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The Cardinals opened in a big nickel with Tyvon Branch as the extra defensive back. They lined up in what was basically a four man front with Josh Mauro at nose tackle, Calais Campbell and Frostee Rucker at end. Chandler Jones worked from a two point stance and lined up outside Rucker. In essence making Jones and Campbell the outside rushers.
The back seven moved around a lot showing different looks but the personnel packages in the secondary did not change as often as they did in 2015. The result was a team best 9-1 for strong safety Tony Jefferson who was on the field for every defensive snap. Tyrann Mathieu was not limited as expected. He too played every snap finishing even with Tyvon Branch at 7-0 on the day. Branch played 51 snaps. D.J. Swearinger Sr did get on the field but his snap count was limited to 6 dime package plays. Patrick Peterson and Brandon Williams were the only corner to see action.
Kevin Minter turned in a solid 6-1-0 on 65 snaps. We should see similar numbers from him in a lot of games this year. If only he could produce a big play now and then.
We have another new position in the game. Last week I mentioned the weak safety designation given to Mark Barron by the Rams. In this week's game book the Cardinals listed Deone Bucannon as their $LB. No fantasy value in this news but I got a chuckle out of it and thought it worth passing along.
Snap counts for the Falcons linebackers looked like this in week one: Deon Jones was 5-1 on 54 of a possible 64 snaps. DeVondre Campbell also played 54 and was 4-0 while Sean Weatherspoon went 3-1 on 10 plays. Paul Worrilow had no stats on his 10 plays. There is a ton of potential here but until someone claims a full time role we should avoid this mess like the plague. I continue to be impressed with Weatherspoon who seems to be everywhere when they put him on the field. The coaching staff wants to get younger and faster but the veteran has clearly outplayed everyone else in the mix since early in the preseason.
The game between Buffalo and Baltimore was a strange one in terms of box score totals. One outlier is the monster game by Shareece Wright who went 11-0. All the ambulance chasers out there will be all over him until he crashes back to earth in week two. The Bills offensive game plan was responsible for Wright's big numbers just like it was responsible for C.J. Mosley's lack of production. The Bills offense ran just 49 plays resulting in a tackle. All will go back to normal in week two when Baltimore faces a more conventional Cleveland offense. That said I do not expect the Browns to be a great matchup.
In somewhat of a surprise development Preston Brown played every down while Zach Brown was on the field for 60 of 68 snaps. Preston finished at 6-2 while Zach ended with a mark of 4-4. I have a feeling these guys will both have their share of good games with neither being the clearly better fantasy option.
Corey Graham may have been the biggest IDP disappointment of week one. After finishing last season with 95 tackles he somehow managed to record 1 on 68 snaps in week one. This adds a lot of fuel to the fire for those worried about him being a one year wonder. There is too much potential to cut him loose already but there is plenty of reason for concern. Buffalo has the Jets this week. If Graham is not able to produce with this matchup I will be looking to move on.
James Bradberry was a solid 5-1 in his professional debut. He looks and plays the part of a number one corner though opponents will certainly test him often. Bene Benwikere started opposite Bradberry with Robert McClain as the nickel corner ahead of Daryl Worley.
Karlos Dansby played all 71 of the Bengals defensive snaps and finished at 5-6. Vincent Rey was 5-4 on 67 plays while Rey Maualuga barely got on the field (Cincinnati played a nickel base defense). Now is probably the time to grab Vontaze Burfict if he is still floating around.
Margus Hunt had 1 tackle but knocked down a couple of passes on his 30 plays. He is quickly becoming a difference maker in the Bengals front four. If only it were not too late for the league hosting sites to change his positional designation to tackle.
Both Demario Davis (6-1) and Christian Kirksey (4-2-1) played full time against the Eagles. The Browns are not going to be a good team so both players are going to have a ton of opportunity going forward.
Strong safety Ibraheim Campbell finished with a solid 5-0 while Jordan Poyer went 6-0 and rookie Derrick Kindred was 5-0 in a time share at free safety. Kindred suffered an ankle injury late in the game but he made a lot of plays on his 23 snaps. Keep an eye on him over the next couple of weeks if he is able to go.
Jack Crawford and Benson Mayowa started at end when the Cowboys opened in their nickel set. No Cowboy defender finished with more than 4 solo tackles against the Giants but the biggest disappointment to me was Anthony Hitchens being limited to a 31 of 56 snaps. Hitchens showed some holes in his game during the preseason but the team gave no indication of a part time role. I would like to say there is hope but we have been down this road before. Hitchens seems destined to split time with Justin Durant as long as both are healthy. Yuck!
Cedric Thornton played just 20 snaps at tackle. So much for the chances of his being a contributor in tackle required leagues.
Todd Davis had a strong stat line of 6-1-.5 but he is still not an every down player. Davis saw action on 46 of 69 snaps (63%). Like many other two down guys he will have some good games but is not going to give us any consistency.
Both Tahir Whitehead and DeAndre Levy played all 70 defensive snaps against the Colts. Whitehead finished with a solid 6-4 while Levy's 1-3 was a major disappointment. This may well be a fluke but the uncertainty surrounding Levy all offseason makes it reason for concern. I would not give up on him too quickly but Levy would not be in my lineup this week regardless of matchup.
Tavon Wilson replaced Rafael Bush at strong safety late in the preseason but the two ended up sharing time in week one. Bush went 1-2-0 on 27 snaps while Wilson was 4-0 on 45 plays. Either of these players could put up useful numbers in a full time role but neither are roster worthy at this point.
Devin Taylor was a three down end going 4-2 on 47 snaps. The numbers may not look like he had a three down role but he played 3 fewer snaps than Ezekiel Ansah. If you are in need of help at end I like Taylor as a solid DL2.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers threw us a curveball when they let Sam Barrington go at the end of the preseason. They threw us a slider in week one when neither Blake Martinez nor Jake Ryan played full time at inside linebacker. Martinez played 65% of the snaps going 4-1-0 while Ryan saw action on 60% finishing at 6-1-0. If you have either of these guys I would sit tight for a week and see what happens. Martinez played full time with the starter for most of the preseason so hopefully there was some underlying story here.
As expected Morgan Burnett saw time at linebacker in sub packages resulting in an excellent stat line of 8-1-1. There is no reason to believe his role will change regardless what the team does with Ryan and Martinez.
Brian Cushing lasted 9 snaps before suffering a torn MCL in the opener. He is expected to be out several weeks and may land on IR. Max Bullough replaced him and went 5-0 on 28 snaps in a two down role. Bullough is a serviceable backup but there are no grand expectations for him.
Bernardrick McKinney looked great at times during the preseason but was rather inconsistent. He was nothing short of a major disappointment in the opener going 2-3-0 while playing all 55 defensive snaps. He will have plenty of opportunity to shine over the next several weeks as the lone centerpiece of the defense.
J.J. Watt says he is healthy and the back was not an issue but the box score and eyeball test say otherwise. He was credited with 1 assist and 3 quarterback hurries against a Chicago team with a less than stellar offensive line. If you have him Watt is pretty much a must start regardless of opponent but my confidence in him has been shaken.
We were surprised when the Colts parted ways with Nate Irving at final cut downs. We all had to be shocked when Sio Moore went 10-3-0 in the opener. It was just a big a surprise when D'Qwell Jackson finished at 0-2-0. Strangely neither of these guys played full time with Moore working 47 of 65 snaps and Jackson 51. There has been no word of injury for either player though it is noteworthy Moore has been fighting hamstring issues much of the summer. I am not sure what to make of all this other than to say I have no intention of cutting Jackson in any of my leagues and I have picked up Moore in a couple. I doubt either will be in my lineups this week though.
The Colts have been hammered by injuries in the secondary. At the end of the week one game they had 5 healthy defensive backs in uniform with only two of them being starters. Darius Butler and Clayton Geathers are expected to practice late this week but neither is sure to be ready. As it stands now recent free agent additions Darryl Morris and Rashaan Melvin will be the second and third corners while Winston Guy likely starts at free safety. Geathers is a player I have high expectations for. He may not make it back this week but now would be a good time to add him to your roster for safe keeping.
Myles Jack was a no show in week one. He did not get on the field for a single play because he is supposedly still adjusting to playing weak side linebacker. This is music to the ears of Paul Posluszny owners. Posluszny did not have a big day in the opener but there is no reason to despair. He will be just fine and should rebound big against the Texans this week.
Kansas City Chiefs
Justin March-Lillard led the Chiefs in tackles at 8-1 but he was the lowest graded starting inside linebacker of the week according to Pro Football Forecast. He played in some but not all sub packages and made a lot of those tackles four or five yards down field. Kansas City traded for Sam Barrington on the final cut date but he is gimpy with a bad hamstring. Having released Ramik Wilson the coaching staff is left with no other options. Once Barrington is healthy we could see him paired with Derrick Johnson but for now we can expect March Lillard to continue in at least a two down role.
Los Angeles Rams
Why do the Rams always look so bad early in the season? It seems like every year it takes them a month to start playing on either side of the ball. Aaron Donald was ejected from Monday's game but is not expected to be suspended. Robert Quinn was quiet after sitting out nearly all of the preseason. Safety T.J. McDonald had 8 solo tackles including 4 for loss. That is 2 more tackles than he had in any game last season. If the Rams continue to stink up the stadium McDonald has the ability to have a big year. I am not going to be holding my breath for either. The Rams can't be that bad.. Can they?
The Dolphins were on the field for 82 defensive snaps so we should have seen a lot more production from their defenders than what showed up in the box scores. Rookie Xavien Howard started on the corner and led the team in tackles at 6-5. The rookie corner rule makes him a quality start this week against the Patriots.
Jelani Jenkins is playing through nagging injuries once again. We saw the effect doing so had on his game last year. Until/unless he can get and stay healthy, Jenkins is not going to be a factor. When I saw he did not even play full time (32 snaps) I dumped him in three leagues this week myself.
Koa Misi lead the team's linebackers in solo tackles going 5-5-0 on 69 snaps while Kiko Alonso played every down and finished at 3-8-0 with a fumble recovery. I think Alonso will be fine and expect he might reverse those tackle numbers this week if New England gets their running game going as I expect they will.
Mario Williams finished at 1-1-1 on the day but made much more impact than the numbers suggest. He was in the face of Derek Carr all day and had several pressures. Williams is in concussion protocol this week and I am not excited about the matchup anyway. If you have another quality option it would be a good idea to go that direction.
Starting corner Xavier Rhodes injured his knee in warm-ups on Sunday and was not able to go. He was replaced by Trae Waynes who went on to have a huge game with 10 solo stops. Rhodes has not practiced this week so it looks like Waynes will continue in the role for now. We obviously should not expect a repeat of the huge numbers but it is a safe bet Aaron Rodgers will be targeting Waynes early and often. He should be a quality start in corner required leagues.
Danielle Hunter went 4-0-1 with a fumble recovery for a score against Tennessee. Why this guy is not starting and playing every down is a real head scratcher. Hunter worked on 36 snaps while Brian Robison started, played 56 snaps and finished with a tackle and an assist. Coach Zimmer... C'Mon man!
New England Patriots
No one teases fantasy owners like the New England Patriots, and they do it on both sides of the ball. Yes Donta Hightower was on the field full time as advertised (58 of 61 snaps) but he still managed just 1 solo stop. Then again only safety Devin McCourty put up more than 4. At least Jamie Collins salvaged his box score with a sack. Hightower may be worth hanging onto for another week or two. If he keeps playing full time the production will come.
Rookie tackle Vincent Valentine managed 3 tackles and a sack on 20 snaps. He will continue to see work in the rotation but we can expect no consistency in his production.
New Orleans Saints
New Orleans was already questionable at corner so the loss of Delvin Breaux to a broken leg is particularly tough to swallow. Ken Crowley came on as the nickel corner after the injury with undrafted rookie Da'Vante Harris moving into the starting role. We know what happens to rookie corners in this league, especially when the opposition has three excellent weapons at receiver.
Craig Robertson replaced the always injured Dannelle Ellerbe and finished with a team best 8-3-0. He worked in all nickel sub packages and looked pretty solid on the field as well. Ellerbe is unable to stay healthy so we will likely see Robertson in this role for most if not all of the season. He may not be the most talented of players but is certainly in a target rich environment.
James Laurinaitis finished a disappointing 3-4 in the opener but I would not be in too big a hurry to move on from him. The Raiders offensive game plan had them working away from him often. He is not the 100 tackle a season player of his youth but Laurinaitis is going to give us solid production on most weeks.
After working in a three down role for most of the preseason Kasim Edebali played 14 snaps against Oakland while Paul Kruger played 39 and Darryl Tapp 10. Cameron Jordan is the only fantasy option among this group.
New York Giants
Jonathan Casillas led team in tackles at 6-4-0 but it is important to note no linebacker played more than 59 of the team's 76 snaps. Casillas was banged up a little at one point which may have cut into his snap count. Keenan Robinson played 30 snaps going 1-2; Devon Kennard was on the field for 27 plays also going 1-2, Kelvin Sheppard started in the middle recording a pair of assists on 59 snaps. The moral of this story is stay away from Giants linebackers until/unless someone emerges.
The Giants failed to record a single sack against the Cowboys. They did get some pressure on Dak Prescott and starting ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon both had decent tackle numbers so they were not a complete bust. They will have plenty of opportunity to rush the passer this week in what projects to be a shootout with the Saints.
New York Jets
My apologies to anyone who started Sheldon Richardson in week one based on my projections. No excuses here; in projecting over 400 players I simply overlooked the fact he was suspended for one week.
To be clear Steve McClendon was not starting in place of Richardson. It was Mike Catapano who surprisingly got the call over Jarvis Jenkins, though both players saw plenty of time at the position. McClendon had a huge game with 5 tackles and a pair of sacks. The shortage of options at defensive tackle makes it is hard to argue with the masses that are scrambling to pick him up this week. McClendon was not much of a box score contributor during his time with Pittsburgh but the Jets scheme and exceptional talent up front could make him a different player. Even so we certainly should not expect such gaudy numbers from him on a regular basis.
The Jets snap count breakdown at linebacker looked like this; David Harris was on the field for all 57 plays finishing at 2-2-0 (keep in mind he is playing through a sore shoulder), Darrin Lee led the team's linebackers at 3-3-0 on 36 snaps while Erin Henderson was 1-1 on 21 snaps in the base scheme. We should avoid all of these guys until either Lee earns a three down role or Harris gets completely healthy. The later could take a few weeks.
If you read my column last week you had a heads up about Karl Joseph not starting. With that news it was expected Nate Allen would be in the lineup. Oakland tricked us again by starting Keith McGill at strong safety. He was a fourth round pick of the Raiders in 2014 and had 7 career tackles before last weekend. At 6'3" 211 pounds McGill has the size the coaching staff likes at the position. His 4-2-0 with a pass defended in the opener was not particularly impressive but he passed the eyeball test on the field. It would seem only a matter of time before the Raiders get their star rookie on the field but then who knows, if McGill plays well they may feel comfortable leaving the third year payer on the field. In redraft leagues I might hold off cutting Joseph for a week or two if you have the roster space, but we probably should not be hard headed about it.
Reggie Nelson was the guy to have in week one. He led the club with 7 solo stops against the Saints and is a safe bet to continue putting up solid numbers for us. That said I have to believe some of his box score success came courtesy of the matchup. Atlanta is another team that likes to air it out so look for another strong outing from Nelson in week two.
Other than Nelson no Raider put up more than 4 solo stops. The Saints never really got their running game on track so there was not a great deal of opportunity for either Ben Heeney who went 3-2 or Malcolm Smith who was 4-4. Have a little patience with these guys. Smith is a proven stud and even though Heeney is not so proven he is in a great situation. Both of these linebackers were on the field for all 69 snaps.
Leodis McKelvin continues to struggle with injuries. It was a major contributor to his being shown the door in Buffalo and he left Sunday's game with a hamstring problem. Nolan Carroll would step into a starting role if McKelvin is not able to go this week. For owners in corner required leagues Carroll has been rather fantasy friendly over the past couple of years when given an opportunity to play full time. Chicago's passing game and particularly Jay Cutler's gun slinger approach, means plenty of opportunity for whoever starts on the outside for Philadelphia.
Brandon Graham and Connor Barwin each landed a sack against Cleveland. They both played 36 snaps of a possible 51 while Vinny Curry filled in with 24. This is a situation likely to change from week to week with the one certainty being Jim Schwartz coached defenses consistently put up a lot of sacks. If Curry is your second starter I would not panic over the week one results, nor would I over react to Graham or Barwin.
As we saw late in the preseason Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham were the Eagles three down linebackers against Cleveland while Mychal Kendricks played 19 of the team's 51 defensive snaps. None of the Eagles linebackers gave us much statistically but considering how bad the Browns were offensively, I would not read too much into it. Chicago does not project to be a great match up either but Philadelphia has plenty of better ones coming up.
Considering Washington ran the ball all of 11 times on Monday night, we should be happy to have gotten 5 solo stops and an assist from Ryan Shazier and a 4-4-0 from Lawrence Timmons. Shazier's big plays were enough to land him among the weekly leaders in points at the position. Strong safety Robert Golden is one of my favorite sleepers this year but I am a little concerned about his number of opportunities. The trend of no ball carriers breaching the second level during the preseason seems to have continued. If Pittsburgh keeps shutting down opposing runners Golden will be hard pressed to make much impact in the box scores. The Bengals should be a good test this week.
San Diego Chargers
I am among the many owners wondering what the #@$* happened to Denzel Perryman in week one. The Chargers defense was on the field for 71 plays but Perryman took part in just 32? As of Wednesday afternoon there has been no word of an injury. He had 4 solo stops on the limited number of opportunities so the production was there as expected. If we get a good answer to this mystery before Sunday and we can confirm a return to every down status, Perryman should have a productive day against Jacksonville. If we get no clear answer I would advise avoiding him until we do.
Manti T'eo was able to take advantage of the matchup and limited competition for tackles, finishing with a strong 8-2-0 against the Chiefs. Both he and Perryman worked in nickel sub packages down the stretch last year and all this preseason. Perryman has looked like the better player but T'eo obviously has the ability to be productive. If Perryman continues in a part time role T'eo could have a big year.
There are a lot of owners moving on Cassius Marsh after his 3-1-1 against Miami. The numbers are exceptionally impressive considering he played only 6 snaps in the game. Marsh is currently Seattle's fourth defensive end. Production like that is sure to catch the eye of his coaches and could lead to a bigger role but keep your enthusiasm in check for now. Until proven otherwise Marsh should be considered a one week wonder.
The Dolphins offense did little in week one so our Seattle defenders simply had no opportunity. Good as they are the Seahawks are not going to hold many teams to 20 rushing attempts and 16 pass completions.
San Francisco 49ers
All through camp and preseason action there was an open competition for the starting inside linebacker job next to Navorro Bowman. Michael Wilhiote has been scratched but Gerald Hodges and Ray Ray Armstrong continue to share time. I have not yet had a chance to sit down and watch the 49ers game closely to see if they are splitting time in a base/sub package situation or still going series by series as they did in preseason. Armstrong clearly had the better stats in week one but that does not always tell the whole story.
The Rams offense was in neutral on Monday night so it was not a surprise Antoine Bethea had only 4 tackles. It was somewhat of a surprise however that Jaquiski Tartt also had 4 solo stops. Bethea ran with the first team exclusively during the preseason but apparently the coaching staff has found a role for Tartt. I believe he will eventually replace Bethea as the starting strong safety though it may not happen this year. We need to keep a close eye on this one over the next couple of weeks.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Chris Conte had the better stat line of the Buccaneers safeties as 6-4 but there are a couple of reasons to believe Bradley McDougald (5-0) will be the better fantasy option on most weeks. McDougald is the strong safety which will give him more opportunity in run support most of the time, and he was on the field for all 65 of the team's defensive snaps while Conte gave way to Keith Tandy on 10 plays. Both McDougald and Conte could prove to be roster worthy in deeper leagues.
Kwon Alexander led the league in tackles for week one and his 15-2-1 made him the top IDP in most fantasy leagues. He is no stranger to quality production and is an every week must start, but there is nowhere to go but down from here.
Jacquise Smith landed on IR this week so there should be a few more snaps to go around for Noah Spence and William Gholston. Clinton McDonald had a quiet week in the box scores but defensive tackles are generally inconsistent anyway. If you let him go this week it will probably come back to haunt you.
Da'Norris Searcy is an ambulance chaser's special. Dating back to the beginning of his career in Buffalo this guy has been teasing us years. He has a big game or two and entices us to pick him up then he vanishes for a few games. When he went to Tennessee before last season we thought he would step right into a position with a rich history of fantasy value, and become a stud. Unfortunately it never materialized. In fact no Titans defensive back provided much value last season. Searcy's 8 solo stops in week one is a mirage. No Tennessee safety was on the field for more than 48 of the team's 63 defensive snaps. Rashad Johnson logged the most playing time but his deep safety role resulted in a low mark of 2-1. If there is anyone to keep an eye on here is rookie Kevin Byard who had 4 solo stops on 21 snaps against Minnesota.
Both Mason Foster and Will Compton put up excellent tackle totals against the Steelers. Part of the strong totals was due to the way Pittsburgh dominated offensively and particularly their 29 run plays. That said we should not be shocked that these guys were productive. Both are solid inside linebackers who are on the field virtually every snap. Their quality production should continue this week against the strong running game of the Cowboys.
We did see Su'a Cravens with a role against Pittsburgh. He was on the field in what some are calling a dime package but it was really more of a big nickel with Compton on the field as well. In most of those situations Cravens lined up over the tight end or an inside receiver. The 3 tackles and an assist he recorded was rather impressive considering his low snap count. The Steelers had their way with Washington's defense in the opener. Unless the Redskins make a much better showing in week two we could see some personnel changes at the second level and/or safety. It would be no surprise to see Cravens bump David Bruton to the bench.
Bashaud Breeland also had a big game. I am not sure if it was a case that he was targeted as a weak link or if the Steelers were simply avoiding Josh Norman. Breeland gave up some plays (mostly to Antonio Brown) but he did not play poorly in this game. Keep in mind A.J. Green had 10 catches against Revis as well. Breeland is in no danger of losing his starting job but chances are he will continue to be busy on game days.