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: Cleveland, Tennessee
Dallas @ Minnesota
Studs: Sean Lee, Linval Joseph (In DT required), Harrison Smith
Starts: Demarcus Lawrence (DL2), Barry Church (DB2 if active), Byron Jones (DB2/3 if Church inactive, DB4 if Church active), Everson Griffen (DL2), Danielle Hunter (DL4), Eric Kendricks (LB3/4), Anthony Barr (LB4), Andrew Sendejo (DB3)
It sounds like the plan is for Barry Church to return this week. He still is sporting a cast on his forearm and has not gotten in a full practice since the injury but still is start-worthy if active. Cornerback Anthony Brown continues to get picked on but that is allowing him to put up nice stats in the box score. Morris Claiborne should still be out another few weeks so Brown is viable start in CB required, especially if Stefon Diggs suits up for the Vikings this week.
Eric Kendricks only played 32/61 snaps as he is being eased back from his hip injury so his four solo/one assist stat line is much more impressive than it looks at first glance. With some extra time to rest up for Week 13, since Minnesota played on Thanksgiving, expect Kendricks to be close to a full go and he should get ample opportunities against a Dallas offense that has been rolling this season.
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One week after losing play-calling inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman due to a four-game suspension, the Bears defense suffered another huge blow as Danny Trevathan went down with a dreaded patellar tendon rupture. Jimmy Graham is proving to us that this injury isn’t an automatic end to a productive career but it is still historically one of the worst injuries one can suffer. In redraft leagues, Trevathan is safe to drop as his season is over but there are now a lot of question marks for his long-term value in dynasty leagues as well. The prized free agent signee has had multiple knee injuries in the last few years but this one is by far the most serious. With Freeman out, rookie Nick Kwiatkoski filled in to play 54/58 snaps and while he did not play particularly well, the Bears are out of options so expect him to be an every-down player for at least the next three weeks (until Freeman is reinstated). Kwiatkoski played well in the preseason and showed off his instincts that allow him to always be around the ball to make plays so there is IDP appeal here if everything clicks. If you are extremely desperate, John Timu will be the first in line to fill in next to Kwiatkoski however it is not sure if Chicago will choose to run more extra safety looks in sub-packages so Timu has significant risk in Week 13.
As expected, Jaquiski Tartt filled in for the injured Eric Reid and was used similarly. Tartt played some plays in the box but was the majority deep safety while Antoine Bethea continued to be used in his regular role. Tartt is a very low end startable safety in IDP as his alignment is less than ideal and he did leave the field in a handful of situations where San Francisco wanted three corners on the field with their base front seven to stop the Miami running game.
It did not take long for Justin Houston to knock off the rust as he completely dominated in every aspect of the game. Not only did Houston show off his pass rush moves by bringing down the QB three times but he was also superb setting the edge which resulted in five or six premium stops in the run game. Don’t expect a Week 12 repeat performance anytime soon as a 10 solo/three sack game may be the best IDP week of any player all season but the All-Pro linebacker has proven that he is over his injury. Relying on rush backers in IDP is playing with fire but Houston is a special type of player that can be counted on for a handful of tackles each week with a greater than 50% chance of a big play to go with it.
Adrian Clayborn suffered a torn MCL and meniscus which means his season, at least for IDP purposes, is over. As for the high tackle contributors on Atlanta, none of Keanu Neal, Deion Jones or De’Vondre Campbell put up huge numbers last week but there are still positives to take from this game. I may have jinxed Neal regarding his historic rate of 8+ tackle games, however an in-the-box run supporting SS with six total tackles versus a Cardinals teams that only ran the ball 13 times is extremely impressive. The rookie safety continues to have the safest floor of any IDP DB. The Falcons continued to show off a LB platoon as LeRoy Reynolds started for Deion Jones yet Jones still got 55 of the possible 66 snaps. Campbell was on the field even more as he only missed two snaps the entire game. It’s not entirely clear why Dan Quinn keeps taking out his promising rookies for brief stretches every week but even if it continues, both should be on the field enough to put up starting quality IDP lines.
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Miami @ Baltimore
Studs: Ndamukong Suh (In DT required), Zach Orr
Starts: Cameron Wake (DL2/3), Andre Branch (DL3), Kiko Alonso (LB2), Isa Abdul-Quddus (DB3), Timmy Jernigan (DL3), CJ Mosley (LB2), Eric Weddle (LB4)
Philadelphia @ Cincinnati
Studs: Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins (In DT required), Vontaze Burfict
Starts: Jordan Hicks (LB2), Nigel Bradham (LB2/3), Malcolm Jenkins (DB3), Rodney McLeod (DB4)
With both Shawn Williams and Derron Smith hurt, the Bengals elected to play Josh Shaw at strong safety. Shaw played well but it seems like Williams and Smith are close to returning, so it is best to sit all CIB DBs until it is guaranteed one will get a full complement of snaps.
I’ve been a huge fan of Jadeveon Clowney and have loved what I have seen from him this year. Throughout the season, I’ve expressed that he is currently playing full time DE which is great for his dynasty value but that if the Texans do not resign John Simon (who is a free agent after this season) that there is a decent chance Clowney could move back to OLB. Well Simon is hurt so this week we got a glimpse of what it would look like without him and it’s not good. Clowney moved outside and played OLB even with the Texans already extremely thin at DE with J.J. Watt out. This is scary news for his long-term prospects in IDP so it would be a great time to try to sell him at top dollar as if he is guaranteed to be a DL next year. It is weird to say but it’s true; the future of Jadeveon Clowney’s value lies in the hands of John Simon. For those hoping for DL eligibility in 2017, pray that the Texans bring back Simon this offseason.
Morgan Burnett continues to get a ton of work at ILB with Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez out. It is unclear when Ryan or Martinez will be able to return to game action but until they do, Burnett will have a higher ceiling with increased reps near the line of scrimmage. The other benefactor of the injuries at inside linebacker is Joe Thomas as once again he played every snap. Thomas will not carry your fantasy football team but guaranteed three-down roles these days do not grow on trees.
Broncos’ inside linebacker Brandon Marshall appears to be fully healthy as he played 72/82 snaps but continues to be totally nonexistent in the run game. I figured Trevathan leaving in free agency would provide way more tackle opportunities but instead Malik Jackson leaving has taken more away. Derek Wolfe returned to game action for the first time since suffering what looked like a gruesome elbow injury, however he looked exactly like his old self as he and Von Miller destroyed the Chiefs’ OL.
The Rams have found a third linebacker in Cory Littleton and while he won’t play enough to warrant IDP consideration, he should once again play enough to hurt LaMarcus Joyner significantly. Joyner only plays slot corner in sub-packages but at the beginning of the year it didn’t matter since Los Angeles played two linebacker sets every down. With the emergence of Littleton, they like using three linebackers against the run and this week they will likely employ it a lot when LeGarrette Blount is in the opposing backfield.
As the season progresses, all but Dont’a Hightower and the secondary are in full blown platoons. There may be a defensive lineman that has a big week but guessing which one that will be is a tough challenge. Just last week, seven DL had between 50-63% snaps, so expect much of the same going forward.
Detroit @ New Orleans
Studs: Tahir Whitehead, Cameron Jordan
Starts: Ezekiel Ansah (DL2/3), Kerry Hyder (DL2/3), Nick Fairly (DT1/2-DL4), Craig Robertson (LB2/3), Dannell Ellerbe (LB3/4), Kenny Vaccaro (DB2), Vonn Bell (DB2/3), Jairus Byrd (DB3/4)
It looked like Ezekiel Ansah finally had his first sack of the 2016 as he blindsided Sam Bradford right before he was about to throw. The ball popped out, recovered by the Lions and it seemed like Ansah had that big burden lifted, however the play was reviewed and it was deemed an incompletion. It was a crushing blow to both Ansah’s owners as well as the Lions however at least the Pro Bowl pass rusher is finally starting to look like himself after high ankle sprain that has thrown his entire season right off the tracks. After another donut in the box score, this is the prime opportunity to try and strike a deal in IDP as a good percentage of his owners are very likely on tilt. Just a few months ago, in IDP leagues that reward a good amount of points for sacks, Ansah was a top-five, usually top-three, DL in all formats, yet there is a good chance you could get him for a price outside of the top-10. Lastly, there is a reason why I haven’t mentioned Deandre Levy in any IDP breakdown for almost three months and that is I do not believe he will be IDP-relevant for this year or even ever again. The Lions continue to be very secretive about his status and what has been ailing him all season so a return this week once again seems unlikely. Keep riding Tahir Whitehead as he is proving just how valuable a mediocre player with a great opportunity can be in fantasy football.
Buffalo @ Oakland
Studs: Khalil Mack, Karl Joseph
Starts: Kyle Williams (DL2/3), Marcell Dareus (DT1-DL3), Zach Brown (LB2), Preston Brown (LB3), Corey Graham (DB4), Malcolm Smith (LB3), Bruce Irvin (LB3/4 in big play leagues)
Perry Riley missed last week’s game with a hamstring injury which opened up a huge opportunity for Cory James to prove himself once again and he face planted. James played every snap but failed to make any impact except for missing a few tackles. This is Riley’s job here on out if healthy.
Washington @ Arizona
Starts: Chris Baker (DL3), Will Compton (LB3), Donte Whitner (DB2), Calais Campbell (DL2), Deone Bucannon (LB3), Tony Jefferson (DB1/2), Tyrann Mathieu (DB3/4 with upside), D.J Swearinger (DB3)
The last two weeks have shown how much game flow and personnel matchups will determine the playing time of Su’a Cravens and Mason Foster. Against the pass-heavy Packers, Cravens played 58/68 snaps, yet against the Ezekiel Elliott-led Cowboys’ rushing attack he only saw 26/56 snaps. The problem with the Cardinals is they are a team capable of pounding the rock all game long with David Johnson or like last week, shifting to a pass-only offense playing catch-up in a deficit. There is just too much risk to feel comfortable starting any ILB except Will Compton in this matchup.
Tampa Bay @ San Diego
Studs: Kwon Alexander
Starts: Robert Ayers (DL2), Gerald McCoy (DT1-DL2/3), Clinton McDonald (DT2-DL4), William Gholston (DL4), Noah Spence (boom/bust DL2), Lavonte David (LB3), Bradley McDougald (DB2/3), Joey Bosa (DL2), Melvin Ingram (LB3 in big play), Korey Toomer (LB3 if Jatavis Brown is inactive), Jahleel Addae (DB2)
Korey Toomer is still the linebacker to own when Jatavis Brown is out as he played every down and Denzel Perryman only played 43/67 snaps. Perryman had a decent stat line but wasn’t impressive doing so and was subbed out for an extra safety in passing situations. Jahleel Addae had a great game returning from injury as he was solid in all aspects and played close to the line of scrimmage quite often.
Carolina @ Seattle
Studs: Thomas Davis, Cliff Avril, Frank Clark, Bobby Wagner,
Starts: Charles Johnson (DL3), AJ Klein (LB3/4), Kurt Coleman (DB2), Michael Bennett (DL2 if active), KJ Wright (LB2), Kam Chancellor (DB2)
I thought Shaq Thompson was a significant risk last week as I did not think his full-time role was guaranteed but I would have never imagined he would play only 17 of 74 defensive snaps. This one just doesn’t make any sense as it was fewer than he was playing even when Luke Kuechly has been active. The Panthers made it clear, they want A.J Klein, not Shaq, playing next to Thomas Davis when Kuechly is out. They also made it clear that they should not have selected Thompson in the 1st round last year. Thompson has been very impressive this year in limited snaps so it doesn’t make much sense as to why he is behind Klein. Playing Klein over Thompson for play-calling purposes would make sense except you would think that Thomas Davis, a 12-year NFL veteran, could handle that responsibility if need be. I’m not going to spend time trying to comprehend what they are doing with their 2015 1st round pick who has shown flashes of greatness this year but he is now an easy drop in redraft leagues and even in shallow dynasty leagues.
I’m throwing both Cliff Avril and Frank Clark in the stud category this week because it’s very possible that they demolish the Panthers’ offensive line for multiple QB takedowns. It is being reported that Michael Bennett may return this week but I don’t think it will matter much for Clark’s playing time as Carolina will use a ton of three-WR sets and the Seahawks will have Clark on the field in all sub-packages.
Thanksgiving night was a weird one for the Colts defense as they got torched but also were only on the field for 54 plays so their defenders did not fill the box score with tackles. This was due to giving up long touchdowns time and time again to Antonio Brown. Not often does a team lose 28-7 yet run 17% more offensive snaps. Regardless of how poorly he is playing, D’Qwell Jackson still is playing every snap so consider him a very good start against a Jets team that likes running the ball. Also, if he is cleared from his concussion, Clayton Geathers immediately returns to his must start status.