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.
DALLAS @ CHICAGO
LB Kevin Pierre-Louis, CHI (4 solos, 1 asst, 1 TFL, 1 QH, 2 PD)
With the season likely over for Roquan Smith, the Bears will once again rely on their excellent depth at inside linebacker. Pierre-Louis replaced Smith in the first quarter on Thursday night and posted 5 tackles with a pair of passes defensed on 46 snaps. He is an experienced backup who has been in the league since 2014 but clearly doesn’t have the fantasy upside of Smith.
S Darian Thompson, DAL (8 solos, 3 asst, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 1 QH)
Thompson has been filling in for the injured Jeff Heath over the past month and has been quite productive. Over his last three starts, he has collected 16 solos, 7 assists, 1.5 sacks, and 2 passes defensed. Thompson is a former third-round pick with starting experience who is getting an excellent opportunity to showcase himself for a bigger role in Dallas or elsewhere.
LB Roquan Smith, CHI (1 solo, 1 asst)
Smith was coming off perhaps his best game as a pro but was forced to leave the game after just 17 snaps (23%), which all came on the first series of the game. He suffered a torn pec and is expected to miss the rest of the season. Nick Kwiatkoski moves into a full-time role and Kevin Pierre-Louis should see a big boost as well.
CAROLINA @ ATLANTA
DE Vic Beasley Jr, ATL (4 solos, 2 sacks, 1 TFL, 2 QH, 2 FF)
Beasley isn’t the type of player you can rely on for consistent production each week but games like this are always a possibility. He has done better of late as the Falcons offense has shown some signs of life, and now has 4.5 sacks over his last five games combined.
LB Brian Burns, CAR (1 solo, 1 asst, 1 QH)
The rookie pass rusher looked unstoppable at times early this year as the Panthers defense was piling up sacks in bunches. Since recording 4.5 sacks in his first six games, Burns has only collected one in his last seven games. Since he’s not much of a run defender, he’s not making up for it in the tackle columns either with just five solos and one assist in the same number of games.
BALTIMORE @ BUFFALO
S Earl Thomas, BAL (6 solos, 1 asst, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 QH, 1 FF)
Thomas has long been one of the best free safeties in the league but his production over his last four years in Seattle rarely matched his talent. It has been more of the same for him in Baltimore this year but he’s been more active the past two weeks. He picked up four tackles with a half-sack last week and then added seven more tackles with a full sack and forced fumble this week. That gives him 1.5 sacks over his last two games even though he hadn’t recorded any in the first 136 regular-season games of his career.
DT Jordan Phillips, MIA (0 tackles)
Phillips has 7.5 sacks on the year and is likely headed for a significant contract in free agency but his production has trailed off of late. He’s been handling a heavier workload since passing Ed Oliver on the depth chart but perhaps that has limited his effectiveness. Over his last four games, he has just 7 tackles and 1.5 sacks.
CINCINNATI @ CLEVELAND
DT Larry Ogunjobi, CLE (4 solos, 5 asst, .5 sack, 3 QH)
It’s not often you see a nose tackle leading his team in tackles but that’s what happened with Ogunjobi and the Browns this week. Besides his strong play against the run, he was also quite disruptive and credited with a half-sack and three quarterback hits.
LB Germaine Pratt, CIN (6 solos, 2 asst)
Pratt has seen a three-down role for most of the last four games and has seen a corresponding rise in his production level. During that span, he’s been credited with 17 solo tackles and 9 assists but has yet to make any splash plays but has provided a boost to the overall speed of the defense.
S Sheldrick Redwine, CLE (6 solos, 2 asst, 1 PD)
Although Damarious Randall returned to the lineup this week, the rookie Redwine kept his role and wound up playing 65 snaps (87%). With 15 tackles and a pair of pass breakups over his two starts, he likely has both short-term value and long-term potential.
LB Joe Schobert, CLE (4 solos, 3 asst)
Schobert has been one of the highest-scoring defensive players in the league all season and remains an elite fantasy linebacker but his tackle numbers have declined significantly. He averaged nearly seven solo tackles per game over the first 10 games of the season but has averaged just three over his last 3 starts.
WASHINGTON @ GREEN BAY
S Adrian Amos, GB (6 solos, 1 asst, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 QH, 1 INT, 2 PD)
Amos isn’t known for his big-play ability as he came into the season with just two sacks and three interceptions in a four-year career with the Bears. He’s been a nice fit in Green Bay this year though and came up with two big plays this week. This has the makings of a career-best season for him so far, and he should be strong start the rest of the season.
LB Ryan Kerrigan, WAS (1 solo, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 QH)
After sitting out last week with an injury, Kerrigan returned to the starting lineup this week and picked up a sack to give him 3.5 in his last three games. Unfortunately, he left after just 32 snaps (52%) with a calf injury that is likely season-ending pending the results of an MRI. This puts an end to a disappointing season for him just as he was starting to turn things around, and he’ll finish with 5.5 sacks for the lowest season total of his nine-year career. Ryan Anderson also left the game early this week, which increased the workload for Montez Sweat and Nate Orchard.
DENVER @ HOUSTON
LB Todd Davis, DEN (5 solos, 10 asst)
Davis isn’t the most exciting fantasy option at linebacker as he offers almost nothing besides tackles, but he’s been highly productive and consistent all year. He returned from injury in Week 3 and had a quiet debut, but in the 10 games since, he has posted 59 solo tackles and 41 assists. That would put him on pace for 90+ solos and 60+ assists over a full 16-week season.
LB Whitney Mercilus, HOU (2 solos, 1 asst, 1 QH)
Mercilus has a history of inconsistency throughout his career and he’s showing it again this year. He posted five sacks over his first four games but has just half a sack in the nine games since then. This is particularly disappointing given his heavy workload as he’s averaged close to 100% of the defensive snaps, which is rare for an edge rusher.
DETROIT @ MINNESOTA
DE Danielle Hunter, MIN (6 solos, 1 asst, 3 sacks, 3 TFL, 3 QH)
Hunter had some quiet games recently but he showed this week that he’s still one of the league’s elite IDPs. His three sacks this week brought him up to 12.5 on the season and could help him top the career-high 14 he set a year ago. Hunter also became the youngest player to reach 50 career sacks as he’s playing his fifth season as a pro but just turned 25 years old recently.
LB Jarrad Davis, DET (0 tackles)
Davis had been playing better of late but he suffered an ankle injury early in the game this week that limited his effectiveness. He wound up playing 36 defensive snaps (49%) but was shut out on the stat sheet. Meanwhile, Jahlani Tavai saw high highest workload in some time and was very active with 11 tackles (5 solos). Defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson also suffered an ankle injury in the game.
CB Xavier Rhodes, MIN (0 tackles)
Rhodes had a promising matchup against the Lions receiving group but finished with no stats as he left the game early with an ankle injury.
SAN FRANCISCO @ NEW ORLEANS
LB Craig Robertson, NO (5 solos, 3 asst, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PD)
With A.J. Klein (knee) and Kiko Alonso (thigh) both out this week, Robertson got the start at middle linebacker and played all 67 defensive snaps alongside Demario Davis. A former starter, Robertson now has 10 solos, 5 assists, plus a sack and interception over the last two games and could be worth a pickup if he’s likely to get another start next week against the Colts.
CB Richard Sherman, SF (7 solos, 1 TFL, 1 PD)
Sherman has often been a better NFL corner than fantasy corner but he’s been moderately productive for the 49ers this year while playing exceptional in coverage. He posted seven solo tackles a week ago and led the team with seven once again this week. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with a Grade 2 hamstring strain that could keep him out for the rest of the fantasy playoffs just as he was heating up. Emmanuel Moseley would be next in line to play outside corner and would likely see a lot more targets than Sherman.
MIAMI @ NY JETS
LB James Burgess Jr, NYJ (10 solos, 3 asst, 1 TFL, 1 FF, 1 PD)
Burgess continues to put up numbers that make him a pretty clear LB2 in most scoring systems. He has averaged 6 solos and 2.5 assists over the past 6 games and appears to be trending up thanks to the injury to Jamal Adams.
CB Darryl Roberts, NYJ (7 solos)
Roberts isn’t the player that Jamal Adams is but it’s always nice when you can get a cornerback playing closer to the action at safety. That’s where Roberts finds himself as the replacement for Adams, who missed his first game with an ankle injury this week and could be shut down for the rest of the year soon.
INDIANAPOLIS @ TAMPA BAY
S Khari Willis, IND (9 solos, 2 asst, 1 QH)
The rookie has shown a lot of promise thus far but still lacks consistency. More games like this, however, will help him climb the fantasy safety rankings. Apart from missing Week 12 with a concussion, he’s consistently had a much higher workload than Clayton Geathers and appears to have pulled away in the strong safety competition.
DE Jason Pierre-Paul, TB (1 solo)
Pierre-Paul hasn’t looked quite like his old self this year. While he does have 3.5 sacks in seven games played and decent tackle numbers, it seems to be mostly a factor of him playing 90+% of the defensive snaps in most weeks. His playing time has dropped of late while he’s been dealing with a knee injury but that also limited his effectiveness.
LA CHARGERS @ JACKSONVILLE
LB Drue Tranquill, LAC (7 solos, 1 asst)
Tranquill has only been a three-down player for three games (excluding Week 11 when he sat out with a calf injury), but he has been quite productive in his new role. The rookie inside linebacker has been credited with 20 solo tackles and 9 assists in those three starts and looks like a keeper. Denzel Perryman was sent home before the game and doesn’t appear to be a strong threat to reclaim the starting job.
LB Donald Payne, JAX (8 solos, 8 asst)
After picking up 13 combined tackles (with a sack) a week ago, Payne added 16 more this week. The Jaguars may be imploding on the field but that’s doing wonders for his production, and he should remain at middle linebacker now that Myles Jack was officially placed on the Reserve/Injured list.
DT Jerry Tillery, LAC (DNP)
Tillery was a first-round pick this year but has struggled to adapt and make an impact as a pro. His playing time had dropped to 30% of the snaps over the past few weeks and he was a healthy scratch this week, which is not a great sign for his long-term prospects.
PITTSBURGH @ ARIZONA
CB Joe Haden, PIT (4 solos, 2 INT, 2 PD)
Haden has been a productive corner for much of his career but he’s never been able to replicate the numbers had as a rookie in 2010 when he posted 58 solo tackles and 6 interceptions. He may be able to do so this year though. With two interceptions on Sunday, he now has four on the year and all of them have come in his last five games.
LB Terrell Suggs, ARI (1 FR)
Suggs is 37 years old and has had a tremendous career but his days as a fantasy contributor seem just about done. Although his workload has remained steady around 70% of the defensive snaps most weeks, his production of late has disappeared. Over his last three games combined, Suggs has only been credited with 3 solo tackles and a fumble recovery.
KANSAS CITY @ NEW ENGLAND
DE Alex Okafor, KC (2 solos, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 QH)
Okafor returned to the lineup after missing three games to injury last week but was shut out on 40 snaps. He looked better this week, however, as he picked up a sack of Tom Brady and saw a heavy workload of 54 snaps (81%).
LB Anthony Hitchens, KC (3 solos)
The Chiefs have been using a big nickel package lately with safety Daniel Sorensen playing more like a linebacker. Hitchens is still playing a three-down role but his production has been rather underwhelming in the second half of the year. He’s only topped three solo tackles in a game one time since Week 7 and hasn’t come up with any big plays in the same six-week span.
TENNESEE @ OAKLAND
DT Jeffery Simmons, TEN (3 solos, 2 asst, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 1 QH)
The rookie defensive tackle missed the first six games of the season with an injury but has been a key piece of their defense since returning. While 3-4 defensive linemen aren’t expected to put up great numbers, he’s been trending up with eight solos, six assists, and a sack over his last three games.
CB Tye Smith, TEN (5 solos, 3 asst, 1 FF)
Smith replaced Adoree' Jackson in the lineup last week and has been productive with 10 solos and 5 assists while also adding two forced fumbles and a special teams touchdown return. With the Texans and Saints next on the schedule, he figures to remain very active unless Jackson can return from his foot injury.
DE Clelin Ferrell, OAK (1 solo, 2 QH)
The top-five overall draft pick appeared to have his coming out party last month when he exploded for 2.5 sacks against the Chargers in Week 10. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to carry that momentum forward and has just eight tackles with no sacks over his last four games combined. He’s also seen a reduction in playing time following the addition of Dion Jordan.
SEATTLE @ LA RAMS
LB Samson Ebukam, LAR (4 solos, 1 asst, 2 sacks, 2 TFL, 2 QH)
The Rams have a strong collection of pass rushers led by Aaron Donald. His presence makes things much easier for players around him and we have seen Clay Matthews and Dante Fowler Jr both take advantage this year. Now it is Ebukam who is trending up despite playing a slightly smaller role than those other two edge rushers. Over his last 3 games, he has 9 solos, 8 assists, and 3.5 sacks.
S Quandre Diggs, SEA (4 solos, 1 asst, 2 INT, 2 PD, 1 TD)
Diggs apparently didn’t need too much time to adjust to his new surroundings. Since being traded from Seattle to Detroit, he’s played four full games and now has three interceptions plus a touchdown in that same span. He also added a forced fumble and recovery to give him four takeaways while the team has 13 since his arrival.
LB Clay Matthews, LAR (1 solo, 1 asst, 1 QH)
Matthews got off to an incredible start with 6 sacks in his first five games before missing a month with a broken jaw. While he did post a sack in his first game back, he hasn’t done much since then with just eight tackles and a sack over his last four starts.