fringe IDP option to begin with, but his time as a sleeper option could end in Week 17 since Clint Session (elbow) could potentially return. In such an event, Hagler would cease to be a cheap IDP option at linebacker. Despite splitting snaps with Kavell Conner, Hagler totaled 33 tackles (26 solo) in the past four games.
Patrick Willis, LB, SF - Although his 2010 numbers were more than respectable—128 tackles (101 solo) and six sacks in 15 games—Willis ends up on the fallers list because he will miss Sunday’s game against Arizona with a hand injury. Sunday’s will be the first game Willis has missed in his NFL career. At least Willis’ absence in Week 17 will allow IDP owners to get a look promising rookie, and potential 2011 starter, Navorro Bowman.