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Reading the Defense: Handing out midseason awards

It's midseason awards season around here at, so in the spirit of things, it's only fitting that we recognize the IDP options who have made an impact in fantasy leagues everywhere.

First off, it's still a linebackers world. Eight of the top 10 (and all of the top five) defensive scorers play the position. Yet each seems to get the job done in a slightly different way. You have volume tacklers like Vontaze Burfict, ball magnets like Kiko Alonso and all-around studs like Karlos Dansby.

But is there any doubt that the Most Valuable Individual Defensive Player (MVIDP?) at the halfway point is Sean Lee? The Cowboys middle man might have been a forgotten man in some leagues after suffering a season-ending injury after just six games in 2012. But he's returned better than ever this season. Through the first eight games, Lee has tied his career-high in interceptions and is on pace to blow past his best number in tackles. Monte Kiffin might not stick long-term in Dallas, but if he does, his latest version of the Tampa 2 might have found its new Derrick Brooks-type playmaker.

Let's not overlook the job being done by defensive backs. They might play in the secondary, but they've become a primary option for plenty of IDP owners. All season, I've been a big fan of the job Barry Church has done. But the guy just below him on the stat sheet -- Earl Thomas -- is worthy of a big nod as the best defensive back so far.

The Legion of Boom gets plenty of publicity, thanks in part to the loquacious Richard Sherman. But it's Thomas who has been given free rein to patrol in Pete Carroll's defense. Joey Browner, Tim McDonald and Lawyer Milloy are just a few of the safeties Carroll has coached in his NFL tenure and Thomas is proving to be every bit the equal of that trio. He's one of the best ballhawks in the NFL this season and were it not for Church's fumble return TD in Week 1, Thomas would be your leading scorer at the position.

Of course, the conversation wouldn't be complete without talking about the top defensive lineman. It was a tough call, but Tamba Hali earns kudos just ahead of Robert Quinn. Both have been consistent, scoring five-plus points in six of eight games this season, but Hali's had three double-digit outings -- one more than Quinn.

Plus Hali has a pick-six this season. And since I'm a fan of fat-guy touchdowns, that was enough to give him the edge.

Cats on the prowl

When it comes to IDPs, some defenses have been equal to the sum of their parts. No one's surprised that Kansas City, Seattle and Arizona are loaded with start individual players. But what about a team like the Carolina Panthers?

The Panthers have been a top five fantasy defense for much of the season, but when you start looking through the list of IDP choices wearing black cats on the side of the helmets, you're going to go quite a way before you find your first one.

But that's started to change in recent weeks. Over the past month, Mike Mitchell has been the sixth-highest scoring defensive player while Thomas Davis ranks 21st. In the past two weeks, Captain Munnerlyn ranks ninth among IDP scorers.

The rest of this season, Carolina still has two games against Atlanta as well as contests against Miami, Tampa Bay and Cleveland. There's a chance for some of these cats to make a little hay for IDP owners.

Four downs

Maybe Greg Schiano only recently became aware that Darrelle Revis was on his team. How else can you explain this week's announcement that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are considering using Revis in more man-to-man situations? If (or more likely when) Schiano is let go in Tampa, this will likely be high on his list of transgressions. In recent seasons, Revis hasn't been an IDP stud -- mostly because teams avoid throwing in his direction -- but if the Bucs are going to turn him loose on opponents' best receivers, he could see some improvement from his ranking as the 98th-best defensive back.

Rex Ryan announced that Dee Milliner will start at corner this week for the Jets. It's been a rough year for the rookie, who has found himself on the bench on more than one occasion. Last week, he was one of several defensive backs torched by Marvin Jones. There's little reason to like Milliner this week against the Saints, but it could mean more chances for Antonio Allen, who has posted nice numbers over the past two weeks.

Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs says he'll return from a shoulder injury sooner than expected. Briggs was expected to miss 4-6 weeks, but he now believes he could be back in half the time. The star linebacker was averaging more than 10 points per game before his injury. If he can return by Week 10, he'll still be a quality option in most leagues.

The NFL trade deadline was characteristically uneventful, but it did see Isaac Sopoagamoved from the Eagles to the Patriots. His job will be to plug the middle in place of the injured Vince Wilfork. Injuries to Wilfork and Jerod Mayo had left a hole in the middle of New England's defense. If there's a time to take a chance on Sopoaga, it's early when teams are likely to test the Patriots run defense in the center of the defensive line.

Marcas Grant is a fantasy editor for Follow him on Twitter.

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