This late in the season you have to be prepared to take a few risks with your fantasy lineup, especially in what boils down to being an elimination game in the final week(s), and then the playoffs. Act accordingly and be prepared to make riskier plays if you're an underdog, and equally so, don't be afraid to start your high-floor players (especially at defensive line) in the next few weeks if you're faced with some tough decisions.
If you are having troubles in picking your starting lineups, feel free to give me a shout on Twitter (@RossMilesNFL) or drop me an email. Best of luck this week...
Week 11 Observations
A third sack in three weeks kept Wesley Woodyard streak of seven straight games with double-digit fantasy points going. Woodyard is playing around 50 percent of snaps each week, and strictly limited to a two-down role that shows no sign of expanding. He is a fantasy time-bomb waiting to blow up in his owner’s face as Woodyard is outperforming his opportunities, and with the fantasy playoffs around the corner, he’s a risky player to depend on… With Jelani Jenkins out with an ankle injury, and Koa Misi limited due to an abdominal issue, Kelvin Sheppard was handed an every-down role in Week 11. He seized it with both hands, leading the NFL in tackles last week with 15 (11 solo). Keep an eye on the practice statuses of Jenkins and Misi this week if you’re considering picking up and playing Sheppard. We might not know if Jenkins and/or Misi play this week until just before kickoff… One of the more surprising tackle totals last week was C.J. Mosley, who managed 12 (7 solo), his first double-digit tackle game of the season. Mosely managed the performance against the Rams as well, one of the toughest matchups for fantasy linebackers. Hopefully it marks a return to the 2014 Mosely, as he’s been a shadow of his rookie self this season… There was a handful of additional linebackers who posted ten-plus total tackles this week, namely Jerrell Freeman (11), Kwon Alexander (11), Kevin Minter (10) and Preston Brown (10). All four sit in the increasingly large LB2/3 category and can see their production vary based on matchup and stat crew… Out of position defensive backs Mark Barron and Deone Bucannon both recorded eight total tackles last week, the same as Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and continue to show why they are all DB1s thanks to high tackle floors and additional big play potential (Bucannon and Clinton-Dix also had sacks)… There were a couple of interesting names to join the top tackling defensive backs this week, Eric Berry (eight total tackles) and Greg Toler (nine total tackles). Berry has been playing well all year (graded +14.2 by PFF, equal third best safety), but has been particularly good these last two weeks (+5.7) with only Ha Ha Clinton-Dix being graded better. He looks fully recovered from his cancer scare and looks to be getting back to his best, which bodes well for fantasy owners. Toler has been a very good fantasy cornerback in the past and is proving to be one again this season. He missed Weeks 1-6 due to injury, but has scored double-digit fantasy points in 6-of-7 games he’s played in, averaging over 11 points per game, which would rank him as a DB2 (CB1). If he’s available in your league, snap him up… Neither D’Qwell Jackson nor Lavonte David had particularly big tackle days, but splash plays, and in particular pick-sixes helped them to big fantasy scores. David’s two interceptions, one for a touchdown, supplemented his six solo tackles, while Jackson was more versatile, adding two tackles for loss, a sack, a fumble recovery and an interception to his seven total tackles and defensive touchdown. Cowboys’ Rolando McClain was another linebacker to capitalize on a poor throw with a trip to the endzone…
Week 11 Pass Rushers
Four players had two sacks this weekend, J.J. Watt, Tamba Hali, Cliff Avril and Datone Jones. Avril has been threatening to have a multi-sack game all year if you’ve been paying attention to his quarterback disruption totals, while Packers’ Datone Jones helped break a three-game streak with zero sacks for the Green Bay defense. Jones’ was used situationally opposite Mike Daniels and generated two sacks, two hits and four hurries, in the most productive game of his career… He may not be getting as much media attention as previous seasons, but Jurrell Casey is playing at a high level still. Last week he had a sack and three hurries, taking his season total to five sacks, six hits and 22 hurries. He’s still a solid DL2… Rob Ninkovich continues to show he is not on the way out in New England with a 1.5 sack performance. He slipped down rankings after an early season knock and some decent play by Jabaal Sheard in relief, but has since re-asserted himself as a key piece of the front four. He’s still the top-end DL2 scorer we’ve come to know over the last few seasons… Elite defensive tackles Gerald McCoy (1.5 sacks) and Aaron Donald (one sack) were also impactful for fantasy owners last week, McCoy adding five hurries and three total tackles, Donald posting ten total tackles, a quarterback hit and four hurries. Donald can flirt with DL1 value, although he gets more attention with Robert Quinn (missed Week 11) side-lined, while McCoy peaks at top-end DL2 value really… Despite being questionable again, Bengals Michael played 50-plus snaps for the ninth consecutive game this season, and recorded the second best fantasy score for a defensive lineman (behind Watt of course). Johnson posted a sack, two hits and a hurry, as well as six tackles and a forced fumble… It’s rare you mention a DT as a fantasy must-own, but Linval Joseph has been exceptional in recent weeks. He posted nine solo tackles last week, taking his three-week tally to 26 total tackles, good numbers for a linebacker, let alone a defensive tackle. He doesn’t have a big sack upside like Atkins, Donald or Suh, but his tackle floor and tackles for loss have now elevated him into consideration as the No.1 fantasy DT because of his high floor… Talking of defensive tackles and gaudy tackle numbers, Jets DT Damon Harrison has 12 total tackles last week. Crazy! That was double his season best of six prior to Week 11…
Guys I Like
Linval Joseph vs Falcons
This is nothing to do with matchup, and entirely down to riding an in-form player. As previously mentioned, 26 total tackles in the last three weeks is linebacker-esque figures, and Joseph has been the No.1 scoring defensive lineman since Week 9. Only J.J. Watt and Cliff Avril, who both had byes in that three week span, have scored more points per game.
Seattle has been a great matchup all year for edge rushers, and Heyward and Tuitt have been two of my favorite underrated fantasy ends. Heyward has quietly posted double-figure fantasy points in each of his last four games, while Tuitt recorded a sack last week, getting back to full speed after missing a couple of weeks due to injury. Heyward is a top-end DL2 this week, Tuitt a shade behind him.
If you’re really in a tight spot and it’s a deep league, have a second look at the Packers defensive ends against one of the best matchups in the Bears. Daniels will play a lot more snaps, but it was Jones who had more success rushing the passing last week, so it’s a difficult call in which of the two I prefer. I’d say Jones has more upside but is even riskier. Both players are big gambles, and only recommended if you’ve got to take a punt on someone.
Karlos Dansby v Ravens
Coming off a bye week and his worst score of the season (8.3), Dansby might get passed over this week by people setting their line-ups, but don’t. Dansby has been ultra-consistent all year, averaging 13.6 points per game and ranking as an LB1. He 9.8 score against the Ravens in Week 5 was still a double-digit tackle performance (albeit just three solo) and I’m expecting him to post much better numbers this time round.
Kevin Minter vs 49ers
Minter is a borderline LB2/3 with the potential for a LB1 score against the 49ers this week, having been the second highest scoring linebacker last time the two sides met in Week 3. San Francisco has been a good matchup all year, and with previous against them, Minter would be primed to capitalize again. He’s scored double-digit points in 50 percent of games this season and although he’ll struggle to top the 25.8 he scored in Week 3, a 15 point haul this week isn’t out of the question.
Melvin Ingram vs Jaguars
A deeper, and riskier play would be Melvin Ingram, who has been in sensational form the last three weeks. His 17 total tackles (15 solo) were supplemented by 2.5 sacks, three tackles for loss and a forced fumble. While he is not quite a Justin Houston or Von Miller level 3-4 OLB, Ingram gets a great matchup this week against Jacksonville and his owners will be hoping he can add a splash play or two to 5-7 total tackles.
Walter Thurmond III vs Lions
Walter Thurmond III has scored 14 or more points on five occasions this season, but scored under five points three times, so he is a risky play, but in a win-or-you’re-out situation, sometimes you’ve got to take risks. He’s been hot the last two weeks, recording five solos in both games, as well as a sack and forced fumble in both, including one which was a safety. If you’re playing a superior opponent in a much win situation, Thurmond might be the DB for you this week.
Guys I Don’t Like
This is a two-fold reason for being wary of your Panthers pass-rushers. Firstly, Dallas are the toughest matchup for fantasy edge rushers, and have averaged less just 7.3 fantasy points per game to them. Second, Charles Johnson is expected to return, albeit on a limited snap count. Johnson playing 20-30 snaps is not a viable fantasy start, and depending on how Carolina rotates Ealy and Allen, it could hamstring their value too. Avoid all three this week and analyze the outcomes before playing them in Week 13.
Olivier Vernon vs Jets
Vernon is less of a “don’t like” pick this week, and more of an “I’m very nervous” selection. Having turned around his slow start to the season, Vernon has been playing excellent football over the last four weeks. He’s notched up two sacks, 11 hits and eight hurries, tallying ten or more points in each game. However, this week the Dolphins play the Jets, one of the worst possible matchups for edge rushers. Vernon did overcome a tough Cowboys defense last week for 14 points, but can lightning strike twice? Don’t say I didn’t warn you if Vernon does slip up.
The reasoning here is not dissimilar to that regarding the Carolina pass rush. Burfict is further down the line in his recovery and earning back his playing time, but it does mean there is some uncertainty about exactly how many snaps he’ll play, and in what situations. Add on top that the Rams have been the worst matchup for linebackers for a fair chunk of the season, and it’s shaping up poorly for the Cincy duo. Rey has now played less than 30 snaps (both under 50 percent) in the last two games with Burfict healthy, so he is a total non-starter. Burfict has played between 55-65 percent of snaps in the last two weeks, but is not certain of stepping into an every-down role this week. Between the unknown playing time and poor matchup, this is just one to avoid this week.
Michael Griffen vs Raiders
After a solid four week spell, Griffen fell back to earth with a mediocre 6 point fantasy return last week, and it is not expected to get too much better this week against a stingy Raiders offense. Derek Carr has been surprisingly mercurial this season, throwing just six interceptions, which is part of the reason the Raiders are a bottom-five matchup for opposing safeties. Griffen needs to be down-graded to a top-end DB3 this week.
James Ihedigbo vs Eagles
A former DB1, and contender to be the No.1 fantasy DB, Ihedigbo has now been benched by the Lions and doesn’t look like getting his job back soon. The last two weeks have seen Ihedigbo play just 3-of-88 snaps, and then 12-of-53 snaps, being replaced in the line-up by Isa Abdul-Quddus. You can cut Ihedigbo in redraft leagues…