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||JOPLO BARTU, KROY BIERMANN||[SEAN WEATHERSPOON]|
|BALTIMORE||DARYL SMITH, C.J. MOSLEY||TERRELL SUGGS|
|BUFFALO||PRESTON BROWN||NIGEL BRADHAM||[KIKO ALONSO]|
|CAROLINA||LUKE KUECHLY, THOMAS DAVIS|
|CHICAGO||KHASEEM GREENE||LANCE BRIGGS, JON BOSTIC|
|CINCINNATI||EMMANUEL LAMUR, VINNY REY||VONTAZE BURFICT|
|DALLAS||JUSTIN DURANT, ROLANDO MCCLAIN||BRUCE CARTER, [SEAN LEE]|
|DENVER||BRANDON MARSHALL||VON MILLER||DANNY TREVATHAN|
|DETROIT||DEANDRE LEVY||TAHIR WHITEHEAD||[STEPHEN TULLOCH]|
|GREEN BAY||A.J. HAWK, CLAY MATTHEWS||JULIUS PEPPERS|
|HOUSTON||WHITNEY MERCILUS||JADEVEON CLOWNEY|
|INDIANAPOLIS||JERRELL FREEMAN, D'QWELL JACKSON||ERIK WALDEN, BJOERN WERNER||[ROBERT MATHIS]|
|JACKSONVILLE||GENO HAYES||[PAUL POSLUSZNY]|
|KANSAS CITY||JUSTIN HOUSTON, TAMBA HALI, JOSH MAUGA||[DERRICK JOHNSON]|
|MINNESOTA||CHAD GREENWAY, ANTHONY BARR|
|NEW ENGLAND||JAMIE COLLINS, DONT'A HIGHTOWER, ROB NINKOVICH||CHANDLER JONES, [JEROD MAYO]|
|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||SIO MOORE, MILES BURRIS||KHALIL MACK||[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||MICHAEL WILHOITE, CHRIS BORLAND||AHMAD BROOKS||PATRICK WILLIS, NAVORRO BOWMAN, ALDON SMITH|
|SEATTLE||K.J. WRIGHT, MALCOLM SMITH||BOBBY WAGNER|
|TAMPA BAY||LAVONTE DAVID, MASON FOSTER|
|TENNESSEE||WESLEY WOODYARD, AVERY WILLIAMSON, DERRICK MORGAN||[ZACH BROWN]|
|WASHINGTON||KEENAN ROBINSON, WILL COMPTON, RYAN KERRIGAN||PERRY RILEY|
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.
Last week, Tyrann Mathieu saw the majority of base defensive snaps over Tony Jefferson. This week, I'm not sure he saw any base defensive snaps. Both Mathieu and Deone Bucannon looked to be platoon players on the field in subpackages only. Jefferson didn't play any subpackage snaps, nor did Kevin Minter. I don't see those platoon situations changing this week, but watch for any movement in the Jefferson-Mathieu split. If you're willing to take the chance, the game script and matchup against the Eagles would seem to suggest lots of Mathieu and Bucannon this week.
Never trust a coaching staff. It's a lesson you'll learn time and again if you follow the NFL closely enough. Last week, the Falcons' coaches implied Prince Shembo's lack of defensive snaps were due to lack of preparation time after a knee injury limited him in practice. As I feared, the 12 special teams snaps he was able to take argued otherwise. Last week, Joplo Bartu again played nearly every down, with 58 snaps to Shembo's one. Yes, one. But the news isn't all bad for Shembo here. This week, Shembo did not play on special teams. That's likely a sign Shembo hasn't fallen entirely out of the staff's graces yet and it may in fact be the injury limiting him. Avoid this situation until we see Shembo fully practice and remove the injury from any snap count consideration.
Jonathan Massaquoi is settling into his hybrid role nicely. He's not getting a high number of pass rush opportunities due to the Falcons' offensive struggles, but the peripherals are there. And he's playing the run well. There are too many offensive line injuries to turn the Atlanta offense around, but big play league owners shoudl keep an eye on Massaquoi's snap count and progress for future weeks and beyond.
Terrell Suggs is establishing a positive trend, with a sack in two consecutive weeks. The Atlanta matchup is as good as it gets for pass rushers right now, however, so it's still too soon to fully buy back into Suggs. Local media members wrote about how much the coaching staff liked Will Hill and warned us he'd see playing time last week. In fact, the Ravens are now using a four man committee at safety, with Terrence Brooks continuing to work in rotation with Matt Elam and Darian Stewart. It sounds like the rotation will continue, but keep an eye on Hill's snap count. It's possible he'll ascend to a big enough role to have flyer value soon.
I retweeted pregame reports noting the Bills were warming up with Preston Brown as the first team strong side linebacker and had seemingly moved Keith Rivers into a super-reserve role. That held during the game, with Brown playing every snap in both the base defense and subpackages. His four solos won't jump off the page to your leaguemates, but you should jump all over him if he was put back on the waiver wire. It was Brown sticking in the dime package, with Nigel Bradham on the sideline (sometimes for Keith Rivers). Those 8-12 snaps a week are significant.
The Panthers' defense was an unmitigated disaster against the Packers. Somehow, Luke Kuechly managed seven solos in less than 60 snaps before getting tossed by an overzealous referee and Thomas Davis put up a solid 7-0-1 as well. Also of note is the two game breakout of Charles Johnson, who has a sack in two straight games and put up five solos last week. I'm not ready to jump back on Johnson's bandwagon, but he's working himself into consideration as a matchup play again.
Lance Briggs was out again last week and Jon Bostic couldn't convince the team he was ready to return in warmups either. That put Khaseem Greene back on the field in an every-down role at weak side linebacker. Greene, as he did last year, disappointed on the field and statistically. Don't hold out much hope for him as a high upside fantasy play when Briggs moves on. Darryl Sharpton rotated series for series with D.J. Williams. It's going to be tough projecting value for any Chicago linebacker in coming weeks. On the bright side, those required to start a defensive tackle are loving the return of Jay Ratliff. The Bears front four is really playing well right now, as Lovie Smith increases the number of stunts and twists to take advantage of the group's athleticism. There will be variance here -- I warned about the coming regression for Willie Young in last week's Metrics section -- but big upside when these guys hit.
The Bengals are a mess. Usually that means big opportunity for IDP owners. It's hard to know who benefits right now, though, as the Bengals are beat up at linebacker. Vontaze Burfict left -- again -- in the first quarter with a neck strain. Marvin Lewis suggested Burfict was fine, but Lewis is notorious for misleading the media on injuries. It may have been a neck issue that bothered Burfict in Week 6. If so, it's possible we'll see him miss multiple weeks while he recovers his strength and range of motion. The Bengals are expecting Emmanuel Lamur back from a shoulder injury this week, but aren't saying much about Rey Maualuga's hamstring. Reports vary on Maualuga, with anything from 2-6 weeks on the table. Vinny Rey had a huge week playing every down with all three starters down in Week 7. His upside will depend on the availablity of Burfict -- assuming Lamur is back.
Chris Kirksey led the Browns with a 5-2-1 stat line in Week 7. But he split snaps again with Craig Robertson nearly 50-50. It's hard to stay patient here in redraft leagues, but still warranted. Unfortunately for those of us who bet on the Browns' outside linebackers to cash in on the juicy Jacksonville pass rush matchup, it was Kirksey and Karlos Dansby that put up sacks. Barkevious Mingo is still a situational pass rusher only.
Conditioning and durability were the primary concerns with Rolando McClain in training camp and clearly they're limiting him now. A groin injury he's aggravated multiple times is keeping McClain from making plays in pursuit and coverage he'd been making in past weeks. Don't make any rash decisions with McClain yet, but watch closely for news about the linebacker rotation when Bruce Carter returns.
The Broncos tried a bit of everything against San Francisco last week. T.J. Ward saw a few big nickel snaps, but Denver mostly used linebacker Corey Nelson next to Brandon Marshall in subpackages. Later in the game, Nate Irving played over Nelson in the nickel. For now, Marshall remains the only trustworthy option.
I'm not sure I've ever seen this before -- not even from spinmaster Dwight Freeney -- and it was easily the highlight of my week.
For the second week in a row, Tahir Whitehead left the field in nickel packages for Josh Bynes. That's not good news for Whitehead's upside, but don't dump him just yet. Bynes isn't a dynamic player and Whitehead isn't terrible in coverage and provides a useful interior blitzing presence. Like Preston Brown, Whitehead may be back in a more favorable role sooner than later.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix started and played every down last week. With the Packers trying anything and everything at inside linebacker, Clinton-Dix should have lots of opportunity. That opportunity could be even better if Morgan Burnett's injury keeps him out. A.J. Hawk is holding his own, but Green Bay started Sam Barrington at inisde linebacker last week. Barrington rotated with Jamari Lattimore, with Brad Jones playing only on special teams. There's no fantasy value here right now, but dynasty leaguers should have Green Bay's draft highlighted next year. There's opportunity here if the team can bring in a player to take advantage.
Brian Cushing's part time numbers were a mirage. Again entrusted with an every-down role -- at least early in the game -- Cushing struggled to finish tackles and doesn't look like he will be able to play downhill effectively. He's been effectively shut out of the box score for two straight weeks. That's a terrible sign for an inside linebacker with little competition for tackles and plenty of opportunity. Whitney Mercilus is playing like a man who wants to keep his playing time when Jadeveon Clowney returns. Clowney could be back this week and it may be Brooks Reed who sees less rotational time.
Jerrell Freeman is dealing with another injury. This time it's a hip pointer and the Colts were worried enough to get an MRI on Monday. We'll know more after the practice reports come out this week. Art Jones should be back from his high ankle sprain this week. And big play owners can officially look to Bjoern Werner as a risk-reward matchup option.
The epidemic of linebacker injuries claimed its latest victim in Paul Posluszny last week, who went on injured reserve with a torn pectoral. It's an injury we've seen multiple linebackers (D'Qwell Jackson, Jerod Mayo) recover well from, but it's a big blow to fantasy lineups. Early reports have J.T. Thomas replacing him in the base defense. I expect we'll see Geno Hayes start taking nickel snaps alongside Telvin Smith Sr. What we should be watching for is LaRoy Reynolds in the middle (though he wouldn't play every down either) or Telvin Smith Sr seeing more time in the base defense in certain packages. Smith has started to make a statistical impact in his subpackage role and would be a must add if he starts seeing 50-60 snaps a week. Johnathan Cyprien will see more value, too. Andre Branch tried to play through a groin strain last week and was having his best game of the year until he aggravated (i.e. tore) the groin muscle. He's out for at least six weeks.
Joe Mays is allowed to begin practicing, but reports are he won't be ready for another couple of weeks. There's a good chance he'll factor into the base defense when healthy and it's possible we'll see a three man rotation with Josh Mauga and James-Michael Johnson. Eric Berry tested his ankle early last week and wasn't healthy enough to practice. He may still be another week or two away.
There's some angst over Jelani Jenkins in my inboxes after his disappointing three solo Week 7 performance. At first glance, the Bears disappointed with just 40 total tackle opportunities and only 12 rush attempts from Matt Forte. But Jay Cutler completed 13 passes to Forte and his tight ends, so there was room for value from Jenkins. I still think Jenkins has good upside, however, as he's remained the clear every-down player despite a couple of nagging injuries and the return of Koa Misi. Reshad Jones may also drop Jenkins' expectation a bit, as he's fresh, solid in the box and in pursuit.
Everson Griffen is on a tear and, while he's taking advantage of good matchups, it's no fluke. Both he and Jerry Hughes made my undervalued target list and they may be a huge help to those who invested heavily in Chandler Jones and/or Robert Quinn in drafts this year. Sharrif Floyd continues to develop as well. But the most impressive player over the past three weeks is arguably Anthony Barr. His college film had me worried he'd be a one-dimensional pass rusher and I was concerned a 4-3 outside linebacker role may prove too much for him. But he's been very good against the run and his pass rush continues to translate well to Sundays. I still think Khalil Mack will prove to be this class' closest thing to Von Miller, but Barr is closing the gap.
Chandler Jones played 84 of 87 snaps last Thursday. He had four solos and a sack and, according to ProFootballFocus, an additional five hurries. With Jerod Mayo out and Dont'a Hightower taking over inside, Jones looked primed to stick in a high upside 3-4 outside linebacker / hybrid pass rusher role. On Tuesday, news broke of a hip injury for Jones that will keep him out at least a month. With luck, Jones will be back in form for the fantasy playoff weeks, but there's no guarantee. The Jones news may also bust the upside Hightower showed as an every-down inside linebacker last week. It's not yet certain how the Patriots will approach the front seven. Newly acquired Akeem Ayers, Domininque Easley and Deontae Skinner may all see expanded roles. I'll have more in the Sunday AM game notes.
Curtis Lofton played one of the best games I've seen him play against Detroit. He's never been a sideline-to-sideline player and nagging injuries have slowed him at times this year, but he looked like a new middle linebacker last week. Pursuing to the sideline with power, closing quickly in coverage and his usual strong play between the tackles resulted in a 13 solo (16 total) tackle day. The bye week may have allowed him to get healthy and he'll have another solid matchup against the Packers on Sunday night. If he puts up another big number, he may be a top five option in the second half of the season with all the linebackers lost to injury around the league.
NEW YORK GIANTS
Jon Beason is likely done for the season with the toe injury continually keeping him from performing. Jameel McClain moves inside and likely into an every-down role. He's a LB2 caliber play for the rest of the season. With Spencer Paysinger also fighting injury, Devon Kennard will see more snaps in the base defense. In last week's Metrics section, I highlighted Jason Pierre-Paul as a player who was outperforming his stat line and on the verge of a breakout. He put up six solos and two sacks against Dallas and looked possessed against the run. Ride the trend.
NEW YORK JETS
There's just not much to like about the defensive fantasy prospects for the Jets. Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson are solid DL2 with DL1 upside in most weeks. But no one else is a clear every-week starter. Calvin Pryor is still a rotational player. This week, he was often behind Antonio Allen in the base defense. With the Jets' season quickly getting to the point of no return, I'd expect to see Pryor back closer to an every-down role soon.
Miles Burris is a mess, but he's the only option at middle linebacker for the Raiders and will get 4-6 solos as a floor in most weeks. Usama Young was running up huge numbers in place of Tyvon Branch. Unfortuantely, an ACL/MCL tear ended his season last week. Brandian Ross is back as a full time safety. He'll be a DB3 but I don't think he'll be good enough in coverage to put up Branch/Young numbers. He's a smart roster in deeper leagues. The light is on and blazing for Khalil Mack. Nine quarterback hurries over the past two weeks and 10 solo tackles last week (three for a loss) are making my preseason comparisons to Von Miller look a little better. Mack needs to close the deal more often in the pocket. That may be difficult if the Raiders can't find ways to keep games close or get a second half lead.
Mychal Kendricks will practice this week. It'll be nice to get a linebacker back from the injury list for a change.
When he wasn't vomiting between the hashmarks, Lawrence Timmons was tackling everything in sight against Houston. It's a reminder of how good Timmons can be when he's on his game. It's also a reminder that he needs volume to put up strong numbers. Ryan Shazier should be back this week or next week and will likely negatively impact Timmons' numbers. Keep Timmons in the LB2 tiers.
Robert Quinn finally broke through with a sack last week. Hopefully, that's a sign of things to come. It will be a huge help if Aaron Donald continues to play as well in pass rush as he has the past three weeks.
Shareece Wright was back last week and back to his former big tackle numbers. Even with Brandon Flowers (concussion) and Jason Verrett (shoulder) at risk of missing Thursday night's game, Wright should continue to put up good numbers. If Verrett plays, he's a solid start against Denver. Richard Marshall is also a high upside spot start if Flowers isn't cleared to play.
Michael Wilhoite and Chris Borland are clear downgrades on the field, but both have fantasy value as every-down linebackers. If Patrick Willis cannot return after the Week 8 bye, Borland will again be a solid start at home against St. Louis in Week 9.
I've no idea why the NFL Gamebook listed Brock Coyle as the starting middle linebacker. K.J. Wright started there as expected and played every down. Malcolm Smith had a very solid game as the every-down weak side linebacker. Smith has been a higher variance play, primarily due to missed tackles and overrunning plays, but he'll usually be around the ball enough to have a high floor. Both Wright and Smith are strong plays on the road until Bobby Wagner returns. Marcus Burley and Tharold Simon rotated in place of Byron Maxwell at corner.
I'm hoping to see a healthier Michael Johnson coming out of the bye. The Minnesota matchup is one to exploit, as we'll see in the Metrics section this week.
Avery Williamson is growing closer and closer to earning every down status. He's still sitting in the Titans' subpackages, but he's seeing a higher percentage of those snaps than Wesley Woodyard and Williamson is playing well enough to hold onto that split. Michael Griffin is taking terrible angles to the ball in run support and coverage at times, but will continue to clean up behind the front seven.
Will Compton is playing well enough to have local fans and writers wondering whether he'll start chipping away at Perry Riley's snap count when Riley returns from his MCL sprain. Compton won't cut into Keenan Robinson's numbers much, but if Compton sticks as an every-down linebacker when Riley is healthy, he will have LB3 value. Brian Orakpo is out for the season with another torn pectoral tendon. It's a brutal ending to a season filled with promise but already mostly derailed by multiple ankle injuries. Trent Murphy will see lots more snaps but doesn't project as a high upside play just yet.
DEFENSIVE back TIERS
These are in-season tiers. They're based entirely on lineup considerations and not future value. I don't draft defensive backs highly, choosing to stream safeties until I find a player too consistent to put back on the waiver wire. With that in mind, I don't do inseason defensive back tiers. Here are the safeties I'd consider putting in a fantasy lineup. I've broken them into every-week starters (i.e. those I would hold on my roster and nearly always start) and priority stream options.
strong enough to hold through 1-2 poor weeks
priority streaming options
Kemal Ishmael | T.J. McDonald | Barry Church | Kenny Vaccaro | Robert Blanton | Mark Barron | Ha Ha Clinton-Dix | Rashad Johnson | D.J. Swearinger Sr | Tyrann Mathieu | Antrel Rolle | Dawan Landry | Reggie Nelson
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.
offensive line matchups to exploit
We're well into the bye week portion of the schedule now. Though injuries have decimated the linebacker position in particular, the defensive end group has had it's share of long term injuries. Those situatons, as well as the usual handful of unexpectedly underperforming players drafted in the top 15-20 this summer, often put us in a position of needing to make an educated bet on upside matchups.
Rolling with the hot hand is always a reasonable play but it's usually best to examine offensive lines for weak links. You can do that by checking out which offenses are allowing the most sacks and quarterback hits (something that Larry Thomas' defensive data sheet does for you) and by paying attention to those offensive tackles who are struggling the most. I like to read fellow Footballguy staffer Matt Bitonti's offensive line notes and look through offensive line hits and hurries allowed at Pro Football Focus to narrow down the best matchups. And you can always check out fellow staffer Dave Larkin's IDP Matchups to Exploit column, which provides multiple pass rush sleepers each week.
With that in mind, here are the five most attractive overall offensive line matchups over the past three weeks from Thomas' data and the most attractive isolated offensive tackle matchups based on total pressure allowed data at PFF.
pressure allowed by offensive line (% dropbacks allowing sack or quarterback hit)
offensive tackles to exploit (sacks/hits/hurries per dropback)
|LT JAKE MATTHEWS (ATL) [ANKLE INJURY]||1 PRESSURE PER 9.78 DROPBACKS|
|LT MATT KALIL (MIN)||1 PRESSURE PER 10 DROPBACKS|
|LT BYRON BELL (CAR) [ELBOW INJURY]||1 PRESSURE PER 11 DROPBACKS|
|RT SEANTREL HENDERSON (BUF)||1 PRESSURE PER 11.83 DROPBACKS|
|RT JORDAN MILLS (CHI)||1 PRESSURE PER 12.12 DROPBACKS|
|RT GOSDER CHERLIUS (DET)||1 PRESSURE PER 12.37 DROPBACKS|
For contrast, compare those data with the offenses with the fewest pressures allowed as a unit [Oakland at 5.9%, Philadelphia at 6.6% and Cincinnati at 7.8%] and the worst offensive tackle matchups in the league [Cincinnati's Andrew Whitworth at 1 pressure per 67 dropbacks and Cleveland's Joe Thomas at 1 pressure per 51 dropbacks].
Start there to put a short list together of the week's highest upside plays and then do a quick check of the week's injury report for new offensive line situations to add to your list.
Want more great ideas for lineup management? Start checking out 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.