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.
|TEAM||EVERY-DOWN LBs||75-100% SNAPS||INJ | SUSP|
|ARIZONA||LARRY FOOTE||[DARYL WASHINGTON]|
|ATLANTA||PAUL WORRILOW||PRINCE SHEMBO, KROY BIERMANN||[SEAN WEATHERSPOON]|
|BALTIMORE||DARYL SMITH, C.J. MOSLEY|
|BUFFALO||PRESTON BROWN||BRANDON SPIKES||NIGEL BRADHAM, [KIKO ALONSO]|
|CAROLINA||LUKE KUECHLY, THOMAS DAVIS|
|CHICAGO||LANCE BRIGGS, JON BOSTIC|
|CINCINNATI||EMMANUEL LAMUR, VINNY REY||VONTAZE BURFICT|
|DALLAS||JUSTIN DURANT, ROLANDO MCCLAIN||BRUCE CARTER, [SEAN LEE]|
|DENVER||DANNY TREVATHAN||VON MILLER|
|DETROIT||DEANDRE LEVY, TAHIR WHITEHEAD||[STEPHEN TULLOCH]|
|GREEN BAY||A.J. HAWK, CLAY MATTHEWS||JULIUS PEPPERS|
|HOUSTON||WHITNEY MERCILUS||BRIAN CUSHING, BROOKS REED||JADEVEON CLOWNEY|
|INDIANAPOLIS||JERRELL FREEMAN, D'QWELL JACKSON||ERIK WALDEN, BJOERN WERNER||[ROBERT MATHIS]|
|KANSAS CITY||JUSTIN HOUSTON, TAMBA HALI, JOSH MAUGA||[DERRICK JOHNSON]|
|MIAMI||JELANI JENKINS, JASON TRUSNIK||KOA MISI|
|MINNESOTA||GERALD HODGES, ANTHONY BARR||CHAD GREENWAY|
|NEW ENGLAND||JEROD MAYO, JAMIE COLLINS, ROB NINKOVICH|
|NEW ORLEANS||CURTIS LOFTON, DAVID HAWTHORNE||JUNIOR GALETTE|
|NEW YORK GIANTS||JACQUIAN WILLIAMS, JAMEEL MCCLAIN||JON BEASON|
|NEW YORK JETS||DAVID HARRIS, DEMARIO DAVIS, CALVIN PACE||QUINTON COPLES|
|OAKLAND||? KHALIL MACK, MILES BURRIS||SIO MOORE, NICK ROACH|
|PHILADELPHIA||DEMECO RYANS||TRENT COLE, CONNOR BARWIN||MYCHAL KENDRICKS|
|PITTSBURGH||LAWRENCE TIMMONS, SEAN SPENCE, JASON WORILDS||RYAN SHAZIER, JARVIS JONES|
|ST. LOUIS||JAMES LAURINAITIS, ALEC OGLETREE|
|SAN DIEGO||DONALD BUTLER||MANTI TE'O|
|SAN FRANCISCO||PATRICK WILLIS, MICHAEL WILHOITE||AHMAD BROOKS||NAVORRO BOWMAN, ALDON SMITH|
|SEATTLE||BOBBY WAGNER||K.J. WRIGHT|
|TAMPA BAY||LAVONTE DAVID, DANNY LANSANAH||MASON FOSTER|
|TENNESSEE||WESLEY WOODYARD, AVERY WILLIAMSON, DERRICK MORGAN||[ZACH BROWN]|
|WASHINGTON||PERRY RILEY, KEENAN ROBINSON, BRIAN ORAKPO, RYAN KERRIGAN|
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.
Calais Campbell and Matt Shaughnessy are out for extended periods, putting even more stress on an already weak front seven. Frostee Rucker will see increased snaps with Campbell out. And keep a close eye on Kareem Martin, who played over 80% of the snaps coming out of the bye week.
Larry Foote hasn't been running up big numbers, but he's going to have all kinds of opportunity. The big winners will continue to be the safeties. In time, that will hopefully include Tyrann Mathieu, but he's still not ready to play full time. With the bye week already past, it may take an injury to Tony Jefferson or Rashad Johnson for that to happen. Watch the snap count of Deone Bucannon as well.
Prince Shembo is clearly the starter at inside linebacker now ahead of Joplo Bartu. After seeing just five snaps in Week 4, Bartu played just two defensive snaps last week. The New York Giants' stat crew boosted Shembo's assist count and he didn't play every down. And Shembo didn't play nearly as well as the 7-7 line would suggest. But his arrow is definitely pointing up. Kemal Ishmael looks like a missile at times and has run up two weeks of strong numbers in place of the injured William Moore. He overruns some plays, but looks like a potential midseason DB1.
Were it not for the very favorable home stat crew (and favorable road crews in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, New Orleans and Miami), I'd advocate selling Daryl Smith. This is C.J. Mosley's team statistically right now and he's only going to get better. Lardarius Webb finally looks ready to play every down. He played half the snaps last week and had six solos and two passes defensed. If the Ravens put him back on the field full time, he'll again be a CB1.
I posted a tape review of Jerry Hughes two weeks ago, highlighting his pass rush struggles. He turned things around quickly against Detroit last week, abusing the Lions' offensive line for three sacks. Success off the edge and a strong motor carried the day for him. I benefited from his big day in three leagues -- mostly because I didn't have time to make a roster move last week. Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.
Preston Brown got the start at outside linebacker for Nigel Bradham. But it was Brandon Spikes rather than Keith Rivers in the nickel. That's going to make handicapping the snap counts very difficult when Bradham returns. I'd tentatively rank them Bradham>>Spikes=Brown>Rivers when all four are healthy. But I'm not dropping Brown. Durability issues among the vets and Brown's strong numbers and proven versatility make Brown too valuable to put back on the waiver wire except in shallower leagues.
Mario Addison did not start and did not play well at all against Chicago. He's still the best fantasy option among the disappointing Carolina defensive line group. Thomas Davis was back last week and looked healthy. It's Davis and Luke Kuechly and no one else of note for IDP owners on this defense. Kony Ealy may eventually hold some value, but that won't be until 2015.
With Jon Bostic potentially out this week with a neck injury, it's next man up for the Bears at linebacker again. D.J. Williams took over in the nickel, but it was Christian Jones in the base defense and not Khaseem Greene. I liked Jones at the Senior Bowl and he'll be worth monitoring in dynasty leagues. But he'll be limited to a base strong side linebacker role and won't stick in the lineup when Bostic returns. Chris Conte will probably be out for an extended period with his second concussion this year. Danny McCray will have DB3 value in his place.
Cross your fingers Vontaze Burfict is cleared from his latest concussion this week if you own a Cincinnati defensive lineman. Carlos Dunlap and Wallace Gilberry didn't play poorly, but they will see better opportunity if the Bengals' defense stops the run and forces longer down and distance situations than they were able to do against New England.
No movement in the Chris Kirksey - Craig Robertson platoon coming out of Cleveland's bye. Robertson is still starting, Kirksey still seeing more snaps. Until Kirksey is more consistent against the run, he won't take over full time.
Rolando McClain looked healthy enough two weeks ago, but aggravated his groin injury again in Week 5. His status is unknown this week, but there was interesting news from Dallas on McClain, as the team suggested he could stick at middle linebacker in the long term with Sean Lee moving out to weak side backer. That's a long way from going down, but it's something to monitor. If McClain can't go, we'll see Anthony Hitchens back inside and playing every down, as Bruce Carter has at least one more week of recovery ahead of him. The Anthony Spencer watch continues, but he's still seeing just one series in three.
I wrote about the Denver 2-4-5 nickel package after Week 3 and my hope the Broncos would stick with that look in Week 5, with Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall the two inside backers. That's what happened against Arizona. Marshall and Nate Irving platooned, with Trevathan playing nearly every down. I expect that rotation to continue. Trevathan looked good in his first game back. The new nickel look means T.J. Ward will be back in the third level on every down and loses some of the elite upside he'd had.
Ezekiel Ansah was off the injury report last week and on the field for 50+ plays. In on four tackles and credited with a quarterback hit, he's hopefully on the verge of a nice run. Tahir Whitehead continues to play well, but DeAndre Levy has quietly been the best 4-3 outside linebacker in the league this year. He's an every-week LB1 right now.
Jamari Lattimore is still not playing every down but he kept the starting gig over Brad Jones, who was active for the first time since Week 2 against the Vikings. The lackluster play will keep A.J. Hawk in an every-down role for the foreseeable future. The Packers have made Ha Ha Clinton-Dix a key part of their subpackage, which they use frequently. Clinton-Dix has missed some tackles, but his opportunity will be Antrel Rolle (the 2012 and 2013) version with the inside linebacker struggles. He's the rare platoon player who deserves every-week lineup consideration.
Brian Cushing ordinarily wouldn't be on the radar as a base defensive player. But, given the lack of competition for tackles around him, he's a clear LB3 in weeks where the Texans are likely to face lots of rush attempts. Dallas didn't put Houston in a subpackage often last week and Cushing responded with another strong statistical effort. If you're in a shallow league, be ready to pounce if and when the Texans decide Cushing can handle a full time role again. Jared Crick is coming on but is still a rotational body. If he begins to see 50 snaps a week, he could be a sneaky matchup play.
Jerrell Freeman immediately returned to his full time role last week and out-tackled D'Qwell Jackson, who continues to look overmatched against offensive linemen. Most impressive against the Ravens was outside linebacker Bjoern Werner. I've never been high on Werner and I don't think the fit is good as a 3-4 outside linebacker. But Werner looked more comfortable last week than I've ever seen him look, including against the run. I'm not advocating rostering and starting him just yet, but the Colts are in dire need of him fulfilling the potential they saw in him. Monitor his progress closely. Sergio Brown replaced the suspended LaRon Landry and didn't do much statistically.
I should've put San'Derrick Marks in this space earlier this season. Finally emerging as a two-way threat in Gus Bradley's scheme, he's earned a spot on my every-week defensive tackle starter list.
Lots of readers pressed me about my early omission of Andre Branch in my offseason tiers. I liked Branch a lot before the draft and had him higher on my board than Chandler Jones (oof) but couldn't ignore his inconsistency over the past two seasons. There was enough good reports this offseason to stick him in the Upside LB3 group, but the snap counts are marginal and he's not cashed in on any pressure opportunities since Week 1 despite getting very strong matchups against Washington and Pittsburgh. He's an upside matchup play only.
James-Michael Johnson had his best game of the season against San Francisco. It was matchup-based, however, and not yet an indication the Chiefs are willing to use him in nickel packages. It's time to watch for a shift in that philosophy, though, as we could see Joe Mays back in time. If Josh Mauga continues to see all the nickel snaps, it may mean that Johnson could go back to the bench entirely when Mays returns.
Watch for news on Koa Misi coming out of the bye week practices. I don't think he'll push Jelani Jenkins out of the nickel packages, but he could take over Jason Trusnik's every-down role and hold LB3 value. Reshad Jones will be active this week and should be rostered in all leagues.
Everson Griffen has yet to breakout with a consistent pass rush but his run defense has provided a high enough floor to use him and hope for big weeks. The same cannot be said for Brian Robison, who's always been a boom-bust pass rush matchup play. The pressure is there for Robison, so don't ignore him if you're in need of a bye week option in the coming weeks. Gerald Hodges has been hurt by so-so tackle opportunity over the past two weeks in relief of Chad Greenway, but he's also been inconsistent against the run. Hodges' inconsistency and multiple nagging injuries to Harrison Smith have kept Robert Blanton on the elite side of the defensive back rankings.
Chandler Jones wasn't stuck in a 3-4 defensive end role last week, but he only played in subpackages as a situational rusher despite being listed as a probable with a shoulder injury. Watch the injury report closely this week. On the bright side, while Jamie Collins Sr continues to get lost in coverage at times, he's back in an every-down role and looks fully healthy.
There's not much of note with the Saints. David Hawthorne was back playing every down. And I'm stubbornly holding and playing Cam Jordan and Kenny Vaccaro. If they're dropped this week with New Orleans on bye, try to make room.
NEW YORK GIANTS
Try to get Jason Pierre-Paul. He continues to play the run well and the pass rush isn't far behind. If he can hold up physically, his second half schedule looks tremendous, including a JAX-TEN-WAS-STL run from Week 13-16. Deeper leagues with a cornerback lineup requirement take note of the two strong games put in by Trumaine McBride. He's in a very similar role to the one Antrel Rolle rode to strong numbers in the past two years.
NEW YORK JETS
The Jets got Dee Milliner back last week but their depth chart isn't likely to change much. If the offense continues to struggle, it's a great sign for the Jets' tackle opportunity which hasn't been good at all in recent years. David Harris, Demario Davis and Dawan Landry will all see a bump in value.
I don't care if it's a dead horse. Brandon Graham is a free agent this offseason. He's played 142 snaps, has 12 tackles, a sack and two forced fumbles. Six of the 11 sacks/hits/hurries he's been credited with by PFF came last week against St. Louis. He's not going to displace Connor Barwin or Trent Cole and Vinny Curry is also playing well. But this is the equivalent of a Desmond Bishop situation for big play leaguers. If you've got room to stash him for 2015, make sure you do so at some point this year.
Unfortunately, my fears look like they'll become reality. Don't expect to see Mychal Kendricks until after the Eagles' Week 7 bye. I don't think it'll be much longer than that since the Eagles didn't put Kendricks on the IR-return list.
Sean Spence hasn't been the same player he was in the preseason when he shocked everyone by flashing the same combination of speed and power that made him a priority draft pick for Pittsburgh. He doesn't appear to be a threat to Lawrence Timmons anytime soon. Ryan Shazier should be back from his MCL sprain soon. We've now seen three strong tackle weeks in a row for Cortez Allen. A favorite upside bet of mine last year, Allen was disappointing in 2013. He has the look of a CB1 right now.
I'm not swaying from my recommendation to lean on the Robert Quinn owner in your league. He's not been close to the dominant player he was last year, but he's not lost his mojo entirely. There's no notches in the sack column yet, but Quinn remains the rarest of commodities -- a defensive end with multi-sack capability every week. And here's his W13-W16 schedule -- OAK, @WAS, ARI, NYG. Three home games, four quarterbacks with issues on the offensive line and in the pocket. If you're the one "stuck" with Quinn, go back and watch his 2013 tape before you pull the trigger and deal him for something less than Elite DL1 value.
And, yeesh, was I wrong about T.J. McDonald's upside. He may not get many assists from his home stat crew and has to contend with Alec Ogletree outside the tackles. But it's hard to argue with the numbers so far.
The Chargers dominated the Jets last week and had just 35 tackle opportunities. It's no surprise they had no players with more than four solos. There's a chance the same may happen in Oakland this week.
I'll manufacture something to write about Seattle next week. In Dennis Green's words, they are what we thought they were.
It took a week longer than I expected, but Danny Lansanah joined the nickel package against New Orleans last week. Unfortunately, it may be a week too late to matter, as Mason Foster looks ready to return. Lansanah put up very good numbers since joining the lineup, but I think Foster reclaims his every-down role this week.
Michael Johnson somehow played more than 80 snaps after barely taking 30-40% of the defensive snaps over the first week of the season. He wasn't comfortable and fully effective yet, but the snap count is a great sign. Expect him to be in form after the Week 8 bye, if not this week against Baltimore. Gerald McCoy had a splint on his broken hand but manhandled the New Orleans interior line all day and narrowly missed a multiple sack day.
The inside linebackers are not playing well right now. Wesley Woodyard wasn't on the injury report last week but limped his way through the game and sat on many dime downs. He finished 1-1 and missed more tackles than he made. Avery Williamson rarely shed a block but was in the dime package over Woodyard most of the day. Williamson left the field for Zaviar Gooden on every third series. If Woodyard isn't on the injury report this week, there's a real problem with his fantasy value. If he is, hopefully he'll be back to full health and a productive every-down role shortly.
Perry Riley came back in for a play or two after injuring his knee, but he has a MCL sprain. I've seen linebackers play through a low grade injury in the past but it's rare. Prepare for Riley to miss a game or two. His replacement, Will Compton, wasn't anything special, but did play in the nickel.
defensive line tiers
These are in-season tiers. They're based entirely on lineup considerations and not future value. I prefer to stream and churn the back end of my defensive player roster and will move on quickly from players if I can identify a better matchup on the waiver wire. Deeper leaguers will obviously hold more than the 25-30 defensive ends and 5-10 defensive tackles I'll list here.
I base the lineup tiers on film study, current stats and trends, and a review of the pass rush pressure charting numbers from Pro Football Focus.
every week de starter
high floor dl2
best of matchup de3
every week dt starter
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.
I've been tracking tackle opportunities (rush attempts + pass completions + sacks) for nearly a decade. It's a great way to determine whether a player's weekly (or monthly or yearly) breakout is real or whether you should be truly disappointed in a weaker than expected trend.
Just a couple of years ago, the average tackle opportunity per game per team was in the 48-49 range. An average tackle opportunity of 42-45 was well below average and anything over 51-52 was well above average. That's not the case any longer. Average opportunity per team has trended over 50 in the past two seasons. Through five weeks this season, it's 51.5. But the standard deviations are wider than ever. And that's meaningful for player outcomes.
Though I now believe stat counts are more important to a player's fantasy value, a player still can't run up numbers if they're defense limits its own opportunity severely. Conversely, a player can still have a higher expectation than they should because they're getting 20-30% more chances than a player on another team.
Through five games, the top 5 tackle opportunity teams are >> Jacksonville (61.2), Tampa Bay (59.6), Oakland (58.8), Green Bay (58.4) and Philadelphia (57.4). These are all huge numbers and should be expected to trend back toward 55 over the next few weeks. But it's great news for the continued strong expectation for Paul Posluszny, Mason Foster, and Sio Moore. Johnanthan Cyprien, Dashon Goldson, Usama Young, Morgan Burnett and Malcolm Jenkins are also solid future bets.
Through five games, the bottom five tackle opportunity teams are >> San Francisco (41.2), Indianapolis (44.0), San Diego (44.8), Pittsburgh (46.2), and Detroit (46.4). Two things stand out here to me. First, DeAndre Levy's season looks even better when you consider that he's seen almost 50 fewer tackle opportunities this year than many of his colleagues. And, unless you think the Niners will continue to significantly suppress their own opportunity, there's a rebound coming for Patrick Willis. Looking at the second half schedule for San Francisco, I think the best is clearly to come for Willis.
You can get the full list of tackle opportunity for every team, including weekly breakdowns and home/away splits for trend analysis -- along with so much more -- in 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.