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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
|DARYL SMITH, C.J. MOSLEY
|LUKE KUECHLY, THOMAS DAVIS
|EMMANUEL LAMUR, VINNY REY
|CHRIS KIRKSEY, CRAIG ROBERTSON
|ANTHONY HITCHENS, BRUCE CARTER
|ROLANDO MCCLAIN, [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, DAVID HAWTHORNE
|NEW YORK GIANTS
|JACQUIAN WILLIAMS, [JON BEASON]
|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
|AHMAD BROOKS, ALDON SMITH
|NAVORRO BOWMAN, [PATRICK WILLIS]
|LAVONTE DAVID, MASON FOSTER
|WESLEY WOODYARD, 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.
A long time reader reminded me this week that I've usually reserved a good chunk of this article to discuss players currently buried on the depth chart who might be strong pre-emptive pickups for next year. So, this week, I'm going to note one key immediate depth chart situation and one (or more) long term potential adds.
Tony Jefferson is now a base defensive safety only. He and Kevin Minter have been fully marginalized in favor of Deone Bucannon and Tyrann Mathieu. There's not enough value for Mathieu right now with such a strong surrounding cast that competes for tackles and gets offenses off the field and limits the opportunity of all.
2015 potential: If you're in a shallower league, stash Bucannon before the end of the season. He's going to be a very strong every down option next year. You'll also want to have Kareem Martin on your watch list. The Cardinals will decide on his future role this offseason. If it's as a full time 5-tech opposite Calais Campbell or, even better, a possible transition into an edge rushing role, there's strong upside possible.
Prince Shembo and Joplo Bartu are back in a timeshare situation. Neither is a trustworthy fantasy option. William Moore may begin seeing snaps this week in rotation with Kemal Ishmael. I'll have more on that developing situation in the Sunday game notes.
2015 potential: Shembo is the main target here. He'll likely play a full time role next year. Those in tackle required leagues should watch for offseason developments on Ra'Shede Hageman. There are consistency issues with Hageman, but there aren't many big bodied interior linemen with his quickness. If he can figure out how to play with leverage, there's lots of potential here. Dez Southward continues to see time at free safety this year and could see his role expand next year.
Matt Elam was used primarily in a slot corner role two weeks ago. Asa Jackson should be back to help the cornerback next month, but Elam may continue to see time in the slot against New Orleans. The secondary continues to be a situation to avoid, though, as none of the principals are consistently productive.
2015 potential: Arthur Brown would lead this list, but Daryl Smith continues to play well and C.J. Mosley is clearly the future of the defense. Timmy Jernigan should be on the watch list in DT-required leagues.
With Leodis McKelvin headed to injured reserve, those in deeper cornerback required leagues may want to take a look at Corey Graham. Though he may only see outside corner duty in subpackages, he's always been solid in run support and could be a spot play in good matchups.
2015 potential: Preston Brown has already ascended to a strong position on the depth chart, but things could get even better for him next season if the Bills move him into the middle as Brandon Spikes' replacement. Safety Kenny Ladler has a very slim chance at future value but isn't a rosterable target.
Charles Johnson continues to come through against favorable matchups. He's a decent add down the stretch with enough one week upside to consider in a pinch.
2015 potential: Rookie defensive linemen almost always take multiple years to develop. Kony Ealy flashed enough in college to earn the benefit of the doubt. If Greg Hardy doesn't return, Ealy may get the snaps he'll need to have value next year.
The Bears used the same rotation at linebacker last week. Lance Briggs is the lone every-down linebacker, with D.J. Williams and Jon Bostic rotating in the base defense and nickel, respectively. Willie Young's regression from his early season statistical explosion continues despite breaking through with a sack last week.
2015 potential: Lots of names to consider here. I still think Christian Jones works his way into a full time role by next year and would be a priority target in deeper leagues. Brock Vereen needs the light to go on in coverage, but has some value left. Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton may have matchup value in sack-heavy, DT-required leagues in 2015 and beyond. And if your leaguemates drop Kyle Fuller in a CB-required league, jump all over him on the waiver wire.
Carlos Dunlap is in another of his mini-sack slumps, but he's collapsing the pocket on a regular basis. Keep running him out there; there are bigger weeks on the way. There's a chance Vontaze Burfict gets back to practice and is cleared to play this week. He'd immediately be back in an every-down role.
2015 potential: Will Clarke and Margus Hunt are still too inconsistent to trust with meaningful rotational snaps, but they are the ends of the future here. Hunt has really struggled after a strong preseason, but he's shown flashes of dominance and the Bengals will not give up on him. Darqueze Dennard is stuck behind a group of solid veterans at cornerback, but his time will come soon, too.
Karlos Dansby has a MCL sprain that will keep him out multiple weeks. That could put both Chris Kirksey and Craig Robertson in an every-down role, though Tank Carder may also see a little time. I'd rather have Kirksey than Roberston down the stretch and Kirksey can immediately go into lineups as a potential LB3++.
2015 potential: The Dansby injury may highlight Kirksey and prevent him from being had in even a shallow league as a stash candidate. Don't give up on Justin Gilbert just yet. It's been a tough transition, but the potential for a strong two-way run support, on-ball corner remains.
Rolando McClain should be healthier coming out of the bye. The Cowboys have shown they prefer McClain and Anthony Hitchens in the nickel, but McClain's durability questions may force a rotation with Bruce Carter. Hopefully, there'll be some actionable information from Dallas this week to work with by Sunday.
2015 potential: Like so many other rookie linebackers over the past two seasons, Hitchens has already had a chance to show his potential. With McClain playing well, Hitchens may not be ticketed for an every-down middle linebacker job yet. Demarcus Lawrence lost a lot of developmental time to injury, but the depth chart is still favorable for him. An offseason of coaching and good health will put him in a position to take advantage of that opportunity next year.
2015 potential: I'm a little disappointed that Quanterus Smith isn't doing more this year, but the upside is still there. He's not a must hold at this point, but keep him on speed dial.
Tahir Whitehead is seeing a small handful of snaps in subpackages, but it's still nearly all Josh Bynes. Kyle Van Noy is seeing some snaps in rotation with Ashlee Palmer at outside linebacker. Van Noy may factor into the subpackage rotation in the future, too.
2014 potential: I think Van Noy can be a lesser version of Khalil Mack or Anthony Barr, but Whitehead may have a role at strong side linebacker next year and keep Van Noy from a significant role. I'd also keep an eye on cornerback Bill Bentley and Nevin Lawson. Both are small corners, but have very good ball skills. Ball skills behind a strong pass rushing front is the profile you want if you like big play corners.
Clay Matthews wasn't as effective inside last week, as the Eagles found ways to exploit his inexperience and preference to flow to the ball. But Matthews also didn't see as many snaps at inside backer after Philadelphia fell behind early. Err on the side of using Matthews in games that project to be less pass-heavy (i.e. road games against teams with strong running games) and he'll be productive more often than not.
2015 potential: There are no names on the current depth chart that excite me. Any young player of note for next year will come through the 2015 draft.
Brian Cushing was back last week and played 60 snaps. He looked healthier but just isn't dynamic enough to make plays around the ball. A.J. Bouye continues to see bunches of targets opposite Johnathan Joseph. It may be too late to pick him up after a solid two game run, but he's obviously worth a long look if he's still available.
2015 potential: Justin Tuggle is a smart pre-emptive add, despite his so-so season. The Texans may add a better option in the draft or free agency, but if not, Tuggle could slide into a valuable role. Don't buy into the narrative that Jadeveon Clowney has an inconsistent motor and won't play hurt. He's going to be very, very good opposite J.J. Watt, even if 2014 ends up as a mostly lost season.
Jerrell Freeman and D'Qwell Jackson have no footspeed and aren't playing with leverage or range. If the Colts had anyone of note in the secondary, neither linebacker would be putting up many tackles. LaRon Landry remains a backup, however, and Sergio Brown and Mike Adams are replacement level players at best. Keep running Freeman, Jackson and Adams out there in lineups in deeper leagues, however. And watch for Landry's situation to change. He'll arguably be a top five defensive back if he returns to a starting job.
2015 potential: If Freeman and Jackson continue to decline, Henoc Muamba could be the next no-name inside linebacker to hold value in Indianapolis. Andrew Jackson also got some preseason run as a linebacker to watch. And I'd continue to track the snap count of development of Jonathan Newsome.
Watch the rotation of Telvin Smith Sr closely after the bye week. I expect the Jaguars to keep him in a subpackage only role, but it's possible we'll see him used in the base defense more often. If you've been using Dwayne Gratz in CB-required leagues, watch the news for a possible team suspension after his arrest last week.
2015 potential: If Smith doesn't earn any base snaps this year, he'll have a strong chance to do so through the offseason. If he can put on a few pounds and handle the rigors of 60-70 snaps a week, he'll have LB3 potential. Ultimately, though, a healthy Paul Posluszny and Johnathan Cyprien will be tough competition for tackles. Chris Smith remains on my watch list as a developmental prospect in sack-heavy leagues.
Still no sign of Joe Mays on defense, but James-Michael Johnson continues to struggle against the run. It may only be a matter of time before Mays works his way into the base defense. Eric Berry has seen an increase in value with Johnson's struggles.
2015 potential: When and if the Chiefs decide Justin Houston is too expensive to keep, Dee Ford should step in as a high upside edge rushing prospect. Ford isn't likely to put up 50 solo tackles, but double digit sacks should be well within his reach.
The Miami defense is playing well and is fully healthy along the front four. Dion Jordan isn't playing poorly, but there just aren't enough snaps to go around right now. Especially since the Dolphins still haven't shown any interest in using him at strong side linebacker on base downs.
2015 potential: Jordan is the primary target for those in shallower leagues. Jamar Taylor showed some statistical upside in place of Cortland Finnegan last week, but will have to win snaps in camp next year.
Harrison Smith continues to see more snaps in deep coverage than around the box. That always leads to inconsistent numbers, particularly when the front seven sheds well and finishes tackles.
2015 potential: Sharrif Floyd and Anthony Barr are still developing and aren't close to peaking, especially with Mike Zimmer sure to find ways to increase their productivity. Scott Crichton has become an afterthought, but don't cross him off your watch list yet in deep leagues.
Still no word on the status of Chandler Jones. We're nearing the original four week estimate. I always felt that to be optimistic, however. Anything we get from Jones during the fantasy playoff weeks will be gravy. Jamie Collins has greatly tightened up his play against the run and his coverage decisions have improved, too. He's locked into an every-down role with Dont'a Hightower now.
2015 potential: Dominique Easley is seeing more time this year than expected due to injuries in the front seven. When he settles into a more consistent rotational role next season -- either at DE or DT -- he's going to be impressive and productive.
Cam Jordan faced one of the toughest pass rushing matchups in the league last week and Andrew Whitworth held him in check all day long. That won't be the case this week against Baltimore. David Hawthorne returned and played every down.
2015 potential: I think we'll see a young player with value added in the draft next spring, but your offseason attention should be focused on Stanley Jean-Baptiste. Raw and needing improvement with his footwork and route-reading skills, Jean-Baptiste has the size and athletic ability to be a strong fantasy corner if he puts it together.
NEW YORK GIANTS
All signs pointed to Spencer Paysinger starting for Jacquian Williams last week, but it was Mark Herzlich who saw all the base defensive snaps. Williams was not recovering quickly from his Week 10 concussion and may not be able to play again this week. If he sits, Jameel McClain is the only linebacker of value. Quintin Demps was back in a full time role, but the numbers have dried up. If you dropped him last week, don't pick up him again on the hope his snap count will mean a rebound in value.
2015 potential: Devon Kennard caught the eye of many with a solid preseason and a regular defensive role during the season. But the shine may wear off this offseason as he never locked into an every-down role and Jon Beason may be back. Don't cut Kennard, though, as there's a good chance his role will improve next year. Damontre Moore is a must hold as well.
NEW YORK JETS
Calvin Pryor will not figure into the Jets' plans this year. They've seemingly put him on the backburner and may need the offseason to figure out how he can best be used in this scheme.
2015 potential: Pryor is the only upside target of note. I think the Rex Ryan defense should've been a very good fit for him, so it's hard to guess what a potential offseason coaching change could mean.
As John Norton argues every week on our podcast, be careful before you chase points unless you're certain the role supports continued value after a big tackle week. This week, the cautionary tale is Larry Asante, who isn't a great talent and crashed back to earth hard after barely playing ten snaps.
2015 potential: You'll see me leading the charge on Brandon Graham this offseason, but it's a near lock he'll be in a different uniform. Of those who will be Eagles in 2015, we could see Vinny Curry in an expanded pass rushing role and Marcus Smith II coached up to take a larger role at inside linebacker. Neither have huge upside, but both should be on your watch list.
Tennessee refused to run the ball and gave Pittsburgh a ridiculously below average 30 tackle opportunities in Week 11. Though Lawrence Timmons is prone to stinkers and he did miss at least one tackle, this one wasn't entirely his fault. Watch the practice reports to see if Ryan Shazier is ready to return. It may be at least another week before he earns full time snaps whether he's ready to return or not.
2015 outlook: I think Shamarko Thomas has probably seen opportunity pass him by, but watch the offseason news just in case. Stephon Tuitt has caught the eye of some local observers but is still recovering from a knee injury in his last college season. There's room fpr more snaps in rotation with Cameron Heyward and Brett Keisel next season.
The Rams continued to use Barron in an aggressive, in-the-box role in subpackages last week, but mostly played a straight 4-2-5 nickel look against Denver. That's not a huge surprise, as blitzing Peyton Manning (especially with a DB) is generally asking for trouble. Barron's snap count may not be much higher in San Diego this week.
2015 potential: I can't wait to see what Aaron Donald does with a full year in an NFL conditioning program and teaching environment. Lamarcus Joyner may be worth following, too, but it's not clear whether he'll land in a role that affords him much fantasy value.
Jason Verrett was placed on injured reserve last week and will have shoulder surgery. But the major news in San Diego was the linebacker platoon with Manti Te'o coming back and playing mostly a nickel role, with Donald Butler on the bench on non-base downs. I think Te'o is more likely to see future base snaps than Butler is nickel snaps, so this could be a huge change if it holds this week against St. Louis.
2015 potential: A hamstring injury this year has kept Jerry Attaochu under the radar. But he started the season very strong and I still believe he and Melvin Ingram III could be a strong edge rushing duo in future seasons. And don't let the shoulder injury scare you off Verrett. He should be back strong in 2015.
Navorro Bowman had an MRI to evaluate soreness in his knee but was later cleared for practice this week. He's still at least 1-2 weeks away from even a rotational role. Aaron Lynch saw near full time duty last week despite the return of Aldon Smith, as Ahmad Brooks benched himself during the game. Lynch and Smith are the future outside linebackers and the future may be this week. Smith was dominant at times against the Giants despite not breaking through with a sack.
2015 potential: Tank Carradine is finally seeing defensive snaps and should be a larger part of the rotation next year. The primary offseason question here will be whether the Niners can find a role for Chris Borland.
There's still no update on the condition of Bobby Wagner. Hopefully, he'll surprise and return to practice this week. With Brock Coyle injured, K.J. Wright moved back inside, with Malcolm Smith at weak side linebacker. If Coyle is healthy this week and Wagner isn't ready to come back, it'll be interesting to see how the Seahawks approach their depth chart.
2015 potential: Kevin Pierre-Louis is going to be a very good outside linebacker. There's probably not enough snaps to go around with Wagner and Wright and Bruce Irvin part of the surrounding cast, but watch the offseason notes closely on Pierre-Louis anyway.
Two sacks for Jacquies Smith, who I wrote about last week noting his increasing snap count as he continues to gain favor with the coaches. Though there was some talk that Bradley McDougald could start eating into the rotational snaps at safety, it's been all Major Wright and Dashon Goldson in recent weeks.
2015 potential: McDougald should stay on your radar, as should Smith, but if the Bucs flounder down the stretch we could see a coaching change that throws a big wrench into this depth chart.
Avery Williamson's week would've been better if he'd converted more tackles against Le'Veon Bell, but Williamson had part of three sacks and was around the ball enough to put up an additional five assists in his strange 1-6-2 line. Most of the plays on Bell went to the third level where George Wilson and Michael Griffin cleaned up the mess.
2015 potential: There's little to be excited about here. I am looking forward to a Zach Brown | Avery Williamson inside linebacker group, however.
Trent Murphy has a PCL tear in his knee. While there are rumors he may be able to play through the injury, don't count on it. Everette Brown is probably the next man up, but we could see more of a 4-3 look if Murphy can't go. What I hope we don't see is Keenan Robinson taking some snaps outside with Will Compton moving into the middle. I doubt that happens, but it may be the best look for Washington.
2015 potential: There's nothing to be excited about on the Washington depth chart. I'm not a big fan of Trent Murphy, but he may end up as a full time outside linebacker next year. Safety Trent Robinson is deep on my watch list.
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.
TACKLE OPPORTUNITY matchups TO EXPLOIT
If you're looking for high upside waiver wire flyers or making a close lineup decision, here are the offensive matchups likely to provide the highest tackle opportunity.
Well above-average tackle opportunity allowed per week >>> New Orleans (57.9), Pittsburgh (56.3), Indianapolis (56.2), New England (55.3), Philadelphia (54.9). You'll notice that the majority of these offenses will run the ball well at times, but tend to be completion-heavy opportunity. Don't avoid them, but take note that all tackle opportunity is not created equal.
Well above-average rush attempts per week >>> Houston (33.5), Cleveland (32.3), Seattle (31.6), Dallas (31.5), New York Jets (30.2). Some of these teams will be found on the stat crew anomaly section to follow. They may provide some of the best single game opportunity on the board.
stat crew anomalies to exploit
There continue to be a number of stat crew anomalies to consider each week. You can find a full set of weekly and season long data in our IDP Matchup Spreadsheet to determine the best fit for any given week.
There are four stadiums to target if you're in a league that awards solo tackles at double the value of an assist. The Giants stat crew is providing both the highest number of total tackles per opportunity and the highest percentage of solos per opportunity.. That means the crew is giving a solo tackle on nearly every play, but also tacking on an assist often. That's a recipe for a big day for any solid tackler. Just behind the Giants would be Buffalo (2nd total, 5th solo percentage), San Diego (5th total, 2nd solo percentage), and Tampa Bay (10th total, 3rd solo percentage).
Those in leagues where solo and assisted tackles are equally valuable can add Baltimore, New York Jets, Carolina, Cincinnati, Washington, New England, Seattle and Cleveland as additional stadiums to target.
other resources to consider
The data in Larry's spreadsheet is tremendous and specfic to defensive players. And Dave Larkin does a great job at highlighting the week's best tackle and pass rush matchups in his weekly column. But you would do well to check out David Dodds' game predictor to get a sense of each offense's most likely game script. Before putting his projections together, David runs a set of simulations that estimate each team's number of rushes, passes and yards per play. Also, John Lee provides a table with Vegas over-unders and a quick +/- system to denote the week's best run and pass game scripts for daily fantasy players.
Past trends are very helpful, but smartly assessing the week's game script will also give you an advantage when looking at weekly decisions.
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.