After a three-game absence due to a hamstring injury, it looks like Patrick Willis has a decent chance to return to the field against St. Louis on Sunday. More specifically, it appears as if Willis is capable of playing at this point – the main question is whether the 49ers feel like they’ll need him to beat a rather hopeless Rams team in Week 17.
Meanwhile, it’s expected that Pittsburgh’s two best defensive players – linebacker James Harrison (neck) and safety Troy Polamalu (knee) – will both be on the field as the Steelers take on Cleveland this week. Double check their statuses if you are looking to start either of them Sunday, though.
In other news, two young players who were serviceable IDP options this year – Indianapolis’ Philip Wheeler (foot) and Philadelphia’s Kurt Coleman (biceps) – both saw their seasons end this week.
Jordan Senn, LB, CAR
At this point, Senn is a player worth owning in most or all IDP formats. He’s up to 60 tackles on the year (37 solo) despite starting just six games. What’s even more impressive is that 55 of his tackles (35 solo) came from those six starts, meaning his numbers would project to 147 tackles over a 16-game span. He also has an interception and two forced fumbles in those six starts. It’s looking as if Senn isn’t a bad low-cost dynasty league investment at this point, as he might have earned a starting role next year alongside Jon Beason and James Anderson.
Osi Umenyiora, DE, NYG
It looked a week ago as if Umenyiora’s 2011 regular season was over due to his high ankle sprain, but a surprise return to practice this week means he has a good shot to play against the Cowboys on Sunday. Considering what’s at stake for the Giants, you have to expect Umenyiora to play if he’s at all physically able. Umenyiora has been very injury prone this year, but he also has seven sacks in eight games, which makes him a justifiable IDP start in most cases if he does end up playing.
Ernie Sims, LB, DET
With Philip Wheeler (foot) out of the lineup, Sims figures to remain a starter for the Colts in Week 17. As a result, he’s a justifiable IDP start in deeper leagues, because he has 27 tackles (13 solo) in his three starts from this year. Although he hasn’t lived up to his draft status as a former ninth overall pick, Sims is playing in a favorable defensive scheme that has allowed Wheeler, Pat Angerer and Kavell Conner to post big tackle numbers this year, so he could pay off as a one-week gamble against a run-heavy Jacksonville offense.
Desmond Bishop, LB, GB
Bishop (calf) returned from a three-game absence last week and wasted no time putting up big numbers for his IDP owners, making 12 tackles (nine solo) against the Bears. That gives him a total of 109 tackles (84 solo) in just 12 games this year to go along with five sacks. His solo tackle total in particular is impressive, as he ranks eighth in the league in that category despite missing those three games. Between his high tackle totals and blitzing ability, Bishop has firmly established himself as a second-tier IDP option at linebacker for the foreseeable future.
Kelvin Sheppard, LB, BUF
Sheppard is doing fairly well for himself as a starter in Buffalo, but the rookie is mostly a player to watch in 2012. He has 54 tackles (36 solo) and a safety in nine starts, which leaves him on a 16-game pace for just under 100 tackles, but the third-round pick from LSU can be expected to improve as he gains experience. It would be a bit helpful for Sheppard’s IDP prospects if Bryan Scott were out of the picture – the safety/linebacker hybrid has 59 tackles this year – but Sheppard should reach triple-digit tackle numbers in 2012 even if Scott sticks around.
Clint Session, LB, JAC
Session is a good player both in real-life and IDP terms, but his value in both contexts has been shaky the past two years due to a long list of injuries. The most recent one, though, might be the most concerning. Session was placed on IR in the third week of November due to a concussion. What’s especially concerning is that Session said this week that he’s still experiencing headaches, presumably a lingering effect of the concussion. For Session to still be feeling symptoms a month later is obviously not a good sign for his long-term outlook.
Bradie James, LB, DAL
James has had a fairly productive career for the Cowboys, starting 110 games since 2004 heading into Week 17, but his days as a viable IDP are long gone. Despite starting 12 games and serving as one of Dallas’ top two inside linebackers all year, James has a miserable tackle total of 40 tackles (26 solo). It might get even worse in 2012, assuming James is still on the Dallas roster. Rookie second-round pick Bruce Carter is expected to take up a formal starting role next to Sean Lee no more than a few games into next season.
Takeo Spikes, LB SD
Despite having five more years of NFL experience, Spikes somehow has a bit left in the tank than James does, but the supply is dwindling. He started strong for IDP owners this year, totaling 32 tackles in the first four weeks, but he has just 66 in the 11 games since, including 22 in the last four. Spikes just turned 35 and, if you’re a dynasty league owner, you should probably plan as if he won’t be a starter in 2012.
Larry Grant, LB, SF
Grant did a nice job for San Francisco while Patrick Willis missed three weeks due to a hamstring injury, but it’s looking like his time in the spotlight may be coming to a close. Willis has been practicing since late last week and is reportedly running at full speed. It’s not guaranteed at this point that Willis will play against St. Louis on Sunday – Kellen Clemens appears to be the Rams’ starting quarterback, after all – but those who have capitalized on the 28 tackles (20 solo), sack and forced fumble that Grant posted in his three starts might be asking for trouble if they roll with him in Week 17.
Dan Connor, LB, CAR
Connor’s long-term outlook isn’t so bad – he’s a free agent after this year and could get a starting role with a team that needs a run-stopping specialist – but he’s never going to be much of an IDP option as long as he’s in Carolina. Despite starting 10 games this year, the combination of leaving the field in passing situations and playing alongside the more active duo of Jordan Senn and James Anderson has left Connor with just 70 tackles on the season.