As we near the halfway point of the regular season, some of those high-profile rookies we invested in are starting to get more opportunities. After being a virtual non-factor early in the season, Zaven Collins has seen over half of the snaps in two of the last three games. It was nice to see him hit 52% in week five but that was not such a big deal. Jordan Hicks and Isaiah Simmons both played full-time in that game, so it was not as if Collins were gaining ground on a three-down role. It just happened the Cardinals used a lot of three linebacker personnel in that game. The difference in his 58% share in week seven, is that it seems to have come at the expense of Hicks who saw his playing time slump to 68%. We will need to keep a close eye on this situation over the next few games.
Just when it was starting to look like Dante Fowler Jr might have some IDP value, the Falcons put him on IR with a knee injury. It remains unclear if he will return at some point later in the season, but for the immediate future, rookie fifth-round pick Adetokunbo Ogundeji has stepped into the starting role. Ogundeji recorded his first sack as a pro in week five and had nine over his final two years at Notre Dame.
Rookie safety Richie Grant may be ready to make a significant contribution. Grant saw his first serious action in week five when he was on the field for half of the defensive plays. Coming out of the bye, Grant logged 79% of the snaps against Miami. With Erik Harris suffering a shoulder injury in the game and the team releasing T.J. Green this week, the road is clear for Grant to step into the starting spot.
Anthony Averett has been flying under the radar but if you have a need at corner, give him a look. He has 32 tackles, 6 assists, 8 pass breakups, and a pair of picks to date, with at least nine fantasy points in six of seven games. According to the crew calling last week’s game against the Bengals, Averett is the most targeted corner in the league. It might be a little early to be looking at the playoffs, but it’s worth mention the Ravens face Cleveland, Green Bay, and the Bengals again in weeks 14-16.
Shaq Thompson was not placed on IR with his foot injury, but he has not stepped on the practice field for three weeks. Meanwhile, Jermaine Carter has done little with the opportunity to serve as a three-down middle linebacker. He had a good statistical game against Minnesota in week six but has been mediocre at best on the field. As we close in on the trade deadline, maybe the team should ring up the Texans or Cardinals about trading for Zach Cunningham or Jordan Hicks, even if they are close to getting Thompson back.
Danny Trevathan is a long way from regaining his role as a three-down starter, but it is worth mentioning that his snap total doubled from week six to week seven. This could be a sign that he is being eased back in and will eventually bump Alex Ogletree to the bench. It is hard to get excited about Trevathan, but for managers in leagues with deep rosters or a lot of teams, he is a guy to keep on the radar.
The Bears are considering a stint on IR for Khalil Mack who is battling a foot injury. He is doubtful for this week’s matchup with San Francisco. With Jeremiah Attaochu on IR, Robert Quinn still on the COVID list, and Akiem Hicks questionable with a groin, the Bears pass rush could be toothless.
The Bengals have been arguably the biggest surprise of the 2021 season so far and for the first time in many years, the defense is getting it done as a whole. If you are in a team defense league, this week’s matchup with the Jets is a juicy one. However, if you are looking for IDP production, beware. New York has been the league’s worst matchup in terms of tackle opportunity, and that was before their starting quarterback was lost. The Jets are giving up almost three and a half sacks, and two turnovers per game but we should temper expectations in the tackle columns this week.
The hits keep coming for the already battered Browns. Denzel Ward was forced out of Thursday’s game with a hamstring injury. Ronnie Harrison also went to the locker room early but we are still in the dark about why. What we do know is he played just over half of the game. If Ward is not able to go, look for Greedy Williams to get back in the lineup. If Harrison is not available, Grant Delpit would get another crack at an every-down role, against a Steelers offense that is a strong matchup for safeties.
The injury news is not all bad for Cleveland, however. Greg Newsome II II returned and played every snap and Anthony Walker logged his first full participation since week one. A healthy Walker is a great starting option this week against Pittsburgh.
Denver signed Micah Kiser last week and plugged him right into their starting lineup. After ten snaps, the Broncos were looking for their next starting option. Kiser walked off the field on Thursday with a scowl on his face and landed on IR Saturday with a groin injury. Rookie Curtis Robinson replaced him and played so well that he was cut when the team traded for Kenny Young this week. Out of necessity, Justin Strnad took over three-down duties against Cleveland. Chances are he will not continue in that role for long unless Young struggles.
Denver got a scare when Von Miller looked to have a serious knee injury. Fortunately, it was later reported as a minor ankle issue. Miller is officially questionable but is expected to go this week.
Trey Flowers is trying to play through a knee injury that is clearly still an issue. He has not been practicing much over the last several weeks and came off the field hobbling on Sunday. When/if he can get healthy, Flowers looks like a good fit in the scheme. Meanwhile, look for Julian Okwara to continue seeing a lot of action. Okwara’s playing time has increased every game since the opener. For the first time in his career, Okwara exceeded half of the snaps in week seven and he has a sack in consecutive games. The Lions remain winless but their defense has played hard. Okwara has a good shot at making it three in a row with a sack this week against the Eagles.
Since parting ways with Jamie Collins Sr early in the season, Jalen Reeves-Maybin has taken on a bigger role, but he has not been close to full-time. Instead, he has seen a slightly bigger share of playing time than rookie Derrick Barnes in most games. Reeves-Maybin has taken advantage of the opportunity though. Over the last three weeks, he is 14-7-0 with a forced fumble, a recovery, and three consecutive games with double-digit points. While one game is not a trend, it is worth mentioning that Reeves-Maybin saw significantly more playing time than Barnes in week seven, logging 72% to Barnes 31. The upside is limited but as we get deeper into the season and attrition takes its toll, Reeves-Maybin could be a solid LB3.
The numbers have not been as strong as in the past, but Tracy Walker was on the field for 97% of the plays in week seven, giving him three consecutive weeks with at least 84% snap share.
Green Bay Packers
Jaylon Smith left Sunday’s contest with an oblique injury, so we did not get to see if his role was going to be expanded. What we do know, is he did not start. It is hard to give up on a player that has been so productive in the recent past, but we are almost halfway through the season and he is giving us nothing. Unless you are in a dynasty league with a roster big enough to hold on for future potential, cut your losses.
The Texans continue to struggle on the scoreboard but the season has not been a total loss. Defensively, they have discovered a pair of young gems in Lonnie Johnson and Jonathan Greenard. Johnson was a second-round pick by the team in 2019. After a pair of rather unimpressive seasons, he is in the midst of a breakout year. Since taking over the starting job in week three, Johnson has at least nine fantasy points in four of five games, exceeding 20 twice. He has interceptions in three of the last four games and is coming off a nine-tackle performance against Arizona.
Greenard was a third-round pick in 2020. After a quiet rookie season, he is showing that he belongs in the NFL. Since becoming a starter in week three, Greenard is 13-4-6 with a forced fumble and has five sacks over the last three games. This is a duo that could prove to be cornerstones for both the Texans' defense and ours.
If you have not yet dumped Zach Cunningham, hold on for a minute. Christian Kirksey finished the week seven game despite a thumb injury that could be a problem. The early speculation is that the thumb is broken, though there has been no confirmation as of Wednesday morning. If Kirksey is your guy or you are in need at the position, keep an eye on this one. We know Cunningham is a tackling machine if he gets on the field enough.
No one ever sits Darius Leonard and no one should ever sit Khari Willis. For some managers, Bobby Okereke is an LB3 or fringe starter on most weeks. Get him into your week eight lineup along with Kenny Moore II and possibly Andrew Sendejo. The Titans are the best matchup in the game for anyone that tends to make a lot of tackles.
Kansas City Chiefs
So how good is a matchup with the Titans you say? Here is some perspective for you. Juan Thornhill is halfway through his third NFL season. He has been a starter for most of his career but the 7-2 he recorded against Tennessee last week represents the highest tackle total of his career. That statistic is also a good reason not to get excited about picking him up.
Nick Bolton has not yet played full time in a game but the 84% snaps share he saw last week was a new high, as were the 15 combined tackles (nine solo) he recorded.
Considering the opponent, it was not a shock to see the Chiefs with three linebackers on the field a lot. For those of us still holding hope for Willie Gay Jr, the 68% play share was by far his most on the season.
Los Angeles Chargers
The last time they played, the Chargers were lit up by a Baltimore offense that exposed their issues at linebacker. Statistically, the Patriots have been a mediocre matchup for linebackers and safeties, but after seeing what Baltimore was able to do, we can expect a healthy dose of Damien Harris and the rest of the Patriots runners. Coach Staley said early this week that Kenneth Murray will not be ready for week eight, suggesting he is not all that close to a return.
The Chargers would love to have Murray back, but at least inside linebacker Drue Tranquill and safety Nasir Adderly are trending toward playing this week. Adderly put up big tackle totals in three of the last four games he has played (he missed week six), and Tranquill is more than capable of good numbers. Both players deserve starting consideration this week.
Los Angeles Rams
So what is the message sent when a team that is hurting at inside linebacker, trades one of their starters? Kenny Young opened the season as a three-down inside backer. By week three his snaps counts were down and in week seven Troy Reeder saw 81% of the action to Young’s 55%. Teams rarely make such a move without a plan, so maybe they moved on from Young to open an opportunity for rookie Earnst Jones, or maybe Travin Howard. One of those guys will get the call to fill the void. Jones has a lot of upside and would be my guess as to the next man up, but we should not overlook the fact Howard was slated to be a starter in 2020 before the training camp injury landed him on IR. Look for Ernest Jones or Travin Howard to see more action.
Jerome Baker lasted 10 plays before suffering what was initially believed to be a potentially serious knee injury. After having an MRI, the injury is not so serious, though Baker could still miss some time. Elandon Roberts stepped into the lead role after Baker left, finishing 5-2 on 70% of the action.
The numbers would not give it away, but Brandon Jones played every snap at strong safety in week seven. This is a positive note for a guy that has been productive when given enough opportunity.
New England Patriots
Devin McCourty was forced out of the week seven game with an abdominal injury. As of Wednesday afternoon, there has been no update on his status for week eight. McCourty would be a significant loss for the Patriots but his absence likely means a role shift, or at least closer to every-down playing time for Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips. Joejuan Williams would likely pick up some playing time when the team goes to three safeties, which they tend to do often.
New Orleans Saints
Pete Werner made a big splash in week five when he was 8-5 on a 99% share of the snaps. With the return of Kwon Alexander in week seven, Werner’s playing time was cut to 71%. The question now becomes, will it be cut further as Alexander works his way back into the action? Chances are, Alexander will continue to see his snap count grow, but if you picked up Werner, sit tight for a while if you can. Alexander has not been able to stay healthy for long over the last few years, I would not expect this to be any different.
The Saints may plan to ease Alexander back into the lineup but they wasted no time getting Marcus Davenport up to speed. After not playing since week one, Davenport started and played 63% of the snaps on Monday night. Weather and game flow hindered the opportunity for pass rushers but the former first-round pick deserves a spot on our watch list after recording a sack in his only other game on the season.
New York Giants
With Jabrill Peppers suffering a torn ACL and landing on IR this week, we no longer have to be concerned about how the playing time breaks down between the Giants’ trio of safeties. It is a safe bet we will see Logan Ryan and Xavier McKinney on the field full-time going forward with Julian Love sliding into the third safety role. Love is a starter quality NFL safety, so from that perspective, the Giants should not miss a beat. We will have to see if there is any change in roles with Love in the mix. He is versatile enough to cover any of the duties but might be a little better suited to play deep. That could mean a slight bump in production for McKinney.
New York Jets
It is about the time every year that we start referring to the Jets as a dumpster fire. After they gave up a fifty-burger last week, it would be easy to go there. As a Bengals fan, I would like to tell all the Jets fans to hang in there because it’s not as bad as it looked on Sunday. It takes two or three years for an organization to turn things around. New York needs to improve their roster but they have a coach in place that can do the job.
As for the immediate future, the Jets defense is a dumpster fire if only because their already talent thin roster has been decimated by injuries at the linebacker positions. New York has already started six different players at the second level. C. J. Mosley missed week seven with a hamstring injury, so the starters were Jamien Sherwood, Blake Cashman, and Quincy Williams. None of the three were still standing when the game ended. Sherwood landed on IR this week with a torn ACL, Cashman joined him with a groin injury, and Williams is currently in concussion protocol. There is at least some chance the Jets could have Mosley and Williams available against the Bengals this week. If either or both are out, look for Del’Shawn Phillips to get the start. If both Mosley and Williams can go, Phillips could see the field in three linebacker personnel groups. Williams did not practice Wednesday while Mosley was limited.
The sleeper/wildcard here is Jarrad Davis who was cleared to return from IR last week and could be available to face Cincinnati.
Fletcher Cox did some venting after the team’s loss to the Raiders, saying he is not able to be aggressive in defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon’s scheme. The coach accepted the criticism and said Cox has some good points. The squeaky wheel gets the oil as the cliché’ goes, so that and a matchup with the Lions could make this a good week to start Cox in those tackle-required leagues.
San Francisco 49ers
Azeez Al-Shaair has been a serviceable option in the absence of Dre Greenlaw but has been somewhat inconsistent. According to the initial expectations, Greenlaw should be getting close to a return. Unfortunately, there has been no word from the 49ers to suggest that is the case. Instead, the team elevated Tyrell Adams to the 53 man roster this week. I see the move as more of a bad sign for Greenlaw than a hint of Adams being involved.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers might be hosting tryouts for corners in the parking lot at their practice facility this week. After adding Jamel Dean (shoulder), and Dee Delaney (ankle) to their ever-growing list of injuries at the position, we might see Ross Cockrell, Pierre Desir, and Rashard Robinson as their top three versus the Saints. Between the uncertainty of the injuries and a poor matchup, this would be a good week to avoid Tampa Bay corners altogether.
Amani Hooker has played in two games so far. He had six solo tackles in week one and was 6-3 with a forced fumble in week six. Unfortunately, he has missed the other five games with injuries, including last week when he sat out with a tight/sore groin. Dane Cruikshank started the last four games that Hooker missed. In those games, he is a combined 23-5 with a forced fumble, including a mark of 7-1 last week. The moral of this story is, whoever starts at strong safety for the Titans is going to put up solid numbers. Hooker was a limited practice participant all last week before being inactive against the Chiefs, which could be a good sign he will play this week. Watch those practice reports as we get closer to game day.
Washington Football Team
We pay a lot of attention to snap counts in fantasy football, particularly on the IDP side, but sometimes a players’ role trumps all. This was the case with Landon Collins in week seven. He finished with seven solo stops and a fumble recovery on just 24 of a possible 56 plays. The magic here is in the role that had him working at linebacker depth on most of his plays. If we could count on Collins in that role every week, he would be a must-start. The fact is, we cannot so he remains a high floor gamble.
Week seven just might have been the calm before the storm for Jamin Davis. His five combined tackles (four solos) were not eye-catching, but he played 55 of the 56 defensive snaps against Green Bay. There are a lot of big games ahead for this young man if he continues in the full-time role. Expect one of them to come this week versus a Denver offense that has been a strong matchup for linebackers.
That is a wrap for week eight. Best of luck in your matchups.
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