Below is your weekly breakdown of news, notes and injuries from the previous week to help with tough lineup decisions on the defensive side of the ball.
Bye Weeks: Buffalo, Detroit, Indianapolis, Oakland
IDP stalwarts Zach Brown and Karl Joseph both disappointed last week, however don’t overreact too much as both suffered from terrible matchups that neutralized their strengths. Glover Quin had a nice stat line in Week 9 but at the end of the day, those stats should not be expected every week. Quin is a solid but unspectacular DB3 for the rest of the season. Clayton Geathers played a ton of ILB again but Packers averaged over three WR per snap not counting snaps by Ty Montgomery or any tight ends. Geathers has the nickel ILB on lock down but it’s not sure, or likely, that he will take over ILB full time. This is something to watch closely for dynasty leagues regarding DB eligibility however it would be a real shocker for him to turn into a full time LB like Deone Bucannon or Mark Barron.
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Cleveland @ Baltimore
Starts: Timmy Jernigan (DL3/4), C.J. Mosley (LB2/3), Zachary Orr (LB2/3), Eric Weddle (DB3/4), Danny Shelton (DT1-DL3), Jamie Meder (DL4), Chris Kirskey (LB2), Jamie Collins (LB2/3), Demario Davis (LB5)
Last week I discussed the possibility of the Browns using Jamie Collins in an OLB base role combined with an ILB sub-package role and they did just that. Given that Collins was just acquired a few days ago via trade, it’s encouraging that he played every single snap last week against the Cowboys. He looked solid (and gigantic when next to Chris Kirskey) at both positions and played well except for a few coverage breakdowns that were likely due to lack of practice with his new team. The Cowboys’ run-heavy scheme prevented Collins from putting any major pass rush moves on display as his primary job the majority of plays was to set the edge against the run. Although he was still able to put up a solid eight tackle game, this scheme switch for Collins drops him from a weekly LB1 to more of a LB2/3 range. Collins will still make plays as he is a premier athlete and can cover so much ground but being aligned on the end of the line of scrimmage in run situations is likely going to make a significant cut in his tackle numbers. Chris Kirskey retained his every down role and Demario Davis once again played MIKE linebacker that left the field in sub-packages. Although Davis had a nice IDP stat line, do not be fooled into thinking you should be continuing to start him. The acquisition of Collins provides another body that can play LB in base so it looks like Emmanuel Ogbah has moved to full time DE. I still am not a fan of Ogbah’s talent as I think he will get bullied around in the trenches due to lack of strength but this is still a positive sign for his IDP value in dynasty leagues hosted on myfantasyleague.com. If you were still trying to decipher the Cleveland safeties it’s time to walk away as Ed Reynolds was added to the mix. Even with the injury to Jordan Poyer there is a four man battle for two safety spots so avoid at all costs.
Although outshined by Zachary Orr in week 9, C.J. Mosley returned to the field after nearly missing almost a month with a hamstring injury. Mosley looked back to his old self and played every defensive snap so continue to fire him up as you normally would before the injury. Mosley’s return came at the expense of Eric Weddle in the stat sheet as he only had four tackles after averaging 8.5 in the few games Mosley missed. This is something to continue to expect as the combo of Mosley and Orr don’t leave much for Weddle to clean up regardless of how well the veteran safety is playing. As for this week, the Ravens’ IDP have one of the toughest games as the Browns offense has showed time and time again that it has trouble establishing the run and staying on the field. During bye weeks, it will be tough to sit either ILB but it is not a crazy move either if you have better options.
Green Bay @ Tennessee
Studs: Morgan Burnett
Starts: Mike Daniels (DL4), Blake Martinez (LB3), Jake Ryan (LB3), Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (DB3), Jurrell Casey (DL2), Avery Williamson (LB4), Brian Orakpo (LB4 in big play), Derrick Morgan (LB4 in big play), Jason McCourty (CB1-DB2)
Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez are slowly but surely starting to edge closer to being full time players and have a great matchup versus a Titans team that likes to lean on Demarco Murray. Mike Daniels once again did not do much in the box score but continues to be a dominant force on the field. While these kinds of performances do not help your IDP team, it will mean that he will continue to get a lot of playing time which may allow for production if the he catches a few breaks.
It’s been noticeable that Avery Williamson always leaves the field for a series or two which is not ideal and is a big reason why he isn’t in the upper echelon of IDP linebackers but last week he looked benched altogether for on-field performance. Melvin Gordon gashed the Titans for over 200 scrimmage yards and Avery was one of the biggest issues. He was non-existent versus the run and also gave up a few huge gains throw the air to Gordon. The decision to pull him was likely based on the fact that both Wesley Woodyard and Sean Spence have been more consistent against the run this year and they needed to look for answers as Gordon gashed them on the ground time after time. Nevertheless, Williamson is still the future of this Tennessee line backing corps so I would expect him to be back to a huge role against the pass-heavy Green Bay Packers. Even with Rashad Johnson inactive, the Titans employed a three man platoon at safety of Damion Stafford, Da’Norris Searcy and Kevin Byard so while the tackle opportunities will likely be there this week it will be a tough time guessing who gets them. Assuming Johnson is once again out, starting any of the three is a viable option for a decent floor but low ceiling DB play.
Minnesota @ Washington
Starts: Danielle Hunter (boom/bust DL2-3 in big play), Eric Kendricks (LB2/3), Chris Baker (DL3), Will Compton (LB2/3), Ryan Kerrigan (boom/bust LB2/3), Preston Smith (boom/bust LB3/3), Trent Murphy (boom/bust LB3/4), Donte Whitner (DB2), Bashaud Breeland (CB1-DB3/4)
Even with Eric Kendricks out, Anthony Barr still failed to show up big in IDP. While Barr’s lack of production is definitely a scheme and opportunity issue, he has also looked like a shell of his former self so he has very little, if any, value in any format. Danielle Hunter is a prime example of the risk associated with a sub-package only player. Hunter lit the IDP world on fire to start the year with four sacks in his first five games. Snap counts were increasing and it looked like he was ready to take a rocket to the moon, then the Vikings started losing. Hunter played 66% of snaps in the first five weeks (all MIN victories) yet has only played 47% in the last three weeks (all MIN losses). Not only is he playing fewer snaps, but he isn’t in a situation where he can just pin his ears back and get to the QB. The young pass rusher still makes for a prime boom/bust start this week in big play leagues but for him to help your fantasy football team not only does he need to play well, he needs his entire team to play well.
The Vikings’ offensive line is in shambles due to injuries which means that starting the Redskins’ pass rushers in IDP is well worth the risk this week. The MIN OL struggling also means the running game is struggling so this is a matchup that could reap a lot of sacks but very few tackles so plan accordingly.
Chicago @ Tampa Bay
Starts: Robert Ayers (DL2) Williams Gholston (DL3), Gerald McCoy (DT1-DL3), Lavonte David (LB3 if optimistic or stubborn like me) Bradley McDougald (DB3), Vernon Hargreaves (CB1-DB3), Akiem Hicks (DL2/3), Danny Trevathan (LB2), Harold Jones-Quartey (DB2/3)
Danny Trevathan has been getting eased back from thumb surgery, however expect him from this point on to be a full-go every down linebacker. Trevathan played 58 of 61 snaps in Week 8 even before the extra rest from last week’s bye so fire him up in your IDP lineups with confidence this week. Tampa Bay has been decimated at running back but it’s not like the Bears offense should blow the Bucs out of the water. This is a classic matchup of two not very good teams that should allow ample tackle opportunities for both squads.
Another week, another disappointment for Lavonte David and it is time to finally admit that he is no longer going to be a reliable IDP this season. The new defensive scheme is destroying him in the box score as well as on the field because it isn’t utilizing any of David’s strengths that have made him a premier NFL and IDP linebacker the last four years. Instead of being allowed to use his speed to shoot gaps and chase down ball carriers from the weakside, defensive coordinator Mike Smith is trying to use David as an edge-setting player that requires immense power, which David doesn’t have, and it looks like it is starting to take a toll on the All-Pro linebacker. Some believed an injury to Kwon Alexander, which happened last week, would be what brought David back to his IDP glory days but it just is simply not the case. In the current scheme, David is being used as a primary edge player, not the explosive chase and tackle linebacker who we know and love. It is pretty safe to say that this year is as good as gone for David’s IDP production but there are a few changes that could happen as soon as next year to bring the LB back from the dead. First off, there is a decent chance that Tampa Bay fires their defensive coordinator because the unit as a whole has been terrible. There is way too much talent on that team to look this poor every single week. Second, it sounds insane but there is a chance David will be on another team next year. While I wouldn’t say it is likely in any way, it is at least plausible. Per spotrac.com, the Buccaneers just locked down David to a huge five-year/$50 million dollar extension before the 2015 season but as you know, NFL contracts are not exactly what they seem. If cut before the start of the 2017 season, David would not count anything against the Buccaneers cap. For the next four years, he is practically playing on year-to-year contracts (with no dead money if released) that increase in yearly salary as long as Tampa Bay still wants him. If retained, David will only cost $6 million in 2017 which is a team friendly price for a game-changing linebacker; the issue is that he hasn’t even been close to being one this year. Lavonte is only 26 but at that age, with an escalating salary, it is a legitimate question to wonder how much a team that looks to be a few years away from being a playoff competitor wants to keep him. With the structure of his contract, David is also an attractive trade target to a contender that could use a linebacker to transform their defense. It would be shocking if David was cut or traded next year but at the same time, Jamie Collins was just traded for a compensatory 3rd round pick. The NFL is a business so anything is possible when dealing with extremely valuable and highly paid assets. As for Kwon Alexander, he had a stinger last week that made him miss a large portion of the game but he was healthy enough to return later on. Monitor practice reports but it seems very likely he suits up and is near 100%.
Kansas City @ Carolina
Dee Ford looks to absolutely be the real deal for an outside pass rusher which has to scare other teams as Justin Houston is nearing a return from ACL surgery. Houston sounds like he will be activated but is still weeks away from game action but start Ford with confidence in big play leagues against a Panthers’ O-line that has struggled badly to keep defenders away from their franchise QB. Just when it looked like Daniel Sorensen had a shot to take a near every down ILB role next to Derrick Johnson, Ramik Wilson came out last week and forced the Chiefs’ hand that he deserves to be on the field. Wilson was fantastic in every aspect last week. He was extremely aggressive and physical against the run while excelling in coverage as well. Wilson was used on 30 of the 77 plays to counter the power running game led by Chris Ivory and that should continue in the near future. Sorensen will continue to log the sub-package snaps at ILB but it becomes a guessing game against a balanced attack like the Panthers possess. More than likely, Wilson will play just enough this week to knock down Sorenson’s play time but not get enough snaps himself to warrant a start. It will be interesting to see if either Wilson or Sorenson start taking over each other’s snaps but after last week it looks pretty clear that each has a defined role and the combination of the two is helping the Chiefs defense significantly. Another quick note on Sorenson is that he gets an extra small bump in leagues that count special teams as he plays a lot of punt/kick coverage and seems to be around the ball a majority of those plays.
Atlanta @ Philadelphia
Starts: Vic Beasley (boom/bust DL2 if DL eligible), Adrian Clayborn (DL2), Deion Jones (DL2), De’Vondre Campbell (LB2/3), Jordan Hicks (LB2), Nigel Bradham (LB2), Malcolm Jenkins (DB3), Rodney McLeod (DB4)
I still view Vic Beasley as a LB in IDP however I do I have overlooked him on sites that have him with DL eligibility. He is an explosive outside pass rusher that always has a chance of taking down the QB. I was extremely underwhelmed by the ATL DL coming into the season, but Beasley as well as Adrian Clayborn have emerged as quality DL starts with high snap counts combined with impressive on-field play. De’Vondre Campbell’s playing time two weeks ago versus the Packers was proven due to extreme use of 4-5 WR sets as he played 78 of 80 snaps against Tampa Bay last week. The Eagles offense is based on a short passing game led by a rookie quarterback so expect Campbell to be an every-down player this week regardless of whether there are a lot of 3-WR sets so start him with confidence.
Last week, instead of inserting another cornerback in nickel situations, Jaylen Watkins entered the game to play SS and Malcolm Jenkins moved up to man the slot. The Falcons have the most passing yards in the entire league this year, however they run more traditional 2-WR sets with TE/FB usage so expect more true safety work from Jenkins this week and don’t chase the box score last week with Watkins.
Los Angeles @ New York (Jets)
Starts: Robert Quinn (boom/bust DL2/3), Mark Barron (LB2/3), Lamarcus Joyner (CB1-DB3), Trumaine Johnson (CB1-DB3), TJ McDonald (DB4) Muhammad Wilkerson (DL2/3), Sheldon Richardson (DL2), David Harris (LB4), Calvin Pryor (DB3)
If you were getting worried about Aaron Donald in IDP and thinking of benching him, last week was a reminder that he is one of if not the top defensive player in the entire league. He completely dominated the Panthers’ interior line and he should be able to do similar things to the Jets. Robert Quinn continues to be a rotational pass rusher and that will likely continue but gets a nice matchup versus a team that has struggled badly to protect the QB. T.J. McDonald continues to disappoint in the box score even though his role as strong safety is clear. Last week he was asked to cover Greg Olsen for the majority of the game which he did admirably except for getting badly turned around on a red zone TD pass. Sitting McDonald in IDP is a fair choice but he also offers upside given his tackling ability and the fact that he never leaves the field.
The Jets once again ran a 3-4 base defense and rotated their DL to keep them fresh. Muhammad Wilkerson was active but looked extremely stiff and sluggish while Leonard Williams was a human wrecking ball. Also, if you think Julian Stanford has any future in IDP, last week may have been the nail in that coffin as he was exposed badly both versus the run and in the pass. Stanford is a backup quality player thrown into the fire because of a plethora of injuries and it showed.
Denver @ New Orleans
The Broncos linebackers have been a mess this year with Brandon Marshall being constantly hampered by injury and Todd Davis only being a part time player so it’s easy to fade them all this week against the Saints. To make matters worse, Derek Wolfe injured his elbow and will be out for quite a while and he was the most effective DL at keeping blockers off the second level. The two guys that are thriving due to the fact that the linebackers aren’t making the tackles are safeties T.J. Ward and Darian Stewart and both can be started with confidence going forward. It’s rare to have both a productive FS and SS on the same team in IDP but Stewart is a hard hitter who plays FS simply based on team need and in sub-packages, while Ward plays ILB which allows both him and Stewart to thrive.
Nate Stupar has been a very solid IDP linebacker so far but against the Broncos’ anemic offense he is best left on your fantasy football bench. Denver struggles to run a lot of plays and in obvious passing situations, the Saints prefer an extra DB while moving Kenny Vaccarro up to LB next to Craig Robertson.
Houston @ Jacksonville
Dante Fowler looked extremely explosive last week which is great to see given how Yannick Ngakoue has outperformed him all season. It looks like Fowler has closed the gap in playing time and expect an even rotation going forward. As for Fowler’s long term prospects, I would prefer to refrain from buying in myfantasyleague.com dynasty leagues or try to sell now because I believe there is a decent chance he plays strong side Otto linebacker next season. Two plays in particular in last week’s game they had Fowler stand up as a linebacker and in general he tends to drop in coverage much more than Ngakoue.
Miami @ San Diego
Studs: Ndamukong Suh (In DT required)
Cameron Wake was dominant once again and has firmly supplanted himself as a starting DE regardless of the Dolphins’ intentions entering this season. The first five weeks, Mario Williams started over Wake but the roles have flipped the last three weeks. Wake has played 66% of the snaps the last three games and has four sacks to show for it. Andre Branch has also jumped Williams in the starting lineup, and while Branch has not had Wake’s impact, he still makes for a sold low end start.
Last week the Chargers had to play without the top four ILBs they entered the season with as Korey Toomer played every snap. OLB starter Kyle Emanuel also moved inside to play next to Toomer which made an opening at his former spot that was filled by Joey Bosa. It’s clear that the Chargers are confident in Bosa as either a DE or OLB so his IDP designation in myfantasyleague.com for 2017 is a coinflip. As for other sites, it would be extremely unlikely that Bosa would be labeled a LB. Almost every week I bring up Bosa’s position but this week in particular was important because it showed where they would play him if they lost a starting OLB, and Melvin Ingram is a free agent this offseason.
Dallas @ Pittsburgh
Studs: Sean Lee
Starts: Demarcus Lawrence (DL3), Byron Jones (DB2), Cameron Heyward (DL3 if active) Ryan Shazier (LB2/3 if active), Vince Williams (LB3/4 if Shazier inactive), Lawrence Timmons (LB3 if Shazier inactive, LB4 if Shazier active), Robert Golden (DB3)
My optimism about Byron Jones filling in for injured Barry Church may have been a bit too high as Jones put up a one assist stinker in Week 9. Digging in deeper, there were a few reasons for this. First off, the Browns only ran 44 offensive plays which simply is not enough opportunity for IDP to make tackles. Second, Jones and J.J. Wilcox swapped alignment in the box throughout the game which hurts both their values. While Jones is a better fit at SS than Wilcox, he is also a superior fit at FS as well which means in pass situations they will want Jones playing deep middle. Quite often Jones did line up in the box head up on Gary Barnidge but the opportunity simply isn’t there to fill up the stat sheet. Another minor note is the Cleveland stat crew must have been playing Jones in fantasy this week because I counted three, possibly four, tackles for the talented safety so keep your eyes peeled for a stat correction. The Cowboys’ DL rotation played great last week; the issue going forward is going to be trying to guess which lineman produces.
Biggest note on the Pittsburgh defense is the return of Ryan Shazier as he played all 70 snaps and filled the stat sheet. Health is the obvious, and possibly only, issue with Shazier as he is never able to stay on the field but when he does, he is a top IDP LB regardless of matchup. It was also noteworthy that Lawrence Timmons played 67 of the 70 snaps which bodes well for his production going forward. It seemed possible for there to be a rotation at the ILB spot next to Shazier with Vince Williams but it looks like the Steelers will ride the veteran before they send him sailing in free agency next year.
San Francisco @ Arizona
Nick Bellore looked improved last week early on but as the game went on it was clear he still is a far below starting level inside linebacker. He was caught looking into backfield too often and was outmuscled in the trenches, however most importantly for IDP the Niners have shown they want him to play. Gerald Hodges is the most talented ILB on the team and it’s not particular close, however opportunity trumps talent and Bellore looks to be the leader in snaps going forward.
The Cardinals will be without defensive weapon Tyrann Mathieu however it should not affect anyone’s IDP production that much. Tony Jefferson will still maintain his SS role and D.J. Swearinger get a nice boost since he should never leave the field now. Against a patchwork OL, the Cardinals’ pass rushers all make for nice starts in big play leagues.
Seattle @ New England
Studs: Bobby Wagner
Start your Seahawks as you normally would in this primetime matchup. On the other side of the ball, the Patriots’ IDPs have a very tough matchup as Seattle has practically abandoned its run game and puts the ball in the hands of Russell Wilson every play. Both Elandon Roberts and Dont’a Hightower should play every down but tackles may be hard to come by so bump them down a bit.
Cincinnati @ New York (Giants)
Starts: Vontaze Burfict (LB2/3), Karlos Dansby (LB4/5), Shawn Williams (DB2) Adam Jones (CB1-DB3), Jason Pierre-Paul (DL2), Olivier Vernon (DL2), Johnathan Hankins (DT1/DL4), Johnathan Casillas (LB3/4), Keenan Robinson (LB4)
Not much is new between these two team for IDP purposes. The Giants offense has been one of the stingiest in the league giving up points to defensive ends but that shouldn’t stop you from starting Carlos Dunlap.