Sheldon Richardson, (3-4) DE, NYJ
It’s still relatively early in the season, but after just five weeks it seems safe to say that Richardson, the 13th overall pick in this year’s draft, is going to be a beast for the Jets. He might even be one already. After posting five tackles and a sack against the Falcons on Monday, Richardson is up to 24 tackles and 2.5 sacks in five games. That rate of production projects to 77 tackles and eight sacks over 16 games, with is legitimate DL1 production. Richardson figures to cool off a little bit as the weeks go on, but it would be a bit surprising at this point if he doesn’t establish himself as one of the league’s most reliable DL2 options.
Ezekiel Ansah, DE, DET
It appears that the light is turning on for Ansah, the fifth overall pick in the 2013 draft. Despite playing extensively just one year at BYU, Ansah has shown enough polish to earn the lead role at defensive end for Detroit, and against Green Bay on Sunday he played 48 snaps, which was more than any of his fellow Detroit defensive ends. He made two tackles and added a sack and a forced fumble in the game, giving him 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in five games, to go along with 14 tackles. Ansah’s role is expanding, and with Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley absorbing almost all of the double teams, Ansah looks like a real double-digit sack threat.
Terrell Suggs, (3-4) OLB, BAL
It’s rare for a long-time stud like Suggs to make his way onto the ‘Rising’ list – he has almost nothing to prove at this point in his career, after all – but he’s been playing at such an improbably high level this year that he more than merits a mention. After posting 22 tackles (14 solo) and four sacks over the last two weeks, Suggs is up to a ridiculous total of 36 tackles and seven sacks in just five games. Even with an LB designation, which forces him to compete with players who regularly breeze past 100 tackles each year, Suggs has been a top IDP in almost any format so far in 2013.
Barry Church, S, DAL
Although he hasn’t posted any sacks or interceptions on the year, Church has quietly been one of the elite sources of tackles from the safety position through the first five weeks, posting at least seven solo tackles in four of his five games. After totaling 20 tackles (18 solo) over the last two weeks, Church is up to 38 tackles (35 solo), which projects to 122 tackles over a 16-game span. He also has two forced fumbles on the year. Particularly in leagues that reward heavily for solo tackles, Church is making a push for DB1 status as we approach the halfway point of the year. His 35 solo stops rank fifth among all NFL defenders, and first among defensive backs.
Earl Thomas, S, SEA
Thomas has been on fire through his first five games of this year. Although consensus rankings placed teammate Kam Chancellor safely ahead of Thomas heading into this season, Thomas has been the significantly better IDP to this point. Chancellor has a merely respectable total of 26 tackles and two interceptions, while Thomas has been one of the top IDPs with 37 tackles, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. It's a bit strange that Thomas is posting such big numbers after posting just 66 tackles in 2012, but he has the talent to maintain his current rate of production. He’s arguably worth owning in any format right now.
Bruce Carter, OLB, DAL
Carter must be one of the five most athletic linebackers in the NFL, but even in his college days at North Carolina his instincts and overall polish as a football player were questioned. He seemed to consistently show promise in his first two years in the NFL, though, showing rare pursuit and blitzing ability and generally looking like one of the league’s brighter prospects at his position. This year, though, he hasn’t done well at all, particularly in coverage. The Cowboys removed Carter from nickel formations in Sunday’s game against Denver, and given that former backup Ernie Sims played ahead of Carter, it’s possible that Carter will be benched outright when Justin Durant (groin) is ready to return to the field. It’s difficult to imagine a scenario where Carter is worth holding on to in redraft formats.
Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, NYG
Pierre-Paul was expected to start slower than usual due to his recovery from an offseason back surgery, but his output through the first five games is still safely below the adjusted expectations. Considering that he generally was a top-three investment on the defensive line in IDP formats, many owners aren’t getting close to the return that they paid for. Pierre-Paul has just one sack in five games, and he hasn't even made up for it with decent tackle production. He has just 13 stops so far, including just one tackle against Philadelphia’s vulnerable offensive line Sunday despite playing the most snaps of any Giants lineman. JPP is too talented to not hit his stride sooner or later, but in shallow leagues his owners can’t be faulted for dropping him.
Chris Long, DE, STL
Long is a player who is entirely dependent on sack production in order to make an IDP impact, and he’s falling short of the necessary marks so far this year. Long has just 1.5 sacks after five games, and with just 12 tackles to go along with that total, he isn’t worth owning in most formats right now. Long has never surpassed 43 tackles in his six-year career, and twice he has failed to surpass 33 tackles. He will likely struggle for DL3 relevance for the duration of his career.
Bobby Wagner, MLB, SEA
Wagner is definitely one of the league’s top linebackers, both in real life and IDP terms, and he’s been a standout producer for his owners through this point in the season, totaling 32 tackles and an interception in the four games prior to Sunday's game against Indianapolis. Unfortunately, he suffered an ankle sprain against the Colts in that contest, and it appears to be of the high-ankle sprain variety, which is much more troubling. That makes a multi-week absence quite likely, assuming Wagner doesn’t make a freakishly fast recovery. If Wagner sits out, K.J. Wright should see his tackle opportunities increase.
Brad Jones, (3-4) ILB, GB
Jones will miss this week’s game against Baltimore due to a hamstring issue, and the fact that he was ruled out Wednesday implies that a multi-week absence is very possible. Jones has quietly been a very good IDP as a starting inside linebacker for the Packers, totaling 29 tackles (23 solo) and a sack in four games, and that's despite playing just 23 snaps against Detroit on Sunday. With Robert Francois out, Jamari Lattimore is expected to start at linebacker for as long as Jones sits.