This article attempts to immediately highlight defensive players whose production was significantly better or worse than normally expected for the prior week of games. Note there is sometimes limited information available when this article is written, but I will try to give everyone an early look at players who are moving up or down in value among IDP circles. When warranted, I'll also call out some players under No Change that tries to explain why the stat lines may be misleading. It’s difficult to give waiver advice for IDPs since there is such a wide variety of lineups and scoring systems, but hopefully, the information provided can help inform your waiver, trade, and upcoming lineup decisions. If you have any questions about specific players or situations, feel free to email me or reach out via twitter.
SAN FRANCISCO @ ARIZONA
LB Joe Walker, ARI (8 solos, 3 asst, 1 TFL)
Walker has replaced Haason Reddick as the starting inside linebacker in the Cardinals base defense. Walker played 42 snaps (57%) but finished with 10 combined tackles compared to just 2 tackles for Reddick on 33 snaps (45%).
LB Kwon Alexander, SF (0 tackles)
Alexander played 40 snaps (70%) before leaving with an injury that was later diagnosed to be a torn pectoral muscle. This is a season-ending injury and the 49ers don’t have a clear replacement option. The most likely scenario is that Dre Greenlaw (4 solos, 1 sack) will move over from strongside to weakside in base packages, but they will probably use an extra safety and run more dime packages as well. That could provide a boost for Jaquiski Tartt (5 solos, 1 asst).
HOUSTON @ JACKSONVILLE
LB Brennan Scarlett, HOU (2 solos, 2 sacks, 1 TFL, 2 QH, 1 FF)
Scarlett has seen a rise in playing time over the past few games and a corresponding increase in production as well. Over his last 3 games, he has averaged just under 40 defensive snaps per game and has collected 10 solos, 4 assists, and 2.5 sacks with a forced fumble in that same span. The Texans need someone to try and fill some of the pass-rush they lost with the injury to J.J. Watt so perhaps Scarlett can rise to the occasion.
CB Gareon Conley, HOU (8 solos, 2 PD)
Conley struggled last week against the Raiders but looked much better this week. He led all players in the game with 8 tackles and also added a pair of pass deflections. The Texans don’t have a lot of healthy players at cornerback and Jonathan Joseph may not have much left at this point, so there’s a clear opportunity for Conley to emerge as their top corner.
LB Austin Calitro, JAX (0 tackles)
A week after seeing 82% of the defensive snaps, Calitro went back to a reserve/special-teams role. Najee Goode (4 solos, 1 asst) returned to the starting role but offers limited upside.
WASHINGTON @ BUFFALO
DT Jordan Phillips, BUF (3 solos, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 1 QH)
The Bills moved Phillips into the starting lineup this week ahead of their talented rookie Ed Oliver. The move was performance-based as Phillips has earned more playing time and neither are ideal fits as 1-technique players. Phillips now has 6 sacks in 8 games on the year and continues to be a disruptive force in just about every game.
CB Josh Norman, WAS (6 solos, 1 asst, 2 PD, 1 FF)
Norman is no longer the shutdown corner he used to be, which means quarterbacks are no longer afraid to throw in his direction. The Bills only had 14 completed passes in this game and just 9 went to wide receivers but Norman still found ways to be active and finished with 7 tackles, 2 passes defensed and a forced fumble. He has been one of the more consistent fantasy options at the cornerback position this year and has been credited with at least 4 tackles in all but 1 game.
DT Ed Oliver, BUF (2 asst)
Oliver’s play has been better than his numbers indicate but he has still been outplayed by Jordan Phillips. That led the coaches to promote Phillips to the starting lineup and he finished with 33 snaps (65%) this week compared to only 18 snaps (35%) for Oliver. There is still plenty of untapped potential with Oliver, so dynasty team managers should remain patient.
TENNESSEE @ CAROLINA
LB Harold Landry, TEN (2 solos, 6 asst, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 1 QH, 1 INT, 1 PD)
With 30 solos and 6 sacks through 9 games this year, Landry has emerged as the top outside linebacker for the Titans. Before this week, he had only topped 90% of the defensive snaps in a game twice all year yet he ranked 4th on the team this week with 69 of 71 snaps (97%). If his workload remains consistently high, he should remain a strong fantasy option in any scoring system.
LB Jayon Brown, TEN (4 solos, 4 asst)
Brown returned from a groin injury a week ago and had a very productive first half with 7 tackles this week. Unfortunately, he left after just 36 snaps (51%) while Wesley Woodyard (2 solos, 6 asst) picked up the slack on his 40 snaps (56%).
LB Brian Burns, CAR (0 tackles)
The rookie edge rusher recently posted 4.5 sacks over a 5-game stretch and looked like a great fit for the aggressive Panthers defense. Outside of rushing the passer though, his contributions in run support have been minimal. He was shutout a week ago on just 22 snaps, but this week he played 52 snaps (69%) due to the absence of Mario Addison and still finished with 0 tackles.
CB Malcolm Butler, TEN (2 PD)
Butler has been overshadowed by Logan Ryan in Tennesee this year, but he’s been serviceable as a fantasy starter. Unfortunately, he was limited to 42 snaps (59%) this week before leaving with a broken wrist. There’s a chance he could miss the rest of the season, which would bump Adoree' Jackson (2 solos, 2 asst, 1 PD) into a full-time role and mean additional snaps for LeShaun Sims (0 tackles on 16 snaps).
MINNESOTA @ KANSAS CITY
DT Chris Jones, KC (2 solos, 1 asst, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 2 QH)
Jones returned to the lineup after missing nearly a month with a groin injury and picked up a sack. The Chiefs were missing several key players up front so Jones provided a much-needed spark on his 45 snaps (63%).
S Harrison Smith, MIN (6 solos, 2 asst, 1 sack, 1 FF, 1 PD)
Since he played behind one of the better front sevens in the league, Smith relies quite heavily on big-play numbers for his fantasy value. Over the past month or so, he hadn’t come up with any big plays and many fantasy players likely started removing him from their fantasy lineups as a result. He showed this week why you still need to consider using him as he filled up the box score with 8 tackles and a strip-sack.
DE Emmanuel Ogbah, KC (1 asst)
The Chiefs were missing their top two defensive ends this week in Frank Clark and Alex Okafor, which meant that Ogbah and Tanoh Kpassagnon each saw extensive work. They were both on the field for 59 of 71 snaps (83%) but limited to just a single tackle from both players combined despite the Vikings running the ball 27 times.
S Tyrann Mathieu, KC (2 asst)
Mathieu was expected to be a key part of a rebuilt Chiefs defense. While he’s certainly shown impressive flashes at times, he hasn’t come up with many of the big plays he’s best known for. Since posting 10 solos against the Texans in week 6, he has just 8 solos and 2 assists in his last 3 games combined.
NY JETS @ MIAMI
DT Christian Wilkins, MIA (3 solos, 2 asst, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 2 QH)
The rookie Wilkins has been one of the few bright spots for the Dolphins this year and he’s seen an uptick in his production since being ejected early in a Week 7 game against the Bills. Over his last two starts, he’s been credited with 7 solos, 3 assists, and a sack despite playing just under 60% of the defensive snaps.
LB Brandon Copeland, NYJ (8 solos, 1 asst, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 1 QH)
The Jets placed Blake Cashman on injured reserve, which created more playing time for Copeland and James Burgess Jr (4 solos, 2 asst, 1 TFL). Both linebackers wound up playing all 69 defensive snaps in the game, but Copeland stood out with 9 tackles and a sack.
CHICAGO @ PHILADELPHIA
S Eddie Jackson, CHI (10 solos)
Jackson has been a clear disappointment this season with no interceptions and 3 or fewer solo tackles in 5 of 7 games prior to this week. He came up huge this week, however, with 10 solo tackles in a game where the Eagles offense generated 65 tackle opportunities. Perhaps he can build on this performance in what’s quickly becoming a lost season for the Bears.
DT Eddie Goldman, CHI (2 solos, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 QH)
Goldman’s stats make it seem like he had one of his best games of the year, but they mask the fact that he did it while playing just 11 snaps (12%) before leaving with a thigh injury. While it’s encouraging to see him get to the quarterback, this was his first sack of the year and now his health is in question.
INDIANAPOLIS @ PITTSBURGH
DE Justin Houston, IND (2 solos, 1 asst, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 QH, 1 FF, 1 FR)
Houston had a slow start to his Colts career but has been on fire of late with 5 sacks over his last 4 games. He missed practice on Friday and was listed as questionable on the injury report but still managed to play 43 of 63 (68%) snaps. With some favorable matchups looming, he should continue to produce DE1-type numbers.
LB Bud Dupree, PIT (3 solos, 2 sacks, 2 TFL, 3 QH, 1 FF, 1 FR)
T.J. Watt draws most of the attention in Pittsburgh but Dupree is a pretty effective edge rusher as well. He had a huge game this week with two sacks and a forced fumble plus recovery to bring him up to 6 sacks in 8 games on the season.
S Minkah Fitzpatrick, PIT (4 solos, 3 asst, 1 INT, 1 PD, 1 TD)
Since joining the Steelers in a Week 3 trade, Fitzpatrick has only had one poor start. In 6 games as a Steelers, he has 22 solo tackles, 4 interceptions, 6 passes defensed and a touchdown. He ran back a 96-yard touchdown return this week, which was the second-longest in Steelers history.
DT Denico Autry, IND (0 tackles)
Autry posted 9 sacks in 12 games a year ago and then added 2.5 in his first two games of 2019 to rank among the elite players at his position. Unfortunately, he’s mostly been a non-factor in the 6 games since then with just 6 solos, 3 assists, and 0 sacks while often playing close to 75% of the defensive snaps.
DETROIT @ OAKLAND
S Erik Harris, OAK (9 solos, 2 asst, 1 TFL, 1 PD)
Harris was limited in practice last week due to an illness but still managed to start and was just one of three Raiders defenders to play all 71 defensive snaps. The Raiders’ lack of depth at the position led to them working out D.J. Swearinger Sr on Monday, but Harris seems secure in his role. He’s also been a steady source of production with 30 solos and 4 passes defensed (with a pick-6) over his last 5 games.
DT A'Shawn Robinson, DET (1 solo)
List most players at this point, Robinson likely isn’t playing at 100% and he missed practice time last week with a knee injury. However, he has been trending down for some time now and has just 3 solo tackles to his name over his last three starts. Damon Harrison (5 solos, 1 asst) hasn’t played up to his normal standards this year but was much more active this week despite playing 5 fewer snaps than Robinson.
TAMPA BAY @ SEATTLE
LB Devin White, TB (6 solos, 6 asst, .5 sack, 2 QH, 2 FF)
White appears to have put the rough start to his career behind him at this point. While he may not yet be a LB1, he’s not too far off with an average of 9 combined tackles per game over the last 3 weeks. His 12 combined tackles this week were even more impressive when you consider that the Seahawks offense only generated 22 rush attempts in the game.
LB Carl Nassib, TB (0 tackles)
Nassib didn’t see a huge drop in playing time even after Jason Pierre-Paul returned to the lineup last week, but he left the game after just 7 snaps this week with a groin injury. As a result, Shaquil Barrett (1 asst, .5 sack) and Pierre-Paul (1 solo, 2 asst, .5 sack, 1 PD) played 99% and 96% of the defensive snaps, respectively.
DE Ezekiel Ansah, SEA (1 asst)
Ansah hasn’t made much of an impact thus far with just 1 sack and none since week 4. He’s averaging about 50% of the defensive snaps each week but has 2 solo stops and 3 assists over his last 4 games combined. As a group, the Seattle defense is getting surprisingly little production from a very talented line that includes Ansah, Jadeveon Clowney, and Jarran Reed.
CLEVELAND @ DENVER
LB Mack Wilson, CLE (5 solos, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 1 QH, 1 PD)
The rookie linebacker flies under the radar with Joe Schobert alongside him but he’s played just about every meaningful snap for the Browns since week 3. His production has not jumped out at any point but he’s been consistent with at least 3 solos in all starts and got his first sack this week while also leading the team in tackles.
S Jermaine Whitehead, CLE (0 tackles)
Whitehead was one of 5 Browns defenders to play all 50 defensive snaps in the game but he was shut out completely from the box score. The Broncos offense did generate a very small number of tackle opportunities in the game (35), including just 12 pass completions, but he was victimized on a 75-yard touchdown to rookie tight end Noah Fant. Whitehead lashed out at critics via social media after the game and the team wound up releasing him on Monday as a result.
GREEN BAY @ LA CHARGERS
LB Preston Smith, GB (5 solos, 2 asst, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 QH)
Smith had gone two games without a sack, but collected one here against a tough matchup to leave him with 8 in 9 games. That matches his career-high and he still has 7 more games to go, while fellow newcomer Za’Darius Smith also sits at 8.5 making them one of the most productive tandems in the league.
CB Casey Hayward, LAC (0 tackles)
Hayward has earned a reputation as a shutdown corner and it certainly appears that few teams are testing him this year. He’s averaging fewer than 2 solo tackles per game and likely needs an interception in any given game to provide fantasy value.
NEW ENGLAND @ BALTIMORE
LB Patrick Onwuasor, BAL (6 solos, 2 asst, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 QH, 1 FF)
Onwuasor returned to the lineup after missing the previous two games with an ankle injury and had perhaps his best game of the year. His stat line is even more impressive when you note that it came on just 28 snaps (42%). Given the game script and matchup, the Ravens relied heavily on a package with four cornerbacks with Brandon Carr moving to safety and Chuck Clark playing more like a linebacker. Meanwhile, Josh Bynes (37%) finished with more playing time than L.J. Fort (27%) but those two may be in a timeshare.
LB Dont'a Hightower, NE (9 solos, 4 asst, 1 TFL)
Hightower played a season-high 55 defensive snaps (80%) this week but his role wasn’t much different from other weeks. Don’t overreact to the 13 combined tackles he was credited with here as they were mainly driven by the Ravens offense generating 41 rushing attempts in the game. That’s far from the norm for this team and defense and unlikely to be replicated.