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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
|ANTHONY HITCHENS, ROLANDO MCCLAIN
|[SEAN LEE], [JUSTIN DURANT]
|DANNY TREVATHAN, [NATE IRVING]
|A.J. HAWK, CLAY MATTHEWS
|JERRELL FREEMAN, D'QWELL JACKSON
|J.T. THOMAS, TELVIN SMITH
|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, ALDON SMITH
|NAVORRO BOWMAN, [PATRICK WILLIS]
|MASON FOSTER, DANNY LANSANAH
|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.
I had someone ask if they should bench Calais Campbell last week. Granted, there were two other strong options this reader was considering, but Campbell is too good to bench. The Kansas City matchup should be solid for Campbell again this week. There's nothing new in the linebacker or safety rotations. The Chiefs don't project to give the subpackage duo of Deone Bucannon and Tyrann Mathieu enough snaps to work with. Dynasty leaguers should take a swing at the Bucannon owner before the end of the year. The inside linebacker group isn't inspiring, with Daryl Washington still an unknown, and Bucannon will play every down next year. The DB2 value we hoped to see from Bucannon this year will likely materialize next year.
The Falcons should get William Moore back this week. He'll likely be worked back in slowly, but his rotational snaps could affect the upside of Kemal Ishmael. Check the practice participation reports for Moore's status midweek and I'll have more in Sunday's game notes if Mike Smith defines the situation. Joplo Bartu remains the starter, with Prince Shembo rotating in for a series or two each half. With the Falcons' abundance of safeties allowing them flexibility in subpackages, neither inside linebacker will play every down.
Will Hill is locked into an every-down safety role. There's not much upside behind C.J. Mosley and Daryl Smith, but deeper league owners should take notice. There are enough added assists from Baltimore's home stat crew to consider Hill a DB3 this week.
Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes are on a tear. The Bills front four has no weaknesses, which helps, but both ends have been very consistent. Upcoming matchups against Cleveland (Jerry Hughes gets Joe Thomas) and Denver will slow the Buffalo train down, but Green Bay and Oakland in Weeks 15 and 16 are both favorable matchups.
Lance Briggs left last week's game with a groin injury. Christian Jones replaced him in the lneup in both the base and nickel defense. If Briggs is out for multiple weeks, Jones should be picked up. It appears the Bears prefer to use him in the base defense and keep Jon Bostic in his subpackage-only role. If there is news to the contrary during practice this week, I'll update on Sunday morning.
It was reported late last week the Bengals were targeting this week's game against Tampa Bay for Vontaze Burfict's return. The matchup isn't great, but a full week of practice would be enough to consider Burfict a LB3+ this week. With Margus Hunt inactive, the Bengals had a chance to give rookie Will Clarke more playing time. They didn't. Carlos Dunlap and Wallace Gilberry played nearly every down.
With Karlos Dansby out with a knee sprain, Chris Kirksey looked to be in line for more snaps. Instead the Browns chose to have Craig Robertson play every down and use a dime package against the Falcons last week. Jim Leonhard was seeing subpackage snaps with Kirksey coming off the field. That could change this week with Tashaun Gipson out for a few weeks with a knee injury. I'll update the situation on Sunday if the Browns give any useful hints, but consider Robertson a LB3+ and Kirksey a LB4 for now. Expect Leonhard to take over at free safety full time.
Rolando McClain and Anthony Hitchens were the every-down linebackers for Dallas last week. Given two weeks to rest, McClain looked like he did earlier this season -- dominant between the tackles and a physical downhill force against the run. It'll be interesting to see how well he bounces back on the short week.
The Broncos benched Steven Johnson for Lamin Barrow at middle linebacker last week. That's pertinent because Brandon Marshall left with a concussion late in the game. After Marshall went out, the Broncos rotated Johnson (base) and Corey Nelson (nickel). But we may see Barrow in a larger role if Marshall can't play. Watch the practice reports for updates on Marshall. The good news here is Danny Trevathan will be returning to practice this week, with the Broncos hoping to get him back for Week 14.
I feel like it's time to write this again: Ezekiel Ansah is a stud and you should not think about cutting him or leaving him out of your lineup. There will continue to be some variance with him, especially if he continues to struggle staying off the injury report. But the tackle numbers and pass rush upside is there every week and he's been able to play 50 snaps a week despite the minor injuries. Get him in your lineup against a favorable Chicago matchup this week.
Clay Matthews continues to play inside and get pass rush snaps. He'll continue to be a high variance option -- a must play in sack-heavy systems and a solid LB3+ in balanced leagues. With neither inside linebacker a dominant force in the middle of the field, both Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett will continue to have a 5+ solo expectation in every week.
Unless your name is J.J. Watt, you're a rotational player on defense in Houston right now. Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus and Brooks Reed are rotating at outside linebacker. Brian Cushing, Akeem Dent and Mike Mohammed are rotating at inside linebacker. D.J. Swearinger Sr and Danieal Manning are rotating at strong safety. A.J. Bouye was rotated out last week, too, as the Texans looked for ways to better defend A.J. Green. So, unless your name is J.J. Watt, you should not be under consideration for a fantasy lineup slot.
D'Qwell Jackson looked like a different player against Jacksonville. He played downhill and shed blocks better than he has in weeks. The Jaguars played well enough to keep the Indy stat lines favorable despite the assist-heavy stat crew. Jackson's eight assists were disappointing, but not too painful given the five solos. LaRon Landry continues to play a rotational role only and there are no indications that will change soon.
I raised the possibility of Telvin Smith Sr earning a promotion to the base defense in last week's RTD and Sunday notes, but I wasn't convinced the Jaguars would make a move this season. They did, inserting Smith into the starting lineup at weak side linebacker and keeping him in the nickel defense next to J.T. Thomas. Smith responded with a 9-3 line and two fumble recoveries. The question now becomes whether Smith can hold up over 70+ snaps a week. Until he proves otherwise, consider Smith becomes an every-week LB2.
Eric Berry is out for the season. He was placed on the NFI list with lymphoma this week. Best thoughts for a full and uneventful recovery for Berry. Ron Parker will move back to safety to replace him and was productive in that role earlier this year. Justin Houston is in a mini-slump with just one sack in the past three weeks despite favorable matchups. This week's matchup against Denver is poor, but stick with Houston in sack-heavy scoring systems. The sacks will come in bunches again soon.
The Broncos are a terrible pass rush matchup. Jelani Jenkins got Peyton Manning on a delayed twist, but Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon didn't get within shouting distance of Manning. That won't be the case against Michael Vick and the Jets this week. Keep both in your lineups. The Dolphins lined Dion Jordan up at tight end for a goal line snap last week. They may as well leave him there. He needs to be on the field in the same role as Anthony Barr and Khalil Mack, learning to play the run and compete as an all-around player.
I continue to get questions about Chad Greenway. While he probably isn't the same player he was two years ago, that's not the primary issue here. In order to put up top 15 fantasy numbers from an outside linebacker position, you need a mix of a favorable scheme, elite talent, and/or little competition for tackles. The scheme is okay in Minnesota, but Greenway has never been an elite linebacker and the competition for tackles at every level of the defense has never been higher. I had Greenway in the middle of my every-week LB3 tier earlier this season. That's still a reasonable expectation since he remains an every-down linebacker, but don't expect more than that. He's a low ceiling, so-so floor player right now.
NEW YORK JETS
Muhammad Wilkerson could miss time with a toe injury. He had an MRI on Monday and the results are not yet known. The Jets were terrible against the Bills, allowing themselves more than the usual tackle opportunity. If Wilkerson is out and the Jets offense doesn't improve, both David Harris and Demario Davis could see a slight bump in their tackle numbers. Calvin Pryor saw a handful of snaps last week, but Jaiquawn Jarrett played through a calf injury and continues to see the bulk of the reps. Jarrett is not a fantasy option.
Want a Brandon Graham update? Of course you do. Pro Football Focus has him down for 325 snaps, 19 tackles, five sacks and 29 additional quarterback hits and hurries. Cross your fingers he lands in a good situation next spring.
Ryan Shazier has a chance to return from his high ankle sprain this week, but will be a rotational player at best until he's fully back in condition. Hold him in reserve until we see his snap count return to a viable level.
I also feel like it's time to write this again: Robert Quinn is a stud and you should not think about cutting him or leaving him out of your lineup. Oakland, Washington, Arizona and the Giants are on tap, folks. Enjoy the ride. Three weeks into the Mark Barron experiment and little has changed. He will continue in his hyper-aggressive, in-the-box subpackage role. Unless there's an injury, his fantasy value is on hold until 2015.
It's a four headed rotation still at inside linebacker in San Diego. Donald Butler and Kavell Conner are your base linebackers, Manti Te'o and Andrew Gachkar are your nickel players. I'm slipping Te'o on my rosters for the stretch run. He's got the best chance of earning an every-down role before the year ends. There won't be LB1 upside with Te'o but he may be worth starting if he earns the full time role.
NaVorro Bowman is still not practicing. At this rate, I think the Niners are hedging as long as possible and waiting to calculate their playoff chances before activating Bowman. If the Niners' playoff chances aren't great in two weeks, we may not see Bowman at all this year. Regardless, I don't think we'll see Bowman have any meaningful IDP impact this year. Chris Borland is safe no matter how Bowman progresses.
I didn't like what I read about Bobby Wagner last week. It was reported Wagner's injury was a torn toe ligament and sesamoid bone fracture -- essentially the same injury that Jon Beason struggled though and an injury that arguably needed another week or two to heal. But Wagner held up well in practice last week and looked very good while playing every down last week. Hopefully, the injury is truly behind him and he's poised to have a nice end of the season run. The Seahawks chose to play the Cardinals with their base defense almost exclusively, dropping a defensive lineman instead of a linebacker when the extra cornerback was needed. That may continue against the Niners, giving deeper league owners a chance to squeeze another week of value from K.J. Wright.
Lavonte David missed last week's game with a hamstring injury. He was able to practice some last week, which bodes well for a Week 13 return. Danny Lansanah moved to weak side linebacker and had a strong statistical game. Lansanah is another Vinny Rey -- consider him in weeks he fills in for a starter, but he's not a long term upside hold. Jacquies Smith tallied another sack and continues to get more playing time at left end. With Michael Johnson's donut against a very favorable Chicago matchup, I'm officially off the bandwagon. That's multiple strong matchups Johnson has failed to take advantage of in the past month. Major Wright was also disappointing, but his poor numbers were due to injury.
There's still a hint of rotation with Avery Williamson and Wesley Woodyard in the dime package, but don't worry too much over Williamson. His tackle numbers are steady and he will continue to be a big play threat as long as Ray Horton asks him to rush the passer 8-10 times a week. Michael Griffin dislocated his shoulder last week and may miss multiple weeks. That's good news for both linebackers. Daimion Stafford and George Wilson are now your likely starting safeties.
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.
PASS RUSH OPPORTUNITY MATCHUPS TO EXPLOIT
Eyes-on analysis of how offensive coordinators choose to game plan against pass rushers and a knowledge of recent injuries is important here, but game charting sites like Pro Football Focus can aid greatly in studying pass rush matchups. You don't have to be a fan of PFF's grades or grading process to appreciate their charting tables. Stats, Inc. used to provide similar data, but it's increasingly hard to get access.
Larry Thomas' spreadsheet also provides us with pass rush data and calculates a pressure percentage metric I began writing about the first season the NFL Gamebook included quarterback hits. But the quarterback hit data can be as messy as the tackle data due to stat crew issues and the Gamebooks do not include hurries. So, I'll often cross-check our own metrics with specific offensive line play at PFF.
Based on those factors, here are the offensive matchups likely to provide the highest pass rush opportunity. Use them If you're looking for high upside waiver wire flyers or making a close lineup decision.
First, here are the four situations and offensive linemen to avoid.
Within reason, avoid them within reason. We saw another example of what a smart quarterback and good scheme -- i.e. Peyton Manning -- can do to a pass rusher like Cameron Wake last week. But elite pass rushers are still decent plays against the best of this list, particularly if you're in a balanced scoring system and the edge rusher plays the run well. But, if you're an underdog in a playoff matchup, the lower ceiling in these situations is probably best avoided.
- Denver Broncos offensive line
- Philadelphia offensive line
- LT Joe Thomas
- LT Andrew Whitworth
Five (well, six) offensive lines most likely to allow a sack
- Jacksonville (10.1% of dropbacks)
- San Francisco (8.7%)
- St. Louis (8.6%)
- New York Jets (8.3%)
- Minnesota (8.3%)
- Washington (8.3%)
Five offensive linemen to specifically target
- LT Matt Kalil (Minnesota)
- LT Byron Bell (Carolina)
- LT Jake Matthews (Atlanta)
- RT Seantrel Henderson (Buffalo)
- RT Gosder Cherlius (Indianapolis)
OTHER RESOURCES TO CONSIDER
It doesn't come out every week, but read Matt Bitonti's offensive line notes for a sense of how lines are coming together and whether there's an injury that will open up an opportunity for you. I also briefly note the week's most critical offensive line injuries in the Monday Injury Rounds column.
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.