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||CHRISTIAN JONES||LANCE BRIGGS, JON BOSTIC|
|CINCINNATI||VONTAZE BURFICT, EMMANUEL LAMUR|
|DALLAS||BRUCE CARTER, ROLANDO MCCLAIN||[SEAN LEE], [JUSTIN DURANT]|
|DENVER||BRANDON MARSHALL||VON MILLER, ? NATE IRVING||DANNY TREVATHAN|
|DETROIT||DEANDRE LEVY||TAHIR WHITEHEAD||[STEPHEN TULLOCH]|
|GREEN BAY||A.J. HAWK, CLAY MATTHEWS||JULIUS PEPPERS|
|INDIANAPOLIS||JERRELL FREEMAN, D'QWELL JACKSON||ERIK WALDEN, BJOERN WERNER||[ROBERT MATHIS]|
|JACKSONVILLE||J.T. THOMAS||[PAUL POSLUSZNY]|
|KANSAS CITY||JUSTIN HOUSTON, TAMBA HALI, JOSH MAUGA||[DERRICK JOHNSON]|
|MINNESOTA||CHAD GREENWAY, ANTHONY BARR|
|NEW ENGLAND||DONT'A HIGHTOWER, ROB NINKOVICH||JAMIE COLLINS||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||MYCHAL KENDRICKS||DEMECO RYANS, TRENT COLE, CONNOR BARWIN|
|PITTSBURGH||LAWRENCE TIMMONS, RYAN SHAZIER, JASON WORILDS||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, PERRY RILEY, RYAN KERRIGAN, TRENT MURPHY||[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.
The game script vs Philadelphia suggested lots of Tyrann Mathieu and Deone Bucannon last week and that's what we got. Both Mathieu and Bucannon played 76 snaps (83%) last week. Unfortuantely, it didn't pay off as expected in the box score. Both base safeties also played more than 70 snaps, as the Cardinals needed coverage help after Patrick Peterson left with a concussion. I was very surprised to see how well Calais Campbell played in nearly 70 snaps in his first week back from a knee injury. He didn't get a sack but was regularly pressuring Nick Foles. The Philadelphia offensive line has struggled, but the conditioning is a great sign for Campbell. He's back to must start status.
Another week, another change in the inside linebacker rotation. Prince Shembo, who fully practiced on Friday, played three defensive snaps and no special teams snaps. Atlanta, at 2-6 is still within striking distance of the 3-4-1 Panthers and 3-4 Saints. Maybe they just don't trust Shembo for now. But they didn't play Joplo Bartu much last week either. Bartu played 39 of 75 snaps, as the Falcons used a lot of rookie Dez Southward to defend the multi-wide receiver sets the Lions used as they came back from a three touchdown deficit.
Last week, I wrote about the four man safety rotation the Ravens used in Week 7. While Terrence Brooks and Will Hill saw time last week, Matt Elam and Darian Stewart saw the bulk of the defensive snaps. Elam played every down for the first time in a month. That's likely because Jimmy Smith left the game early with a midfoot sprain, which forced Baltimore to move Dominique Franks outside and use safeties in coverage. Elam isn't dynamic enough to beat Daryl Smith or C.J. Mosley to the ball often enough to cash in on the increased snaps, however.
Preston Brown is locked into an every-down outside linebacker role. He was the best linebacker on the field for the Bills last week and put up his usual strong every-down numbers. Nigel Bradham essentially played every down, as the Bills used much more nickel than dime against a Jets' team without many spread sets. He blew multiple tackles but was around the ball very often. There'll be variance with Bradham, but he's a top 20 fantasy play. Jerry Hughes was a major disappointment in the box score last week, but he put pressure on both Geno Smith and Michael Vick. He'll rebound after the Buffalo bye.
Kony Ealy notched his first career sack this week and had two solos but he's not yet doing enough to force himself into a higher snap count. With the Panthers in the divisional race, Ealy will remain a 20-40 snap player at best. Monitor him closely and be ready to add him as a prospective dynasty stash for next year if you've got room later this season.
Lance Briggs and Jon Bostic were again out last week. And the Bears again tried a different look at linebacker. Darryl Sharpton and Christian Jones started in the Chicago nickel package. Sharpton's record of questionable durability caught up with him, however, as he'll likely miss time with a hamstring injury. D.J. Williams replaced him and played every down, as did Christian Jones. Khaseem Greene was nowhere to be found. Briggs and Bostic may be back after the bye week, but I'm very interested to see what the Bears have planned for Jones. He's a strong speculative add in dynasty leagues, but it may be 2015 before he pays off on his potential. LaMarr Houston is out for the year. Let's hope the ACL tear after a Discount Double Check celebration doesn't run in threes.
The 2012 Cincinnati stat crew showed up again last week. Vontaze Burfict (1-6) and Vinny Rey (1-4) and Wallace Gilberry (0-5) took the brunt of the assist-happy recording. It's going to be something to watch closely this week. If it persists, we'll have to drop the expectation of Bengals' defenders at home in the same way we do the Colts and Seahawks. Carlos Dunlap's sack numbers have tailed off but the pressures are still there. He'll break through again soon and he's a must start at home against Jacksonville this week.
I can find nothing of note with the Browns. That usually means there's big news coming. We'll see.
Just when you thought we'd have a week with no season-ending linebacker injuries, Justin Durant tore a bicep tendon on Monday night and is done for the year. That will cement Bruce Carter into an every-down role and keep Rolando McClain's nickel spot safe. McClain remains clearly limited by a groin injury. The range and coverage depth he showed early in the season is gone and, while he still flashes violent downhill tendencies at times, he struggles to change direction at the last minute and has missed some tackles as a result. Kyle Wilbur, not Anthony Hitchens, filled in for Durant against Washington.
Corey Nelson didn't play a single defensive snap last week. The Broncos seem to have a different subpackage game plan every week, but it's now Nate Irving who's back in line for snaps when the Broncos go with the 2-4-5 package. If he can hold onto the 80% snap role, Irving will have LB2 value in weeks where the Broncos face an offense that can threaten them between the tackles. It's risky to expect that against New England this week, but a strong snap count will be a good sign for the BUF/SD/CIN matchups in Week 14-16.
Nick Fairley will be out for at least a month and possibly 6-8 weeks with a MCL/PCL injury. Long term, Fairley should be able to return to form, but it'll be a tough injury for a player who depends on his ability to create leverage to recover from this year. The PCL is a difficult injury to rehab and the dual ligament sprain means his knee joint is unstable in two directions.
The Lions were grasping for answers against the run and in coverage at linebacker early in the game against Atlanta. At one point, they used Josh Bynes as the base middle linebacker and Tahir Whitehead in the nickel. Bynes would only play eight snaps and Whitehead eventually played nearly every down. It's hard to guess what the Lions will do after the bye, but I expect the Whitehead/Bynes situation to be a point of emphasis in practice. I'll look for notes and update next week.
Hope to see Morgan Burnett back after the bye week. The Packers are going to see strong opportunity for the rest of the season and Burnett should be able to take full advantage if healthy.
If you can make time, find a way to watch J.J. Watt every week. There's nothing else to be said about him, but it's too enjoyable not to spend part of Thursday checking out his snaps on All-22. The Texans started Justin Tuggle and Akeem Dent last week, with Mike Mohammed playing in the dime package. Since the dime is by far the Texans preferred subpackage, we may not see any Houston linebacker get more than 50% of the team's defensive snaps in any given week. This week, Mohammed is probably the best bet against Philadelphia, but it's a high variance bet.
None of the Houston outside linebackers are full strength. Brooks Reed couldn't function well with a groin strain, Jadeveon Clowney is still working on his conditioning after his meniscus surgery and Whitney Mercilus had to leave last week's game for a few snaps with an injury last week.
I knew it. As soon as I cave and endorse Bjoern Werner as an option in big play leagues, he slips back into the slow-footed, slow-to-finish, lost in coverage, unsure of himself outside linebacker I'd seen more often than not over the past two seasons. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt, but be careful before starting him this week. I may hold off until his Week 12 home matchup against Jacksonville. LaRon Landry is back from suspension this week and can be immediately inserted into lineups.
I don't miss many every-down linebacker projections, but I blew this one. I was surprised to see J.T. Thomas play over Geno Hayes in subpackages and I think he played well enough to hold the job. The 3-3 tackle line isn't exciting, but the Dolphins didn't take many offensive snaps -- mostly because their defense scored twice. The Jaguars are going to have many more than 43 tackle opportunities this week (and every other). Thomas won't stand out on your waiver wire after last week's numbers, but he's a must add. And if Hayes isn't good enough to play in coverage, it may only be a matter of time before Jacksonville starts looking at Telvin Smith Sr in the base defense.
Justin Houston destroyed the Rams last week. He's the best edge rusher in the league right now, with Von Miller and Robert Quinn just behind. I didn't have time to watch this game closely, unfortunately, but I was surprised to see Josh Mauga and James-Michael Johnson will an equal snap count. That's something I'll watch this week. I'll have a note on this in Sunday's game notes and preview.
Koa Misi was a late add to the injury report last week with an ankle injury and was inactive. Jason Trusnik again got the call in his place. Jelani Jenkins held onto to his every down role, but the Dolphins used Kelvin Sheppard and Jonathan Freeny with Philip Wheeler at the other linebacker positions. Dion Jordan was active for the first time this year and played about 30 situational pass rusher snaps. He flashed once or twice, but I was hoping for more against the Jacksonville offensive line. Continue to watch his development closely. Hopefully, the stats come as his conditioning improves.
Sharrif Floyd is no fluke. I profiled him earlier this year, highlighting his elite combination of a quick first step and finishing speed. ESPN's Ben Goessling had a very interesting article this week with notes about how Mike Zimmer's coaching philosophy and preferred approach for his defensive tackles fits Floyd's game. It read as if Floyd had never before paid much attention to his footwork and strongly suggested those improvements were the source of Floyd's breakout. I'm seeing the same and it's hard to argue with the results. Floyd isn't as powerful through the lower body as Geno Atkins was before his ACL injury, but he's on the verge of a similar breakout.
I expressed concern about the four week timetable we'd been given on Chandler Jones and the news turned more pessimistic as the week progressed. Some beat writers began expanding the timetable to 4-6 weeks. I think you should prepare for Jones to miss 6-8 weeks. He may not be back taking a full complement of snaps until after the fantasy season ends. With Jones out, the Patriots used Dont'a Hightower inside and outside, with Deontae Skinner seeing some inside linebacker snaps. Hightower played every down, with Collins coming off the field in some dime packages. He may be fighting an injury again. It's notable New England added Jonathan Casillas by trade this week. Dominique Easley struggled a bit in Jones' role at times, but has upside down the stretch. Don't expect Easley (or Rob Ninkovich) to get a sack against Peyton Manning this week, even at home.
I hope the 8-2 effort from Kenny Vaccaro is a sign of things to come. But he's still missing tackles, taking poor angles and trying to do too much in coverage. And Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne are both playing as consistently between the tackles as they ever have. Cam Jordan had his way with the Green Bay offensive line. That's two solid pass rush efforts in a row. One more week will be a trend we can begin to take advantage of in fantasy lineups.
NEW YORK GIANTS
Jon Beason is officially done for the season with his toe injury. It'll be Jameel McClain in an every-down middle linebacker role. Although Stevie Brown did see snaps in subpackages two weeks ago, he's no threat to Quintin Demps.
NEW YORK JETS
The Jets make me sad. The front seven is so good they limit their own tackle opportunity, but the offense can't get a lead to give Sheldon Richardson, Muhammad Wilkerson and the linebackers enough opportunity to put up big sack days. It's amazing that Richardson and Wilkerson continue to put up strong numbers. Quinton Coples is also starting to flash more consistency. He may see an increased snap count soon.
Khalil Mack is going to be a fantasy stud. He's still without a sack, but Pro Football Focus has him with 15 hits and hurries over the past three weeks, including two hits and four hurries on the road against an unfavorable matchup in Cleveland. If you're in a shallow sack-heavy scoring league and he's on the free agent list, watch him closely. His divisional matchups (particuarly SD and DEN) are unfortunately well to the unfavorable side, but it won't take Mack long to become matchup independent.
Mychal Kendricks was back last week, but played only in a dime package. Emmanuel Acho and Casey Matthews rotated at both linebacker positions, with DeMeco Ryans getting a break at times. Kendricks should be back full time this week and has a strong matchup against Arian Foster on the road.
The Steelers eased Ryan Shazier back into the lineup, using him only in base situations last week. He looked healthy and was moving well, and he's likely to be back in an every-down role next week. It's not guaranteed, however, as Vince Williams played extremely well in coverage and added some value as an interior blitzer last week. Mike Tomlin said after the game Shazier was on a snap count, but then told reporters Monday Williams had earned more time in rotation. I think Williams goes back to a reserve role, but it's interesting he got a nickel nod over Sean Spence. This is a situation to watch closely. I think Shazier and Timmons are still the primary inside backers, but even Timmons may not be guaranteed full time duty this week.
I love stats and working them into metrics more than most, but you cannot ignore film study when evaluating an underachieving player. I've been preaching patience with Robert Quinn for weeks. That's a pretty sturdy limb to perch upon, but there were many on the verge of panic after his slow start. There were identifiable factors supporting a rebound and it's come in a big way over the past two weeks. But film study is also important when evaluating a big day. The Chiefs didn't throw much at Quinn last week, at times leaving him in one-on-one situations with a tight end. Still, it's great to see Quinn get back into a groove.
The Rams traded for Mark Barron just before the trading deadline on Tuesday. He'll likely replace Rodney McLeod, who suffered a knee injury and could miss time. Barron will be in a more aggressive scheme than he was in Tampa Bay, but will still have to contend with two rangy linebackers who soak up tackles in front of him and T.J. McDonald. It's not a huge fantasy upgrade.
I was surprised at the number of questions I got about my "omission" of Donald Butler from my linebacker tiers two weeks ago. If you've owned Butler over the years, you should be frustrated at his lack of consistency and the high number of box score stinkers he's had. He's not exactly been durable either. Last week's game in Denver was the latest example. In 27 rushing attempts and 55 total tackle opportunities, Butler had three solos. I think all three of them came of successive plays. Butler takes poor angles, struggles to shed blocks, and misses too many tackles. He's not an elite linebacker and he's never taken advantage of his consistently good opportunity.
I'll have more on Patrick Willis after Wednesday's practice participation report. He was listed as limited in early week, unofficial practices.
With Malcolm Smith struggling with a groin injury, rookie Kevin Pierre-Louis saw time in both the base and nickel defenses and impressed. He's not as fleet as Telvin Smith Sr, but more physical and may be just as athletic in coverage. In short, he's everything some hoped Khaseem Greene would be. Pierre-Louis won't force Smith to the bench, but if Bobby Wagner and Smith both miss this week's game, Pierre-Louis will be worth watching. Unfortunately, the home matchup against Oakland isn't favorable enough to expect much from any Seattle defender this week.
Michael Johnson is healthy and looked very good against the Vikings. His matchup against Cleveland's Joe Thomas is much less favorable this week. After that, he'll get Washington and Chicago. Give it another week, then get him in your lineup. As teams have to direct attention to Gerald McCoy, Johnson should have some big games on the horizon. With Mark Barron now in St. Louis, I expect to see Major Wright back in the lineup. That's more good news for every-down linebacker Mason Foster and Lavonte David.
I still can't slot Avery Williamson on the every-down line, but it's close enough not to matter. He's seeing the majority of subpackage snaps and has been productive statistically. He's an every-week starter, with some big play upside under Ray Horton, who will blitz his inside linebackers 20-25% of their subpackage snaps. Michael Griffin takes some of the worst angles you'll ever see, but he's around the ball enough to miss a few opportunities and still be a strong fantasy asset.
Keenan Robinson isn't going to grade well on film. He tried to do too much against the Cowboys and was out of position too much on stretch zone plays. Fortunately, the volume was high enough to give him a strong 6-4-1 line. Washington talked up Will Compton last week and hinted he'd start eating into Perry Riley's snap count. It didn't happen. Riley out-snapped Compton 61-4. Ryan Clark said he's playing with a partially torn biceps after the game. He clearly wanted no part of tackling DeMarco Murray on Monday night. Until he's more active and consistently finishing tackles, it's hard to start him, even with a very favorable home stat crew.
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.
metrics delayed until later Wednesday afternoon this week
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.