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: Chicago, Cincinnati, New England, Arizona, Washington, Houston
Without a doubt the biggest event to shake up the IDP world this week is Jamie Collins being traded to the Browns for a 3rd round pick. This opens up a huge opportunity for 6th round rookie Elandon Roberts to become an every down player. I’ve been extremely impressed by what I’ve seen from Roberts so far this year in part-time duty and he now becomes the most attractive IDP LB in New England. Some may view Collins as a big upgrade to Dont’a Hightower, however I believe it does not help, and even may hurt, the thumping veteran’s value/production. The Patriots continue to run a variety of schemes in the front seven and one of their favorites is a 4-3 look with both OLB on the LOS so it appears as a 6-1 front. Collins and Hightower would rotate between OLB/ILB but Roberts only played ILB highlighting his best ability of distinctive down-hill gap shooting versus the run which is best utilized in the middle of the field. Add in the fact that Hightower is a powerful edge setter when asked to do so and it’s clear to me that Roberts, not Hightower, is the New England LB to go after for IDP purposes. I would advise to pursue but not go too wild over Roberts in keeper/dynasty formats as he still has a lot to prove before being crowned the LB of the future in Foxboro. The other note regarding the Patriots’ front seven is Rob Ninkovich is being used as their base SAM LB and nickel edge rusher which bodes well for IDP production in the 2nd half of the season. Nink isn’t the same player he used to be but could still finish as a strong DL3 to close out the season. For what it’s worth, he also had a sack taken away last week due to a penalty in the secondary. Don’t go crazy over Trey Flowers in redraft. His two sack week is not something to expect as the norm going forward as he is only used as an interior nickel rusher in sub-packages and both QB takedowns were mostly attributable to stellar coverage that made Tyrod Taylor scramble out of the pocket. The other big note regarding teams heading into byes is Tyrann Mathieu suffered a dislocated shoulder that will keep him out 3-6 weeks. This is a big blow to the Cardinals defense and will make D.J Swearinger a full time player for the next month or so.
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Atlanta @ Tampa Bay
Rookie linebackers Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell were both duds in the box score last week, however that really wasn’t any fault of their own. The Packers have had a mass of injuries to their skill position players, especially running backs, so they chose to employ spread out 4-5 WRs sets for almost the entire game. Jones played nearly every down but Campbell was pulled for an extra DB quite often in pass only situations which was frequently in this game. The good news is both played very well from an on-field standpoint. Jones was fantastic in all aspects and once again showed how his speed has changed the entire Falcons defense. He was decisive and got to the ball on the few run plays called while being stellar in coverage. Campbell made a few great plays when the play was in front of him and looks to have the “see ball, get ball” mentality that should help provide solid IDP numbers in his career. The biggest issue with Campbell’s game is when he is asked to play in zone coverage and he gets confused who to cover and often gets caught staring down the quarterback while leaving a receiver wide open for a reception behind him. This is something that should improve in time and both rookies have bright futures, but it is obvious that Jones is the superior of the two.
Once of the more frustrating things of this IDP season for myself is Tampa Bay’s linebacking situation which continues to award Kwon Alexander for his below average play as Lavonte David is left in the IDP dust. I realize I’m starting to sound like a broken record, however once again Kwon ate in the box score but struggled on the field. He should continue to be an elite IDP LB for the rest of this season, and very well could continue for many years but there is more risk associated in his dynasty value than all-pro quality linebackers like Luke Kuechly and Bobby Wagner because he is simply not helping the Buccaneers as much as a centerpiece middle linebacker should. A majority of his tackles are not impact plays and are merely taking down ball carriers after huge chunks of yardage. For instance, Kwon only recorded two tackles (compared to David’s four) in the first half of last week’s game where the Bucs gave up only three points. Then the defense proceeded to fall apart after halftime, giving up 27 more points as Kwon added 12 tackles (compared to David’s two) in the 2nd half plus overtime. Alexander also allowed at least seven completions in coverage that led to him filling the box score with tackles. At the end of the day in IDP, we only care about what the stat sheet says, so Kwon continues to be a top LB but on-field performance is very important when determining future value in keeper/dynasty leagues. I wouldn’t advise selling Kwon Alexander in keeper/dynasty leagues at a discount because he is still producing at a great pace and is still young/improving but if presented with the option to upgrade to a Kuechly or Wagner-type IDP I would be all over it.
Pittsburgh @ Baltimore
Studs: Zachary Orr
Starts: 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), Timmy Jernigan (DL3), CJ Mosley (LB if active), Albert McClellan (LB4 if Mosely is inactive), Eric Weddle (DB2 if Mosley inactive, DB3 if active)
Not much to discuss with this matchup other than to monitor practice reports quickly this week. Both Ryan Shazier and C.J. Mosley are two of the top IDP linebackers when healthy and hopefully the bye week gave them enough time to get back to full health.
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Dallas @ Cleveland
Studs: Sean Lee
Barry Church broke his forearm in last week’s game and will miss 4-6 weeks which is killer in IDP since he is one of the few consistent top-end options at the DB position. J.J. Wilcox filled in for Church and has always been known for being a hard-hitting safety, however I think Byron Jones is going to be the biggest beneficiary of this injury. Jones is a premier athlete that has excelled at free safety this year but he also possesses enough size/tackling ability to play in the box and I think the Cowboys will have him do just that. Jones also provides Dallas with a much better matchup against opposing TEs in man coverage than Wilcox so expect him to be lined up in the box on the TE side often which bodes well for his tackle opportunities. While I don’t think you can expect the talented 2nd year player to be a drop-in replacement for Church in your IDP lineup I also don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect 80% of what Church has done so far in the box score.
The blockbuster trade of the week, and likely the year for IDP, is Jamie Collins to the Browns which raises a lot of questions as to how it affects his fantasy value. I’ve seen many people say that this is a boost to his value as he will get more tackle opportunities and while logically that makes sense I am not ready to call this an upgrade whatsoever. The idea that he will immediately step in for Demario Davis in the center of the defense looks good on paper but Davis plays 3-4 MIKE (strongside ILB) while Collins fits better at WILL (weakside ILB), currently occupied by Chris Kirksey who is playing very well. It was also noticeable last weekend that the Browns moved Emmanuel Ogbah to DE in base defense with Joe Schobert and Cam Johnson as OLBs (with Nate Orchard on IR) so outside of Kirksey, this entire defense is very much up in the air. There is a void of talent at both ILB/OLB and Collins is talented enough to play either. The Browns even subbed out Demario Davis in pass situations and brought in an extra safety so is it possible Collins plays OLB on early downs and ILB in nickel? At this point in time we simply do not know enough about how Jamie Collins will be used and frankly, it is extremely scary for his IDP outlook. The most likely outcome is that he will take over for Davis at ILB and will continue to be a very productive IDP linebacker but you shouldn’t have questions of this magnitude with an elite IDP LB so I would be looking to trade him to a league mate that believes that his LB1 production is 100% safe.
Jacksonville @ Kansas City
The biggest takeaway from the Jaguars on the defensive side of the ball last week was just how much Telvin Smith was around the ball. Yes, he missed way too many tackles but the fact that he always put himself in a position to get a hand on the ball-carrier was impressive. His combination of speed to chase down run plays from the far-side and strength to shed blocks on the play side is something that very few players in the entire league possess. Smith had 15 tackles last week and had a chance at about 6-7 more so if he can clean up his tackling technique just a bit he could jump himself into the Luke Kuechly tier of IDP linebackers.
Daniel Sorenson continues to be a konami code for IDP purposes as he lines up as full-time nickel LB but has DB eligibility as he is also the primary backup strong safety in base. This week is a great matchup for Sorenson as Jacksonville has one of the league’s worst running games and runs primarily 3-WR sets.
New York (Jets) @ Miami
They Jets finally did what I asked for and used a 3-4 base defense with Leonard Williams, Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson all rotating snaps to stay fresh. When all three were used at the same time, Williams was the NT so if the Jets keep Richardson next year there is a decent change Williams will gain DT designation in IDP leagues for 2017. This scheme change creates a bigger opportunity for Lorenzo Mauldin who creates a nice outside rush to complement interior pressure provided by the big three. It did seem like a quite often both OLBs dropped in coverage and the Jets only sent three DL on the pass rush which allowed the Browns to double every Jet so expect adjustments in the future to send more pressure to allow Williams, Wilkerson and Richardson to get more 1v1 situations which will lead to more QB takedowns.
Philadelphia @ New York (Giants)
Starts: Jordan Hicks (LB3), Nigel Bradham (LB3), Malcolm Jenkins (DB2/3), Rodney McLeod (DB4), Jason Pierre-Paul (DL2), Olivier Vernon (DL2), Johnathan Hankins (DT1/DL4), Johnathan Casillas (LB3/4), Keenan Robinson (LB4)
Jordan Hicks once again had a solid but not spectacular game as he continues to be very inconsistent from play to play. When Hicks is aggressive, fills the gap and applies the hit to the OL with his inside shoulder he makes plays in the run game that fill the stat sheet and help his team. However when he sits back and lets the OL engage him he gets engulfed by the bigger player and pushed down the field. It’s frustrating to watch but it is correctable and if/when he does start playing with the same aggression every play he is going to give us borderline LB1 numbers on a consistent basis like we hoped after watching him last year. Hicks and Nigel Bradham are both very solid weekly plays the 2nd half of the season but temper expectations against the Giants, who struggle badly to run the rock.
Detroit @ Minnesota
Tahir Whitehead has excelled this year in IDP due to his A+ opportunity, however there is still room for another linebacker to be productive and it may be Josh Bynes. Bynes had an average game but given that it was his first game back from IR, it was more than adequate. The Lions will likely continue to ease him back into an every-down role so he’s best left on your bench now but definitely worth a free pickup as well. There is a chance Deandre Levy returns sometime this season but the Lions have been so secretive about his injury it just seems logical to assume he won’t be playing a snap anytime soon.
Carolina @ Los Angeles
Shaq Thompson injured his knee last week and results are still to be determined but regardless, he wasn’t likely going to have a big day in IDP. Shaq was only on the field for six of 19 snaps before getting injured so the Panthers are making it blatantly obvious that we must wait until Thomas Davis steps down before they are going to allow Shaq to rise.
New Orleans @ San Francisco
This matchup involves two teams with tons of production to be had at LB but picking the ones that play is going to be quite challenging. Craig Robertson appears to have an every-down spot locked down but I still don’t trust the Saints’ coaching staff after they have been so quick to bench players like Stephone Anthony and James Laurinaitis this year as well as Kenny Vaccaro back in 2014. Robertson is a very solid start but I refuse to put him into “stud” category because once I do he will log five snaps. The spot truly up for grabs is at WILL linebacker as Dannell Ellerbe returned last week to split time with Nathan Stupar. Ellerbe only logged 18 snaps but he was eased back, looked great and played every snap in the first two series so he is easily the player you want to target going forward. For this week, it is best to leave both on the bench since a 50/50 split seems likely as it slowly transitions to Ellerbe’s job.
Tennessee @ San Diego
Both Jatavis Brown and Denzel Perryman left last week’s game with injuries so keep your eyes peeled on updates but it’s looking like a decent chance both miss Week 9. Korey Toomer got the green dot after Jatavis left the game so look for him to be the every down linebacker if injuries keep both sidelined.
Indianapolis @ Green Bay
It looks like 2nd year UDFA Edwin Jackson has taken over the spot next to D’Qwell Jackson as both Josh McNary and Antonio Morrison have both disappointed, however I wouldn’t rush to the waiver wire to get him. Edwin was pretty aggressive and effective in the run game but he was subbed out in nickel packages for an extra safety while strong safety Clayton Geathers moved up to ILB. This usage is great for Geathers and bumps him up to DB1 territory but severely limits E. Jackson’s upside. While Edwin Jackson could be a sneaky start versus run-heavy teams, he is a must-sit against the RB-starved Packers who ran primarily 4-5 WR sets last week.
Denver @ Oakland
SNF Matchup coming soon
Buffalo @ Seattle
MNF Matchup coming soon
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