Karlos Dansby, (3-4) ILB, ARZ
The Dolphins decided they didn’t want Dansby after the 2012 season, and the rest of the NFL implied the same when it mostly shunned Dansby in free agency. Everyone involved displayed poor judgment, except for Arizona, of course. The Cardinals stole Dansby on a one-year, $2.25 million contract, and he responded with one of the best linebacker performances of 2013. After returning to the team that originally made him a star from 2004 to 2009, Dansby had the best season of his career by posting 117 tackles (109 solo), 6.5 sacks, four interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) and 18 passes defended. The good news for Dansby’s value going forward is that (A) the Cardinals almost certainly want to re-sign him so that he can reprise his role in 2014 and (B) Dansby indicated recently that he might be open to giving the Cardinals a hometown discount in the upcoming free agency period. There’s little or no doubt that Dansby will produce regardless of where he plays, but he’ll be locked into LB1 territory in most IDP formats if he can stabilize his value by returning to the same role for the second year straight.
John Cyprien, S, JAC
Although he has some work to do to maximize his real life football effectiveness – hardly unusual for a rookie – Cyprien has so far shown the ability to be a top-tier IDP defensive back at the very least. Despite missing one game, he heads into the final game of his rookie season with 98 tackles (81 solo), one sack, one interception and two forced fumbles. It would be quite an upset if he didn't breeze past triple-digit tackles as the Jaguars take on the Colts on Sunday, which should put Cyprien squarely on the DB1 radar heading into 2014. Cyprien has a long history of posting big tackle numbers going back to his days at Florida International, where he led the team in tackles in 2010 and 2012, posting 365 tackles over a 50-game span.
Chandler Jones, DE, NE
There was never any doubt that the only thing preventing Jones from taking a leap forward in 2013 was his durability, so his entry in the rising list definitely warrants a knock on wood, but his excellent 2013 season definitely deserves mentioning. The 2012 first-round pick out of Syracuse was off to a very fast start his rookie year, posting 34 tackles and six sacks in his first nine games before an ankle issue derailed his season, but he’s had better luck staying healthy this year. The result was 75 tackles and 11.5 sacks in 15 games – clear DL1 value in almost any IDP format. Jones might always be a bit more of an injury risk than fellow DL1 candidates like J.J. Watt, Robert Quinn, Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson, but there’s a legitimate argument to be made that Jones should be a top-three pick at the position next year.
Mychal Kendricks, (3-4) ILB, PHI
It took long enough, but it looks like Kendricks is finally turning into the IDP force he was meant to be. The second-year pro out of California has always been blessed with excellent speed and strength, as well as the innate ability to excel as an inside blitzer, so it was somewhat surprising when he finished his rookie season with just 75 tackles in 15 games. His tackle total still isn't high – he has just 94 in 14 games this year as he heads into the final week – but he seems to have found an extra gear over the last two weeks, posting 13 tackles, three sacks, an interception and a forced fumble. With 4.4 speed and an aggressive demeanor, there’s no reason why Kendricks can’t continue to make big plays and post standout stats for sack and turnover categories.
Erin Henderson, MLB, MIN
Henderson’s return to the rising list will likely be temporary. As in, only in reference to Week 17. Despite his huge numbers on the season, Henderson’s real-life performance left a lot to be desired, and that was before factoring in his Nov. 19 arrest for suspicion of DWI. So long as he was on the field, though, Henderson's IDP owners couldn’t hardly care much less, as his 105 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions in 13 games are top-tier numbers. The ascent of second-year linebacker Audie Cole briefly put an end to Henderson’s reign as a standout IDP, and Cole will likely make Henderson irrelevant again in 2014, but for now Cole is out with an ankle injury. With Cole out, Henderson won’t have to worry about anyone stealing his snaps in Week 17, likely providing IDP owners in Week 17 leagues a source of cheap standout production for one more week.
Von Miller, LB, DEN
Relative to the almost stunning success he enjoyed in his first two years in the NFL, Miller's third season couldn't have been much more of a disappointment this year. Suspended the first six games due to violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, Miller's already abbreviated season ended early due to an ACL tear he suffered against the Texans on Sunday. He finishes the year with 34 tackles and five sacks in nine appearances, and as is the case with any late-season ACL tear, there has to be concern about his effectiveness (if not availability) for the start of the 2014 season. Miller is an exceptionally athletic player and will only be 25 in March – two facts that give reason to hope for an accelerated recovery pace – and there’s further good news in the fact that his injury affected only the ACL, making his rehabilitation process relatively straightforward since there won’t be other ligament damage to account for. Still, even a player as gifted as Miller might struggle to immediately regain the form and productivity he showed in his first two seasons, when he totaled 132 tackles, 30 sacks and eight forced fumbles in 31 games.
James Laurinaitis, MLB, STL
It’s too early to know for certain whether it was a fluke, but Laurinaitis definitely had a down year in IDP terms during the 2013 season. After posting back-to-back 142-tackle seasons in 2011 and 2012, Lauinaitis heads into the final week of this year with only 106 tackles. The additional 3.5 sacks and two interceptions are a nice touch, but those are LB2 numbers in most cases despite the fact that Laurinaitis was generally invested in as an LB1. It’s possible that rookie first-round pick Alec Ogletree stole some of Laurinaitis’ tackle production and, if that’s the case, it’s a problem that won’t go away anytime soon. Ogletree is obviously a long-term factor for the Rams given that he heads into the 16th game of his career with 109 tackles, 1.5 sacks, an interception returned for a touchdown and six forced fumbles. Ogletree might be the better IDP target in 2014, in fact.
Vincent Rey, OLB, CIN
It wasn’t long ago that Rey appeared to be in the midst of a breakout season for the Bengals, stepping up with big numbers while incumbent starter Rey Maualuga sat with a knee injury during November. In a three-game span as starter, Rey posted 32 tackles, three sacks and an interception. Since then, though, not only has Maualuga displaced him on the depth chart, but Michael Boley has moved ahead, as well. Rey played only Rey played just six snaps against the Vikings on Sunday, while Maualuga played 42 and Boley played 23. If Rey has a future role as an IDP factor, it apparently won’t be in Cincinnati.
Corey Peters, DE/DT, ATL
After moving from defensive tackle to defensive end for Atlanta, Peters posted the best statistics of his career in 2013. Unfortunately for Peters, who becomes a free agent at the season’s conclusion, he suffered a torn Achilles’ tendon in Atlanta’s loss to San Francisco on Monday. He’ll likely be ready for the start of 2014 and might not even miss any training camp time, but Peters’ role heading into 2014 might be up in the air since teams try to avoid penciling in a starter who’s returning from an Achiles’ tear, especially if that player is new to the team. Peters finished the season with 46 tackles and five sacks in a little less than 15 games.
Da’Quan Bowers, DE, TB
Anyone still clinging to Bowers as a diamond-in-the-rough investment in dynasty leagues can cut bait by now. The 2011 second-round pick who was at one point hyped as a potential No. 1 overall draft pick has been a complete bust for Tampa Bay, and it’s fair to wonder if his days in the NFL are numbered after playing as backup to Daniel Te’o-Nesheim this year. It’s also fair to wonder whether knee issues are the reasons for Bowers’ weak play – he fell in the 2011 largely due to a problematic knee injury and was placed on IR following Week 16 this year due to another knee ailment – but the question means little to IDP owners forced to stare down Bowers’ 45 tackles and 5.5 sacks over three years.