Brad Jones, (3-4) ILB, GB
Although Jones is relatively unheralded league-wide, the former Colorado Buffalo has quietly turned into a quality linebacker at both the inside and outside 3-4 positions for Green Bay. He’s been working on the inside this year after beginning his career outside, and the hamstring issues that plagued him recently are safely in the rearview mirror, which has allowed Jones to break out as an IDP the last two weeks. Not only has he piled up 23 tackles (17 solo) over that span, his background as an outside pass rusher has shined through with one sack in each of his last two games. Jones’ ability to provide both tackle and sack production would make him a unique IDP asset if he sustains his production. He started the year with 26 tackles in the first three weeks before his injury struck, so his tackle production should be safe at the least.
Ezekiel Ansah, DE, DET
Ansah’s rookie season has been difficult to capitalize on in the IDP realm since his production has been sporadic and rather unpredictable, but he’s shown enough flashes in his first nine NFL games to believe he’ll develop into a standout starting defensive end. Despite dealing with concussion and high ankle sprain issues, Ansah is up to five sacks and 21 tackles in nine games. He posted two sacks on 40 snaps against Tampa Bay on Sunday, meaning he has five sacks on just 364 snaps this year. Full-time starters at end usually play 800 or more snaps over a season, so Ansah should be fully expected to breeze past double-digit sacks in 2014.
Wesley Woodyard, MLB, DEN
Woodyard is one of the league’s more productive IDPs at linebacker when healthy, so it’s fortunate that he’s back in top form after suffering a neck injury in Week 5, an injury that caused him to miss the following two games. He has 36 tackles in the four games since, though, giving him 69 tackles in his eight healthy games of 2013. That’s a pace of 138 tackles over 16 games, so Woodyard is safely in LB1 territory in all formats so long as he’s on the field. He also has potential to chip in as a pass rusher, as he had 5.5 sacks in 2012.
Haloti Ngata, (3-4) DT, BAL
Ngata’s season has been a waste, largely due to injury, as a knee injury forced him to miss one game and play hobbled in others. His health appears to be improving, however, and with that fact comes the hope that he might regain the form he showed prior to 2013. Ngata surpassed 60 tackles and five sacks in both 2010 and 2011, and he showed an almost identical pace in 14 games from 2012, posting 51 tackles and five sacks in 14 games. Those numbers make clear that Ngata lacks upside as an IDP, but when he returns to a full snap count he could provide DL2 value in IDP leagues with 12 or more teams.
Morgan Burnett, S, GB
Burnett’s value was high as soon as he made his season debut in Week 5 after previously sitting with a hamstring issue – he was widely considered the top defensive back IDP heading into this year – but he lands on the riser list anyway due to the big tackle spree he’s gone on in recent weeks. After posting just 17 tackles in his first three games of the year, Burnett has caught fire in his last five games, piling up 45 tackles. With 62 tackles in eight games, he's producing at an almost identical pace to his 123 tackles in 16 games last year.
Jon Bostic, MLB, CHI
With Lance Briggs’ imminent return from a fractured shoulder suffered Oct. 20, Bostic’s time as a relevant IDP in 2013 is likely limited. The second-round pick out of Florida should have some productive seasons for Chicago down the road, but in the meantime he’ll likely play behind Briggs and James Anderson in nickel formations once Briggs gets back on the field. Briggs should be one week away from his return at most, and in the meantime Bostic hasn’t exactly been a smash hit as an IDP, anyway. He has only 28 tackles in his five starts.
Colin McCarthy, MLB, TEN
McCarthy has the ability to post big numbers when he starts for the Titans. He posted 36 tackles and an interception in a four-game span from Weeks 7 through 11, and he had similarly productive moments in 2011 and 2012. The problem is that he can’t hold on to a starting job, largely because of his proneness to injury. McCarthy only started those four games because incumbent starting middle linebacker Moise Fokou was out with a knee injury, but was back on the field against Oakland on Sunday. McCarthy went without a defensive snap as a result.
Manti Te’o, (3-4) ILB, SD
This is what a bust looks like. Te’o never showed the ability to pursue and tackle reliably at Notre Dame, but a few lucky interceptions, an improbable National Championship Game appearance and a fabricated story about overcoming adversity came together to establish an ironclad false narrative that Te’o was a top linebacker prospect and worthy of a first-round pick. Turns out he wasn’t worth a second-round pick, and probably not a third, either. Te'o has been tentative and generally invisible in his eight starts with San Diego, totaling just 39 tackles while losing snaps to waiver wire fodder like Reggie Walker and Bront Bird. Kiko Alonso, Alec Ogletree, Arthur Brown, Kevin Minter, Jon Bostic, Sio Moore, Paul Worrilow and probably a few others will all be better linebackers from this draft class.
Duron Harmon, S, NE
Harmon played every defensive snap for the Patriots in their surprising comeback victory against the Broncos on Sunday, piling up 11 tackles in the process. It would be best to not assume he’s a hot bargain pickup at defensive back, however. Harmon only started because incumbent safety Steve Gregory was out with a broken thumb, but Gregory is heading into his fourth week of recovery for an injury that was given a prognosis of “a few weeks,” meaning his return could occur at any time. Gregory even practiced in a limited capacity all week prior to sitting out Sunday’s game.
Daryl Washington, (3-4) ILB, ARZ
Washington’s real-life value as a defender hasn’t shown up in the box score lately, leaving IDP owners hanging in the meantime. Few defenders had higher expectations as an IDP, so it’s a particularly disappointing instance of underachievement. Washington couldn't have started the year with a much bigger bang than the nine tackles, two sacks and interception he posted against Carolina in Week 5, but he has just 29 tackles and an interception in this six games since. Washington will almost certainly see his numbers bounce back soon – he averaged 7.8 tackles per game from 2011 to 2012 – hopefully his IDP owners make it into the playoffs and benefit from that eventual upswing.