David Irving, DE, DAL
What Irving did against the Buccaneers on Sunday was frankly surreal to witness I honestly can't recall watching live a defender dominating as thoroughly in an NFL game as he did in the second half of that game. Irving's remarkable combination of length and raw athleticism proved devastating for Tampa, as he almost single-handedly shut down their comeback attempt. Pro Football Focus credited Irving with four hurries in addition to two sacks on just 38 snaps, yet the film implied even more dominance than those exceptional numbers. The Cowboys are all but compelled to move Irving into a full-time role, because this isn't the first time he's shown rare disruptiveness this year he totaled four tackles, a sack, three forced fumbles and a pass deflection on just 19 snaps against Green Bay in Week 6. At around 6-foot-8, 270 pounds, Irving's 38-inch vertical and 128-inch broad jump illustrate an incredible combination of size and explosiveness.
Jerrell Freeman, (3-4) ILB, CHI
Freeman's four-game suspension for violating the league's PED policy is over, meaning he should return to a three-down role when the Bears suit up for a home game against Washington this week. The Bears have had nothing to play for this year but pride, but they've done it consistently all the same, making games tougher than imposing foes expect nearly every week. Particularly at home, Chicago's defense could prove irritating for Washington's offense, and Freeman's return would certainly seem to make that outcome more likely. Freeman is an LB1 in any case, as his 91 tackles in 10 games this year is an excellent pace.
Noah Spence, DE, TB
Irving wasn't the only defensive lineman to make an extreme impression Sunday, as Spence showed great promise for the Buccaneers on the other side. Although he has no sacks in the last three weeks, Spence beat Tyron Smith several times for impact pressures on Dak Prescott. Considering Spence is a rookie who played last year at Eastern Kentucky and Smith is already one of the best tackles to ever play at just 26 years old, Spence's film from Sunday implies great things in the future. With 5.5 sacks on 499 snaps this year, he's a strong candidate to breeze past double-digit sacks in 2017.
Ray-Ray Armstrong, (3-4) ILB, SF
Armstrong is on injured reserve for the rest of this season, but dynasty IDP league owners may want to add him as a lottery ticket heading into next year. The 49ers signed Armstrong to a two-year extension, and before his injury this year he looked poised to establish himself as a starter and three-down player next to Navorro Bowman, at incumbent starter Gerald Hodges' expense. With Bowman suffering another season-ending injury, this time an Achilles' tear, there's additional reason to think the 49ers may need to lean on Armstrong next year.
Anthony Barr, OLB, MIN
Barr is suddenly a problem in Minnesota. Perhaps we should have seen it coming here is an elite athlete who arrived at UCLA with sky-high expectations only to prove a late bloomer after multiple positional switches. Finally realizing his potential late in his UCLA career as an edge-rushing threat, Barr's epiphany proved mostly meaningless upon the Vikings drafting him to play outside linebacker in the 4-3 alignment. What he did best was chase the quarterback off the edge, but Minnesota asked him to do something else. It was a reasonable request given the versatility implied by Barr's immense raw talent, but it may have been ill-advised all the same. Coach Mike Zimmer seems like a lukewarm supporter at best at this point when a reporter asked him what areas Barr needed to improve in, Zimmer tersely replied, All. Indeed, Barr has seemingly regressed in every sense, totaling just 58 tackles and two sacks in 14 games after posting 68 tackles and 3.5 sacks in the same number of games last year. Barr's 2014 rookie season was actually his best, totaling 70 tackles and four sacks, and that was while playing just 12 games. It would be one of the most predictable outcomes of the offseason if Barr gets traded to a 3-4 team.
Stephone Anthony, MLB, NO
Anthony struggled as a rookie in 2015, but his truly rare athleticism and status as a rookie starter gave reason to believe in both New Orleans' commitment toward developing him, as well as his ability to successfully make that progression in 2016. As it would turn out, the Saints were willing to all but give up on Anthony one year after picking him in the first-round and appointing him as a Day 1 starter. Anthony was placed on season-ending IR due to a knee injury, meaning he will end 2016 with just 113 defensive snaps logged one year after leading Saints linebackers with 990. It's frankly one of the most memorable mismanagement jobs I can ever recall from an NFL front office. Their willingness to move on from Anthony so quickly could be hailed as some sort of admirable sobriety, but I'm more interested in how it got to that point in the first place.
Luke Kuechly, MLB, CAR
It was great news to hear Kuechly had cleared the league's concussion protocol last week, but his subsequent scratch for Monday's game against Washington leaves us wondering just what is really going on with his health. The Panthers deny that they're shutting him down, so his inactive status seemingly would be determined by his health in which case, did he pass the concussion tests or not? This sort of ambiguity on a subject as dire as the concussion protocol isn't similar to anything I've seen I can recall cases where guys went uncleared indefinitely, but inactivity following supposed clearance is new. There is little to no solid information for Kuechly's owners to work with right now.