Week 4 Upgrades/Downgrades
Posted 9/26 by Aaron Rudnicki, Exclusive to Footballguys.com
DL Kyle Vanden Bosch, TEN:
The Titans spent 3 1st day picks on defensive ends in last year's draft, but it is the Cardinals castoff Vanden Bosch who currently leads the team in sacks. He followed up his huge 3-sack performance against the Ravens last week with a 5 solo, 2-sack game against the Rams this week, including a forced fumble that was recovered by Antwan Odom for a TD. Part of the reason he did so well these past two weeks is that he was matched up against an over-the-hill Orlando Brown in week 2 and a rookie Alex Barron in week 3. Don't be surprised if he cools off a bit against Peyton Manning and the Colts next week, but Vanden Bosch is a high motor player who should remain productive as long as he can stay healthy. If he's still available in your league, he won't be for long.
DL Rod Coleman, ATL:
The Falcons boast one of the best inside-outside pass rush combos in the league with Patrick Kerney and Rod Coleman. While Kerney has 42 sacks over the past 4 years, Coleman leads all interior defensive linemen in sacks over the past 3 years with 28. The addition of Coleman via free agency almost single-handedly elevated the play of the entire Falcons defense last year. He had a very disruptive performance against JP Losman and the Bills on Sunday with 4 solos, 1 assist, 2 sacks, 1 PD, and 1 FF.
DL Paul Spicer, JAX:
Spicer has primarily been a backup during his 7-year career, but earned a starting job with the Jaguars this year with his strong preseason. After 2 unimpressive games against very tough competition (e.g., Seahawks and Colts), Spicer blew up this week with a monster 6 solo, 3 sack, 1 FF, and 1 PD performance against the Jets. DTs John Henderson and Marcus Stroud should continue to draw most of the attention from opposing offensive lines, which will leave DEs Spicer and Hayward with plenty of one-on-one matchups. Despite making much less money, Spicer has three times as many sacks as free agent acquisition Reggie Hayward.
DL Darren Howard, NO:
Howard has established himself as one of the better power DEs in the league, but he is often overshadowed by his teammate Charles Grant. While Grant is off to a slow start and battling through a toe injury, Howard had one of the best statistical games he's had in awhile on Sunday (7 solo, 4 asst, 1.5 sacks). Unfortunately for the Saints, it came in a lopsided loss in which the Vikings dominated and held the ball for over 38 minutes. If there was one positive to take from the game, however, it was that the Saints managed to sack Culpepper 7 times. They should give Bills QB JP Losman fits next week in their first game at the Alamodome.
DL Richard Seymour, NE:
Despite a contract-related holdout during training camp, Seymour is off to perhaps the best start of his career. He leads the Patriots in solo tackles with 14 and is on pace to shatter his career high of 34. He was dominant against the Steelers this week with 4 solos, 2 sacks and 1 PD. Seymour started the game as a DT, but the team moves him around on the line frequently to try and find the best matchups for him to exploit. Amazingly, he's gone to three straight Pro Bowls and will turn just 26 years old on October 6th.
LB Kirk Morrison, OAK:
Through 3 weeks of the season, Morrison has been one of biggest IDP surprises. He was an afterthought in many leagues after beginning the season as a backup on the depth chart, but now has 20 solo tackles with a minimum of 6 in each game so far. A 3rd round pick out of San Diego St, Morrison was thought to be too stiff to play OLB and too small to play MLB, but he's quickly established himself as one of the best tacklers on the team and his surprising ability in coverage has also earned him a spot in the nickel package.
LB Angelo Crowell, BUF:
Takeo Spikes has been a very productive fantasy linebacker while lining up at WLB for the Bills, but he left the field on Sunday with what appeared to be a serious Achilles injury and could be out for the season. If so, Crowell will likely slide right into his starting spot and try to pick up where he left off. While Crowell isn't nearly as talented as Spikes, he's a quality backup who has been waiting for an opportunity like this. Crowell is a former 3rd round pick who is the brother of former Lions WR Germane Crowell. He filled in for an injured Spikes on Sunday and finished with 5 solos, 3 assists, and 1 FF in roughly 1 half of work. If the Spikes injury is as bad as anticipated, Crowell should be a popular waiver wire pickup this week.
LB Ben Taylor, CLE:
In the Browns new 3-4 defense, Taylor was moved from OLB to ILB where he's started all 3 games next to Andra Davis. He got off to a slow start, but his stats have been on an upward trend as he's gotten more comfortable with his new position. This week against the Colts, he had one of the better statistical totals of his career with 7 solos, 5 assists, and 1 PD (he once had a 16-solo game against the Patriots in 2003). While Andra Davis remains the more valuable linebacker to have, Taylor could be a nice sleeper this year.
LB Jeremiah Trotter, PHI:
There were plenty of reasons to be optimistic about Trotter entering this season. From 1999-2003, he topped 90 solo tackles 4 times and was just as dominant in 2004 after taking over at MLB for the Eagles midway through the season. Trotter's 2005 got off to a nightmarish start as he was suspended during the pre-game warm-ups of the season opening loss to the Falcons. He then followed that up with a disappointing 2 solo tackle performance in a blowout win versus the 49ers in week 2. This week, he finally looked like the Trotter of old with 10 solos, 3 PDs, and 1 FF and he helped limit LaMont Jordan to 19 yards on 16 carries. His 3 passes defenses are also a promising sign and may lead the team to give him more playing time in the nickel package.
LB Gary Brackett, IND:
The Colts have finally started getting quality play from their defense, who are allowing an NFL-low 5.3 points/game. It is probably no coincidence that the huge turnaround coincided with the insertion of Brackett into the starting lineup. In 3 weeks, Brackett has racked up 22 solos, 8 assists, and 2 INTs. He's not a liability in coverage like former MLB Rob Morris was and has been surprisingly stout against the run despite being undersized at just 5'11", 235 pounds. This week against the Browns he managed 8 solos and 4 assists and he looks like he could be a quality start each and every week.
LB Zach Thomas, MIA:
With the change to a new defense under new head coach Nick Saban, and his age at 32 years old, many probably thought Thomas was due for a decline in productivity this year. Through 3 weeks, however, he's the same tackle machine he's always been. After 3 weeks, Thomas has 27 solos, 16 assists, 1 sack, 2 FF, and 1 PD. His 43 total tackles lead the league and he's currently on pace for the best season of his career. Looks like promising rookie Channing Crowder might have to wait awhile before taking over this job.
DB Madieu Williams, CIN:
Many IDP owners probably started worrying about Williams a bit when he didn't rack up big stats during his first two games. Heck, the Bengals intercepted Culpepper 5 times in week 2 and Williams didn't get in on any of them. Williams was rated as a top-10 fantasy DB this preseason after his strong rookie season in which he saw time at both safety positions and cornerback. Thankfully, he finally started living up to those expectations this week with an 8 solo, 1 INT, and 1 PD performance against the Bears.
DB Kerry Rhodes, NYJ:
Last year, rookie Erik Coleman came out of nowhere to make a huge impact on the Jets defense, and it could be happening again this year. Rhodes was taken in the 4th round of the 2005 draft and his strong preseason performance convinced the Jets to part ways with veterans Reggie Tongue and Jon McGraw. He's started in every game so far and currently ranks 2nd on the team in solo tackles with 18 behind only Jonathan Vilma. This week against the Jaguars, Rhodes managed 6 solos, 1 assist, 1 INT and 1 PD. He was known as a big hitter when coming into the league but the team has been very impressed with his playmaking ability as well.
DB Lance Schulters, MIA:
The Dolphins completely rebuilt their safety corps this offseason, but things were looking very shaky until Schulters signed midway through the preseason. Despite being slow to pick up the new defense, he has gotten off to a great start to the season and he had a huge impact on the Dolphins win versus the Panthers on Sunday with 2 solos, 2 assists, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 FF, and 1 PD. Schulters only signed a 1-year contract with the Dolphins and if he keeps making plays like this, he could be due for one last payday when he hits free agency in 2006.
DB Antrel Rolle, ARI:
As most experienced IDP owners know, rookie CBs tend to make great fantasy options because they are targeted frequently by opposing QBs. That fact was clearly evident on Sunday as Matt Hasselbeck went at Rolle early and often. Rolle was frequently matched up against WR Darrell Jackson, and while he didn't do a good job of slowing him down, he did finish with a very impressive fantasy total of 10 solos and 1 assist. Rolle did re-aggravate a knee injury in the 4th quarter so keep an eye on his injury status heading forward, but he should be a solid fantasy option when healthy.
DB Guss Scott, NE:
With the injury to Rodney Harrison on Sunday, the Patriots turned to Guss Scott and he looked pretty impressive with 5 solos and 1 assist. Although rookie James Sanders was listed as the backup at strong safety on the depth chart, Scott's experience as a 2nd-year player likely gives him an edge. He's a big hitter with great speed and should be a productive fantasy DB if Harrison is out for awhile.
DB Terrence Kiel, SD:
Kiel is a very solid young safety who does a great job in defending the run. After 3 weeks, he's currently leading the Chargers in solo tackles with 25 (stud LB Donnie Edwards has just 22). In the first 2 weeks, he supplemented his solid tackle numbers with a FF and a sack, but this week he just came through with a very impressive 11 solo tackles against the Giants. His strong play probably went somewhat unnoticed due to the Chargers 0-2 start, but he appears headed for a breakout season and could easily be a top-10 DB this year.
DL Simeon Rice, TB:
Rice has clearly been one of the most productive pass rushers in the league over the first 9 years of his career, and he is still good enough to command double teams from opposing offenses. While his tackle numbers have never been all that great, they appear to be down considerably so far this year. After back to back 2 solo tackle games to start off the year, Rice only managed a single assisted tackle against the Packers on Sunday. Statistically, the Bucs currently have the best defense in the league, but that dominance is reducing the number of snaps Rice and his fellow defenders get to see each week. With just 1 sack after 3 games, he'll need to pick up the pace if he's going to live up to the high expectations many fantasy owners have for him.
DL Derrick Burgess, OAK:
The Raiders spent a lot of money to sign Derrick Burgess this offseason and thought he'd be a key addition to help upgrade their woeful pass rush. He was beaten out for a starting DE job by Tommy Kelly in the preseason, but made an impact in week 2 against the Chiefs with 4 solos and a sack of Trent Green (one of only 2 sacks for the Raiders defense all year). Based on that performance, he got a chance to start against his former team the Eagles on Sunday, but he only managed 2 solo tackles. He still has some nice potential as a pass rusher, but he may not get enough playing time to be an every week starter in IDP leagues.
DL Jevon Kearse, PHI:
Kearse was mentioned in last week's downgrade section, but probably deserves yet another downgrade after this week's game against the Raiders when he was nearly invisible and only managed 1 pass defensed. The Eagles defense has collected 8 sacks over the first 3 games, but their best pass rusher Kearse has none. The Eagles thought he would be a great fit for their defense and have an impact similar to the one Hugh Douglas had, but it has yet to manifest itself. At just 29 years of age, Kearse is beginning to look like one of the most overrated and overpaid players in the league and he has never really come close to matching the numbers from his amazing rookie season.
DL Reggie Hayward, JAX:
Hayward was mentioned as a downgrade after his week 1 performance, but he was later credited with a sack in that game that made his numbers look much more respectable. However, he has been less than impressive since then with just 2 solos against the Colts in week 2 and a 2 solo, 1 assist game against the Jets this week. Making matters worse for him is the fact that LDE Paul Spicer, a journeyman-type player managed to sack Chad Pennington 3 times. Hayward was known to be a liability in run defense, so he'll need to start putting more pressure on opposing QBs if he wants to avoid being labeled a free agent bust.
DL Mike Rucker, CAR:
Here we go again. After a strong showing in week 2 versus the Patriots (3 solo, 1 sack, 1 FF), Rucker was a non-factor against the Dolphins this week with just 1 solo and 1 assist. Rucker used to be one of the most consistently productive DL in the league, but he's lost the trust of many fantasy owners after his abysmal 2004 season. If he has another good game, it might be a good idea to shop him around and see what you can get rather than suffering through another disappointing and inconsistent season.
DL Michael Strahan, NYG:
Strahan's back problems flared up late in the week and he was questionable leading up to game time. He did manage to play through the pain, but was a non-factor with just 1 solo tackle. Strahan showed in the first 2 weeks (10 solos, 2.5 sacks) that he can still produce when healthy, but at 34 years old his back problems have to be a major concern for fantasy owners. The Giants gave rookie DE Justin Tuck a lot of playing time in his place on Sunday and he looked impressive, even chasing down LaDainian Tomlinson from behind on a big run play.
LB Takeo Spikes, BUF:
Spikes has been one of the most productive outside linebackers in the league, and his big plays in the 2004 season (3 sacks, 5 INTs, 2 TDs, 3 FFs) were a huge part of the Bills defensive success. He went down with what appeared to be an Achilles injury on Sunday and was visibly in a lot of pain as he was helped off the field. Reports on Monday indicated that he tore his right Achilles and will miss the rest of the season. His spot in the starting lineup will be taken by Angelo Crowell.
LB Brad Kassell, TEN:
Kassell was extremely productive after taking over the starting MLB job for the Titans last year and entered this year as a prime sleeper candidate. He backed up those expectations with 2 very good games to start the season, including an interception return for a TD in week 2 against the Ravens. This week against the Rams, however, he was a non-factor and only managed 1 solo tackle, which was by far his worst showing since taking over as a starter. It was a tough matchup though as the Rams only ran the ball 18 times and didn't provide many tackle opportunities.
LB Sam Cowart, MIN:
Cowart missed week 2 with a calf injury and the Vikings wound up surrendering over 500 yards of total offense to the Bengals. He returned to the starting lineup this week against the Saints and the defense did a much better job. Cowart, however, only managed 2 solo tackles and has just 5 solos and 2 assists in 2 starts this year. He's one of many Vikings defenders to begin the year as a disappointment to fantasy owners.
LB Lofa Tatupu, SEA:
After a mention in this space as an upgrade a week ago, Tatupu was a disappointment on Sunday with just 1 solo and 2 assists against the Cardinals. The matchup certainly played a role as the Cardinals were forced to abandon what little running game they had in an attempt to keep pace with the Seahawks offense, but this is probably a good sign not to rely too heavily on Tatupu this year. Despite playing at the less glamorous SLB spot, Jamie Sharper has put up more tackles than him in all 3 games. Sharper's presence will make it tough for Tatupu to be productive and consistent enough to be an every-week starter.
LB David Pollack, CIN:
After an impressive debut against the Browns in week 1, Pollack had a rough game against the Vikings in week 2 with several offsides penalties that cost his team big plays. He's going to need more time than originally thought to adjust to his new position and it now looks as though he's been replaced in the starting lineup by Landon Johnson. This week against the Bears, Pollack wasn't able to get even a single tackle or assist.
DB Jay Bellamy, NO:
Bellamy has been a very productive player, averaging nearly 75 solo tackles from 1998 to 2004 while playing with the Seahawks and Saints. After 3 weeks, Bellamy's tackle numbers appear to be down from previous years. His decent 5 solo, 2 assist performance in week 2 was sandwiched by a 1-solo performance against the Panthers in week 1 and a 2-solo game on Sunday against the Vikings. The Saints have been trying unsuccessfully to find a replacement for him for awhile now, and rookie Josh Bullocks could begin to see more playing time if Bellamy continues to struggle.
DB Corey Chavous, MIN:
Chavous is coming off a disappointing season in 2004 and was almost released by the Vikings this offseason. He had two quality fantasy starts to begin the year and his 17 combined tackles (10 solos, 7 assists) led the team. In week 3, however, with SS Darren Sharper out with an injury, Chavous was a non-factor and only came up with 1 solo tackle. Part of the problem was Aaron Brooks only completed 12 of his 32 pass attempts, but things might not get much better with matchups against the Falcons and Bears coming up next.
DB Chris Crocker, CLE:
After beating out Sean Jones for the starting SS job, Crocker had a very impressive week 1 with 8 solos, 2 assists, and a sack against the Bengals. He did alright against the Packers in week 2 (4 solos, 1 assist), but his numbers fell way off this week against the Colts with just 1 solo tackle and 2 assists. The Browns did a good job against the Colts defense, holding Peyton Manning to no TD passes so Crocker should be able to hold onto the starting job for awhile longer, but it looks like the quick start may have been a fluke.
DB Thomas Davis, CAR:
While Davis remains one of the most promising players from a dynasty perspective, his redraft value is taking a significant hit. Despite producing a sack of Tom Brady in week 2, Davis has been replaced in the starting lineup by journeyman Marlon McCree due to some lapses in coverage. This week, he only managed 1 solo tackle while playing special teams and it looks like he may need to ride the bench for awhile before he becomes the big-time fantasy DB that are hoping for.
DB Rodney Harrison, NE:
Harrison has been one of the most consistently productive fantasy IDPs in the league throughout his career, and his presence has had a huge impact on the toughness of the Patriots defense. He holds the NFL's record for career sacks by a defensive back with 27.5. Unfortunately, he suffered what appeared to be a serious leg injury on Sunday and may be out for awhile. 2nd-year pro Guss Scott will take his place in the starting lineup.
DB Anthony Henry, DAL:
Henry was a big free agent signing for the Cowboys this offseason and his presence has helped balance the defensive secondary. After week 1 (10 solos, 2 assists, 1 INT, 5 PDs), Henry was the highest scoring IDP regardless of position. He backed that up with a solid performance against the Redskins in week 2, but he fell off a bit this week with just 2 solo tackles against the 49ers. He's a physical player and a big-time playmaker who should be a productive fantasy DB, but expectations may have been raised a bit too high after that huge game to start off the year.