Cue the Europe because we’re in the Final Countdown of the fantasy season. If you’re still reading this column, you’ve likely already locked up a playoff spot or you’re still in the hunt.
Regardless of what position you’re in, it’s important to constantly evaluate and take stock of your roster. At this point in the season, we need to fill in gaps in our roster, stockpile high upside depth, and cut loose the dead weight. To help you do that, I’m going to dive into the key IDP information from Week 10.
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The Low Down
The talk of Sunday night was Clay Matthews moving to the inside for the Packers with Julius Peppers and a healthy Nick Perry on the outside. Matthews looked very comfortable in that role, putting up an impressive 11 total tackles and a sack. Matthews said after the game that, “it's a little premature to say that I've switched to middle linebacker.” While we should take note of his words, it makes a lot of sense for the Packers to stick with this arrangement.
The inside linebacker position has been a sore spot for Green Bay in recent seasons, so it’s likely this switch becomes permanent for at least the remainder of the year. Also, it’s important to note that Matthews only played inside in the base defense, and shifted outside on third downs. This means he offers a high tackle floor and weekly sack upside. That’s a rare combination, and screams fantasy value.
Mark Barron didn’t start for the Rams this week, but the good news is that he did play in nickel situations. Interestingly, the Rams used Barron mainly as the strong safety with both T.J. McDonald and Rodney McCleod playing free safeties. Barron posted a respectable five tackles and a sack, but his situational role isn’t ideal for fantasy purposes. We’ll have to see if this sticks, but for now Barron can’t be trusted as anything more than a borderline DB2.
Avery Williamson played all but three defensive snaps for the Titans in Week 10, and managed 10 total tackles (six solo) in the process. I think it’s fair to call him every-down at this point, and he’s decidedly the preferred fantasy option over Wesley Woodyard, who has not been in an every-down role since Week 4.
For once the first time this season, I can actually say that nothing has changed with the Bills linebackers. Preston Brown remained the every-down option with Nigel Bradham seeing a majority of the subpackage snaps. Brown has emerged as the priority fantasy option. Consider him an LB2 going forward, while Bradham makes for a high-ceiling LB3.
Likewise, the Jags linebacker situation remains the same, with J.T. Thomas as the only every-down option. Sorry Telvin Smith watchers. The rookie is still just a subpackage player, so he should remain on waivers.
Jelani Jenkins had a very strong game for the Dolphins in Week 10, posting seven solo tackles and a sack against the Lions. Interestingly, the Dolphins also used Koa Misi in an every-down role. If this sticks, Misi should be given LB3 consideration.
It was all safeties for the Raiders this weekend, with both Charles Woodson and Larry Asante posting 10 total tackles against Denver. Asante’s numbers look very promising, but keep in mind that this was an extremely strong matchup. I wouldn’t advise picking up Asante, though he is a player to monitor.
Was Andy Reid actually right when he selected Jaiquawn Jarrett out of Temple University (go Owls!) in the second round of the 2011 draft? While Jarrett has largely been considered a bust, he took advantage of Calvin Pryor’s benching and was fantastic against the Steelers in Week 10, posting 10 total tackles (seven solo), two picks, a sack, and a fumble recovery. That’s about as good as it gets from an IDP standpoint. Jarrett looks like a revelation, but let’s not forget what we’ve seen over the last three-plus seasons. We need to see at least one more good game out of Jarrett before he’s worth fantasy consideration.
I’m not quite sure what’s going on with Kenny Vaccaro, but he really struggled on Sunday. He’s currently grading out as the No. 85 safety out of 85 qualifiers at Pro Football Focus, so you can’t like that if you own him. For now, it’s wise to pump the brakes a bit on Vaccaro and downgrade him to a DB2.
Those hoping to hop in the Delorean and go back to 2008 with James Harrison might want to cool it a bit. Yes, he’s putting up decent numbers, but he’s only playing in a situational role. The production will regress.
Quintin Demps was benched in favor of Stevie Brown for part of Sunday’s loss to the Seahawks. While Demps did get back on the field and forced a Russell Wilson fumble in the fourth quarter. Given this development, Demps is a shaky IDP option at best.
Tyrann Mathieu started for the Cards in Week 10, but he still didn’t play every-down. We’re still in a holding pattern with Mathieu.
If you haven’t cut Matt Elam loose in redraft leagues yet, what are you waiting for? The second-year man has been relegated to situational duties with Will Hill seeing a bulk of the snaps at free safety.
Tahir Whitehead is officially off the fantasy radar after playing just 64 percent of snaps in Week 10. Instead, I’d be focusing my IDP attention on Kyle Van Noy, who got on the field for the first time this season in Week 10. The rookie only played two snaps, but he’s certainly someone to monitor in the coming weeks.
Chris Borland has made the most of his opportunity with Patrick Willis sidelined. The rookie was all over the field on Sunday, racking up 17 total tackles (11 solo). In the last two weeks, Borland has 35 tackles. That’s one more tackle than Willis has on the season (he played six games). With news that Willis has been sent to injured reserve, Borland is now a must add. Going forward he’s a back-end LB1. I have a feeling Borland is going to help a lot of teams to fantasy championships this season.
Lavonte David had owners uneasy after being limited in practice all week with a knee injury, but he quickly erased those concerns, racking up 14 total tackles (10 solo). However, Michael Johnson did sit out with a hand injury. Johnson has been a huge disappointment so far this season.
Bobby Wagner and Malcolm Smith remained sidelined in Week 10, leaving K.J. Wright as the default every-down option. Wright managed a respectable seven total tackles (four solo) against the Giants. We’ll update Wagner’s status later this week, though I’d be prepared for him to miss at least one more game. The Seahawks were also without Kam Chancellor on Sunday. Jeron Johnson got the start in his place and posted a team-high eight tackles in a strong matchup against the Giants.
All three of the Bengals’ starting linebackers topped double-digit tackles, with Emmanuel Lamur leading the way with 11. Nico Johnson’s 10 total (six solo) may stand out on your waiver wire, but don’t be fooled. The Bengals played 60 snaps in their base defense, which inflated Johnson’s numbers. He’s only a two-down player and isn’t worth adding if Rey Maualuga and Vontaze Burfict remain sidelined. The original timetable suggests Burfict will be back this week from his knee scope, but we’ll be updating his status mid-week.
Rolando McClain is dealing with a knee injury and didn’t see any snaps in Week 10 despite being declared active. Instead, the Cowboys went with Bruce Carter in the nickel along with Anthony Hitchens. The rookie saw the every-down role and put up nine solo tackles in the process. We’re prioritizing Hitchens going forward as a borderline LB2. I wouldn’t drop McClain, but keep a close eye on his status in practice this week.
The Broncos used Steve Johnson in place of the injured Nate Irving, but Johnson only saw 19-of-63 snaps. Brandon Marshall is the only Denver linebacker worth rostering. Marshall racked up 13 total tackles (11 solo) in Week 10. He’s cemented as a back-end LB1 going forward.
Both Ryan Shazier and Troy Polamalu sat out Week 10 for the Steelers. While neither player has what’s considered to be a serious injury, they’re both already ruled out for Week 11. With little competition for tackles, Lawrence Timmons racked up 13 total (seven solo) against the Jets. He’ll continue to roll this week, so start him with confidence as an LB1.
With everyone healthy at linebacker, the Bears were back to their early-season deployment, using Lance Briggs every-down and rotating Jon Bostic on the field in nickel situations. Briggs is the only player worth rostering going forward, but he should only be considered a low-ceiling LB3.
Ramon Humber showed up big in the box score for the Saints with 12 total tackles (seven solo) and a sack. Humber filled in for David Hawthorne and played every-down, but he’ll likely go back to a two down role when Hawthorne returns.
The Chiefs activated Joe Mays from injured reserve/designated to return, but didn’t play him in Week 10. It’s likely we’ll see Mays at least rotate with James-Michael Johnson this upcoming week, and we can expect Mays ultimately replaces Johnson. However, it’s unlikely Mays plays more than a two-down role. Josh Mauga remains the only linebacker worth owning in Kansas City.
Week 10 Pass Rushers
Calais Campbell is back. The big man posted two sacks on three QB pressures against the Rams. ... Kroy Biermann was fantastic for the Falcons, posting 1.5 sacks on a whopping nine QB pressures. It’s likely he has DE-eligibility on your league commissioner site. He’s a solid DL2 if that’s the case. ... Robert Quinn notched another sack. He now has six in the last four games. ... Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil continued to be very effective pass rushers. Suggs notched 1.5 sacks on five QB pressures, and Dumervil converted all three of his pressures, getting awarded with 2.5 sacks. ... Buffalo’s stout defensive line created fits for the Chiefs, with Marcel Dareus (3), Jerry Hughes (2), and Mario Williams (1) each notching sacks. ... Desmond Bryant showed up on Thursday night with two sacks, but I wouldn’t recommend running out and picking him up. His production was more the product of a historically-bad Andy Dalton than the sign of a breakout. ... Cameron Wake is quite good. He had two sacks on six QB pressures against Detroit. ... Ndamukong Suh had arguably his best game of the season, notching a sack on eight QB pressures. ... Ziggy Ansah also got in on the action for the Lions, with a sack on five QB pressures.
Other Week 10 Observations
It was a down week for C.J. Mosley and Daryl Smith, but I wouldn’t be too overly concerned. The matchup against the Titans was poor and there were only 42 tackle opportunities. ... Ryan Mundy posted 11 total tackles (nine solo) in a strong matchup against Green Bay. ... Karlos Dansby got D’Qwelled yet again with a stat line of one solo and seven assisted tackles against the Bengals. ... One week after posting just one tackle, Demario Davis managed an impressive 12 total, 11 solo day. Davis has been far from consistent, but he’s a high upside borderline LB2. ... Jacquain Williams followed up his 18-tackle outburst with a solid nine total tackles against the Seahawks, but it was actually Jameel McClain who led the Giants with 12 total tackles (five solo). Both McClain and Williams are high upside LB3s going forward.
Guys I Like
Through the first ten weeks of the season, not team yields more tackles per game to opposing linebackers than the Colts. Before the Pats bye, it looked fairly clear that Collins was the preferred fantasy linebacker in New England. He’s a borderline LB1 for the rest of the season and is arguably a top 10 option at the position this week . Hightower has a lower tackle floor, but offers sack upside. He’s a must-start this week, but I wouldn’t want to count on him as anything more than an LB2.
It didn’t quite work out for Roman Harper last week, but you can’t expect the Eagles to score twice on defense/special teams. The game script in this contest likely sets up for a lot of passing from Philly, which means loads of opportunity for Burnett and Clinton-Dix to fill up the stats sheet.
Karlos Dansby vs. Houston
Expect an extremely conservative approach out of the Texans offense with Ryan Mallett in as the starter. Houston should lean heavily on Arian Foster and the ground game, which sets up extremely well for Dansby’s fantasy prospects.
Wake and Vernon are quietly among the league’s elite pass rushing duos, and they get a fantastic matchup here. Buffalo is currently the No. 1 fantasy matchup for defensive ends, yielding 17 sacks to the position so far this season.
Antoine Bethea vs. NY Giants
Eli Manning isn’t nearly as turnover-prone as he was last season, but this Giants offense remains a strong fantasy matchup for defensive backs. The G-Men currently yield the most tackles per game to the position. While Chris Borland isn’t going to let much get by, Bethea will still have plenty of opportunities this week. He’s a rock solid DB1 play.
Guys I Don’t Like
Lovie Smith’s junior varsity offense has been an absolutely putrid matchup for linebackers this season. You likely have to start Robinson if you own him, but I’d lean toward sitting Riley this week.
Eric Berry vs. Seattle
The Seahawks just don’t pass the ball enough for us to get production out of opposing defensive backs. While I’m certainly encourage by Berry’s play this past week, I’d temper my expectations for the Chiefs safety this week.
Mason Foster vs. Washington
Only the Bucs currently yield fewer tackles per game to opposing linebackers than Washington. While you’re starting Lavonte David no matter what, this isn’t the week to have Foster in your lineups.
Dunlap’s numbers have been decent this season, but his play has been spotty at times. You likely have to start him this week, but the matchup is terrible. The Saints have only given up two sacks to defensive ends so far this season. That means you’re fading Gilberry this week.
We’ll have to check on Chancellor’s status, but it’s probably a good idea to have other plans in place this week regardless. The Chiefs currently rank as the No. 30 matchup for defensive backs in 2014. That doesn’t positively for Thomas’ fantasy value either.