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Thanks to those of you who have been loyal readers over the years. This feature won't change much this year. If you're new to the inseason columns, welcome. I'll be transitioning from tiers and draft strategy -- though there will still be tiers featured in the coming weeks -- to team-by-team notes, every-down linebacker tables and discussion, and film study of IDP breakouts and disappointments. Those three elements will be a part of the RTD every week. There will also be a healthy dose of the usual metrics -- tackle opportunity, run-pass ratios, stat crew trends -- and more.
When I first began writing this feature years ago, schemes and position were a key part of IDP analysis. They still are. But, back then, there were fewer subpackage snaps and hardly any platoon situations at linebacker. Teams played a base defense -- then usually a 4-3 -- about 65-70% of the time. When they substituted on passing downs, it was almost always to a standard 4-2-5, with a cornerback replacing the strong side linebacker.
That doesn't happen anymore. Teams play a minority of their snaps in the base defense, sometimes as little as 20-25% of their snaps. Those base snaps are multiple fronts, with players switching responsibilities from one snap to the next. The subpackages are more varied than ever. 14-17 defenders may play at least 30-40% of their team's defensive snaps in any given game.
So, over the past few seasons, snap count has become all-important to IDP value. And while there are rotations along every defensive line and substitution patterns of note in the secondary, knowing each team's every-down linebackers has become a key piece of analysis to any successful IDP roster strategy.
I've been producing this table in the IDP Forum for many years. This year, I'm adding it to the weekly RTD. There will be a set of brief notes after the table each week, with extended discussion in the team-by-team notes section to follow.
NOTE: Those listed as every-down in italics are injury replacements who won't be every-down players when injured players return.
|INJ | SUSP
|JOPLO BARTU, KROY BIERMANN
|DARYL SMITH, C.J. MOSLEY
|LUKE KUECHLY, THOMAS DAVIS
|LANCE BRIGGS, JON BOSTIC
|EMMANUEL LAMUR, VINNY REY
|[SEAN LEE], [JUSTIN DURANT]
|DANNY TREVATHAN, NATE IRVING
|A.J. HAWK, CLAY MATTHEWS
|JERRELL FREEMAN, D'QWELL JACKSON
|JUSTIN HOUSTON, TAMBA HALI, JOSH MAUGA
|CHAD GREENWAY, ANTHONY BARR
|DONT'A HIGHTOWER, ROB NINKOVICH, JAMIE COLLINS
|CHANDLER JONES, [JEROD MAYO]
|CURTIS LOFTON, RAMON HUMBER
|NEW YORK GIANTS
|JACQUIAN WILLIAMS, JAMEEL MCCLAIN
|NEW YORK JETS
|DAVID HARRIS, DEMARIO DAVIS
|CALVIN PACE, QUINTON COPLES
|SIO MOORE, MILES BURRIS, KHALIL MACK
|TRENT COLE, CONNOR BARWIN
|LAWRENCE TIMMONS, JASON WORILDS
|JARVIS JONES, RYAN SHAZIER
|JAMES LAURINAITIS, ALEC OGLETREE
|MICHAEL WILHOITE, CHRIS BORLAND
|PATRICK WILLIS, NAVORRO BOWMAN, ALDON SMITH
|LAVONTE DAVID, MASON FOSTER
|WESLEY WOODYARD, AVERY WILLIAMSON, DERRICK MORGAN
|KEENAN ROBINSON, PERRY RILEY, RYAN KERRIGAN, TRENT MURPHY
You'll find a little of everything here. Mostly, I'll be noting depth chart changes and analyzing any scheme or role changes from the previous week's games. I'll also use this section to take an in-depth look at why certain players may be over- or under-performing. I'll try to get through every team each week as often as possible.
The Cardinals continue to rotated their safeties, using Tony Jefferson and Rashad Johnson nearly every down. It's working, but Deone Bucannon and Tyrann Mathieu are still the long term studs here. Calais Campbell showed no ill effects after a huge number of snaps in his first week back and doubled down on that effort with an effective 57 of 64 snap performance against Dallas. He gets a very favorable STL matchup at home this week. Get him in your lineup for a potential huge week.
C.J. Mosley is probably going in my elite LB1 tier next year and I don't expect to get much push back on him. He's quick, instinctive and showed an aggressive streak against the Steelers we haven't seen from many Alabama backers. He's going to be the leader of that defense next year and will fill up box scores as he continues to get used to playing in coverage in the NFL.
I'll be watching for news on the Baltimore secondary. Matt Elam played in the slot in a rotational role last week, with Will Hill playing every down at safety. The Ravens cut both Dominique Franks and Chykie Brown, leaving only a still limited Lardarius Webb as an experienced option on their depth chart. They'll deactivated rookie Terrence Brooks last week, too. There's still a game to play (vs TEN) this week before their Week 11 bye, so expect more moves before the Week 13 matchup in New Orleans.
Luke Kuechly's tackle numbers have tailed off over the past two weeks but don't get too concerned. He's still been credited with 15 total tackles over that time frame and it's rare for even a stud linebacker to go through a full season without 3-4 games with fewer than five solos. The Carolina stat crew is very assist heavy. While Kuechly often overcomes that issue with a solid solo count anyway, he's had a 3-8 and now a 2-6 week in his five home games. That may prove an issue in redraft leagues come playoff time, when he has weak matchups (TB and CLE) at home in Weeks 15 and 16. He's too good to bench (or trade) but there are upside concerns in those weeks.
Both Lance Briggs and Jon Bostic are expected back. Depending on their practice participation this week, both could also be immediately back to their pre-injury every down roles. Christian Jones is still worth holding in deeper dynasty leagues, but he may be a rotational player at best when the Bears have everyone healthy.
The Bengals moved Nico Johnson into the middle last week with both Rey Maualuga and Vontaze Burfict out. Vinny Rey still played every down but saw his upside take a hit. Burfict will not play Thursday night and I expect the rotation to be the same against Cleveland. Carlos Dunlap dented the sack column again, as expected, against Jacksonville. Ordinarily, Cleveland is a rough matchup for defensive ends. But Dunlap plays on the strong side and will be away from Joe Thomas. Keep Dunlap in your lineups this week.
The Browns are boring. Karlos Dansby has been less consistent this year behind a relatively weak defensive line and with less tackle opportunity. Donte Whitner has been a big disappointment after a solid Week 1. Barkevious Mingo woke up with a few pressures last week, but it was against a very favorable Tampa Bay matchup. His sack was due to good coverage and his snap count isn't increasing. Don't bet on a repeat performance against Cincinnati this week.
So much for Bruce Carter being cemented into a nickel role with Justin Durant on injured reserve. The Cowboys benched Carter in subpackages, preferring to use a hobbled Rolando McClain and rookie Anthony Hitchens on the majority of those snaps. DeMarcus Lawrence was active for the first time this year and had a solid game. Rookie edge rushers take time to develop and Lawrence remains a project. He may get 25-35 snaps a week in rotation, but I don't think he'll have real fantasy value until 2015.
There were hints Nate Irving would be moving into a near every-down role and he was doing just that in New England before suffering a knee injury that looks like a multi-week MCL sprain. The Broncos are extremely thin at linebacker and it's not clear how they'll replace Irving. It seems likely we'll see Corey Nelson back in the nickel package, though the Broncos could go back to the dime. In the base defense, Steven Johnson may be back from an ankle injury and ready to start. Lamin Barrow is also a possibility. The big volume winners here are Brandon Marshall and T.J. Ward. It may be a race between Irving and Danny Trevathan (eligible to return in Week 15) to see who can get back before the playoffs.
The Lions will have taken a long look at Tahir Whitehead and Josh Bynes during the bye week. The rotation was a little odd in Week 8, with Bynes seeing some base snaps and Whitehead seeing some nickel snaps. I suspect it'll be Whitehead as the starter and the Miami matchup should be solid enough to trust as a LB3.
Mike McCarthy was optimistic about Morgan Burnett earlier this week. If he returns, he's safe to get in lineups immediately against Chicago.
It's officially a three player inside linebacker rotation, with Akeem Dent and Justin Tuggle starting and Mike Mohammed playing in the dime subpackage. I think we'll see Tuggle stick as the starter when Brian Cushing returns from injury. Dent has been playing well enough to make this a deep rotation. None of these players are productive enough to put in a fantasy lineup, though. Jadeveon Clowney is taking heat for what's perceived as a slow recovery from knee surgery (it's not) and for missing last week's game with an illness. Motviation was the fashionable knock on Clowney in the pre-draft process. It's something to watch here.
LaRon Landry was activated this week and should get back to the lineup immediately in Week 11 against New England as the Colts come out of their bye. Chances are, he'll be on the waiver wire in your league if he's not already. He's worth an add if you missed him last week.
I had a few questions about Telvin Smith Sr playing middle linebacker last week. Chris Wesseling of the NFL-ATL blog noted in a column and the gamebook listed Smith as a middle linebacker against Cincinnati. Both sources are partially correct. Smith is not playing inside in the base defense. J.T. Thomas started there two weeks ago and Jeremiah George took some snaps there (with Thomas moving into the Otto role) last week before George left early with an ankle injury. However, it's been Smith playing between the tackles when the Jaguars go nickel and Thomas playing outside. That puts Smith under strong consideration in matchups where the opposing offense might force the Jaguars into a nickel defense frequently. Unfortunately, given the state of the Jacksonville offense, that may not happen often.
The Chiefs began working Joe Mays back into practice last week. He wasn't active against the Jets, but it's coming. I think he'll bump James-Michael Johnson back to the bench in the base defense. Johnson has begun struggling against the run again, which is Mays' best role. Josh Mauga looks like a lock to remain an every-down player, but I'll watch the rotation closely. Eric Berry was eased back in his first week back on the active roster but had five solos in around 50 snaps. There's not much compeition in the back seven, so that's a trend that could continue.
It was another disappointing week for Jelani Jenkins. Hopefully, he ends up on the waiver wire from a disgruntled owner where you can snap him up. Don't be the owner who drops him. The tackle opportunity over the past three weeks (CHI, JAX, SD) has been brutal. Last week, the Chargers provided just 36 tackle opportunities and only 19 rush attempts. With the possible exception of a home game against Buffalo in Week 11, there's not a below average matchup on the schedule in the second half.
Mike Zimmer is some kind of defensive coach. He's got the Minnesota defense playing extremely well and it's a lot of fun to watch Everson Griffen (and Sharrif Floyd) on one side and Anthony Barr on the other. I don't think anyone could have expected the impact Floyd and Barr would have on this defense. Not that the talent wasn't there, but the effort and execution are allowing that talent to blow up plays with regularity. Griffen's play on the weak side end and the quick-filling safety play are killing Chad Greenway's numbers. Once able to take advantage and clean up against weaker competition, Greenway's lost a half-step in run support and coverage and won't beat the talent around him to the ball often enough to stay in the LB2 tiers any more.
Trying to predict what Bill Belichick will do from week to week is folly. Last week, Jamie Collins was taken out of subpackages and struggled in coverage. Naturally, against the slot threats of Wes Welker and Julius Thomas, Collins played every down alongside Dont'a Hightower. Belichick decided his best chance to beat Peyton Manning was to use Hightower and Collins are dual pass rush / zone coverage threats and it worked. Both players had very good games. Deontae Skinner didn't play a single snap and newcomer Jonathan Casillas played just one. Ordinarily I'd argue that a similar game plan might be in the works against Indianapolis after the Patriots' Week 10 bye, but Belichick is gonna Belichick.
Cam Jordan is an every-week DL2 consideration again. He's producing against favorable matchups and has had three consecutive strong weeks, including last week's road date in Carolina. Kenny Vaccaro is frustrating. Save him for higher tackle opportunity matchups.
NEW YORK GIANTS
There was a New York Post article suggesting Devon Kennard would be seeing snaps at middle linebacker as the Giants came out of their bye week. That didn't happen, as Jameel McClain played every down at middle linebacker against the Colts. Jacquian Williams had a huge game (13-4 with a pass defensed) and continues to be a smart play when the Giants are likely to play lots of subpackage snaps. Prince Amukamara is done for the year with a torn bicep tendon. That should mean more slot duty for Antrel Rolle and a higher tackle expectation with Amukamara's competition for tackles out of the picture.
NEW YORK JETS
The Jets make me sad. The front seven is so good they limit their own tackle opportunity, but the offense can't get a lead to give Sheldon Richardson, Muhammad Wilkerson and the linebackers enough opportunity to put up big tackle days. It's amazing that Richardson and Wilkerson continue to put up strong numbers.
Ah, Khalil Mack. Regression can be a dirty word, but it's applicable here. 23 quarterback hits and hurries over the past month and no sacks for Mack. It's notable that 20 of those are hurries and Mack isn't yet finishing the play in the pocket. But the development necessary is easy to see. More importantly, Mack continues to play well against the run. I noted some tough matchups for Mack down the stretch. If his numbers continue to lag his on-field play, he's going to be the Justin Houston of 2015.
DeMeco Ryans tore his Achilles tendon again last week and is done for the year. Casey Matthews and Emmanuel Acho will replace him inside. Neither has any fantasy value. Mychal Kendricks was back and effective, however, returning to his pre-injury full time role and putting up a 5-7-1 line with a forced fumble. With little competition for tackles in the front seven and secondary, Kendricks will likely be an every-week LB1 down the stretch. Another week, another 20 snaps for Brandon Graham. 10 of those were rush opportunities. Six of those ended in a quarterback hurry or sack per Pro Football Focus. Ho-hum.
Both Ryan Shazier and Troy Polamalu suffered multi-week injuries against Baltimore. Shazier's mechanism looked like a high ankle sprain, Polamalu's a MCL sprain. Expect to see Sean Spence and Vince Williams rotate for Shazier. Lawrence Timmons will have a higher expectation in the coming weeks.
The game script went unexpectedly pass heavy for San Francisco last week and it hurt the tackle numbers of both James Laurinaitis and Alec Ogletree. Both players were used to rush often, which helped their big play expectation but held down their tackle numbers. Mark Barron was active, but didn't play a defensive snap. Rodney McLeod was able to play through a knee injury. It's still unclear how the Rams will use their safeties, but I still think McLeod is the most likely the rotate out.
Jason Verrett is probably headed to injured reserve soon. He's attempting to play through a shoulder surgery that will require surgery, a tough ask for a corner who prefers to play a physical game. He should be tucked away in all CB-required dynasty leagues. Jerry Attaochu and Manti Te'o are getting closer to returning but aren't ready yet. Hopefully, they'll both be back after the Chargers' Week 10 bye.
Patrick Willis wasn't able to go last week. I think Chris Borland knew it may be his last week to impress the coaches. His instincts shined through and the game looked slow for him in a massive 15-3 performance. Those tackles were not drag down jobs well past the line of scrimmage. Three came behind the line of scrimmage, with many more coming after a quickly diagnosed run fit and downhill play. It will be very interesting to see if the Niners choose to keep Borland in the lineup when Willis returns.
It's not often a player who dominates second and third team players in the preseason doesn't get a look in the regular season, but that's what's happened to Tank Carradine. Part of that is likely due to Carradine not being an able special teams player, part of it is the emergence of Aaron Lynch as a nickel rusher, part of it is the continued strong health of Ray McDonald and Justin Smith. I still think there's a role for Carradine, but it's going to take a need at defensive end.
Aldon Smith's suspension wasn't reduced as rumors. He won't be back until Week 11.
Brock Coyle started at middle linebacker for Seattle against Oakland. He didn't play every down and struggled in the base defense. K.J. Wright was the big beneficiary -- with Kam Chancellor out with injury, too -- and ran up a strong 10-3 week. Interestingly, the Seattle home stat crew was more favorable overall. The Seahawks had a 3-1 solo-assist ratio (35-12) and the Raiders had a similarly respectable 36-28 count. That might bode well for Bobby Wagner when he returns from his toe injury.
Lavonte David was cut viciously by Terrence West last week and frightened IDP owners everywhere when he went down clutching his knee. Thankfully, he avoided the LB Curse of 2014 and returned after missing just one play. Light a candle for his health to appease the fake football gods. Major Wright started at strong safety this week and played well enough to hold onto the job. Bradley McDougald has the attention of the coaches, however, and has begun to see subpackage snaps and might threaten to work into a base defensive rotation, too. Michael Johnson took the expected hit against Cleveland's Joe Thomas last week. He should be much better over the next three weeks (vs ATL, at WAS, at CHI).
We may see Avery Williamson playing every down coming out of the bye. The run of matchups is excellent is great for the Titans until Week 16 when they're in Jacksonville. With luck, Willamson can become everything I hoped Wesley Woodyard would be. Woodyard will have had two weeks to let his sore ankle and knee heal. He may be improved, too.
There's no inside linebacker controversy. Perry Riley played every down over Will Compton and had another strong game. He doesn't have a high weekly upside expectation, but he's a consistently high floor LB3 play.
INSIDE THE METRICS
If you're a long time reader of this column, you know about tackle opportunity and you know about stat crew anomalies. I didn't write about either much last season, but I'm going back to the roots of the RTD and making metrics a regular feature again this year.
The power of the data in this section will grow exponentially as the season progresses and our sample size increases. In time, the tackle opportunity data and pressure metrics and run-pass ratios will be helpful in matchup decisions, waiver wire pulls and more.
tvo and tmf : two new stat crew metrics from larry thomas
Stadium stat crews are a regular topic of discussion on our podcast and in our columns. With the 2012 change in how the crews record tackles when two players are credited with a tackle on the same play -- previously one solo and one assisted tackle, now two assisted tackles -- stat crews have become an important matchup consideration.
Larry Thomas, who generates a ridiculous amount of matchup data from tackles, assists, sacks, quarterback hits, pass drops and rushing attempts each week in our IDP Matchup Spreadsheet, has put together two strong metrics to show how favorable (or unfavorable) a stadium crew may be in any given week.
Now that we're nine weeks into the season and every crew has at least three samples in the data, the stat crew data is becoming powerful.
This year, Larry has corrected the stadium crew data for tackle opportunity, making it easier to see at a glance whether certain crews are truly giving out increased numbers of one type of tackle over the other. That metric -- TVO or tackles versus opportunity -- has its own table in the matchup sheet now.
This week, Larry unveiled the TMF metric -- tackle matchup factor -- which combines the stadium crew effects with tackle opportunity trends for the offensive matchup for the week. TMF has its own tab on the sheet and is projected for the current week's matchup and every week through the end of the season for those of you already considered playoff weeks as you build your late season roster.
The TMF tab is too good to miss and works best in Larry's table form so make sure you take a look at that one in its native form.
Here are the five most and least favorable stat crews, i.e. most tackles (solo and assisted) per tackle opportunity -- from the TVO tab -- through nine weeks:
most favorable stat crews by tvo
(i.e. tackles awarded per opportunity, median ~ 1.1)
- Buffalo 1.355
- New York Giants 1.340
- New York Jets 1.313
- Washington 1.254
- Baltimore 1.202
least favorable stat crews by tvo
(i.e. tackles awarded per opportunity, median ~ 1.1)
- Denver 0.958
- Philadelphia 0.973
- Kansas City 0.978
- Miami 0.998
- Oakland 1.000
For the most part, the least favorable crews are those who rarely give out assisted tackles. Oakland's crew is notorious for awarding "team" tackles 2-3 times per week, in which the crew doesn't name a defender at all when crediting a tackle. This data is particularly powerful if you're in a league where solos and assisted tackles are worth the same amount of points.
Want more great ideas for lineup management? Start checking out Larry Thomas' defensive data sheet. It's posted every Tuesday on our inseason IDP content section.
Subscribe to The Audible on iTunes or download our weekly IDP podcast here every Thursday for injury updates, player analysis and matchup discussion. Check my article page on Sunday morning for notes on every team's key injuries, depth chart changes and IDP expectations. Follow and ask questions on Twitter @JeneBramel.