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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 will likely 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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The Jaguars traded linebacker Joe Schobert to the Steelers. Schobert will start opposite Devin Bush. The team cut Avery Williamson, who will likely have to wait for injuries to strike to find a team fit.
Jarrad Davis’ injury means that rookie Jamien Sherwood is likely to start alongside C.J. Mosely. Newly-signed Reuben Foster has the talent to win the job, but staying healthy has also been an issue for Foster.
Cardinals corner Malcolm Butler suddenly retired, leaving Arizona in a fix at the corner position. Starting corner Robert Alford is currently on COVID-IR, meaning we could see Daryl Worley or rookie Marco Wilson opposite Byron Murphy early on.
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Thankfully, there is little camp injury news to report. The injuries with the greatest IDP impact were a season-ending injury to Carl Lawson and a significant ankle injury to Jarrad Davis that will sideline him for two months.
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Note: In this section, matchups are listed in order of what the author is most confident will happen to what the author is least confident will happen. 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 predictions.
Buffalo Bills Pass Rushers versus Pittsburgh Steelers Offensive Line
A new reality that we will need to adjust to this season is that Pittsburgh’s offensive line will not be the stalwart unit that it has been for the past three or four seasons. As Matt Bitonti detailed in his preseason ranks, the unit is now one of the worst in the NFL due to changes at four of five starter positions and the retirement of center Maurkice Pouncey. Mario Addison and Jerry Hughes are the incumbent starters. Still, we could also see Gregory Rousseau and A.J. Epenesa (both of whom had an outstanding preseason) also get in on the sack fest. Ed Oliver is an excellent choice this week in DT-required formats.
Washington Football Team Pass Rushers versus Los Angeles Chargers Offensive Line
The #29 ranked offensive line will be pitted against arguably the best pass rush tandem in the league in Chase Young and Montez Sweat. That is going to make Justin Herbert’s week very bad. Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne are both worth playing in DT-required leagues this week.
Los Angeles Rams Pass Rushers versus Chicago Bears Offensive Line
Whether it is Andy Dalton (as Head Coach Matt Nagy insists) or Justin Fields, they will be taking a sizable beating behind this offensive line that ranks 28th. Aaron Donald is a no-brainer start, no matter the format. Leonard Floyd is startable in deeper formats.
Denver Broncos Pass Rushers versus New York Giants Offensive Line
The Broncos may not have things figured out on offense, but they are sure to put the hurt on the Giants on the defensive side of the ball. The Giants have been desperately trying to figure out their line combination all offseason. They made moves for additional linemen after a disastrous preseason game in which Daniel Jones got blasted multiple times. Their cohesion as a unit is bound to be very low, and Von Miller and Bradley Chubb are good bets to capitalize on that.
Philadelphia Eagles Pass Rushers versus Atlanta Falcons Offensive Line
Would it be an official NFL season without Matt Ryan taking extreme pass rush punishment? The Falcons currently rank #19 in Bitonti’s preseason rankings and are one of the lightest and shortest units operating in the league. Fletcher Cox is an exceptional start in DT-required formats this week. That is also excellent news for Brandon Graham, Josh Sweat, Derek Barnett, and newly-signed Ryan Kerrigan. The problem is this-- the rotational nature of this bunch makes it difficult to know which one(s) will cash in. You can basically start one of the four as your third or fourth option and hope they will be the one who gets to Ryan a time or two.
Minnesota Vikings Pass Rushers versus Cincinnati Bengals Offensive Line
Minnesota needs a get-right game to get the team back on the pass-rush warpath. After struggling with injuries along their front last year, the team became ineffective at rushing the passer, which has not been the case in many years. Their best rusher Danielle Hunter is ready to face the #23rd ranked Bengals line. Stephen Weatherly is not that great, so start him only if you want to take a chance that he capitalizes on the chaos Hunter creates. It is hard to know if Dalvin Tomlinson, Sheldon Richardson, or neither is the correct play in DT-required leagues. If you have better options, it might be worth benching them both until we have a better idea of who will get the bulk of the playing time or if it will be a rotation that becomes a headache for fantasy general managers.
Baltimore Ravens Pass Rushers versus Los Vega Raiders Offensive Line
Vegas had one of the best offensive lines in football last year (10th in sacks allowed). That did not seem to matter when the organization dismissed and traded away Rodney Hudson and Trent Brown. It is hard to tell which of the rotation of Pernell McPhee, Justin Houston, and Jaylon Ferguson will benefit from this matchup, but all are worthy of the third or fourth spot in leagues that start four or more pass rushers. Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe are also in the discussion for deeper leagues, depending on their designation in your league.
Jacksonville Jaguars Pass Rushers versus Houston Texans Offensive Line
Houston’s line is not the worst in the league, but it is certainly in the bottom third of the league. It is also particularly unproven along the interior, meaning that Malcolm Brown could be a decent plug-and-play option in DT-required leagues. Both Josh Allen and Roy Robertson-Harris’ chances of recording a sack are elevated in this contest.
New York Jets Pass Rushers versus Carolina Panthers Offensive Line
Carolina Panthers Pass Rushers versus New York Jets Offensive Line
Both have bottom third NFL offensive lines. The problem for the Jets is that they lost their best pass rusher in Carl Lawson. Can Shaq Lawson or Bryce Huff come through? The matchup is appealing, but you should start only one of these two if you are in a league with four to five pass rush starters. Defensive tackle Quinnen Williams is a decent play on the interior. On the other side of the matchup, Brian Burns is a definite start. Our own John Norton speculates that Hasaan Reddick is an early-down linebacker who will stay on the field and shift to the edge in sub-packages. If that is indeed the case, and he has defensive-end or an edge rusher designation in your league software, he will be extremely valuable this season.
Cleveland Browns Pass Rushers versus Kansas City Chiefs Offensive Line
The talent of Cleveland’s pass rush group paired with Kansas City’s offensive line upheaval makes this a good matchup. Patrick Mahomes II’ mobility helps, but he is still likely to take a sack or two in this contest. Myles Garrett is a no-brainer play. Jadeveon Clowney and Takkarist McKinley are the much harder calls. Both have disappointed in recent years, and as Tom Kislingbury detailed in a recent article, Garrett’s boon effect on the other rushers is a small positive at best.
New England Patriots Pass Rushers versus Miami Dolphins Offensive Line
The Dolphins line is a work in progress, and the Patriots pass rushers in this contest have a good chance of getting a sack. As it always is with this coaching staff, the question is who will play what role on a given week. Chase Winovich, Matt Judon, Dont'a Hightower, and Kyle Van Noy are the best choices to play if you need to make a hail mary play that could connect.
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Tennessee Titans Pass Rushers versus Arizona Cardinals Offensive Line
Arizona Cardinals Pass Rushers versus Tennessee Titans Offensive Line
This one is pretty simple. Both lines rank among the Top 15, and both pass rush groups were below average the previous year. We will see if that changes as both teams have made additions (Bud Dupree for the Titans, J.J. Watt for the Cardinals) that may help both teams to be more impactful.
Green Bay Packers Pass Rushers versus New Orleans Saints Offensive Line
New Orleans Saints Pass Rushers versus Green Bay Packers Offensive Line
Both offensive line units are top-ten groups. To make matters worse for the Packers, Zadarius Smith has a back injury and may not be ready to play in week one. Preston Smith should also find a spot on your bench. As far as the Saints go, Marcus Davenport has yet to prove consistency, and Cameron Jordan is seemingly slowing down after being asked to play fewer snaps last year. We should not expect anything from rookie Payton Turner, either.
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