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.
Week 5 Bye Weeks: Kansas City, New Orleans, Seattle, Jacksonville
If you were thinking Stephone Anthony was one injury away from a meaningful role and IDP production, Week 4 shot that idea down real quick. James Laurinaitis was inactive for the first time in his long career with a quadriceps injury and that still didn’t mean playing time for the 2015 1st rounder, as Nathan Stupar played WILL and Craig Robertson slid over to man the middle. Anthony was the full time MIKE last year so that fact that the coaching staff chose Stupar over him is the metaphorical nail in his IDP coffin (at least for 2016). I’m not sure what Anthony did to warrant this full-out benching but it’s blatantly obvious that the Saints do not want him on the field.
Myles Jack got the first start of his professional career filling for injured Dan Skuta at OTTO (strong-side linebacker) which is not Jack’s natural position. What is important to note is the talented rookie did not take any nickel coverage snaps from Telvin Smith or Paul Posluszny so while the box score may show Jack sprinkled in, it’s not going to cut into either vet’s IDP appeal at this point in time.
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Arizona @ San Francisco
The Arizona secondary has been a constantly changing beast and this week was no exception. Tyvon Branch suffered a serious groin injury and the main benefactor will be Tyrann Mathieu. The Honey Badger was relegated to primary deep centerfield alignment, however the Branch injury moves Mathieu back to his old spot of slot corner in nickel packages. Mathieu only registered two solos all game last week but both came on the drive immediately after Branch was injured. He will continue to log a lot of snaps 20 yards downfield versus 2-WR sets but in most sub-packages (and ARI will be in these a lot versus SF this week), D.J Swearinger will enter to play deep middle which allows the Badger to play closer to the LOS where he can fill the stat sheet. Tony Jefferson is still the Cardinal’s IDP safety to own since he gets the most in-the-box snaps but the Mathieu arrow is pointing up, just don’t expect him to repeat his 2015 numbers. While Jefferson flourishes, this has obviously come at the expense of Deone Bucannon who hasn’t had nearly the tackle opportunities he did last year. Bucannon has never been the most consistent tackler in his short career but so far in 2016 he has 1-2 missed tackles per week while only combining for 16 total tackles through 4 games. He is simply not playing well, and combined with the fact that others are and I don’t see this slow start changing anytime soon. If you want the “glass half full analysis” he did have a sack against the Rams negated by a penalty but if you can still sell Bucannon as a top 30/20 LB in redraft/dynasty, I’d strongly advise you to do so.
Football is a brutal game and we were reminded when IDP and NFL superstar Navorro Bowman had a season-ending Achilles injury in last week’s matchup. This is a huge loss for the Niners as well as your fantasy team, however you may be able to plug in his replacement and get the majority of production back. One week ago it would have been assumed Gerald Hodges would be the benefactor of the Bowman injury, however he was shockingly benched in Week 4 for longtime stop-gap Michael Wilhoite. Wilhoite goes from a guy that was not even touching the field to the every-down play-caller for San Francisco which makes him a top short-term add in fantasy football. Hodges is safe to drop as he was jumped by both Wilhoite and Nick Bellore. As for Bellore, I wouldn’t be comfortable starting him this week, however it is noteworthy that after Bowman went down, he played every single defensive snap for the rest of the game. Don’t get too carried away just yet because Jimmie Ward missed last week due to injury and it wouldn’t be surprising if Bellore is subbed out in nickel packages for a Jacquiski Tartt when Ward is active. Not only did the Niners lose their team captain for the season but 2016 1st round pick DeForest Buckner also ended up in a walking boot and with a Thursday night game this week it is highly unlikely he suits up against the Cardinals.
New England @ Cleveland
Studs: Jamie Collins
Starts: Malcom Brown (DT1/2), Jabaal Sheard (DL2), Chris Long (DL3/4), Dont’a Hightower (LB3/4), Logan Ryan (CB1/2) Demario Davis (LB4/5), Chris Kirskey (LB3), Jordan Poyer (DB3/4), Derrick Kindred (DB3/4)
The biggest change this week for the New England defense is longtime Patriot Rob Ninkovich is done serving his four-game suspension and it sounds like he will also be cleared to play from a preseason triceps injury. We simply have not seen enough of how the snaps will be distributed with Nink on the field but it would be wise to assume that it will not affect Jabaal Sheard much at all but instead come at the expense of Chris Long. Sheard continues to one of the most vital pieces in this defense and the only reason he isn’t considered a “stud” this week is his matchup against the top NFL left tackle in Joe Thomas. Logan Ryan had a huge Week 4 box score as the Bills peppered him with targets, especially dink-and-dunk short tosses to Robert Woods. Ryan will continue to get picked on since he is across from rising NFL star Malcolm Butler, however Cleveland is one of the least desirable matchups for cornerbacks in IDP so temper expectations. To end on a good note, second year defensive tackle Malcom Brown finally got the significant playing time he needed to make him a viable start in DT-required leagues. While Brown didn’t make a huge impact versus the Browns, and this week goes up against a top guard in Joel Bitonio, the increase from 50% to 80% is extremely encouraging for his future outlook. Coming into this year, I thought Demario Davis could be a fringe top 25 IDP linebacker due to opportunity but it’s becoming painfully obvious that this is just not going to be the case. The 5th year LB is simply not a very good player and an every-down role is not enough to fix that. Davis signed a pretty hefty two year deal this offseason, so you may be able to trade him for an older, more productive vet in keeper/dynasty leagues which is something I would be actively pursuing. Honesty, I’d trade him for pretty much anything at this point. The Browns can save almost $4 million by cutting him before next season so combine that with his terrible on-field performance and his days are numbered as an NFL starter.
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Philadelphia @ Detroit
Starts: Brandon Graham (DL2/3), Jordan Hicks (LB4), Nigel Bradham (LB4), Kerry Hyder (boom/bust DL3), Haloti Ngata (DT2/DL5), Tahir Whitehead (LB2), Glover Quin (DB3/4), Rafael Bush (DB3/4 if Tavon Wilson inactive)
Nigel Bradham had an interesting bye week as he was arrested for bring a loaded handgun to an airport. There was no malicious attempt as officials confirm his story that he forgot he had it in his backpack, had all legal paperwork but was still booked because he is on probation. Bradham was charged with a misdemeanor and is already back practicing. Bradham and Jordan Hicks are the only linebackers that have any IDP value at this point as Mychal Kendricks continues to be the odd man out. Some people took Bradham’s recent arrest as a boom for Kendrick’s playing time but it simply is not the case. The new Eagles regime is making it 100% clear they do not view him as an important part of their defense. The only way his IDP value is salvaged is by a trade; as even an injury/suspension to one of Hicks or Bradham would likely open the door for Stephen Tulloch, not Kendricks. Both Bradham and Hicks had disappointing stat lines in Week 3 (bye in Week 4) but that can be contributed to the fact that they dominated the entire game which only allowed their opponent to hand the ball off nine times to running backs. Hopefully the bye week allowed Vinny Curry to get back to full health and while I would not suggest starting him in Week 5, he needs to be snagged off waivers if someone got impatient with his slow start to this season.
Devin Taylor continues to have a prime opportunity to make an impact with Ezekiel Ansah dealing with a high ankle sprain but I’ve seen enough to know he is not the answer. Taylor is an average run defender and supplies very little in the form of a pass rush so if forced to start a Lions DL when Ansah is out I’ll go with UDFA Kerry Hyder, who I am not that thrilled about either. Tahir Whitehead had a nice rebound game in run support and while I’m still not convinced he is the long term answer in the middle, if he can string together more games like last week he should buy himself another year as the starting MIKE in a defense desperate for playmakers.
Chicago @ Indianapolis
Studs: Jerrell Freeman
Streaming CBs is a very common strategy used in IDP, however last week is the exact reason why sometimes it backfires. It’s difficult to select cornerbacks that are good enough to stay on the field but get exposed enough by offenses to give up completions therefore receive tackle opportunities. Jacoby Glenn looked like a great streamer last week, however he was benched to start the game as the Bears defensive coordinator preferred to go with Bryce Callahan. If you did start Glenn, you got bailed out by an interception on an offensive miscommunication after he entered the game due to an injury to starter Tracy Porter. Callahan played well enough to warrant another start, however I would prefer to stay away from all Bears CBs till we get a better picture of the snap share. Nick Kwiatkoski is someone to keep an eye on as he excelled on minimal snaps in Week 3, which earned him 71% of the snaps last week. He’s still splitting time with John Timu, however there is value to be had if Kwiatkoski can approach an 80% snap share filling in for ILB Danny Trevathan, who the Bears are being very quiet about regarding a timeline for his potential return from thumb surgery.
The Colts have had an ILB platoon this entire year but last week it was even messier than usual as D’Qwell Jackson led the group with 72% of the snaps while Sio Moore, Antonio Morrison and Josh McNary were all on the field roughly 1/3 of time. Even with Moore being cut on Tuesday, I’m still only comfortable starting Jackson in deep IDP leagues. The bright spot of the Indy defense is that Henry Anderson continues to get slowly eased back from injury and looks good. Hopefully by November he should be an every-week DL3 starter with upside. Also, it looks like Clayton Geathers is finally healthy as well and has regained his full time gig next to Mike Adams.
Tennessee @ Miami
Jurrell Casey still does not have a sack this season, however it has not been due to a lack of effort on his part. He continues to be a constant interior force and this week gets a nice matchup vs a Dolphins’ offensive line that Geno Atkins dominated last week. With Da’Norris Searcy sidelined by injury, Daimion Stafford as well as Rashad Johnson continue to be worthy of starts in deep leagues, however both have limited appeal due to the fact that they both leave the field roughly 20% of the time. The Dolphins are quickly showing that Reshad Jones and Kiko Alonso are the only players that should be relied upon for IDP purposes. Outside of these two, the back seven of the Miami defense is a constant rotation of bodies including free safety where veteran Michael Thomas has started splitting snaps with Isa Abdul-Quddus. Last week also showed how dangerous it is starting pass rush specialist Cameron Wake because if the Dolphins are down big early he barely touches the field.
Washington @ Baltimore
Both Su’a Cravens and David Bruton are in the concussion protocol so it’s still unknown if they will play this weekend. Cravens being out is a significant boost to Mason Foster. With Bashaud Breeland bothered by an ankle injury, it has opened up the cornerback spot opposite of Josh Norman that was filled nicely by rookie Kendall Fuller, however Fuller only played 45 of a possible 72 snaps. Breeland’s ankle is improving so the window to get a valuable CB streamer for a few weeks is closing before it really started. Zachary Orr has continued to be very impressive both on film and in the box score by posting his third straight eight+ tackle performance. It’s time to start taking Orr seriously as a top short-term IDP option that also has a bright long-term outlook as well.
Houston @ Minnesota
Starts: Jadeveon Clowney (DL3 if DL eligible) Benardrick McKinney (LB2/3), Brian Cushing (LB4/5), Quintin Demps (DB4), Danielle Hunter (DL2 in big play), Eric Kendricks (LB3), Anthony Barr (LB4/5), Andrew Sendejo (DB4)
Now that J.J. Watt is out for the season, offenses get to put more focus on stopping Jadeveon Clowney and if last week was any indication, he is going to struggle. Clowney is a phenomenal talent who possesses a rare combination of elite speed and tremendous power but it looks like he is still a very raw player. In 1v1 situations, the former No. 1 overall pick can dominate offensive lineman by simply bull-rushing them into the backfield, however now that he is the primary focus he is rarely blocked by a single opponent. He has three major flaws that were reoccurring last week. First, he is very susceptible to a secondary chip block and easily loses he balance. Numerous times he was getting solid penetration into the backfield yet a light block from a secondary source, whether a RB or extra OL, completely throws him off balance or even sometimes to the turf. Second, he seems so focused on pummeling his guy to the ground that he never even tries to shed a block to tackle the ball carrier. He is going to need to start shedding blocks before he ever becomes a reliable IDP asset since you don’t get points for picking up OL and pushing them five yards backwards. His last major flaw is he really does not have any legitimate pass rush moves. He simply uses his speed and strength to get to the QB but that simply is not enough to provide consistent pressure. The majority of the plays he purposely engages with the OL and pushes them backwards but this takes so long in most cases that the ball is long gone by the time he gets to the quarterback. Overall, I still like Clowney as a prospect but he is just that, a prospect. He is not a polished pass rusher that will provide consistent pressure and is over-reliant on using his physical gifts to overpower opponents. The good thing is the skills he lacks are ones that can be coached so I still love his long term outlook if he continues to play DL but the short term looks a bit bleak. With Watt across from him demanding so much attention, Clowney was in a position to succeed in 1v1 matchups but now as the top dog of the defensive line, I think he is going to struggle mightily.
Nothing has changed for the Vikings unit so keep on rolling them out as you usually would. The Texans are a nice matchup since they want to feed Lamar Miller but also have an offensive line that is struggling.
New York (Jets) @ Pittsburgh
Starts: Steve McLendon (low DT1), David Harris (LB4), Calvin Pryor (DB3/4), Cameron Heyward (DL3), Stephon Tuitt (DL3), Ryan Shazier (LB2 if active), Lawrence Timmons (LB3/4) Vince Williams (LB3/4 if Shazier inactive), Robert Golden (DB3 if active)
The only note regarding the Jets is that Erin Henderson returned from injury and regained his base linebacker role over Darron Lee making both unusable for IDP in the short term. The Steelers back seven is still totally unknown for this week since Ryan Shazier, Robert Golden and Sean Davis all have unknown injury statuses. Vince Williams had a monster game with Shazier out but is much more of an inside thumper while Shazier is the do-it-all linebacker with elite athleticism but it opens up the possibility that Vince Williams could take over for Lawrence Timmons next year, or maybe even sooner.
Atlanta @ Denver
The Falcons' defense has quickly gone from an IDP wasteland to a unit that holds two of the most promising young assets in the entire league. From what we have seen so far, Atlanta looks to have hit big on their first two picks of the 2016 draft in middle linebacker Deion Jones and strong safety Keanu Neal. I received quite a few questions and concerns regarding my premature claim last week in anointing Neal a top five DB in all formats, however I will admit I was wrong, he’s actually clearly a top three IDP and can be justified as THE top DB. The rookie out of Florida has the perfect combination of aggressive hitting playstyle with a near full time in-the-box role and is already thriving. Outside of Reshad Jones and Landon Collins, I don’t think there is a rational argument for any safety to be worth more than him in IDP in any format. He’s simply just that good and his role for the Falcons is just that perfect. As for Deion Jones, he still has a lot of work to do to become a polished inside linebacker but if he does, he has elite potential in IDP. He missed large portion of snaps last week due to a calf injury suffered during an awkward change of direction on broken play QB scramble. So far all reports are that Jones is already progressing and with Sean Weatherspoon now out for the year with a ruptured Achilles, Jones is a must start here on out when healthy.
If you monitor snap counts, one of the most worrisome numbers from Week 4 is that Denver green-dot play caller Brandon Marshall only played 69% of the snaps versus Tampa Bay, however if you dig a little deeper it doesn’t seem nearly as bad. Let’s get this out of the way first, Marshall continues to be a very solid linebacker in all aspects of the game so it is not like he is losing snaps due to poor performance. I think the biggest factor impacting his snap reduction last week was actually the Florida weather. Certain plays in the first half Marshall looked absolutely gassed and in one instant he even signaled to the sideline that he needed a breather. While the Florida heat affecting his workload is more of an opinion the effect of the extremely lengthy rain delay towards the end of the game is not subjective. After the multiple hour delay, play was resumed with a score of 27-7 and Marshall did not touch the field for the rest of the game. The Broncos’ defense played 11 snaps after play resumed so Marshall was on the field 82% of the time prior to the delay. I’m still bumping him down from “stud” territory this week because a top IDP LB should never leave the field but at the same time, let’s not overreact to his sub-70% snap share in Week 4. While T.J. Ward continues to play a lot of nickel linebacker, the Broncos actually align the hard hitter as a deep FS quite often in base packages and use Darian Stewart as SS. It seems that more and more teams view their starting safeties as interchangeable pieces rather than pure SS/FS which makes in-the-box enforcers like Keanu Neal that much more valuable in IDP.
Cincinnati @ Dallas
The return of Vontaze Burfict looks to have nullified the value of all the other linebackers that filled in for him, which was to be expected. Burfict still may not see full snaps but he is still a top 30 LB start versus the run-heavy Cowboys. As for the Dallas defense, Demarcus Lawrence returns from suspension and should immediately be given a significant snap share on a defensive like that is starving for playmakers.
Buffalo @ Los Angeles
Zach Brown continues to play at an All-Pro level while putting up insane stat lines. He is on pace for over 200 tackles so he obviously can’t continue at this rate, however even if there is significant regression he is still a must start IDP for the rest of the year unless something changes. Nose Tackle Marcell Dareus returns this week from suspension and while it is reasonable to assume that this will be even a bigger upgrade for the Buffalo ILBs it is almost a negative for Zach Brown since things are going so well right now it is a shame to change the personnel in front of him. As the saying goes “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” so let’s just hope the addition of Dareus doesn’t change how Brown is getting to the ball carrier.
I’ve been a huge Robert Quinn fan the last few years and have still valued him as an elite DL1 even after his down 2015 but it’s starting to finally sink in that he is no longer a top tier DL for IDP purposes. Quinn is still one of the best pure pass rushers in the entire league but is more of an average-at-best run stopper and the Rams have finally acknowledged this fact given his decreased early down role. So far this year, Quinn is being used as a more of a pure pass rusher that can just pin his ears back get to the quarterback which he is actually doing quite well. He has been consistently applying pressure on opposing signal callers and came extremely close multiple times having his 3rd straight game with a strip sack however his snap share is just not high enough to warrant title of “must start DL1”. These elite tier DL should be on the field roughly 80% of the time, which Quinn was from 2012-2014, however at 60% snaps he is much more of a bust possibility than you want from a sure-fire weekly top five-10 DL. Both Los Angeles every-down safeties T.J. McDonald and Maurice Alexander continue to be aligned all over the field. They have roughly equal portions in-the-box and 20 yards deep so they do have IDP appeal but also won’t be nearly as consistent as other DBs that are always lined up around the ball. This is a very tough IDP matchup for Lamarcus Joyner as he is left on the sidelines for the majority of run heavy/2-WR sets which the WR starved Buffalo Bills should implement a lot, so it is best to sit the young promising slot corner in Week 5.
San Diego @ Oakland
Studs: Khalil Mack
Last week just made Jatavis Brown over Denzel Perryman a much more popular view as Perryman left with a shoulder injury. There haven’t been many details released about the injury so there is just too much unknown to speculate at this time. Hopefully you picked up Jatavis before last week because his price just skyrocketed. If you were starting to worry about Khalil Mack then last week’s game should leave all your doubts in the dust. The dynamic pass rusher was literally unstoppable vs the Ravens and his four solo/two assist/one sack box score does not do him justice. I counted six times, in addition to his sack, that Mack beat the offensive tackle so quickly that it was almost like he was unblocked. Four of the times the play calls just so happened to be quick three step drop passes and the other two the OT decided to blatantly hold Mack and take the penalty rather than let Joe Flacco get smashed. Mack was also the reason for the Bruce Irvin strip sack as he flushed Flacco out of the pocket. His Week 4 fantasy point output was nice but if just a few tiny things had gone differently he easily could have had a four-five sack outing, he was that good. The other major headline for IDP of Raider Nation is the huge game by Cory James and while his performance is not repeatable I really liked what I saw. James wasn’t perfect but that should not be expected. He got bullied on a few plays in the trenches but for the most part he showed a great ability to fight through traffic, was physical at the point of attack versus pulling lineman and displayed superb open field tackling. On at least three occasions he made a tackle in space where he looked like he would be overrun yet he wrapped up the ball carriers’ leg and brought them down. While James is not the second coming of Luke Kuechly, he did just cement himself as a starter for the short term especially since the Raiders’ linebacker corps had multiple injuries in Week 4. Malcolm Smith left the game early with a groin injury that looks to be day-to-day and Ben Heeney is now on IR. Longtime Redskin Perry Riley was signed on Tuesday but that is simply a depth signing and no threat to James.
New York (Giants) @ Green Bay
The Packers had a bye last week, but on snap counts alone it looked like Jake Ryan took the lead in the ILB rotation but after further review, Blake Martinez missed significant playing time in week 3 due to a nasty gash on his nose that needed stiches. Ryan and Martinez are the obvious top 2 ILBs however Joe Thomas is being sprinkled in just enough to cap both of their IDP ceilings in the short term. Ryan has been extremely impressive so far this year and Martinez has too except for a few mistakes in coverage which are to be expected for a rookie given as many responsibilities as he has been. While I think it may be too early to claim either as sure-fire long term starters for the cheeseheads, they are both on the right path in filling voids that have been present for many years on this team. The matchup against the pass-happy Giants isn’t a great one however both should warrant enough snaps to be comfortable starting in deep leagues. It sounds like the extra week of rest was just what Morgan Burnett needed to get over his groin injury so he immediately is penciled back in as an elite DB1 going forward. Keenan Robinson continues to be the primary nickel sub-package linebacker so against Aaron Rodgers it’s a decent assumption to think he pushes +70% snaps.
Tampa Bay @ Carolina
Studs: Lavonte David, Kwon Alexander, Luke Kuechly
Starts: William Gholston (DL3), Chris Conte (DB3), Thomas Davis (LB2 if active, if inactive Shaq Thompson is LB2)
It’s a blessing in disguise that this update took longer than expected as Gerald McCoy, Robert Ayers and Clinton McDonald have all been ruled “doubtful” for Monday night’s game. On the flipside of the ball Cam Newton will also miss the game due to a concussion, so other than Lavonte and Kwon I’m not excited to start any Buccaneer IDP.
On the other side of the ball, Shaq Thompson’s snap count from last week looks encouraging but it is inflated since Thomas Davis missed a large portion of the game due to injury. Reports are Davis should be active for MNF but if you also do not have Thompson on your roster, it may be wise to start IDP linebackers that play on Sunday. A small side note is that Tre Boston was benched last week for poor performance which should not be all that shocking. He nevertheless played a large portion of snaps but if for some reason you were still starting him in a DB spot you need to stop as a platoon at the safety spot opposite of Kurt Coleman seems likely for the time being.