This week’s IDP Nation takes a look at the strength of schedule for defensive players during the fantasy playoffs rather than highlighting specific Week 14 players I like and dislike. In my mind fantasy owners need to be thinking with a two or three week mindset right now, and sometimes that means picking up a guy in Week 14 you’ll need in Week 15 or 16. Also, as much as anything I like being aggressively defensive with my waiver pickups at this time of year in order to stop my potential opponents adding players who could contribute for their roster. If you’re carrying two or three bench-warmers at WR or RB who are not top-40 players, why hold them when you can ‘block’ rivals from adding contributing IDPs instead?
If you’ve got any specific questions about matchups or start/sits, feel free to hit me up on Twitter (@RossMilesNFL) or drop me an email.
Week 13 Observations
There wasn’t too much surprise at the head of the Week 13 tackle charts as the top four spots were filled by Derrick Johnson (14 total tackles), NaVorro Bowman (14), Paul Posluszny (13) and Sean Lee (13). LB1s D’Qwell Jackson (11), Lavonte David (11) also had solid games, as did elite safeties Jon Cyprien (11) and Reshad Jones (10) and the underrated Mike Adams (11) in his return. All of these players should be considered as top-12 talents at their positions down the stretch, although Posluszny did break his hand in last week’s loss to the Titans. It’s unclear whether Posluszny will miss time as a result, but if he does, it will be Jordan Tripp who replaces him in the lineup. Tripp would be a marginal fantasy play and I’d project increased scoring for Telvin Smith and Jon Cyprien instead… Smith may not have reached double-digit tackles last week, posting just nine total tackles, but did add two sacks and a forced fumble, making him a top-five LB last week. If Posluszny does miss time I’d rank Smith in the same tier as Luke Kuechly in Week 14… The week’s most dominant IDP scorer was Derrick Johnson as he added a sack and forced fumble to his 14 total tackles, 13 of which were solo. Since Week 6 Johnson has only been outscored by Luke Kuechly and Telvin Smith, and he’s re-established himself as a dependable LB1… Saints rookie Stephone Anthony made NFL history in Week 13 by becoming the first ever player to return a missed PAT for a score since the off-season rule change. His impact was bigger than that though, as in the best game of his fledgling career he notched up ten total tackles and a forced fumble and recovery, on top of the PAT-return TD. I’d like to see Anthony record a higher percentage of solo tackles, but still consider him an upside LB2 each week… Malcolm Jenkins has been a force all season and showed up big-time for his owners last week as the No.1 scoring defensive back, thanks to seven total tackles, a pick-six, and two tackles for loss. It was his fifth game over 15 points this season, and pushes him back into the top-three fantasy DBs above Corey Graham on points scored…
Week 13 Pass Rushers
Two of the week’s top scoring edge threats were outside linebackers last week, not defensive ends, which means they would not have been started by many owners. James Harrison (seven total tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble) and Von Miller (four total tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and fumble recovery) are difficult starts as anything other than a third linebacker unless you’re in a big-play scoring system, but hopefully someone benefitted from their big days… As discussed last week, matchup is irrelevant to Olivier Vernon right now. He had another great week despite a difficult matchup, recording 2.5 sacks, three hits and six hurries. I cannot extoll enough praise on just how well Vernon is playing, so comparing him to J.J. Watt is the best I can do. Over the last four games, despite some of the toughest matchups possible, Vernon has had five sacks, 15 hits and 13 hurries, while attaining a +27.7 PFF grade, compared to Watt’s five sacks, 11 hits and 6 hurries with a +21.1 PFF grade. Watt is a lock to win defensive MVP and continues to play lights out football, yet the last month has seen him out-performed by Vernon… Carlos Dunlap added a blocked field goal to his sack and three total tackles to be the top-scoring defensive end in Week 13 as he battles alongside Ziggy Ansah to join the second tier of defensive ends behind Watt. Looking ahead to 2016, Watt will sit atop the pile, but the group behind him has grown as Robert Quinn and Chandler Jones have fallen back slightly while Muhammad Wilkerson, Ansah and Dunlap have all taken strides forwards… Jason Pierre-Paul still hasn’t got a sack yet this year, but he was a DE1 last week thanks to six total tackles, two for a loss, a forced fumble and a pass defensed. He was a threat when rushing too of course, generating a hit and eight hurries, so it’s only a matter of time before his first sack. I’d consider JPP a borderline DL1/2 for the rest of the season… Raiders OLB Khalil Mack has his second consecutive week with two sacks, taking his season total to nine, while also recording his season-high of eight total tackles. Mack continues to be an excellent real-life player who is starting to fulfil his fantasy potential, but is a more of a poor man’s Justin Houston or Von Miller. If only he was eligible as a defensive end on all host sites…
Guys I Like (for the rest of the year based on their playoffs strength of schedule)
The five teams with the best schedules for pass rushers are 1. Raiders, 2. Lions, 3. Browns, 4. Chiefs, 5. Ravens.
The clear winner in this situation is Ziggy Ansah. He’s by far the top-rated fantasy defensive lineman with a ‘plus’ schedule and he’ll be looking to solidify his position as a top-five lineman with an excellent end of season schedule.
The Browns, Chiefs and Ravens are all 3-4 teams, which is a problem for us IDP gamers looking for 4-3 lineman to put in our fantasy team. Safer bets may well be the Panthers pass rush, as despite the middling matchups overall, they do have a decent Week 16. The snap count last week for the Carolina defensive ends strongly suggest Kony Ealy (14) will be conceding time for Charles Johnson (52), who will partner Jared Allen (44). With Johnson and Allen looking like they will dominate playing time, I like both players as upside DL2s for the rest of the season. In deeper formats I’d still roster Ealy in case of an injury.
The team with the best schedule, the Raiders, are not overwhelmed with talented pass rushers either, so it really is slim pickings, and Mario Edwards Jr, is the top target in Oakland on the defensive line. He isn’t an elite pass rusher, but will post decent tackle numbers and should be considered an upside DL3 for the rest of the year. His OLB teammate, Khalil Mack, is the one who will provide a threat off the edge, and with four sacks in his last two games, he’ll be looking to finish the season on a high.
Touching on the 3-4 outside linebackers Justin Houston is certainly preferred to teammate Tamba Hali, but the sixth ranked 49ers Aaron Lynch is an intriguing add as he has 12 hits and 37 hurries outside of his seven sacks.
The five teams with the best schedules for linebackers are 1. Bengals, 2. Falcons, 3. Panthers, 4. Jaguars, 5. Steelers.
If you were one of the owners who moved on Vontaze Burfict in the first few weeks of his return then the linebacker strength of schedule will be pleasing to you. Although Burfict has yet to resume his every-down role his on-field performances are improving from a fantasy perspective, and according to PFF’s grades. In his current role he’s an upside LB3, but if he does start playing 90 percent plus of snaps I’d make him a solid LB2. This doesn’t give value to any other Bengals linebacker though, so don’t get carried away…
Paul Worrilow has been a disappointment this season, but this schedule could be to the benefit of his owners in dynasty formats. I’m a believer that Worrilow is more of a borderline LB2/3 than the borderline LB1 form he showed a couple of years back, so hopefully he’ll go off for the remainder of the year so his owners can sell high. Justin Durant I like as a pickup in deeper formats. He isn’t an every-down backer, but he is relatively productive in his role and offers LB3 scoring for the rest of the season.
Luke Kuechly, Telvin Smith and Paul Posluszny don’t need good matchups to be fantasy studs, but I’m sure they’ll relish them. Thomas Davis however can become a LB2 for the final four weeks of the season as a result of positive matchups, while Lawrence Timmons can be a borderline LB1/LB2. Ryan Shazier remains a headache and is a player I’d want to be very careful with regardless of matchup. His inconsistent scores and prolonged injury absence have really dented him value this year.
The five teams with the best schedules for safeties are 1. Rams, 2. 49ers, 3. Jaguars, 4. Giants, 5. Browns.
Falcons pair William Moore and Ricardo Allen are both of interest with a so-so playoff schedule for DBs (ranked 11th best). Moore started the season with four double-digit scores, and later suffered an injury that sidelined him until Week 11. Since he has returned he’s not scored well, and been limited to 50-60 percent of snaps, but his former DB1 scoring makes me want to roster him ‘just in case’. Allen has been in an every-down role, and scored nine or more points eight times this season, and been a top-five safety over the last three weeks. Allen is a sneaky play to be a borderline DB1 for the rest of the year.
Landon Collins and Jon Cyprien should be owned and will cement their DB1 status thanks to their matchups, but Rams duo of T.J. McDonald and Rodney McLeod could be available in your league. McDonald has not repeated his top-five fantasy safety scores from last season, incredibly ranking outside the top 50 defensive backs, although he does have seven games of eight points of more. I like him as an upside DB3 for the rest of the year, while McLeod, who ranks just inside the top 30, has similar scoring potential.
Don’t sleep on Donte Whitner if he was released while injured. He’s an upside DB2 with a higher floor than most, and a nice fantasy playoffs schedule could mean he posts the DB1 scores that he’s done so many times before in the past.
Guys I Don’t Like (for the rest of the year based on their playoffs strength of schedule)
The five teams with the worst schedules for pass rushers are 28. Packers, 29. Patriots, 30. Eagles, 31. Jets, 32. Bills.
I’ve already mentioned that Olivier Vernon is matchup-proof, and Muhammad Wilkerson is of a similar ilk, although not in quite as rich a vein of form as Vernon, but then no-one is. I will be downgrading Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams though.
Fletcher Cox is a high floor, low ceiling type top-end DL2, so while his (already low) sack upside might be dented, it’s not as big a concern as it could be with other players.
The Bills lack of a pass rush has been an issue all season and although Jerry Hughes has been better in recent weeks Mario Williams has not achieved anywhere near the success expected for him with Rex Ryan calling the shots. He’s been injured and missed the last few weeks, and although he is expected back in Week 14, I’d be hard pressed to start him in any format.
The five teams with the worst schedules for linebackers are 28. Cardinals, 29. Patriots, 30. 49ers, 31. Packers, 32. Chargers.
Demario Davis is player to avoid regardless of where the Jets rank on strength of schedule for linebackers. Davis has played less than 50 percent of snaps in the last two games, and is no longer being used as a three-down player. Although the Jets have the tenth best schedule, his usage is a death knell for his fantasy value.
Despite being a three-down player all season Cardinals’ Kevin Minter has underwhelmed. He’s only had one game with double-digit tackles, and scored more than 12 fantasy points in three games. In fact he’s had five games with 7.5 points or less. Minter is a LB4 in my book and I’d prefer to start points-scoring two-down ‘backers like Danny Trevathan, Justin Durant or Wesley Woodyard instead of him.
Jamie Collins missed four weeks with an illness, but returned last week and did so with decent fantasy return. It’s very hard to downgrade Collins enough to bench him if he is on the field. Teammate Dont’a Hightower is the only other Patriots’ linebacker I’m considering for fantasy, and with his injury status unclear, he has to be benched until you see him on the field, or he’s a full go in practice.
I’d be wary of leaning on Clay Matthews or Manti Te’o as anything other than an ‘I have no-one else LB3’.
The five teams with the worst schedules for safeties are 28. Texans, 29. Colts, 30. Raiders, 31. Panthers, 32. Chargers.
Charles Woodson is a future first ballot Hall-of-Famer and current DB1, but will slide to DB2 value for the remainder of the season because of the Raiders’ matchups. I said as much last week and Woodson spited me with a fumble recovery, but I’m sticking to my stats and saying his scores drop slightly for the rest of the year.
I’ve been big proponents for Colts safeties Mike Adams and Dwight Lowery all year, and while I still like them both, there needs to be some caution with playing them during the fantasy playoffs. Adams has played at a borderline DB1 level when healthy, while Lowery has been more of a DB2, and both get a slight downgrade. Adams I’d consider a top-end DB2 and Lowery a borderline DB2/3.
Similarly I’ve also touted Kurt Coleman’s virtues all season and he’s responded with interception after interception after interception. His fantasy success has been tied to splash plays and against some of the league’s stingiest defenses when it comes to defensive backs, I’m concerned Coleman struggles to post similar point totals. Whereas I am confident in Adams to still score as a DB2, Coleman is a much riskier prospect.
It’s almost unthinkable to write that Eric Weddle has become a fantasy liability, but his form in the second half of the season suggests he is exactly that. In his last six games Weddle has scored six or less fantasy points FOUR times. His tackle production is way way down, and it’s rumored that the Chargers were looking to trade him as part of a rebuild. I’ll be keeping Weddle outside my DB1s for the rest of the season.