Olivier Vernon, DE, MIA
Vernon is a big reason why the Dolphins haven’t given much playing time to third overall pick Dion Jordan this year. The second-year player and former Hurricane didn’t produce much in college despite an obvious abundance of athleticism, but he has been one of the league’s most productive pass rushers over the last 10 weeks. After totaling just four tackles and one half sack in the first three weeks, Vernon posted a sack in each of the next four games and went off for seven sacks in the four most recent weeks, including a 10-tackle, three-sack performance against the Jets on Dec. 1. Vernon is among the fastest risers in the DL2 category.
Darryl Sharpton, (3-4) ILB, HOU
Aside from a fluky two-tackle showing against Jacksonville a week ago, Sharpton has quietly been a useful IDP option as the lone relevant inside linebacker in Houston’s 3-4 defense. In the five starts prior to Thursday, Sharpton totaled 40 tackles, which would put him on a 128-tackle pace over a full season. Even in Thursday’s dud game against Jacksonville, Sharpton still played every snap for the Houston defense, so his role is not at all in question. He seems like a safe LB3 consideration in most formats for the remainder of the year since Brian Cushing (knee) is out and Joe Mays just doesn’t accumulate many tackles (51 in 12 games this year).
Jason Worilds, (3-4) OLB, PIT
Worilds is a shaky IDP consideration for two reasons. The first is that he’s a 3-4 outside linebacker, a position that plays a lot like a 4-3 defensive end on the field, thus limiting his tackle opportunities despite a position designation that forces him to compete with traditional linebackers who surpass triple-digit tackles with ease. The second is that he hasn’t even been a good 3-4 outside linebacker for most of his career, totaling just 10 sacks in his first three seasons. He’s showing signs of life lately, however, and has seven sacks in his last nine games. Not only that, he also has strong tackle production over that stretch, nearly setting a triple-digit pace with 49 tackles in those nine games. Those numbers would project to 87 tackles and 12.5 sacks over a full season, so those desperate for linebacker help could find Worilds a worthwhile gamble.
Jay Ratliff, DT, CHI
Playing against his former team probably helped him find an extra gear that he might not have had otherwise, but Ratliff is nonetheless a player to keep an eye on given that he totaled three tackles and a sack in his second game back from a groin injury, and his first game in the starting lineup for Chicago. It wasn’t that long ago that Ratliff was one of the league’s most explosive and disruptive defensive tackles, and if he is truly healthy his motor and fresh legs could allow him to keep making plays for Chicago. He is mostly just on the DL3 radar in most cases for the time being, however. He played 80 percent of the Bears’ snaps Monday, so it seems like they will give him plenty of work at the very least.
Zeke Motta, S, ATL
Motta’s usefulness as an IDP is subject to whether Thomas DeCoud suits up for Atlanta as the Falcons take on Washington this week. DeCoud left Sunday’s loss to Green Bay during the first quarter with a head injury, which immediately raises concussion concerns. If DeCoud sits out this week, deep league IDP owners could find some cheap tackle production in Motta, who totaled six tackles on 53 snaps against the Packers. Motta is more of a pure in-the-box safety than DeCoud, so the Falcons might have little choice but to up the coverage responsibilities of William Moore if Motta starts against Washington.
Wesley Woodyard, MLB, DEN
Woodyard’s IDP production is quite good as long as he is on the field, but the Broncos have been displeased with his effectiveness lately. Things reached a tipping point against the Titans on Sunday, as Denver benched Woodyard in favor of the generally unimpressive Paris Lenon after logging just 10 snaps. It’s possible that the stinger Woodyard suffered Oct. 6 has lingered somewhat and limited his effectiveness, but regardless of the cause, it appears that Woodyard’s owners can’t assume he will receive a dependable workload for now. Danny Trevathan is probably the better Denver linebacker to own at the moment.
Tyrann Mathieu, S, ARZ
Mathieu was one of the most promising defensive rookies in the 2013 class, so the torn ACL and LCL he suffered against St. Louis on Sunday is an immense disappointment. He finishes the year with 68 tackles, two interceptions, one sack and a forced fumble in 13 games (11 starts). Given that he began the year playing limited snaps behind then-starter Rashad Johnson, Mathieu's numbers are very encouraging. He is expected to miss at least part of 2014 training camp, however, so it’s not clear exactly when he will be able to build on the impressive start to his career.
Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, NYG
The wasted season for Pierre-Paul might come to an end entirely soon enough. Limited by his recovery from offseason back surgery for the entirety of the 2013 season, Pierre-Paul might get shut down in the Giants’ final three games given that they have no hope of making the playoffs. While he’d be a good on-paper candidate for a bounce-back season in 2014, Pierre-Paul was among the biggest busts in 2013 with just 27 tackles and two sacks in 11 games. He has been one of the league's biggest disappointments over each of the last two years, in fact, as he had just 6.5 sacks last year after totaling 86 tackles and 16.5 sacks in 2011.
George Selvie, DE, DAL
After posting three sacks in four preseason games, then following that up with six sacks in the first nine weeks of the regular season, it looked like Selvie was poised to be a feel-good story as a former waiver wire regular who turned himself into a standout starter. He failed to add a sack in the four games since, however, raising the possibility that his streak of productivity was just a flash in the pan. Selvie still has time to get it together and will be a bounce-back candidate if Dallas adds a legitimate defensive coordinator prior to 2014, but for now he’s fading from the DL3 radar.
Lance Briggs, OLB, CHI
Briggs was expected to miss 4-to-6 weeks with the fractured shoulder he suffered Oct. 20 against Washington, but he is expected to miss this week’s game against Cleveland, raising the question of whether he suffered a setback recently. He will be at the eight-week mark once the Bears take on the Browns, so Briggs’ recovery has stagnated or he was given a false prognosis in the first place. Either way, IDP owners can’t count on a return in any particular amount of time. If Briggs does get back on the field soon, either rookie second-round pick Jon Bostic or James Anderson would likely get pushed out of nickel formations, in any case.