Suggs on the rise
A few huge injuries struck the IDP pool in Week 7, the most notable the season-ending toe injury suffered by Dallas inside linebacker Sean Lee, who was playing at an extremely high level, posting 58 tackles (36 solo) in six games. Similarly important was the knee injury that ended linebacker Jon Beason's season in Carolina, opening the door for rookie Luke Kuechly to finally take control of the middle of the Panthers defense.
Another severe but non-season-ending injury was suffered by Charles Woodson in Green Bay, as a broken collarbone figures to keep him out for about six weeks. Meanwhile, inside linebacker London Fletcher was suffering from balance difficulties in practice this week, which raises the question of whether he might be dealing with concussion symptoms. There's at least a little good news on the injury front, though, in the probable return of Tennessee middle linebacker Colin McCarthy, who missed last week with an ankle issue.
There's more good injury news in the return of Baltimore outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, who made a remarkable return to the field against Houston on Sunday just about six months after tearing his Achilles' tendon. It didn't take long for him to make an impact, either, as he finished the game with four tackles (three solo), a sack and a pass deflection.
Terrell Suggs, (3-4) OLB, BAL
Suggs' recovery from a torn Achilles' tendon occurred incredibly quickly, and after totaling four tackles and a sack against the Texans, it seems as if he's actually relatively close to full strength. He did that despite playing just 44 of Baltimore's 80 defensive snaps. It's a recovery perhaps no less stunning than Adrian Peterson's dominant return from a torn ACL and MCL that occurred on Christmas Eve. As in Peterson's case, it appears Suggs can be trusted to be his usual self, which puts him on the radar in leagues that reward heavily for sacks. More important, in leagues that classify Suggs as a defensive end, he's suddenly one of the most valuable IDPs in the entire format since he gets more tackle opportunities as a linebacker in Baltimore's 3-4 base than most other ends do.
Luke Kuechly, MLB, CAR
Kuechly's early-season production was a bit disappointing, though that wasn't really his fault - despite drafting him ninth overall in the 2012 draft, the Panthers didn't give Kuechly a huge snap count to start the year. With a season-ending knee injury to Jon Beason, though, Kuechly will move from outside to middle linebacker, and is a good bet to play nearly every nickel and dime snap. As a result, he should be one of the league's top linebacker IDPs the rest of the way. In the last two weeks he has 26 tackles (15 solo) and an interception, and given Kuechly's mostly unparalleled college production, it's not unreasonable to expect more than 100 tackles in Kuechly's final 10 games alone.
Russell Allen, OLB, JAC
It appeared as if long-time starter Daryl Smith would return soon at outside linebacker for Jacksonville, pushing Allen out of nickel formations, but Smith's recovery from a groin injury just never progressed for some reason, and he was placed on the designated-to-return IR this week. That leaves Smith out until at least Week 15, and given that he was initially expected to miss just around a week when he suffered his injury way back on Aug. 2, he might not make it back at all this year. Allen has 51 tackles (38 solo) in six games with Smith inactive, so he should remain a strong IDP option in most formats.
Dannell Ellerbe, (3-4) ILB, BAL
Ellerbe began the year as Baltimore's technically third inside linebacker behind Ray Lewis and Jameel McClain, but he still outproduced McClain off the bench. It's not surprising, then, that Ellerbe easily posted bigger numbers than McClain against the Texans on Sunday, Ellerbe's first start in the place of Lewis, who's likely out for the season with a torn triceps. Ellerbe played every snap for the Ravens, finishing with 12 tackles (nine solo) and a pass defensed. Given that he had 31 tackles off the bench in six games before Sunday, there's reason to believe Ellerbe can be one of the top linebacker IDPs the rest of the way.
Bruce Carter, (3-4) ILB, DAL
It remains to be seen whether it's Carter or backup Dan Connor who emerges as the new tackle leader on the inside of the Dallas defense, but given that he easily beat Connor for the starting spot in training camp, it would seem that the much more athletic Carter is the better bet. Neither can come close to imitating Sean Lee, who would be nearly flawless if not for his profound injury issues, but there would be 58 tackles (36 solo) up for grabs in the Dallas defense if Lee hadn't played the last six games, and Carter would have a total much better than his current 32 tackles if that had been the case.
Rolando McClain, MLB, OAK
It's difficult to tell whether it's an issue of talent, work ethic or focus, but McClain simply isn't the player that the Raiders thought they were buying with the eighth overall pick in 2010. He embarrassingly was displaced in Oakland's nickel formation by rookie fourth-round pick Miles Burris, and now has just 32 tackles (21 solo) in six games. McClain will likely end his first three years in the league without a single triple-digit tackle season, making him one of the biggest busts of recent memory. There's a possibility that McClain is simply a 4-3 misfit after playing in the 3-4 at Alabama, but no matter the excuse, he's off the fantasy radar.
Kavell Conner, (3-4) ILB, IND
The return of Pat Angerer (foot), as expected, has come at the expense of Conner rather than Jerrell Freeman. Freeman played 58 of Indianapolis' 60 defensive snaps against Cleveland on Sunday, leaving just 38 snaps to be split between Conner (16) and Angerer (22). Even Moise Fokou maintained his off-the-bench role, playing 14 snaps. Angerer could very well eat up nearly every snap played by both Conner and Fokou when he reaches full health. In the meantime, Conner is entirely off the IDP radar at this point. He had 31 tackles through six games, but it will only get worse from here.
Daryl Smith, OLB, JAC
Allen's gain is Smith's big loss in Jacksonville, as it appears Smith, one of the league's better 4-3 outside linebackers, very well might miss the whole year despite suffering what was supposed to be a minor groin injury Aug. 2. He was placed on the designated-to-return IR list this week, so if he does play this year, it won't be until Week 15. Even if he comes back then, Smith is unlikely to earn the nickel snaps that Allen has laid claim to in his absence. Smith will be a free agent after this year, though, and he could find a better opportunity in free agency, so at least his dynasty league value is relatively stable.
Takeo Spikes, (3-4) ILB, SD
Spikes is still a technical starter for San Diego, but it still appears as if he's being phased out of the Chargers lineup. This isn't surprising given that he's approaching age 36. Spikes has just 30 tackles (26 solo) in six games this year, and there are at least a few guys on the Chargers roster who threaten to steal his snaps. Prior to this year the smart money would have been on 2011 second-round pick Jonas Mouton taking Spikes' snaps, but it's actually been journeyman Demorrio Williams, who has 17 tackles off the bench this year, who's been Spikes' main problem. Then, of course, first-round pick and inside-outside linebacker hybrid Melvin Ingram is a potential problem too.
David Hawthorne, OLB, NO
Hawthorne finally appears ready to return from the hamstring issue that kept him on the sidelines for the past three games, but it also appears that the once strong Seattle IDP will be close to a non-factor in IDP leagues because no linebacker besides Curtis Lofton is playing reliable snaps in New Orleans. The return of Jonathan Vilma especially complicates the situation, as he and Scott Shanle were both previously starters for the Saints. But even with both Shanle and Vilma active against the Buccaneers on Sunday, even Jonathan Casillas played 18 snaps, which is the same number of snaps played by Shanle and Vilma. With that trio sneaking onto the field, it's difficult to see how Hawthorne will have an opportunity to make an impact.
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