Michael Johnson – DE – Cincinnati Bengals – Stock: Up
The stat sheet doesn’t reflect it but Michael Johnson and the Cincinnati Bengals defensive line are the reason the team has knocked off some top tier opponents over the past couple weeks. Johnson is still feeling cheated out of a long-term extension after the team franchise tagged him and handed the multi-year contract to teammate Carlos Dunlap. He does need to pick up the numbers but he’s clearly as disruptive as he was last season.
Justin Tuck – DE – New York Giants – Stock: Down
The same can’t be said for Justin Tuck. Sadly the days when he came out of nowhere to sack Tom Brady and lead the New York Giants to improbable championships is over. At age 30 he looks like he’s clearly lost whatever burst he had that made him such a terror for offensive tackles to block. New York has the second worst pass rush in the league and Tuck only has half a sack in six games. If he does find another team in 2014 NFL free agency it will be on a one-year deal.
Jason Worilds – LB – Pittsburgh Steelers – Stock: Down
A clear message was sent to Jason Worilds when the Pittsburgh Steelers draft Jarvis Jones in the first round this past April. He needed to pick up his play or the rookie was going to get the starting job. Through five games Worilds has just eight tackles and no sacks. Pittsburgh has normally done so well molding young linebackers behind veterans but Worilds is fast becoming one of their few failures.
Brian Orakpo – LB – Washington Redskins – Stock: Up
Lost in all the travesty that is the defense of the Washington Redskins is the overlooked return of outside linebacker Brian Orakpo. Without much notice he has collected three sacks in four games and is beginning to look like the dominant force he was before an injury sidelined him last season. Keeping him and Ryan Kerrigan together is obviously a top priority for the Redskins who will finally have some salary cap to spend next year. Whether Orakpo is their primary target depends on how he finishes 2013.
Tim Jennings – CB – Chicago Bears – Stock: Up
Size truly is an overrated concept in pro football. None need look further than Tim Jennings. The height-challenged Chicago Bears cornerback continues to be a thorn in the size of quarterbacks. He has three interceptions on the season, putting him on pace for eight this year. Two of them were returned for touchdowns and he also has two forced fumbles. At age 29 he has plenty of good football left in him and if he somehow doesn’t receive an extension from Chicago he will find lots of interest elsewhere.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie – CB – Denver Broncos – Stock: Down
Jack Del Rio said he could fix the problems with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie as a cornerback if he was willing to accept hard coaching. Thus far the results are mixed for the Denver Broncos. Things started well for him but over the past few weeks he’s endured some inconsistency. The ugly 51-48 escape in Dallas certainly didn’t make him look very good though it wasn’t all his fault. Denver must play better on defense as a whole and he must start making some plays for them.
Jairus Byrd – S – Buffalo Bills – Stock: Down
Injury, contract holdouts and solid play by the Buffalo Bills defense without him have not done any favors for Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd. The coaching staff still haven’t committed to playing him and the longer he is out the less other teams will be willing to pay him the deal he wants. Somehow he must convince Doug Marrone to let him on the field, otherwise his hopes of a big pay day may have to wait another year.
T.J. Ward – S – Cleveland Browns – Stock: Up
Perhaps the most overlooked defensive back in football is Cleveland Browns strong safety T.J. Ward. Not only is he a regular presence against the run but he has developed into an opportunitic pass defender, having two interceptions on season. His growth under Ray Horton could mean teams with a 3-4 defense might take a long look at him in 2014 NFL free agency. If the Browns continue to do well then his pay day can and should come from them.