The Cardinals threw us a huge curveball Sunday when journeyman Gerald Hodges started over Deone Bucannon at weakside linebacker. Hodges went on to play about 50% of the snaps while Bucannon came off the bench to take around 35% of the playing time. On Monday Coach Wilkes said they must evaluate which combination of linebackers will work best with Bucannon, Hodges, Josh Bynes, and Haason Riddick all being considered. Bynes was the team’s only three down linebacker against the Rams with Reddick barely getting on the field at all.
If that were not enough; the Cardinals had free agent Zaire Anderson in for a workout on Monday then signed linebacker Joe Williams off the Eagle practice squad on Tuesday. Maybe this shot across the bow will get Bucannon back on track for a full-time role, but for week three we should stay away from any Arizona linebacker.
Benson Mayowa was a rare bright spot for the Cardinals in week two going 6-1-2. Impressive numbers but we should not hurt ourselves rushing to pick him up. Moyowa has a career best of 5.5 sacks for a season and is likely only keeping the seat warm for Marcus Golden who is expected to return at some point in the next few weeks.
All three safeties played every defensive snap versus Los Angeles. Antoin Bethea led the club in tackles while Tre Boston and Budda Baker were both 4-2-0. Any or all of these guys can have big numbers on any given week and are strong starting candidates week in and week out.
Two weeks into the season and we have seen and two ejections for bad hits. Damontae Kazee was ushered to the locker room 14 snaps into the game when he hit a sliding Cam Newton. The important factor here for IDP manager being Kazee had three tackles on those few snaps before hitting the shower. He is in line for a big week three with the Saints coming to town.
As anticipated Duke Riley worked as a three-down middle backer posting a strong 7-2-0 while playing 87% of the snaps. This will continue until/unless Deion Jones is able to come back late in the season. For now, both Riley and De'Vondre Campbell, who was also on the field full time, are deserving of strong consideration as every week starts. A matchup with the Saints makes them particularly inviting this week.
Nickel corner Brian Poole has gone 6-1-1 in consecutive games to open the season. We often say two in a row is a trend but this one is almost too good to be true. Poole has been on the field for 88% of the team’s defensive snaps to date and is a strong pickup candidate for managers in corner required leagues in particular. That said it is hard to put a lot of faith in a nickel corner on a week to week basis.
The move to three-down defensive end was supposed to make Vic Beasley Jr a fantasy star. So far his 2018 season has been a stinker with one tackle and two assists on 97 plays through two games. At best he is a must sit against the Saints who traditionally give up fewer sacks than most team. It could be an even better idea to cut him and move on.
C.J. Mosley was diagnosed with a bone bruise after last Thursday’s game. This is a tough injury to get a read on. Severe bone bruises are painful and often slow to heal but it is hard to gauge how bad this one is from the information we have seen. Mosley did not practice Wednesday and seems likely to miss at least this week’s contest and possibly a few more. The good news being it is not a season-ending injury.
Kenny Young played well in place of Mosley and has been a hot waiver target this week. Young looked great and his dynasty stock is skyrocketing but be aware it was Patrick Onwuasor who took over the three down role after Mosley left.
Tony Jefferson went 6-3-0 versus Cincinnati and good fantasy points two weeks in a row. Look beyond the total points before plugging him into your lineup. Jefferson had all of two tackles in week one when most of his point total came from an interception and a pair of pass breakups. Consistency is likely to be an issue going forward.
Beware the mirage that is Lorenzo Alexander. Strong numbers in each of the first two games will have many managers believing when in fact Alexander is a two-down player who has seen about 55% of the Bills defensive snaps so far. Don’t be on the coach when it turns back into a pumpkin.
On the other side of the coin, Micah Hyde had another poor outing going 2-1-0 against the Chargers. Hyde had a similar start last season when he followed three tackles and a pick in week one with a goose egg in week two. He then went on to total 62-17-0 with 4 picks, 13 passes defended with an average of almost 11 points per game over the rest of the season. The Vikings are an excellent matchup so this could be the week Hyde turns things around.
Matt Milano lost about 25% of the snaps to Ramon Humber in week two, going from 76 plays and strong production against the Ravens to 42 opportunities and pedestrian production against Los Angeles. Minnesota is a great matchup but only if he is on the field.
Deonte Jackson had a big game against Atlanta with six tackles a forced fumble and a pick. He is clearly a strong starting option for managers in corner required leagues, but keep an eye on the injury reports this week as Jackson left late in week one with a groin injury. He did not practice on Wednesday.
In past years the Panthers have used a lot of players in the defensive line rotation. That continues to be the case at the interior positions but it is noteworthy that both Mario Addison and Wes Horton played at least 75% of the snaps in week two.
Rookie safety Rashaan Gaulden saw his first game action in week two replacing Da’Norris Searcy who left with a concussion. Searcy remains in protocol as of Wednesday so Gaulden could be in line for the start.
Roquan Smith made his first career start on Monday night. Not surprisingly he led the Bears in solo tackles with seven. Somewhat surprising however was the effect Smith had on Danny Trevathan. Instead of killing his value with competition for tackles, Smith’s presence seemed to allow the coaching staff to turn Trevathan loose as a playmaker. He was called upon to blitz more than we have seen in the past, resulting in a final line of 6-2-2 and a forced fumble and NFC defensive player of the week honors. The Cardinals are a horrible matchup at this point but sitting Trevathan on the heels of that game is a tough call.
Preston Brown was not able to go on his sore ankle in week two. Hardy Nickerson started and played full time finishing at 5-3-0. Brown is practicing this week and looks like a go for week three but keep an eye on the late week practice reports.
Michael Johnson left Thursday’s game with a knee injury. It is not believed to be season-ending but he is expected to miss some time. With Johnson out, rookie Sam Hubbard stepped up going 3-2-1 in a near-even timeshare with Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson. The Bengals have been sky high on Hubbard all summer so it would not be a shock if he were to keep the starting spot going forward even after Johnson returns.
Vigil has another strong outing at 6-3-0 and is currently the team leader in tackles. We are still guessing what will happen once Vontaze Burfict returns in week five. Speaking of Burfict, this may be the time to go ahead and slip him onto your roster before people start thinking about his impending return.
Shawn Williams had a huge game going 6-2-1 with an interception and a forced fumble against Baltimore. After Clayton Fedejelem’s monster week one it looks like the dynamics have changed with the Bengals safety positions under new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. The safeties are playing much more aggressively, being used on the blitz more often and are generally in position to make more plays than in years past. Through two games the strong safety position has produced 18 tackles, 4 assists, a sack, 2 forced fumbles, a recovery, and a score. The moral of this story, get Williams on your roster and into your lineup if possible.
Last week I mentioned Christian Kirksey not playing every snap. After the fact, I learned he missed snaps in week one due to shoulder and ankle injuries. Kirksey was out week two and is not expected to go on Thursday but the team is optimistic he will be ready by game four. In Kirksey’s absence, the Browns moved Jamie Collins Sr into the every-down role with James Burgess Jr as a two-down weakside backer. Genard Avery still had a role seeing action on 21 plays. This is good news for those counting on Kirksey long term. Once healthy it looks like he will continue to play every snap.
The new look Browns are loaded with IDP options. Larry Ogunjobi had another big game and is currently second only to DeForest Buckner not only at tackle but overall among defensive linemen. For those in corner required leagues Denzel Ward and Terrance Mitchell are currently fourth and seventh respectively at the position. Not so surprisingly Myles Garrett is the number two defensive end.
Sean Lee came up gimpy late in the game so Leighton Vander Esch got some extra playing time. The rookie finished with seven solo stops on just 28 snaps. Lee said he was just cramping and will be fine for week three but he was not on the practice field Wednesday due to a hamstring injury. Vander Esch could be in line for his first start.
Taco Charlton is playing well and has established himself as the starter at end opposite Demarcus Lawrence. Charlton was 3-0-1 with a fumble recovery against the Giants and has a great matchup against Seattle this week. The Seahawks have already allowed a league-high 12 sacks.
Both Randy Gregory and Xavier Woods returned to practice Wednesday and are expected to play against Seattle. Gregory was the third end in the rotation week one and will likely assume the same role versus Seattle.
Add Denver to the list of teams with no three-down inside linebacker in week two. Surprisingly Todd Davis led the way with 57 of a possible 65 snaps while Brandon Marshall played 53 and Josey Jewell 13.
Safety Justin Simmons was 8-1-0 and has strong fantasy totals in both games but keep in mind he had 3 tackles in the opener with most of his production compliments of an interception.
Devon Kennard is being overlooked by many IDP managers. He has quietly gone 7-3-3 over the first two games with double-digit points in each of them. What many managers are missing is the fact Kennard has played every defensive snap thus far. As a three-down strongside backer he is not going to blow up the tackle columns very often, but the Lions are making the most of his strength as a pass rusher
Da’Shawn Hand has quietly put together a couple solid outings and is looking like a quality contributor for those in tackle required leagues.
Green Bay Packers
Kevin King left early with a groin injury against Minnesota, putting rookie Jaire Alexander in the lineup. The rookie went on to lead the team with seven solo tackles, adding an assist and a half sack for a nice stat line. King was not able to practice Wednesday so the rookie is in line to start against Washington.
It has been two full years since J.J. Watt last recorded a sack. Look for the drought to end this week against a Giants offense struggling to protect their quarterback. New York has allowed eight sacks already.
Kareem Jackson had great success in his one week at strong safety but his stay there was short. With the Texans putting Kevin Johnson on IR last week, Jackson was shifted back to corner with rookie Justin Reid playing full time at strong safety.
Zach Cunningham went 6-3-0 on 71% snaps in week two and looks to be clearly outplaying Bernardrick McKinney who was a weak 1-4-0 despite playing every down. Playing Cunningham at this point is risky but hold onto him if you can. Sooner or later the coaching staff will open their eyes.
Duke Ejiofor continues to impress. He was 2-1-1 on just 15 plays in week two. Look for his opportunity to expand if he keeps playing well; especially if Javeon Clowney continues to battle injuries. Clowney missed week two and continues to sit out practice with a back injury.
Darius Leonard was the AFC and IDP defensive player of the week with a line of 15-3-1 with a pass breakup and a forced fumble. Leonard has been everywhere making plays in both games. He has quickly become an every-week must start.
Anthony Walker started at middle backer in week two and saw his workload go from 42% of the plays in week one to 51% in week two. He finished a solid 4-4-0 on 38 snaps. His potential to eventually claim an every-down role remains in question at this point.
Calais Campbell was a late addition to the week two injury report with a sore knee. He then suffered an eye injury during the game. He saw an eye specialist early in the week but not much has been said about the results. Keep an eye on the late week practice reports to confirm he is good to go.
Kansas City Chiefs
Anthony Hitchens has been everything both the Chiefs and fantasy managers expected. He could get a little more competition for tackles this week with the anticipated return of safety Eric Berry. IDP managers should have Berry on the radar but his value will ultimately come down to which position he plays. Expectations have Ron Parker working at free safety with Berry at strong. If this is the case Berry could quickly become a quality IDP option. As a free safety, his value would be considerably reduced.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers gave us no three-down linebackers once again in week two. In fact, none of them played more than 61% of the snaps. While there is limited value to be found among the linebackers, Derwin James is well on the way to joining Reshad Jones and Landon Collins on the elite tier at safety.
Los Angeles Rams
In most situations the mark of 6-1-0 put up by safety John Johnson III in week two would be solid but not spectacular. When we consider he had six solo stops against an Arizona offense that ran only 35 plays it is much more impressive. Johnson is the real deal, pick him up if he is still available.
Cory Littleton managed three tackles in the game but do not be discouraged. There will be substantially more opportunity going forward.
Raekwon McMillan continues to work as a three-down middle linebacker for Miami and is all but sure to have a few solid games this year. That said he has not shown well thus far. McMillan was no a fantasy factor again in week two with three tackles on 65 snaps. He is probably the least impressive 3-down middle backer in the game.
Meanwhile, Kiko Alonso is looking like the player that lit up the box scores as a rookie in 2013. The 13 solo stops were by far a single-game career high for Alonso as were the 25.5 fantasy points.
New England Patriots
If you don’t like what the Patriots did in week two, just wait until next week and everything will probably look different. At least that was the case between weeks one and two. After playing less than 70% of the snaps in the opener Kyle Van Noy was on the field for 64 0f 71 plays going 5-1-0 with an interception against Jacksonville. Jason McCourty went from 6 plays to 53. Eric Rowe went from every down starter to 17 snaps while Jonathan Jones moved from nickel corner to a three-down role for most of the game. Ja’Whaun Bentley went from leading the front seven in playing time to well short of 50% etc.
Injuries contributed to some of the changes and will be a factor in week three. Patrick Chung is in concussion protocol and Eric Rowe was limited Wednesday with a groin injury. Jason McCourty could see time at corner and/or safety along with Duron Harmon who would have an increased role. Trey Flowers is also in protocol and Deatrich Wise Jr Jr. suffered what looked like a broken or dislocated finger possibly calling his availability into question. Derrick Rivers may finally be active and Adrian Clayborn is likely to see a significant increase in action after playing about 30% of the time over the first two games. Much like last season, Van Noy and Flowers (if healthy) are looking like the only dependable options in the front seven.
New Orleans Saints
Add New Orleans to the list of teams with no three-down linebacker in week two. Demario Davis was on the field full time in the opener but his role was significantly reduced in game two. A.J. Klein led the group playing 77% of the snaps followed by Davis at 68%, Manti Te’o 56% and Alex Anzalone 37%. Avoid all these guys like the plague unless someone steps up.
Nothing changed with the safeties as Kurt Coleman started but was out snapped by Von Bell played at a split of 65/35.
Sheldon Rankins stock may be heading up after he went 2-3-1 with his playing time jumping up to 81% of the plays.
Looking for help at tackle? With Justin Ellis heading to IR and P.J. Hall dealing with an ankle injury, Clinton McDonald may be an option. He has a history of useful production and had four solo stops against Denver on 81% of the defensive snaps.
Jordan Hicks has put together back to back quality outings for the first time since 2015. As we say here at Footballguys, once is a fluke but twice is a trend. Hicks is definitely trending up.
Nigel Bradham returned after serving his one-game suspension but may no longer be a three-down player. He was on the field for 81% of the plays in week two.
If you followed this column throughout the summer you already know the back to back strong games by Ronald Darby are not a fluke.
A lot of managers are moving to add middle linebacker Austin Calitro this week. Unless you are looking to handcuff Bobby Wagner, make better use of your waiver move. Wagner returned to practice Wednesday and fully participated. Mychal Kendricks played on the weak side against Chicago and will likely make another start at that spot with K.J. Wright still recovering. If you are looking for a short-term linebacker replacement give Kendricks some thought. He played 84% of the snaps against Chicago despite just joining the team and the Cowboys are a prime matchup.
Tre Flowers also returned to practice this week and is set to regain the starting job at corner.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers get Rubin Foster back this week and may have Malcolm Smith available as well. It is generally expected that Foster will step right in as a three-down middle backer but the words of head coach Kyle Shanahan leave room to question that expectation. Shanahan basically said the coaching staff is not yet sure what the linebacker lineup will look like with everyone healthy and available. The quality of play by Fred Warner over the first two weeks has clearly put his name in the hat for a three-down role. History, including last week when Warner and Elijah Lee both had quality numbers, tells us this situation can provide enough opportunity for two solid IDP starters. All we need now is to figure out which two it will be. Due to the uncertainty, it may be a good idea to avoid all these guys if you have other quality options available. If you do not have that luxury, roll the dice on the healthy players Foster and Warner. Smith is coming off the hamstring injury and may be pushing it for fear of losing his job. He has already tried to come back once and suffered a setback.
Jaquiski Tartt injured his shoulder late in the game and is not practicing as of Wednesday. Tartt has been highly productive when healthy but has struggled to stay on the field throughout his young career.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Chris Conte left the week two game with a knee injury and was not able to return. As of Wednesday evening, we are still awaiting an update. Jordan Whitehead stepped in against the Eagles and would presumably get the call if Conte is not able to play.
Jason Pierre-Paul was on the doubtful side of questionable all last week. Not only did he suit up, but he also had a big game versus the Eagles going 5-0-1. The Steelers are a middle of the road matchup for pass rushers having allowed five sacks.
Kevin Byard erased any questions about his fantasy potential in week two. He is still looking for an interception on the young season but he has now thrown one. The fact he also racked up seven solo stop should give managers plenty of confidence to play him against a Jacksonville offense that should be a plus matchup with the return of Leonard Fournette.
Zach Brown played 84% of the snaps in week two with Mason Foster on the field for all but one play. Brown would be a no-brainer on most weeks but a matchup with Green Bay is enough to cause second-guessing. He is still coming off the field in nickel sets and the Packers like to spread the field. Brown’s playing time could be considerably impacted.
That does it for the Week 3 offering. Best of luck this weekend.