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.
INDIANAPOLIS @ HOUSTON
LB Zach Cunningham, HOU (13 solos, 3 asst)
Cunningham has put up top-10 linebacker numbers this season thanks primarily to his tackle production. Thanks to a huge game on Thursday night, he’s now averaging over 6 solo tackles per game and is on pace for a 100-solo tackle season. The only thing keeping him from the truly elite at the position is a lack of big plays (1 sack, 2 fumbles recovered).
DE Jabaal Sheard, IND (1 solo, 2 QH, 1 PD)
Although he’s been healthy enough to handle a full workload (normally around 75% of the snaps), Sheard has mostly been a non-factor over the past month. In his last 4 games, he has just 4 solos, 2 assists, and 1 sack (with 2 passes defensed).
TAMPA BAY @ ATLANTA
CB Carlton Davis, TB (5 solos, 1 INT, 5 PD)
Davis missed several games recently after suffering a hip injury during warm-ups in week 9. He’s the best corner on the team and led the way this week in a win over the Falcons with an interception and 5 passes defensed. Atlanta fell behind early and finished the game with just 28 completions on 55 pass attempts while the Tampa secondary combined for 13 passes defensed.
DE Takkarist McKinley, ATL (0 tackles)
McKinley came into the game listed as questionable with a shoulder injury but was healthy enough to play. The game script certainly didn’t play in his favor, however, as the Falcons fell behind early and wound up facing 34 rush attempts and just 28 pass attempts. McKinley was shut out but only played 13 snaps (20%) in the game. Even when healthy and playing a full workload, McKinley has underwhelmed with just 2 sacks and 15 solo tackles in 11 games.
DENVER @ BUFFALO
DE Shaq Lawson, BUF (2 solos, 2 sacks, 2 TFL, 3 QH)
Lawson is a former 1st round pick who is headed for free agency since the Bills declined their 5th-year option on him. Although he began the season as a distant #3 defensive end behind Trent Murphy and Jerry Hughes, Lawson has played more than half of the snaps in 3 of the last 4 games. He’s been trending up with 3 sacks in his last 2 games and 4 over his last 5.
LB A.J. Johnson, DEN (10 solos, 5 asst, 1 TFL, 1 QH)
Johnson didn’t receive any playing time until week 5 but he has been extremely productive since joining the starting lineup. Over 7 starts, he has been credited with 35 solos and 26 assists for an average of nearly 9 combined tackles per game. Johnson played 66 snaps (83%) this week but collected 15 tackles thanks to the Bills offense generating 47 rush attempts. It also didn’t hurt that Josey Jewell left after seeing just 4 snaps with an ankle injury.
DE DeMarcus Walker, DEN (DNP)
Walker posted 4 sacks over a 4-game stretch from week 4 to week 7 but then suffered a shoulder injury that kept him out of the past two games. Even though the shoulder injury has healed, he was a healthy scratch this week as the Broncos decided to play Adam Gotsis against the run-heavy Bills offense.
DT Shelby Harris, DEN (2 solos, 1 TFL)
Harris was coming off a 3-sack explosion a week earlier but suffered a foot injury early in the game that limited him to just 18 snaps (22%). He was seen in a walking boot after the game, which likely puts his status for next week in doubt.
NY GIANTS @ CHICAGO
LB Markus Golden, NYG (3 solos, 1 asst, 1 sack, 3 TFL, 1 QH)
Golden continues to be one of the key bright spots on a Giants defense that not much was expected of. A sack this week brought his total up to 7.5 on the season and he’s recorded at least a partial sack in 8 of 11 games played. Fellow outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter also contributed a sack this week but the second-year pro has been inconsistent.
S Jabrill Peppers, NYG (4 solos, 1 asst, 1 TFL)
Peppers has been much more productive with the Giants this year than he was with the Browns, but he could miss some time. He left the game after just 40 snaps (53%) this week with a painful injury that happened on a kick return and was later diagnosed as a transverse process fracture. It appears the likelihood of him returning to the lineup anytime soon is mainly a question of pain tolerance for him.
PITTSBURGH @ CINCINNATI
DE Cameron Heyward, PIT (2 solos, 4 asst, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 4 QH)
Heyward has been an excellent 2-way player for quite some time but he may quietly be putting up one of the best seasons of his 9-year career. He’s up to 6.5 sacks on the year but they have come over his last 8 games, and he was dominant this week with 4 quarterback hits. What’s helped set this year apart for him is tackle production as he’s on pace for a career-best 50 solo stops and has been credited with 6 combined tackles in 4 of his previous 5 starts.
DE Sam Hubbard, CIN (4 solos, 2 asst, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 PD)
Hubbard has not been able to create consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks this year, but he also hasn’t had many chances given the team is often playing from behind. Despite the struggles around him, he is on pace to see nearly 1000 snaps and has been a reliable source of tackles while adding an occasional sack as he did this week.
MIAMI @ CLEVELAND
DT Sheldon Richardson, CLE (4 solos, 1 asst, 2 sacks, 1 TFL, 2 QH, 1 FF, 1 PD)
Richardson hasn’t made the type of impact he was expected to in Cleveland but he was the only member of their original starting 4 defensive linemen available to take advantage of this great matchup. He had his way with the Dolphins and collected his first two sacks of the year and could keep it going with upcoming matchups against the Steelers and Bengals.
DT Davon Godchaux, MIA (4 solos, 3 asst, .5 sack, 2 QH)
The nose tackle has been a starter since entering the league in 2017 but has rarely been that relevant for fantasy purposes. He saw a season-high 60 snaps (79%) this week, however, and has picked up the pace with 10 solos, 10 assists, and 1.5 sacks over his last 4 games.
LB Raekwon McMillan, MIA (1 solo, 1 TFL)
McMillan missed last week’s game with a knee injury but returned to the starting lineup this week and saw a season-high 67 snaps (88%). Despite the heavy workload and a matchup where the Browns offense generated 32 rush attempts and 57 tackle opportunities, McMillan was only credited with a single tackle. He’s been more productive this year mostly due to the opportunity given to him but this is one of many positions the Dolphins will look to upgrade in the offseason.
CAROLINA @ NEW ORLEANS
S Eric Reid, CAR (11 solos, 4 asst, 1 TFL, 1 PD)
Reid has proven to be an incredible pickup for the Panthers as he leads the team with 64 solo tackles, which is 13 more than Luke Kuechly has thus far. He was credited with 15 tackles this week in a game where the Saints offense only generated 50 tackle opportunities and has now averaged nearly 7.5 solo tackles/game over the past 5 weeks.
DT Sheldon Rankins, NO (0 tackles)
Rankins posted 8 sacks a year ago but suffered a torn Achilles in the playoffs. He has seen a regular workload since week 4 but hasn’t been anywhere close to the player he was pre-injury. Over his last 5 games, he has played at least 30 snaps in each but has zero tackles or assists to show for it.
OAKLAND @ NY JETS
LB Neville Hewitt, NYJ (4 solos, 3 asst, 1 QH, 1 PD)
Hewitt sat out 4 games with a neck injury but returned a week ago to play 100% of the snaps and only sat out 1 this week. With an every-down inside linebacker role alongside James Burgess Jr, he should continue to be a reliable fantasy starter each week with a chance for more as he’s generated 2 sacks and 2 interceptions in just 7 games played.
DE Benson Mayowa, OAK (0 tackles)
Mayowa has had a productive season with 7 sacks and 3 forced fumbles, but that’s just about all he’s contributed thus far as he’s only been credited with 9 solo tackles and 4 assists. He’s a pass-rush specialist who typically plays about one-third of the defensive snaps but saw a season-low 9 snaps (14%) this week in a blowout loss.
SEATTLE @ PHILADELPHIA
LB Mychal Kendricks, SEA (11 solos, 1 TFL)
Kendricks has averaged over 50 snaps/game, which is a pretty healthy workload for the #3 linebacker on his own team. He showed why this week as he was extremely active in the game and collected 11 solo tackles. That type of production will be hard to replicate with Bobby Wagner in the lineup, but there are some favorable matchups ahead that should keep Kendricks in fantasy starter-territory.
LB Nigel Bradham, PHI (4 solos, 5 asst, 1 TFL)
Bradham sat out the previous 4 games (plus a bye week) with an ankle injury but returned to a full-time role this week. Although he hasn’t always been very productive on a per-snap basis, the playing time suggests he’s the only Eagles linebacker that can be started with confidence.
LB Nathan Gerry, PHI (1 solo, 5 asst, .5 sack, 2 QH, 1 FR, 1 PD)
Gerry had a productive day but it may help hide the fact that his playing time was greatly reduced. After playing nearly every snap for the previous 4 games, he was limited to 35 snaps (54%) this week thanks to the return of Nigel Bradham. If that trend continues, his production will be much less consistent from week to week.
DETROIT @ WASHINGTON
DE Romeo Okwara, DET (5 solos)
Okwara hasn’t been able to build on his 7.5 sack season a year ago with just .5 sack in 9 games played this year. With several other players out with injuries, however, Okwara was given a very heavy workload (56 of 60 defensive snaps) this week.
LB Jarrad Davis, DET (6 solos, 2 asst, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 2 QH)
Davis may have limitations in coverage but can excel against the run and he’s also proving to be an adept blitzer. He collected 6 sacks a year ago and collected his 2nd of the past 5 weeks here. Davis saw a slight drop in playing time a couple of weeks ago but has bounced back to handle nearly 90% of the snaps the past two games and had perhaps his best game of the year this week.
LB Cole Holcomb, WAS (7 solos, 6 asst, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 2 QH)
Holcomb started alongside Jon Bostic at inside linebacker but was credited with 13 combined tackles (including a sack) compared to just 4 combined tackles for Bostic. Given the way the season has gone in Washington, it’s surprising that a marginal veteran like Bostic (85%) is still playing more snaps than young linebackers like Holcomb (67%) or Shaun Dion Hamilton (45%) but perhaps this game will help turn the tide.
CB Josh Norman, WAS (0 tackles)
Norman has been struggling this year and was finally benched by the team, although he was still active and saw several snaps on special teams in the game. The defense looked better without him as they piled up 6 sacks and 3 interceptions, which could make it tough for Norman to get back in the lineup for next week’s revenge matchup against his former team in Carolina.
JACKSONVILLE @ TENNESEE
LB Jayon Brown, TEN (11 solos, 4 asst)
Brown sat out the last game with a groin injury but used the bye week to fully recover and come back like his old self this week. He played 84 of 86 snaps and finished with 15 combined tackles in a game where the Jaguars offense generated 27 rush attempts and 62 tackle opportunities. Rashaan Evans saw a season-low 67% of the snaps in this game but that was likely driven by the game script as the Titans pulled way ahead in the 3rd quarter.
LB Quincy Williams, JAX (4 solos, 2 asst, 1 TFL)
The rookie began the year as a starter before suffering an injury and then getting demoted, but he was back in the lineup this week and was one of just 4 Jaguars defenders to play all 53 snaps. He’s still developing but likely provides a clear upgrade over a player like Najee Goode, who was limited to special teams duties this week.
CB Adoree' Jackson, TEN (10 solos, 2 asst, 1 TFL, 1 PD)
Jackson didn’t take the next step in his development that was expected early this year, but he has taken on more responsibility the past two games following the injury to Malcolm Butler. In that span, he has been credited with 16 solo tackles, 4 assists, and 3 passes defensed.
DALLAS @ NEW ENGLAND
DT Lawrence Guy, NE (3 solos, 5 asst)
Guy has regularly seen about two-thirds of the defensive snaps over the past 6 games and turned into a reliable fantasy option in DT-required leagues. He’s posted at least 2 solo stops in all 6 games while also adding a sack, interception, and two fumble recoveries in that span.
CB Stephon Gilmore, DAL (4 solos, 1 asst, 1 INT, 2 PD)
Gilmore has a well-earned reputation as one of the best shutdown corners in the league and he helped shutout Amari Cooper this week. While some teams can avoid throwing in his direction, he should be tested regularly over the next two weeks as the Patriots take on the Texans and the Chiefs.
GREEN BAY @ SAN FRANCISCO
DE Arik Armstead, SF (2 solos, 3 asst, 2 sacks, 1 TFL, 4 QH)
The 49ers have collected a wealth of pass-rushing talent over the past several years, but Armstead has surprisingly emerged as their leading pass rusher. He added two more sacks (and 4 quarterback hits) this week to reach double digits for the first time in his career with 5 more games still to play. He’s been heating up of late too with 4.5 sacks in his last 3 games and 8 sacks in his last 7.
LB Fred Warner, SF (11 solos, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 QH, 1 FF)
Warner had a relatively quiet first half of the season due in part to low snap counts as the 49ers defense was not spending a lot of time on the field. They have seen a large increase over the past three games and Warner has used that opportunity to become an elite fantasy option with 29 solos, 3 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles.
DE Dee Ford, SF (DNP)
Ford has 6.5 sacks on the year but has only averaged 23 snaps per game and sat out this week with a hamstring injury. He came into the year with health concerns and likely doesn’t have the durability to play the type of role the 49ers envisioned when they traded for him.