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.
Minnesota @ Detroit
Studs: Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph (DT required), Harrison Smith
Starts: Danielle Hunter (boom/bust DL2/3 in big play), Eric Kendricks (LB3/4), Tahir Whitehead (LB2), Ezekiel Ansah (DL2), Kerry Hyder (DL2), Glover Quinn (DB3)
Eric Kendricks returned from a hip injury and regained his every down role which is great news given hip injuries tend to be some of the more serious injuries in the NFL. This week poses a tough IDP matchup for tackles as the Lions offense is bottom-five in rushing attempts, however Kendricks does make enough plays in the pass game to warrant a start. Danielle Hunter was phenomenal at getting pressure on the quarterback last week but as always, his snaps are highly dependent on game script so there is always risk involved. Everson Griffen, just like any defensive lineman not named J.J. Watt, has some up and down weeks but on Thanksgiving Day he gets paired against rookie LT Taylor Decker. Decker has held his own this season but Griffen is still a top tier edge rusher in the entire league when he is on.
Miles Killebrew only played 12 snaps but he was very impressive. His open field tackling is top notch and he is a very intriguing dynasty stash due to his likely future box-safety role. Tahir Whitehead struggled once again on the field but he still has played every single defensive snap of the 2016 season so continue to start him in IDP simply due to opportunity. While Ezekiel Ansah continues to disappoint this season, this week is not the time to bail on 2015’s No. 3 overall IDP DE. Ansah plays primarily on the right side so he will be paired against T.J. Clemmings who may be the worst LT in the entire league right now.
Washington @ Dallas
Studs: Bashaud Breeland (In CB required), Sean Lee
Starts: Chris Baker (DL3/4), Will Compton (LB2/3), Ryan Kerrigan (LB4 in big play), Donte Whitner (DB2), Demarcus Lawrence (DL3/4), Byron Jones (DB2/3)
Rookie Su’a Cravens continues to impress which has led to increased playing time. The first year ILB played 58/67 snaps last week however that was against a WR heavy Packers team so do not overreact to quickly. Although Cravens has a very bright future, expect a lot more Mason Foster on thanksgiving against the run-heavy Cowboys so keep all ILB except Will Compton on your bench.
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Pittsburgh @ Indianapolis
Studs: Ryan Shazier (if Andrew Luck active), Clayton Geathers (if active), D’Qwell Jackson
Starts: Stephon Tuitt (DL3) Ryan Shazier (LB2/3 if Luck inactive), Lawrence Timmons (LB3 if Luck active, LB5 if inactive), Sean Davis (LB3/4 if Luck active), Mike Adams (DB2), T.J Green (DB3/4 if Geathers inactive)
It appears as though rookie Sean Davis has jumped Robert Golden at the strong safety spot for the Pittsburgh defense. Davis was used last week a lot like the Cowboys use Byron Jones as a mixture of a head-up TE defender, box safety and slot cornerback. Davis didn’t do much on the stat sheet but there is some potential here if things click correctly. There would be a lot more buzz about Davis if he hadn’t had his fumble return for a touchdown called back due to a roughing the passer penalty in Week 11. Both Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons played every snap which is vital for IDP floor but it was noticeable that both ILBs blitzed a ton in passing situations. The Steelers need to find ways to get to the quarterback with Cameron Heyward out for the year and an underwhelming bunch at OLB and this looks to be their solution. If continued, it will bump down tackles for both ILB but increase the chance of a sack, as shown last week when both Shazier and Timmons had one. My biggest worry about the Steelers’ IDPs this week is the health of Andrew Luck as he is currently in concussion protocol. If Luck were to sit, Scott Tolzien would man the huddle for the Colts and it would significantly bump down my confidence of starting any Steeler reliant on tackles. Luck is not the only player in question vital to the Colts’ success as strong safety/nickel ILB Clayton Geathers is also in the concussion protocol. It’s quite a shame that this game is on Thursday as it is very unlikely either plays against the Steelers which would be a great matchup for both. The Steelers defense is going to run a lot of plays and produce a ton of tackle opportunities so look for D’Qwell Jackson to feast on Thanksgiving Day in more ways than one.
Tennessee @ Chicago
Studs: Danny Trevathan
Starts: Jurrell Casey (DL2), Avery Williamson (LB4/5), Brian Orakpo (LB4 in big play), Derrick Morgan (LB4 in big play) Jason McCourty (CB1-DB3), Akiem Hicks (DL3), Danny Trevathan (LB3)
Speaking of bad matchups for IDP, the Titans go to Chicago to visit a Bears team that will be led by Matt Barkley and will be without Alshon Jeffery, Kevin White, Zach Miller and other important players as well. Add this all up and try to bench your Titan IDPs if you can. If you are thinking of still rolling with Avery Williamson you may have no choice but he continues to be subbed out a few series a game and that may be significant against a team that may not be on the field much. The Titans are also back to a full blown four-man safety rotation so all TEN DBs except Jason McCourty are an easy fade
If it wasn’t bad enough for the Bears already, green-dot ILB Jerrell Freeman was hit with a four-game suspension this week for PEDs so he won’t be eligible to play again until Week 16. Danny Trevathan played every snap last week for the first time since Week 1, but the Freeman suspension gives another boost to his short-term value. Another surprise was Harold Jones-Quartey was benched… again. This time it was rookie Deon Bush that took his spot. It wasn’t crystal clear who played SS and who played FS as the Bears played exclusive two-deep safety looks vs the Giants’ 3-WR offense but I thought Adrian Amos and not Bush played more like a strong safety. Amos was much more aggressive in flying up to the line to support the run while Bush was always in backpedal. This is interesting because Amos is known for his range and Bush was projected to be limited to only a box-safety role but it is something to monitor going forward. If I had to choose, I want Amos but this week against the Titans’ power-heavy run scheme will really show how Vic Fangio wants to use his safeties going forward.
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Jacksonville @ Buffalo
Studs: Telvin Smith, Paul Posluszny, Johnathon Cyprien, Zach Brown, Jerry Hughes (If DE eligible)
Starts: Malik Jackson (DT2), Jalen Ramsey (CB1-DB3/4), Kyle Williams (DL2), Marcell Dareus (DT1-DL4) Preston Brown (LB2/3), Corey Graham (DB4)
Robert Blanton suffered a foot injury and was replaced by James Ihedigbo. It doesn’t sound like Blanton is going to play but against the Jaguars, Ihedigbo is best left on the bench. Marcell Dareus was once again impressive coming back from injury and played a very appealing amount of snaps for a defensive tackle. While nose tackles are not ideal for IDP, Dareus is talented enough to warrant a start in DT required leagues.
Cincinnati @ Baltimore
Studs: Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins (In DT required), Vontaze Burfict, Zachary Orr, CJ Mosley
Starts: Vincent Rey (LB4/5), Karlos Dansby (LB4/5), Timmy Jernigan (DL3), Eric Weddle (DB3)
The Bengals have moved Vontaze Burfict to MIKE the last two weeks in base and it has led to back-to-back 11+ tackle games. I don’t like Burfict and once again last week he showed he is a dirty player, but cannot deny how good he is as a professional linebacker. Bengals’ strong safety Shawn Williams left last week’s game with a hamstring injury and did not return. Reports are that Williams should be good to go this week but there is too much risk and not enough reward to start him so look elsewhere.
Not much new in the desert except Tyrann Mathieu may return this week and can be a low-end DB starter if active. The Falcons were on a bye last week but in Week 10 it was noticeable that they ran a rotation with their off-ball linebackers. Instead of having Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell play every down, both were subbed out for veterans LaRoy Reynolds and Paul Worrilow for a few series. There has not been much chatter regarding this personnel move but it sounds like it will continue. Dan Quinn likely wants to prevent his starting LBs from hitting “the rookie wall” however this is a pretty significant hit in IDP to close out this season. Jones and Campbell are both still capable of racking up stats every week but both are much less appealing as 65-75% players.
If you follow me on Twitter, much of this will be a repeat but Keanu Neal has been historically good so far in his career. Since returning from a preseason knee injury, Neal has played seven games with full snaps and in all seven he has 8+ tackles. In recent memory, the only DBs that have come close to this level of consistency are Reshad Jones (seven straight games in 2015) and Morgan Burnett (six straight games). A few other recent IDP DB stalwarts such as Harrison Smith, Eric Weddle, T.J. Ward and Landon Collins have never even hit four straight games of 8+ tackles. Neal’s first full seven games extrapolated over a full season would be 98 solos and 43 assists which a DB has never hit in the history of the NFL (assisted tackle was not a recorded stat until 1994). There have only been three defensive backs in NFL history to have 90+ solos and 40+ assists in a season. Making assists a parameter is a bit flawed but even ignoring assists, only nine times since 2000 has a DB hit 98 solo tackles. Keanu Neal is clearly an elite IDP asset that has cemented himself with Landon Collins as the clear top IDP DBs in all formats.
Not much new with the Giants except stay away from all the linebackers this week. A four-man linebacker platoon against a Cleveland offense that has struggled to support even two is a disappointment waiting to happen.
I’ve been loud and clear about my concerns with the scheme usage of Jamie Collins on the Browns but this week he is an absolute must-start IDP. One could not ask for a better matchup against the New York Giants that always run 3-WR sets which means Collins should play nickel package ILB for most if not the entire game.
Los Angeles @ New Orleans
Studs: Aaron Donald, Alec Ogletree, Cameron Jordan
Starts: Robert Quinn (DL3 in big play), Mark Barron (LB2), Trumaine Johnson (CB1-DB4), Craig Robertson (LB2), Dannell Ellerbe (LB3/4), Kenny Vaccarro (DB2), Vonn Bell (DB3)
Nothing new to report here. Start your Rams and Saints as you normally would.
San Francisco @ Miami
Studs: Antoine Bethea, Cameron Wake, Ndamukong Suh (In DT required),
Starts: DeForest Bucker (DL2/3), Nick Bellore (LB2/3), Gerald Hodges (LB4/5), Antoine Bethea (DB1/2), Jaquiski Tartt (DB3), Andre Branch (DL3), Kiko Alonso (LB2), Isa Abdul-Quddus (DB4)
Niners starting free safety Eric Reid tore his biceps on the last drive in Week 11 which opens a huge door for one of my favorite stashes Jaquiski Tartt to step in. It’s undetermined how Tartt and Antoine Bethea will be used since they only played three snaps, all at the goal line, after Reid’s injury. Of the three safeties, Reid is by far the best fitted for FS given his range while Bethea and Tartt are both more suited for a run support strong safety role. Bethea has been burned badly a handful of times and it’s obvious he has lost a step at his age so it is possible that Tartt takes over the Reid role. On the other hand, the Niners may prefer to have the veteran back deep to mop up mistakes and let the 2nd year thumper play in the box. We just do not know yet, but we do know that both can be viable IDPs from here on out.
The Chargers had a much-needed bye last week but it is still very unclear when their starting ILBs will be back on the game field. Per reports, Jatavis Brown did not practice on Tuesday and Denzel Perryman was a limited participant. Keep a close eye on official San Diego practice reports the next three days. Even if active, I wouldn’t risk starting Perryman while Jatavis may be worth the gamble. If Jatavis is out, keep plugging in Korey Toomer as he should never leave the field against a Houston team that will want to pound the rock with a healthy Lamar Miller. While the ILBs have many question marks, starting safety Jahleel Addae will be returning from a collarbone injury that landed him on IR. If you watched last Monday Night Football in Mexico City you saw exactly why I am not a fan of Benardrick McKinney long term. The 2nd year LB got completely exposed in coverage and his athleticism can only take him so far in this league. The good news is his playing time is locked down short term and the Texans have made it obvious he is their every-down ‘backer regardless of on-field performance.
Seattle @ Tampa Bay
Studs: Bobby Wagner, Kwon Alexander
Starts: Cliff Avril (DL2), Frank Clark (DL2), KJ Wright (LB2), Kam Chancellor (DB2), Robert Ayers (DL2), Gerald McCoy (DT1-DL3), William Gholston (DL3), Clinton McDonald (DT2-DL4), Lavonte David (LB4) Bradley McDougald (DB3), Chris Conte (DB3), Vernon Hargreaves (CB1-DB3)
Earl Thomas hurt his hamstring which may actually be a good thing for the rest of the Seattle IDPs. Not having Thomas patrolling the middle may allow the Buccaneers to get more first downs and stay on the field more. Michael Bennett has still yet to practice so the best assumption is that he is out at least one more week.
As you likely already know, Luke Kuechly suffered another concussion last week and it was a scary sight to see. The NFL is a better place when Kuechly is playing so hopefully he can recover quickly, have no long-term effects and be back soon. For IDP purposes, David Mayo, not Shaq Thompson, replaced Kuechly at the end of last week’s game. I’m banking on that decision having been made because Mayo is used to calling plays and they did not want any confusion between coverages at the end of a close game. Playing Mayo over a player like Shaq does not make any sense so logically, this week the Panthers took the time to transfer over the play calling over to Thomas Davis and Thompson will be the every-down ‘backer next to him. There is obviously some risk with Shaq given Mayo played over him last week in nickel however the upside is clearly there. If guaranteed full snaps, Shaq is a top 15 IDP linebacker start.
New England @ New York (Jets)
Starts: Trey Flowers (DL3), Rob Ninkovich (DL3), Dont’a Hightower (LB3), Leonard Williams (DL2), Sheldon Richardson (DL2/3), Muhammad Wilkerson (DL3), David Harris (LB3), Darron Lee (LB3 if active), Calvin Pryor (DB3/4)
The Patriots defense continues to change on a weekly basis as the staff has made it known that nobody’s spot is safe if they do not perform as desired. It only took two weeks for New England to send Elandon Roberts to the bench after he was supposed to fill in for Jamie Collins after the shocking trade to Cleveland a few weeks ago. Roberts played 12 snaps but once again was picked on in the passing game early so Shea McClellin and Kyle Van Noy played over him for the rest of the game. Roberts showed huge flashes against the run so he is still an intriguing long-term play, however the Patriots’ IDPs are very similar to past Patriots RBs; have fun trying to guess who will get benched. Speaking of benched, Jabaal Sheard was a healthy scratch in Week 11 after playing just 16 snaps in Week 10. Sheard has not been as effective the last month as he was the first month of the season but his play has not warranted a healthy scratch. There is more to this story, such as punishment for attitude or in general sending a message that nobody is guaranteed to play. Regardless, the Patriots defense is going in the wrong direction at the wrong time. Maybe trading away their top playmaker for a 3rd round compensatory pick wasn’t the best idea?
The Jets are coming off a bye week which hopefully means Muhammad Wilkerson is back to 100% because he has obviously not looked like the same player he has been his entire career. Wilkerson has been brutal in every aspect and has either looked hurt, or uninterested. The scary part about the latter is he just got paid big money and now his performance has fallen off a cliff. Let’s hope it was his ankle/leg bothering him and we see the old Mo Wilky this week. It has also been reported that Darron Lee will play this week which is great news given the stellar IDP matchup vs New England.
Derrick Johnson is back to playing every down while Justin Houston played 54/77 snaps. That’s a very impressive playing percentage for Houston playing in his first game since ACL surgery. He looked solid holding the edge, had a decent power bull-rush but was obviously rusty regarding his speed edge rush. Hopefully every week Houston will improve and the Chiefs need it now more than ever as both Dee Ford and Marcus Peters are questionable to play this week with injuries.
Green Bay @ Philadelphia
Studs: Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Morgan Burnett
Starts: Jordan Hicks (LB3/4), Nigel Bradham (LB3/4), Malcolm Jenkins (DB4), Rodney McLeod (DB4), Joe Thomas (LB3/4), Clay Matthews (boom/bust flier LB5), Ha-Ha Clinton Dix (DB3)
Right when Blake Martinez was given a shot to show what he could do in an every-down role, he injured his MCL last week and is expected to miss multiple games. With Jake Ryan already out with an injury, the Packers are decimated at ILB so expect Morgan Burnett to play a ton of nickel LB and also for Clay Matthews to move back to ILB in certain packages.