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If you were watching the box scores roll in on Sunday and wondered why it took so long for Jalen Thompson to show up, it’s because the Cardinals came out in a funky 4-4-3 with Budda Baker as the only safety on the field. They eventually moved to a more normal personnel group with Thompson logging 45 of a possible 59 snaps. His upside is limited but Thompson has been a steady contributor. I would not be overly concerned about this situation.
Last week I pointed out how Erik Harris had quietly become a solid option. With a 7-1 mark against the Saints and a total of 17-5 and two passes defended over the last three weeks, the cat is out of the bag. Harris has at least nine fantasy points in four consecutive games, reaching double-digits in three of them. He is showing up on a lot of early waiver runs this week, so this may be the last opportunity to land him.
What the heck is going on with Patrick Queen? This guy was supposed to be the leader and centerpiece of Baltimore’s defense for years to come. So why is he playing second fiddle to journeyman rent-a-player Josh Bynes? Queen finished the week nine game with two tackles and two assists on 36 snaps while Bynes went 8-3 with a pass defended on 83% of the plays. This one is a real head-scratcher but the bottom line is, we can’t trust Queen in our lineups right now.
DeShon Elliott will miss the rest of the season with a torn pectoral. Brandon Stephens finished up against Minnesota and is likely to take over the spot going forward. Stephens got the start against Indianapolis when Elliot was out in week five. He finished with six tackles and five assists in that game.
Brian Burns limped off the field in the first half against New England but returned to finish the game at 4-1-1 with a forced fumble. An early week update revealed he played much of the game on a sprained ankle. We will need to keep an eye on his progress this week and be prepared in case he is not able to go. If Burns misses time, look for Morgan Fox and Yetur Gross-Matos to see more playing time.
There may be some good news for managers with Jeremy Chinn. He posted a season-high 15 fantasy points on the strength of five tackles, six assists, and a forced fumble, but more importantly, he was not stuck at free safety for the entire game as he had been early in the year. I have not yet watched the entire game, but in the couple of defensive series I saw, it looked as if Chinn was moving around similarly to the way he was used last year.
The bye comes at a good time for the Bears who have several defensive starters recovering from injuries. They hope to have Khalil Mack and Eddie Jackson back for week 11 and the time off could allow Akiem Hicks to heal from the ankle injury he suffered against the Steelers.
The Browns got some good news this week when Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah was designated to return from IR. The team has 21 days to activate him, but if he is ready, expect him to be activated this week and see some action against New England. If he does play, we should not count on a full-time role right away.
The spell has been broken for Trevon Diggs. After an incredible, record-setting run that saw him record 21 solo tackles and seven interceptions over his first six games as a pro, Diggs is 2-1 with one pass breakup in two games since the bye week. Maybe this is just a coincidence, but there might be more to it than that. As the rookie corner rule goes, offenses will target the young guy often until he proves himself. With seven picks in six games, I have to wonder if those opponents are already developing some respect. What concerns me most is not the lack of interceptions in the last two games, but the lack of tackles. With the Falcons, Chiefs, and Raiders on the schedule over the next three weeks, we will have an answer soon, but I fear the magic has gone.
Leighton Vander Esch totaled seven tackles and five assists against Denver but there is nothing to get overly excited about here. The good news is that he did see some sub-package time, lining up next to Micah Parsons in some nickel situations. The bad news is Vander Esch still saw about 65% of the snaps in a timeshare with Keanu Neal. The quality production had more to do with Denver giving the rock to their running back duo 41 times than any change of approach by the Cowboys.
When the season opened, we expected to see Donovan Wilson at strong safety and Damontae Kazee at free safety pretty much full-time. What we are getting is Jaron Kearse at strong safety full-time with Wilson, Kazee, and Malik Hooker all in part-time roles. Kearse has not put up big numbers but he has at least five combined tackles in every game to date.
DeMarcus Lawrence is eligible to be activated from IR but the word out of Dallas says he is not yet ready. Expect it to be at least another week or two before he tries to practice.
Baron Browning did indeed get the start against the Cowboys, who had been a great matchup for linebackers. Browning finished with a modest 4-2 despite playing every snap, but don’t let that keep you from playing him going forward. No one could have anticipated the way this game played out, or the Cowboys’ offense being completely shut down. Dallas had what I believe was a record low time of possession and ran the ball just 14 times.
With Von Miller gone and Malik Reed banged up, everyone was wondering what the Broncos would do at outside linebacker. Reed has been rock solid and the team hopes to get Bradley Chubb back at some point. Meanwhile, they might have discovered another option. Rookie seventh-round pick Jonathan Cooper stepped up big against Dallas, totaling 3-1-2 on the day. He is set to continue as the starter for the rest of the season. Stephen Weatherly logged 89% at the snaps opposite Cooper but is no more than a placeholder.
Denver tried to trade Kyle Fuller but since they were not able to, they elected to put him back in the starting lineup instead. Fuller played virtually every snap versus Dallas. The Broncos went with a nickel base defense in this game, with three corners on the field for more than 90% of the snaps. Patrick Surtain II left halfway through the game with a knee injury and was replaced by Nate Hairston. There has been no update on Surtain’s status for week 10 as of Wednesday morning.
Green Bay Packers
Kenny Clark left the week nine game with a back injury. While we are awaiting an update, it is worth mentioning his replacement, rookie Tedarrell Slaton, played surprisingly well. Slaton finished the game with a respectable three tackles and an assist. He held up well in his most significant action of the season, doing an excellent job versus the run. Slaton lacks the pass rush ability of Clark, but for managers in need at such a shallow position, he might be worth a shot if Clark misses time.
The Packer got Kevin King back from injury in week nine but lost Eric Stokes before the game ever started. Stokes injured his knee in warm-ups, putting Rasul Douglas in the lineup. Douglas is a player who opponents tend to pick on. He totaled nine tackles and intercepted a pass in week eight and has 21 tackles, an assist, 3 passes defended, and a pair of takeaways in the last four games. Seattle is a solid matchup for corners when Russell Wilson is under center. Wilson is expected to return this week.
The Texans placed Christian Kirksey on IR with his broken thumb. A look at the box scores would lead us to believe Neville Hewitt was the replacement. Hewitt led the team in tackles at 6-4 despite being on the field for only 28 plays. It was Zach Cunningham joining Kamu Grugier-Hill as three-down linebackers against Miami. Cunningham played all 75 snaps but was a disappointing 2-6 on the day. Grugier-Hill fared much better at 5-3 with a forced fumble. Grugier-Hill has limited upside but continues to be a solid option for managers in deeper drafted leagues. He has at least five combined tackles in all six of the games he has started.
The wildcard here is Eric Wilson who was claimed off waivers from the Eagles. He was inactive for week nine, but with a couple of weeks of practice under his belt, Wilson could have a significant role when the Texans return to action after their bye.
Barring an injury, Dayo Odeyingbo is unlikely to land a starting role this season, but his playing time increased in his second game. It would not be a surprise to see him earn significant action as the third man at defensive end in short order. Against the Jets, Odeyingbo split the backup role virtually equally with Kemeko Turay and Isaac Rochell. Managers in dynasty formats might want to consider stashing Odeyingbo on the taxi squad for safekeeping.
Khari Willis was moved to IR with his calf injury. He is expected to be back but will miss at least three games. After opening the season with Willis and Julian Blackmon at safety, the Colts are now starting Andrew Sendejo and George Odum. Neither of the replacements has great upside but Odum has five solo stops in each of his two games at the position. Matchups with Jacksonville, Buffalo, and Tampa Bay over the next three weeks, could make him a decent DB3 option for the short term.
Josh Allen is the headliner for the Jacksonville defense this year but we should not overlook Dawuane Smoot who has quietly produced seven tackles, four assists, three and a half sacks, and a forced fumble since claiming the starting job in week five.
The Jaguars fielded three safeties on all but one snap in their week nine win. It was Rudy Ford in the nickel/box safety role, working near the line of scrimmage often. The result was a solid seven solo stops with a pick and three passes defended. There is no way to know if Jacksonville will continue to use this personnel group as their base defense, but it sure worked well against Buffalo. Keep an eye on Ford this week.
Kansas City Chiefs
After watching the defense struggle for nine weeks, the Chiefs finally moved Chris Jones back inside in week ten. Paired with Jarran Reed, Kansas City now boasts a pair of stud interior linemen. The move did not show immediate dividends in the box scores, but it made a difference on the field. Both of these players have been highly productive in the past. Hopefully, this change will bring their production back in short order.
Jones moving back inside was made possible by the addition of Melvin Ingram III who was acquired in a trade from the Steelers. Ingram played just short of half the snaps in his first game with the team but should see increased work going forward. The unfortunate circumstance here is that most league management sites have Ingram as an outside linebacker, which was his position with the Steelers. League sites rarely alter a player’s position mid-season, so we may not get much in the way of IDP value from Ingram in the short term.
After getting a string of solid production out of Nick Bolton, the Chiefs linebacker situation returned to ugly in week nine. Four players shared the duties relatively evenly with no one seeing more than 41 of a possible 63 snaps. For what it’s worth, Willie Gay Jr led the group in playing time at 41 snaps and Bolton was third with 27.
Los Angeles Chargers
Kenneth Murray has been cleared to practice and is close to getting back on the game field. All the news about him is not good though, at least not for IDP managers. Coach Staley didn’t give any straight clear answers but said Murray’s role was evolving and hinted he could see a lot of time as an edge defender going forward. While this is good news for those sitting on Kyzire White or Drue Tranquill, it could be a nail in the coffin for Murray’s IDP value.
Los Angeles Rams
Color me guilty. Ernest Jones came out in the lead role and played 92% of the snaps in week eight, going 7-2-.5 with a pick. Like many of you, I took the bait, thinking he was going to become the point-man for the Rams defense. It was incredibly disappointing to see him not only flop on the stats sheet against the Titans in week nine but have his role reduced to 36 of a possible 57 snaps as well. If you scooped him up it might be a good idea to sit tight for another game or two and see how this pans out, but it is probably a good idea to keep him on the bench until we get some clarity. Troy Reeder logged 48 snaps versus Tennessee.
My apologies to those of you who use our projections to help with your lineup decisions. Sebastian Joseph-Day had been putting up solid numbers, especially for managers in tackle required leagues. I knew he was banged up last week but when he was not on the Friday injury report, I thought it was good news. It was not until later that I learned he was not on the injury report because he was placed on IR right before the team submitted it. Thus he was still projected when the games started.
Joesph-Day will have surgery on his pectoral injury. It is unclear if he will make it back this season, but if he does, it will likely be too late to help us. With Joseph-Day out, Greg Gaines played 100% of the defensive snaps in week nine, which is nearly unheard of for a defensive lineman these days. Unfortunately, his production was no match for the snap count at 2-1-.5.
The other player seeing a significant increase in opportunity was A’Shawn Robinson who totaled 5-1 on 67% of the action. Robinson has shown solid production at times over his career and is the player I would target here if you need to replace Joseph-Day.
Just like the Miami defense in general, Emmanuel Ogbah had a strong 2020 but has been an inconsistent disappointment thus far in 2021. Both showed signs of life in week nine, however. Ogbah had by far his most productive game of the season against the Texans, going 2-2-2.5 and batting down a pass. It is difficult to trust him in our lineups right now but keep in mind the Dolphins' remaining schedule. The Ravens have allowed an average of 3.2 sacks per game since week four and Miami gets the Jets twice, Giants, Panthers, and Saints between now and week 17.
Before we get too carried away by any of the numbers Vikings defenders produced in week nine, keep in mind this was an overtime game in which the Minnesota defense was on the field for a whopping 98 plays.
Camryn Bynum came from nowhere to go 9-3 with a pick in this game. He is listed as a corner but got the last-minute call at strong safety because Harrison Smith was placed on the COVID list. Bynum looked pretty solid on the field as well, but chances are he will head back to a special teams role when Smith is cleared to return, which should happen in time for this week’s game.
Cameron Dantzler also had a big day against Baltimore, racking up ten solo tackles. Unlike Bynum, Dantzler could have a little staying power. He moved into the starting lineup in week eight after Patrick Peterson was lost and totaled seven solo stops in his first outing. Peterson is going to miss at least one more game and is not a lock to return right away when eligible. Bashaud Breeland is also banged up, suffering a groin injury against the Ravens, but he has been on the practice field this week albeit in a limited fashion.
Sheldon Richardson (3-1-1.5) and Armon Watts (3-0-1) had solid outings in week nine, but there is some uncertainty with them going forward. I have seen mixed reports this week about Michael Pierce. Early in the week, he was said to be ready to return, then on Wednesday afternoon Will Ragatz of Inside the Vikings wrote that Pierce is not even close and surgery is being considered. Watts’ role has been far bigger and more consistent than that of Richardson, so if you are looking to add one of these guys, target Watts.
Kenny Willekes is a player we at Footballguys have talked about in the past, and he is on our radar yet again. Willekes served as the third man at defensive end versus Baltimore, going 2-3-.5 on 40 snaps. His career was derailed early by an injury but this is a guy with a ton of upside. He was a sack machine at Michigan State with 23.5 over three seasons, including 10 in 2019. I hesitate to mention this young man in the same sentence as Danielle Hunter, but I see similarities in their game. It took Hunter a couple of seasons to get going as well. One thing I will say with relative certainty, D.J. Wonnum is not the answer.
New Orleans Saints
Chauncey Gardner –Johnson limped off the field with a foot injury early in Sunday’s game and did not return. He is currently being called questionable, but the way he went off the field without being able to put much pressure on the foot, I would not expect to see him against Tennessee. The question is, what will the Saints do to compensate for the loss if he does not go? They have no backup safety with a skill-set anything like that of Gardner-Johnson. In week nine they went with more nickel, playing a third corner, but called the defense differently.
One option, especially considering the opponent, might be to use more three-linebacker looks. Pete Werner logged just 12 snaps in the loss to Atlanta with Kwon Alexander’s role expanding to include some sub-package action. In all, Alexander was on the field for 78% of the defensive plays. His production was disappointing at two assists, but we might soon see both Alexander and Davis on virtually every down. Unless all the injuries have taken their toll on Alexander, his number will soon catch up to his playing time.
It did not take long for David Onyemata to make his mark. In his second game back from suspension, he started and played 63% of the snaps. Onyemata totaled seven combined tackles but only two were solo. Those numbers are not eye-catching, but managers in tackle required leagues would be more than happy to get that production every week. If he picks up where he left off last year, that is what Onyemata will give us.
New Orleans has been patiently awaiting a breakout by Marcus Davenport, and it may have finally arrived. He turned in a strong 3-3-1 with a forced fumble against the Falcons, which will have a lot of managers looking his way this week. If we look at his overall production for the year, you might move Davenport up on your list. He missed a few games with injury but in the three full outings he has played, Davenport is 8-5-2.
New York Jets
Marcus Maye landed on IR last week with an Achilles injury and might have played his last game for New York. The long-term replacement may or may not be on the current roster but in the short term, it will be Ashtyn Davis at strong safety and converted slot corner Michael Carter at free. Davis had a big game against New England in week seven and was 7-3 with a pair of forced fumbles in week nine. He has been rather inconsistent outside of those two games, but a full-time role at strong safety on a struggling team will go a long way toward solving that issue. He has the potential to be a top-ten safety down the stretch.
Carter has not been a great fantasy option to date, but he has not been in a starting role yet either. As the third safety/slot corner, he is 22-17-0 with a fumble recovery and three pass breakups. I don’t expect him to be as productive as Davis, but Carter could make a solid third starter the rest of the way if he lands the job. The Jets' other option would be undrafted rookie Sharrod Neasman.
Quincy Williams balled out early in the season, playing some good football and putting up strong numbers. The Jets coaching staff simply can’t have that out of their linebacker, so he was relegated to a minimal role in week nine. Even then Williams managed three tackles and an assist on 15 plays. Meanwhile, Jarrad Davis got the start, played 45 snaps, and contributed a whopping two assists. Sometimes I wonder if the coaches watch the same games the rest of us do.
Josh Sweat turned in a bagel in week nine. There may be more to the story. He left the field at one point and was looked at by trainers, but nothing more was said about it. On the Eagles Wednesday practice report, Sweat was listed as a no-go with a concussion. Keep an eye on this situation as the week progresses.
It is too early to say for sure, but the Eagles coaches might have finally made a decision at the linebacker positions. Over the last two games, it has been T.J. Edwards doing most of the box score damage. More importantly, he was in the game on 97% of the plays against the Chargers, which is by far the most any Philadelphia linebacker has played in a game this year. The snap breakdown from week nine was Edwards 97%, Davion Taylor 72% on the weak side, and Genard Avery 46% on the strong side. It is hard to say how long this will last, but with 13 tackles and 12 assists in the last two games, Edwards is a player that should be added if available.
I would love to explain why Devin Bush and Joe Schobert are not producing, but I have nothing. They are both playing about 85% of the snaps but are just not making plays. It is hard to part with guys we know are good players and I would advise strongly against it in dynasty leagues, but managers in redraft formats might be better of to grab a T.J. Edwards instead, especially this week when Pittsburgh faces the Lions. That said, the Steeler play Baltimore, Minnesota, and Tennessee in weeks 13-15.
San Francisco 49ers
In an effort to bolster an injury-depleted defensive tackle position, the 49ersmoved Arik Armstead inside and paired him with D.J.Jones in week nine. Jones was already giving us solid numbers and the move ignited Armstead who turned in his best performance of the year by far at 2-8-1. Unfortunately, we are not able to play him at tackle. Time will tell if this is the beginning of a trend or simply a mirage.
Not only was Jayon Brown activated for the week nine game, he started and recorded seven solo stops on 71% of the snaps. Brown paired with David Long, who was 2-4 with an interception and two passes defended on 88% of the playing time. I would expect a bit more action for Brown this week but it is hard to say if he will get back to 100% participation this week. Even if he does not, 75-80% should be enough against a run-heavy Saints offense. It will be interesting to see who plays and how much once everyone is healthy here.
Amani Hooker answered any questions about his involvement when healthy. He was on the field for every snap against the Rams, going 8-4 on the day. The Saints are not as strong of a matchup for safeties, but this guy is an every-week play so long as he is healthy.
That does it for the week ten offering. Best of luck to you as we start down the home stretch!
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