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We have come to that point in the NFL season when a lot of teams that are not in contention are starting to look at and evaluate the bottom of their rosters. We are also swiftly approaching the point when teams will lock up playoff spots and start to rest some guys. What that means for fantasy managers is a lot of both opportunity and uncertainty. From here on out it is one and done, so never take anything for granted most importantly, do not get lazy. Do your homework on those starting lineups like you would for week one and have those stream options ready to go just in case.
Jalen Thompson has given us decent production since taking over as a full-time safety, including a solid 6-1 in week 13. If you have been using him, or are considering it since he has a good matchup with the Steelers, be aware that he left Sunday’s game with a head injury/concussion. Deionte Thompson stepped in to finish in the blowout loss and would be in line to start should Jalen be sidelined.
At the expense of Terrell Suggs who played his second-lowest percentage of snaps on the season, Cassius Marsh saw a bump in playing time against the Rams. Marsh went 5-0 on 45 of a possible 77 snaps while Suggs played 42.
In a surprising move, the Cardinals released Tramaine Brock on Monday. I guess it was his fault the Rams offense scored all those points and had over 400 passing yards. Kevin Peterson should take over as the nickel corner going forward.
Joe Walker played every snap against the Rams while Haason Redick played one. If the Rams had run the ball all day we could consider this a matchup driven situation. That was not the case, however. With Walker staying on the field in passing situations, he could be a decent emergency play this week against the Steelers who are going to rely heavily on their run game.
Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano are every week starters for most managers but if you have a decision to make, consider the Ravens have been a stellar matchup for linebackers over the last several weeks in particular. The inside/weakside positions have averaged a combined 16.8 solo tackles and 6.4 assists per game against Baltimore since week nine.
Gerald McCoy has five sacks in his last seven games and a juicy matchup with a Falcons squad that has allowed a whopping 18 over their last three games. Be aware, however, that McCoy left Sunday’s contest early with an ankle injury. Keep an eye on the late week practice reports for an update. Mario Addison and Bruce Irvin are healthy and are quality starts in this one.
Start James Bradberry against the Falcons as well. The coaching staff has been matching him up with opponents number one receivers on most weeks. James had five tackles and a pair of assists in the first meeting when he was on Julio Jones most of the day.
Nick Kwiatkoski has been on the field virtually full time in three of the four games with Danny Trevathan out. Kwiatkoski went 6-2-0 with a pass defended on 71 of 76 snaps versus the Lions. He should have another solid outing this week versus Dallas.
Roquan Smith is coming off his best game of the season by far, going 10-5-2 against Detroit. He has played every snap in a game just three times on the season. Two of those games have come in the last two weeks. This is all but surely due to Trevathan being out but Smith has clearly played better of late. Whatever was bothering him early in the year, no longer seems to be an issue.
Akiem Hicks returned to practice this week after missing several games with an elbow injury. It is unclear if he will play in week 14 but chances are if Hicks has a good week of practice he will be active.
The good news is Damarious Randall is healthy. Unfortunately, that does not help anyone that had him in their lineup last week when he was a surprise inactive against the Steelers. The full story has not yet come to light, but there is speculation that Randall skipped a meeting at some point during the week and was inactive due to a coaching decision, leaving Sedrick Redwine and Justin Burris as the Browns safeties against Pittsburgh. This is a prime example of how important it is to check the inactives on Sunday morning just in case.
Olivier Vernon returned in a limited role against the Steelers, taking part in 12 plays. What we do not know at this point is if he suffered a setback, was not able to continue, or was simply on a short pitch count. The Browns would certainly like to have him back for the week’s rivalry game against Cincinnati. If healthy, Vernon would be a good starting option as the Bengals offensive line continues to struggle.
Chad Thomas could be a strong start with this matchup as well, but there is a red flag to clear up first. For some reason, Thomas had his snap count cut drastically against the Steelers. After seeing at least 68% of the action in three consecutive games, Thomas was below 40% in week 13. He still managed a sack in the game which is a plus, but we will have to learn more about his playing time before considering him more than an emergency flier this week.
The Browns cut Chris Smith on Wednesday.
The Cowboys have a short week to prep for Thursday’s meeting with the Bears. That means less recovery time for their walking wounded. Leighton Vander Esch has already been ruled out with his sore neck, Jeff Heath continues to battle a bum shoulder that has kept him out most of the last five games, and Michael Bennett is battling a sore foot. Neither Vander Esch nor Heath has practiced as of Wednesday, while Bennett has been limited so far.
Sean Lee will stand in for Vander Esch against Chicago and should be a solid start even though he has not been playing every snap. Lee was on the field for 57 of 67 plays in week 13, which was enough to pile up nine tackles and three assists.
The injuries keep coming for Denver who has now lost Derek Wolfe for the rest of the season with a dislocated elbow. There has been no word suggesting DeMarcus Walker will be back soon, so Adam Gotsis and Dre’Mont Jones should see a lot more action this week.
The Texans had a lot of healthy bodies available in the secondary heading into week 13, so we were not sure what they would look like. Jonathan Joseph and Bradley Roby got the start on the outside against the Patriots, with Vernon Hargraves seeing 84% of the snaps as the third corner and Lonnie Johnson picking up what was left for the corners. Gareon Conley was the odd man out this time around and was inactive. He was limited in practice last week with a hip injury which may have been a major contributing factor.
The ripple from the Texans suddenly having a lot of talent and depth at corner, was that Jahleel Addae played just three snaps against New England. The playing time that would have been his in earlier games, went to Hargreaves
Kenny Moore has been an excellent option when healthy, especially for those in corner required leagues. If he is your guy, keep an eye on the practice reports this week. He left Sunday’s game with an ankle injury. Rock Ya-Sin moved from slot to outside after Moore left in the second half and would get the start if Moore is not able to go.
Justin Houston played 55% of the snaps in week 13, which was by far his smallest piece of the pie this year. There has been no report of an injury or any other issue so we can probably chalk this one up as a fluke, but keep your eyes open for news later in the week just in case.
With Myles Jack out due to a sore knee and Najee Goode landing on IR last week, Donald Payne and Quincy Williams were the Jaguars’ three-down linebackers in week 13. Both played virtually every snap but that is where the similarity ends. Williams is a somewhat known commodity in that he had a great opportunity at the outset of the season but was not able to shine. He put up yet another stinker against the Buccaneers. Payne, on the other hand, was a completely different story. The former undrafted free agent safety from Stetson put up a team-best 6-7-1 against Tampa Bay.
Payne has been with the Jaguars off and on over the last three seasons and was added this year after week seven. He checks in at 5’11” and 217 pounds which is a bit shorter than former Jaguars star Telvin Smith Sr but is otherwise similar in stature. Payne would have a tough time holding up for long at that size, but then that is the same thing we all said about Smith before he racked up nearly 100 solo tackles in three of four seasons. It was only one week so we can not get too excited, but Payne certainly has our attention heading to week 14.
Kansas City Chiefs
Frank Clark has been battling a neck injury for much of the season, but it was a shoulder injury that cut his game short in week 13. As of Wednesday early afternoon, there has been no update on his status. If Clark is not able to go, Tanoh Kpassagnon is a capable replacement who has four sacks on the season including one against the Raiders on Sunday. The Patriots are not a good matchup for pass rushers but if you are looking for someone that will at least have plenty of opportunities, this might be your guy.
Los Angeles Chargers
Derwin James failed to make a box score splash in his return but he did play every snap in the game and managed to come out healthy. This guy was a beast last season and now that he has knocked some of the rust off, we can expect much better numbers from him over the next three games.
Adrian Phillips also returned to action in week 13 after a stint on IR. With all their pieces available for the first time this season, the Chargers played James and Rayshawn Jenkins as their full-time safeties with Phillips and corner Desmond King sharing time as the fifth defensive back.
After playing full time in week 11, Drue Tranquill missed week 12 with a calf injury, leaving us unsure what to expect from him against Denver. What we got was a guy that led the team’s linebackers with 74% of the snaps, and led the team with seven solo tackles. At the least Tranquill is worth stashing for next season when the Chargers are not likely to have such a crown sharing playing time. At best he is a possible third starter for the next couple of weeks with the Jaguars and Vikings on the schedule.
Jerome Baker has come on strong over the second half of the season and has become an every-week play for many managers. If he is you guy, be aware that he left Sunday’s game with a chest injury and was not able to return. As of early Wednesday afternoon, we are still awaiting an update on his availability for week 14.
The Dolphins ran out of safeties a long time ago and filled in with corners at the positions for several weeks. Leading up to week 12, Miami signed Adrian Colbert off the Seahawks practice squad. He played a few snaps against Cleveland that week before taking over as the starting strong safety against the Eagles. Colbert put up four solo stops which is not eye-catching, but then the Eagles are not a good matchup for strong safeties in general. Matchups with the Jets, Giants, and Bengals to close out the season are not great either, but at least all three of those teams have excellent lead running backs, so there is some potential for Colbert.
New Orleans Saints
Kiko Alonso has been making an impact for the Saints in recent weeks. Against the Falcons, it looked as if his role had been further expanded. Alonso played in nearly every situation and had three tackles (two for loss) prior to suffering a thigh injury in the second quarter. The Saints face the 49ers, Colts, and Titans during the fantasy playoffs. If he is able to get back on the field quickly, Alonso could be worth starting in some situations.
Back in week 11, Marcus Davenport had his playing time cut against the Buccaneers. At the time I thought it might have been a move by the coaching staff to get his attention because he had been underachieving. Whether that was actually the case or not we will never know, but Davenport certainly appears to have received the message. In the two games since he is 5-2-3 with a forced fumble. This is a player with a ton of long term upside and is a stash target for dynasty managers if available.
New York Jets
I rarely suggest offensive starters in this column, especially from teams like the Dolphins, but anyone that catches passes for Miami could have a good game this week against a decimated Jets secondary. Corner Brian Poole is currently in concussion protocol and Arthur Maulet, who started the last four games at corner, could be out with an ankle injury. Darryl Roberts returned from a calf injury in week 13 but played only eight snaps. He could be available but is not going to be 100%. The biggest loss for the team, however, is Jamal Adams who left the locker room after last week’s game in a boot after playing nearly the entire game against Cincinnati on a sprained ankle.
It is possible the Jets will have Maurice Canady and Blessaun Austin as their starting corners against Miami. Both players have been with the team for five weeks now. Rontez Miles is listed as the backup to Adams. He has played 21 snaps this year and has not seen the field since week five.
The Jets finally put C.J. Mosley on IR. That makes James Burgess a safe/solid starter for us the rest of the way.
With the return of Lamarcus Joyner in week 13, the Raiders went back to the three safety approach they had used for most of the season. D.J. Swearinger Sr worked as the third safety, sending Curtis Riley back to the bench. Eric Harris remains the only dependable option for us at this point. He should definitely be in our lineups this week with a matchup against Tennessee, as should Tahir Whitehead and possibly Nicholas Morrow.
Sometimes NFL coaches can’t see the forest for the trees. Case in point, the Eagle linebacker situation. For several weeks Nathan Gerry played every down, put up good numbers and made a lot of plays for the team. Then Nigel Bradham returns and Gerry goes back to a part-time role, despite having boosted the run defense while accounting for three turnovers and two and a half sacks in 10 games.
Bradham is a good NFL player but he has been around plenty long enough for the organization to know he is not a difference-maker. Yet they elect to play him over a young guy who has shown the potential to be. Bradham recorded two tackles and two assists on 69 plays in the loss to Miami. I just don’t get it.
San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco came up a little short against the Raves on the scoreboard and they were banged up pretty good in the process. Tackle D.J. Jones was forced out early with an ankle injury and fellow tackle Jullian Taylor is expected to miss some time with an elbow issue. Safety Jaquiski Tartt suffered a broken rib, and Richard Sherman came out of the game with a sore knee. Both defensive backs are in danger of missing at least one game and possibly more.
Marcell Harris stepped in for Tartt and played well. On 28 snaps he managed two tackles, three assists, a forced fumble, and a recovery. If Tartt is out this week, Harris becomes a viable starting option due to the matchup with New Orleans being a great one.
The Titans lost Malcolm Butler for the year in week nine and now they could be without Adoree Jackson as well. Jackson left the week 13 game with a knee injury and was quickly ruled out for the remainder of the game, which is never a good sign. LeShaun Sims is currently down with an ankle injury as well, leaving Tennessee thin at corner as they try to fight their way into a playoff spot. Tye Smith saw his first action of the season in week 13 and may be called upon to start against the Raiders, but the team could use Tramaine Brock instead after claiming him off waivers from the Cardinals this week. Undrafted rookie safety Kareem Orr played a lot against the Colts, making eight solo stops as the nickel defender for much of the game.
Washington managed to upset the Panthers despite losing both edge defenders in the first half. With Ryan Kerrigan already inactive due to a concussion, Montez Sweat left with a quadriceps injury and Ryan Anderson was ejected for leading with the helmet. Having released Noah Spence a few weeks back, the Redskins may have to dig deep into their bag of tricks to get any pressure on Aaron Rodgers this week.