In The Empire Strikes Back, the great Yoda teaches Luke Skywalker the ways of the force. There are countless nuggets of wisdom that Yoda passes on, and many of them can be applied to fantasy sports. But over the past few days, one has gone through my head several times:
“Adventure. Heh. Excitement. Heh. A Jedi craves not these things.”
Why am I thinking about this quote? With the first month of the season is behind us, we’re challenged with the task of navigating the bye week gauntlet. While it’s tempting to take the adventurous and exciting route of scrounging the wire for upside plays, it’s a dangerous strategy. The path to victory is almost always with our best players.
Yet, week in and week out fantasy football tempts us to bench these players. Despite getting burnt doing so, numerous fantasy owners continually go back to the well and try to outsmart the game.
That being said, there are some players who are likely available in your free agency pool and deserve being picked up. Let’s kick this week off with a round of “pick ‘em up.”
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Pick ‘Em Up
With Stephen Tulloch out for the season, Tahir Whitehead played every down and racked up 12 total tackles (four solo) for the Lions. DeAndre Levy also topped double-digit tackles with 11. Whitehead is an LB3-plus going forward, and needs to be owned in most all formats.
It was a disappointing week for Jelani Jenkins, as the young linebacker managed just three total tackles against the Raiders in London after posting 29 in the previous two weeks. Jenkins came into the game dealing with an abdominal injury, and played every-down until the last series. I wouldn’t be too concerned, as his numbers were largely the product of the matchup. He’s likely already owned in your league, but there’s a chance the Jenkins owner panicked and dropped him. If that’s the case, scoop him up immediately.
Likewise, if Danny Trevathan is still hanging around on your wire, grab him now. He may not be in an every-down role this week, but I like Trevathan as a back-end LB1 going forward. Sorry Brandon Marshall owners, but it’s likely back to a part-time role for Marshall.
Gerald Hodges got the start for Chad Greenway and played every down for the Vikings in Week 4. It wasn’t a huge game, as Hodges managed just three total tackles. However, there wasn’t a ton of tackle opportunities, so I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. With Greenway already declared out for Week 5, Hodges will again get the start against the Packers on Thursday night. If you need a one-week play, you could do a lot worse than Hodges in a good matchup against the Pack.
Justin Durant, Rolando McClain, and Bruce Carter were the starting linebackers for the Cowboys in Week 4 with Durant serving as the lone every-down player. Carter was injured toward the end of the game and could potentially be sidelined this week. Durant managed eight total tackles (three solo), and should be considered the Dallas linebacker to own going forward. His ceiling is limited, but Durant offers a high weekly floor, which will help in the bye weeks.
Staying in Dallas, we had an Anthony Spencer sighting, as the defensive end manages to get back on the field for 22 snaps and looked good in the process. If you have the room, it’s time to snatch up Spencer. He’ll like still be on a pitch count this week, but he’ll ultimately be a nearly every-down player and offers a very high fantasy ceiling.
We saw loads of tackles from the Washington defenders on Thursday night with Ryan Clark (14), Keenan Robinson (13), and Brandon Meriweather (13) all posting double-digit tackle totals. Their production was largely a product of the blow out, as none of these three had a particularly good game. Robinson is likely owned in your league, but of the two defensive backs, Clark is the more interesting player for IDP purposes. He’s a quality run defender and should continue to put up decent tackle production going forward.
Sticking with the defensive backs, Ryan Mundy continues to benefit from week linebacker play in Chicago. He now has 24 total tackles on the season, and should be considered a weekly DB3-plus. ... Malcolm Jenkins had one of his best games in recent memory, and his strong play on the field translated to seven total tackles (six solo) and a pick-six. Jenkins is squarely in the DB2 tier going forward. ... Dawan Landry also posted a strong game for the Jets with 11 total tackles and a half-sack. He’s in the DB3 conversation. ... Hussain Abdullah was fantastic on Monday night, racking up eight solo tackles and a pick six. While Abdullah has never been fantasy-relevant, it’s tough to ignore his play. ... With Tyvon Branch out, Usama Young has seven tackles in each of the last two weeks. He’s worth considering as a DB3. ... The Giants benched Stevie Brown, and his replacement Quintin Demps has a good showing in Week 4 with seven total tackles (two solo) and an interception. It’s not time to run out and pick him up, but Demps is a player worth monitoring.
It looked like we were finally going to get some clarity on the Buffalo linebacker corps in Week 4. The Bills started Keith Rivers, Nigel Bradham, and Brandon Spikes at linebacker, and used Bradham and Preston Brown in the subpackages. Unfortunately, Bradham exited the game with a knee injury, at which point the Bills turned to Brown and Rivers as their every down options.
Bradham had an MRI on Monday, but there isn’t any news on the severity of his injury. Brown will have value with Bradham sidelined, but if he’s healthy, Bradham appears to be the Bills linebacker to own going forward. Check my Twitter feed for updates on Bradham.
As we expected, Thomas Davis was sidelined for the Panthers, and his presence was missed. A.J. Klein played in the subpackages along with Luke Kuechly and really struggled against the run. However, Davis’ absence did open things up a bit for Roman Harper, as the veteran recorded seven total tackles in Week 4. The Panthers are hopeful to get Davis back this week, but keep an eye on his status if you own him.
Jared Allen was sidelined with an illness, so Willie Young played nearly every down and recorded four total tackles (three solo). I wouldn’t expect Allen to remain sidelined, so we’ll likely see Young slide back into a situational role. Shea McClellin was also out for the Bears, so we again saw Jon Bostic in an every-down role. It wasn’t a huge statistical day for Bostic, but the young linebacker looked very good against the Packers. While we certainly want to keep an eye on Bostic, he’s expected to go back to a subpackage role when McClellin returns.
Staying in the NFC North, A.J. Hawk also topped double-digit tackles for the Packers in Week 4. He played every-down with Brad Jones still sidelined. Hawk will remain a good play as long as Jones is out, but it’s not clear what Green Bay plans to do when Jones returns. Jones was limited in practice last week, so there’s a chance he gets back in the lineup on Thursday night.
Dashon Goldson left the Bucs Week 4 win over the Steelers with an ankle injury, and we saw Major Wright fill in and put up a solid nine total tackles (six solo). Goldson’s injury is not believed to be serious, though he was spotted in a boot after the game. Right now, his expected timetable is 1-2 weeks.
The Chargers used Andrew Gatchkar and not Kavell Conner in place of Manti Te’o. Well, sort of. Conner saw snaps in the base defense, but the Chargers played mainly in their subpackages where they relied on Gatchkar. With Te’o out, Donald Butler put up 10 total tackles (seven solo). He’ll continue to get a slight IDP boost with Te’o sidelined.
Sean Spence filled in for the injured Ryan Shazier, but didn’t play every down. Spence isn’t someone we’ll want to trust with Shazier sidelined. The main IDP beneficiary in Pittsburgh is Lawrence Timmons, who put up 10 total tackles (seven solo) in Week 4. Shazier is not expected back this week.
Falcons SS William Moore landed on injured reserve/designated to return with a shoulder injury. Moore won’t be eligible to return until Week 13, so you can cut him loose.
Week 4 Pass Rushers
Sure the pick-six was awesome, but J.J. Watt had 14 QB pressures in Week 4. Only 10 players have more on the season. ... Terrell Suggs had four QB pressures for the Ravens in Week 4. Teammate Elvis Dumervil also had four QB pressures, converting 1.5 for sacks. While Dumervil isn’t the starter, he actually played five more snaps that Suggs. Both players are designated as linebackers, and are only useful in leagues with big play scoring systems. ... Hopefully you took my advice and didn’t pick up Mario Addison. He failed to record a stat as a situational pass rusher in Week 4. ... Like I expected, Jurrell Casey struggled at times against Anthony Castonzo and did not record a sack. We’re going to want to avoid Castonzo with our defensive end matchups this season. ... After being banged up early in the season with an ankle injury, Michael Johnson burst onto the IDP scene in Week 4 with two sacks against the Steelers. Johnson is a boom-or-bust DL2. ... Cameron Heyward managed the lone sack for the Steelers, capitalizing on a good matchup against Bucs LT Anthony Collins. We’ll want to keep targeting Collins going forward. ... Muhammad Wilkerson recorded 1.5 sacks on five QB pressures. He also had eight total tackles (two solo) in Week 4. ... Sen’Derrick Marks had a half-sack on five QB pressures. He now has at least a half sack in 3-of-4 games this season. ... Anthony Barr has sacks in back-to-back weeks. ... Tyron Smith held Cameron Jordan in check on Sunday night. We’re going to want to avoid Smith with our defensive ends this season.
Other Week 4 Observations
I warned you that it was coming, and in Week 4 it finally happened. Prince Shembo started for the Falcons and played 59 snaps to just six snaps for Joplo Bartu. Shembo was solid with eight total tackles (four solo). He’s now in the LB4 conversation. ... C.J. Mosley was fantastic for the Ravens, racking up 11 total tackles (seven solo). For the record, I prefer Mosley over Daryl Smith going forward. ... Morgan Burnett had his game face on, racking up 13 total tackles (12 solo) against the Bears. He remains a high-ceiling DB1. ... While his nine total tackles (six solo) look pretty good, keep in mind that Wesley Woodyard played a whopping 90 snaps in this one. That’s a very low tackle frequency on a per snap basis. ... Antoine Bethea led the 49ers with seven solo tackles and added an interception against the Eagles. ... DeMario Davis posted double-digit tackles for the third straight week. ... Jameel McClain again saw a three-down role, but he’s likely out of the subpackages with Jon Beason due back this week. ... Brian Cushing had another strong statistical day with nine total tackles (eight solo), but the Texans still aren’t using him as an every-down player. He saw 65 percent of their defensive snaps in Week 4. ... D’Qwell Jackson remained a strong IDP play with Jerrell Freeman again sidelined. Jackson posted 10 total tackles (eight solo) and a sack against the Titans. ... While Kenny Vaccaro put up good numbers, he missed three more tackles in Week 4, giving him nine on the season. ... Likewise, it wasn’t pretty for Curtis Lofton, but the Saints linebacker managed 11 total tackles (nine solo) against the Cowboys. ... While Jamie Collins didn’t play every defensive snap, he did see time in the subpackages on Monday night and managed a solid seven solo tackles.
Guys I Like
Lawrence Timmons vs. Jacksonville
Believe it or not, the Jags are the league’s No. 1 fantasy matchup for linebackers through the first month of the season. With Ryan Shazier sidelined last week, Timmons played every down and put up double digit tackles in the process. He has a good shot at a repeat this week, so don’t hesitate to get Timmons in your lineup this week.
Jared Allen vs. Carolina
After missing last week, Allen returns with a fantastic matchup against Panthers LT Byron Bell, who has been one of the league’s worst pass-blocking offensive linemen so far this season. Allen has zero sacks in 2014. That changes this week.
Dwight Lowery vs. NY Giants
It’s a shame William Moore is on injured reserve, because he would have gotten a great matchup this week against a Giants team the currently gives up the most tackles per game to safeties. Lowery has been decent this season, recording 23 total tackles and should have plenty of opportunities this week. He’s a deep play, but makes for a high ceiling DB3 in Week 4.
Justin Durant vs. Indianapolis
Through the first four weeks of the season, only the Jets have yielded more tackles than the Colts have to opposing linebackers. Last week, we saw Durant return as the Cowboy’s preferred every-down linebacker and record eight total tackles. With Bruce Carter likely sidelined, there should be less competition for Durant. He makes for a sneaky LB2 play this week.
Johnathan Cyprien vs. Pittsburgh
Only the Giants currently give up more tackles to safeties than the Steelers, so you’re going to want to lock Cyprien in your lineup this week. He’s arguably this week’s top defensive back play.
Guys I Don’t Like
Any Linebacker in the St. Louis vs. Philadelphia Game
Poor run blocking and inept quarterback play from the Eagles have led to few tackle opportunities for opposing defenders. In fact, the Eagles currently give up the third-least tackles per game to linebackers. Things are even worse in St. Louis, as the Rams give up the least tackles per game to linebackers. While I like James Laurinatis and Alec Ogletree as LB2s for the season, you’re going to want to downgrade them this week. Likewise, downgrade DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks if he manages to get back on the field this week.
While the Jags have been a great matchup for linebackers, the same can’t be said for defensive backs. No team has yielded less tackles to the position through the first month of the season. That’s an automatic downgrade for Polamalu and Mitchell this week.
Yes, both had massive games last week, but keep in mind that their double-digit tackle performances came against the league’s best matchup for defensive backs – the Giants. This week, they face the league’s worst matchup for the position, so you should probably look elsewhere.
Jurrell Casey vs. Cleveland
One week after having to face Anthony Castonzo, Casey gets another tough matchup against Joe Thomas. You’re going to want to avoid Casey yet again this week, but don’t drop him. The Titans face the Jags next, and Casey will be a borderline DL1 play.