Dontari Poe, (3-4) NT, KC
It’s rare for a 3-4 nose tackle to become a fantasy factor, but it looks like Poe is the sort of talent who can do just that. He’s been one of the league’s top defenders through the first two weeks of the year, and his incredible combination of size and athleticism (4.98-second 40-yard dash at 6-foot-3, 346 pounds) is translating into total dominance on the interior of Kansas City’s offense line. He lit up the Jaguars in Week 1 for six tackles (five solo) and 1.5 sacks, then he sacked Tony Romo twice in Week 2 while adding four more solo stops. Poe appears to have realistic DL1 potential this year, and he should be owned in all IDP leagues until further notice.
Brian Cushing, (3-4) ILB, HOU
There’s never been any question about the fact that Cushing is one of the league’s most talented linebackers and a solid IDP option in almost any format, but there was some understandable concern about how effective he would be upon returning to the field after suffering a torn ACL in his fifth game of the 2012 season. Through the first two weeks of 2013, it appears Cushing is as good as ever, or at least the best he's been since his 2009 rookie season, when he was one of the league's most dominant IDPs with a box score of 133 tackles, four sacks and four interceptions. Cushing has made big plays in each of his two games this year, making five tackles against San Diego in Week 1 while returning an interception for a touchdown, then piling up 11 tackles and 1.5 sacks against the Titans in Week 2. He’s in LB1 territory in more cases than not.
Alec Ogletree, OLB, STL
Ogletree was pretty raw as an inside linebacker at Georgia, particularly when it came to taking on blockers in traffic, so there was reason to be skeptical of the idea of him earning a three-down role right out of the gate as a rookie. As it turns out, the Rams went all-in on Ogletree from the start of the year, cutting 2012 three-down linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar prior to Week 1 and installing Ogletree as a starter at outside linebacker, as well as naming him starting nickel linebacker. Ogletree is now locked into a full workload next to James Laurinaitis, and actually has more tackles (15, all solo) than Laurinaitis (11) through the first two games. That should change in a hurry, but Ogletree nonetheless has LB2 upside until further notice.
Anthony Spencer, DE, DAL
Spencer appears close to getting past the knee injury that kept him out Week 1 and limited him in Week 2. Once he does return to 100 percent, Spencer should provide DL2 value at the least in most formats. He posted two tackles in his season debut against Kansas City despite playing only 34 snaps, and his numbers should improve from here on out. Spencer showed rare pursuit ability as a 3-4 outside linebacker for Dallas prior to this year, posting 95 tackles in just 14 games in 2012. He’ll play a bit wider than he’s accustomed to in Monte Kiffin’s 4-3, but Spencer still has the skill set to post standout tackle numbers on the defensive line.
Manti Te’o, (3-4) ILB, SD
Te’o (foot) finally returned to practice Wednesday, roughly six weeks after suffering an injury that was only supposed to keep him out for a week. While he isn’t a guarantee to return to the field in Week 3, he should be in day-to-day territory at this point rather than week-to-week. When he does return, Te’o holds a fair amount of upside as a potential three-down player in the San Diego defense. The team’s current options are Reggie Walker and Bront Bird, and neither has been impressive. Plus, the team didn’t trade up to take Te’o in the second round of the draft to be a part-time player.
Sean Weatherspoon, OLB, ATL
Weatherspoon is one of the league’s most athletic linebackers and should one day turn into one of the best playmakers at the position, but injuries have been a problem for him. His latest injury is a sprained foot serious enough for Atlanta to place him on the Designated for Return IR, ruling him out for the next eight weeks. There are few IDP formats where Weatherspoon is worth holding onto. Weatherspoon’s absence should allow Akeem Dent to play more prominently in the Atlanta defense.
Bront Bird, (3-4) ILB, SD
Bird was an attractive deep league consideration after posting 14 tackles against the Texans in Week 1, but the Chargers quietly benched him prior to Week 2 due to the coverage deficiencies he displayed against Houston. Instead of following up on his 14-tackle showing with anything useful against the Eagles on Sunday, Bird posted one tackle while playing just five defensive snaps. Reggie Walker started in Bird’s place in Week 2, though both players should get pushed to the sideline when Manti Te’o (foot) gets back on the field.
Akeem Ayers, OLB, TEN
Ayers is probably one of the league’s more talented 4-3 outside linebackers, but the way Tennessee uses him as a DE/OLB tweener seems to have totally drained his IDP utility. Playing defensive end is much more tiring than playing as a linebacker, so Ayers’ snaps have gone down significantly since he started seeing time at end. He played just 52-of-82 defensive snaps against Houston on Sunday while playing just 29-of-53 defensive snaps against Pittsburgh in Week 1. The result? Three tackles in two weeks. Ayers is off the radar for now.
T.J. Ward, S, CLE
Ward was mostly just a reclamation project in deep IDP leagues coming off two unproductive, injury-plagued, so his downside has long been noted. With that said, Ward has still been a disappointment through the first two weeks. Health has had a little to do with it – he left Week 1 early with a shoulder issue and played hurt against Baltimore in Week 2 – but Ward is no use to IDP owners with the mere seven tackles he’s posted in the first two games. He posted 123 tackles in an excellent 2009 rookie season, but at this point, he is only worth the hassle in the deepest of leagues, at least until he demonstrates the ability to stay healthy.
James Harrison, OLB, CIN
It seems as if it’s just about time to stick a fork in Harrison. As an edge player who has always played outside in a 3-4 style, his skill set appeared to be a poor fit at outside linebacker in Cincinnati’s 4-3 scheme. Along those lines, Harrison’s first two weeks in Cincinnati give reason to think he just won’t play much of a role this year. He had just one tackle in the first two weeks, and the Bengals showed no intention of getting him on the field against his former team Monday, as Harrison was on the field for just 14 defensive snaps against the Steelers. No defender in the league can produce with a workload like that.