It feels as if this gluttony of linebacker injuries is never-ending. And set out deliberately to mess with us IDP gamers... Sigh… Well, even the best of us are struggling through this, and there is some light at the end of the tunnel, after all, only Alec Ogletree’s injury seems season-ending. That being said, the more cynical among you might prefer a season-ending injury, as the will-he? won’t-he? sagas with DeAndre Levy, Mychal Kendricks and Luke Kuechly gameday status’ are proving a headache even for the most stalwart IDP owners.
Fantasy is a cruel mistress as times, but, if it was easy, would we enjoy it so much? Because there has been so much continued turmoil within the ranks of fantasy linebackers, this week I will spend a decent amount of time looking at the status of those injured, and look for some potential pickups to bolster your rosters while players return to full health.
Linebacker Injury Update
Starting with the top of the tree, Luke Kuechly, a lock to be a top-three fantasy linebacker, has missed last three games with concussion suffered in Week 1. While it is hoped that Kuechly will return in Week 6, it is not a certainty. It’s puzzling to many how Kuechly can miss multiple games, while others like Sean Lee only missed the game he was withdrawn from with the same injury. Kuechly will be back this year, and you have to assume he’ll be straight back to his LB1-scoring ways. Owners of Thomas Davis would have been hoping he’d have higher than usual fantasy production with Kuechly out, but a pectoral issue has resulted in a lower than usual snap count in the last two games, limiting his upside.
Another former No.1 fantasy linebacker, DeAndre Levy, has now missed four games, and compounded his owners’ woes by aggravating the hip injury that has been keeping him on the sidelines in his Week 5 return. There is even talk that he may be shut down for the year as per Head Coach Jim Caldwell. I don’t believe it myself, but it is worth monitoring. Surprisingly it has been Josh Bynes replacing Levy as an every-down player on the weakside, with former fantasy LB2 Stephen Tulloch’s role now reduced. Tulloch would have been my bet to be the beneficiary from Levy being hurt, bolstering him borderline LB1 status, but instead he’s been marginalized by the coaching staff. Bynes is worth picking up, but is only a LB3. Of his disappointing 28 total tackles on the year only 15 are solo, and his playing time is directly linked to Levy’s status. Bynes simply isn’t producing enough in his role to be a major fantasy asset.
Paul Posluszny has been a tackle-producing monster and fantasy LB1 for seasons now, and the high ankle sprain he suffered in Week 4 caused him to miss Week 5. His return date isn’t known, and high ankle sprains can linger. Keep an eye on his status in practices. Telvin Smith is the beneficiary of Pos missing time as there will be less competition for tackles, but Smith should be owned in all formats already as he was a popular upside pick this season, now pushing to be a LB1. He’s recorded 52 total tackles this year, with a low of nine, and a high of 14, set last week. He’s a player to target in dynasty formats.
Sean Lee would have every chance to be the No.1 fantasy linebacker if he could stay on the field for 16 games, but he hasn’t managed it yet in his career, and I’m not sure he’ll do in in 2015 either. He suffered a concussion in Week 4 (worryingly the third of his career), but was cleared and did play his usual every-down role in Week 5. Dallas is still a place to look for some linebacker help though, as Rolando McClain returned from suspension in Week 5, playing 53-of-60 snaps alongside. McClain was a LB2/3 when on the field last season and offers value at a time when lots of fantasy relevant linebackers are being hit by the injury bug, so is one of my priority targets this week on the waiver wire. If Lee succumbs to injury again, McClain should also get a slight value boost while he is out.
The issues surrounding another former No.1 fantasy linebacker, Vontaze Burfict, are well known as he has been on IR-R with a knee injury since the start of the year, meaning he will miss at least 10 games. Vincent Rey is not his direct replacement on the weakside, but is playing well in an every-down role while Burfict is out, and has recording an eye-popping 28 total tackles in the last two weeks. Rey is playing on the strongside, so WLB Burfict, won’t cost him a place as a starter if he manages to return. Rey’s worth picking up as a LB2/3 for the rest of the season. I’d rank him above Rolando McClain and Josh Bynes.
Bobby Wagner is a late addition to the list of injured LB1s. in fact we only know he has a pectoral strain suffered in Week 5 as the Seahawks official Twitter account reported on it post-game. His playing status is unknown for Week 6, but he only missed a couple of snaps last week, which is encouraging. Monitor is usage in practice this week, because it’s been one of those years…
Although he is only on IR-R, Alec Ogletree is expected to miss rest of regular season. The Rams are using IR-R knowing they have an outside chance of making the playoffs, when Ogletree would be able to return. This doesn’t help fantasy owners though, so consider Ogletree off the table until 2016. Even more frustratingly, the main beneficiaries from Ogletree’s prolonged absence will be already-owned current starters, James Laurinaitis and safety TJ McDonald. Mark Barron is worth a second look in deeper leagues as he has seen a significant snap increase in the last two weeks and should be considered a very boom-or-bust pickup. Barron plays a hybrid role in Gregg Williams’ defense, and started this week, the first game since Ogletree broke his ankle. He’s now played over 50 snaps in the last two games (74.4 percent), recording five total tackles in both games, and leads defensive backs in blitzes (26), which makes him a fringe consideration for a fantasy start.
Mychal Kendricks is probably the injured LB1 causing me the most grief. Well, Levy has been a pain too, so let’s call it a draw. Kendricks has now missed two games, including last week after aggravating his hamstring in a Week 4 return. He is hopeful to play in Week 6, but as he’s been a nightmare for his owners, he is hard to start unless he’s practiced all week, or got a full game under his belt. If you’re not checking inactives in the final hours before kick-off, I’d want to find alternatives for Kendricks.
The second of the injured Eagles LB duo, Kiko Alonso (who projected as a decent LB2 this year) picked up his ACL sprain in Week 2. He is another player with no set return date still, although he has had surgery on his ACL sprain after a second opinion. Rookie Jordan Hicks has been a much written about replacement, and has out-snapped veteran DeMeco Ryans in all three games since Alonso and Kendricks went down, so would be my choice as an in-house pickup to replace Kendricks or Alonso in your lineup, but with both Alonso and Kendricks expected back this season, his value may be short-lived.
There is a lot of promise in Ryan Shazier, an upside LB2 who profiles like a LB1 in waiting, but he has missed last three games with a shoulder injury continually referred to as week-to-week. Despite these questionable statuses and having a role in practices, there isn’t a set return date and he’ll continue to be a game-time decision. Sean Spence has been filling in and playing well, but he’s only been on the field for 63 percent of snaps with Shazier out. He’s a very short-term add, who may have lost all his value as soon as this week if Shazier finally returns, so Spence is a last resort pickup at best.
Hopefully Dont’a Hightower’s Week 5 rib injury won’t keep him out long, if at all, as he has really stepped up now he’s been given a three-down role, and earned a fantasy LB2 ranking. He is currently deemed as questionable for Week 6. IDP gamers hoping that Jerod Mayo is the answer will need to go back to the drawing board, as despite Hightower playing just 9 snaps last week, Mayo only played 30. That was his highest snap total this season, but was still only 40.5 percent of all defensive snaps. Clearly Belichick isn’t leaning on Mayo with Hightower out, instead preferring to use the Patriots’ scheme flexibility. The New England linebacking corps has long been a difficult puzzle for IDP owners, although that being said, Collins and Hightower were refreshingly obvious picks this season, so steer clear of this situation until Hightower returns.
Linebacker Waiver Wire Targets
Firstly, if one of my pre-season favorites, Zac Brown is available, don’t pick him up. Brown played just 15 snaps in Week 5, conceding the start to Wesley Woodyard. Woodyard himself only played 29 snaps, so neither player has fantasy value right now. I’d drop Brown (unless in dynasty formats) and just keep tabs on his snap totals and perhaps move to pick him up again if he re-earns and every-down role.
32 total tackles, a sack and an interception. He’s also played 100 percent of defensive snaps, and although he will miss out on some production due to playing alongside Lavonte David, a young, every-down linebacker appeals.
Yet to earn three-down duties, despite his highly-rated coverage skills, Kendricks poses a quandary for those struck by injuries. He’s paying less than half of Vikings defensive snaps so has a low ceiling right now, but, with Gerald Hodges traded to the 49ers, will be expected to step up.
A concussion to Jon Beason last week means Unga might see an uptick in playing time again. It’s a risky pickup though as he’d been playing only a handful of snaps and Beason may well play in Week 6.
It’s unlikely he is available, but Daryl Smith does get overlooked for younger players with more upside at times, so you might be lucky... Smith’s been his usual solid self, posting 46 total tackles so far, including double-digit tackle games in the last two weeks. He’s a LB2/3 with a low ceiling.
A three-down linebacker who looks unlikely to lose his job in the short-term. Only a LB3, but at least he’s on the field.
Another three-down linebacker with a decent hold on his job. He’s producing more tackles than Te’o, which makes him one of the better adds this week, but, he’s no more than a borderline LB2/3.
Kikaha has been a welcome bonus for the Saints defense that expected Stephone Anthony to be the driving force in making their linebacker corps better. That’s not to say Anthony hasn’t been solid himself, it’s just that Kikaha’s 27 total tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles have been a little surprising. Kikaha is an upside LB3, who will post solid LB2 days when he gets to the quarterback.
Barr is an every-down strongside linebacker, and is really stepping up to his role for the Vikings young defense, ranking as ProFootballFocus’ No.1 graded 4-3 outside linebacker. 26 total tackles, one sack, one interception and one forced fumble suggest Barr has low-end LB2 potential for the rest of the year.
Guys I Like
O’Brien Schofield vs Saints
This looks like somewhat of a punt, but Schofield has actually been a threat in the backfield despite not registering a sack yet this year. His five quarterback hits is the third most by a 4-3 defensive end, and with an exciting matchup with Saints RT Zach Strief, who leads the league in sacks allowed (five), I like Schofield to get his first sack of the year this week.
All Vikings D-Lineman vs Chiefs
The Chiefs offensive line has effectively been a turnstile so far this season. The 15 sacks they have allowed is by far the most in the league, and in fact, only six other teams have allowed more than seven sacks. It promotes Everson Griffen to my No.2 DL this week, and I’ll be bumping Brian Robison (DL2/3) and Shariff Floyd DL3/4 as a result.
Brandon Marshall vs Browns
The Browns have been a great matchup for fantasy linebackers through the first five weeks of the season, and Marshall has been stepping up in his three-down role, keeping Danny Trevathan as a two-down player. With so many LB1s injured, Marshall has top-five potential this week. His 41 total tackles (34 solo) have been added to by a sack and a forced fumble, and I think he’ll have a double-digit tackle game this week.
Vincent Rey vs Bills
As previously mentioned, Rey has 28 total tackles in two weeks, and now heads to one of the friendliest IDP venues in Buffalo. Throw in that the Bills have been one of the best matchups for opposing linebackers, and you’ve got a recipe for success. Unfortunately Rey Maualuga, Emmanuel Lamur and AJ Hawk don’t play enough snaps to be recommended as starts as well.
The Bengals may be stingy in giving up points to linebackers, but they are one of the best matchups for safeties, so with the added bonus of the Bills stat crew, Corey Graham appeals as a better DB1 pick this week, while Williams sneaks into DB3 consideration as an upside pick.
HaHa Clinton-Dix vs Chargers
The continued absence of Morgan Burnett means less competition for tackles for Clinton-Dix, but whether he returns in Week 6 or not, the Chargers have been a top-three matchup for safeties this season. Clinton-Dix’s 35 total tackles already ranks sixth amongst defensive backs, so he’s a player in form.
Guys I Don’t Like
Miami’s Defensive Line vs Titans
Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon and Ndamukong Suh have all gotten off to a slow start to the year, and injuries and coaching changes are hardly helping. The Titans are a middle of the road matchup on a fantasy basis, and although they have allowed nine sacks (fifth-most), I’m taking the approach with the Dolphins D-Line, that I need to see some on-field performance before I put any into my lineups.
Versus the Zero Sack Club
The following starting offensive tackles have allowed zero sacks, and have the following matchups, who need significant downgrades:
Tyron Smith (DAL) – on bye
Trent Williams (WAS) – Muhammed Wilkerson, although the Jets do move their DEs around.
Jason Peters (PHI) – Rookie Owamagbe Odighizuwa has been playing pass-rushing snaps as the Giants RDE in recent weeks, although the G-Men rotate their D-Ends a lot.
Keenan Robinson vs Jets
Only one double-figure fantasy score in five games, despite Perry Riley missing multiple games is a concern. This looks like a half decent matchup, so I can forgive you for playing Robinson this week, but if he busts, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Zac Brown vs Dolphins
Just 15 snaps last week, and being replaced by Wesley Woodyard spells the end of Brown’s fantasy potential. Whether it’s coaching or scheme, I’m not sure. He had such a promising fantasy profile… Best not to cut off your nose to spite your face by continually playing him.
Harrison Smith vs Chiefs
Year on year the Chiefs are a terrible matchup for safeties as Andy Reid’s offense rarely stretches the field and Alex Smith isn’t inclined to force it deep. You can’t really bench Smith unless your league is pretty shallow, or, you have a stacked bench of DBs, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Smith fall outside of the top-15 DB scorers this week.