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.
HOUSTON @ KANSAS CITY
S Tyrann Mathieu, KC (6 solos, 2 asst, 1 QH)
Mathieu is a versatile player who can line up at safety or corner and he was the only Chiefs defender to play all 59 snaps in the game this week. That could leave him as the only reliable option in this back seven, especially with the injury to Charvarius Ward.
LB Anthony Hitchens, KC (4 solos, 3 asst)
Hitchens had a very productive game with 7 combined tackles but didn’t appear to have a clear role in subpackages as he played just 26 snaps (44%). Fellow starter Damien Wilson (34%) also had a limited workload while backup Ben Niemann (61%) wound up leading the group in snaps. The expectation here is that rookie Willie Gay Jr Jr will eventually work his way into a full-time role but he didn’t even see the field on defense this week.
CB Vernon Hargreaves III, HOU (4 solos)
Hargreaves started in the base defense but had trouble slowing down Sammy Watkins and wound up playing just 44 snaps (64%). Lonnie Johnson appeared to get more playing time in the second half and finished with 29 snaps (42%), which suggests a change could be imminent. Meanwhile, Bradley Roby (6 solos) played all 69 snaps and looks like the clear top corner option here for now.
CB Charvarius Ward (1 solo)
Ward left the game early with an injury that was later revealed to be a broken hand. There is a chance he’ll miss some time or lose some effectiveness if he tries to play with a cast, which would put more pressure on rookie L’Jarius Sneed (3 solos, 1 INT, 2 PD). He had a strong camp and earned a starting role while Bashaud Breeland serves a 4-game suspension.
SEATTLE @ ATLANTA
DE Benson Mayowa, SEA (1 solo, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 QH, 1 PD)
Mayowa posted 7 sacks with just 10 solo tackles as a pass-rush specialist in Oakland last year but should see a clear uptick in production in Seattle. Although his value will still come primarily from sacks, he played 71 of 79 snaps (90%) this week and looks to be a core player up front. Bruce Irvin (2 solos, 1 asst, 1 TFL, 2 QH) also saw a heavy workload (85%) in a favorable matchup that saw Atlanta attempt 54 passes to just 21 rush attempts.
DE Takkarist McKinley, ATL (2 solos, 3 asst, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 6 QH)
The former 1st round pick has always had plenty of pass-rush ability but hasn’t contributed much against the run which always limited his fantasy value. If this game is an indicator though, he could be headed for a breakout as he was on the field for 43 snaps (69%) and was credited with 5 combined tackles in addition to generating 6 quarterback hits.
S Jamal Adams, SEA (8 solos, 4 asst, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 2 QH)
There was probably some concern that moving to Seattle and playing behind Bobby Wagner would limit the tackle opportunities for Adams this year. Based on this game, however, it looks like it might be the other way around and that Adams may steal some production from Wagner. He was all over the field but also helped by the fact the Falcons had 37 completions and only 21 rush attempts.
S Keanu Neal, ATL (2 solos, 4 asst)
This may not be a significant downgrade but there have to be some concerns about Neal given that he’s only played four games over the past two injury-shortened seasons. He may no longer be the same player he was when he posted 150+ solo tackles combined over his first two years in the league. Neal started the game but played just 51 of 62 snaps (82%) as Ricardo Allen rotated in while Damontae Kazee played the entire game at free safety.
CLEVELAND @ BALTIMORE
LB B.J. Goodson, CLE (5 solos, 4 asst)
LB Sione Takitaki, CLE (5 solos, 2 asst, 1 QH)
The Browns may have the weakest group of linebackers in the league but there is an opportunity here for someone to emerge as a productive fantasy option, at least until Mack Wilson returns at some point. Goodson has starting experience from his time with the Giants and played 49 of 59 snaps (83%) while collecting 9 tackles. Takitaki was a 3rd-round pick a year ago who missed most of his rookie year to injury, but he was on the field for 54 of 59 snaps (92%) this week.
LB Patrick Queen, BAL (4 solos, 4 asst, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 QH, 1 FF)
The firstt-round pick didn’t play the entire game but wasn’t far off as he played 54 snaps (74%) and was highly productive. It is likely his workload will increase as he gets more comfortable while Malik Harrison (29%) and L.J. Fort (32%) appeared to split time at the other inside linebacker position.
DE Calais Campbell, BAL (1 solo, 3 PD)
Campbell remains one of the better defensive ends in the league but he’s due to start slowing down at 34 years of age. The move back to a 3-4 defense likely won’t help his sack numbers while the Ravens also prefer to rotate their defensive linemen, which should keep Campbell’s workload down from what he’s used to. He only played 62% of the snaps but still managed to deflect 3 passes, proving he can remain an effective starter even if he’s no longer one of the elites at his position.
NY JETS @ BUFFALO
S Marcus Maye, NYJ (7 solos, 3 asst, 2 sacks, 2 TFL, 2 QH, 2 PD, 1 FF)
Maye was certainly helped by a matchup that saw the Bills offense generate 68 tackle opportunities on 81 snaps, but high snap counts may be a normal occurrence for this defense. The trade of Jamal Adams is allowing Maye to play closer to the line of scrimmage in the strong safety role and he certainly looked up for the task. In addition to making tackles all over the field, he was a very active blitzer and nearly added to his 2-sack total on several occasions.
LB Matt Milano, BUF (3 solos, 1 asst, 1 INT, 1 PD)
LB Tremaine Edmunds, BUF (2 solos, 1 asst)
The Bills lost their top-two linebackers to injury in this game. Milano was on his way to a very productive day with 4 tackles and an interception on just 21 snaps (38%) before leaving with an undisclosed injury. Edmunds lasted a bit longer (36 snaps, 64%) but wasn’t very productive as the Jets offense only generated 16 tackle opportunities in the first half. Fortunately, neither injury appears to be long-term but A.J. Klein (3 solos, 2 asst) could be forced into a full-time role next week if either can’t play.
LB Blake Cashman, NYJ (1 asst)
Cashman got the start at inside linebacker but only lasted 3 snaps before leaving the game with a groin injury. This defense was already depleted without C.J. Mosley (opt-out), Avery Williamson (hamstring), and James Burgess Jr (released). Neville Hewitt (2 solos, 5 asst) played the entire game but didn’t do much with the opportunity. It looks like Cashman will miss some time so the Jets may need to bring back Williamson sooner than they hoped.
LAS VEGAS @ CAROLINA
S Jonathan Abram, LVR (9 solos, 4 asst, 1 TFL)
Abram was a first-round pick a year ago who suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the opener. So, this was his first complete game as a pro and he certainly looked like a player who can make an impact on the field as well as in the box scores. He was credited with 9 solo stops and 13 tackles, which were 6 more than the next highest total on the team.
S Jeremy Chinn, CAR (7 solos, 1 asst)
The Panthers traded up in the second round to select Jeremy Chinn, an incredible athlete who can line up at multiple positions. He was drafted as a safety but started at strongside linebacker, which may remind some of Thomas Davis many years ago. This appears to be one of the league’s weakest defenses so there should be plenty of opportunities each week and Chinn was one of four to play all 63 defensive snaps.
Cory Littleton, LVR (2 solos, 3 asst, 1 PD)
Littleton averaged nearly 90 solo tackles over the past two years with the Rams and appeared likely to continue that run with the Raiders. While he never left the field in week 1 and played all 67 snaps, he was outshined by safety Jonathan Abram and middle linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski who collected 6 combined tackles on just 22 snaps before leaving with a pectoral injury. MRI results indicated that he avoided a torn muscle so he should be able to return to the lineup at some point.
CHICAGO @ DETROIT
DE Trey Flowers, DET (5 solos, 1 asst, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 QH, 1 FF)
Flowers has been remarkably consistent over the past three seasons and often ranks just outside the top-10 fantasy options at his position. While he doesn’t have the same athletic traits as most high-end edge rushers, he has a relentless motor and should make enough plays against the run and pass to be a reliable starter. He played 46 of 65 snaps (71%) and should continue to see a heavy workload each week.
CB Jaylon Johnson, CHI (5 solos, 1 asst, 2 PD)
The rookie has some big shoes to fill as the replacement for Prince Amukamara but he looked plenty capable on Sunday. Even though he missed valuable practice time early in training camp with a shoulder injury, Johnson finished strong enough to claim the starting job opposite Kyle Fuller. While he gave up some plays to Marvin Jones Jr at times, he also deflected several passes that helped complete the fourth-quarter comeback.
S Tracy Walker, DET (8 solos, 1 asst, 2 TFL, 1 PD)
For reasons that aren’t very clear, Walker is coming off the bench this year behind starters Duron Harmon and Will Harris. He still led the team in tackles while playing 54 of 65 snaps (83%) as the Lions made regular use of three safeties, but it’s an odd choice that they kept one of their best players on the sideline at times. Walker may have received a boost in playing time since the Lions played much of the game without their top-3 cornerbacks as well as a nickel linebacker so there’s a chance his snap count could drop when they are closer to full strength.
LB Jamie Collins Sr, DET (2 solos, 1 asst, 1 PD)
Collins was expected to provide a boost and playmaking presence to the Lions linebacker group but he had his debut cut short after just 19 snaps (29%). He was ejected for accidentally making contact with an official while complaining about a missed call.
INDIANAPOLIS @ JACKSONVILLE
DT Denico Autry, IND (2 solos, 2 sacks, 2 TFL, 2 QH)
Autry posted 9 sacks back in 2018 before regressing to just 3 a year ago. The Colts have made some clear upgrades around him, particularly with the addition of DeForest Buckner. That should allow Autry to line up more often at defensive end on early downs while the addition of Xavier Rhodes in the secondary should also help boost the entire pass rush. With a pair of sacks and a workload of 76% of the defensive snaps, he’s off to a great start.
S Josh Jones, JAX (6 solos, 6 asst)
In one of several surprising trades, the Jaguars parted ways with starting strong safety Ronnie Harrison last week. That created an opening for the former 2nd-round pick of the Packers to join the starting lineup and he had a very productive opener. Jones was considered a bust after he was released by the Packers but looks like he has a chance to salvage his career in Jacksonville and has the talent to make the most of it.
CB C.J. Henderson, JAX (5 solos, 1 INT, 3 PD)
Henderson was drafted 9th overall this year and hit the ground running despite not seeing any preseason games. Although he finished his college career with just 6 career interceptions, he already has one in his first game as a pro. He looked like a seasoned veteran and the likely long-term replacement for Jalen Ramsey.
GREEN BAY @ MINNESOTA
LB Christian Kirksey, GB (6 solos, 6 asst)
Kirksey is stepping into a position vacated by Blake Martinez, who averaged nearly 150 combined tackles over the past three seasons before signing with the Giants. Kirksey had several highly productive years in Cleveland before seeing his career derailed by injuries. As long as he remains healthy, he has an excellent chance to finish the year as an LB1.
CB Jaire Alexander, GB (4 solos, 1 asst, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 QH, 1 INT, 1 PD)
Alexander has been one of the better fantasy corners in the league but one area he lacked was big plays with just 3 interceptions over his first two seasons. Perhaps he’s ready for a breakout in his third season after coming up with a sack and an interception in week one.
DE Yannick Ngakoue, JAX (1 QH)
The Vikings traded for pass-rush help before letting anyone know that Danielle Hunter’s injury could result in him missing time. Unfortunately for Ngakoue though, the Vikings corners are much weaker than what he’s used to from his time in Jacksonville. He’s not very effective or productive against the run and likely needs a healthy Hunter back in the lineup to help reach his fantasy potential.
DT Kenny Clark, GB (1 solo, 1 asst)
Clark is a top-10 talent at the defensive tackle position who has posted very consistent numbers over the past three seasons. He had a rough start to the year, however, as he only saw 15 snaps (29%) before leaving with a groin injury.
MIAMI @ NEW ENGLAND
DT Christian Wilkins, MIA (5 solos, 1 asst, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 1 QH, 2 PD)
Wilkins was taken 13th overall last year and had a productive year despite not generating much pressure on opposing quarterbacks. He’s likely to emerge as a focal point of the Dolphins defensive line and looked solid in the opener as he collected 6 tackles with a sack and a pair of pass deflections.
LB Jerome Baker, MIA (13 solos, 3 asst, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 QH, 1 FF)
Baker put up some impressive numbers last year but they still felt like a disappointment given how bad the entire team was around him. While the Dolphins upgraded around him this offseason, he remains the only 3-down linebacker and should find it much easier to get to the ball. He played 61 of 63 defensive snaps this week while newcomers Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts were closer to 60%.
S Adrian Phillips, NE (8 solos, 1 asst, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PD)
The Patriots underwent some major changes in the secondary this offseason as Duron Harmon was traded to Detroit and Patrick Chung decided to opt out. That left former Charger as the new starter at strong safety, and the absence of Dont'a Hightower (opt-out) also figures to give him more opportunities to play up in the box in nickel packages. There’s a good chance he will lead the Patriots in tackles this year as we saw him credited with 9 (plus an interception) in a game when the Dolphins only generated 48 tackle opportunities.
PHILADELPHIA @ WASHINGTON
Washington Pass Rush
While there are too many players in this rotation for them to all remain this productive each week, the numbers in week 1 were quite impressive. Chase Young, DaRon Payne, Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen, Matthew Ioannidis, and Ryan Kerrigan all combined for 7 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. In terms of playing time, Young, Payne, and Sweat all played at least 70% of the snaps while Allen (53%), Ioannidis (44%), and Kerrigan (32%) had to be more efficient with their situational roles.
DE Brandon Graham, PHI (2 solos, 1 TFL, 1 QH)
DE Vinny Curry, PHI (1 solo, 2 asst, .5 sack, 1 QH)
Neither player is considered a high-end fantasy option but both left the game early with injuries this week. Brandon Graham lasted 38 snaps (54%) before leaving with a head injury that placed him in the concussion protocol. Curry was off to a strong start but lasted only 22 snaps (31%) before suffering a significant hamstring injury. That should create an opening for Josh Sweat, who posted a sack and 3 tackles while playing 70% of the snaps.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS @ CINCINNATI
LB Germaine Pratt, CIN (7 solos, 5 asst)
Pratt had a promising rookie season last year as a 3rd round pick but didn’t make many impact plays. His upside may be limited but he is a capable three-down player who can take advantage of the opportunities he’s given. He led all Bengals linebackers in snaps and tackles this week but still only played 73% of the snaps. Josh Bynes also put up strong numbers but has rookie Logan Wilson pushing him for playing time.
CB Casey Hayward, LAC (12 solos, 2 PD)
Hayward has been one of the better shutdown corners in the league for some time but his fantasy value has often been minimal due to a lack of production. Perhaps that will change this year as he put up one of the most productive games of his career this week with 12 tackles and a pair of pass breakups while matched up primarily against A.J. Green.
LB Drue Tranquill, LAC (1 solo)
Tranquill had a solid rookie season a year ago as a fourth-round pick and looked like a building block for the Chargers. Unfortunately, he lasted just 5 snaps before suffering a broken ankle that could end his season or at least keep him out for an extended period. Nick Vigil (3 solos, 2 asst, 1 FR) replaced him in the game and wound up playing 85% of the snaps while rookie Kenneth Murray (4 solos, 4 asst) will also likely see a boost.
TAMPA BAY @ NEW ORLEANS
LB Lavonte David, TB (7 solos, 4 asst, 2 TFL, 1 QH)
David had another productive game along with fellow linebacker Devin White, but what truly stood out about this unit is how little substitutions they used. 5 defenders in Tampa played all 68 snaps while another 5 played at last 82% of the snaps. If that trend continues, they should have several productive fantasy options at all three levels.
S C.J. Gardner-Johnson, NO (9 solos, 1 asst, 1 PD)
The Saints brought back Malcolm Jenkins to replace Vonn Bell at strong safety but they have high hopes for Gardner-Johnson. He started as the team’s nickel back and wound up playing 61 of 70 snaps (87%) while leading the team in tackles with 10. He’s a physical presence in the secondary who can come up and support the run but also has enough range to stick with receivers and tight ends in coverage.
ARIZONA @ SAN FRANCISCO
LB Kwon Alexander, SF (6 solos, 3 asst, 1 TFL)
Last year, Dre Greenlaw emerged as a valuable piece of this defense on their run to the Super Bowl. The return of a healthy Alexander this year, however, has pushed Greenlaw back to a two-down role. Alexander was credited with 9 tackles on 80 snaps (98%) this week while Greenlaw only played 35 snaps (43%) but still collected 5 tackles himself.
LB Isaiah Simmons, ARI (3 solos)
The rookie linebacker saw a limited workload in his debut with just 18 snaps (29%). He looked a bit lost at times and likely needs more time to adapt given the lack of any preseason games this year. He’ll get a chance at a full-time role eventually but the Cardinals have capable players like Jordan Hicks and De'Vondre Campbell in place so they can ease him into things.
DALLAS @ LOS ANGELES RAMS
DE Aldon Smith, DAL (6 solos, 5 asst, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 2 QH)
Smith returned to the NFL for the first time since 2015 and looked like he never left. He led the Cowboys in tackles with 11 while also adding a sack and a pair of quarterback hits. Demarcus Lawrence and Everson Griffen are both excellent pass rushers themselves but Smith outplayed them this week and was rewarded with 74% of the snaps in the game.
LB Micah Kiser, LAR (6 solos, 1 asst, 2 PD)
The Rams did not bring in anybody to replace Cory Littleton after he left in free agency which puts a lot of pressure on Kiser to fill a similar role. He played all 72 snaps at inside linebacker this week while Kenny Young also saw 38 snaps (53%) in base packages.
LB Leighton Vander Esch, DAL (2 solos, 1 asst)
Vander Esch has been plagued by injuries early in his career and that trend continued as he lasted just 23 snaps (32%) before leaving with a serious injury. He suffered a broken collarbone that is expected to keep him out for 6 to 8 weeks. Jaylon Smith will have to shoulder much of the load as he’s done in the past while Joe Thomas appears to be the next man up as he posted 5 tackles on 50 snaps. Sean Lee started the year on IR but could return soon as well. Strong safety Darian Thompson (9 solos, 1 asst) also should see a boost here.