Here we are in what should be, and is for most of us, the final week of the 2021 fantasy regular season. Fantasy league commissioners are all over the place with how they have handled the extended NFL schedule. A few leagues are even starting their playoffs this week, despite four teams being on bye. If you are in a league like this, the first thing you must do is impeach the commissioner for neglecting to pay attention and failing to make good decisions. The only thing worse than starting the playoffs with teams on bye would be having the finals in week 18.
Off the soapbox and on to the important stuff.
Eric Harris all but vanished from the box score in week thirteen, finishing with a pair of assists in what should have been a strong matchup with the Buccaneers. If you were burnt by Harris last week, it might be tough to trust him against the Panthers. I would love to give you a big boost of confidence here but unfortunately, I cannot. On the positive side, Harris finished 5-2 with a pair of passes defended when these teams met in week eight. Jalen Thompson in week ten and Kamren Curl in week eleven, both reached double-digit points against Carolina as well. On the other hand, no New England safety recorded more than three solo stops against them in week nine, and Miami’s starting safeties combined to go 1-5-0 in the tackle columns in week 12. In essence, what we have in Harris this week is a low-floor crapshoot with a modest ceiling.
Between the byes taking out several star linebackers and the rash of injuries at the position last week, many of us are forced deep into our rosters to fill our lineups. The playing time issues with Patrick Queen have made him a less than stellar, even risky, start over the course of the season. If you are stuck with a decision on Queen this week, consider two things. The Browns are a solid matchup for inside linebackers, and Queen was on the field for 92% of the snaps last week. The 55 snaps he played were the most action and highest snap share he has seen since week four.
The Buccaneers are a plus matchup for Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds. Both players should give us solid tackle totals. If you have been leaning on any of the Bills’ pass rushers, however, it might be a good idea to look at other options in this one. Tampa Bay has allowed five sacks over their last six games.
No one has to be told to start Haason Reddick every week but if you have to make a decision involving Brian Burns, give him the nod versus Atlanta. The Falcons have allowed ten sacks over their last three games and have struggled to run the ball much of the time.
The Chicago pass rushers have a tough matchup at the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field this week, but if you find yourself in a tough spot at defensive end, give Trevis Gipson a look. With Khalil Mack on IR, Gipson has emerged as a productive edge defender opposite Robert Quinn. Over the Bears’ last three games, he is 8-3-1 with a pair of turnovers. In the first two games he started, back in weeks four and five, Gipson totaled 4-3-2 with a forced fumble.
Look for a huge game from Roquan Smith this week. This is the time of year when Green Bay will ride a big back like AJ Dillon.
Logan Wilson left Sunday’s contest early in the second quarter, with a dislocated shoulder. The Bengals may elect not to put him on IR with the hope Wilson can get back in fewer than three weeks. While he could return in time to help us in the playoffs, Wilson is not expected to go this week.
Akeem Davis-Gaither is already on IR and Marcus Bailey left Sunday’s game with a shoulder injury before Wilson. That left Joe Bachie as the next man up. He made a good showing on the field and totaled a solid 6-3 on 39 plays. Bachie could be a solid emergency addition if you lost Wilson, but be aware that it was Germaine Pratt who played 62 of a possible 64 snaps in the game, finishing at 3-6 with a forced fumble and a recovery. I would suggest targeting Pratt over Bachie if he’s available.
Chidobe Awuzie had a strong game going against the Chargers before suffering a foot injury early in the second half. He is considered day-to-day and has missed all the early week practice sessions. Vernon Hargreaves III replaced Awuzie on Sunday and is the likely starter this week.
Unless you are loaded at the linebacker position, anyone with Anthony Walker on their squad is starting him every week. Just as a reminder, Walker finished with eight solo tackles and four assists when Cleveland played Baltimore two weeks ago. It is also worth reminding everyone Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah had his best game to date in that matchup, turning in six solo stops, six assists, and half a sack. The Ravens continue to be one of the best matchups for linebackers
Some IDP manager will make nearly all their decisions based on box scores. The better managers take the time to look a little deeper, and it often saves them from making critical mistakes. Case in point, Keanu Neal. After totaling 11-8 while playing full-time in weeks eleven and twelve, Neal turned in another productive outing in week thirteen, at 4-2-1. The difference is, he played just 23 of 70 snaps against the Saints. This might have been dictated by the matchup/game plan, but it sure makes Neal a risky play against Washington.
Dallas got good news on the injury front with the return of Demarcus Lawrence last week. As we would expect, Lawrence was on somewhat of a pitch count, logging just over half the snaps. He came through healthy and should be back to his normal, three-down role against Washington. Some might argue that he will be rusty. While that might be true, there is something to be said for a player with fresh legs in week fourteen.
There was some excitement in Denver when the team drafted Baron Browning in the third round. He was considered a bit raw, having played largely on the outside at Ohio State, but the organization believed the tools were there. Now that he has been able to learn on the job, it is easy to see what the team was excited about. It will be an uphill battle for the former starters to push Browning back to the bench. The rookie’s strong contributions on the field are a big part of the reason Denver remains in the playoff hunt, and his contributions in the box score continue to be a plus for IDP managers. Now if he can just conjure up some big plays to go with the tackle totals.
Detroit’s safety position was a moving target for much of the season, but they seem to have settled at last. Tracy Walker has now played every defensive snap in three straight games. In the four games since the team’s bye, he is 25-8 with a pass breakup. Walker may not be the Lions' long-term answer at the position, but he is a highly productive one for now. Look for that trend to continue versus Denver this week. At least one safety has reached double-digit points against Denver in five consecutive games.
The Lions might give us two safeties with ten-plus points this week. In week twelve, Dean Marlow moved into a big nickel/nickel linebacker role. In two games he has seen action on all but five plays, going 6-4 and 7-0 respectively.
Michael Brockers was once a stud for those of us in tackle-required leagues. He has been dealing with some nagging injuries for much of the season, resulting in poor numbers and declining snap counts. After playing at least 67% of the snaps in seven of the first eight games, Brockers has not seen more than a 50% play share in a game since the Lions’ bye in week nine.
Eric Reid was a surprise inactive in week twelve, sparking speculation he could be out of Houston after this season. We got another surprise from the Texans in week thirteen when Christian Kirksey was activated from IR and Zach Cunningham was a healthy scratch. This marriage was clearly headed for a divorce as well and came to an end when he was released on Wednesday. Cunningham is a good player that will not be unemployed for long. Dynasty managers might want to see about getting him on their rosters while the price is way down.
Damien Wilson has not exactly been a super-star for IDP managers this season, but he has provided solid and consistent production for us, at least until recently. In his defense, Wilson has been playing on a sore ankle, but just like the NFL, excuses are not going to cut it for us right now, we need production. Wilson has two solo tackles in three of the last four games and has been losing snaps to Shaquille Quarterman over the last two games. After playing at least 72% of the snaps in nine of the first ten games, Wilson has been at 63% in each of the last two. Even without Derrick Henry, Tennessee remains a solid matchup for linebackers, at least for healthy ones that are on the field.
Kansas City Chiefs
No one on the Chiefs defense is happier about Chris Jones moving back inside than Jarran Reed. After spotty production over the first nine games, Reed is 8-3-1.5 over the last three. We have seen Reed dominate at times in the past. He looks more and more like that player in every game.
Las Vegas Raiders
Cory Littleton left Sunday’s game with a stinger, leaving the Raiders thin at the second level, and giving us our first real look at rookie Divine Deablo. Littleton is considered day-to-day with the shoulder injury so Deablo could make his first career start against the Chiefs. He looked good after taking over for Littleton and managed a strong 8-3 on 57 plays against Washington. Deablo could be a great stream play this week but there is a twist to the story for many managers as Deablo is considered a safety by some league host sites.
The Raiders might also be without Denzel Perryman who left the field late in the game with an ankle injury. With Nick Kwiatkoski still nursing an ankle injury that he aggravated against Washington, we could see Deablo and K.J. Wright as the Raiders starting linebackers this week.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Kenneth Murray mystery continues. He returned from IR in week nine and played 58 snaps and has not shown up on the injury report in a month, so we can no longer blame his lack of playing time on a lingering ankle injury. Murray has been on the field for 17 plays over the last two games while Kyzir White and Drue Tranquill both saw more than 80% of the snaps in those two games.
White has been a steady producer for us all season while Tranquill has been up and down due to playing time. Tranquill went 6-4-1 on 66 snaps against the Bengals. The 87% play share was his highest since week four. As for Tranquill’s prospect this week, The Giants are expected to start Jake Fromm at quarterback, so we can expect them to lean heavily on the running game if the score is not out of hand.
Los Angeles Rams
I have not yet had time to suffer through analyzing last week’s lopsided game between the Rams and Jaguars on a play-by-play basis, but at a glance, it looks like the coaching staff may be ready to turn the reigns over to Ernest Jones completely. He donned the communications helmet, called the defense in the huddle for at least some of the game, was on the field for all but two defensive snaps, and produced nine combined tackles with half a sack and a pass breakup. Meanwhile, Troy Reeder played half of the time and totaled three assists in the game. The game script should be drastically different this week against Arizona but I would still be very nervous about playing Reeder at this point.
The Dolphins have turned their season around and are riding a five-game win streak. It is not a coincidence that their rookie first-round pick, Jaelan Phillips, has started looking like a first-round pick during that streak. Phillips got off to a slow start but now has eight and a half sacks on the season, including seven over the last five games. Miami is off this week but returns with a sweet matchup against the Jets in week 15.
Injuries have forced the Vikings to do some shuffling in the front seven. Along the line, Sheldon Richardson shifted to defensive end and played a whopping 86% of the snaps versus Detroit. At the second level, the Vikings were without starters Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr, so Nick Vigil and Blake Lynch played every snap. Both Vigil and Lynch posted big numbers and will have a lot of managers looking to pick them up this week. If you are among those managers, be aware that both Kendricks and Barr are expected to suit up on Thursday.
The Vikings organization has been high on defensive end D.J. Wonnum since drafting him in round four in 2020. Until recently, their faith has looked a bit misplaced. With sacks in back-to-back games for the first time in his young career, Wonnum is finally starting to show signs.
Kenny Willekeys was active against the Lions, serving as the third defensive end. He did not show up big in the box score in this one but was able to get some pressure as a pass rusher.
New England Patriots
Jamie Collins Sr was activated ahead of the Monday night game. He played a little (15 snaps) but was not a factor. With a healthy linebacker corps, it does not look like Collins is going to be a major contributor for the Patriots down the stretch. He has been available for six games with the team this season but has not seen more than 17 snaps in any contest.
New Orleans Saints
Is the Saints defense turning into the Kwon Alexander show? For managers wondering what is going on with Demario Davis, the concern is real. In a plus matchup against Dallas, Davis managed a weak three tackles and one assist while playing every snap. Meanwhile, Alexander was 7-2 on 81% of the playing time. Since returning to the lineup in week eight, Alexander has outscored David on four of six weeks, including the last three in a row.
If Alexander is still available it might be a good idea to grab him for the playoff run. The Jets are not winning many games but are playing people tough and are a better matchup than one might think. After New York, the Saints face Tampa Bay, a surging Miami team, and a solid matchup with the Panthers in week 17.
The Saints elected not to place Marcus Davenport on IR with his shoulder injury, which was an indication they thought he could return in less than three weeks. He has missed two games so far but the team has been quiet about his progress/status. Davenport did not practice leading up to last Thursday’s game but keep an eye on his participation, or lack thereof, as we close in on week fourteen.
New York Giants
Injuries at the outside linebacker position have forced the Giants to go deep on their roster over the last several weeks. One silver lining to the situation is the emergence of rookie Quincy Roche. Since seeing his first significant action in week seven, Roche is 16-10-2 with a forced fumble and has likely carved out a significant role going forward.
Adore Jackson missed practice all last week with a quad injury and missed the week thirteen game. The Giants hope he will be able to play against the high-flying pass attack of the Chargers this week. If Jackson goes, he and/or James Bradberry should be good options for those starting corners. Should Jackson sits again, look for rookie third-round pick Aaron Robinson to make his second career start and likely put up big numbers. He was tested often by the Dolphins, finishing with seven combined tackles and a pass breakup in week thirteen. Since week seven, there has been no better matchup for the corner position, with corners accounting for an average of 19 combined tackles, almost 2.5 passes defended, and a turnover against Los Angeles. If Jackson is out, the rookie corner rule would be strongly in play here with Robinson.
New York Jets
Ronald Blair III got on the field for the first time this season in week ten, totaling four assists on 30 snaps against the Bills. The following week he played 35 snaps against Miami, going 1-4. Ahead of the week twelve game, I mentioned him in this column as a player to keep an eye on. In the two games since, Blair is 6-2-1 with three tackles for loss. When this guy stays healthy, he can be productive. I wanted to mention him again this week ahead of the matchup with the Saints, and point out that both New Orleans starting tackles are banged up and did not play last week. John Franklin-Myers is a strong starting candidate this week and Blair is worthy of consideration in a pinch.
In three games since returning to the lineup, Quincy Williams is 31-14-1. With numbers like that, it doesn’t really matter who the Jets are playing, but they happen to be facing a New Orleans offense that is an excellent matchup for linebackers.
For those that saw Elijah Riley show up in the box last week at 6-1-1, and wondered who he is; Riley is a second-year undrafted safety out of Army, and is now the starting strong safety for the Jets.
Jamal Adams is headed for season-ending shoulder surgery on a torn labrum. His replacement to finish out the season will be Ryan Neal. Neal played just over half the snaps in week thirteen, finishing with an indiscrete 1-4 in the box scores. Because his numbers were not eye-catching, Neal will not be on the waiver list of many managers this week. If you lost Adams or simply have a need at the position, make sure he is on yours. Some of you might remember Neal from last season when he made four starts at strong safety for Seattle. He scored no fewer than twelve fantasy points in any of those games, averaging almost fourteen. He is not Jamal Adams, but Neal is a solid player that will get the job done for both us and the Seahawks.
San Francisco 49ers
When talking about Azeez Al-Shaair early this season, I made a statement about his looking good at times but lacking consistency. Giving credit where it is due, this guy has been impressive both on the field and in the box scores over the last two games with a combined 18-6 in the tackle columns, adding half a sack, a forced fumble, a recovery, and an interception. Three weeks ago I thought of him as a placeholder that would return to obscurity once Dre Greenlaw was fully healthy. Now I’m wondering if Greenlaw will reclaim the starting job at all.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers are still dealing with injuries and a suspension in the secondary but it looks like they will be at or near full strength within the next week or two. Charlton Davis returned to action in week thirteen, going 2-1 with a fumble recovery and three pass breakups. Most importantly, he played virtually every defensive snap. Managers in corner-required leagues should note Carlson scored at least 12.25 fantasy points in three of the four full games he has played this year.
Slot corner Sean Murphy-Bunting returned to action in week eleven. Jordan Whitehead missed week thirteen with a calf injury but practiced on a limited basis late in the week, which is a sign he will return sooner rather than later. Safety Mike Edward will miss this week and next due to suspension but is healthy when reinstated. And finally, the team is expected to have Richard Sherman available for this week’s game. Once Jamel Dean clears concussion protocol, this group should be near 100%.
Jayon Brown is healthy but who will work next to him at inside linebacker this week? Monty Rice landed on IR with an ankle injury and so far there has been no update on Rashaan Evans or David Long Jr Jr. Both Evans and Long have missed several weeks but were never placed on IR. With Tennessee coming out of the bye, one of them might be available. If not, the Titans will go with either Nick Dzubnar or Joseph Jones at the position. One interesting note on this situation; the Titans website shows Long and Evans as the starters on the inside. These depth charts are usually maintained by front office administrative staff and/or public relations personnel, so we should not read too much into it.
Washington Football Team
When Washington moved Landon Collins to linebacker a few weeks back, it left us wondering what it would take for Jamin Davis to get his shot at a full-time role. With Collins on the shelf in thirteen, it finally happened. Davis was on the field for 90% of the action, including all nickel package situations. His numbers were a modest but respectable 5-1. The foot injury has Collins looking like a longshot for this week’s game, so maybe Davis can parlay the opportunity into the first big statistical outing of his young career.
That does it for this week. Best of luck to everyone and hopefully you will be back next week for the first playoff edition.
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