2014 may go down in 2014 as the year of the injured linebackers in IDP leagues, but the theme song for the season may be the Ballad of Borland.
Since Patrick Willis went down with an injured toe a few weeks ago, rookie Chris Borland has drawn a pair of starts. All the former Wisconsin star has done in those two starts is rank as fantasy football’s top-scoring linebacker by a sizable margin while piling up an eye-popping 35 total tackles.
Borland’s play drew the praise of head coach Jim Harbaugh, according to Paul Gutierrez of ESPN. “Fun to watch,” Niners coach Jim Harbaugh said of Borland. “He’s doing a great job. He does have a … he’s got a sense for the ball. I’ve been watching it in practice and you watch it in the games. He’s like a thief in the night. He’s going to get under somebody, get around somebody.”
Now, with Willis on season-ending injured reserve, Borland is locked into the starting lineup and the top 15 among fantasy linebackers. If your opponent in Fantasy Throwdown this week hasn’t kept up on the latest shakeups in San Fran, and the Niners’ tilt with the New York Giants is one of the games you’ll be selecting players from, be sure to snag Borland as one of your IDP starters. You won’t regret it.
Now, let’s take a quick look around the NFL in Week 11, from the top 10 Individual Defensive Players at each of the “major” IDP positions to a couple of under-the-radar plays you can use as late values to give you an edge on the opposition.
- J.J. Watt – DE, HOU (at CLE)
- Robert Quinn – DE, STL (vs DEN)
- DeMarcus Ware – DE, DEN (at STL)
- Cameron Wake – DE, MIA (vs. BUF)
- Everson Griffen – DE, MIN (at CHI)
- Mario Williams – DE, BUF (at MIA)
- Calais Campbell – DE, AZ (vs. DET)
- Jason Pierre-Paul – DE, NYG (vs. SF)
- Rob Ninkovich – DE, NE (at IND)
- Carlos Dunlap – DE, CIN (at NO)
Jerry Hughes – DE, Buffalo Bills (at MIA)
Usually, I’m not a fan of recommending players on “Thursday Night Football.” More often than not, the game is just what you’d expect from tired players on a short turnaround – a slop-filled turd of a football game that results in lousy stat lines. However, Hughes is thriving in his first year as a 4-3 defensive end, with teammate Kyle Williams telling Sal Maiorana of The Democrat and Chronicle “If I had to give a crown to who I thought was playing the best football, I’d give it to Jerry. He’s had a great year.” Throw in a favorable matchup with a Dolphins team that just lost left tackle Branden Albert, and you have the recipe for IDP success.
Jurrell Casey – DE, Tennessee Titans (vs. PIT)
Much like Hughes, Casey is making a positional switch in 2014. For Casey it’s from 4-3 tackle to 3-4 end, but unlike Hughes, Casey told Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean that he hasn’t been satisfied with his progress. “For me to have nine games and only have four sacks, to me, personally, I don’t think that’s where I should be at,” Casey said. “That’s not good enough. I should have way more than that,” Casey has an excellent shot at increasing his sack total this week against Pittsburgh. For all the plays Ben Roethlisberger has made over his career by extending the action with his legs, holding the ball that long also means taking a lot of sacks.
- Lavonte David – OLB, HOU (at WAS)
- Luke Kuechly – MLB, CAR (vs. ATL)
- Karlos Dansby – ILB, CLE (vs. HOU)
- Paul Worrilow – ILB, ATL (at CAR)
- Jamie Collins – ILB, NE (at IND)
- DeAndre Levy – OLB, DET (at ARI)
- Mychal Kendricks – ILB, PHI (at GB)
- Lawrence Timmons – ILB, PIT (at TEN)
- Chris Borland – ILB, SF (at NYG)
- Brandon Marshall – OLB, DEN (at STL)
Josh Mauga – ILB, Kansas City Chiefs (vs. SEA)
Mauga is one of the many reserve linebackers thrust into starting lineups across the NFL this year, thanks to the torn Achilles suffered back in September by star linebacker Derrick Johnson. Mauga has been a capable replacement both in NFL and IDP terms, emerging as a solid (if unspectacular) high-floor IDP LB3. This week the stage is set for even bigger and better things from the 27-year-old. The Seattle Seahawks have been as run-heavy as any team in the NFL of late, and last week that equated to 12 tackles for New York Giants middle linebacker Jameel McClain.
Avery Williamson – ILB, Tennessee Titans (vs. PIT)
Just like Mauga, it was an injury that forced Avery Williamson into the starting lineup in Nashville. However, whereas Mauga has been solid but unspectacular, Williamson has seemingly appeared to get better with every game. Williamson told Wyatt he’s only getting started. “That’s what I want to do every week,” he said.” I want every team to know that Avery Williamson is a legit linebacker — that is my goal until the end of the season. I want every NFL team to know who I am, no matter what the circumstances are.” IDP owners need to know who Williamson is, especially headed into a favorable fantasy matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
- Harrison Smith – FS, MIN (at CHI)
- Morgan Burnett – SS, GB (vs. PHI)
- Charles Woodson – SS, OAK (at SD)
- Reshad Jones – SS, MIA (vs. BUF)
- Antrel Rolle – SS, NYG (vs. SF)
- James Ihedigbo – SS, DET (at ARI)
- Eric Berry – SS, KC (vs. SEA)
- Antoine Bethea – SS, SF (at NYG)
- Eric Weddle – FS, SD (vs. OAK)
- Donte Whitner – SS, CLE (vs. HOU)
Robert Blanton – SS, Minnesota Vikings (at CHI)
Mind you, in no way is Robert Blanton an elite talent, whether we’re talking NFL or IDP-wise. Blanton’s not in the same “weight class” as batterymate Harrison Smith from a talent standpoint, and he’s not going to post the sort of stat line that will single-handedly win you your Week 11 Fantasy Throwdown matchup. However, the odds of Blanton leaving your team swinging in the breeze are low as well – the 25-year-old has played the most snaps of any defender for the Vikings this year, and only once in 2014 has Blanton failed to notch at least six tackles in a game.
George Iloka – SS, Cincinnati Bengals (at NO)
While highly-drafted young safeties like Kenny Vaccaro of the Saints continue to disappoint, Iloka is quietly becoming a very good NFL safety in his third year in the league. That improved play has equaled improved statistical production as well, with Iloka racking up 13 tackles and an interception over his past two games. That production places Iloka eighth among defensive backs in Fantasy Throwdown Scoring over the past two weeks. Look for that top-10 streak to hit three weeks in a row Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, who rank third in fantasy points per game allowed to defensive backs so far this season.
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Gary Davenport is a Senior Staff Writer at Fantasy Sharks, an NFL and Fantasy Football Analyst at Bleacher Report, a Contributing Author and Associate Editor at Football Diehards and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and Pro Football Writers of America. Gary’s work has been featured in a number of national print publications and on both satellite and terrestrial radio, and he was a finalist for the FSWA Web Article of the Year in 2013.