The aftermath of every opening week bring a lot of big decisions. This year is no different. Owners are scrambling to pick up players who had big games and struggling with tough decisions on those anticipated standouts who fell well short of expectations. Let me just say that we "experts" share your pain. The best advise here is to do your homework and try to determine why the player excelled before you pick him up, and/or what happened that caused him to flop before you cut him. These are the things that caught my eye in week one. Hopefully it will help with some of those tough decisions. Keep one thing in mind as you contemplate; two strong weeks is a trend, one is a fluke unless there is a reason to believe otherwise. The same goes for bad performances.
There were not many surprises with the Cardinals. As expected Larry Foote was the sole three down linebacker with Kevin Minter seeing time only in the base package. One slight surprise was that Deone Bucannon saw a little more playing time than he had during the preseason. Instead of working only in the dime packages as he had in the warm up games, he joined Foote in the nickel as well. Bucannon managed 4 solo tackles on thirty eight snaps. Tony Jefferson was at strong safety on fifty seven of the team's sixty two defensive plays. Jefferson made a strong showing with his 7 solo stops second only to Foote's 8 for the team. I would like to say that I expect Bucannon's role to increase but the way Jefferson played, it may be a while before that happens.
Tyrann Mathieu was a late scratch from the game. He is expected to see some action in week two but it could be several weeks before the team is comfortable with him in a full time role. Let him show us that he is healthy before putting him in the lineup.
The only shocking news to come out of Arizona's opener is that stud lineman Caliais Campbell was shut out. If he was one of those 3-4 ends that had his first big year in 2013, I would be rather pessimistic about this situation. Since Campbell is far more proven, I am writing this one off as a mirage for now.
The Falcons played William Moore and Dwight Lowery as left and right safeties against the Saints. Lowery had a nice statistical game but I would not get too excited about him. He is a solid veteran player who has failed to take full advantage of several other opportunities over the course of his career.
Prince Shembo got a look at inside linebacker late in the preseason and looked fairly good. Not good enough apparently, to land a significant role in week one. Joplo Bartu was back at the inside linebacker spot with Paul Worrilow against the Saints. Bartu stayed on the field in most of the nickel packages, finishing with a respectable 4-6-0 on the day. He should be on the field nearly full time again this week against the Bengals and is a viable LB3 option in many leagues.
Despite getting the start in each of the final two preseason games, rookie Terrence Brooks gave way to veteran Darian Stewart at free safety against Cincinnati. Stewart's 4-5-0 on the day was far better than the weak 1-2 posted by Matt Elam, but Elam remains in what should prove to be the far more productive role in the long run. I expect he will bounce back nicely in week two. At the very least he is not a player to give up on too quickly as there is a lot of potential. It is noteworthy to mention that none of the Baltimore defenders posted more than 5 solo tackles against the Bengals and that the top two tacklers for the Ravens were both corners. I am calling this one a fluke.
I think the Bills defensive coaching staff is taking notes on Bill Bilichick's approach to frustrating fantasy owners. After using Brandon Spikes as a three down inside backer throughout the preseason, Buffalo opened week one in a nickel base defense with Keith Rivers and Preston Brown at linebacker. Rivers has struggled with coverage throughout his career and has never been able to hold a three down role for any length of time. Brown may be the team's best coverage linebacker, so with Alonzo out and Nigel Bradham serving his one game suspension; having Brown in that role makes some sense. Rivers left the game early with a groin injury and is likely to sit this week. Bradham will be back in action. So the bottom line here is that we probably know less about what to expect at the linebacker positions in Buffalo now that we thought we knew after the third preseason game. My guess is that we may see Brown and Bradham in the nickel in week two. It is noteworthy that Brown was the only Buffalo player to be on the field for every defensive snap in week one.
The safety position was a little more clear with Da'Norris Searcy getting the call at strong safety and Aaron Williams at free. Williams left Sunday's game late in the fourth quarter with a concussion and is questionable for week two. Duke Williams continued to see action in passing down sub packages and replaced Aaron at the end of the game. None of the Buffalo safeties played more than 65 of the team's 75 defensive snaps. Searcy saw action on 59 or about 79%. Take that into consideration when picking your starters this week unless Williams is out.
Leodis McKelvin has been a decent CB3 in the past but his 13 tackle game against Chicago was possibly the biggest fluke of the entire weekend. Obviously the Chicago offense perceived that spot as a weakness. The Bears had some success but not enough that other teams are likely to follow their blue print.
Roman Harper missed the preseason while recovering from a toe injury. He was in the Panthers starting lineup for week one but played only 18 snaps. There are no reports to suggest that he suffered a setback, so chances are the team is just trying to ease him back into action. Harper's interception bailed out fantasy owners for the week but betting on him for week two is not a good idea. Sit Harper until he gets healthy and assumes an every down role.
Ryan Mundy has never been an impressive talent and the Chicago defense has not given us a productive safety in years. The cover-2 is now gone and Mundy is probably playing the best football of his six years in the league. I am still not impressed with him as a player and do not see him as the long term answer for Chicago, but he is a solid veteran player in what has now become a target rich environment in the new scheme. During the preseason there were a lot of plays made from that position between Mundy and Danny McCray. He is not going to light up the box scores on most weeks but we could do much worse for a DB3 than Mundy.
Playing time at the linebacker positions was divided just as is had been late in the preseason. Lance Briggs was in on every defensive snap with D.J. Williams and Shea McClellin at middle and strong side respectively in the base. Jon Bostic worked with Briggs in the nickel.
Vontaze Burfict was knocked out of the week one game with a concussion and is currently undergoing the NFL designated protocol. It is far from certain that he will play in week two but judging from the reaction of Burfict on the sideline and the business as usual approach of the team early this week, I would say he is better than 50/50 to go. What is impressive about this situation is that Burfict had 4 tackles and a forced fumble on only 23 snaps in the game. Cincinnati held on to win with Vincent Rey replacing Burfict, but they were clearly not the same defense.
The more I see of Emanuel Lamur the more impressed I am with him. The three down strong side backer finished with a mark of 5-6-0 and a pick but his on field presence was much more impressive. I am looking to add him this week in every league that he happens to be available.
Reggie Nelson managed to lead the club in both tackles and fantasy point with his 7-3-.5 on the day. Nelson is a solid if unspectacular option who will have a few more good games before the year is over, but is not going to give us the consistency we need. Pick him up if you are in dire need but temper your expectations.
Whitner at strong safety in this scheme is a great fit. He is not going to have 12 solo tackles every week, but his big game was not a fluke. Christian Kirksey saw some playing time.
It was a good news, bad news scenario for the Cowboys linebackers in week one. The good news is that Rolando McClain looked better than expected as the starting middle backer. He made it through the game healthy and even tied for the team tackle lead with 7 solo stops. Anyone looking to improve their depth at that position should probably have McClain near the top of the free agent list this week. The bad news for Dallas is that they lost another starter when Justin Durant went down with a groin injury. He is expected to miss at least three or four weeks and groin injuries tend to linger. Kyle Wilbur opened camp as the starter on the strong side. He and rookie Anthony Hitchens are about the only options still standing.
Strong safety Barry Church had a much more quiet day than expected, but there is no way anyone should consider letting him go. This defense is a mess and he will be a stud for us on most weeks.
Brandon Marshall had a strong showing in week one and managed to lead the club at 7-2-0. He is seeing time in all the sub packages and may be playing his way into a significant role even after Danny Trevathan returns.
T.J. Ward had a disappointing box score in week one. I have been up and down on this situation like a yo-yo all summer and really did not expect this from him. Denver has been a tough spot for safety production for a long time so I am a little concerned, but I really like the role Ward is playing. The Chiefs are a very questionable matchup after their week one debacle, so it might be a good idea to sit him this week if you have other good options. That said, I am still pretty optimistic that Ward will bounce back strong over the next few weeks.
Green Bay Packers
Last year we wondered why Brad Jones was pulled from the passing down packages. Then there were rumors that he may have lost the starting job. When week one rolled around he was back in the lineup with an every down role. If he is still in that role come week two it will simply be due to the fact that the Packers have no one else. Jones was horrible against Seattle. Missed tackles, holding calls, poor coverage... Seattle is one of the games better matchups for inside linebacker and Jones went 1-3 in the game. He was late to the party on almost every snap and when he was the first one there the running back ran through his arm tackles. Anyone with Morgan Burnett on their roster will be smiling all the way to the bank unless Jones becomes a different player this week. Maybe someone should send the Packers an email with the phone numbers for Kevin Burnett or James Anderson.
As a wrote last week, D.J. Swearinger Sr is working in at strong safety in the base package and at linebacker with Brian Cushing in the nickel. This is a great fit for his skill set and part of the reason he was 6-2-1 with a forced fumble in week one. This was not a fluke. If Swearinger is available and you can get him on your roster, make the move.
Ever hear of a guy named Josh McNary? Neither have I, but he is likely to be starting next to D'Qwell Jackson at inside linebacker this week unless Jerrell Freeman is able to bounce back from the hamstring injury that took him out in the second half on Sunday. For the record, McNary is an undrafted rookie out of Army. The Colts face off against Philadelphia this week so there will be plenty of opportunity to go around. Laron Landry is a must start in this one and I expect that Jackson will bounce back strong as well.
Kansas City Chiefs
Derrick Johnson and Mike De'Vito are done with Achilles injuries. Joshua Mauga started next to Johnson and took over the nickel duties when Johnson was lost. With Joe Mays still on the mend, James-Michael Johnson is next in line for the starting job. He moved into the lineup against the Titans when Johnson left. The Chiefs are in deep trouble in the front seven. Eric Berry is going to have a huge year. Vance Walker is next up at end.
The Dolphins are dealing with injuries to all three of their starting linebackers. Dannell Ellerbe landed on IR with his hip injury, Koa Misi is in a walking boot with an ankle injury and Phillip Wheeler missed week one with a thumb that has him questionable for week two. Jason Trusnik started for Wheeler in the opener and will likely move to the middle this week. Wheeler may be able to go on the strong side and Jelani Jenkins will come off the bench to play the weak side. In the long run Wheeler will be the best fantasy option here by default but Jenkins is going to have some value as well. He should be a three down WLB going forward.
Robert Blanton earned the week one start at strong safety for the Vikings. He went on to lead the club in tackles for the game with 7 solos. The fact that Blanton came from obscurity to win the job is a surprise. The fact that he posted 7 solo tackles in week one was not. Harrison Smith is the stud at safety for the Vikings but the strong safety position has quietly been productive as well. Jamarca Sanford averaged 8 solo tackles a game over his first four starts in 2013. Blanton is going to be under the radar and is unlikely to make a big play splash, but he could post surprisingly solid tackle numbers for us.
I have not yet had time to watch the Vikings week one game in full so I am not sure what happened to Chad Greenway. Normally my reaction would be that his lack of production has to be a mirage, but the fact that the Vikings have a new defensive scheme and coaching staff leaves a little room for doubt. I will say that Greenway is going to be in a couple of my starting lineups this week unless I see something disturbing when I finally watch the game.
Some of you may remember that I liked Gerald Hodges as a sleeper last year. He is finally getting an opportunity to play albeit only in the nickel packages. I still like this guy a lot and believe that he will eventually be a three down starter here.
Anthony Barr had a solid debut. He is being used much like Greenway was early in his career. Everson Griffen had a big game in his fist action as the starting end. He finished at 3-0-2 and is showing signs of big things.
New Orleans Saints
It was no surprise that Curtis Lofton had a solid outing against the Falcons but it was good to see David Hawthorne post solid at 6-2-0 as well. Hawthorne was on the field for 65 of the Saints 75 defensive snaps, sitting out only the dime packages when the Falcons used four or five receivers. I like his chances of having a good game again this week against the Browns who are committed to the running game.
Defensive backs Rafael Bush (6-0) and Corey White (6-0) also turned in solid numbers versus Atlanta. These numbers however, are based more on the matchup I think. This contest quickly became an offensive slug out. The Browns are not capable of playing that kind of game and will try to control the clock with the run.
Defensive end Cameron Jordan had a big 2013 season and entered week one with big expectations. Despite the Falcons passing forty three times in the game, Jordan was only able to record a single tackle and no sacks. If he were a more proven player it would be much easier to call this a fluke, and ultimately I still feel that it probably was, but the long history of one year wonders from the end positions in 3-4 schemes has me nervous. I am not ready to cut him but will put him on the bench this week in both of the leagues that I have him roistered.
New York Giants
Jon Beason was able to make the start at middle linebacker against the Lions but he did not play every snap. This was more of a precaution as the team did not want him to overdo it until they could see how his foot would react. Beason said on Tuesday that the foot was pretty sore but that he had no setbacks. He may not practice until late in the week but should go against Arizona this weekend. For fantasy purposes, we need to sit him until he is full go. That may take another week or two. Bad as the Giants looked in week one, Beason could be a 100+ solo tackle guy by the end of the year.
The Giants pass rush was all but invisible against Detroit. Jason Pierre-Paul was saying all offseason that he was finally healthy and ready for a bounce back. Dating all the way back to the third preseason game, the only time he has shown up on film is when the training staff has come out to help him up. It could be a long year for Giants fans but a great year for those of us with Beason, Stevie Brown and Antrel Rolle.
The Raiders opened in a 3-4 with Sio Moore and Miles Burris at inside linebacker. Both players posted good numbers but Moore exploded with a mark of 11-2-1 with 2 forced fumbles. This guy is the real deal if he can stay healthy. He has all the physical tools to be great. His knack for the big play could be enough to push Moore into the top twelve this year. If he is available, make Moore your top free agent priority this week.
San Diego Chargers
Corner Shareece Wright led the Chargers with 8 solo tackles in the late game on Monday. This was likely more of a matchup thing than a sign that he is going to step up in the box scores. Keep in mind that San Diego plays Seattle, Buffalo, Jacksonville, then the Jets, Raiders and Chiefs before they get another strong matchup for their corners.
Corey Liuget had a good preseason and got off to a fast start at 4-1-1 against the Cardinals. He had a decent season in 2012 with 34 tackles and 6 sacks but his 2013 suggested that he was a one year wonder. He could be a worthy addition is some of the deeper drafted leagues but it will take a lot more than one good week to convince me that he is for real.
Both Eric Weddle and Donald Butler were rather quiet in the opener. If you have either of these guys, do not panic. They will be one and two in tackles for the Chargers by the end of the season. This was simply a matchup fluke with the Cardinals attacking the perimeter and running to the strong side on most of their mere twenty rushing attempts.
The player that caught my eye for the Chargers was rookie outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu. He finished at 3-0-1 with a forced fumble on just twenty snaps. He was disruptive, quick and relentless. His role is sure to increase and if he continues to impress he should soon land a starting job.
Owners in corner required leagues will want to make note that zero passes were thrown in the direction of Richard Sherman on Thursday night. This made Byron Maxwell a busy man. He should continue to have an inflated number of opportunities as Sherman's well deserved reputation will have everyone looking at the other side of the field. Sherman has no fantasy value at this point but Maxwell is an every week starter and whoever replace injured nickel corner Jeremy Lane may be a decent CB2 as well. Marcus Burley is next up according to the depth chart and was Lane's replacement in week one.
San Francisco 49ers
In 2013 Justin Smith had his worst statistical season since joining the 49ers, prompting many to write him off as over the hill. Smith battled nagging injuries much of last season and tried to tell us in June that he was healthy and ready for a return to form. With a mark of 4-2-2 in week one, he has certainly gotten our attention. The level of competition played a part and we should not expect double digit sacks from him even though he already has 2. But Smith looked like the same quick and powerful player that we had come to expect in years past. I like his chances of once again exceeding 45 solo stops and posting 8 or so sacks on the year.
St. Louis Rams
Chris Long's ankle injury has landed him on short term IR. While he is out the Rams will start veteran William Hayes at end with Eugene Sims moving into the role as the number three. Hayes is not as prominent a pass rusher at Long but may actually be an upgrade as a run defender. He may prove to be a better fantasy option as well. This situation should have little effect on Robert Quinn's production. What could be a factor there however, is the lack of offense. When teams are ahead they do not pass much. When there are fewer passes there is less opportunity to record sacks.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay gave us a few surprises in the opener. For starters I was surprised at how little pressure they were able to get on the Panthers backup quarterback. I would not be too quick on the trigger with Adrian Clayborn but another game like that in week two would put him firmly on the bubble. Michael Johnson looked a little better in the box scores only because Carolina ran to his side most of the time so he was able to make a few tackles. Tackle Clinton McDonald was another disappointment. He was a sleeper to begin with so his leash should be very short. In fact, if a good interior line option is available I would not hesitate to make the move now.
On the other end of the spectrum, both of the Buccaneers safeties put up surprisingly strong numbers. Both Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron are good players by NFL standards but the cover-2 has ruined the value of some very good safeties over the years. I am cautiously optimistic about these guys but unless you have a need at the position or roster space to spare, I would let them show a second solid outing before making that move.
Four snaps into the season opener the Titans lost inside linebacker Zach Brown for the year. Zavier Gooden replaced him in the base packages but do not pick Gooden up as your replacement. Once Brown went down the Titans used safety George Wilson as their nickel backer alongside Wesley Woodyard.
There are a few other things I wanted to cover but I have run out of time. Best of luck to everyone in week two.