Although it's difficult to tell what it might mean for IDP owners, the biggest news among NFL defensive players in general has to be the apparently probable Week 15 return of legendary Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis, who returned to practice Wednesday after tearing his triceps not even two months ago against Dallas on Oct. 14. The media hype that comes with Lewis' return might not be proportionate to his IDP utility, though, because he might be on a limited snap count since Dannell Ellerbe played well in Lewis' place.
Ellerbe, by the way, should be considered questionable for this week's game against Washington after missing Baltimore's game against Pittsburgh on Sunday with an ankle injury. The status of linebacker Terrell Suggs is also a big question for Baltimore, as the pass rusher suffered a torn biceps against the Steelers. It sounds like an injury that just cannot be played through anytime soon, but between Lewis' fast recovery and Suggs' already freakishly quick return from a torn Achilles' tendon in the offseason, it seems foolish to bet against injured Ravens defenders.
Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher is another big name defender who has been knocked out for the short term, as a hamstring strain figures to make him miss at least three games. His snaps will primarily be absorbed by Nick Roach. And while he doesn't sell as many jerseys as Urlacher, the much more IDP-relevant Wesley Woodyard of Denver is on the injury report after missing Thursday's game against Oakland with an ankle sprain.
Reshad Jones, S, MIA
Jones has quietly become one of the league's better safeties, and in the process he's become a starting IDP option in most or all league formats. The former Georgia Bulldog has 73 tackles (58 solo), three interceptions, two forced fumbles and a sack in 12 games. He could make it to the triple-digit tackle mark on the year, and the rest of his box score is well rounded to the point that he's approaching DB1 territory in most IDP leagues. Jones has no competition for snaps in the Miami secondary, and since he's playing as well in real life terms as he is in IDP terms, his owners needn't worry about him getting benched or placed in a rotation.
Mario Williams, DE, BUF
Williams looked like he may have been a bust free-agent signing at the beginning of the year, when he started his Buffalo career with just 3.5 sacks in the first seven games. It appears as if a wrist injury he played through during that stretch may have been a major factor in that disappointing sack total, however, because Williams underwent a surgery during the team's Week 8 bye and has been a different player since. In Buffalo's five games since the bye week, Williams has looked more like the player the Bills thought they were buying in free agency, as he has six sacks in that span. Williams is up to 9.5 sacks in 12 games this year, and he could make a push for DL1 status before the season is over.
Nick Roach, OLB, CHI
With Brian Urlacher expected to miss at least three games with a hamstring strain, it appears as if Roach is likely to step up as Chicago's new full-time linebacker alongside Lance Briggs. Roach played just 32 snaps against Seattle on Sunday compared to 71 for Briggs and 70 for Urlacher, but no other Bears linebacker had more than one snap on defense, which would seem to indicate that Roach has a solid hold on that third linebacker role, making him the logical candidate to step up into the second spot in the rotation with Urlacher out. Roach has just 35 tackles in 12 games this year, but he should see his numbers go up significantly with Urlacher on the sideline. He's still primarily a deep consideration, though.
Whitney Mercilus, (3-4) OLB, HOU
Like most 3-4 outside linebackers, Mercilus' tackle totals are too low to make him worth starting in most IDP formats, but leagues that are either deep or reward disproportionately for sacks could find the rookie first-round pick from Illinois useful. Brooks Reed (groin) is expected to miss at least one game, and Mercilus played nearly every snap with Reed out against Tennessee on Sunday, so the arrangement is likely to be the same against the Patriots on Monday. As long as he's getting a big snap count, Mercilus is a good bet to produce, because he's shown a good amount of talent to this point and gets favorable blocking scenarios since J.J. Watt demands so much attention. Mercilus has five sacks in his last six games.
Ernie Sims, (3-4) ILB, DAL
The numbers aren't there yet - Sims had just four tackles against the Eagles on Sunday - but he seems to have emerged as Dallas' top linebacker in terms of snaps logged, meaning he's on the radar in any IDP format that starts two or more linebackers. He played all of Dallas' 63 snaps against Philadelphia, and with a workload like that he's a good bet to produce at a triple-digit tackle pace almost by default. And although he's a former bust first-round pick for the Lions who was out of the league little more than a month ago, Sims is a good athlete with a history of posting IDP production, cheap as the stats may have been. He averaged 124 tackles per year in his first three years in Detroit - his only stint as a clear top linebacker for an NFL team.
Kurt Coleman, S, PHI
Coleman has been a strong IDP in most formats this year, totaling 77 tackles (61 solo) and two interceptions in 12 games, but his time of relevance in IDP leagues is likely over, at least in redraft formats. A rib injury will either sideline Coleman against Tampa Bay this week, or it will at the very least serve as a justification to put Colt Anderson in the starting lineup at Coleman's expense - a personnel change that was confirmed earlier this week. Coleman was never good in real football terms, so the Eagles are almost certainly examining his backups to see whether any will be an upgrade. The Eagles are just evaluating personnel at this point, and they already know Coleman isn't good enough. They don't have an incentive to give him the sufficient number of snaps to be an IDP factor.
A.J. Hawk, (3-4) ILB, GB
It initially appeared as if Hawk would serve as Green Bay's top inside linebacker when Desmond Bishop (hamstring) and D.J. Smith (knee) were both lost for the season earlier this year, because Hawk was originally a starter alongside Bishop and played a nearly full snap count when Bishop exited the lineup. In recent times, however, Hawk has disappointed owners (and the Packers) by losing snaps to Brad Jones, a former backup outside linebacker who was no higher than fourth on the depth chart prior to Bishop and Smith getting hurt. Hawk played just 37 snaps against Minnesota on Sunday, while teammates Jones (55 snaps), Erik Walden (55 snaps) and Dezman Moses (49 snaps) played more. To Hawk's credit, he has been able to post big tackle totals (30 tackles in the last three weeks) despite his diminishing snap count, but the odds of him sustaining that production are not good with his lack of playing time.
LaMarr Woodley, (3-4) OLB, PIT
It seems unwise to completely write off a player as accomplished as Woodley, who has been one of the league's most consistently disruptive pass rushers when healthy, but constant injury troubles seem to be taking a toll. He missed Sunday's game against Baltimore with an ankle sprain, and it's unclear whether he'll play this week against San Diego. Even before he suffered the ankle injury, though, Woodley had an uncharacteristically low total of just four sacks in 10 games. It seems safe to assume that injury had something to do with that decrease in production - Woodley had 44 sacks in the 57 games prior to this year - but it's still troubling that he's been gimpy in 2012 after playing just 10 games in 2011.
Kenny Phillips, S, NYG
It's unclear how much of a role health might have played in the decision, but Phillips played only sparingly on defense in his return from an MCL sprain against Washington on Monday. Stevie Brown, originally Phillips' backup, continued to play starter snaps for the Giants, and only by moving Antrel Rolle from safety to cornerback in certain formations did the Giants make room even for Phillips' peripheral role. Phillips played just 20 snaps against the Redskins, while Brown and Rolle both logged 54 plays on defense. It was Brown who started Monday, and considering he has four interceptions and a forced fumble in his eight starts, it's very possible that Brown will keep Phillips out of the starting lineup the rest of the way.
Carlos Dunlap, DE, CIN
Due to his incredible athleticism and instances of production outbursts in the past, it's a safe bet that Dunlap will at some point make a box score impact that's reflective of his rare talent. In the meantime, though, the IDP owners who invested in Dunlap's high upside are having their patience greatly tested. Dunlap just hasn't made the IDP impact a player of his talent should, particularly with offensive lines primarily concerned with defensive tackle Geno Atkins on the interior. Through 10 games this year Dunlap has a weak total of just four sacks and 27 tackles, giving him just 8.5 sacks in his last 22 games after starting his career red hot as a pass rusher, finishing his 12-game rookie season with 9.5 sacks on a limited snap count. He could be a good buy-low target in dynasty formats since he's disappointed so much, but the last two years indicate that anyone holding on the Dunlap needs to be ready to endure a whole bunch of goose eggs.