Sean Lee, MLB, DAL
After sitting out two games with a hamstring injury, Lee appears ready to return to the field as Dallas takes on Chicago this week. Even if he doesn’t play a full snap count against the Bears, Lee is obviously an LB1 option in almost any IDP format as long as he’s playing about three-fourths of the snaps or more. Lee just might be the best IDP in the league on a per-game basis, as he had 90 tackles and four interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) in the nine games he played this year before suffering the injury, as well as 58 tackles and an interception in the six games he appeared in a season ago. The numbers speak for themselves.
Audie Cole, MLB, MIN
Cole was completely off the radar just two weeks ago, but the second-year player out of North Carolina State is worth owning in most IDP formats as he heads into his third game as starting middle linebacker for the Vikings. Cole finds himself in a three-down role for the Vikings because Erin Henderson’s off-the-field issues allowed the 2012 seventh-round pick to get his foot in the door, and he posted 22 games and a sack in two games from there. Cole is huge at 6-foot-5, 239 pounds and has a long history of posting standout numbers both as a run stopper and a pass rusher. Just like Henderson prior to his benching, Cole holds LB1 upside playing next to Chad Greenway.
Ezekial Ansah, DE, DET
Ansah hit the “Rookie Wall” from Weeks 6 through 11, following up the 3.5 sacks he posted in the first five games with none in the next three before missing two games with a high ankle sprain. Ansah has returned with a fury since then, though, and there's little doubt at this point that he'll be one of the standout defensive line IDPs heading into 2014. The Buccaneers and Packers gave up two sacks each to Ansah in the last two weeks, giving him 7.5 sacks in 10 games on the year. If he keeps it up, Ansah might be the No. 2 defensive line IDP option behind J.J. Watt going into next season.
Mike Adams, S, DEN
The season-ending leg condition that starting Denver safety Rahim Moore is dealing with forced Adams into a starting role, and deeper IDP league owners can probably find some cheap utility in Adams as a result. Adams played all of Denver’s defensive snaps in the Broncos’ last two games, totaling 14 tackles in the process. With Peyton Manning forcing opponents into a shootout almost as soon as the coin flips, Adams should continue to see plenty of pass attempts from opposing offenses.
Harrison Smith, S, MIN
IDP owners can’t use him quite yet, but it’s worth noting that Smith is nearing his probable return from toe surgery. Smith will be eligible to return from the IR-Designated to Return list in Week 15, and practice reports in the meantime have been encouraging. When on the field, Smith is one of the elite IDPs among defensive backs. He has 138 tackles and five interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) in 21 career games. Owners with bench space in need of a DB upgrade might want to stash him for the fantasy playoffs.
Erin Henderson, OLB, MIN
Henderson was perhaps the most pleasant IDP surprise of the season’s first 10 weeks, totaling 93 tackles, three sacks and three interceptions in 10 games. That's the box score of an elite LB1, and a major contrast from the 80 tackles and three sacks he posted over 14 games last year. Unfortunately for Henderson and his owners, he was arrested for probable cause DUI on Nov. 19, and the Vikings soured on him almost immediately. Audie Cole stepped in for Henderson on the field and displaced Henderson from the middle linebacker position going forward. It’s not even clear if Henderson will start over Marvin Mitchell at outside linebacker. Henderson is suddenly off the radar in most cases.
Vincent Rey, OLB, CIN
Even with lead linebacker Vontaze Burfict gobbling up a league-leading 131 tackles on the year, Rey managed to establish himself as a major IDP asset in the three games Rey Maualuga missed with a knee injury. After stepping into a three-down role, Rey posted 32 tackles, three sacks and an interception while Maualuga sat. Unfortunately, it turns out it wasn’t enough for the Bengals to decisively hand over the No. 2 linebacker role to Rey, and when Maualuga returned to the field against San Diego on Sunday, the two linebackers split snaps. While Burfict led the way with 64 snaps, Maualuga came in second with 38, leaving Rey with just 27. Rey won’t be able to make an IDP impact on such a meager play count.
Ernie Sims, OLB, DAL
Sims briefly saw his role elevated to that of a three-down player in the Dallas defense while the Cowboys dealt with hamstring injuries to starters Sean Lee and Justin Durant, but he might see his play count diminish sharply going forward. Lee is expected to return to the field this week, and young linebackers Bruce Carter and Kyle Wilber have improved of late. Lee will take almost all the snaps and a disproportionate amount of the linebacker production in Dallas, and Carter and Wilber figure to steal the scraps from Sims.
Da’Norris Searcy, S, BUF
With the Jairus Byrd-Aaron Williams combo decisively laying claim to the safety snaps in Buffalo, there just isn’t any room left for Searcy to make an IDP impact. Searcy is a valuable plug-and-play option when he gets the playing time – he posted 51 tackles and two sacks in his seven starts to begin the year, and he returned an interception for a touchdown against the Jets in Week 11 – but Byrd and Williams are significant coverage upgrades.
Jared Allen, DE, MIN
It’d be a bad idea to write off Allen at this point, as even at 31 years old he’s probably one of the league’s top threats to go on a sack spree at any moment. Until he does, though, it’s worth noting that his numbers through 12 games indicate Allen might be in the midst of the least productive season of his 10-year career. He has just six sacks through 12 games, leaving him on pace for just eight. He’s probably behind Robert Quinn, and maybe the Jets duo of Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson, on IDP cheat sheets at this point, but hopefully Allen will catch fire as he takes on a Baltimore squad that has allowed 39 sacks through 12 games.