Karlos Dansby, (3-4) ILB, ARZ
Dansby was a relatively unheralded free agent signing by Arizona this offseason, but he’s been a big hit through his first eight games back with the team that originally drafted him back in 2004. After spending the last three years in Miami, Dansby was brought back to Arizona presumably in large part due to Daryl Washington’s four-game suspension, but with 71 tackles (69 solo), three sacks, one interception and 10 passes defended in just eight games, Dansby won’t be going anywhere despite Washington’s recent return. Dansby is locked in as a strong LB1 in any format until further notice, and he looks like a real threat to finish as a top-five producer at the position this year.
T.J. Ward, S, CLE
Health has always been the only thing getting in Ward’s way, as he was one of the league’s elite IDPs in his 2010 rookie season. But after piling up 123 tackles in his first 16 games with the Browns, Ward dealt with an assortment of hamstring, foot, hand and knee injuries over the next two seasons, and he posted just 107 tackles over his next 22 games. After initially starting slow in 2013 due to a shoulder issue, however, Ward has been red hot. He has 57 tackles in eight games, including 50 tackles and two interceptions in his last six contests. If he stays healthy going forward, there’s a real possibility that Ward might match or exceed the 123 tackles he posted as a rookie.
Jason Hatcher, DT, DAL
It's more than slightly unusual for a player to peak at age 31, especially at defensive tackle, but Hatcher appears to be a noteworthy exception. After playing as a rotational player in his fist six years in Dallas and then posting 51 tackles and four sacks as a 16-game starter last year, Hatcher's pass-rushing productivity has gone through the roof in 2013. Although he's on pace for almost the exact same tackle total from last year, Hatcher has supplemented his 26 tackles in eight games with seven sacks. He has at least one sack in all but two games this year, so this isn't a case of a player padding his stats with a couple outlier games. Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 defense clearly has brought the most out of Hatcher, and he’s set to provide at least DL2 value going forward.
Jon Beason, MLB, NYG
Beason was sent to the bench in Carolina earlier this year, finding himself behind all of Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Chase Blackburn on the depth chart, but the Giants have used him heavily since trading for Beason prior to Week 6. Despite posting just four tackles against Philadelphia on Sunday, Beason is at least on the LB3 radar at the moment, because he piled up 21 tackles in his first two games with the Giants. The 25 tackles he has in three games in New York project to roughly 133 over a 16-game span.
Aqib Talib, CB, NE
It appears as if Talib might return to the field this week after sitting out the Patriots' last two games with a hip injury. He was one of the premier ballhawks in the league earlier this year, posting four picks in less than six games. Despite the missed time, Talib is still tied for the league lead in interceptions. Owners in need of defensive back help might want to consider Talib against the Steelers this week, as Ben Roethlisberger has been under heavy pressure this year and might be forced into some bad throws Sunday.
Manti Te'o, (3-4) ILB, SD
Despite top tackler Donald Butler sitting out San Diego’s last two games with a groin injury, Te’o has been unable to post even average tackle numbers in his last four starts. Te'o is off the IDP radar for the time being, as he has a weak total of 17 tackles in four games, a tackle rate that would rank at or near the bottom of the league’s starters over a 16-game span. Te'o has lost snaps to unknowns like Reggie Walker and Andrew Gachkar, giving serious reason to worry that he just might not be very good.
Julius Peppers, DE, CHI
Despite a seven-tackle outburst against Washington prior to Chicago’s Week 8 bye, Peppers’ numbers through his first seven games are just awful. The 33-year-old end appears to have fallen off the cliff of decline, as he heads into his eighth game with just 15 tackles and one sack. That leaves him on pace to finish the year with 34 tackles and about 2.5 sacks. He’ll likely do better than that, but Peppers still isn’t worth owning in almost any IDP format right now.
David Hawthorne, (3-4) ILB, NO
Hawthorne has been strong in the last three weeks for New Orleans, posting 20 tackles (16 solo) to go along with two sacks, but his value is at risk of decline in the upcoming weeks. Jonathan Vilma (knee) returned to practice Monday, giving reason to suspect he might soon make his return from the Saints’ IR-Designated for Return List. Hawthorne would still play and might even remain a starter when Vilma returns, but he would lose too many snaps to maintain fantasy relevance. Vilma is eligible to return in Week 9.
Dontari Poe, (3-4) NT, KC
Poe remains a highly valuable player on the interior of Kansas City’s strong 3-4 defense, but he has struggled to consistently post useful IDP numbers. Double-teaming the 6-foot-3, 346-pound monster is mandatory each play, so Poe has to work harder than most linemen to get to the ballcarrier. His respectable box score of 27 tackles and 4.5 sacks is downgraded by the fact that 10 of those tackles and 3.5 of those sacks came in the first two weeks of the year. Poe has just eight tackles and no sacks in his last three games.
Fletcher Cox, (3-4) DE, PHI
Like Poe in Kansas City, Cox’s notable talent doesn’t show up a great deal in IDP formats due to the fact that he’s the best player on his 3-4 defensive line, making him a target of frequent double-teams. Cox has just 20 tackles and three sacks in his first eight games this year, and it’s not easy to see his situation improving much. Until Philadelphia adds some talent around Cox in the front seven to help apply more pressure on opposing offenses, he’ll probably struggle for DL3 relevance.