It may mean nothing but is interesting that Arizona re-signed Desmond Bishop on Monday. Larry Foote played well out of the gate but the 13 year veteran seems to have quickly dropped off after a solid week one. The week of rest may help but I have to wonder if the organization is a bit concerned? Kevin Minter has not been able to expand on his early down role and Foote is average at best in coverage. Bishop could prove to be an improvement as a coverage linebacker.
With safeties Rashad Johnson and Tony Jefferson playing so well and Tyrann Mathieu looking working back into a bigger role, I have to wonder if the coaching staff will consider playing Deone Bucannon as a full time linebacker at some point?
Prince Shembo has finally replaced Joplo Bartu at inside linebacker. Shembo started and played 59 of 79 snaps versus Minnesota, finishing at 4-4-0 on the day. Thus far this is nothing to get excited about, but the Giants have been a strong matchup. If you are hurting for a starter this week, Shembo should give us respectable numbers.
Safety William Moore was forced out of Sunday's game with a shoulder injury that has landed him on the short term IR. His replacement on Sunday was second year pro Kemal Ishmael who went on to finish with a tackle and 6 assists. Ishmael had a big game in a sub package role in week three when he was 4-1-0 with an interception for a score. He will likely take over the starting job for the rest of the fantasy regular season. If you are micro-managing your starting lineup through the bye weeks, Ishmael could be a sneaky good play in week five against the Giants. He may even prove to be better weekly play than the inconsistent Moore has been thus far.
After he posted weak numbers in two of the first three games, I took a close look at what is going on with Matt Elam. Unfortunately for those of us who drafted him, Elam has been moved back to free safety on most defensive snaps. Darian Stewart is now seeing the majority of the run support assignments and is working more often at strong safety depth. If things continue as they have been over the past couple of weeks, Stewart may be the better fantasy play until/unless he and Elam swap spots again.
If C.J. Mosley or Daryl Smith are on your roster, this would be a good week to plug them in as starters. Through week four, six inside or weak side linebackers have produced at least 6-1-0 against the Colts, including Titans rookie Avery Williamson in week four.
Sometimes coaching decisions really leave us scratching our heads. Rookie Preston Brown had played well and had been highly productive leading up to week four, yet he was benched in favor of veteran journeyman Keith Rivers. Huh? Granted I am just a fantasy football geek and am clearly not as informed as say, Buffalo defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. On the other hand, I have been watching Keith Rivers since he was drafted by my home town Bengals in 2008. The guy is a solid two down strong side linebacker and nothing more. Brown on the other hand, has been a bright spot for the Bills defense. Those of us who started Brown in week four were saved only be the misfortune of Nigel Bradham who suffered what looked like a serious knee injury early in the game. That allowed Brown to get back on the field and is likely to keep him there the rest of the year. As of Wednesday afternoon we are still awaiting an update on Bradham. The fact that he left the field on a cart however, is a telling sign that he is going to miss significant time. Brown is a solid start this week versus the Lions and providing we get confirmation that Bradham is indeed going to be out for a while, is going to be a quality every week starter for the foreseeable future.
Duke Williams got the start ahead of Da'Norris Searcy in week four. It is hard to say if this was due to Searcy's sore ankle or if the team has made a change. Regardless, neither player has been playing full time and neither has been putting up good numbers. After a couple of strong outings, Aaron Williams had a slow week four. I would advise patience with him. Williams has looked good on the field and has proven the ability to be productive. I believe he will do so on most weeks. That said, Detroit has been an inconsistent matchup for safeties thus far.
Roman Harper has finally regained an every down role as the Panthers strong safety. The numbers have not yet caught up with his playing time, but if Carolina continues to struggle and lose starters in the front seven, it may only be a matter of time. I would not advise picking Harper up just yet unless you are in dire need, but if he suddenly starts to produce we should be prepared to move.
Despite the Bears struggles versus the run, Lance Briggs has recorded more than 3 solo tackles in a game only once in the month of September and is still looking for his first double digit point total. Jon Bostic has turned in one big game but otherwise has been no more productive than Briggs. To date the Panthers have been a solid matchup for linebackers. However, I have to wonder what that offense will look like with its top three running backs on the shelf in week five? At best Briggs and Bostic are going to be shaky risk/reward starts this weekend. I am going to avoid them as much as possible.
What we have seen from the Bears is a lot of production from the safety positions and particularly Ryan Mundy at strong safety. Had he not suffered a stinger early in week three, Mundy would be on a string of four games with at least 6 solo tackles. I am not real excited about the Panthers as a matchup, but Mundy has earned strong consideration as an every week must start.
IDP owners of Vontaze Burfict were happy to hear that he is in line to start in week five. while this is great news for everyone involved, we are not yet out of the danger zone with Burfict. Having suffered multiple concussions in a short period of time, there is a considerable risk that he could suffer another one. Should that happen it would likely be a long time before we see him again. Burfict is such a stud that we have to play him this week, but if you picked up Vincent Rey, I would advise sitting tight on him until we see Burfict make it through a full game. New England has been an inconsistent matchup for linebackers to date, but I expect they will play much better after laying an egg on Monday night.
Cincinnati Pass rushers Carlos Dunlap and Wallace Gilberry look to be strong starters for us this week against a New England offensive line that has struggled. The Patriots have allowed 10 sacks on the young season with 8 of those recorded by outside pass rushers.
Bruce Carter left Sunday night's game early with a quad injury. He has already been ruled out for week five and could miss several more games. Fortunately for fantasy owners, we have now seen enough from the Cowboys to lend a pretty solid perspective when it comes to what we should expect now. With Carter, Justin Durant, Rolando McClain and Anthony Hitchens all available in week four, Dallas went with Durant on the strong side, Carter on the weak side and McClain in the middle. Carter and Durant were the three down backers until Carter went down and McClain stepped into the role. With Durant out in previous weeks we saw McClain in the three down role with Carter. The only time we have seen Hitchens in a three down role was when both McClain and Durant were sidelined. Thus it is likely that it will be Durant and McClain in the full time roles this week with Hitchens as a two down starter. Follow all that? Now watch Dallas come out and do something completely different.
Keep an eye on Anthony Spencer who returned to action in week four. He was not in the starting lineup but played 23 snaps with a quarterback hit, a hurry and a couple of tackles. Once he is back in playing condition Spencer will be the best pass rusher on a Dallas defense that is playing better than we expected. Owners in deeper leagues may want to grab him before he has a good game. I have a feeling that is coming.
Danny Trevathan returned to practice on Monday and is expected to be back in action this week. He should certainly be high on your free agent list if he is somehow still available, but I would not be in too big a hurry to plug him in as a starter. For starters the Cardinals are not a great matchup. Only one linebacker has recorded more than 5 solo tackles against them to date, and none have totaled more than 6. I am also leery of the injury. Let him prove that the knee is healthy before trusting him as a starter. At the least I want to see him make it through a full game without any problems.
As anticipated Tahir Whitehead was the Lions starting middle linebacker against the Jets. Whitehead looked as good as advertised, going 4-8-0 in the game and most importantly, he was a three down player. Buffalo has been a strong matchup for linebackers over the past three weeks so Both Whitehead and DeAndre Levy should be in our lineups this week.
Green Bay Packers
Brad Jones returned to practice this week and is probable for this week's game against Minnesota. What we do not know for sure is what role he will have. In week one Jones was the Packers every down linebacker. He looked horrible in that game both in run defense and coverage. A.J. Hawk has played well in the three down role over the past three games though he is only adequate in coverage. Keep in mind that when Jones returned from an injury last season he was relegated to playing only in the base packages. Jones is worth keeping an eye on this week and could be considered a risk/reward LB3 if you are hurting. The one thing that could work big in his favor is the matchup with the Vikings. Minnesota ran the ball 44 times in week four. They would like to repeat that performance with their rookie quarterback gimpy and facing the prospect of starting Christian Ponder. This matchup makes Hawk a high upside LB3.
The Cowboys have been leaning heavily on their running game and are having success doing so. That has translated to strong numbers for opposing inside linebackers and safeties. Brian Cushing is on the way to a big season and is a must start in this game. Safeties D.J. Swearinger Sr and Kendrick Lewis are also worthy of serious consideration. Last week I cautioned not to be an ambulance chaser when it came to Lewis's big week three game. Nothing has changed my opinion here. I simply believe he is a decent player with a grand matchup that should make him a viable DB3.
After posting big points in week one and reaching double digits in week two, Swearinger has been a disappointment over the past two games. This will be a telling week for him in fantasy terms. Antoine Bethea, Eric Reid, Bernard Pollard, Michael Griffin, Kenny Vaccaro and Jairus Byrd have all posted at least 6 solo tackles and/or double digit points when facing Dallas. If Swearinger fails to produce in this one it is time to move on.
Just when we though the rash of suspensions was over, LaRon Landry was hit with a four game vacation for using performance enhancing drugs. The Colts were already thin at the safety positions with career backup Mike Adams starting next to Landry. Adams turned in 8 solo tackles in week two but since that time he has 1 tackle, a pair of picks and 4 passes defended in two games. The interceptions against Tennessee made his fantasy point total look good but that is something we can clearly not count on. Someone in the Indianapolis secondary is going to make tackles, I am just not sure who it will be. Sergio Brown is the likely replacement for Landry but his track record is no better than Adams. The best thing that can come of this situation in fantasy terms is that a lot of owners will drop Landry. Wait a couple of weeks and then pick him up for the stretch run and our playoffs.
Chris Clemons had a big week one and showed a lot of promise. He has vanished in the three games since. Clemons is actually playing fairly well but the Jaguars are constantly playing from behind, so his pass rush opportunities have been limited. If/when the Jaguars turn the corner, we could see decent production from him again. That said, we could see another flash from Clemons this week against a Steelers team that has allowed 12 sacks to defensive linemen and 3-4 outside linebackers. I also like Andre Branch in this matchup and would put him ahead of Clemons on the sleeper list.
Strong safety Reshad Jones has been reinstated and has returned to practice. Miami has a bye this week so now is the time to go get Jones if he happens to be available. It will be interesting to see if it is Jimmy Wilson or Louis Delmas that heads to the bench when the Dolphins return to action. Wilson has looked pretty good from what I have seen and is likely the future at the position even if he does not get the call in week five.
For the second time this season I find myself wondering what game the Vikings home stats crew was watching? Gerald Hodges got the start at weak side linebacker for the injured Chad Greenway. Hodges was credited with just 2 tackles and 1 assist in the game. Since this is a player I am high on and had plugged as a solid fill in option, I made it a point to watch the game rewind and see what happened. What I saw was a player who was around the ball often and clearly should have been credited with more tackles. Looking for some confirmation I went to Pro Football Focus to check out their breakdown of the game. As expected, they had Hodges with 6 tackles. The Vikings are at Green Bay this week, facing a Packers team that has been a strong matchup for linebackers. If Greenway sits again I will not hesitate to roll with Hodges one more time.
Harrison Smith has been somewhat disappointing to date but is still a player that we need to start every week. Even if you are not sold on that point, stick with him this week. Both Smith and Robert Blanton will have a lot of opportunity against a Packers team that has been a strong matchup for safeties.
New England Patriots
The Patriots strange 2-5 alignment worked so well against the Raiders in week three that they decided to stick with it in week four. The result was ugly as Kansas City had their way throughout the game. Both Jerod Mayo and Jamie Collins Sr were productive in the box scores but the disaster that took place on the field likely means the Patriots will come out with some other off the wall plan against the Bengals. Regardless of what they try it is safe to expect big production from Mayo. Those of us who drafted Chandler Jones among the top defensive players will have to stay the course with him and Rob Ninkovich is still worth of every week consideration. Beyond those three guys there is nothing certain and even the defensive ends have to be considered somewhat of a risk. Collins is going to be a must start for many owners simply due to the numbers. He should be fine against a good Bengals rushing attack but there is going to be some risk with him until New England becomes more consistent with their scheme.
New York Giants
When the Giants benched Stevie Brown in week three it was rookie Nat Berhe who got the call. In week four however, it was veteran journeyman Quintin Demps who got the start. Demps did not post particularly impressive tackle numbers with 2 solos and 5 assists, but he did add a pick and a pair of passes defended. His play on the field was an upgrade over that of Brown who may simply not yet be all the way back from last year's season ending injury. The important points here are that Demps looked good on the field, is now starting in a position that has historically provided good fantasy production, and he put up over 14 points in his first start. One game is not a trend but Demps is a viable free agent option for those in need at the position.
Jason Pierre-Paul has been playing and producing well thus far but keep this in mind when making your lineup decisions this week. The Falcons have allowed only 2.5 sacks to defensive linemen on the season and only 1.5 to outside pass rushers. Carlos Dunlap has turned in the best game against them to date at 1-1-1.
The Giants hope/expect to have Jon Beason back this week. While his recurring foot issue makes me nervous, it is worth mention that Atlanta has been a good matchup in three of their four games this year.
New York Jets
Calvin Pryor was knocked out of the week four contest with a thigh injury. Career backup Jaiquawn Jarrett was the replacement but was not impressive. Pryor has underwhelmed to date but this week could be his breakout if he can go. We want to start Dawan Landry, Antonio Allen for sure this week and possibly Pryor if he plays. The Chargers have not provided much big play opportunity for opponents but through four games there have been eight defensive backs with 5 or more solo tackles against San Diego. It is also noteworthy that every starting secondary to face the Chargers has recorded at least 20 solo stops as a unit. The average has been 25.
It is difficult to justify sitting a player like Muhammad Wilkerson but consider that the Chargers have allowed only 3 sacks to defensive linemen on the season and they completely shut out Calais Campbell in week one. On the other side of that coin, start Demario Davis and David Harrison with this matchup. At the quarter mark of the season no matchup has been better for inside linebackers than the Chargers. In all 7 linebackers have posted double digit points when facing San Diego.
Despite the grand expectations of many, Sean Spence only managed 3 solo tackles in his first NFL start. Before writing him off as a bust after one opportunity, consider that the Buccaneers have been a below average matchup for linebackers. The Steelers get a Jacksonville team this week that with the exception of week four, has been the worst matchup in the league thus far. With that in mind I would look to sit both Spence and Lawrence Timmons if possible. These guys could have some big play value but we should not expect a lot from them in the tackle columns. If Spence is still starting in weeks six and seven he could be a strong option as the Steelers get Cleveland and Houston in those weeks.
San Diego Chargers
Donald Butler is back! After posting decent numbers in week three Butler broke out with a 7-3-0 and a forced fumble against Jacksonville of all teams. If he can post good numbers with that matchup, Butler should blow up against the Jets. This matchup helped Sio Moore and Miles Burris to combine for 19-6-1 with 2 forced fumbles in week one, A.J. Hawk and Clay Matthews to go 9-5-1 with a pass defended in week two, D.J. Williams and Jon Bostic 14-8-0 with 2 passes defended in week three and DeAndre Levy and Tahir Whitehead to post a combined 8-14 last week. Seven of these eight guys reached double digits in fantasy points.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers lost Dashon Goldson to an ankle injury early in the week four game. He was replaced by Major Wright who went on to finish at 6-3-0 on the day. There has been no update on the severity of Goldson's injury as of Wednesday evening, but he has not participated in practice yet this week. That puts Wright in line to start against the Saints who have been a pretty good matchup for safeties.
Most of us expected Mason Foster to miss several weeks after dislocating his shoulder a couple of weeks back. He may not be back this week but has returned to practice on a limited basis. Even if he does go this week I would not trust him as a starter despite the quality matchup. That said, if someone dumped him after the injury and he is available, grab him. The signs are pointing to him being back in the next week or two and he should be close to 100% after the team's week seven bye.
The Avery Williamson watch is on. The rookie got on the field for 26 snaps against the Colts in week four. He made the most of that opportunity posting 6 tackles and an assist. Williamson looks fast, decisive and energetic on the field. Unless James Anderson sneaks past him on the depth chart, I expect we will continue to see more of Williamson in coming weeks.
Washington was on a bye last week but let me remind everyone that Brandon Meriweather has put up good numbers in both games that he has played. In those game he has a combined 11 solo tackles with 8 assists and a pair of pass breakups. Seattle has not been a great matchup for safeties but I like Meriweather this week anyway. He has a history of posting quality numbers whenever he can stay healthy.
That is a wrap for week five. Be sure to take advantage of our IDP matchup tool for help with those tough decisions and listen to the Audible IDP roundtable show this week. Aaron Rudnicki will be sitting in for Jene Bramel. As always, just Win Baby!