If there is one thing that is constant in fantasy football, it’s that nothing is constant in fantasy football. Change is as certain as it is inevitable. And even though we’re but two weeks into the 2016 season, the times are already changing in a big way on the defensive side of the ball.
What we thought we knew in IDP leagues heading into 2016 has already been turned on its head. The highest-scoring defensive lineman so far this season (Danielle Hunter of the Minnesota Vikings) wasn’t drafted as a weekly starter in most leagues.
The top-scoring linebacker (Von Miller of the Denver Broncos) is a much better NFL player than fantasy option. And the highest-scoring defensive back (Washington cornerback Bashaud Breeland) is going to need a therapist if the Redskins keep lining him up against elite wideouts, such as Odell Beckham in Week 3.
Poor Bashaud. He needs a hug.
Meanwhile, Oakland Raiders’ defensive lineman Khalil Mack is still looking for his first sack of 2016. Tampa linebacker Lavonte David is coming off a career first that was also a career worst. And Arizona safety Tyrann Mathieu has a new role early this season that has both him and his fantasy owners seeing red.
The thing is though, it’s still too early to panic, to a point. There’s a tightrope to be walked. With Denzel Perryman playing less than half the defensive snaps for the San Diego Chargers two weeks in a row, it’s time to move on if you need the roster spot. But cut bait on the wrong player, and you could be watching as he posts a big score for your opponent a couple months from now. When in doubt, wait it out.
With that caveat in mind, here’s a look around IDP Nation as we head into the last full week of action before the bye weeks begin.
WEEK 2 BEASTS
Devin Taylor – DE, Detroit Lions: Like Hunter, Taylor has come out of the gate white-hot, with 13 tackles, 2.5 sacks and a safety over the first two games of 2016. With star defensive end Ezekiel Ansah sidelined by a high-ankle sprain (more on that in a bit) the Lions (and IDP owners) badly need Taylor to keep the good times rolling.
Von Miller – OLB, Denver Broncos: Miller’s status as IDP’s top linebacker at present is mostly due to a performance against the Indianapolis Colts that will be giving Andrew Luck nightmares for months. Miller piled up seven tackles, sacked Luck three times, forced a fumble that was returned for a touchdown and batted down a pass. Other than that though, he didn’t do a whole lot.
Antoine Bethea – S, San Francisco 49ers: OK, so some moron might have recommended sitting Bethea last week given that his matchup didn’t look great on paper. Said moron aside, last week’s nine-tackle, FF, INT performance against the Carolina Panthers showed why Bethea was one my favorite late-draft IDP targets as a value DB1 in 2016.
WEEK 2 LEASTS
Olivier Vernon – DE, New York Giants: The Giants gave Vernon a ton of money to shore up their defensive line, and there’s no denying that the New York defense is vastly improved compared to last season. But Vernon is still searching for his first sack as a member of Big Blue, and Vernon managed only a single assist in a favorable Week 2 matchup with the New Orleans Saints.
Lavonte David – OLB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: As Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times wrote, Sunday’s loss to the Arizona Cardinals marked a first for the Pro Bowler. “Before Sunday, Auman said, “David had played 63 games for Tampa Bay and had at least five tackles in every game but one (two against Minnesota as a rookie in 2012). But he didn't have any tackles in Sunday's loss. He was credited with two QB hits but no solo or assisted tackles.”
T.J. McDonald – S, Los Angeles Rams: After racking up eight solos in the worst Monday Night Football game ever, McDonald was a trendy waiver wire add in many IDP leagues. After following up that outing with a single tackle against the Seattle Seahawks, more than a few fantasy owners probably tossed McDonald back. The IDP gods giveth, and the IDP gods taketh away.
IDP INJURY REPORT
Jahleel Addae – S, San Diego Chargers (Collarbone): Addae was off to relatively slow start by IDP standards, with 11 tackles over his first two games. Now, the fourth-year pro is waiver wire fodder in all but the deepest of IDP leagues, as Addae suffered a broken collarbone in Sunday’s win over Jacksonville and will be out indefinitely.
David Amerson – CB, Oakland Raiders (Concussion): Amerson had a huge game last week against the Atlanta Falcons, amassing eight total stops and picking off Matt Ryan. However, Amerson was also forced from the field late in the game by a blow to the head, and he’s presently in the NFL’s concussion protocol.
Adrian Amos – S, Chicago Bears (Concussion): Monday’s loss to the Philadelphia Eagles was a bad night on so many levels that John Fox probably still has a headache. Among the problems was a rash of injuries that swept through the defense. That included Amos, who is in the NFL’s concussion protocol after taking a shot early in the game.
Ezekiel Ansah – DE, Detroit Lions (Ankle): Ansah made it all of three plays into last Sunday’s loss to the Tennessee Titans before suffering what Ian Rapoport of NFL.com later tweeted was a high-ankle sprain. The Lions have yet to confirm that diagnosis, but assuming it’s correct the DL1 could easily be out upwards of a month or more.
Ray-Ray Armstrong – ILB, San Francisco 49ers (Pectoral -- IR): This isn’t so much about Armstrong’s admittedly unfortunate season-ending injury. But with Armstrong on the sideline the 49ers platoon situation next to NaVorro Bowman is on the shelf too, and that potentially means a three-down role for Gerald Hodges.
Robert Ayers – DE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Ankle): After being limited in practice earlier in the week by an ankle injury, that same injury forced Ayers from Sunday’s blowout loss to the Arizona Cardinals. Ayers was seen in a walking boot after the game, leaving his availability for a depleted Tampa D-Line in Week 3 very much in doubt.
Morgan Burnett – S, Green Bay Packers (Hamstring): Burnett was one of IDP’s top scorers in the secondary in Week 1, tallying nine total tackles and a sack against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Not so in Week 2, as the injury-prone veteran left the team’s Sunday night loss to the Minnesota Vikings early with an injured hamstring.
De’Vondre Campbell – OLB, Atlanta Falcons (Ankle): Per head coach Dan Quinn, Campbell will begin rehabbing his injured ankle this week, but his status for Week 3 against the New Orleans Saints remains in doubt. If Campbell is sidelined again, Sean Weatherspoon could make for an interesting spot start after posting big numbers in last week’s win over the Oakland Raiders.
Ibraheim Campbell – S, Cleveland Browns (Hamstring): After playing only 20 snaps in the Browns’ loss to the Baltimore Ravens, there was speculation that Campbell had been benched in favor of rookie Derrick Kindred. However, head coach Hue Jackson indicated on Monday that the cause of the second-year pro’s absence was actually a hamstring injury.
Clayton Geathers – S, Indianapolis Colts (Foot): Geathers made his 2016 debut for the Colts Sunday against the Denver Broncos, only to seemingly re-aggravate his bum flipper. However, the Colts released veteran safety Winston Guy this week, which would seem to indicate they plan on having Geathers available against the San Diego Chargers in Week 3.
Dont’a Hightower – ILB, New England Patriots (Knee): Hightower missed last week’s win over the Miami Dolphins, but the fifth-year veteran was reportedly a limited participant in practice on Tuesday. Still, with the notoriously tight-lipped Patriots playing on a short week, be sure to check the Thursday inactives before inserting Hightower into IDP lineups.
DeAndre Levy – OLB, Detroit Lions (Quad): After missing nearly the entire 2015 season with a hip injury, Levy lasted all of one game before getting hurt again. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Detroit head coach Jim Caldwell refused to rule out Levy being lost for the season. Levy shouldn’t be dropped just yet, but it isn’t looking especially good.
Keanu Neal – S, Atlanta Falcons: Neal has yet to make his Falcons debut after preseason knee surgery, but Quinn said the rookie is expected to practice on a limited basis Thursday. Whether that portends Neal playing next Monday night against the Saints, however, is another question, one we won’t know the answer to until later in the week.
Danny Trevathan – ILB, Chicago Bears (Thumb): When Trevathan left the field for a short time against the Philadelphia Eagles Monday night, it didn’t appear to be a big deal. Appearances can be deceiving, however, as the 26-year-old free agent acquisition suffered an injured thumb that required surgery. It’s unknown how long he’ll be out, although he is expected to return at some point this season.
Avery Williamson – ILB, Tennessee Titans (Back): Williamson made six stops in last week’s win over Detroit before exiting the game with a back injury. However, head coach Mike Mularkey said Monday he expects Williamson back at practice Wednesday, which speaks well to his chances of playing Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.
WATT WATCH, Week 2: 58 Snaps, 1 Solo, 4 Assists, 1.5 Sacks, 3 QB Hurries, 1 Fumble Recovery
Now that’s more like it!
Coming off his first J.J. Watt-like stat line of 2016, Watt now heads to New England for a primetime showdown with the Patriots. While speaking to reporters (including Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle), New England head coach Bill Belichick paid Watt the ultimate compliment for a defender – comparison to the great Lawrence Taylor.
"They both play pretty hard, yeah," Belichick said. "I think J.J. is a relentless, a relentless player. Very instinctive and I'd say a lot like Taylor, when at the most critical times in the most important plays, that's where those guys showed the most and that's what great players do.”
It’s a short week, and Watt’s still not 100 percent. But as he showed against the Chiefs, 75 percent of J.J. Watt is still pretty danged good.
GUYS I LIKE IN WEEK 3
Michael Bennett – DE, Seattle Seahawks (vs. SF): Blaine Gabbert has been taking a beating under center for the 49ers this season. That isn’t about to stop in Seattle against a Seahawks club seething after last week’s loss in Los Angeles.
Devin Taylor – DE, Detroit Lions (at GB): This is a classic “ride the hot hand” situation. Not only is Taylor fantasy’s second-highest scoring DL through two games, but the Packers have been a top-five IDP matchup for the position dating back to last year.
Mario Williams – DE, Miami Dolphins (vs. CLE): Not a whole lot has gone right for Williams and the Dolphins in 2016. But a shaky Browns’ offensive line and a rookie quarterback making his first NFL start should fix all that ails them.
Jerrell Freeman – ILB, Chicago Bears (at DAL): Granted, the Cowboys haven’t been quite as favorable an IDP matchup so far this year as they were in 2015. But with Danny Trevathan sidelined, the door is wide open for a huge game from Freeman Sunday night.
Eric Kendricks – ILB, Minnesota Vikings (at CAR): Last year, the Panthers allowed the fifth-most fantasy points per game to the linebacker position. In 2016 they are allowing the most. I think that about covers it.
Zachary Orr – ILB, Baltimore Ravens (at JAX): You have to hand it to the Jaguars. When it comes to giving up fantasy points to linebackers the team is remarkably consistent. They allowed the third-most a year ago, and they sit at No. 3 two weeks into the 2016 campaign.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix – S, Green Bay Packers (vs. DET): The Lions ranked third in fantasy points allowed to defensive backs last year, and with injuries both in the Detroit backfield and the Green Bay secondary the Lions will likely attack the Packers through the air.
Harold Jones-Quartey – S, Chicago Bears (at DAL): Believe it or not, the Cowboys have been a very nice IDP matchup in the defensive backfield so far this year. And Jones-Quartey could benefit from the injuries that have disemboweled an already bad Bears' defense.
Shawn Williams – S, Cincinnati Bengals (vs. DEN): Williams is off to a pretty solid beginning as a starter at the back end of the Bengals’ defense, and the Bengals’ scorekeepers have a tendency to be very kind to players with black stripes on orange hats.
GUYS I DON’T LIKE IN WEEK 3
Jurrell Casey – DE, Tennessee Titans (vs. OAK): Fantasy owners hoping that Casey’s slow start ends this week are going to be disappointed. The Raiders were dead last in fantasy points allowed to defensive linemen in 2015, and they rank 29th through two games this season.
Dante Fowler – DE, Jacksonville Jaguars (vs. BAL): Fowler peeled off the first two sacks of his NFL career last week against the Chargers, but the odds of a repeat week aren’t good. The Ravens have long been a rotten pass-rush matchup.
Danielle Hunter – DE, Minnesota Vikings (at CAR): Given the start to the season Hunter’s off to, the number of IDP owners sitting him in Week 3 is approximately zero. However, the Titans and Packers were both highly favorable IDP matchups. The Carolina Panthers are not.
Preston Brown – ILB, Buffalo Bills (vs. AZ): I don’t know that I can ever sit the Buffalo linebackers in a home game given their ridiculously generous scorekeepers, but the Cardinals are a terrible fantasy matchup for the position, just ask Lavonte David.
Deone Bucannon – ILB, Arizona Cardinals (at BUF): That generosity does not extend to visiting teams, either. Add in the fact that the Bills’ offense is a rudderless dumpster fire at the moment, and Bucannon’s a dicier than usual start.
Tahir Whitehead – ILB, Detroit Lions (at GB): One would think that with the Packers running the ball better they would have improved as an IDP matchup for linebackers. One would be wrong, they’ve free-fallen from 12th in FPPG allowed in 2015 to 30th in the early-going in 2016.
Reshad Jones – S, Miami Dolphins (vs. CLE): Jones is almost impossible to sit, but ask yourself this question: How much offense do you expect a Cody Kessler-led Browns team to generate Sunday? That’s what I thought… now stop laughing.
Tyrann Mathieu – S, Arizona Cardinals (at BUF): It may not be permanent, but right now Mathieu is ceding slot corner duties to Tyvon Branch. Throw in a matchup with a Bills’ offense that’s been stingy to DBs dating back to last year, and there’s real stinker potential here.
Bradley McDougald – S, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. LA): The Rams are a bad matchup for defensive backs. Like really bad. Like ranked dead last in the NFL in fantasy points allowed to the position every year dating back to 1952 (approximately) bad.
THE SCRAP-HEAP STREAMING CORNERBACK PLAY OF THE WEEK
In recent years the number of dependable weekly fantasy starters at the cornerback position has dwindled to just about zero. So as a service to those hearty souls who play in IDP leagues that require them, each week I’ll point out a player at that position available in many leagues who should serve as a fine streaming option.
Brandon Flowers, San Diego Chargers (at IND): Flowers is actually off to the sort of start to the season that could turn him from streaming option to weekly starter at his position, as he has 15 total tackles through two games and ranks inside the top 15 despite a lack of big plays. There’s little reason to think Flowers won’t keep blooming this week against a Colts team that has little choice right now but to try to win shootouts.