Injuries are the story in Arizona this week and they may provide some opportunity for fantasy owners. Free safety Rashad Johnson lost the end of a finger in week three and will be questionable for week four. Johnson had surgery on the finger this week and is considered day to day. He is unlikely to miss significant time but the injury could make Tyrann Mathieu an every down player against Tampa Bay. Mathieu has given us excellent production while playing about 75% of the time. He has become an every week must play even as a nickel corner. This week could help him make a case for the starting free safety job.
Season ending injuries to starting outside linebackers Sam Acho and Lorenzo Alexander could also have an impact. With the depth chart suddenly depleted at the position, what was a four player rotation may now become virtually an every down opportunity for John Abraham and Matt Shaughnessy. It remains to be seen if they will be able to capitalize in the box scores, but owners in big play based scoring systems will want to take notice of the situation this week.
Heading into week three we were watching the injury shuffle at linebacker in Atlanta to see if anyone would emerge. As anticipated Joplo Bartu stepped into an every down role on the weak side. Middle backer Akeem Dent, strong side starter Stephen Nicholas and backup Paul Worrilo shared the rest of the playing time at the position. None of those guys were on the field for more than 38 of the team's 56 snaps. Bartu failed to make much of a box score impact so there may be nothing of value here, but those in deep leagues may want to roster Bartu for one more week just to make sure.
After a couple of average outings to open the season Daryl Smith broke out for a monster game in week three. This is a player we were all over during the preseason so his big production should not have been a surprise. If some impatient owner let him go or he was available by some chance, grab this guy and get him into your lineup this week against the Bills. Despite their struggles, Buffalo has been an excellent matchup to date. Only the Eagles have provided more tackle opportunity through three games and the Bills rookie quarterback means a boost in big play potential as well.
The Bills safety positions have been a point of interest since early in the summer and we still have no certain resolution. At this point we have Aaron Williams seemingly locked into the strong safety position and Da'Norris Searcy manning the free safety spot. We do not know however, what the affect of a Jairus Byrd return would be. We may find out soon as Byrd was upgraded to questionable for wee three and could be on the field soon. If you are currently counting on Searcy as one of your starters, it would be a good idea to start looking for a replacement.
A huge week three will have a lot of owners looking to pick up Manny Lawson. Don't be an ambulance chaser. Lawson may not total 12 solo tackles in the next five games combined. He was simply the beneficiary of the Jets offensive game plan in week three.
The Bears lost tackle Henry Melton for the season with a knee injury in week three. There has been speculation that Nate Collins will move into the starting lineup, but I am not so sure that will be the case. Collins will surely see an increase in playing time, but I believe Shea McClellin will be the main benefactor. McClellin has already been seeing a good amount of action as the third end in the rotation. Corey Wootton is the starting end but will often shift inside on passing downs. It would be no surprise to see him move inside more often on early downs with McClellin getting a shot at end on more early downs. If the team goes this route, McClellin could emerge as a decent mid-season pickup.
Over the past two weeks safety Major Wright has 15 solo tackles, 2 forced fumbles, a pair of passes defended, and an interception for a score. We always say that once is a fluke but twice is a trend. Still I am unsure what to think of this one. Wright has some history of big play production, but he has fallen short of 55 tackles in each of his two seasons as a starter. On the other hand, there is a new coaching regime in Chicago and Wright's new found production could be directly related to changes in the scheme. Only time will tell for certain and we are not afforded the luxury of waiting. Wright has been picked up already in most leagues, but if he happens to still be available, snap him up.
The Bengals safety situation has been a point of interest since they added rookie Shawn Williams back in April. He showed promise during the preseason but was unable to earn a role in the defense. George Iloka started at strong safety for the first three games but has been mostly invisible, leading to hope that Williams may finally get his shot. That hope took a hit this week when the team resigned Chris Crocker on Wednesday. Crocker is like a bad cold. Just when you think he is finally gone for good, he comes back. This is erily similar to the scenario that played out last season when Crocker returned and soon held a significant role. I have no expectations that he will become a fantasy factor but the move has me wondering if Williams is even worthy of a taxi squad spot in dynasty leagues.
In many leagues that break out the defensive line positions, Geno Atkins was among the first three defenders off the board. Thus far he has arguably been the biggest IDP disappointment off the season. Those of us who have him are stuck in a bad position. if we give up and dump him now, he will undoubtedly blow up against the Browns. On the other hand, three games is a trend right? With offensive coordinators scheming to stop him, it has been tough sledding for Atkins so far. The big production by the defensive ends against the Packers could go a long way toward taking pressure off Atkins going forward. I am as undecided as anyone about Atkins but my plan is to sit him this week and hope that is enough to trigger a big game. If he fails to make an impact yet again it may be time to move on.
One other note from the Bengals week three contest; despite playing at Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati players were awarded only 9 assist in week three. This may have been an effect of the matchup but it was sure nice to see Vontaze Burfict get 10 solo stops and 1 assist at home. Hopefully something has changed behind the scenes and this will prove to be more than a mirage.
After a couple of big games to start the season, safety Barry Church came crashing back to earth in week three. If you picked Church up early, give him a Mulligan. He had just 3 tackles against the Rams but the 3 passes defended was enough to bail many of us out. We should also consider how bad the Rams looked in that game. Look for him to see a lot of Antonio Gates this week and rebound nicely in the box scores. Nate Allen, Danieal Manning and Michael Griffin have all posted double digit fantasy points against the Chargers.
With Anthony Spencer landing on IR this week, George Selvie becomes the starter opposite DeMarcus Ware. Through three games Selvie has 7 tackles, 2 sacks and a forced fumble. I will stop short of saying start him this week against San Diego, but the guy is worth a roster spot as a DL3 in most twelve team leagues.
He did little with the opportunity, but it is noteworthy that rookie free safety J.J. Wilcox made the start against the Rams. WE will be keeping an eye on his progress this week.
Duke Ihenacho was a sexy waiver pickup after his monster week one and was on the way to a good outing in week two before going down with an ankle injury. He was obviously not 100% against Oakland and ended up leaving the game early after aggravating the injury. This guy looked too good before the injury to give up on quickly. At the least I will be sitting on him until he is healthy. The bigger question may be do we start him this week against the Eagles? Over the first three weeks Philadelphia has provided more tackle opportunity than any other team and that trend seems certain to continue. Keep an eye on the practice participation reports this week. If Ihenacho is a go, he will likely be in some of my lineups. Wesley Woodyard is a must start with this matchup as well.
With his injury history, the loss of defensive end Jason Jones was hardly unexpected. We never like to see a player go down with an injury but with Jones out of the picture, Ezekial Ansah and Willie Young are going to see an increase in opportunity. What was a four man time share may now become a three man with Isreal Idonije seeing more reps as well. Devin Taylor should be the fourth active end on game day but he may not see the field very often. Both Ansah and Young are roster worthy at this point but be careful playing either of them this week against a Bears squad that has allowed just 3 sacks to date.
One Lion to get into the lineup this week is corner Chris Houston. Not only has he been hot to the tune of 16 tackles, 5 passes defended and a pick; the Bears have been a strong matchup for corners thus far. William Gay, Ike Taylor and Leon Hall have all put up 6 solo stops against Chicago.
Green Bay Packers
Scan your waiver wire and see if some impatient owner has given up on Morgan Burnett already. He has been practicing on a limited basis and may be back in the lineup when Green Bay returns to action in week five.
With several defenders banged up, no one really expected the Colts defense to shut down San Francisco the way they did. Pat Angerer missed yet another game. Foot, concussion, sore knee, hang nail... every time we turn around it is a new ailment with Angerer. If the guy can ever stay on the field he will give us good numbers. At this point however, we simply cannot trust him. Add in a poor matchup against the Jaguars and he is a must sit in week four even if he is active.
With LaRon Landry out, most expected to see Joe Lefeged in the lineup against San Francisco. Instead the Colts went with Delano Howell. The 49ers offense failed to provide much opportunity, so Howell's 3 tackles and 2 passes defended were actually pretty strong. He is a fill in with little chance of replacing either starter if everyone is healthy, but keep an eye on Landry's progress. He has been slow to recover in the past so we could see more of Howell than anticipated over the next few weeks.
Kansas City Chiefs
A matchup with the Giants at this point is a mixed bag. Having seen them surrender 11 sacks in three games, Justin Houston is a must start in any format and Tamba Hali is a must in big play based scoring. On the other hand we need to think twice about playing Derrick Johnson against a New York club that has shown no hint of a running game. Let me remind everyone that Luke Kuechly had 1 solo stop against them in week three. Eric Berry presents a predicament. He is not likely to excel in the tackle column but Berry is a major big play threat and faces a color blind quarterback. He will be in my lineup.
Some of you may have seen the blurb I posted in the forum late last week about Miami end Derrick Shelby. The second year man was quiet against Atlanta after posting a sack in each of the first two games. Shelby has seen more snaps than rookie Dion Jordan and with Cameron Wake gimpy, could have a significant role against the Saints this week. At best Wake will be slowed by the sore knee and is unlikely to get his normal workload. He is however, lobbying for at least a pass rush role. Either way Wake needs to be on our bench for at least week four. Keep an eye on the youngster as the Dolphins continue to search for someone to compliment Wake.
Dannelle Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler have been quality starters for us thus far, but consider sitting them this week against the Saints. To date New Orleans has provided only 41 tackle opportunities per game on average, which is worst in the league. In contrast the Eagles have been good for just over 61.
Control your excitement when I tell you that Desmond Bishop saw increased playing time in week three. After getting on the field for all of 2 snaps in week two, he lined up a outside linebacker for 11 plays against the Browns. It will be interesting to see if his snap count continues to grow in week four. Just maybe the Vikings are planning to ease him into the lineup. One thing that is certain, Marvin Mitchell is not the long term answer. On the other hand, Erin Henderson is stepping up and looks better than ever.
New Orleans Saints
Cameron Jordan is 6-3-3 over the past two games and is emerging as the next quality 3-4 end. He will have an opportunity to advance his fantasy standing this week when the Saints face a Miami offense that has allowed an average of 4.7 sacks and at least 4 in every game thus far.
Another guy to keep an eye on is outside linebacker Jay Richardson. After watching him lead the club in sacks during the preseason, I was shock when he was released before the opener. Richardson is a converted 4-3 end who I thought looked pretty good. The Saints have gotten a couple of sacks from Junior Galette and one from Parys Haralson, but neither of them have been particularly impressive. Richardson may be there only to provide depth but those in big play based leagues may want to have him on the radar.
New York Giants
The Giants were blown out by Carolina but still had no linebacker with more than 4 solo tackles. Everyone is talking about the offense being a fantasy wasteland. The defense is just as bad with only safety Ryan Mundy and maybe Jason Pierre-Paul worthy of starting consideration at this point.
After a pair of poor matchups produced forgettable outings in weeks one and two, weak side linebacker Kevin Burnett blew up for a team high 10 solo stops against Denver. Burnett is not going to be an every week must start for us, but he is a three down player who will give us useful numbers on most weeks. This should be one of those weeks. Washington has provided an average of nearly 60 tackle opportunities this season which is fourth most in the league, and they have gotten Alfred Morris going in the past two outings. Both Burnett and Nick Roach are worthy options in week four.
Patrick Chung was one of my favorite defensive back sleepers this summer, but he has not lived up to expectations. First he was shifted to free safety and now he is questionable for week four with a sore shoulder. His inability to play through and/or be productive while dealing with minor shoulder injuries contributed to his exit from New England, so this is nothing new to fantasy owners. The question now is what will the Eagles do to replace him? The obvious answer is that Earl Wolff will move into the starting lineup, but which position will he play? Wolff has seen time as a nickel back and at strong safety over the past couple of weeks. He is likely a better fit at strong safety and is seen by many as the long term answer at that position. Nate Allen however, has been starting at that position after playing free safety most of last year. I am moving on Wolff in a few leagues this week in hope that he will land at the more productive SS spot. I believe that once he is given a shot, it will be tough to get Wolff off the field. If Chung sits this week, get Wolff in your lineup regardless of where he lines up. In the past two games both Ryan Mundy and Charles Woodson have exceeded 14 fantasy points versus Denver.
Fletcher Cox has excelled as a 3-4 end and is a viable DL2 or excellent DL3 at this point. That said, sit him and any other Philadelphia pass rusher this week against Denver. Peyton has been sacked only once in the past two games and is a historically tough chase.
San Diego Chargers
The word out of San Diego is that Manti Te'o will make his debut this week against Dallas. After sitting last week with a sore groin, Donald Butler has been practicing and is expected to join him. The Cowboys are a fairly strong matchup but I am still nervous about both of these players. Groin injuries tend to linger and we have not seen enough of Te'o to know if he will play every down. If you have another dependable option, give him some serious consideration.
San Francisco 49ers
The Rams have been a less than stellar matchup to say the least and Patrick Willis will be a major question mark with a groin injury. Add in the short week and you get a really risky situation. Unless you have no other decent option, sit Willis out of this one. The Willis injury however, gives Navorro Bowman owners a little more incentive to start him.
In the past strong safety Donte Whitner has show the ability to be a tackling machine (95 solo in 2010). Since coming to San Francisco and working behind arguable the best tandem of 3-4 inside backers in the game, he has simply not had enough opportunity. Injuries and the Aldon Smith saga have the 49ers defense on its heels. As a result, Whitner is on pace to exceed 90 tackles once again. If San Francisco fails to right the ship quickly Whitner could be a quality add.
There was a Colin McCarthy sighting in the Titans week three lineup. He had a minor role (8 snaps at middle linebacker) but simply getting on the field is a plus at this point. Keep an eye on the Titans this week and see if McCarthy's role expands. When/if healthy he is hands down the best middle backer on the roster.
After a pair of big games Zach Brown played only 31 of 59 snaps in week three. He was on the injury report with an illness which may explain the reduced role, but keep an eye out for clarification later this week.
I was among the large number of owners who were burnt by the absence of Bacarri Rambo from the Washington lineup in week three. If you are in that group as well, don't over react and dump him too quickly. The defense used a base scheme that included three corners with Brandon Meriweather as the one safety. In fact, all other Washington safeties combined for four total snaps in the game. We are talking about Shanahan here so it is hard to say if this will become a staple or if it was simply a matchup scheme. I suggest we sit tight on Rambo for another week and see what happens. nothing is clearother than Meriweather,
That is a wrap for week four. Be sure to check out the IDP roundtable on the Audible this week. Best of luck and as always, Just Win Baby!