Scooby Wright started at middle linebacker again in week two but the Cardinals showed their hand in game three. Against Dallas, they opened in a very Cardinals-like 4-2-5 with Josh Bynes and Deone Bucannon at linebacker, Budda Baker and Antoine Bethea as dual in the box safeties, and Tre Boston playing deep. They stayed with this personnel group throughout the first half, including some third-down plays with 10 or more yards to gain. Hasaan Reddick had a nice stat line of 4-3-0 in the game, but he saw little if any action with the starters.
Robert Nkemdiche aggravated was in line to start at the 3-technique tackle spot before aggravating his foot injury in the second preseason game He did not play against Dallas but the team is optimistic he will be available for the opener.
Atlanta sat a few starters against Jacksonville including middle backer Deion Jones and free safety Ricardo Allen. They started Duke Riley in the middle with Brooks Reed at Riley’s normal strongside position. Riley looks good in the middle, but there is no reason to believe he will see action there unless Jones is injured. In the first preseason game, it was Jones and De'Vondre Campbell as three-down linebackers. With Jones sitting the last two games, it has been Campbell and Riley in those situations. It would seem Campbell is the favorite to play three downs come Week 1, but Riley has been solid in coverage so this is going to be an uncertain situation until we see a real game.
The Falcons moved Damontae Kazee to free safety early in the offseason and it has been a great move. The former corner is a bit undersized but has been making a lot of noise. The team just gave Allen a new contract, but it will be hard to keep Kazee off the field if he continues to play as he has this preseason.
The four-game suspension handed down to Jimmy Smith is not going to have much fantasy impact for IDP managers. Brandon Carr and Marlon Humphrey will be the starters with safety/corner Anthony Levine Sr moving into the nickel role.
Tremaine Edmunds continues to make IDP managers nervous with average play on the field and a lack of production in the box scores. A complete half of action against Cincinnati had Edmunds showing a tackle and four assists. On film Edmunds simply looks slow to react on a lot of plays, as if he is thinking too much. This is the kind of issue that usually corrects itself in time. There is no question of his talent and skill set.
Matt Milano continues to see action as a three-down weakside backer. He could end up providing more value than most IDP managers are expecting. Milano totaled five tackles and two assists in the first half versus the Bengals.
Da’Norris Searcy sat out game three with a concussion so rookie Rashaan Gaulden got the start at free safety. The youngster lined up deep most of the time and like most Panthers free safeties in the past, had little statistical impact. One rookie was rather impressive. Corner Donte Jackson was credited with two tackles but his impact on the game was much bigger.
Thomas Davis continued to see action alongside Luke Kuechly in nickel sub-packages. Shaq Thompson finished 5-2-0 on the game but did much of that working in a three-down role after Davis was done for the game.
This was actually the fourth preseason game for Chicago who faced off against Baltimore in the Hall of Fame game. Appropriately the Bears sat nearly all defensive starters against Kansas City.
Bengals fans should not overreact since they were facing a rookie quarterback with a struggling offensive line in Buffalo. On the other hand, this defense has been playing very well all preseason. Strong safety Sean Williams and pass rush specialist Carl Lewis have been particularly impressive. Williams had five tackles and an assist in the first half versus Buffalo while Lawson picked up two and a half sacks before halftime.
The team’s surprising release of starting free safety George Iloka came down to a combination of salary cap considerations and the impressive play of rookie Jesse Bates. With Bates working mostly as the deep safety this move is unlikely to have significant IDP impact.
Denzel Ward twisted awkwardly when making a tackle against the Eagles and left the game with what looked like a potentially serious back injury. It turned out not to be so bad and Ward should be fine after the scare.
The Browns seem to have settled on Terrance Mitchell as the starter opposite Ward at corner with Travis Carrie as the slot corner.
Last season the Browns kept all three linebackers on the field in a lot of passing situations. This preseason they have not done so as much. Jamie Collins Sr has not been on the field in many third-down passing situations. It is hard to tell if this is just the coaching staff wanting to see what they have or if it is going to be the plan moving forward. Cleveland certainly has a lot more talent in the secondary than last year. The bottom line for IDP managers, Collins is at risk of being a two-down SLB.
Myles Garrett is a beast. This guy is set to take his place among the game’s elite three-down defensive ends.
Sean Lee was rested versus Arizona but interestingly it was Joe Thomas joining Jaylon Smith at linebacker while Leighton Vander Esch continues to work with the backups. Vander Esch has been battling a groin injury recently, making it tough for him to make an impact. Dallas has also joined the swelling ranks of teams utilizing a third safety instead of a strong side linebacker. Kavon Frazier filled the role versus Arizona.
In what may be the juiciest bit of Cowboys news from the dress rehearsal game; the Cowboys started Randy Gregory opposite Demarcus Lawrence at end. Gregory wasted no time proving it was a good decision by recording a sack on the first series of the game.
Zaire Anderson turned some heads early in the preseason but it was rookie Josey Jewell who stood out at inside linebacker against Washington. Jewell worked as the play caller with the second team and was all over the field in the second half. He made plays versus the run and did a fine job sticking with receivers in passing situations. The coaching staff has been full of praise for the young man who whould be on the radar of IDP managers; especially those in dynasty leagues.
Tavon Wilson and Glover Quin continue to run as the starting strong and free safeties respectively with Quandre Diggs serving as the nickel/slot defender in sub packages. Detroit started in a base 4-3 however with Jarrad Davis in the middle, Christian Jones weak and Devon Kennard at strong side. Kennard went to the sideline in most sub packages.
Interestingly Rickey Jean-Francois and Da’Shawn Hand started ahead of Anthony Zettel and A’Shawn Robinson up front. We probably should not read anything into that but it is noteworthy. Detroit also signed former Buccaneers starter Robert Ayers this week adding to murmurs about the coaching staff possibly being dissatisfied with the play up front.
Green Bay Packers
Oren Burks had a lock on the inside linebacker spot going into the third preseason game but a dislocated shoulder during warm-ups kept him out of the lineup against Oakland. The injury should not end his season, but Burks’ status for week one is in jeopardy. And a sore shoulder could impact his game for several weeks. Greer Martini got the call versus the Raiders but recent trade addition Antonio Morrison could start the opener.
Kentrell Brice remains ahead of Josh Jones at safety which is an unexpected development. The bigger news for IDP managers is Ha Ha Clinton-Dix consistently working up in the box at strong safety. This likely makes him a candidate for an IDP comeback player.
Like many teams, the Texans have adopted a scheme that deploys three safeties on a majority of their defensive plays. Rookie Justin Reid continues to work as the third safety and is seeing a lot of snaps in the box.
The Texans call Jadeveon Clowney a “Jack” linebacker and most league management sites have fallen in line with the designation. Clowney was on the field for two series against the Rams. He lined up with his hand down as a right defensive end on four plays and stood up as the left outside linebacker on four others.
The Colts were at or at least near full strength to start the game against San Francisco. Both starting safeties Clayton Geathers and Malik Hooker were on the field with Kenny Moore II and Pierre Desir at the corners. Jabaal Sheard and Margus Hunt were at end on early downs with Hunt sliding inside to make room for rookie Kemeko Turay or veteran John Simon. Simon has been standing out as a designated pass rusher but left the game with a neck injury. This is not believed to be as serious as the one that ended his 2017 season. Other than simon everyone came out of the game healthy.
Skai Moore continues to work at middle linebacker with the first team. Anthony Walker has not yet returned to practice and the Colts traded Antonio Morrison to the Packers so Moore is in line to enter the season as a three down middle backer. He was not as impressive versus San Francisco as in earlier contests but it may not have been all his fault as the 49ers offensive line really took it to the Colts front four early in the game.
Rookie Ronnie Harrison has been getting on the field as the strong safety in some nickel packages. When Harrison is in the game Barry Church is free to move around. He has lined up opposite tight ends in the slot on some plays and at linebacker depth in other situations. The result has been a lot more opportunity for Church who has a down fantasy season in 2017. It is looking like he could have a bounce back season.
Marcell Darius left Saturday’s game with a pectoral injury but was able to practice on Monday.
Kansas City Chiefs
Eric Berry has been out a couple weeks with what is being called a heel injury. The organization has been rather hushed about Berry’s status other than Coach Reid saying we may not see Berry again during the preseason. If you are among the managers counting on him this year, it would be a good idea to have a backup plan in place considering he missed nearly all last season with an injury to his left Achilles and was battling a sore right one at the time of that injury.
Another important note with the Chiefs; inside linebacker Reggie Ragland was on the field with Anthony Hitchens in nickel packages versus Chicago. To make room for the additional defensive back the Chiefs pulled one of the linemen. Ragland has been an IDP flop thus far in his career largely because no one has trusted him to play all three downs. If he can keep the full-time role there is a good chance he will become IDP relevant.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers showed us some changes against the Saints. Derwin James took over at safety replacing Rayshawn Jenkins and picked off a pass on the third play. James will probably be on the field for every play the rest of this season. He is a potential top-ten defensive back.
Kyzir White started ahead of Jatavis Brown at weak side linebacker. White also remained on the field with Denzel Perryman in nickel sub packages and was the lone backer when Los Angeles used a dime. Keep an eye out for some explanation or confirmation that it is for real. If so, White is a guy we want to add before the games start if possible or slip onto the bottom of your board if you have not yet drafted.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams third game featured all the starters except Aaron Donald, who is still holding out, and Mark Barron who just returned from shoulder surgery on August 20. Ramik Wilson has solidified his role as the top backup on the inside. He did a respectable job, keeping the spot warm for Barron versus Houston. Cory Littleton has run as the other starter since the beginning of camp and seems to have a firm grip on the job.
Jerome Baker has won the starting job on the strong side but is coming off the field in favor of Minkah Fitzpatrick in nickel packages. Baker has been seeing action on all three downs with the second defense through much of the preseason and has shown the ability to handle the job should he be called upon.
T.J. McDonald and Reshad Jones are the three down safeties with McDonald playing deep most of the time. Fitzpatrick has been a great fit as the nickel safety. He is pthyical enough to play near the line and cover tight ends, with the speed and cover skills to hang with slot receivers.
Robert Quinn looks comfortable and healthy. He is on course to have a big year.
No surprises from the Vikings who started most of their first team guys and then pulled them a few series into the game. They ran a handful of three safety sets getting new addition George Iloka on the field for a few plays. He has not been with the team long enough to say Iloka will have no fantasy impact but chances are he will not.
New England Patriots
The Patriots gave rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley a chance to start at middle linebacker in their second preseason game but were back to Elandon Roberts against the Panthers. Likewise, they started Derrick Rivers at end in each of the first two games but played Keionta Davis ahead of him against Carolina. Ultimately New England used several linemen among the first team rotation. The top two IDP targets of this group remain Trey Flowers who has been sitting with a minor injury, and Adrian Clayborn who has been impressive throughout the preseason.
Jason McCourty has been the odd man out at corner as Eric Rowe continues to have a grip on the job. There is speculation McCourty could be on the roster bubble but that would be somewhat of a surprise considering his talent and experience. More likely McCourty ends up as a sub package contributor who can provide excellent depth just about anywhere in the secondary.
Dont’a Hightower was on the sideline for most if not all the second game, returning to the role of three down strong side backer in game three. Once again we are reminded there are precious few Patriots defenders that can be counted on with regularity.
New Orleans Saints
In the Saints second preseason game Von Bell got the start at SS while Manti Te’o worked at middle linebacker, A.J. Klein was on the strong side and Demario Davis weak. Alex Anzalone was at middle backer with the second team second team. In game three Kurt Coleman was back at strong safety but the linebackers remained unchanged. It seems a safe bet the linebackers will look this way in week one with Davis certain to stay on the field all three downs and Klein probably joining him. At some point and/or at least in some situations, we could see the third safety in a linebacker alignment.
The situation at safety is a little less certain. Starting this game is a good sign for Coleman being the full-time strong safety here but it is possible the coaching staff plans to give both he and Von Bell equal opportunity to make their case. If New Orleans plays starters in game four and Bell is in the lineup with them, we may have to wait for week one to get an accurate read.
New York Giants
Anyone looking for a sneaky late round pick or a sleeper at linebacker to add before week one should have B.J. Goodson on their list. This is a guy that played well last season and was supposed to be the three down middle backer before injuries derailed his season. He is healthy, working in a three down role, making a lot of plays in the preseason and flying way under the radar.
Olivier Vernon was carted off the field with an ankle injury during practice on Sunday. The injury was later revealed to be a deep bruise. Such an injury makes it tough to speculate on a return date so there is some concern about Vernon’s week one availability.
New York Jets
No lineup surprises for the Jets but they do have a couple young guys playing well. Darron Lee is playing more physically than in his first two seasons and appears to be diagnosing and reacting to plays quicker. He had six solo stops and a pair of assists in just over a half game of action against the Giants.
The other player turning heads is rookie lineman Nathan Shepherd. His contribution has not yet begun to show up in the box scores but he has been highly disruptive. Shepherd consistently gets penetration and blows up blocking schemes.
Oakland played few or no starters in their second warm-up game. In the third contest, we saw most of the anticipated starters with a couple interesting exceptions. Instead of Karl Joseph and Reggie Nelson at safety, we saw Erik Harris at strong safety and Marcus Gilchrist at free. Normally we could blow this off as veterans sitting out preseason games but with Jon Gruden running the show we should not ignore it; especially considering Joseph has struggled at times during his two years with the team and played with the backups in this game. Harris is a big physical strong safety at 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds and has turned some heads this summer. Gilchrist has been a starter for most of his career and Reggie Nelson will be 35 in September. This could be Gruden sending a message to Joseph and looking to get younger at free safety, or it could be a couple new starters in a secondary that struggled greatly last year.
Kamu Grugier-Hill looks like the starter at weak side linebacker for the Eagles. He has been working with the starters over much of the summer and has been seeing some sub-package snaps over the past couple weeks. It may be a little early to move on him yet but he should be on your early season radar.
Jon Bostic has started the last two games at inside linebacker for the Steelers and surprisingly has been seeing action in some sub-packages as well. Even so, it would be a good idea to sit tight and see what Bostic does when the games start to count.
The coaching staff has handled the safety situation strangely. In their first preseason game, Sean Davis was the free safety with Morgan Burnett at strong and rookie Terrell Edmunds running with the second team. In game two Burnett played free safety with Edmunds at strong while Davis had the night off. Game three was Burnett’s turn to rest while Davis played free safety and Edmunds strong. About the only safe assumption here is Davis being the team’s free safety come week one. Beyond that, it is a crap shoot with a real possibility of all three being on the field at the same time regularly. If you have one of these guys on your roster it may be a good idea to keep them on the bench until we get some confirmation.
The Seahawks have a lot of guys banged up. Defensive end Dion Jordan, safety Bradley McDougald, and corner Byron Maxwell all sat against the Vikings. Quinton Jefferson started at end opposite Frank Clark and should continue to see early down action at the position until Jordan returns. Rookie Rasheem Green has also played well as part of the rotation.
With McDougald recovering from a pectoral strain and Earl Thomas still holding out, Seattle went with Delano Hill at strong safety and Tedric Thompson at free. The closer we get to week one the more it looks like Thompson will be the opening day starter. He has been solid throughout training camp and preseason but is no Eric Thomas.
San Francisco 49ers
There is a lot going on in San Francisco. The team traded starting strong side linebacker Eli Harold to the Lions last week then opened in a nickel against Indianapolis with Malcolm Smith and rookie Fred Warner at linebacker. Warner was impressive making the tackle on four first quarter plays. Reuben Foster entered the game on the third series replacing Smith. This turn of events is somewhat of a head scratcher in that there are several side plots to consider. The trade of Harold to make room for Warner, Foster being suspended for the first two games and Smith nursing a sore hamstring over the past couple weeks are all factors that may have played into it. Foster ended up leaving the game to be looked at for a concussion which might add yet another twist. One thing we can take away from the game for sure is Warner’s quality play. IDP managers with any of these guys on your roster will want to follow this situation closely.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Vernon Hargreaves and Corey Davis started at corner. In nickel, Hargreaves moved to slot with Ryan Smith outside. According to the game book Brett Grimes was active and saw action, but that may have been a mistake by the bookkeepers.
The Titans gave Wesley Woodyard a break, starting Jayon Brown and Will Compton at inside linebacker in the second preseason tilt. Brown had a particularly impressive outing, enough so in fact that he was given an opportunity to start again in the third contest, this time alongside Woodyard. The second-year pro showed signs of excellence in a part-time role as a rookie and appears to have taken the next step. He clearly outshined Compton and from what we have seen this preseason, Brown may well be the best inside linebacker on Tennessee’s roster. He has played all three downs in both preseason contests so if Brown has the job when the season opens, he will likely be a strong IDP contributor.
Rookie Rashaan Evans was the projected starter next to Woodyard but has missed most of training camp and the preseason with a mysterious illness/injury. Head coach Mike Vrable, being of the Bill Belichick coaching tree, is treating the situation as top secret and giving no details. What we do know is Evans attempted to practice on August 22 and was shut down after three plays. At this point Evans is so far behind it could be tough for him to crack the starting lineup this year at all; especially with Brown playing so well.
If you are looking for a late round sleeper or some safety depth with upside, keep an eye on Washington strong safety Montae Nicholson. He is playing full time and continues to see a good deal of action near the line of scrimmage.
Zach Brown was held out of week three but there has been no word of any injury issues. It appears he was just getting veteran rest. Zach Vigil got the first team playing time. Vigil is a proven option for fantasy managers to jump on in the event of an injury to Brown or Foster but is not a threat to claim a starting spot at this time.
That does it for the preseason. Eyes of the Guru will return after week one. Best of luck and as always, Just Win Baby!