Heading into the Monday night game there was some hope we might see Deone Bucannon for the first time this year. The Cardinals elected to make him inactive for the game. Bucannon has been practicing and is near a return but most of us will want to see him play before committing a roster spot. Even when he gets on the field it may be a few weeks before he returns to a full workload. That said, Haason Reddick has done little to make the coaching staff want to be patient with Bucannon.
As anticipated the absence of Vic Beasley Jr meant a bigger role for Takkarist McKinley. The rookie finished 2-0-1 with a batted pass on a season-high 48 snaps. He looked pretty good in pass rush situations but I am not going to get excited about McKinley until he improves as a run defender.
The Falcons continue to have DeVondre Campbell and Duke Riley share time at the outside linebacker positions but both were on the field in some situations against the Lions. Campbell continues to see more snaps, playing 52 of 70 in week three. As we have seen thus far Campbell is probably going to have some good weeks but it is hard to trust him as more than a bye week placeholder with some upside.
Patrick Onwuasor got the attention of fantasy owners by going 6-1-0 in week three. Look beyond the numbers before making a move to pick him up though. Onwuasor is working mostly/only in sub packages and played 56% (40 of 71) snaps against Jacksonville.
ZaDarius Smith was back in action week three. The timing was good considering Baltimore lost Brent Urban for the season on Sunday.
Rookie corner Tre'Davious White has played impressively thus far and the rookie corner rule is in full force. With 14 tackles, 2 assists, a pick and 7 passes defended White is among the top fantasy corners and is putting up numbers worthy of a starter even in leagues that lump the DB positions together.
It took three weeks but Micah Hyde finally began to show up. His 5 tackles and a pass defended are not going to garner a great deal of attention but they are enough to put him back on the radar heading into week four.
Thomas Davis left Sunday's game after taking a shot in the ribs. While he was able to return to the game, keep in mind rib injuries are usually worse in the days following the injury when the soreness sets in. If Davis is one of your starters I suggest you have a backup plan in place just in case.
Luke Kuechly is looking like this year's C.J. Mosley. Kuechly is averaging 4 tackles a game which is well below normal, while big-play production has helped him reach double digit points every week thus far. There are two ways to look at this; if you are a half full optimist, the point totals have been good and the tackles are sure to come. If you are a half empty kind of owner, the tackle totals are lacking and sooner or later the big plays are going to desert him. I am going to keep playing him until he gives me a good reason not to.
In week three Danny Trevathan finally took on a full-time role. The result was a team-leading 8 solo tackles and a pair of assists. Surprisingly the Bears promoted taxi squad linebacker John Timu and started him with Trevathan on the inside. Timu played 17 snaps in a timeshare with Christian Jones. Jump on Trevathan who looks like a strong play going forward if he can stay healthy. Interestingly the team has not put Nick Kwiatkoski on injured reserve which suggests there is a good chance he will return this season. Until/unless that happens, there will probably not be a second worthy linebacker option among this group.
Quentin Demps left the contest with a broken forearm, Adrian Amos took over. Eddie Jackson vanished from the box scores in week three, making his solid week two numbers look like they might be an anomaly.
Carl Lawson has impressed since early in the summer and his playing time increased significantly against the Packers because of it. The rookie was moved around on Sunday, lining up at both outside linebacker and defensive end and finishing at 3-1-2.5 on 55 snaps. Since he is designated a linebacker by most league management systems, Lawson's fantasy value may not be great. Dynasty owners, however, may want to think about tucking him away on a taxi squad. Lawson may be switched to defensive end before next season.
No one is talking about it so it may not be a big deal but Shawn Williams left the game late in the fourth quarter after suffering what looked like a non-contact knee injury. If you have been patient and are still sitting on him, watch the practice reports later this week for word on his availability.
The Bengals should get Vontaze Burfict back this week. He will be fresh, healthy and hungry for the battle of Ohio. Cleveland has not been a great matchup in general but Burfict is a must-start regardless of matchup.
Neither Joe Schobert nor Emanuel Ogbah has shown up with big games yet but both players are on the verge. Schobert gave us a respectable 5 tackles, 3 assists, and half a sack in week three, and he did it against an Indianapolis team that is an average matchup at best. He has played every defensive snap thus far and there is no reason to believe that will change going forward. Cleveland has games against Houston, Tennessee, Minnesota, Jacksonville and the Los Angeles Chargers between week six and thirteen. All these teams have been plus matchups for linebackers thus far. If Schobert is still available, figure out how to fit him on your roster.
Ogbah got off to a slow start but came up with his first sack of the season against the Colts. Miles Garrett is expected back soon (possibly this week) which will put Cleveland's starting line on the field together for the first time. Keep an eye on Ogbah over the next couple weeks as he may be a good mid-season add.
Good help is hard to come by at the defensive tackle position so when a guy breaks out like Maliek Collins with his 4-1-2 against Arizona, we have to take notice. It was his first big game and may prove to be an oddity but I have a feeling it is not. With Demarcus Lawrence on fire, Collins has a golden opportunity as he will see a good deal of single blocking. Call it a hunch but I can see him being a top 12-15 interior lineman by the end of the season.
I will not tell anyone to avoid Todd Davis this week after he racked up 9 tackles, an assist and a sack against Buffalo, but I would suggest you understand what you are getting. His big numbers in week three were the result of a perfect storm. Because they were ahead Buffalo ran the ball thirty-three times including eleven carries by Mike Tolbert who is basically a glorified, between the tackles full back. Nothing has changed with Davis who played 66% of the defensive snaps in week three. He will probably have two or three more solid outing along the way but is no threat to become more than a matchup-based spot play or bye week flier.
With Tavon Wilson out, Miles Killebrew got the call at strong safety in week three. The second-year pro posted strong tackle numbers of 7 solo and an assist against the Falcons. While that would seem to help make an argument for him as the full-time starter, the fact he was not on the field full time is clearly reason to be concerned. Killebrew played 78% of the snaps, coming off the field in favor of a fourth corner in some sub packages. He excels at run support but because Killebrew is considered somewhat of a liability on obvious passing downs, there is a good chance we will continue to see him in situational roles once Wilson returns from the shoulder injury.
Jarrod Davis missed Sunday's contest with a concussion and had not been cleared as of Wednesday afternoon though he did participate in practice on a limited basis. As expected the Lions shifted Tahir Whitehead back to the middle with Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Nick Bellore sharing time on the weak side. Whitehead should be a quality start against Minnesota if Davis is not cleared in time to play week four.
Green Bay Packers
Josh Jones got everyone's attention (including the Packers coaching staff) by exploding for eleven tackles, an assist and a pair of sacks against the Bengals. Now we just have to figure out what to make of it and if this was a fluke or the beginning of a trend. The Packers were/are dealing with a multitude of injuries on defense, forcing them to be creative with their personnel. Mike Daniels, Nick Perry, Jake Ryan, Davon House and Kentrell Brice were all inactive on Sunday. To compensate Green Bay played Morgan Burnett as a slot corner which allowed Jones to play strong safety in base packages. The real surprise was Jones lining up at middle linebacker on about fourteen snaps, flanked by Burnett and Joe Thomas in a package featuring two linemen, two outside pass rushers and two safeties at LB depth. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix lined up deep as the free safety in these sets. The three safeties were on the field for all 61 snaps against Cincinnati but just because the results were good does not ensure we will see the approach every week going forward.
Jones checks in at 220 pounds which is actually bigger than a few of the game's new age linebackers. His skill set is such that he may well be the next Deone Bucannon or Mark Barron. On the other hand, he may be the next Daniel Sorenson (before Eric Berry was lost) playing linebacker in sub packages but not getting on the field full-time. Either way, Jones's big game will have a ton of owners looking to add him this week. Those who have followed my column since early in the summer already know I have been high on the rookie all along. I would advise everyone to pick him up - be it redraft or dynasty - though it may be a good idea to hold off on starting him until we can confirm his role.
The ripple effect of this personnel package is that Burnett will see less opportunity and Blake Martinez is probably not going to have a three down role all year. Much of Burnett's value last season came from his working at linebacker in nickel and dime sets. That job now seems destined to belong to Jones. Burnett may still have some value but it will be far less than we expected when drafting him and likely on an inconsistent basis. I am leaning toward letting him go in my leagues at this point but may wait one more week before doing so if only because they are dynasty leagues and I want to be sure.
Martinez went 7-4-0 in week three and has been productive in each of the past two games despite playing less than 80% of the time. If he ever earns a three-down role he could be a quality LB2 or maybe even better. Until/unless that happens he will continue to be a matchup-based spot play with the potential to shine or vanish on any given week.
Mathias Farley started hot but has seen his numbers slip each week. Most importantly he has not been on the field full time in two of the three games, including week three when he played 51 of a possible 77 snaps. Farley is splitting time with converted corner Darius Butler who is coming on in some sub-package situations. We knew Farley was not going to be a long-term answer and it now looks like he may not be one short term either.
Jon Bostic must have compromising pictures of someone in the Colts organization or something. He was the only Indianapolis defender to play all 77 defensive snaps against the Browns. Antonio Morrison logged 57 while last week's starter Jeremiah George played only a handful. Bostic finally made a decent showing in the box score, but his 17 solo tackles on 208 plays remain near the bottom when it comes to per-snap production by starting inside linebackers.
Barry Church has been less than stellar for fantasy owners so far but I would advise patience here. We expected the Jaguars to be much improved defensively this season but no one expected them to dominate the way they have against Houston and Baltimore. Church managed a solid 6 solo tackles against Tennessee in week two so we know he can be productive when there is the opportunity. I like what the Jaguars are doing but do not see them holding many offenses to 48 plays like they did the Ravens. Jacksonville's entire secondary accounted for 8 solo tackles in that game.
Kansas City Chiefs
One interesting note from week three was Derrick Johnson not having an every-down role. He was on the field for 55 of a possible 73 plays. I have not yet had an opportunity to review this game and see why, but so far I have seen nothing to suggest an injury. Johnson's numbers have been down so far and there is growing concern the soon to be 35-year-old has fallen into decline. I am giving him one more week on my bench before throwing in the towel and moving on.
Los Angeles Chargers
Jahleel Addae is another player that has been disappointing thus far and is on the verge of being - or has already been - cut by many. Like Johnson, I am giving Addae one more week to pick it up. The Eagles were a horrible matchup for Kansas City two weeks ago but Philadelphia got LeGarrette Blount more involved in week three. With the injury to Darren Sproles, I expect Blount to be featured even more going forward which should make a lot of opportunity for opposing strong safeties and inside linebackers.
Los Angeles Rams
Mo Alexander did nothing against the dismal Colts offense in week one but he is 12-4-0 over the past two games and has an outstanding matchup with Dallas in week four. Alexander is a physical 220 strong safety that has been flying under the radar for the most part. His resume is lacking big-play production but with five of his next seven games against the Cowboys, Jaguars, Texans, Seahawks, and Vikings, his tackle numbers may him a worthy starting option.
The Rams could be without Lamarcus Joyner for a while depending on how severe his hamstring injury is. He left the week three game after 21 plays and was ruled out shortly after. Cody Davis finished the game at free safety and would be next up to start if Joyner is out.
The indefinite suspension of Lawrence Timmons did not last long. We are still in the dark about what caused him to miss the week two game but apparently, all has been forgiven by the organization. Timmons is expected to be in the lineup this week, sending Mike Hull back to a two-down role. Most teams us a nickel base defense against the Saints so Hull will probably see little action in week four.
Yes, I am aware Danielle Hunter has 1 tackle and no sacks through three games. I am sitting him this week but will still not consider cutting him. I learned my lesson on that last season with Olivier Vernon who had 1 sack through six games and had 2 or fewer tackle in three games. I cut him after week six then had to watch him rack up 22 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and a forced fumble over the next six or seven games. Hunter is simply too good a player to be held down much longer. For the record, history tells us that when I bench a player like Hunter, everyone else should play him because he is going to have a big game.
New England Patriots
I am seeing a lot of owners pick up Elandon Roberts this week. It is hard to argue with that move after he put up 13 tackles and 4 assists in the last two games. What I would suggest is keeping a close eye on the Patriots practice reports this week. Remember Roberts is only playing because Hightower is recovering from a sore knee. Hightower practiced on a limited basis last week which could mean a week four return. At this point, I am not certain Hightower is the better player but I do believe he will start when healthy enough. One other note to consider; Roberts has been on the field for less than 70% of the snaps in his two starts.
New Orleans Saints
In week three the Saints defense looked a lot more like the one we were all impressed with during the preseason. Granted some of that was probably on the struggling Carolina offense, but New Orleans was able to pressure the passer, played strong versus the run and came up with plenty of big plays. The most interesting note from the game; Kenny Vaccaro played every snap after being benched in week two. He played well finishing with 3 tackles, 2 assists, and an interception. Rookie Trey Hendrickson made the most of his limited playing time by landing his first career sacks. Alex Okafor continued to play well going 3-2-1 with a forced fumble. The more I see of Okafor the more I like him. New Orleans has the foundation of something special with their defensive line. The only player not looking particularly good was A.J. Klein who finished at 2-4-0 and was once again out produced by Alex Anzalone.
New York Giants
After exploding onto the scene in week one B.J. Goodson has been a scratch from the last two games with a shin injury. He is practicing this week on a limited basis so there is a chance he will get back on the field in week four. With Keenan Robinson also out, Calvin Munson got the call in week two and played well. Robinson was back in week three and got the starting nod in the middle. He posted the best numbers of his Giants career at 7-3-0 despite sharing time with Munson at a 53/23 split. With so much uncertainty and a relatively poor matchup with Tampa Bay this week, it is probably best to avoid this situation all together.
Olivier Vernon missed some time on Sunday with an ankle injury. He returned to the game but was obviously bothered by the injury. Vernon had not practiced as of Wednesday and seems likely to sit week four out. Romeo Okwara should be next in line to start but he could share duties with Kerry Wynn.
New York Jets
Demario Davis has stepped up nicely for both the Jets and fantasy owners. He has 21 solo tackles including 11 against the Dolphins in week three. At this point Davis is probably an every week play for anyone that has him but if you are on the fence, consider the matchup with a Jacksonville team that is running the ball well. Over the past two games Wesley Woodyard, C.J. Mosley and Patrick Onwuasor have each record at least 6 solo tackles against the Jaguars.
Darron Lee should also be a quality play with this matchup but there are some ongoing concerns. He continues to have trouble getting off blocks and his production has dropped significantly each week since the big numbers in the opener. Against Miami Lee lost snaps to Dylan Donahue who has looked good since late in the preseason and has steadily seen his playing time increase. This could be a developing story and is something to watch over the next few games.
It took a few weeks, presumably to get over the sore knee, but we finally saw Cory James look like he did in the first couple preseason games. He has a strong matchup this week with a Denver offense looking to get their running game back on track after a poor performance. If James happens to be on your waiver wire, make him a priority pickup this week. Between now and the fantasy championship Oakland plays Denver, Kansas City and San Diego twice each, Buffalo once and they have Dallas and Philadelphia in week fifteen and sixteen. All those games look like plus matchups for James and strong safety Karl Joseph.
Fletcher Cox left Sunday's contest with a calf injury and was not able to practice as of Wednesday. With Cox out both Timmy Jernigan and Beau Allen played 50 of a possible 69 snaps against the Giants. If Cox is not able to go this week Vinny Curry could get some work at tackle, opening up more playing time for Derek Barnett at end.
Jordan Hicks was off to yet another slow start in week three before leaving with an ankle injury after fourteen plays. Mychal Kendricks stepped in and once again posted solid numbers (6-1-0 with 2 passes defended). It seem every time Kendricks gets on the field in a significant role, he makes plays. In week two he had 2 tackles, a sack and a pass defended on 20 snaps. The real head scratcher here is why the coaching staff refuses to put what clearly looks like their best linebacker, on the field full time. This question goes back to last season as well when Kendricks was among the most productive linebackers in the league on a per snap basis but was relegated to part time duty with an average of 17 plays per game. As a thirteen game starter in 2015 Kendricks averaged 5-1 in the tackle columns, adding 3 sacks, a forced fumble and 4 passes defended. The moral of this story is, should Hicks miss time (which seems likely), Kendricks is probably going to put up strong numbers for a few games. This week in particular he has a great matchup with the Chargers.
The Steelers are banged up in the secondary with both Sean Davis (ankle) and Michael Mitchell (hamstring) missing practice this week. Neither was able to finish Sunday's game though Mitchell was not injured until late. Pittsburgh may be starting J.J. Wilcox at free safety and Robert Golden at strong against the Ravens.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers have taken a beating in the injury department over the first three games. Neither Ruben Foster nor Eric Reid are practicing this week and there is currently no target date for their return. On Thursday the team lost Jaquiski Tartt to a concussion when he took a vicious knee to the back of the helmet in a friendly fire incident. The extra days may help but after seeing the hit he took and how it affected him, I will be surprised if Tartt plays this week and will not be shocked if he misses several. The team also lost Tank Carradine for the season with an ankle injury. With the presence of Solomon Thomas, the Carradine injury may be the easiest to overcome. Thomas has been relatively quiet in the box scores so far but seeing him chase down Todd Gurley on an outside run was a wow moment for me. Thomas has already been playing about 43 snaps per game on average. With one less mouth to feed he may get up around 50 going forward. The production is soon to follow.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No team has taken more injury hits than the Buccaneers who could be without seven starters in week four. Kwon Alexander is probably a few weeks away with his hamstring injury while Robert Ayers missed Sunday's game with a sore knee and Brent Grimes was inactive due to a bum shoulder. Added to the list after week three are Noah Spence with a dislocated shoulder, Gerald McCoy sprained ankle, Lavonte David sprained ankle and T.J. Ward with a hip injury. Spence was able to practice on Wednesday and may be able to play though the soreness and they may get Grimes back this week as well as Chris Baker who sat out with the flu, but the rest of the M.A.S.H. unit is unlikely to go week four. If you need a spot start at linebacker Kendell Beckwith may be your guy. He was 6-2-0 as the middle backer against the Vikings. David was injured late in the contest and was replaced by Devante Bond who would likely start on the weak side. The Giants have been a lousy matchup so far but this might be their chance to get the running game on track.
Wesley Woodyard continues to put up decent numbers despite the Titans having no three down player at linebacker. In week three however, we did see Jayon Brown receive more playing time (44 snaps) than Avery Williamson (34). There may be a changing of the guard at hand in Tennessee.
Kevin Byard has faded after the big week one production. The competition for tackles could get even tougher with Jonathan Cyprien nearing return. On Monday coach Mularkey said Cyprien may play this week but he was a non-participant in practice Wednesday. If he is not able to practice it is doubtful he will go this week. More likely we will see him again in week five.
With Mason Foster nursing a sore shoulder the Redskins started Will Compton at the inside linebacker position. Compton lasted all of 5 snaps before being replaced by Martell Spaight. There was no obvious injury to blame here and Compton has not been mentioned on a practice report, so we have to assume this was a performance related decision. Foster may be able to go this week but he will not be 100% if he does.
That does it for this week's offering. Good luck negotiating all the injuries and underperforming players this week. There are certainly plenty of them.