There has not been much significant news since the third preseason games. Nearly everyone has been mum or non-commital on everything from injury status to starting jobs at contested positions. We could look at matchups but truth is, half the teams we see as good matchups at this point will not be, and half of those we believe to be poor matchups, will not be. It happens every year. The best advice for week one is to play it safe. Start the guys you know will be on the field and have high floors.
The Cardinals upgraded their pass rush with the addition of Cassius Marsh who should step right in as the third man at outside linebacker. Marsh has been an undersized 4-3 defensive end for nearly all his five years in the league, but be an even better fit as an outside backer in a 3-4. He is coming off the best year of his career with 28 tackles and 6.5 sacks.
Kenny Young played well late in the preseason when Chris Board was out with a concussion, but there is nothing to suggest Board will not return to the starting role for week one. Board returned to practice on August 24th so he should be fully cleared in time. That said, starting him this week would be a little risky. If you have other good options, give him the week off and keep an eye on what the Ravens do with their inside linebackers.
Taco Charlton was lighting it up in the preseason before suffering an ankle injury. He was able to get back on the practice field this week. If he is able to play in the opener, Charlton will have an opportunity to keep the momentum going before Robert Quinn is back in week three.
Inside linebacker Todd Davis missed the entire preseason with a calf injury, but he says he will be ready to play in week one. Davis should step right back into the three-down role. Meanwhile, the jury is still out on Josey Jewell playing in sub-packages. He did so during some preseason action but that was with Davis unavailable. Put both of these guys on the watch list for this week.
The high ankle sprain suffered by Jarrad Davis was initially expected to keep him out well into the regular season. He could still miss time in September but was able to practice this week on a limited Meanwhile, rookie Jahlani Tavai had a strong preseason and is in line to start in the middle if Davis is not able to play. This could be a great opportunity for Tavai to audition and prove he belongs on the field even when Davis is available. It will not be a surprise if the coaching staff finds a way to get both players on the field as the season progresses.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers traded for B.J. Goodson this week. With Oren Burks injured and James Crawford cut, Goodson immediately becomes at least the third man at inside linebacker. Ty Summers has been impressive and is the favorite to start next to Blake Martinez. It is unclear if he will play in sub-packages but he has excelled in those situations throughout the preseason.
There is no doubt the trade of Jadaveon Clowney to Seattle will have a ripple effect on the rest of the Texans' defense. Individually the player that takes the biggest hit is J.J. Watt. In the past, we have seen Watt carry the pass rush and the rest of the defense for that matter, but it is a lot easier when offenses have someone else to worry about. It is absolutely not panic time for anyone that has Watt, but it does ding his stock a bit. Hopefully, Whitney Mercilus can step up as he did in 2015 and 2016 when he combined for 18.5 sacks.
The Texans are kicking the tires on several veteran free agents but so far have made no important signings.
The Colts traded corner Nate Hairston to the Jets, which is a sure sign Kenny More will be available for week one. Indianapolis also parted ways with safety Matthias Farley who has played a lot of football for them in recent years. This can be taken as a sign of how much they like rookie Khari Willis who has made a strong impression.
Quincy Williams has been back on the practice field since August 27th and appears ready to go for week one. Before the knee sprain, the rookie was working with the first team as a three-down weak-side linebacker. He was serving in the same role previously held by fantasy stud Telvin Smith Sr. Grab Williams if available but give him a week on your bench to prove himself before considering him for your starting lineup.
Jacksonville picked up former Seahawks backup Austin Calitro to provide some much-needed depth at both the middle and weak-side positions.
Kansas City Chiefs
Defensive end Breeland Speaks was making some noise early in the preseason before suffering a knee injury. He has not yet been placed on IR and could return later in the season.
Check the injury status of Tyrann Mathieu who sat out much of the preseason nursing a sore shoulder. He should be back in action week one but it is hard to say if the shoulder will be an issue.
Los Angeles Chargers
At this point, I am pretty confident in Kyzir White being a three-down middle linebacker for the Chargers. Beyond that, it is anyone’s guess who will start and if they will play full time. This will be a high priority on the week one watch list, as will the play of Adrian Phillips as the starting strong safety.
No one was surprised when the Dolphins moved Kiko Alonso, but it was nice to get the clarity in advance of week one. It is now clear that Jerome Baker and Sam Eguavoen are going to be three-down fixtures in the new-look Miami defense. When the defense goes to three linebackers, which may not happen often, Raekwon McMillan should come on in the middle.
Corner Mike Hughes has been activated from the PUP and may see action in week one. He has been a highly productive corner in the past but we should not count on much early in the season. It will be a while before he is fully recovered and his role will likely be limited to sub-packages at best.
New Orleans Saints
When speculating in recent weeks were Kiko Alonso would end up, the Saints were not a team many considered a possibility. That said, this was an outstanding addition for New Orleans and a great landing spot for Alonso. First, let us be clear, Miami did not move Alonso because he is not a good football player. It was a combination of a big salary and a skill set that did not fit well with their new defensive approach of speed, more speed, and particularly strong cover skills.
Without seeing for sure what the Saints plan for Alonso, I expect he will in short order become a three-down middle linebacker. He is an exceptional run defender and despite what the Dolphins situation might lead us to believe, Alonso is also above-average in coverage. With Alex Anzalone struggling to stay healthy and possibly not developing as quickly as the coaching staff anticipated, he would seem the odd-man-out.
Both Alonso and Demario Davis have the versatility to play any of the linebacker spots, so we might see Davis shift inside and Alonso play on the weak-side. Regardless where those two line up on early downs, they are heavy favorites to be on the field full time. A.J. Klein had been getting a lot of nickel snaps. Those opportunities as all but certain to dry up as he shifts back to a largely two-down role on the strong-side.
New York Giants
The Giants cut B.J. Goodson and signed former Panther David Mayo this week. It seems like somewhat of a lateral move to provide depth. Tae Davis has been running as a three-down starter throughout the preseason and will be the starter opposite Alec Ogletree. It remains to be seen if Davis will continue in the every-down role with Ogletree returning to action this week. Davis is a watch list guy with the potential to be a week two roster add.
New York Jets
Neville Hewitt has looked surprisingly solid as an every-down inside linebacker. Hewitt never really got a shot at starting a with Miami which does not say much for him. On the other hand, Baltimore has a completely different scheme, so maybe he will excel. At the very least he is going to have a golden opportunity to prove himself and NFL starter.
With the release of Brandon Marshall, the Raiders removed any uncertainty about their linebacker positions. Vontaze Burfict will start in the middle with Tahir Whitehead on the strong-side in base sets and joining Burfict in sub-packages. Marquel Lee will likely be the third linebacker when they use one, but that may not happen much. Oakland could be another team joining the trend of two linebackers and three safeties as their base defense. Karl Joseph has won the job at strong safety. It looks as if he will play up in the box regularly with Lamarcus Joyner and Johnathan Abram moving around and filling the other two spots.
Throughout the preseason Philadelphia started Nathan Gerry at middle linebacker, Zach Brown in a three-down role on the strong-side and L.J. Fort in a two-down role on the weak-side. All along they have said Nigel Bradham would be the middle backer when healthy and Kamu Grugier-Hill would start on the weak side when he returns.
Grugier-Hill is not ready to play yet but Bradham returned to practice this week. So who plays where and how much against Washington on Sunday? The only guy we can even consider trusting here is Brown. He is not a lock to play every-down but is a heavy favorite to do so. If Bradham is indeed ready to go as anticipated, he should be a three-down middle backer providing the coaches have not changed their minds. That would put Gerry on the weak-side on early downs.
The Eagles also got Ron Darby back on the field this week. With Jalen Mills landing on the PUP list, Darby and Rasul Douglas are the probable starters at corner. This is particularly important information for managers in corner required leagues as Philadelphia’s corners have given us great production in recent years.
Fletcher Cox has recovered from a foot injury that had him watching all the preseason action and is also expected to have a full role in the opener.
We still have no clear picture of how the Steelers will look at inside linebacker. Everyone assumes Devin Bush will be a full-time guy but that was not always the case during the preseason. It is a safe bet we will see Bush, Vince Williams, and Mark Barron all have prominent roles.
Sean Davis is battling an ankle injury and was not able to practice on Wednesday. Keep an eye on his status later in the week.
From the fantasy perspective, the most important factor in the trade for Jadaveon Clowney is that he will now be a clear cut defensive end, which is a huge boost to his IDP stock. He is a three-down player that is equally effective as a run defender or pass rusher. Considering all the defensive linemen Seattle will be without to open the season, Clowney could be on the field virtually every snap right out of the gate providing his conditioning will allow it. He rarely came off the field while playing for Houston.
Clowney has been on the cusp of 40 tackles and double-digit sacks in each of the last two seasons. This could be the year he gets over the top. There is a good chance he will be among the top-15 at his new position by season end.
San Francisco 49ers
Nick Bosa returned to practice on Monday and appears on track to play in the opener. It remains to be seen how effective he will be and/or if the ankle is 100%. Playing him this week would be a risk, even with the plus matchup.
The Washington linebacker situation is at or near the top of this week’s watch list. It looks like the team has settled on Jon Bostic as a full-time inside linebacker but the other ILB situation is clear as mud. Josh Harvey-Clemons started and played full time in the third preseason contest. He looked good in that game but with Shaun Dion Hamilton not playing at all in that game, it was hard to tell what we should read into it. We now know that Hamilton was nursing a chest injury. What we do not know is if Harvey-Clemons played his way into the job. The biggest fear here is Hamilton playing on early downs which is his strength, with Harvey-Clemons replacing him in sub-packages, which is his strength.
No matter how much we read, study or think we know, week one is always an adventure. Best of luck in coming out on top of yours.