October 02, 2008

All season long, this is the place for your weekly Individual Defensive Player Report. We'll be focusing on the three main statistics for most IDP leagues (solo tackles, sacks, and takeaways) in three-position formats (defensive linemen, linebackers, and defensive backs).

There were very high expectations for Beason coming into this season. Maybe a little too high. It was certainly reasonable to expect Beason to be an elite fantasy linebacker. He had 104 solo tackles as a rookie, 77 of them over the 11 games after he moved to the MIKE. But while Beason has improved going from Year 1 to Year 2, his numbers have suffered the negative consequences of Carolina's improved offense. With the Panthers controlling the ball more effectively because of their improved running game, that has translated into fewer seconds on the field for Beason. And Carolina is no longer a lock to fall behind like last season, when David Carr was imitating a professional quarterback for a good chunk of the year. Last season, teams were consistently running the ball in the second half against the Panthers, and often running right into Beason. So while another 100-tackle season is likely (Beason has 27 through four games), a jump to that Patrick Willis-stratosphere is unlikely.

Edwards is on the IDP radar since overtaking Jay Richardson for a starting spot last week. For the most part, Edwards spent his first six seasons (in Detroit) as a situational pass-rusher. But the 265-pound end held his own just fine just in his first start in silver and black: five solo tackles and a sack (for the third straight game). He'll have to be rotated out more often than most starting ends because of a lack of size. But Edwards' pass rushing ability (especially with defenses paying attention to Derrick Burgess on the other side) and improved play against the run makes him good enough for a flier in most leagues.

Everyone's getting a little too giddy about this guy, especially after a two-interception game in Week 3. There's plenty to like about Griffin. Teams will be forced to throw the ball on the Titans, their front four wreaks havoc and Griffin has the ball skills to turn under-duress throws into INTs. But he's a center field-type of free safety who won't rack up consistent tackles, and therefore won't be a consistent fantasy option. He has a nothing-to-write-home-about 44 solo tackles in 14 career starts. The ball skills give him more value in big-play leagues, but Griffin is shaping up to be a mediocre-at-best IDP in most formats.

His value is just so over-inflated again. That's because of name recognition, and because every time he makes a tackle eight yards downfield the commentators must say something along the lines of how he's still got it. But Lewis hasn't finished among the top 20 tacklers among linebackers since 2004, and '08 is shaping up to be another 80-tackle season. Lewis is nothing more than a back-up in fantasy leagues.

Ruud is currently third in the league in solo tackles with 25. He got off to an even hotter start last season, with 48 tackles in the first six games of '07. Then a nagging knee injury slowed him down, and Ruud was essentially an afterthought by the end of last season (he had only 33 tackles in his final eight games). The good news is that Ruud is back to 100 percent. The better news is that he's staying on the field in nickel packages this year. That means not only more tackles, but more chances for INTs (he already has two this season, matching his total from '07). If he can stay healthy, Ruud is a good bet for 100 solo tackles and top 5 value among linebackers.

A hybrid end-linebacker, Suggs has plenty of value as a fantasy lineman (which is where he qualifies in most leagues). He didn't show much big-play ability a year ago, registering a career-low five sacks. But he still had top-20 value among defensive linemen because of his 52 solo tackles, a number that will stay inflated as long as he keeps his hand out of the dirt for a chunk of plays. He has three sacks in the past two games, so the pass-rushing mojo could be back. If Suggs reaches double-digit sacks (a plateau he hit in each of his first two seasons), he could finish the season as fantasy's most valuable DL.

Webster is in for a big boost this season. After spending most of last season mired in the muck of the strong side, Webster won the job at the MIKE, the spot from which D.J. Williams (now playing the weak side) had 106 solo tackles last season. Of course, Webster doesn't have the talent that Williams has. But he can't help but put up solid numbers most weeks. He has 20 solo tackles through the season's first four games. He could see more action if opponents can slow down Jay Cutler and company and not have to abandon the run. But even if Denver ends up in 12 more shootouts this season, Webster is good enough to be a low-risk reserve in fantasy leagues.

With two picks and a touchdown against the Lions in Week 2, plus another Pick 6 last week in Tampa, Woodson has been a hot commodity in fantasy leagues. He shouldn't be. Last week's interception notwithstanding, teams will be throwing away from Woodson with Al Harris out of the lineup. While he's decent in run support, Woodson's tackle numbers won't carry his value. He's a boom-or-bust pick, and when opposing quarterbacks aren't looking at his side of the field, he's going to be a bust much more often.

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