Respect can come in a variety of ways, as demonstrated by an ESPN.com article listing the top individual defensive players for fantasy football in 2008. Third-year Texans stars DeMeco Ryans and Mario Williams both are **listed in the top 10** - Ryans at No. 6 and Williams right behind him at No. 7.
The article's author, Jim McCormick, is a fantasy columnist and not an NFL talent evaluator, but it's still a sign of respect for the two young cornerstones of the Houston defense. The fantasy business is all about numbers, and this ESPN.com writer feels that Ryans' and Williams' stats will be among the best in the NFL this season.
Worth mentioning is that McCormick ranks Ryans as the best fantasy middle linebacker in the NFL. Patrick Willis is ranked No. 1 overall, but he plays inside linebacker in the 49ers' 3-4 scheme, which is technically a different position than Ryans' (if that seems like I'm looking for a loophole, Ryans is, at the very least, ranked as the best MLB in the AFC). That lofty status puts Ryans six spots ahead of the Bears' perennial All-Pro, Brian Urlacher. Stars such as the Seahawks' Lofa Tatupu and Ravens' Ray Lewis come in at Nos. 16 and 26, respectively.
Williams is listed as the second best defensive lineman - end or tackle - in the league behind only Minnesota's Jared Allen, who led the NFL in sacks last season. The Giants' Osi Umenyiora, Seahawks' Patrick Kerney, Panthers' Julius Peppers and Dolphins' Jason Taylor are among the names below Williams' on the list.
While it's only fantasy, there is one reality I draw from this article: If you're like me and are expecting monster numbers from Ryans and Williams this season, you're not alone. And on a topic like this, the Worldwide Leader in Sports is pretty good company.
Other Texans on the 150-man list: linebacker Morlon Greenwood (No. 90), cornerback Dunta Robinson (No. 111, despite an injury that should keep him out of several games this season) and defensive tackle Amobi Okoye (No. 132).