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IDP Analysis: Watt Shines Even Brighter

Mario Puig

Mario Puig

Mario sets the direction of RotoWire's college football and NFL draft content, with his other responsibilities primarily resting in those same subjects. He's a fan of Chip Kelly, James Harrison and David Bowie.

Rookie and emerging star defensive end Chandler Jones missed New England's Thanksgiving game against the Jets on Thursday with an ankle issue, and given the nature of sprains he should probably be considered questionable for Week 13. Dallas linebacker Bruce Carter suffered an elbow injury during Dallas' loss to the Redskins on Thursday, and his season might be over as a result. Dan Connor and Ernie Sims would presumably start for Dallas at inside linebacker if that turns out to be true.

The Green Bay pass rush figures to be compromised again this week since outside linebacker Clay Matthews is expected to miss his second game in a row with a hamstring injury. The good news for the Packers is that Erik Walden has stepped up with Matthews unavailable, posting two sacks and an interception the last two games.

Some more promising injury notes can be seen with two young NFC stars who are set to return in Week 12, as Arizona end Calais Campbell should play through a calf issue that kept him out a week ago, while Atlanta linebacker Sean Weatherspoon appears ready to return from a three-week absence caused by an ankle sprain. Although Campbell's sack total of 3.5 in nine games is modest, he's posting strong tackle numbers as always with 37 stops entering this week. Weatherspoon, meanwhile, will attempt to pick up where he left off after totaling 52 tackles and three sacks in seven games. Weatherspoon's return figures to crush the IDP value of Akeem Dent, who had been a decent deep league option with Weatherspoon's snaps up for grabs.

RISING

J.J. Watt, (3-4) DE, HOU

After Watt went on an unreal tear to start this year, posting 32 tackles (25 solo) and 9.5 sacks in the first six weeks - chipping in eight pass deflections while he was at it - it appeared that Watt's value couldn't get any higher. Five games later, however, Watt's arrow is still pointed upward, if only because he's shown that the initial surge was no fluke. It seems impossible for a 3-4 end to produce like Watt has, but in his last five games he's been almost exactly as productive as those first six games, totaling 22 tackles (19 solo) and five sacks while knocking down five passes. That leaves him with 54 tackles, 14.5 sacks and 13 pass deflections in 11 games, which projects over 16 games to a surreal total of 79 tackles, 21 sacks and 19 pass deflections. The idea that a 3-4 end might somehow be in pursuit of the single-season sack record (22.5) would have seemed nearly impossible before this year, but Watt is somehow doing it. At this point he's the top IDP across all positions in nearly all formats, and there isn't another IDP for whom he should be traded straight up.

Nick Fairley, DT, DET

Fairley has started the last three games for Detroit, and in the heightened role he finally seems to be coming to life and giving the Lions the return they hoped for when they picked him 13th overall in the 2011 draft. He made 16 tackles (13 solo) over that span, posting three sacks and forcing a fumble at the same time. He seems to be the headcase everyone feared when he fell during that 2011 draft, but Fairley is reminding everyone now why he was worth the risk. He's clearly an elite prospect in terms of raw talent, with the strength to throw away blockers and the speed and foot quickness necessary to easily track down most ballcarriers. He looked especially fast on one play in the first quarter against Houston on Thursday, making tight end Garrett Graham look downright slow as he stopped him for no gain on a screen.

Devin McCourty, CB/S, NE

McCourty has been one of the better defensive back IDPs since he arrived in the league as a first-round pick out of Rutgers in 2010, but his effectiveness on the actual field had left something to be desired. Luckily for those who invested in McCourty as an IDP, his lack of standout play at cornerback and the arrival of former Tampa Bay corner Aqib Talib resulted in a position shift rather than a demotion, as New England moved McCourty to safety. The change should make McCourty, already one of the best IDP options in the secondary, an even better source of tackles than he was previously. He was credited with nine tackles (six solo) against the Jets on Thanksgiving, which leaves him with 62 in 11 games - a pace that should pick up thanks to the position switch.

Ernie Sims, (3-4) ILB, DAL

With star linebackers Sean Lee (toe) and Bruce Carter (elbow) out for Dallas, there are a lot of snaps to be had at inside linebacker in the team's 3-4 alignment. The two candidates to pick up those snaps are Sims and Dan Connor. Although Connor has been on the team since the offseason and Sims was a free agent addition from late October, it might be the much more athletic Sims who better projects to pick up the nickel formation work in Dallas, because Connor just isn't athletic enough to be penciled in for passing down snaps. Connor started the last two games for Dallas at Sims' expense, but his seven tackles were nearly matched by the six Sims posted as a passing down player. Also, Sims posted four tackles Thursday while Connor finished with just three against Washington. If he does emerge with the nickel formation snaps in Dallas, Sims would be on the LB3 radar in most formats, as he made 13 tackles in his two starts this year.

Anthony Spencer, (3-4) OLB, DAL

Spencer deserves a great deal of skepticism as an IDP since he's a 3-4 outside linebacker who never posted good numbers prior to this year aside from an eight-game stretch in 2009 when he totaled eight sacks. His numbers this year, though, have been too great to be ignored. He's been putting up tackle stats that look more appropriate for an inside linebacker, posting 57 tackles (36 solo) in nine games while posting the best per-game pass rushing numbers of his career with 6.5 sacks. If his current numbers were projected over 16 games, Spencer would be on pace for roughly 101 tackles and 11.5 sacks. Until he cools off, he's probably worth owning in most formats. Potential dynasty league investors should beware of the fact that Spencer is playing on the franchise tag, however - if he gets a long-term contract from Dallas or anyone else, there's a significant chance he'll not so coincidentally stop playing so well.

FALLING

Patrick Chung, S, NE

Injuries have had a great deal to do with it, but in light of Devin McCourty's transition to safety, it appears that time may be running out on Chung in New England. Previously one of the elite per-game producers at defensive back, he barely saw the field despite being active against the Jets on Thursday, finishing with two tackles while McCourty made nine and Steve Gregory finished with six tackles, an interception, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. It looks as if Chung just isn't able to compete for significant snaps against the likes of McCourty and Gregory, and it's fair to wonder whether it's a matter of time before rookie second-round pick Tavon Wilson usurps Chung on the depth chart. At this point it's difficult to argue with the idea that Chung shouldn't be owned in any format.

Akeem Dent, MLB, ATL

Dent has been much busier than usual with star Atlanta linebacker Sean Weatherspoon out the last three games with an ankle sprain, but it appears that Weatherspoon will make his return against the Buccaneers this week. The 20 tackles Dent posted the last three weeks will prove to be an anomaly so long as Weatherspoon and Stephen Nicholas remain healthy, as they are the Atlanta nickel formation linebackers, and the Falcons tend to use their 4-3 base formation as infrequently as possible. Atlanta goes to the nickel to the point that it cripples Dent's utility in nearly all formats - had just 20 tackles in his other seven games combined.

Bradie James, (3-4) ILB, HOU

For a minute there it appeared as if James would be a strong pickup in most formats with both Brian Cushing (knee) and Tim Dobbins (shoulder) out of the Houston lineup, leaving the former Cowboy with a full snap load in the Houston 3-4, but he suffered a hamstring injury against Detroit on Thursday, and it's fair to wonder whether his role will be up for grabs now. Former fourth-round pick Darryl Sharpton held up as a starter Thursday in Dobbins' place, and he made seven tackles while playing just 32 defensive snaps the week before. Dobbins, meanwhile, might be able to return from his shoulder issue in the near future, and it's possible that Sharpton and Dobbins could block James' path to a full snap count upon his return because even in his younger days James was a liability in coverage.

DeAndre Levy, OLB, DET

Levy is far from a problem for the Lions - his production and on-field effectiveness have both been satisfactory for the most part - but unfortunately for his IDP owners, Detroit can't commit to him as its nickel formation linebacker. Stephen Tulloch is locked in as the team's every down linebacker, and Levy and Justin Durant tend to split the snaps from there during passing downs. Against Houston on Thursday, though, Durant seemed to get much more work than Levy, which gives Durant the snap count advantage in two of the last three weeks. It's not surprising, then, that Durant has 22 tackles the last three weeks (eight against Houston), while Levy has just 17 stops over that span (three against Houston). Levy is still probably worth an LB4 investment just in case Detroit starts to split the snaps between Levy and Durant, but he generally can't be counted upon unless one of Durant or Tulloch get hurt.

Bart Scott, (3-4) ILB, NYJ

His IDP utility was already in the basement, if not non-existent, in nearly all formats to begin with, but it might all be just about over for Scott after Thursday's Thanksgiving debacle against the Patriots. He picked up a great deal of the blame on Shane Vereen's 83-yard touchdown catch and run, and, according to Newsday, Scott finished with just 11 snaps. That means rookie third-round pick Demario Davis just switched from the future to the now for the Jets at inside linebacker, as the athletic Arkansas State product finished with six solo stops against the Patriots. It's exceedingly difficult to imagine a scenario in which Scott is worth owning.