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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
|[SEAN LEE], [JUSTIN DURANT]
|DANNY TREVATHAN, [NATE IRVING]
|JERRELL FREEMAN, D'QWELL JACKSON
|BJOERN WERNER, ERIK WALDEN
|J.T. THOMAS, TELVIN SMITH
|JUSTIN HOUSTON, TAMBA HALI, JOSH MAUGA
|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]
|BOBBY WAGNER, K.J. WRIGHT
|LAVONTE DAVID, DANNY LANSANAH
|WESLEY WOODYARD, DERRICK MORGAN
|PERRY RILEY, WILL COMPTON, RYAN KERRIGAN, TRENT MURPHY
|KEENAN ROBINSON, [BRIAN ORAKPO]
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.
Don't panic on Rashad Johnson. It's painful to see the zero in a playoff week, but there will be a low floor week multiple times a year with every defensive back. There wasn't a rotational change, scheme change or injury. This one was just bad luck. I don't think it's a trend to fear or anything related to Tyrann Mathieu's absence.
We discussed why you shouldn't get too attached to players whose fantasy value was more dependent on opportunity than talent in the offseason, comparing the upside of players like Paul Worrilow and Audie Cole and a handful of others. I was hoping for some interval improvement from Worrilow against the run. While he's been better in some areas, he's still not handling blocks well. His coverage is also an issue. I don't think Prince Shembo is a threat to him (yet), but it could get interesting if Sean Weatherspoon recovers better than expected. It's something to track as the team preps for 2015. William Moore and Kemal Ishmael were both injured last week. Watch the injury reports closely.
Matt Elam remained the slot corner with Asa Jackson back last week. Jackson played a few more snaps than expected, and will definitely be back to a full time role with Danny Gorrer now out for the season. Jackson might be a late season add and play in deeper cornerback required leagues, though the Jacksonville matchup isn't a slam dunk.
We've highlighted it for years. Peyton Manning is a known low floor, high variance pass rush matchup. Justin Houston's game was an outlier, but enough reason to consider starting your studs against the Broncos. The low floor caught up to both Jerry Hughes and Mario Williams last week, unfortunately. With Aaron Rodgers playing so well in the pocket right now, Green Bay is also a tough matchup. But there's a higher floor for both defensive ends against the Packers and I'd get both back in lineups and hope for the best unless you've got another solid option. I'd be more inclined to play these two as a favorite than an underdog, however. I wouldn't give either a high percentage chance at a high ceiling week.
As was reported mid-week, Tre Boston started at free safety. As expected, there wasn't any fantasy value in the move. I'm still watching Kony Ealy. He's getting enough snaps to have a little value, but the execution isn't there yet. I'll be taking a long look at his snaps this offseason to see how much upside he may have for 2015.
There was no chance in Chicago's linebacker rotation last week. Jon Bostic continues to be the lone every-down linebacker and primary fantasy value on this defense. Christian Jones is playing well in coverage. Again, that's not a big help this year, but it suggests this coaching staff likes his future potential. Unless there's a coaching change or unexpected free agent signing / draft pick, Jones should have strong 2015 value.
I raised the question of an injured reserve trip last week after a radio interview mentioned the possibility of microfracture surgery with Vontaze Burfict. This week, Burfict was moved to injured reserve. I'd watch the news closely for a report of a second surgery for Burfict, but the Bengals are so tight-lipped on injuries, we may not hear anything. This may end up as nothing, but I wouldn't count on Burfict for 2015 just yet. Emmanuel Lamur is also banged up and not moving or tackling well. With the Bengals lack of depth, the next man up here is Rey Maualuga. If Lamur can't fill his every-down duties, Maualuga may be a Week 16 target. Watch this closely.
Karlos Dansby may be close to playing this week. Practice participation will give us mid week clues to his availability. Chris Kirksey just never made enough headway to move Craig Robertson out of snaps. That probably says more about Kirksey than it does Robertson. We know Pettine likes Kirksey, but there needs to be improvement in all phases this offseason. Barkevious Mingo is on a positive trend again. The Cincinnati matchup isn't strong if you're looking for situational big play value, though.
A week after it appeared the Cowboys were working hard to manage Rolando McClain's snaps, he played nearly every down against Chicago. That included nickel snaps when Dallas was well ahead in the middle of the game. McClain still missed some dime snaps, but he was asked to drop down the deep middle frequently in coverage and looked comfortable doing so for the most part. He again proved to be a strong force against the run between the tackles. I still think there's risk in using him in a playoff week, but the ten days of rest between games should have him healthy enough to play every down against Philadelphia.
I misread a note on Danny Trevathan last week. He's not actually eligible to return until this week. But he's been practicing and expected to be added to the active roster. Local writers still expect to see him in only nickel packages to start, but he could be a full time player in Week 16. Add Trevathan and float him this week on your bench. Use Brandon Marshall without worry this week. We'll watch the news and packages closely for clues this weekend and next week.
Ezekiel Ansah hasn't been good enough against the run to maintain the floor necessary to be an every-week elite defensive end. But the talent is there. For now, see him as a high variance DE1 in balanced leagues and a must play DE1 in sack-heavy leagues. The upcoming home matchup against Minnesota and road game in Chicago are well above-average matchups, however. Keep Ansah in lineups. Levy's so-so week had more to do with opportunity -- Tampa Bay ran the ball 14 times and provided only 34 non-sack tackle opportunties (40 total) -- than any other factor. There should be a slight rebound this week.
Clay Matthews is more of a playmaker than a fundamental inside linebacker. He's picking a gap and going. Either he makes the play or he's out of position to flow to the ball. He's also very sensitive to game script. In balanced leagues, he needs to face a team that will run the ball 20-25+ times or he'll have too many pass rush snaps to have enough tackle opportunity. The next two weeks -- at Buffalo and Tampa Bay -- are suspect matchups for Matthews. Expect more high variance. A.J. Hawk continues to be marginalized. He barely played against Atlanta, with the Packers using Brad Jones as their dime linebacker. That may not last as Jones looked slower and more confused in coverage than ever. But it's yet another sign that the Packers don't like what they have at inside linebacker. I wouldn't count on Sam Barrington in 2015, but he's the best speculative hold.
Jadeveon Clowney had microfracture surgery this week. That's not necessarily a career-ender, but it's not reassuring at all. The location of the cartilage injury, the failure of the meniscus repair and the early career need for a procedure with a rough success rate may conspire to make Clowney's career a short one. I firmly believe the narratives that Clowney was under-motivated and unwilling to play through injury were bovine excrement but he'll absolutely have an uphill climb to reach his pre-injury potential. The recovery period here will last into training camp. We may not know whether Clowney can fully recover until mid-2015 or beyond.
Jeremiah George was active last week, but J.T. Thomas continued to play an every-down middle linebacker role. I got no response from Jacksonville writers about George's recovery and possible role, but I think it's safe to assume Thomas continues in that role. The Jaguars are starting to look at Chris Smith a bit with Andre Branch out. This is more a sticky note for my brain to remember to review these snaps this offseason than a suggestion to deep dynasty league owners.
It took a couple of extra weeks, but we finally saw Joe Mays displace James-Michael Johnson from the base defense. Josh Mauga remained the every-down inside linebacker and that's not going to change. I don't see much long term value in Mauga, but he's now a clear offseason hold while we monitor the recovery of Derrick Johnson.
Jelani Jenkins now has multiple nagging injuries and hasn't made it through a full half in two weeks. He's hard to take out of lineups, though, especially if he fully practices this week as he did last. The road matchup in New England is in front of a favorable stat crew. Jenkins' slowing down is more good news for Reshad Jones' value and it means we should be watching Koa Misi and Phillip Wheeler closely. Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon are very tough calls this week. The upside expectation is probably not high enough to consider them strong plays if you're a big underdog this week.
Everson Griffen and Brian Robison are not coming off the field right now. That's a change from Mike Zimmer's usual rotational plan. It may help Robison a little from a volume perspective, but it doesn't make him a must play. More run defending snaps for Griffen only helps his floor, however. The Detroit matchup is average for pass rushers. Griffen is a much better play than Robison. Gerald Hodges played for the injured Anthony Barr last week, but came off the field in some dime packages. Hodges is probably safe against Detroit if Barr can't go, but you may want to break ties against him.
It's the time of year where you cannot fully trust any report, especially when there's no report and Bill Belichick is involved. Dont'a Hightower's inactive status last Sunday night was a surprise, as was the choice not to play Chandler Jones in any role. Be careful before trusting either this week. If you're stuck at defensive end and we hear that Jones definitely will play, the home matchup against Miami will have some upside.
What a weird game script against Carolina at home. Junior Galette and Cam Jordan played okay, but neither had the volume or were able to get a consistent run of pass rush chances against Cam Newton. They'll get another great opportunity against Jay Cutler this week. Variance is part of life with defensive ends in fantasy leagues. You can't chase points or overreact to a bad week. I'd use Jordan again this week and hope the game plays out differently.
In other wild Saints' news, Kenny Vaccaro will reportedly be benched this week. Vaccaro has been a huge fantasy disappointment -- to me, anyway -- but he's still the most talented defensive back on the roster. Missed tackles, poor run support angles and questionable coverage decisions have made him a scapegoat of sorts for this inconsistent defense. This won't be a long benching, but hopefully it sets his mind right for 2015 and beyond.
NEW YORK GIANTS
Damontre Moore broke through with a multi-sack effort. The matchup against Tennessee and expected increase in snaps made that a likely possibility and the upside should continue this week against Washington, particularly if Washington is forced to start Robert Griffin III III. Moore isn't seeing full time duty, however, as the Giants are doing something similar to what the Jaguars and Seahawks do in the base defense. Cullen Jenkins is playing end to defend the run. Moore's value will remain primarily big play based. Without Jacquian Williams (and Mark Herzlich), the Giants employed a dime package last week.
NEW YORK JETS
Muhammad Wilkerson may be back this week, which would be a pleasant surprise against a favorable Tennessee matchup. Jason Babin had a strong week against Minnesota and may have earned more snaps even if Wilkerson is ready and Quinton Coples is moved back to linebacker. In the secondary, the rotation between Dawan Landry and Calvin Pryor finally materialized. Pryor started alongside Jaiquawn Jarrett and played about 50% of the snaps.
Sio Moore talked a big game at Colin Kaepernick at halftime, but didn't do much of anything in the boxscore. Some of that was opportunity based, but it's likely the hip injury limited him some, too. I expect a rebound in Kansas City this week.
Fletcher Cox continues to prove he can be a consistent option in tackle-heavy leagues, but he'll need to generate more pass rush to reach the rarefied air of Calais Campbell and others. In the back seven, it's Mychal Kendricks and no one else.
Ryan Shazier was active last week but didn't play a defensive snap. He saw some time on special teams, but was only played about a quarter of those snaps. The Steelers used the same rotation at linebacker without Shazier, but I expect the rookie to start working back in the base defense soon. Jarvis Jones did return last week in rotation with Arthur Moats. If healthy this week, James Harrison will likely keep Jones from every down duty.
Keep riding Robert Quinn during these playoff weeks. The upcoming matchups against Arizona and the New York Giants are very favorable. There's still no change with Mark Barron's role. He's not a fantasy option, though it's fun to watch him used as a wrecking ball out of the subpackages.
I've written about the trend toward rotations and platoon play for the past few years, but the Chargers are taking it to the extreme. 20 players took a defensive snap for San Diego last week and 18 of them played at least 20 of the team's 78 snaps. Other than Eric Weddle, avoid this group altogether. Big play league owners should watch the progress of Melvin Ingram III, who looked improved against the run last week and Jeremiah Attaochu. Both could be upside plays next year with an offseason of growth.
Chase Borland was back to his boxscore filling ways last week. But he'll get the Seatlle stat crew this week. It's not a reason to bench him, but lower your expectations accordingly if you get half credit for assists. NaVorro Bowman was activated from the injured list this week. That doesn't mean he'll return to play this season, but it's obviously a necessary step to keep the option open.
San Diego played 20 different players last week. Seattle is barely playing more than the minimum, as substituting a cornerback for a defensive lineman is their only depth chart move during passing downs. Bobby Wagner continues to play well, but he's not being asked to rush the passer quite as much. That may limit his big play value down the stretch.
Lavonte David returned after missing two games with a hamstring injury and looked healthy before leaving with a concussion. He'll have to progress through the return to play protocol to go in Week 15. Mason Foster was inactive with an Achilles injury and it was Danny Lansanah who moved inside to the middle and stayed on the field every down. I think Lansanah may stick in that role -- at minimum, he'll remain an every down outside backer -- even if both Foster and David are healthy enough to play this week. Although there was a three-man safety rotation, it was Bradley McDougald who started last week.
Though I was excited to see Avery Williamson take over as the permanent every-down linebacker two weeks ago, I'm now wondering if the role is a bit too much to ask of him as a rookie. His numbers are off despite the increased volume. I wouldn't root for Williamson to go back to the two-thirds of the defensive snaps he was getting midseason, but it might be better for his development and box score numbers.
With two very favorable matchups to end the fantasy season (@NYG, v PHI), it would be nice to see Keenan Robinson back on the practice field and preparing to play. If he's not working by the end of the week, Will Compton is going to be an attractive plug and play.
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.