Fantasy football is a game that’s played in the present with a sense of the past and an eye toward the future. You obviously can’t win a championship in December with September’s numbers, yet you can’t forget about what happened as well.
However, there's a phenomenon I see a lot in fantasy football where folks become overly fixated on last week’s numbers without understanding the context of said production. The numbers alone only tell part of the story, and have the potential to mislead us. The key here is to understand the broader set of circumstances that led to a particular player’s production in a given week.
Like we do every week, let’s dig a little deeper into last week’s game situations to see what was behind the production (or lack thereof) from our IDPs.
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The Low Down
Just when we thought Tyrann Mathieu’s role was increasing, the Honey Badger saw just 28-of-51 snaps in Week 7. Don’t drop him if you own him, but you’re also going to want to lean away from starting him until he secures an every-down role.
We again saw Joplo Bartu starting in Week 7, with Prince Shembo only playing one defensive snap. Bartu put up an impressive 15 total tackles (six solo), but didn’t play every-down. At best, he’ll be a high ceiling LB4 who has the potential to be very inconsistent from week to week.
Avery Williamson played all but seven defensive snaps for the Titans, and out-snapped Wesley Woodyard by 15 snaps. Woodyard had the better fantasy numbers, but his stock is still trending downward based on his usage. I wouldn’t go too nuts for Williamson yet either. We need to see him in an every-down role before we can consider him in anything more than the deepest leagues.
Speaking of an every-down role, Brian Cushing was not in one on Monday night just one week after he finally seemed to regain those duties. Usage remains a concern for Cushing, so we need to downgrade him to an LB3 until he secures a three-down job on an every-week basis.
Christian Kirskey led the Browns with nine total tackles (seven solo) and a sack against the Jags. While these numbers are impressive, keep in mind that he’s still in a platoon with Craig Robertson and only played 39 snaps in Week 7.
DeAndre Levy paced the Lions with 11 total tackles in Week 7. He’s an every-week LB1, and you know that, but what about Tahir Whitehead? Over the last two weeks, Whitehead has not been used as an every-down option. The Lions have instead turned to ex-Ravens LB Josh Bynes in some subpackage situations. This means we really can’t count on Whitehead as anything more than an LB4 going forward.
As we expected, Josh Mauga remained the Chiefs’ every-down linebacker with James-Michael Johnson playing only a two-down role. This is here to stay folks, so Johnson isn't someone who deserves a roster spot.
Will Hill was active for the Ravens and played 24 snaps, which actually equaled Matt Elam’s snap count. The Ravens didn’t use any safeties in an every-down role in Week 7. Elam was a player I really liked in the preseason, but I sadly missed on him in 2014. I wouldn’t cut Elam in dynasty leagues, but it’s definitely time to move on in redraft. Hill isn’t an add just yet, but he should definitely be on your radar in Week 8.
The injuries just keep coming. Honestly, this has been the worst season for injuries to significant players that I can remember. Everyone is being affected in fantasy circles.
Paul Posluszny joined the long list of linebackers lost for the season, as the Jags middle linebacker has a torn pectoral. Jacksonville placed him on injured reserve on Monday. The big question is who will fill in for Posluszny? J.T. Thomas played every-down after Posluszny left the game, and Gus Bradley said Thomas would get the first crack at replacing Posluszny. At this point, we really don’t know much about Thomas, as he’s served mainly as a reserve/special teamer over the last three seasons. Still, if he’s in an every-down role, he’s worth a flier as an LB3. The Posluszny injury should be beneficial for Johnathan Cypriens’ numbers. The Jags will also be without Andre Branch for the next six weeks.
Vontaze Burfict sustained what looked to be another head injury on a hit he put on Andrew Luck. The training staff tended to Burfict’s neck on the sideline, so there’s a chance he avoided a concussion. However, another concussion could be very serious for Burfict. With Burfict and Emmanuel Lamur out, Vincent Rey put up a massive 16 total tackles (seven solo). Reggie Nelson also got a boost, recording nine total tackles (five solo). Rookie Marquise Flowers would be the next man up at linebacker if Burfict misses time and both Lamur and Rey Maualuga remain sidelined. Flowers saw nickel snaps along with Rey in Week 7.
Like we expected, the Pats rolled with Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower as their every-down inside linebackers with Jerod Mayo now out for the season. Both players put up 13 total tackles, with Hightower having the slightly better fantasy day due to a sack. The gap between the two players is slim, though I’d still give Collins the slight edge due to his more dynamic playmaking ability. Patrick Chung has 17 total tackles in the last two games. With Jerod Mayo out, Chung should continue to have tackle opportunities to cleanup going forward. He’s now worth DB3 consideration.
Of course, there was more big news out of New England, as it was reported on Tuesday that Chandler Jones will likely be sidelined for the next month with a hip injury. This news broke just hours after the Patriots made a curious trade for Akeem Ayers. While this move didn’t make sense initially, the news about Jones made things crystal clear. While I doubt we see much if any of Ayers this week, he could see a somewhat significant role with Jones sidelined.
Perry Riley remained out in Week 7, and we saw a big game out of Keenan Robinson (14 tackles). Washington should get Riley back this week, but they’ll be without Brian Orakpo for the rest of the season, as the veteran edge rusher tore his pectoral in Week 7.
Rookie Chris Borland got his first start in place of Patrick Willis and posted eight total tackles and a sack against the Broncos. Michael Wilhoite managed seven total tackles as well. There’s no word on how long Willis will be sidelined, but it’s reasonable to expect him back following the 49ers’ Week 8 bye. Still no word on NaVorro Bowman’s return, but it’s unlikely to occur in Week 9.
With Bobby Wagner (toe) sidelined, the Seahawks turned to K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith as their every-down options. Both managed double-digit tackles with Smith leading the way with 10 solos. Keep an eye on Wagner’s practice status this week. If he remains sidelined, expect Wright and Smith to again play every-down.
With Lance Briggs and Jon Bostic still sidelined, the Bears used Khaseem Greene as their lone every-down option. Greene only managed four total tackles. Kyle Fuller exited last week’s game with a hip injury. Fuller also has a broken hand that won’t require surgery. There’s a chance he plays this week, but keep a close eye on his practice status this week.
Jon Beason is injured again. The veteran exited the Giants loss to Dallas with a toe injury. There’s a chance he misses time, so keep an eye on his status.
Oakland lost another safety for the season, as Usama Young tore his ACL and MCL in the Raiders’ Week 7 loss to Arizona. Brandian Ross will take over, but isn’t worth fantasy consideration at this point. Justin Tuck was also sidelined for the Raiders with a knee injury. His status will be updated on Wednesday.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix got his first career start and led the Packers with nine total tackles (eight solo). He’s certainly worth an add, especially given the fact that Morgan Burnett exited the Packers win over Carolina in the fourth quarter. The injury didn’t appear to be serious, but we’ll need to keep a close eye on his status in practice this week.
Week 7 Pass Rushers
Jerry Hughes got the best of Matt Kalil and posted 1.5 sacks. Marcell Dareus also managed two sacks against the Vikings. ... Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs continue to be extremely effective in the pass rush. Suggs posted a sack on seven QB pressures, and Dumervil managed two sacks on nine QB pressures. ... Jay Ratliff went nuts, posting 3.5 sacks on five QB pressures. While this was certainly a great performance, don’t chase last week’s numbers. It’s extremely unlikely that we’ll see another performance like this out of Ratliff in 2014. ... Carlos Dunlap had a sack on five QB pressures. He now has four sacks on the season, and has been one of the most consistent fantasy options at defensive end. ... We had a Robert Quinn sighting. If you weathered the storm, your patience was rewarded in Week 7 with Quinn posting his first sack of the season on six QB pressures. ... Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware continued to dominate in Week 7. Ware had three sacks on four QB pressures, and Miller posted two sacks on seven QB pressures. ... Ziggy Ansah didn’t record a sack, but he did manage four QB pressures. ... Clay Matthews looked like his old self, recording a half-sack on six QB pressures. ... Bjoern Werner posted a sack in his third-straight game. He now has four on the season, and is a large part of the Colts’ success on defense. ... Cameron Wake continued to be one of the league’s best pass rushers, recording a sack on five QB pressures. ... Though he didn’t record any sacks, Muhammad Wilkerson was very effective on Thursday night, recording five QB pressures on Thursday night. ... Jason Pierre-Paul posted two sacks on four QB pressures. He’s about to hit his stride. ... Everson Griffen racked up three sacks against the Bills. We’re going to want to continue to exploit the matchup against the Bills for our pass rushers.
Other Week 7 Observations
Daryl Smith had arguably his best game as a Raven, posting 13 total tackles (eight solo). He remains an LB2 option. ... Despite posting eight total tackles (seven solo), Luke Kuechly had a rough day where he really struggled in coverage and ended up getting ejected. While this isn’t ideal, Kuechly is still healthy, which isn’t something we can say about a majority of the league’s top linebackers this season. ... James Laurinaitis managed just three tackles, but don’t be discouraged. He actually played very well in the process. You’re not dropping him. ... Eric Weddle got off the schneid in a big way, posting 13 total tackles (10 solo). ... Donald Butler also managed to top double-digits, but he sustained a concussion and is in the league protocol. ... Khalil Mack paced the Raiders with 11 total tackles (10 solo). Mack should be considered an LB3 going forward. ... Barry Church had his best fantasy performance of the season with eight tackles against the Giants. Church isn’t the elite option he was last season, but you can still rely on him as a back-end DB1. ... James Ihedigbo put up an impressive eight total tackles (seven solo) to go along with a sack and a fumble recovery. Those looking for help at defensive back will want to take a long look at Ihedigbo. ... It doesn’t have much to do with IDP, but Vontae Davis is playing out of his mind right now. He’s allowed just 14 catches on 32 targets thrown into his coverage. ... Reshad Jones led the Dolphins with seven total tackles. He’s a DB1 who needs to be owned in all formats. ... Dawan Landry managed just five total tackles on Thursday, but don’t read too much into his lack of production. The game scrip led to just 31 tackle opportunities for the Jets. ... Curtis Lofton put up a massive 16 total tackles. With the attrition a linebacker this season, Lofton is an LB1 going forward.
Guys I Like
Lawrence Timmons vs. Indianapolis
Through the first seven weeks of the season, the Colts have yielded the most tackles per game to opposing linebackers. That means great things if you’re a Lawrence Timmons owner. He has double-digit tackles in each of the last two games, and is locked in as an LB1 this week. Ryan Shazier has a chance of making it back on the field this week, though I would hold off on starting him until we see him back in action.
Rashad Johnson vs. Philadelphia
Despite all of the fluctuation in the Cardinals’ secondary, Johnson has played all but one snap this season. He’s the best bet to put up good fantasy numbers in a strong matchup against an Eagles team that has given up the third-most tackles per game to opposing safeties this season.
This past week it was Brown in an every-down role, with Bradham also seeing nickel snaps for the Bills. Both Brown and Bradham will be risk/reward LB3s going forward. However, you’re going to want to get both players in your lineups this week against the Jets. Not only is this a plus matchup, but the game will also be played in front of this season’s most tackle-friendly home stats crew. Expect inflated tackle numbers across the board in this one.
They get the home venue tackle boost, and get to face a Bills team that has given up a league-high 15 sacks to defensive ends this season.
They’re not every-week starters, but you’re going to want to lean toward playing Meriweather and Clark this week in a strong matchup against the Cowboys. Only three teams yield more tackles per game to safeties than Dallas currently does.
Guys I Don’t Like
Larry Foote vs. Philadelphia
While the Eagles have been a great fantasy matchup for defensive backs, they’ve been downright terrible for linebackers. Foote has been trending in the wrong direction over the last month, and that slide is likely to continue in Week 8.
Michael Griffin vs. Jacksonville
Griffin posted double-digit tackles for the second time in three weeks, and there’s no question that he’s the safety to own in Tennessee with Bernard Pollard sidelined. However, you’re going to want to lean away from starting him this week in a tough matchup against the Jags. No team yields fewer tackles per game to safeties.
Greenway returned after missing the last month and put up an impressive 15 total tackles (eight solo) against the Bills. It’s safe to slot Greenway back in as an LB2 going forward, but you may want to tempter your expectations this week against a Bucs team that yields the least tackles per game to opposing linebackers. Anthony Barr also topped double-digit tackles last week for the Vikings. While Barr is an interesting player in deeper leagues, the tackle-friendly Bills stat crew likely inflated his Week 7 production.
Ziggy Ansah vs. Atlanta
Ansah came back to earth last week after his breakout Week 6 performance, and it looks like he may struggle yet again. The Falcons currently yield the second-fewest fantasy points per game to defensive ends, so you may want to look elsewhere this week.
Like we expected, both players struggled last week against the Jags, and that’s going to continue this week. The Raiders currently yield the second-least tackles per game to safeties.