Owners of Sean Weatherspoon will have to find a replacement for their star linebacker this week, as an ankle sprain will keep him out against Dallas on Sunday. Akeem Dent will step in, but it's highly unlikely that he'll produce anywhere near the level of Weatherspoon, who has 52 tackles (40 solo) and three sacks in seven games. Although he isn't as big of a name as Weatherspoon, another big loss for this week is the absence of Giants middle linebacker Chase Blackburn, who won't play against Pittsburgh due to a hamstring issue. Blackburn has rather quietly accumulated 47 tackles (34 solo), two sacks, an interception and two forced fumbles.
There's at least some good news on the injury front, though, as Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis is expected to return from a knee injury that kept him out the last three weeks. Mathis was really excelling in the Indianapolis 3-4 prior to the injury, posting a sack in each game as he totaled 16 tackles (11 solo), five sacks and a forced fumble in less than four games.
The rising and falling lists for this week are largely a reflection of the career trajectories for the players listed, as four of the five risers are rookies or second-year players, while the most consistent theme with the fallers is job loss due to rising youngsters. Two of this week's risers are Luke Kuechly and Fletcher Cox, who are respectively gaining ground in Carolina and Philadelphia as James Anderson and Jason Babin fall behind.
Daryl Washington, (3-4) ILB, ARZ
No IDP linebacker is worth as much as Washington. His combination of defensive back athleticism, linebacker strength and killer instinct has him playing at a level that is almost surreal, as he has 68 tackles (60 solo) and eight sacks in eight games in Arizona's 3-4. Middle and inside linebackers just aren't supposed to rush the passer like Washington can, but he seems to be getting better all the time. It seems next to impossible for Washington to hold up his 16-sack pace for the entirety of 2012, but if he does, he'll be on an IDP level that hasn't been seen in modern history.
Luke Kuechly, MLB, CAR
With Jon Beason (knee) out of the way, Kuechly's numbers have risen, as expected. But even with his value at an all-time high, it's still difficult to suggest that it won't keep getting higher. Kuechly might have a tackle upside that quite frankly hasn't been seen since Hardy Nickerson's 214-tackle season from 1993. Despite posting just 25 tackles in the first four weeks of the year, Kuechly is on pace for 142 tackles on the season. That's primarily due to the last three weeks, a span in which he totaled 37 tackles, including 26 in the two games Beason missed. Considering he posted 158, 183 and 191 tackles in college seasons of 13, 13 and 12 games, respectively, Kuechly seems like a very real threat to produce at a 160-tackle pace with relative comfort.
Miles Burris, OLB, OAK
With Oakland seemingly phasing Rolando McClain out of the Oakland defense, it's Burris who steps in alongside Philip Wheeler during nickel formations. The promising rookie has played every defensive snap for Oakland the last three weeks, totaling 18 tackles (11 solo) and a sack over that span. While he doesn't figure to be a huge volume tackler, Burris has a long history of producing as a blitzer, making him more valuable in leagues that reward heavily for sacks or tackles for loss. He had 15.5 sacks and 37.5 tackles for loss in his final 26 games at San Diego State. Although he's no Daryl Washington, it wouldn't be shocking if Burris made a push for the five-sack mark as a rookie.
Fletcher Cox, DT, PHI
It appeared at the beginning of this year as if Cox would see no more than the fourth-most defensive line snaps in Philadelphia behind Trent Cole, Cullen Jenkins, Jason Babin and Derek Landri, but through seven games he's already pushing for the distinction of being the team's best lineman. He saw his snap count (44) exceed that of Babin (33) and Landri (32) against Atlanta on Sunday, and given his elite pedigree, it's difficult to see Cox letting go of this new, expanded role. He has only 16 tackles (15 solo) and one sack, but 4.5 of those tackles were for a loss, and he knocked down four passes already in seven games. Cox will have DL2 upside if he can get that snap count up to around 50 or more each week.
Phil Taylor, DT, CLE
The 2011 first-round pick hasn't played at all this year due to a torn pectoral muscle he suffered in the offseason, but it appears that the talented tackle is ready to make his 2012 debut for the Browns. Considering the compromised health of Ahtyba Rubin (calf) and the generally vulnerable state of the Cleveland run defense, Taylor should have a big snap count available right away, health and conditioning permitting. He totaled 59 tackles (37 solo) and four sacks as a rookie last year, and he has the talent to do more – he had 62 tackles in 13 games in his final year of college. He's on the DL3 radar in some formats.
Jason Babin, DE, PHI
Former first-round pick Brandon Graham has started seeing more snaps in the Philadelphia defense, and there isn't enough room for him and Babin in the same town. Actually, there wasn't enough room in town for Babin alone up to this point, as he had just 15 tackles and 2.5 sacks in six games before Graham saw his snap count increase against the Falcons on Sunday. Babin finished the game with just one tackle on 33 snaps, while Graham finished with four tackles on 31 plays. Given the team's 10th overall pick investment in Graham in 2010, it's not difficult to imagine Philadelphia phasing Babin out of the defense so Graham can take over.
James Anderson, OLB, CAR
Between his big contract and excellent statistics, it seemed like the smart money was on Anderson maintaining a clear nickel linebacker role in light of Jon Beason's season-ending knee injury, but Anderson surprisingly played third fiddle in the Carolina rotation against Chicago with Thomas Davis stepping into the second slot instead. Davis played 46 snaps Sunday, while Anderson played just 37 and finished with only three tackles. His 52 tackles in seven games are a good total at a glance, but just 27 of those were solo stops. Anderson is only on the LB4 radar at the moment in most formats.
Terence Newman, CB, CIN
Thanks to a big snap count and the fact that he's a more inviting target for quarterbacks than fellow corner Leon Hall, Newman has quietly been a decent IDP option in the Cincinnati through seven games. Although he has little or no playmaking ability at age 34 (two passes defended, no interceptions), Newman piled up 40 tackles thanks to the steady number of targets he sees. His time as a viable IDP bargain, however, appears to be ending. First-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick is set to make his season debut now that he's over the knee issue that kept him out. While Newman might remain starter over Kirkpatrick, Newman and Adam Jones both figure to lose snaps as the Bengals break in the rookie.
Ahtyba Rubin, DT, CLE
After posting freakishly big tackle totals over the last two years, respectively posting 82 and 83 tackles in 2010 and 2011, it appears that Rubin's 2012 season will be a big stinker by comparison. A calf injury threatens to make him miss his third game of the year against Baltimore this week, and even when he's been healthy, the 80-tackle pace appeared to be a fair distance off. Rubin had 20 tackles in his five healthy games, leaving him on pace for a total of 64 tackles – a figure that's more than respectable, but nonetheless well short of the mark that his IDP owners paid for in most leagues. None of this means that Rubin is doing anything wrong – it just shows that it's almost impossible for a defensive tackle to surpass 80 tackles three years in a row.
Louis Delmas, S, DET
Delmas made his return three weeks ago from a knee surgery described as arthroscopic that was conducted in August, but he's already dealing with more trouble in the same knee. It seems like Delmas just can't stay healthy, and he's played in just 14 games over the last 24 regular season weeks. NFL Network's Jason La Canfora even reported that the Lions had enough concern over Delmas' help to inquire around the league about veteran safety help. He's a good player when he's on the field and near full strength, but it looks like Delmas will be at risk of constant aggravation even when he's active.