The Cardinals made some personnel changes in week four. The Gerald Hodges experiment is over with the return of Deone Bucannon to the starting lineup. He is still not back to three down status but managed a respectable six tackles and forced a fumble on 48 of a possible 66 plays. San Francisco is a solid matchup for weakside linebackers so Bucannon could have a productive game in week five.
Marcus Golden played a few snaps in week three and returned to the starting lineup in week four. He played 52% of the snaps against Seattle, producing a couple solo tackles. It will be interesting to see if his playing time continues to increase in the coming weeks. Keep Golden on your radar and see how he progresses. Playing him this week would be a stretch but it is worth mentioning the 49ers are tied for six with 14 sacks allowed.
After logging 87% of the playing time in his week two start, Duke Riley has seen his snap percentage steadily decline over the last two games. He played 81% in week three and 75% of the snaps against Cincinnati. The Steelers have been a plus matchup for linebackers so both he and De'Vondre Campbell should give us good numbers, but the slacking snap count is something to keep an eye on.
Leading up to Sunday’s game we were trying to figure out what the Falcons would do at safety. One possibility no one saw coming was rookie corner Isaiah Oliver lining up at safety; which is how the Falcons opened on defense. Over the course of the game both Oliver and nickel corner Brian Poole saw snaps from a safety alignment. This could be a fluid situation for a few weeks as the coaching staff tries to find the right combination. The Steelers have been a strong matchup for defensive backs so both of these guys are worth starting consideration.
Kenny Young seems to have moved past Patrick Onwuasor at inside linebacker but he is far from securing an every-down role. Young played about 40% of the time in week four, out snapping Onwuasor 25 to 6. He is a hot waiver target for dynasty managers but we will have to see Young land a bigger piece of the playing time pie before there is any redraft value.
Micah Hyde left Sunday’s game with a groin injury and was not able to return. The Bills are currently calling him day to day but it sounds like he will miss at least this week. Hyde was replaced by Rafael Bush who has a history of solid IDP production when playing full time. In fact, Bush had 7 solo stops on just 19 plays back in week three and has averaged 4-2-0 on slightly more than 50% of the snaps this season. Groin injuries tend to linger and are easily aggravated so managers looking for options to stream might get a few good weeks from Bush.
The Bills had all their defensive linemen available in week four and it was Trent Murphy starting at end opposite Jerry Hughes. Hughes has come to life after a dismal 2017. He was 29-16-4 all of last season but has 11 tackles, 2 sacks and a forced fumble in the last three games. Murphy did not do much versus the Packers but he was productive in the two previous games and is currently 5-4-1.5 with a forced fumble on the year. Managers in deeper leagues may want to take a look these guys.
Managers in deeper leagues may want to snap up Thomas Davis this week. The Carolina linebacker position will be on our watch list in week five as Davis is set to return from suspension. Shaq Thompson has played well and produced over the first three games but Thomas was working in the three down role during the preseason. Starting either of these guys in week five would be a risk until we know how the playing time will be distributed.
Mario Addison and Kawann Short are must-starts this week against the Giants who are allowing almost four sacks per game including at least one every week to interior linemen. Keep a close eye on youngster Efe Obada who had a huge game against Cincinnati heading into the bye week. Obada’s playing time came at the expense of Wes Horton.
Preston Brown was going off the field in nickel situation week four. It is hard to say if this was a product of his sore ankle or a preview of things to come when Vontaze Burfict returns this week. Nick Vigil has clearly been the Bengals best linebacker over the first four games so Brown may be the odd man out on passing downs going forward.
Terrance Mitchell suffered a broken arm/wrist early in week four and has been placed on IR. He could return late in the season but chances are it will be either E.J. Gaines or Travis Carrie opposite Denzel Ward the rest of the way. Carrie filled in after the injury on Sunday but may be more suited to the slot corner role. This has been a fantasy friendly position thus far so one of these guys might step up and carry the torch.
Christian Kirksey returned to action and garnered 90% of the snaps against Oakland. The Browns seem intent to keep working Genard Avery onto the field in a limited role so Kirksey may not get back to an every-down role. That said, 85-90% of the snaps is plenty of opportunities for him to be productive.
Jabrill Peppers was limited to 40% of snaps in week four. This is probably due to the shoulder injury he suffered in week three though there has been no recent mention of it by the team. Bottom line here - keep Peppers out of your lineup until/unless he gets back to full-time duties. Even then he is a marginal option.
We are still waiting for Emmanuel Ogbah to show up strong in the box scores but at least he has taken the first step. After missing a couple games due to the week one injury, Ogbah returned to play 80% of the snaps against Oakland. Look for the numbers to pick up in short order as well. Ogbah is a good player, and with the talent around him, he should emerge as at least quality depth if not a solid second starter.
Leighton Vander Esch was a three-down weakside linebacker against Detroit. His overall numbers were not as good as anticipated but then the Lions offense has been a poor matchup for linebackers for most of two decades. He should fare much better over the next two games against Houston and Jacksonville. Chances are Sean Lee will be held out until after the week eight bye.
Quandre Diggs is likely to miss some time with a broken hand suffered in week four. This turn of events puts Tavon Wilson back in the starting lineup at strong safety. A week five matchup with the Packers might be a good reason to pick Wilson up and put him in your starting lineup as well.
With both Ezekiel Ansah and Kerry Hyder Jr out, the Lions used rookie DaShawn Hand at end against Dallas. He responded with three tackles and his first career sack. Hand was shut down by New England but has at least three solo stops every other contest; making him a quality pickup for managers in tackle required leagues. The playing time as an edge rusher is a bonus that might last a while if he continues to show success.
Green Bay Packers
Jaire Alexander was on the way to a third quality fantasy game in a row when he was forced off the field by a groin injury early in the second half. The rookie corner rule is in full force with this young man and he has a plus matchup against Detroit this week if he is healthy. Watch the late week practice reports but be prepared to go elsewhere if Alexander is not at least near 100%.
Oren Burks returned to action for a few plays in week three and has his snap count increased in week four, but he was still well below half the defensive plays against Buffalo. At this point, Blake Martinez only inside backer seeing three down action.
Josh Jones is nearing a return from injury but it is unclear if he has a role once healthy. He was working with the second team when the ankle injury occurred back in the preseason.
Injuries continue to make the Texans secondary a rollercoaster ride this season. Aaron Colvin is the latest casualty suffering a severe ankle injury that could be season-ending. This loss and the presence of rookie safety Justin Reid may force the coaching staff to shift Kareem Jackson back to corner heading into week five. Jackson is currently the team’s second-leading tackler with an average of just under five solo stops per game. A move to corner would seriously dampen his value.
It took three games/losses for the Texans defensive staff to figure out Zach Cunningham is their best inside linebacker. He finally assumed three-down role against Indianapolis going 6-1 in the tackle columns while adding a pair of pass breakups. Cunningham should be a strong start this week against the Cowboys who remembered how to use Ezekiel Elliot last week.
Every week it seems a handful of Colts players blow up the box scores. In week four there were five Indianapolis defenders credited with at least seven solo stops. We have quickly come to expect such big numbers from rookie sensation Darius Leonard but his bandwagon may have a hitch in week five. He was quick to return after missing one play against Houston with an ankle injury but has been in a walking boot since leaving the locker room after the game. The short week is working against him as well and Leonard had not practiced heading into Wednesday’s walkthrough. If he does suit up for this one we may not get the same production and it is feeling more and more like he will sit as we close in on game time. Zaire Franklin would be the likely replacement should Leonard not go.
Anthony Walker saw 85% of the snaps for a second straight game and continues to impress. His nine solo stops lead the team while he added an assist and a sack to finish as the sixth highest scoring linebacker for the week. There is no longer any doubt Walker is an every-week must start.
Safeties Clayton Geathers and Mathias Fairley along with tackle Denico Autry each recorded seven solo stops in the game as well. Geathers was not a big surprise as we have come to expect solid production from him. Fairley and Autry deserve some further stud, however.
Fairley filled in admirably as a starter last season but there is nothing to get excited about with him at this point. He played just over half the snaps as the third safety so a repeat is not to be expected. Autry however, added a pair of assists and two sacks to finish an impressive 7-2-2 on the day, earning the second spot on the weekly rankings among linemen. He was banged up in week one and missed the next two games so it is hard to say if Autry’s big day was the beginning of a trend or a mirage. One thing for certain, we will not have time to wait and see. He will be high on the waiver list in nearly all leagues and particularly those that break out the defensive line positions. Snap Autry up if you can but beware starting him this week against the Patriots who have been particularly stingy to interior linemen.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs had no answer for Denver’s running game on Monday night. You know it was bad when the top four tacklers and five of the top six were defensive backs. After going for 19 tackles and 13 assists in the first three games Anthony Hitchens flopped hard but fantasy managers need not panic. Nothing has changes with his situation and he was not injured. It was simply one of those weeks where the offensive game plan and blocking scheme worked perfectly. Do not hesitate to keep Hitchens in your lineup this week with a plus matchup against Jacksonville.
Ron Parker has quietly put up solid tackle totals all season. He is probably not going to blow up the stat sheet but there is nothing wrong with five or six tackles and an assist from your third starter every week.
Los Angeles Chargers
Kyzir White had a knee injury that kept him out week four. He could miss another game or two after having a minor procedure done on the knee but is not expected to miss a lot of time. With White out, Jatavis Brown returned to a three down role and was productive as always when given enough opportunity; finishing at 7-2-0 with a pass breakup. Those in need of a short term play might want to grab Brown to get you by for a week or two.
Los Angeles Rams
Ramik Wilson had another strong outing in week four with seven solo stops. This guy has been highly productive on a per snap basis dating back to his time with Kansas City but there are two good reasons not to get excited and pick him up. The main reason being the imminent return of Mark Barron who is expected back soon and may even return this week. The second reason being even if Barron misses more time, Wilson is not playing much more than 50% of the defensive snaps, which will eventually catch up with him.
Check your waiver wire and see if Barron is available. In leagues with tight rosters, he may have been cut due to the extended absence. Barron is a proven commodity when healthy. Not only will be produce, he will not come off the field on passing downs.
Aaron Donald had an answer for anyone beginning to doubt him after the slow start. At 3-2-2 against the Vikings he made up for those three bad weeks all in one game and he gets the Seahawks next.
Jerome Baker continues to see his playing time expand. After working 61% of the snaps in week three he was up to 80% against the Patriots and led the defense in tackles at 6-4-0.
Instead of upping the workload of Robert Quinn or Cameron Wake to compensate for the loss of William Hayes and Andre Branch, Miami had rookie seventh round pick Jonathan Woodard active and working into the rotation at defensive end against New England. Quinn remains a viable starter on most weeks but consider sitting him against a much improved Bengals offensive line that is allowing a sack and a half per game.
Bobby McCain is expected to miss some time with a minor knee injury. Torry McTyer should be the next man up with either Cordrea Tankersley or Walt Aikens as the third corner. If safety Reshad Jones returns as anticipated, nickel safety Minkah Fitzpatrick will probably see most of the action as the slot defender. Jones was close to going last week and should be ready.
Rookie corner Mike Hughes has been in and out of the starting lineup over the first four games. He was back in against Los Angeles posting a line of 8-0-0 with a forced fumble on 84% of the snaps. This is a tough one to call. On one hand, Hughes was a starter despite all the team’s options being available. On the other hand, Minnesota took a beating with the rookie being targeted early and often. The matchup with Philadelphia is a good one but counting on Hughes to be in the starting lineup is a risk.
New England Patriots
Recently added pass rusher John Simon wasted no time making an impact for the Patriots. He was 2-3-1 on just 20 plays against Miami and may prove to be a great pickup. While Simon is not likely to see much playing time on early downs, there is no doubt he can get to the passer as a nickel rush specialist. Simon is a worthy waiver add at a thin position but consistency will be a huge factor in determining IDP value.
Once again no Patriots linebacker saw more than 63% of the playing time in week four. The score may have been some factor here but they were shuffling players often early in the game as well. At this point, it is hard to trust anyone on this team not names Tre Flowers and he is not completely healthy .
New Orleans Saints
When Demorio Davis played every snap in week three for the second time in three games, it led us to believe that would be the case going forward. Psyche! Against the Giants, he led the team’s linebackers with a strong 9-2-0 but played only 71% of the snaps. Instead of replacing Manti Te’o by expanding the role of other starters as they did the previous week, the Saints had Craig Robertson step into that part time role. As a result, free safety Marcus Williams and defensive end Cameron Jordan were the only defenders outside the starting corners to play full time. At tackle, Sheldon Rankins split time with Tyeler Davison who returned from injury.
New York Giants
Ray Ray Armstrong’s playing time on the rise as he seems to have dispatched B.J. Goodson from the time share at inside linebacker. Armstrong out snapped Goodson 57 to 11 versus the Saints, producing a serviceable 5-2-0 on the day. For those with deep benches, Armstrong might be a waiver target.
The Giants may get Olivier Vernon back this week, but it is probably too little and too late.
New York Jets
Marcus Maye returned to action and resumed his starting role in week four, sending Doug Middleton back to a reserve role.
Linebacker Marquel Lee has crept onto the radar over the past two weeks. His playing time has increased every week jumping from 39% in game two to 64% week three and 79% against the Browns.
Derek Barnett is starting to stand out for the Eagles. He is 5-3-2.5 over the last two games and has led the team’s defensive ends in snap count over past two weeks as well. His 54 plays (76%) in week four was the highest snap total and percentage by any Philadelphia defensive end thus far in 2018.
Corey Graham made an impressive debut as the starting strong safety going 8-1-0 against Tennessee. Graham has some history of quality production including a huge 2015 while with the Bills. One game does not make a trend but it is enough to grab our attention. The Vikings should be a strong matchup providing they can show last week’s performance to be a fluke.
Ronald Darby overcame what was a poor matchup on paper to lead finish third in tackles among the league’s corner last week. He has fully earned the title of every week must play even in leagues lumping all the secondary positions together.
Everyone is talking about what is wrong with the Steelers. There are a ton of differing opinions and reality is there is no one issue. That said, if they fail to strongly address their inside linebacker positions again this offseason, 2019 is not going to be a lot better. The return of Morgan Burnett this week could help a lot as it will free up one of the safeties to take linebacker snaps in nickel situations.
The broken leg suffered by Earl Thomas has been in the headlines since Sunday, as much because of his reaction as for the injury itself. Tedric Thompson took over the position in the game and is the likely starter going forward. The biggest fear here for IDP managers is some sort of shuffle taking Bradley McDoudald from strong to free safety which would be a negative.
For many years the Seahawks were among the teams using a lot of players in their defensive line rotation. Now that their depth has dried up we are starting to see some quality fantasy options emerge. Frank Clark was mentioned last week and this week it is tackle Jarran Reed. He has played at least 77% of the snaps in each game and now had double digit fantasy point in three of four. Reed has quietly gone 7-1-3 over the last two weeks. For those in tackle required leagues, it is time to bring him on board.
San Francisco 49ers
Jaquiski Tartt is expected to return from his shoulder injury this week after sitting the last two games. Antone Exum exploded for big numbers in both his starts at the position and may slide over to free safety this week if Adrian Colbert (hip) is not ready to go. Tackling David Johnson with a sore shoulder does not sound like fun but chances are the safeties will have a lot of opportunity to do it.
Wesley Woodyard injured his shoulder on the second play of Sunday’s game and was not able to return. In his place, Jayon Brown took over as the three down linebacker with rookie Rashaan Evans having an expanded role as well. Woodyard is expected to miss some time making Brown a strong addition for at least the next couple weeks. He went 6-4-1 on 99% of the snaps against Philadelphia with the Bills, Ravens and Chargers on the schedule leading up to the team’s bye week. Evans played 77% of the snaps though is production was negligible at best (1-2-0).
Kevin Byard is quickly becoming one of those players that make fantasy manager have grey hair. In the team’s two away games he combined for 4 tackles, no assists and a pass defended. In their two home games, Byard is 16-3-0. After making the top five last season on the strength of 10 takeaways and 16 pass breakups, he is still looking for his first pick and is on pace for four pass breakups. The Titans are on the road this week at Buffalo where they face a rookie quarterback that has tossed four picks in three games. It seems to be feast or famine with Byard. The question is, how lucky do you feel?
Washington returns from the bye week with everyone healthy or close to it. All eyes will be on Zach Brown in this one to see if he reclaims the three down role. If it does not happen here we can resign ourselves to him being a two-down guy the rest of the way.
That does it for week five. Best of luck this week!