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After the Week 8 game, defensive coordinator Vance Joseph told us about Haason Reddick had been replaced in the base defense by Joe Walker. Great timing there, coach. We went into Week 9 with Walker as a priority on the watch list, while wondering how the playing time would break down. When Walker racked up eight tackles and three assists, many managers were blinded by the box score. Don’t be one of those managers. Before you overpay for Walker with thoughts that he will be an every-week option going forward, consider the other factors here. Walker played 42 of a possible 74 defensive snaps against the 49ers and his production had a lot to do with San Francisco being a stellar matchup.
With six teams on bye, there will be a lot of us scrounging to fill that last starting spot at the defensive positions this week. From that perspective, Walker could be a good target. Tampa Bay has been a plus matchup for inside linebackers on most weeks. The concern here is snap count if the Buccaneers use a lot of three and four-receiver sets as they often do. If Walker is not working in sub-packages, his opportunity may be limited.
The other thing to think about here is the signing of Zach Brown (who was released on Wednesday). This signing makes me wonder if Walker actually “earned” an opportunity to get on the field as Vance Joseph originally stated, or if the team was simply not satisfied with Reddick’s play versus the run, and is looking for a better option. The other thing that comes to mind; why is Mason Foster’s phone not ringing?
Budda Baker put up huge numbers against San Francisco and it is not hard to figure out why. He shadowed George Kittle much of the game. Bruce Arians is not a coach that will feature the tight end position, so we should not expect a repeat by Baker this week. That said, the Buccaneers have been a hit or miss matchup for safeties, helping a few to post big games.
Corners Byron Murphy and Patrick Peterson are high upside options this week. Murphy has the rookie corner rule in his favor against a Tampa team that passes a lot, and Peterson will likely get matched up with Mike Evans. Over the last three weeks, James Bradberry totaled 10-0 with 2 picks and two other pass breakups in Week 6, Logan Ryan went 6-2-1 with an interception and an additional pass defended in Week 7, and Shaquill Griffin was 7-2 with a pass breakup in Week 9.
Those looking for help at safety may want to consider Damontae Kazee. He has played between 74% and 81% of the snaps in three consecutive games and seemed to have his role changed to that of a more traditional strong safety before the bye week. He had six solo tackles in each of the last two games and has a plus matchup on tap with the Saints.
Patrick Onwuasor had good numbers against the Patriots, going 6-2-1 with a forced fumble, but there are some major red flags. Baltimore played five or six defensive backs on nearly every snap, while no inside linebacker was on the field more than 42% of the time (28 snaps). That and a horrible matchup with the Bengals is more than enough reason to sit Onwuasor this week if at all possible.
Mario Addison missed Week 9 to be with family after his brother was shot. Thus Brian Burns got the call to play an expanded role. Burns did not take advantage of the opportunity. In fact, he has now played 74 snaps over the last two games without recording so much as an assist. Addison may be back for the matchup with Green Bay, though the Packers are not a particularly strong matchup for pass rushers.
Strong safety Eric Reid was 9-2-1 with a forced fumble in Week 9, while inside linebacker Shaq Thompson lit up the box score at 10-1-1. Both players are having the best statistical year of their careers in the Panthers’ new scheme. Both have earned the status of every week must start but be aware that, the Packers have been a less than stellar matchup for both positions on most weeks.
Reid sat out practice o Wednesday with a sore ankle. With his injury history, this could be a serious red flag. Keep an eye on the late week updates.
Olivier Vernon added another sack to his total, giving him a sack or turnover in four of the last five games. Unfortunately, he was seen after the game with a sleeve on his knee and walking with a limp. He did not practice on Wednesday but beyond that, there has been no word on the severity of the injury. Hopefully, it is not a serious one but if you have been taking advantage of his surging production, keep an eye on the practice reports.
Leighton Vander Esch suffered a neck stinger that knocked him out of the Week 8 game. It was diagnosed as a minor issue and he was limited in practice all week before being inactive for the Monday night game. The Cowboys are not acting like the injury is serious or Vander Esch is in any danger of missing significant time, but teams take extra care with neck injuries which are often slow to heal. Sean Lee got the call against the Giants and showed the world he is still a great player when healthy. If Vander Esch is your guy, or you need a stream start this week, hit the waiver wire and see if Lee is still available. You might be able to get a quality start or two out of him, but be aware he was limited in practice on Wednesday with a pectoral injury.
Over his last four games, Derek Wolfe has collected 11 tackles, 3 assists, 5 sacks, a forced fumble, and a batted pass. Those are impressive numbers that are sure to get him picked up in most IDP leagues, but buyer beware. In his first seven seasons, Wolfe has only exceeded five sacks once, that as a rookie in 2012. It is hard to believe he is suddenly going to become a great pass rusher. Ride the wave while it lasts, but recognize when to get off.
At least Jared Davis is consistent, even if he is not particularly productive. In six games, Davis has recorded exactly three solo tackles five times, with an average of two assists. This in spite of some strong matchups. He was 2-1-0 versus the Vikings in the other game, which is the lowest production of any inside linebacker against Minnesota this season. Meanwhile, both rookie Jahlani Tavai and Christian Jones have soundly outproduced Davis on most weeks while playing significantly fewer snaps. Yet somehow the Lions organization remains unable to understand why they are struggling on defense? At some point, the team will wise up and make Tavai the starter. IDP managers should be smarter and keep Davis out of the lineup now; especially against a Chicago team that has been a poor matchup of late.
Tavon Wilson gave us a second solid outing, following his 6-1 versus the Giants with a 7-1 against the Raiders. He appears locked in as the strong safety with Will Harris (2-3) covering for the injured Tracy Walker at free safety. Walker was not able to practice at all leading up to Week 9 and remained out early this week, so there is a good chance he will be out at least one more game with the sore knee.
Week 9 provided no clarity at the Colts safety positions. Once again five players contributed as some combination of safety/slot corner. Malik Hooker played 56 of 63 snaps at free safety with Clayton Geathers working on 33, Khari Willis 37, George Odom 18, and Marvell Tell 37. If you have not yet done so, the time has come to move on from this mess altogether.
The good news at linebacker is Anthony Walker and Bobby Okereke no longer appear to be sharing time. The bad news is, neither is playing full time yet. Walker has worked at middle linebacker around 75% of the snaps in each of the last two games, while Okereke has now become the starter ahead of Matthew Adams on the strong side, working on around half the plays over the last two games. With 12 tackles and 5 assists over the last two games, Walker has proven that 75% will be enough for him when the matchups are solid. The Dolphins had been a relatively strong matchup for linebackers over the last few games, but the loss of Mark Walton to suspension could have a considerable negative effect.
Kansas City Chiefs
Chiefs defenders had a good matchup with the Vikings in Week 9 but no one was able to turn it into much in terms of fantasy points. Both Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson were on the field for 59 of 71 defensive plays, while Tyrann Mathieu played every snap in the game, yet none of them could muster more than four solo stops and three assists. It is hard to have much confidence in any of these guys after last week’s flop, but with six teams off, we may not always have the luxury of confidence. If you have to play one of these guys, take comfort in the fact that Tennessee has been a much better matchup over the last two games with Ryan Tannehill under center.
Los Angeles Chargers
Most of this week’s discussions around the Chargers have been injury-related, with a mix of good and bad. On the positive side; Los Angeles got Melvin Ingram III back for Week 9. His impact was immediate and significant, with a sack of his own while helping to take some pressure off Joey Bosa who also got home for one. This week they may get tackles Brandon Mebane and Justin Jones back. Both are expected to practice in some capacity with the possibility of getting on the field versus Oakland.
On the other side of the coin, Derwin James is eligible to return from IR but has not yet been able to practice. Coach Lynn says it may be a while yet, though there is still hope he will be able to practice in the next couple of weeks. Then there is Denzel Perryman who left Sunday’s game with another knee injury. Neither he nor safety Roderic Teamer (groin) has been able to practice as of Wednesday. Both feel like longshots to play versus the Raiders, who are a quality matchup for linebackers and safeties.
If Perryman is out it could mean more opportunity for Drue Tranquill who is already on the dynasty watch list. He has now recorded 11 solo tackles and a pass breakup on 60 snaps over the last two games. Both of those games were against opponents that were not strong matchups.
If you are in a 14 or 16 team league with deep rosters and are in need of a warm body at linebacker that will at least be on the field, Vince Biegel might be an option. He has been on the field roughly 82% of the snaps over the last two games, which is second only to Jerome Backer. Biegel had a decent outing against Pittsburgh in Week 8 with four tackles and five assists but understandably did nothing against the Jets in Week 9. The Colts are a solid matchup for Linebackers in general.
New York Giants
Deone Bucannon saw his playing time more than double in his second game with the team. He came on as a nickel linebacker, replacing David Mayo in passing situations. Bucannon played 38% of the snaps versus Dallas. It will take a lot more opportunity than that so we will continue to watch just in case he somehow lands a big enough role to be relevant.
New York Jets
The Jets just keep digging deeper in an effort to plug the hole at inside linebacker. Last week I mentioned the addition of James Burgess who played every snap against Miami, recording four tackles, two assists, and a safety for a solid fantasy line. They also moved outside linebacker Brandon Copeland to the inside where he too played every snap, but with a much bigger statistical contribution of 8-1-1 and a pass breakup.
Blake Cashman is now on IR, C.J. Mosley is not likely to play for a while, and Neville Hewitt was a limited participant in practice on Wednesday. The recent signing of Paul Worrilow was a move to add depth and could be a sign that the team is not expecting Hewitt back for another week or two. That could make Burgess and Copeland the starters for the next game or two and possibly longer. One thing we do not have to worry about with the Jets is their matchup. Everyone can move the ball of this defense, so if you are looking for help at linebacker, both Burgess and Copeland are worthy targets if Hewitt remains out.
The Oakland defense was banged up coming out of Week 9. Defensive end Arden Key landed on IR this week with a broken foot. This turn of events means more playing time for Benson Mayowa who will move into a more prominent role as the third defensive end.
Nicholas Morrow entered last week’s game with a sore foot and came out of it with a sore groin as well. He missed some snaps Sunday with the groin but was able to practice on Wednesday and will play on Thursday. The team added Will Compton off the street before the Lions game to provide depth. He ended up playing a few snaps, recording four solo stops on a dozen plays, which was somewhat eye-catching. With the team already releasing Brandon Marshall who was also signed last week, and Morrow battling injuries, Compton could be in line for a significant role down the stretch.
The other injury was to number one corner Daryl Worley who had an MRI on his ankle and Achilles early in the week. He was limited on Wednesday but is also expected to go on Thursday. Having traded Gareon Conley, the Raiders could find themselves in a pinch at corner if someone is lost. Rookie Tayvon Mullen has played well in two games as a starter, including six tackles and an assist against Detroit. Former Detroit starter Nevin Lawson was the nickel corner in Week 9.
Talk about making a big impression. Philadelphia acquired Genard Avery in one of the side-note trades last week. He was active against Chicago, recording a tackle, two assists, and half a sack. That is relatively impressive production considering the Bears ran 26 total plays resulting in a tackle being awarded and no one on the Eagles had more than two solo stops. It is even more impressive considering Avery played just three snaps in the game. It will be interesting to see what role he has when the Eagles return from the bye in week 11.
Nathan Gerry led the Eagles in tackles at 2-3-0 versus Chicago while Kamu Grugier-Hill was 2-2-0 both started at OLB with T.J. Edwards working in the middle on early downs. Gerry has played all but one snap over the last three games and has looked good. So what will the coaching staff do if/when Nigel Bradham is able to return? Bradham has missed the last three games with an ankle injury but could be available after the bye week.
Mark Barron and Vince Williams continued their timeshare in Week 9. The snap count favored Barron a bit more against the Colts and may do so again this week versus the Rams. In the three games with both he and Williams healthy, Barron has seen 70% of the playing time. He is going to need more opportunity than that to give us considerable value on most weeks.
Is Minkah Fitzpatrick a younger clone of Troy Polamalu? He is certainly reminding a lot of people of the former Steelers great, both on the field and in the box scores. Those of us that have been playing this game long enough will remember Polamalu as a big-play force who would often be a little light in the tackle columns but could win you a game on any given week with his playmaking ability. Fitzpatrick has four or fewer tackles in four of his six games with the Steelers but has five takeaways and a score over that span of games as well. In short, he has proven to be an exceptional fit in Pittsburgh.
Bradley McDougald( 5-1) and Marquise Blair (4-1) both played every snap in Week 9 but that was with Quandre Diggs on the shelf. Diggs is set to return from his hamstring injury this week and is all but sure to assume a starting role. The expectation is that Blair will move into a lesser role as the third safety but there is no guarantee it will not be McDougald who gets bumped. In a different situation, it might be a good idea to sit all the Seattle safeties, but with so many teams off and a stellar matchup with the 49ers on tap, McDougald is worth the gamble.
San Francisco 49ers
San Fransisco has arguably been the league’s best defense through the first half of the season but they took a big hit when Kwon Alexander landed on IR this week with a torn pectoral. Azeez Al-Shaair got on the field for a few snaps after Alexander left. He could take over as the third man when the 49ers use three linebackers, but Dre Greenlaw is likely to see the biggest increase in playing time. Greenlaw was 4-1-1 against Arizona on roughly half the defensive snaps. The San Francisco defense has not been on the field a lot in most games, so Greenlaw may not have the same opportunity players on other teams are getting, but he is still a possible pickup and play this week against the Seahawks.
Playing Jayon Brown this week is going to be a risky proposition this week. He has been fighting through a sore groin since Week 6 and is far from 100%. Brown managed a normal workload in Week 8 but was limited to 36 snaps in Week 9 when the injury flared back up. He did not practice on Wednesday and even if he plays against the Chiefs, Brown will be less than 100% and is likely to have his role reduced. IDP managers would be better off if the Titans elect to rest Brown completely. At least that way we could pick up Wesley Woodyard as a starter and feel confident he would at least contribute.