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.
NY GIANTS @ PHILADELPHIA
DE Brandon Graham, PHI (3 solos, 1 asst, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 QH, 1 FF)
Graham may not always get as much attention or credit as he deserves, but he’s quietly headed for a breakout season at 32 years of age in his 12th season. He set a career-high with 9.5 sacks back in 2017 but has 6 sacks in his last 6 games and is on pace to top 40 solo tackles. Vinny Curry recently returned to the lineup so the Eagles are once again relying on a 4-man defensive end rotation but Graham often leads the way with 70+% of the snaps.
LB Markus Golden, ARI (1 solo, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 2 QH)
Golden has 1.5 sacks in his last three games but was typically only playing about one-third of the defensive snaps as a pass-rush specialist with the Giants. He was traded to Arizona on Friday, however, so he could get an opportunity for more playing time on a stronger team as the Cardinals try to fill the hole created by the season-ending injury to Chandler Jones.
DETROIT @ ATLANTA
DE Romeo Okwara, DET (3 solos, 2 sacks, 1 TFL, 3 QH, 1 FF)
Okwara struggled in 2019 and finished with just 1.5 sacks but he appears to be back on track this year. With 2 sacks this week, he now has 4 over his last four games and he continues to see a workload that is similar to that of Trey Flowers (who only has 2 sacks on the year).
S Keanu Neal, ATL (10 solos, 1 asst, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 1 QH)
Neal missed most of the prior two seasons and likely needed some time to get back to something resembling his normal level of play. He filled up the box score this week, however, and showed that he can still be a very productive fantasy option. Although he sat out week 4, Neal has posted 5 or more solo tackles in five straight games played and is on pace to finish with numbers similar to 2017 when he had 83 solo tackles.
CLEVELAND @ CINCINNATI
S Ronnie Harrison, CLE (6 solos, 3 asst, 1 sack, 1 PD, 1 FR)
Karl Joseph was active this week but was limited to 12 snaps (16%) as he continues to recover from a hamstring injury. Harrison got the start in his place and was very productive as he led the Browns with 9 tackles and also added a sack and fumble recovery. Harrison was also recovering from a concussion that kept him out of last week’s game and may have earned a bigger role moving forward.
DT Geno Atkins, CIN (0 tackles)
Atkins is now 32 years old and appears to be on the way out in Cincinnati. He missed the first four games while recovering from a shoulder injury but has barely played since returning to the lineup in week 5. He wasn’t even on the injury report this week but still played just 12 of 52 snaps (23%), which tied him with Carlos Dunlap for 17th most on the team.
GREEN BAY @ HOUSTON
LB Kamal Martin, GB (6 solos, 1 TFL)
Martin is a rookie fifth-round pick who made his debut this week and started at inside linebacker alongside Krys Barnes. While Barnes was very productive and finished with 8 tackles plus a sack, he also played just 27 snaps (40%) before leaving early with a shoulder injury. Martin made some strong plays in run support and finished with 6 solo tackles on his 29 snaps, which could lead to more work for him in the weeks ahead.
CB Jaire Alexander, GB (1 PD)
Alexander did a great job against Will Fuller V in the game as he held him to 0 catches on just a single target while covering him for most of the game. While he came into the year as a promising fantasy option given his aggressive and physical playing style, Alexander is quickly emerging as a shutdown specialist who quarterbacks try to avoid. He had a similar game last week when he finished with just 2 tackles despite taking on Mike Evans and may not see enough targets each week to be a fantasy starter.
CB Bradley Roby, HOU (0 tackles)
Roby came into this week with 16 solo tackles over his prior three games and a very favorable matchup with Davante Adams. Unfortunately, he only lasted 3 snaps before leaving with a knee injury. That left Phillip Gaines primarily matched up with Adams, which didn’t go very well for the Texans.
CAROLINA @ NEW ORLEANS
DE Brian Burns, CAR (1 solo, 6 asst, 1 sack, 1 QH, 1 FF, 1 PD)
Burns was a high draft pick a year ago who had a productive rookie season with 7.5 sacks who needed to improve against the run. Given that he’s played 80% or more of the defensive snaps in 4 of the last 5 games and is on pace for 34 solos and 27 assists, it certainly looks like he’s developing into an all-around player. He showed that off on Sunday as he collected 7 tackles as well as a strip-sack of Drew Brees.
LB Demario Davis, NO (2 solos)
Davis put up just 2 solo tackles on 46 snaps, which is far below his normal production. He was certainly limited by the matchup and game script, however, as the Panthers offense only generated 38 tackle opportunities, including 14 rush attempts for an average of 2.6 yards per carry. The Saints controlled the game with 67 offensive plays compared to just 43 for the Panthers so left the stats weighted heavily towards the Panthers IDPs.
BUFFALO @ NY JETS
DE Jerry Hughes, BUF (5 solos, 1 asst, 2 sacks, 1 TFL, 2 QH, 1 FF, 1 INT, 1 PD)
Hughes is one of the players who is better in real life than he is for fantasy purposes. While he’s solid against the run and generates consistent pressure on the quarterback, he hasn’t been able to put up big sack numbers for whatever reason. That changed this week, however, as he dominated an overmatched Jets team and picked up his first two sacks of the year (including a forced fumble) while also tacking on an interception that was deflected right to him.
S Bradley McDougald, NYJ (1 solo, 1 asst, 1 PD)
McDougald averaged 7 combined tackles per game for the first four games of the year after coming over from Seattle in a trade. Over the last three games combined, however, he’s only been credited with 3 solos and 5 assists. He was limited to just 50 snaps (68%) this week as he left early with a shoulder injury. Whether he’s moved at the trade deadline or not though, the Jets will likely want to give more looks to rookie Ashtyn Davis (2 solos, 1 asst on 24 snaps) at some point.
PITTSBURGH @ TENNESSEE
LB Vince Williams, PIT (9 solos, 1 asst, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 1 QH)
In the first week without Devin Bush, the playing time for Williams remained unchanged from prior weeks at about 80% of the defensive snaps. He was joined by Robert Spillane (75%) inside but dominated the box score with 10 combined tackles plus a sack compared to just 3 tackles for Spillane. The Titans offense only generated 43 tackle opportunities in the game so Williams was heavily involved and a key reason why Derrick Henry was kept in check.
LB Jayon Brown, TEN (7 solos, 1 asst, 1 INT, 4 PD)
Brown has been close to an every-down linebacker for the Titans this year but has underwhelmed at times, posting 3 or fewer solo tackles in 3 of his first 4 games. He was all over the field this week, however, as he showed off his great range and broke up four passes while also picking off his first pass of the year. With 18 combined tackles over the past two games, he is certainly trending up.
LB Bud Dupree, PIT (0 tackles)
Typically one of the most important factors for IDP success is playing time, but there are exceptions. Bud Dupree this week was on the field for a remarkable 95% of the defensive snaps but he was held completely off the stat sheet. With 2 sacks last week and 5 on the season, he’s valuable in big-play scoring systems but has just 10 tackles through 6 games that weren’t awarded from a sack.
DALLAS @ WASHINGTON
DE Montez Sweat, WAS (2 solos, 1 asst, 2 sacks, 1 TFL, 3 QH, 1 FF)
Chase Young has gotten most of the hype in Washington but Sweat has been the more valuable fantasy player this year. With 2 more sacks this week, last year’s first-round pick now has 5 sacks in just 7 games. While he doesn’t typically play as many snaps as Young does, he’s consistently been around 70% or higher. There were some reports that he was being checked for a concussion this week but Washington has an upcoming bye week to give him time to recover before facing the Giants.
LB Leighton Vander Esch, DAL (9 solos, 3 asst)
Vander Esch returned to the lineup last week from a broken collarbone but played just 52% of the snaps, raising some concerns about his durability. He played 67 of 69 (97%) defensive snaps this week though and tied with Jaylon Smith for the team lead in tackles with 12 stops. The Cowboys already rank first in the league in rush attempts faced with an average of 33 per game and there’s no sign of that slowing down anytime soon.
DE Aldon Smith, DAL (1 solo, 2 asst)
Smith had an incredible start to the year with 20 tackles and 4 sacks in his first three games after being out of football for so long. He’s cooled off quite a bit since then, however, and has just 11 tackles and 0 sacks over his last 4 games. Smith has also seen a drop in playing time the past couple of games to around 60% of the snaps, after playing closer to 80% of the snaps in the first month of the season.
S Landon Collins, WAS (2 solos, 2 asst, 1 sack, 1 QH, 1 FF)
Collins picked up a sack and forced fumble and appeared on his way to posting perhaps his best game of the year. Unfortunately, he left after just 17 snaps (30%) with an Achilles injury that was believed to be season-ending based on initial reports. Kamren Curl, a seventh-round rookie, came into replace him and added 3 solo stops on 39 snaps.
TAMPA BAY @ LAS VEGAS
LB Devin White, TB (9 solos, 2 asst, 3 sacks, 1 TFL, 3 QH, 1 FF)
White came into this week with 3.5 sacks in his brief career and nearly doubled it in just one game. After a recent lull that saw him collect just 2 solos and 5 assists in two games, he has exploded for 18 solos and 4 sacks in his last two games to join the ranks of the elite among all IDPs. Given his position, age, and talent, White has to be considered among the most valuable IDPs overall in dynasty leagues.
CB Trayvon Mullen, LVR (9 solos, 2 PD)
Mullen has emerged as the top cornerback for the Raiders in his second season but he still had his hands full with the Tampa Bay passing game this week. He led all Raiders players with 8 solo tackles on defense and added another on special teams while also knocking down two passes. With 18 solo tackles over his last 3 starts and 7 passes defensed on the year, Mullen looks like a solid fantasy starter.
DE Clelin Ferrell, LVR (3 solos, 1 TFL)
The Raiders went off the board with their selection of Ferrell at fourth overall last year and the early returns have not been great. Despite playing around 70% of the defensive snaps this year, he’s still stuck on 0 sacks with just 13 combined tackles through six games. The Raiders were only credited with a single hit on Tom Brady in the game and their pass rush ranks among the worst in the league, so Jon Gruden hinted that changes were coming to try and fix it.
KANSAS CITY @ DENVER
LB Willie Gay Jr, KC (3 solos, 1 asst, 1 TFL, 2 PD)
The rookie linebacker saw a season-high 39 snaps (57%) this week and came up with a tackle for a loss and several pass deflections. His range and athletic ability suggest he’s capable of handling a 3-down role once he fully understands the scheme. Anthony Hitchens is a serviceable starter at middle linebacker but Gay has a bit more star potential.
LB Josey Jewell, DEN (2 solos)
Jewell looked ready to emerge as a big fantasy factor back in week 4 when he piled up 10 tackles and a pair of sacks against the Jets. Unfortunately, that was a mirage and he’s been credited with just 4 solos and 3 assists in the two games since then despite playing 90% of the defensive snaps.
JACKSONVILLE @ LA CHARGERS
DE Melvin Ingram III, LAC (0 tackles, 2 QH)
Ingram returned to the lineup after sitting out the past three games on injured reserve with a knee injury. Although he wasn’t credited with any tackles on his 43 snaps (68%), he did generate enough pressure to collect a pair of quarterback hits and his presence should help boost the Chargers pass rush going forward.
S Rayshawn Jenkins, LAC (7 solos, 1 asst)
The Chargers safety isn’t a standout but he’s been a steady source of tackles and he came up with one of the big plays of the game. The Jaguars went for it on 4th-and-2 in their own territory and he tackled Gardner Minshew before he could convert. Jenkins led the Chargers this week with 8 tackles and now has 29 combined tackles (18 solos) in his last 4 games combined.
DE Josh Allen, JAC (1 QH, 1 PD)
Allen posted 10.5 sacks as a rookie last year but he’s having a lot of trouble replicating that success after the Jaguars blew up the team around him. After sitting out the past two weeks with a knee injury, Allen returned to the lineup this week and played 64 snaps (79%). Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to generate much and was held without a tackle. Through 5 games played, he has just 5 solo tackles with 1 assist and 2 sacks and looks like one of the year’s bigger disappointments.
SAN FRANCISCO @ NEW ENGLAND
LB Anfernee Jennings, NE (4 solos, 2 asst)
After playing 28 snaps (44%) a week ago, Jennings was added to the starting lineup this week and played 80% of the game. The rookie from Alabama has shown he can play inside or outside and fits in well with a coaching staff that values versatility. Perhaps he can follow in the footsteps of Dont'a Hightower.
DE Arik Armstead, SF (1 solo)
Armstead is trying to follow up on his breakout 10-sack season from a year ago and finding things much tougher. He’s likely getting more attention without Nick Bosa around and has just 1.5 sacks through his first seven games. Unfortunately, he’s not doing much against the run either with just 9 solo tackles (and 8 assists) on the year.
SEATTLE @ ARIZONA
LB Haason Reddick, ARI (5 solos, 6 asst, 1 sack, 3 TFL, 3 QH)
Reddick was drafted 13th overall in 2017 but was written off by many as a bust after failing to hold onto a starting role over his first three years in the league. He has taken his game to a new level this year, however, and is helping keep the Cardinals pass rush afloat despite the loss of Chandler Jones. He now has 9 solos, 7 assists, and 3 sacks over his last two games and he played a remarkable 79 snaps (94%) yesterday.
S Budda Baker, ARI (11 solos, 3 asst, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PD)
Baker became a fantasy star on the strength of his tackle numbers as he came into this season with zero career interceptions in his first three seasons. After sitting out week 4 with an injury though, he looks like a new player and has now posted 26 solo tackles with 2 sacks and 2 interceptions over the past three weeks.
S Ryan Neal, SEA (8 solos, 1 asst, 1 TFL)
Neal has been very productive with 23 solo tackles and 2 interceptions over the past four games but he’s likely headed back to the bench next week. That’s because Jamal Adams is expected to return to the lineup for a key divisional matchup against the 49ers. Neal has proven that he can play though, so Seattle may try to find some ways to keep him involved.