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 viewers' minds 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 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 Bills’ utilization of their pass rushers was interesting and somewhat unexpected. Despite Hughes and Addison being listed as the starters on the depth chart, Hughes (57%) and Gregory Rousseau (52%) led the way. Mario Addison (45%), A.J. Epenesa (33%), and Efe Obada (26%) played a lesser role. Boogie Basham did not get any playing time. If this holds, it will mean that Rousseau could have DL3 value sooner than expected.
The Seahawks played Rasheem Green the most of their edge rushers at 70% utilization. He did manage a sack. He is worth a look going forward, especially with a juicy matchup with Tennessee’s bad offensive line incoming. We will also need to watch to see if Kerry Hyder Jr (54%), Carlos Dunlap (53%), Benson Mayowa (42%), or Darrell Taylor (34%) can establish themselves as the clear #2 pass rusher or if this will continue to be a rotation that is messy for fantasy general managers.
As many of us suspected, the Eagles had a rotation going at linebacker in which no linebacker logged 100% of the snaps. Alex Singleton managed 60%, while T.J. Edwards played 40% of the snaps. Eric Wilson came closest with 85% usage. Unless things change, Wilson is the only one we can feel good about starting from week to week.
It looks like Jets linebacker Jamien Sherwood’s injury three snaps into his contest opened the door for Del'Shawn Phillips to start next to C.J. Mosely. We will see if Sherwood’s injury is a long-term situation. If it is, Phillips will be a valuable pickup this week.
Lions linebacker Alex Anzalone got full-time snaps but managed only three tackles. Expect there to be a change if this kind of output continues. If you have the bench space, rookie Derrick Barnes is someone to stash and hope for that outcome.
The Panthers had played Jermaine Carter as a full-time option at points in the preseason, but it was still a surprise to see him log 95% of the snaps. His one tackle and four assists were not eye-popping, but there will be better statistical days ahead if he remains on the field that much. If he is out there on your waiver wire, he becomes a priority pickup this week.
The Raiders linebacker situation over the summer was confusing in that we did not know who would get significant playing time next to Cory Littleton. K.J. Wright is arguably the best candidate on the roster, but the team deployed Denzel Perryman on Monday night. He’s the one to target in the upcoming waiver run.
It looked as if Troy Reeder was the starter when the team cut Micah Kiser. Instead, the team played Kenny Young 100% of the snaps, while Reeder saw just 28% of the work. If you gambled on Reeder, you were very disappointed. There is no use compounding the mistake. Reeder will be of interest going forward only if Kenny Young is hurt.
Erik Harris appears to be the Falcons safety to roster at this time. He played 92% of the snaps yesterday. No other Atlanta safety had above 79%.
Giants safety Jabrill Peppers may end up being an IDP dud this year. He played just 45% of the snaps. Bench him going forward until his usage picks up again.
Tennessee's defense is terrible presently, and there will be plenty of tackle opportunities. If Amani Hooker’s foot injury proves serious, it might be worth looking at Titans safety Bradley McDougald. McDougald also has an extensive starting history with other teams, so there is a track record of production when he has had full-time work.
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Chargers safety Nasir Adderley hurt his shoulder and did not return to action.
In addition to significant offensive losses, the Jets also saw safety Lamarcus Joyner (arm) and linebacker Jamien Sherwood (ankle) ruled out during their contest. Further testing showed that Joyner tore a tendon in his arm and is likely out for the rest of the year.
Lions corner Jeff Okudah has an Achilles injury that will sideline him for the rest of the year.
The New Orleans Saints also had some defensive players get dinged up. Defensive end Marcus Davenport suffered a pectoral injury, and it is unclear at this time if he will be able to play through it. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore suffered a thumb injury on Sunday that will require surgery. He is week to week.
Tennessee Titans safety Amani Hooker left with a foot injury.
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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.
Cleveland Browns Pass Rushers versus Houston Texans Offensive Line
The Jaguars’ lackluster pass rush did not challenge Houston, but they will likely be overwhelmed this week facing Myles Garrett and Jadaveon Clowney. Garrett is a no-brainer start, but Clowney requires a bit more faith to roll out in a lineup due to continued ineffectiveness in finishing at the quarterback. Takkarist McKinley makes a nice emergency play, but seeing as he is getting only a small portion of the snaps that Garrett and Clowney are getting, there is the risk he nets nothing.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pass Rushers versus Atlanta Falcons Offensive Line
A divisional matchup plus a bottom-dwelling offensive line equals lots of big-play potential for Shaq Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Ndamukong Suh. Joe Tryon-Shoyinka could also be a fun but risky play for general managers who need some punch in their lineups.
Washington Football Team Pass Rushers versus New York Giants Offensive Line
This matchup looks like it could be gruesome for the Giants and Daniel Jones. The offensive line does not look especially good and faces one of the most prolific rush tandems in the NFL in Chase Young and Montez Sweat. This week, Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne are worth playing in DT-required leagues, as the interior line is also susceptible.
Buffalo Bills Pass Rushers versus Miami Dolphins Offensive Line
At best, the Miami line is patchwork, and even though they won against New England, the weakness was glaring. It should be more apparent this week when facing an even more potent pass rush. The best bets for sacks based on playing time are Jerry Hughes and rookie Gregory Rousseau. Could Mario Addison, Efe Obada, or A.J. Epenesa end up being a nice play this week on limited snaps? It is possible, but do not put them into your lineup unless you start four or more edge rushers and need some upside.
New Orleans Saints Pass Rushers versus Carolina Panthers Offensive Line
Carolina’s line did not get exposed against the Jets, but we should see the flaws become much more apparent when they play an aggressive New Orleans defense that just embarrassed the Green Bay Packers. With Marcus Davenport’s status in question, we could see more of Cameron Jordan and perhaps Tanoh Kpassagnon. Could the Saints let Peyton Turner get some playing time if Davenport sits? It is unlikely, as they tend to take a conservative approach to rookie development, but you never know.
Los Angeles Rams Pass Rushers versus Indianapolis Colts Offensive Line
Indianapolis is missing Sam Tevi after a season-ending knee injury, and backup Julién Davenport was a turnstile this past Sunday against Seattle. If Eric Fisher cannot get healthy and play this week, expect that trend to continue. As usual, start Aaron Donald. Leonard Floyd is startable in deeper formats and Justin Hollins, who had two sacks last week, is a high upside play in leagues in which he is classified as an edge rusher.
Arizona Cardinals versus Minnesota Vikings Offensive Line
The Vikings line giving up three sacks to a lacking Bengals pass rush group is troublesome. It could get worse this week in Arizona. The Cardinals are coming off a six-sack game. Chandler Jones cannot be benched at this point. J.J. Watt has slowed down a bit, but he also has an elevated chance of getting a sack in this contest.
San Francisco 49ers Pass Rushers versus Philadelphia Eagles Offensive Line
The Eagles did not face much of a pass rush challenge in week one against the Falcons, but that will certainly change when squaring off against a San Francisco unit that includes Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, Dee Ford, and - if healthy - Javon Kinlaw. Those four players are the most likely to benefit, but only Bosa and Armstead should be played with confidence. Ford is a bit of a gamble in that he had nearly a third of Bosa’s pass-rushing snaps in the last game - but he still managed a sack. We will need to monitor Kinlaw’s knee status in the upcoming week to see if he can be trusted to play his usual number of snaps.
Chicago Bears Pass Rushers versus Cincinnati Bengals Offensive Line
The Bengals picked up where they left off last year, allowing five sacks in their opening contest. The sack opportunities should continue to be abundant for Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, and to a lesser extent, Robert Quinn. No one else is worth playing out of this group of pass rushers.
Seattle Seahawks Pass Rushers versus Tennessee Titans Offensive Line
It looked like Taylor Lewan may not be 100 percent in the week one contest. When Chandler Jones was not abusing him, he was riding the exercise bike on the sidelines. That leaves the Titans in a fix, relying on a very untested Kendall Lamm, who looked no better than Lewan. Between Lamb and Lewan, they surrendered three of the six sacks that the Titans gave up. The Titans showed their lack of depth along their offensive line, and the Seahawks could exploit that. Seattle had three sacks of their own, albeit against a much more banged-up Colts offensive line. What is hard to know is which of the pass-rushing rotation will benefit. Last week, Benson Mayowa, Rasheem Green, and Darrell Taylor picked up the sacks. This week, the best bets are Jamal Adams and Rasheem Green.
New England Patriots Pass Rushers versus New York Jets Offensive Line
Losing Mekhi Beckton for the next four to six cr weeks hurts, and the Jets will feel the sting once more as they face a retooling-but-very-aggressive Patriots defense. Dont'a Hightower and Matt Judon are the best bets for sacks based on playing time. Just be aware that as much as the Patriots tend to shift defensive roles from week to week, it is a high-risk-high-reward proposition. If you really need to shoot for the moon this week, Josh Uche could come up with a sack, but his 28% playing time in the last contest should be warning that he could also just as easily leave you with a goose egg.
Los Angeles Chargers Pass Rushers versus Dallas Cowboys Offensive Line
The Cowboys missing Lael Collins due to suspension could really be a problem in terms of keeping Dak Prescott upright. Joey Bosa is an obvious starter for general managers. Uchenna Nwosu is more of a desperation play but could pan out in a matchup such as this one. Linval Joseph and Jerry Tillery basically split time on the field evenly, but either could be a nice play this week in DT-required formats.
Green Bay Packers Pass Rushers versus Detroit Lions Offensive Line
Preston Smith did play after all last week, but it did not matter. The Packers looked miserable on both sides of the ball against the Saints. That is likely to change this week when the Packers get a much easier, banged-up offensive line against which to play. The writer does not feel as confident in either Zadarius Smith or Preston Smith after last week’s dud but recommends starting one or the other this week as the third or fourth edge rusher in your big play lineups.
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None this week! In the writer’s opinion, there are not any obvious big-play stalemate matchups.