Years ago, when Deone Bucannon introduced himself as a “money linebacker” on Sunday Night Football, the audience had a good laugh. The term was a reference to his defensive responsibilities but conjured images in the minds of viewers of the huge game checks that Bucannon was earning at that time. Memes popped up in the following days of Bucannon on top of piles of money and gold coins. Hopefully, following the guidance given in this column will have your rosters overflowing with a wealth of IDP riches. We will primarily focus on edge rushers but will also hit on some of the other players and situations that are likely to impact teams in big play leagues. We will cover risers and fallers in the format, injury situations about which fantasy general managers need to know, and upcoming matchups to target.
Note: The defensive player injuries covered in this column are not an exhaustive list, but an attempt to cover the situations most likely to impact big play IDP squads. For more extensive coverage of injury situations, see Jene Bramel’s latest Injury Rounds column.
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One of Danielle Hunter's teammates made comments to suggest Hunter won't be ready to go in week one. Monitor this situation closely over the next few days. If he's not able to suit up, look for Ifeadi Odenigbo to take his place in the lineup.
Defensive end Everson Griffen went a long time without signing but ended up in a great landing spot on the Cowboys team opposite Demarcus Lawrence. Look for a rebound to both of their sack numbers this year.
Defensive end Josh Sweat had a great camp with Derrick Barnett sidelined for most of it with an injury. Brandon Graham is still the lead dog in Philadelphia, but Sweat could push both Graham and Derrick Barnett for rotational snaps and be of value to general managers as a spot starter. He could become an every-week play with a more consistent number of snaps.
Pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney made an eleventh-hour decision to join the Tennessee Titans. In a normal year, this would have put him in danger of being classified as an OLB on most hosting sites. Thankfully for his managers’ sake, Fantasy Sharks’ Gary Davenport, who handles designations that are used for MyFantasyLeague.com, has decided to leave Clowney as a DE for this season. Opposite Harold Landry, he should maintain his status of being a top big-play option.
Linebacker Todd Davis was cut from the Broncos roster. While he searches for a new landing spot, it looks like the Broncos will roll with A.J. Johnson, Josey Jewell, and newly-signed Mark Barron to man their interior. Of the three, Johnson is the most probable to play a three-down role.
Rookie Linebacker Jordyn Brooks could play a lot more than we think. Seattle runs their base defense at a higher frequency than any other NFL team. In camp subpackages, it has been K.J. Wright who has gone off the field in favor of Brooks. While Bobby Wagner is clearly the every-down guy, it would not be shocking to see Brooks log 80% of the total snaps this year, which would have LB2 or LB3 value.
Defensive back Logan Ryan will play strong safety in New York, which should increase his IDP value. A top-ten finish at the position is likely.
Safety Ronnie Harrison was traded to the Browns following Grant Delpit’s injury. Karl Joseph is the presumed starter at strong safety for now. However, Harrison could cloud that outlook, especially if Joseph gets hurt again, as has been common so far in his career.
Defensive back Chuck Clark is a safety to target on your waiver wires. Clark benefits from increased snaps with the departure of Earl Thomas. Additionally, he was one of the best safeties in terms of pass rush pressures generated last year. If that continues, some of those will turn into sacks. Clark has an outside shot of putting up DB1 numbers if he approaches 900 snaps.
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Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy tore his ACL and is out for the year, a blow to those who were hoping to get an impact defensive tackle on the cheap in DT-required formats.
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Note: This section will become more extensive as the season progresses and offensive and defensive trends are established. For the first few weeks, it will be limited to pass rush projections.
Buffalo Bills Pass Rushers vs. New York Jets Offensive Line
Mario Addison and Jerry Hughes could cash in against a bottom-three offensive line. Could this also be the beginning of Ed Oliver’s coming out party? It is very possible against a team that is spiraling out of control in the hands of a coach that is despot-like in imposing his vision on the roster.
Pittsburgh Steelers Pass Rushers vs. New York Giants Offensive Line
Daniel Jones’ work ethic cannot be questioned, but his decision-making is poor and he is seemingly blind to incoming pressure. That is not good when you have the third-worst line in football and you are facing off against one of the top sack-producing units that has largely returned all its players from last year. Cameron Heyward, Stefon Tuitt, T.J. Watt, and Bud Dupree all have multi-sack potential this week.
Indianapolis Colts Pass Rushers vs. Jacksonville Jaguars Offensive Line
The Jaguars are in full tank mode after shipping off most of their best players this offseason. They managed to keep their offensive line intact and of the lines discussed in this section of the report, they have the best one. Nevertheless, lacking quality on both sides of the ball is going to cost them against an aggressive DeForest Buckner, Justin Houston, and Darius Leonard. The disrespect for the Jaguars' offensive options will let these Colts players pin their ears back and go after Gardener Minshew on every down. It would not be a surprise for multiple Colts defenders to leave the game with a sack on their score sheet.
San Francisco 49ers Pass Rushers vs. Arizona Cardinals Offensive Line
Kyler Murray is more elusive than your average quarterback, but that did not stop him from taking 48 sacks in his rookie year. While that yearly total will probably come down with experience and an improving offensive line, do not expect that trend to reverse in a very tough week one matchup against division rival San Francisco. Nick Bosa, and Arik Armstead are must-start players. Javon Kinlaw could have a nice debut here and is worth playing if you need upside at defensive tackle. Even Kwan Alexander and Dre Greenlaw might get in on the sack fun here.
Philadelphia Eagles Pass Rushers vs. Washington Football Team Offensive Line
Dwayne Haskins is not the best at avoiding the rush. He took 29 sacks behind center last year in nine games played, an average of three a game. Unless he has grown tremendously, the line is better than expected, or both, he is going to give up multiple sacks to start off this year as well. General managers feel good about starting Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham in this matchup. Josh Sweat, Dereck Barnett, and Vinny Curry are nice fliers to take if you must start multiple defensive ends in your league.
Tennessee Titans Pass Rushers vs. Denver Broncos Offensive Line
The Titans have lacked punch at pass rush for a few years. All of that should change this year with the addition of Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney will allow this defense to become multiple in many ways that it has not before. More importantly, he will stop opposing offensive lines from double-teaming Harold Landry. If Jeffery Simmons can pick up where he left of last year and keep improving, this listless unit will suddenly become formidable. That is bad news for Drew Lock and his bottom-five offensive line. In addition to the names called out above, add Rashaan Evans to the list of players that might pick up a sack in this Monday Night Football tilt.
Los Angeles Chargers vs. Cincinnati Bengals Offensive Line
The Bengals have Joe Burrow, so perhaps their offensive line will perform better with a quarterback who is more mobile and has shown he can evade pressure. Do not count on it against a Chargers team that will want to keep the game close and let their defense do the dirty work. You are playing Joey Bosa regardless of matchup, but Linval Joseph and Melvin Ingram III also become appealing starts across leagues.
New England Patriots Pass Rushers vs. Miami Dolphins Offensive Line
Miami arguably has the worst line in football currently, which is going to make Ryan Fitzpatrick’s day difficult. While New England’s defense has been weakened considerably by free agency departures and COVID opt-outs, they should be able to have some success in this contest. The problem for fantasy general managers is predicting who will do what. Most IDP pundits predict that Ja'Whaun Bentley is the only linebacker that will play the majority of the snaps and call plays for the defense. Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings will be inside linebackers as well but will rotate out depending on the formation. Uche is the most likely to reprise Kyle Van Noy’s role. John Simon will be the edge setter, as usual. Chase Winovich, Shilique Calhoun, and Derek Rivers will rotate at outside linebacker and rush the pass. Winovich is the most promising to be the Jamie Collins Sr of this group. New England’s assignments are complex and change from game to game. Really, it is best to throw a New England defender into your lineup only if you are a massive underdog or you are in a deep league and have no other options.
Las Vegas Raiders Pass Rushers vs. Carolina Panthers Offensive Line
Of the favorable pass-rush matchups, this is the one that gives the most pause. Teddy Bridgewater and Carolina will seek to get the ball out quickly, which is a great way to slow down an over-aggressive pass rush. At the end of the day, however, the Carolina offensive line is bad enough that they will likely give up a sack or two. Maxx Crosby and Clelin Ferrell are the two most likely to register those sacks.
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Cleveland Browns Pass Rushers vs. Baltimore Ravens Offensive Line
When defensive players have to respect the rushing ability of the quarterback in front of them, they often transition to containment rather than trying to generate pressures and sacks. That is just one reason that a fantasy general manager may want to avoid starting Browns pass rushers if they have other choices. The other rationale is that it is going to be tough for Myles Garrett, Olivier Vernon, and others along the interior line to register a sack against one of the best lines in football.
Atlanta Falcons Pass Rushers vs. Seattle Seahawks Offensive Line
On paper, this appears to be a good matchup. The Seattle offensive line, as seems to be perennially the case, is not very good. However, the Falcons pass rush is also not very good. Even with the addition of Dante Fowler Jr, it is going to be difficult for this group to get out of the bottom of the NFL in terms of sacks generated. They are also facing a quarterback in Russell Wilson who is one of the best at avoiding sacks. Fowler, Takk McKinley, and Grady Jarrett should struggle to do more than generate pressures in this game.