Inside linebacker Joe Walkers has now played full time in both games since the Cardinals week 12 bye. While his four tackles in week 13 garnered little attention, Walker managed seven solos against the Steelers. The only question is, has his role been a result of matchups, or will he continue to play every snap going forward? Cleveland has not been a great matchup for linebackers on most weeks, but the Cardinals struggling run defense likely means a big dose of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. At the least, it looks like Walker is going to have plenty of opportunities.
Tanner Vallejo showed up in the Week 14 box score with a mark of 5-0-1 and a forced fumble. The numbers are a little eye-catching but there is really nothing to see here. Vallejo played 16 of the 21 snaps with three linebackers on the field. In previous weeks, all those snaps were going to Haason Reddick.
There is no questi0on that the Falcons defense has changed for the better since their bye in week nine. We can simply look at the fact Vic Beasley Jr and Takkarist McKinley have seven and a half sacks between them over the last five games. Both players are coming off a huge week 14 that saw Beasley go 4-0-2 with a pair of forced fumbles, and McKinley 3-2-2 against Carolina. These numbers will have a lot of points chasers thinking about starting them this week. Don’t fall into that trap. Look back at the previous two games when these guys combined for one tackle and three assists; then look at the matchup. There is no rhyme or reason to explain the inconsistency, and San Francisco is not a particularly strong matchup.
Managers with Tremaine Edmunds or Matt Milano are probably starting them every week, but if you have a decision to make, consider how productive tackle producing linebackers have been when facing the Steelers conservative, run focused offense in recent weeks. Arizona’s inside linebackers accounted for 16 solo stops, 4 assists, a sack and a forced fumble between them last week. In Week 13, Cleveland’s middle and weak-side backers totaled 12-6, and the Bengals Germaine Pratt was 6-2 against them in Week 12.
Pittsburgh has been an average at best matchup for interior linemen in recent weeks, but Ed Oliver has become an every week must play in tackle required leagues. He failed to record a sack against Baltimore but has been a force both as a run defender and inside pass rusher of late. Oliver is going to make it hard for the Steelers to run between the tackles, but we know they will stick with the running game anyway. is on fire.
Roquan Smith’s season ended with a torn pectoral muscle in Week 14. He was replaced by Kevin Pierre-Louis but it will be Nick Kwiatkoski who holds the fantasy value the rest of the way. Kwiatkoski finished with eight tackles and two assists against Dallas but more importantly, he is now the center-piece and play-caller for the Bears, and the Packers are a great matchup.
If you are a believer that players have a little extra juice when facing a former team, stare Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix this week in his return to Green Bay.
Sam Hubbard was not able to practice all last week with a sore knee and may not be able to go again this week. In Week 14, he was replaced by Carl Lawson who went on to play 51 of a possible 56 snaps against Cleveland, recording four tackles and a sack. The Bengals are thin at defensive end, so both Lawson and Carlos Dunlap are likely to see more than 90% of the snaps this week against the Patriots. New England is not a good matchup in terms of big plays, but defensive ends have generally put up solid tackle numbers against them.
The Germaine Pratt watch continues. He has now gone for six tackles and two assists in two of the last three games and continues to look like the Bengals best linebacker. Against Cleveland, Pratt played 71% of the snaps, which was his biggest piece of the playing time pie in a game to date.
Sheldrick Redwine has taken on a much bigger role over the last two games. In Week 13 he got the start at safety when Damarious Randall was a late scratch. Against the Bengals last week, he basically replaced Justin Burress, starting alongside Randall and playing almost 90% of the time. The rookie fourth-round pick may be auditioning for the job on a permanent basis. He has looked solid so far, which could lead to the team moving on from veteran Morgan Burnett. Redwine put up a solid line of 6-2 with a pass defended against Cincinnati. The Cardinals are not a good matchup but Cleveland faces Baltimore in Week 16.
After missing three games with his sore neck, Leighton Vander-Esch is set to undergo additional tests on the injury, while his head coach says the team will not rush him back. I for one have been concerned about this situation since it first came up back in Week 7. Vander Esch has played in two games since that time and none since aggravating the injury in Week 11. It sounds like we may have seen the last of Vander Esch in 2019. Sean Lee has started the last three games with mixed/inconsistent results. He has a good matchup this week with a Rams offense that may finally have returned to the formula that worked so well for them last year. That being a heavy helping of Todd Gurley, which makes them a strong matchup for Lee.
That same formula makes the Cowboys pass rushers less desireable this week. Robert Quinn, Michael Bennett, and Demarcus Lawrence may not do much in terms of sacks, against a team that has allowed only three in their last four games.
Speaking of Bennett, he is listed as a defensive end by most league host sites. That is likely to change for next season is he is still with the Cowboys. Look for Bennett to be listed as a tackle, where he has played the majority of the time with Dallas. Managers in tackle required dynasty leagues may want to slip him onto your roster for safekeeping.
With Jarrad Davis suffering an ankle injury against the Vikings, rookie Jahlani Tavai may finally get his chance to play full time. Tavai saw significant action in weeks one and two when Davis was suspended but was not ready for an every-down role at that point. Tavai has worked as a two-down player on a consistent basis for much of the season and has been rather productive on a per snap basis. The only thing seemingly holding him back is a lack of opportunity. Tavai has seen more than 70% of the snaps just once since Week 1 and was 5-6-0 against Minnesota with 68% of the playing time. The Buccaneers are a mediocre matchup for this week, but Denver could provide a great opportunity for Tavai to shine in Week 16 if Davis is still out.
AShawn Robinson Shoulder banged up his shoulder against the Vikings, but still managed seven tackles and an assist. His availability for Week 15 is in question, so keep a close eye on the practice reports late this week. If he is not able to go, Mike Daniels would see an increased workload along with Damon Harrison, with John Atkins as the third wheel in the rotation.
Green Bay Packers
Adrian Amos is going to be an every-week starter for most managers that have him. He is coming off his most productive game of the season and has a matchup with his former team in Week 15. Amos had four tackles, an assist, and an interception in the Week 1 meeting. Look for him to have another good game here.
Managers in corner required leagues may have been wondering what the Texans secondary would look like when all their corners were healthy. We finally have an answer, unfortunately, it is not good for anyone looking to gain a possible starter. Bradley Roby led the group in playing time against Denver with 76% of the snaps. Gareon Conley and Johnathan JKoseph each played about half the snaps while Vernon Hargreaves III was just short of 50%, and Lonnie Johnson was the odd man out with zero snaps. So the bottom line is, we get no help from Houston’s corners the rest of the way.
Zach Cunningham has been a beast and is coming off a great game against Denver at 12-5-0. He is an absolute must-start regardless of the matchup but his production could take a serious hit this week if Derrick Henry is not able to go with the hamstring injury. Deion Lewis is simply not the same sort of runner.
Between injuries and lineup shuffling, the Colts safety positions have been a rollercoaster ride this year. Khari Willis has shined the most, putting up good numbers just about every time he has played nearly full time. Willis has played 60 or more snaps in five games to date, including Week 14 when he saw action on 68. In four of those games, he has at least six solo tackles, including a mark of 9-2 on Sunday. Now that he is healthy, it looks as if Willis will continue in the lead role at strong safety. That and matchups with the Saints and Panthers over the next two weeks are enough to make him a starter for us.
The Jaguars sent Myles Jack to IR this week with his knee injury. Meanwhile, Donald Payne had a second great game. With eight tackles and eight assists against the Chargers, Payne is 14-15-1 in two starts. He has been one of the few bright spots for Jacksonville in recent weeks and is now in line to hold the starting job the rest of the way. The question is, does he have a long term future with the team? Only time can answer that question for sure, but so far his path has been remarkably similar to that of Telvin Smith Sr. So in a nutshell, the answer is definitely maybe. Payne has three more games to audition and if he continues to play at the same level, he could be a long term factor as the team’s weakside linebacker.
Los Angeles Chargers
Drue Tranquill is still not playing every snap but he has led the team’s linebackers in playing time in each of his last three games. Tranquill has also led the group in production over those three games with 20 tackles and 9 assists. He was 7-1 against Jacksonville in Week 15, on 83% of the snaps and has at least five solo stops in five consecutive games. A great matchup with the Vikings makes Tranquill a solid start this week and the situation in whole makes him a good stash for the future in dynasty formats.
Derwin James produced a little better in his second game back from injury, going 4-2 with a pass breakup in Week 14. This could be the week he returns to form but counting on that would be a considerable risk. If you have other quality options, it might be a good idea to play it safe for one more week.
Jerome Baker is currently the Dolphins' best and most productive linebacker, but Vince Biegel has played well since coming to the team via trade. With all the draft picks and cap room this team has, Miami is going to be a different team in 2020 but Beigel may be a significant part of the long term plan. If you are looking for future prospects to stash, he might be a worthy target in deeper leagues.
New England Patriots
The Bengals have stayed in games lately but they are still far from a good matchup when it comes to tackle production. Facing a Patriots team coming off a loss is a tough assignment for the one win Bengals. Even if they manage to keep the game close, we should not expect much from Jamie Collins Sr, Kyle Van Noy or any other New England defender in terms of tackles. Value for these players will likely be dependant on big plays, but there could be a lot of them. Consider these guys boom or bust options with high ceilings and low floors.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints' defense has been hit hard by injuries over the last two weeks. Kiko Alonso (thigh) and A.J. Klein (knee) were both inactive against San Francisco and were greatly missed. Sheldon Rankins suffered an ankle injury during the game, leaving his status for Week 15 in question, and Marcus Davenport, who has come on strong of late, was lost for the rest of the season with a foot injury.
Alonso may be able to go this week. Craig Robertson would stand in again if both Klein and Alonso are out. Roberston had decent box score production against the 49ers but his play on the field was a considerable drop-off. Trey Hendrickson will step in for Davenport with Malcom Brown starting at tackle if Rankins is out.
New York Giants
Corner Sam Beal returned from injury in Week 10 and slowly worked his way up to a full-time role in Week 14. He was on the field for 87 of 89 defensive snaps in the overtime loss to Philadelphia, recording six tackles and an assist while bumping Deandre Baker into the nickel role.
With Jenkins nursing an ankle injury that has kept him out of practice through at least Wednesday, we may be looking at Beal and Baker as the Giants starters against Miami. Normally the Dolphins would be considered an average at best matchup for corners, but they are currently on their fourth-string running back and went nowhere on the ground against the Jets. This could mean a lot of pass attempts for Ryan Fitzpatrick.
New York Jets
C.J. Mosley and Avery Williamson are the Jets long term starters at inside linebacker. This means that, despite playing well since coming to the team, chances are James Burgess Jr will not be with the team next season. That said, he may very well have played himself into a job elsewhere. Dynasty managers that grabbed him may want to sit tight after the season and see where he lands. As for the immediate task at hand, Burgess is coming off a huge game with 10 tackles, 3 assists, and a forced fumble, and has a stellar matchup with the Ravens in Week 15.
On last week’s IDP podcast I talked about how a lot of teams will be playing the bottom of their rosters over the next three weeks so they can evaluate some young/fringe players. The Raiders started that process at linebacker in Week 14. Tahir Whitehead played full time as usual, but Nicholas Morrow logged 26 snaps, Marquel Lee 33, Will Compton 16, Preston Brown 17 at the other linebacker positions. None of these guys are going to be long term options. In fact, Brown was waived early in the week. The main point here is, if you have been desperate enough to start Morrow as your third or fourth linebacker, you will need to find a replacement this week.
Jalen Mills suffered an elbow injury in Week 14. He was a limited participant on Wednesday but is expected to play against the Redskins, albeit with a brace on the elbow. If the injury is not enough to scare off IDP managers, the matchup should be.
Mark Barron had a solid Week 14 at 6-1-1, but that is not a good reason to trust him this week. In fact, none of the Steelers inside linebackers can really be trusted, despite what looks like a solid matchup. No Pittsburgh ILB was on the field for more than 45 of the team’s 60 defensive snaps in Week 14. Devin Bush actually played the most, recording a mere two assists on 45 opportunities. Barron played 44 snaps and Vince Williams 30 in the win over Arizona. If you have to play Barron, there is at least some hope.
Over the first half of the season, Christian McCaffrey was on fire and the Panthers were a great matchup for both linebackers and safeties. The magic has faded over the second half of the year, however. Since Week 9, opposing inside linebackers have averaged fewer than five tackles and Vonn Bell is the only safety with more than four. We have to play Bobby Wagner against anyone but K.J. Wright and Bradley McDougald should be on the bench.
San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco may have outlasted the Saints in Week 14 but they paid a big price in injuries for the win. Dee Ford lasted just a few plays before aggravating his hamstring injury. He is now expected to miss at least a couple more weeks.
The big injuries on defense came at the corner positions. Richard Sherman is expected to miss at least this week and probably longer with a sore hamstring and slot corner K’Waun Williams is currently in concussion protocol. That makes Ahkello Witherspoon the number one corner for Week 15 with Emmanuel Moseley starting opposite him. The team re-signed Dontae Johnson on Tuesday and will likely use him in nickel situations.
Moseley could be an interesting stream play this week. The matchup with Atlanta is a good one for corners and Moseley has turned in some good games in recent weeks. He was 7-3 with three passes defended against Seattle in Week 10, had five solo stops versus Green Bay in Week 12, and was 6-1 against New Orleans last week on only 15 snaps.
Marcell Harris started at SS against the Saints, in place of Jaquiski Tartt who sat out with a broken rib. Harris’s production was mediocre at best, but the Falcons are a quality matchup for safeties if you are in a pinch.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bo Scarborough is basically a younger version of LeGarrette Blount, and he is now the main ball carrier for the Lions. As a result, eight inside linebackers have put up at least six solo tackles against the Lions over their last six games. The average numbers for those players are 7.6 tackles and 2.4 assists. They have also contributed 4 sacks and an interception. The moral of this story, start Devin White despite his letdown performance last week.
Rashaan Evans for a stretch starting in Week 4, but he has not reached five solo tackles in a game since Week 9. This coincides largely with a shift in playing time that has seen Jayon Brown play virtually every snap over the last three games while Evans has averaged a shade under 75% of the playing time. With the Texans being an inconsistent matchup for linebackers, it is a good idea to consider other options this week
Quinton Dunbar suffered a hamstring injury in Week 14 and Josh Norman is buried under the doghouse somewhere it seems. That likely makes Jimmy Moreland and Fabian Moreau the starting corners against Philadelphia this week. Moreland has given us some good production when called upon, including a pair of six tackle outings as an injury replacement in weeks two and three, a 5-1 with a pass breakup in Week 12 and a 6-1 against the Packers after replacing Dunbar last week. Meanwhile, the Eagles have been a solid matchup for corners in general.
The Giants did not feel the need to do so but maybe, just maybe, Washington will have someone cover Zach Ertz this week. In the Week 1 meeting that someone was Landon Collins who had a solid six tackles and an assist in that game. Look for Collins to step up big in this one.
And yes, I too lost a playoff game by two points on the overtime touchdown to an uncovered Ertz, so like many of you out there, I am a bit salty toward the Giants defense.
Best of luck to everyone as we strive for that final step into the championship game.