Most fantasy football leagues are down to their final 2 teams this week, which means that most FF players in season-long leagues are done for the year.
If that's you and you're still reading this article, then you obviously understand that it's never too early to start thinking about next year -- especially given the constant growth of the dynasty realm.
I'm leaning that way with this week's IDP Hits, because I've realized in recent weeks that we could be approaching a very interesting free-agency run for defensive players.
Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul looks like the early marquee player on that side of the ball, and the team's decisions with him over the next couple of months figure to direct the market come March. Chiefs OLB Justin Houston is also reaching the end of his contract, though it's really tough to imagine K.C. letting him get away.
The Bills reportedly want to keep DE Jerry Hughes around but will need to pay up to do so after his best season as a pro. And they could have a decision to make at the other end spot as well. Mario Williams still has 3 years left on his contract, but his salaries from 2015 on all stand beyond $11 million.
Elsewhere, Panthers DE Greg Hardy will also hit the open market after a year lost to domestic violence. Each IDP owner can decide where he or she stands morally on owning Hardy, but this is a different football situation than Ray Rice. Hardy won't turn 27 until July and earned Carolina's franchise tag just a year ago. He ranks among the league's top pass-rushers and will get a chance somewhere.
At LB, Sean Weatherspoon might have to go for a Jeremy Maclin-type 1-year, prove-it deal after his various injuries the past few seasons. We'll see if that comes in Atlanta -- or if some team is willing to invest more in his future.
But those are the bigger names that many people will be watching. What about some quieter talents who could turn into next season's Everson Griffen? Thanks for asking.
What are you?
Position can make a big difference in fantasy value, and the 2015 market features some 3-4 OLBs who could fit into a 4-3 scheme at DE and deliver an instant IDP boost.
Brandon Graham, OLB, Eagles
Graham started in place of the injured Trent Cole at Washington on Saturday and failed to register a sack. But he did notch a pair of QB hits and might get another shot against the Giants next week.
If you play in a sack-friendly dynasty IDP league and Graham's available, pick him up. He dominated in his most recent action (2 years ago) as a 4-3 DE for the Eagles. He has also flashed as a 3-4 edge rusher.
Heading into his age-27 season, Graham looks like the best bet for that Griffen-style contract sporting many more dollars than most would expect. If he lands in a 4-3 system, he'll likely open the year among the top 20 D-linemen in our rankings.
Pernell McPhee, OLB, Ravens
Baltimore's loaded at the edge positions on D, which likely means it won't be able to keep this quietly stellar 26-year-old around.
McPhee posted 6 sacks as a 2011 rookie playing DT and DE in Baltimore's largely 4-3 front, despite appearing on just 32.4% of the defensive snaps. PFF graded him the #3 DT in the league that season, #2 in pass-rushing (behind only Bengals DT Geno Atkins).
The Raven has since spent much more of his time on the edge, the last 2 seasons primarily at OLB (despite a listed weight of 280 pounds). PFF grades him 6th-best among 3-4 OLBs so far this season, #3 in pass rushing -- behind only Justin Houston and teammate Elvis Dumervil.
McPhee looks like an ideal candidate for a DE slot in some needy 4-3 front, especially because his versatility helps to give you formation flexibility.
Derrick Morgan, OLB, Titans
Morgan transitioned quite smoothly to DC Ray Horton's 3-4 scheme this year, leading Tennessee with 6.5 sacks -- all from the 7th game on -- and backing that with 6 QB hits and 34 hurries (according to Pro Football Focus).
The Titans should try to keep around their top pass-rusher, who will be heading into just his age-26 season. But if he gets free, a 4-3 front would only help his fantasy outlook.
Jabaal Sheard, OLB, Browns
Cleveland already has Paul Kruger and Barkevious Mingo at the outside spots, so money alone will likely make it difficult to keep Sheard on board in 2015. That'd be just fine, because Sheard tallied 15.5 sacks over his 1st 2 pro seasons while playing left DE in the Browns' 4-3. His 2 this season make just 7.5 total since Cleveland switched its alignment in 2013.
PFF does rate Sheard the #19 overall 3-4 OLB this season, though, with his strongest grade in run D. That should help him start somewhere. We'll be curious to see where.
Other potential free-agent edge players of interest: Brian Orakpo, Adrian Clayborn, Derrick Shelby
Are you starting material?
The 2015 LB market isn't loaded with stars, but you'll find some guys who have started and will be interesting to watch to see if they've proved starter-worthy value.
Emmanuel Lamur, OLB, Bengals
Lamur's just 25 (until June), a restricted free agent and coming off a breakthrough 1st season as a starter. I'll be shocked if the Bengals don't keep him around. The biggest question will be whether Cincinnati moves on from MLB Rey Maualuga -- also set for free agency -- and how such a decision would shape the LB corps going forward. Weak-side LB Vontaze Burfict will also be coming off the knee injury that ended this season.
Craig Robertson, ILB, Browns
Like Lamur, Robertson will be a restricted free agent. But the Browns still have Karlos Dansby's rights through next year, and they also like 2014 rookie ILB Chris Kirksey. Robertson hasn't been a special performer in real football terms, which is why he ceded playing time to Kirksey before stepping in for the injured Dansby. But his terrific fantasy numbers in Dansby's stead recently will at least make it interesting to see if he can land a 2015 starting gig.
Malcolm Smith, OLB, Seahawks
The former Super Bowl MVP returned to a non-starting role in 2015, but he has flashed his ability as a tackler, a blitzer (2 sacks through 4 seasons) and a cover guy (7 total regular-season passes defensed, including 2 INTs).
At 226 pounds, Smith could fit nicely on the weak side in a "Tampa 2" scheme. Barring coordinator changes, Chicago and Dallas could be a pair of such defenses looking for that piece this offseason. Smith's injury troubles and smallish career stats should keep his asking price down in free agency. I've already stashed him and Graham on my IDP dynasty squad to see what happens.
Other potential free-agent LBs of interest: Jaguars MLB J.T. Thomas, Giants OLB Jacquian Williams
What about the DBs?
The most fungible position in all of fantasy football? I won't be biting my nails over any of these guys in free agency.
Who to Sack
Here are the 5 teams that have allowed the most sacks, and the 5 stingiest (not including Saturday's games). You can find more depth on the positional and individual matchups and recent trends every week in the weekly rankings.
Sack Me (most sacks per game)
San Francisco: 3.5
N.Y. Jets: 3.1
Go Away (fewest)
New England: 1.3