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
|[SEAN LEE], [JUSTIN DURANT]
|DANNY TREVATHAN, [NATE IRVING]
|A.J. HAWK, CLAY MATTHEWS
|JERRELL FREEMAN, D'QWELL JACKSON
|BJOERN WERNER, ERIK WALDEN
|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, JAMES HARRISON
|JARVIS JONES, RYAN SHAZIER
|JAMES LAURINAITIS, ALEC OGLETREE
|MICHAEL WILHOITE, CHRIS BORLAND, ALDON SMITH
|NAVORRO BOWMAN, [PATRICK WILLIS]
|BOBBY WAGNER, K.J. WRIGHT
|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.
Kevin Minter has been a hot topic of conversation in my inbox lately, with folks wondering whether he's worth holding through the offseason. I've been answering no, assuming there's something of value available to you on the free agent list. Larry Foote is a solid veteran on a playoff contender and the secondary has been very deep for the Cardinals, but Minter never seemed to be in the coaches' plans after Daryl Washington was suspended. Something could break over the next few weeks with Tyrann Mathieu missing time with a thumb fracture, but Minter wasn't in the mix in subpackages while they waited on Mathieu earlier this year. Minter might land on his feet at some point in his career, but it's not looking likely anymore.
William Moore was immediately back in the lineup full time in his first week back from the designated to return list. Kemal Ishmael had a subpackage role, but saw just over 20 snaps. Moore can be considered a DB3+, Ishmael belongs on the waiver wire except in the deepest of leagues.
Jeromy Miles replaced Darian Stewart at safety this week, but there's no value here. Will Hill is still the best option and his value will fluctuate based on how well the linebackers play and how many tackle opportunities the Ravens give themselves.
There were no significant changes in the Bills' scheme or depth chart last week. Jerry Hughes and Mario Williams continue to play well. Unfortunately, both are going to be high variance plays without elite upside this week in Denver. It's hard to bench an elite option -- see Justin Houston's sack v Denver last week -- but consider playing matchups here if you're a heavy favorite and need points rather than upside.
I was hoping we'd see Christian Jones stick in the every down role with Lance Briggs out. It seemed likely after the Bears used Jones to play every down with Jon Bostic healthy when Briggs left the game early in Week 12. Unfortunately, it was Bostic every down, and Jones in the nickel only last week. The news isn't all bad, though. Bostic has clear LB3+ value now. And we know the Bears coaches trust Jones in coverage. That bodes well for his long term value. It may also keep his price down this offseason.
Vontaze Burfict has been day-to-day for almost a month now. He's still not practicing and Bengals' radio color commentator Dave Lapham said the word "microfracture" on a weekly radio show this week. Though quick to say he wasn't certain, it's a major red flag to hear the term brought up at all. If Burfict had microfracture, it's a procedure with a long enough recovery period that he should have been placed on injured reserve. So, it's hard to fully buy into that report. But these are the Bengals and we've seen players miss return to play estimates by months every year under Marvin Lewis. There's still a chance Burfict returns for your playoff run, but don't count on it.
The Browns didn't change up their subpackages with Tashaun Gipson out. Still employing the dime on passing downs, Chris Kirksey played primarily a base defensive role again. Craig Robertson remains the every down inside linebacker. There's an outside shot Karlos Dansby returns this week, but he's no lock to play every down until he can fully practice.
The Cowboys are clearly managing Rolando McClain as much as they can. McClain has missed series and nickel snaps often over the past two weeks, and not just when Dallas is ahead or behind. His knee will remain an issue and his LB1 upside games will be limited to run-heavy offense. Anthony Hitchens is the safest play in this group now.
Brandon Marshall's 5-1-1 was a strong effort against the 15 rush attempts (five by Alex Smith) and 15 completions the Chiefs managed last week. Danny Trevathan is expected to back this week and will be Marshall's biggest competition for tackles this year. I think the Broncos will put both Marshall and Trevathan in the nickel, but I doubt we'll see Trevathan take Marshall's base defensive role this week. Marshall's value in Week 15 is the big unknown. With Nate Irving gone and none of the backups impressing, we could see Denver try to get creative and put both on the field in the base defense with Von Miller. It's something to watch closely.
Ezekiel Ansah was one of three players I strongly suggested you stick with last week. His 2-0-1 Turkey Day effort was okay, but those who watched the game were probably disappointed by all his near misses of Jay Cutler. Pro Football Focus credited him with 11 hits and hurries (and the sack) in 38 rush attempts. He was inches away from a huge multi-sack day. Two more favorable home matchups (TB and MIN) and a Week 16 rematch against Cutler and the Bears make him a top value for the playoff weeks.
Clay Matthews and the safeties are still your primary targets here, but the Packers moved A.J. Hawk out of the dime defense and inserted Sam Barrington in last week. I don't think there's any value in Barrington, but watch for a surprising trend. Mostly, note that the Packers still aren't happy with the inside linebacker group.
There's nothing of note here that hasn't been said before. There's too much rotation in the back seven to trust anyone, Jadeveon Clowney will not be healthy until 2015 and there are no longer any superlatives to describe J.J. Watt.
LaRon Landry didn't start last week, but he saw 40 snaps and finally got some run in the box. That's hopefully a sign the Colts are leaning toward getting him back into the base defense full time. And, with luck, the Colts will tip that hand to a friendly media member soon enough to pass along to you this week.
Telvin Smith Sr seems to be holding up just fine. 18 solos and five assists in his first two games is LB1 territory. He's had two sacks and an interception this year, so big coverage plays are possible, too. The Jacksonville home crew isn't going to give him many assists, but his quickness to the ball would seemingly give him a six solo floor -- and we've seen his upside. Cross your fingers his sub-220 pound frame holds up for three more weeks.
It's hard to bite the bullet and keep even your elite pass rushers in the lineup against Peyton Manning or Joe Thomas, but you can be rewarded when you do. Justin Houston finished Sunday night's game against Denver with seven solos, a sack, two passes defensed and a forced fumble. Some guys are just matchup independent and if they hit the low end of variance curve, so be it. Ron Parker was officially moved to safety with Eric Berry out.
I'd been preaching patience with Jelani Jenkins -- noting his lack of opportunity and lack of assists as primary reasons for his so-so stat lines. Buoyed by eight assists (many of them legit) by a top three stat crew in New York and 49 (forty-nine?!?!?) rushing attempts by the Jets, Jenkins put up a fabulous 16 total tackles last week despite missing a handful of snaps with a shoulder/back injury. He won't come close to eight assists at home this week, but the Ravens are another favorable matchup.
I've been a bit behind on the strong trend of Captain Munnerlyn this year, mostly because the competition for tackles in run defense is just too strong. With Xavier Rhodes continuing to play well, however, Munnerlyn is getting targeted often enough to hold CB2+ value. Anthony Barr tweaked a knee this week and we'll need to watch his practice participation closely. Gerald Hodges would again hold value if Barr misses time.
Chandler Jones is expected to return to action this week, but he's likely to be eased back as a pass rush specialist. The matchup in San Diego is strong enough to consider Jones as a matchup play in big play scoring systems, but we're at least a week away from wondering where Jones (and the rest of the prospective linebackers) will align in the base defense.
David Hawthorne had a very solid week in the box score, but wasn't playing every down. If the volume of snaps the Saints face goes down this week -- and it should at home against Carolina -- Hawthorne's value may follow.
new york giants
Robert Ayers and Mathias Kiwanuka both went on injured reserve this week. With the Giants short on defensive tackles that may be able to flex outside on base downs, we're likely to see Damontre Moore push toward 50 snaps a week. Moore won't be a player that will get us 2-4 solo tackles a week against the run and there are reasons to wonder whether there will be a high volume of pass rush chances for this defensive line, but those in sack-heavy leagues should be adding Moore where available. The next two weeks (TEN and WAS) are solid matchups for pass rushers.
NEW YORK JETS
Muhammad Wilkerson has a turf toe injury. Surgery was at least considered here, which suggests this could be a multi-week injury that becomes a season-ending situation quickly. It's a tough injury for any player to recover from, but it's a serious issue for a big player who reiles on leverage and explosiveness. If you've been counting on him to return for your playoff weeks, you should be looking hard at other options. There was a report on Twitter just before Monday night's game that the Jets had replaced Dawan Landry with Calvin Pryor in the starting lineup. That proved untrue. Pryor's future value will depend on the next coaching staff.
Justin Tuck is playing well enough to consider as a matchup option. Khalil Mack had his least effective game of the season last week, but I'd hesitate to say he's hit a rookie wall. The San Francisco matchup is marginally better this week. If you're using Mack, I hope you're doing so for his reasonably high tackle floor only.
I'm not high on the upside of any defensive player here other than Mychal Kendricks. Those in sack heavy leagues should consider Trent Cole against solid matchups, too. I know it's been a running gag of sorts this season, but I'm absolutely in favor of adding Brandon Graham in all formats before the year ends. He'll be tiered very highly next year if he signs a deal with a 4-3 team.
Ryan Shazier will very likely return this week after working on his conditioning in practice last week. I still expect the Steelers to ease him back, especially with Vince Williams playing admirably in his absence. I think we'll see Shazier in the base defense, with Williams in the nickel. Jarvis Jones will also be back to rotate at outside linebacker and take some of the workload from James Harrison.
If you benched Robert Quinn in frustration last week, my condolences. But you were warned. Chris Long was back and played more extensively than expected. His 40 snaps last week means you can consider him a boom-bust option in strong matchups in sack-heavy leagues. Mark Barron also had a higher than expected snap count last week, but don't count on that continuing.
No Andrew Gachkar last week, but the Chargers moved Reggie Walker back inside and continued their four man inside linebacker rotation. Just avoid them and hope for someone to step up in 2015.
NaVorro Bowman is still doing conditioning work only. His window to be activated is nearly closed and it's looking less and less likely he'll play this year with the Niners' playoff chances slipping away quickly. Tank Carradine is also seeing more and more snaps. Watch his progress closely.
Bobby Wagner has played every down in two consecutive weeks, including last week's short turnaround to a Thursday night game and had no setbacks. With luck, he's fully recovered from the toe condition and will have no setbacks for the fantasy playoffs. Two road matchups with slightly more favorable stat crews and a home slobberknocker with the Niners is a nice string of games to end the year.
Lavonte David was practicing on Wednesday and is hopeful to return. If not, Danny Lansanah has been playing extremely well. With Mason Foster's continued struggles and an injury of his own, you have to wonder if Lansanah will stick in the nickel this week. Don't reflexively move away from Lansanah if David is back. I'll have more on this on Sunday. Bradley McDougald played over an active Major Wright last week. There's a good chance that continues this week.
Avery Williamson played every down, including every dime snap last week. Wesley Woodyard played only in the base. It's amazing how many rookie backers have risen to every down roles this year and last. It'll be another interesting offseason determining who may be the next Paul Worrilow and who will be the next Audie Cole. Michael Griffin played through a painful shoulder injury last week. His numbers suffered, but I'd watch one more week to see if it's a trend. George Wilson would benefit if Griffin can't be the same player.
Brandon Meriweather won't play with a toe injury this week. With Keenan Robinson possibly slowed with a knee injury and Ryan Clark struggling and dinged, Phillip Thomas could be a strong fill-in option with the favorable home Washington stat crew this week.
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.