This article immediately highlights defensive players whose production was significantly better or worse than normally expected for the prior week of games. Note there is sometimes limited information available when this article is written, but I will try to give everyone an early look at players who are moving up or down in value among IDP circles. When warranted, I'll also call out some players under No Change to explain why the stat lines may be misleading. It isn’t easy to give waiver advice for IDPs since there is such a wide variety of lineups and scoring systems, but hopefully, the information provided can help inform your waiver, trade, and upcoming lineup decisions. If you have any questions about specific players or situations, please email me or reach out via Twitter.
DALLAS @ TAMPA BAY
LB Keanu Neal, DAL (3 solos, 3 asst)
The Cowboys rebuilt their linebacking group this offseason and appear most comfortable with rookie Micah Parsons (3 solos, 4 asst, 1 PD) and the converted safety Keanu Neal in their nickel packages. The production may not have stood out much for either player this week, but they were on the field for nearly 80% of the snaps compared to just 25% or less for Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch.
CB Jamel Dean, TB (4 solos, 5 asst, 1 PD)
Starting corner Sean Murphy-Bunting left the game early with a dislocated elbow. From that point forward, the Cowboys appeared to target Dean consistently, which helped him pile up 9 tackles on 76 snaps. Even if Murphy-Bunting returns to the lineup soon, Dean’s workload as the nickel back should remain high, and he could become a popular target for opposing quarterbacks.
LB Jaylon Smith, DAL (2 solos, 2 asst)
Smith rarely left the field in prior years, but it appears the coaches prefer to keep him in a 2-down role this season. He finished with 4 tackles in the game, but they came on just 16 snaps (25%), and it will be difficult to rely on him or Leighton Vander Esch (2 solos) if that continues.
S Donovan Wilson, DAL (1 QH)
Wilson got the start at strong safety and ranked third among all Cowboys defenders in snaps (85%) but was not credited with a single tackle. Considering Tampa generated 32 pass completions in the game, this was a rather disappointing start to the year for him.
PHILADELPHIA @ ATLANTA
DT Javon Hargrave, PHI (3 solos, 3 asst, 2 sacks, 2 TFL, 3 QH)
Hargrave warrants an upgrade given his huge game, but it also is quite unlikely he’ll be able to replicate this performance in future weeks. He has been a low-end fantasy starter at defensive tackle during some of his years in Pittsburgh but also has a career-high of 5.5 sacks in a season and played just 56% of the snaps in week 1.
DT Grady Jarrett, ATL (0 tackles)
DT Fletcher Cox, PHI (0 tackles)
Both of these players were likely ranked as top-10 fantasy defensive tackles coming into the season but were shut out on the stat sheet in week 1. Cox might be more concerning given that he wound up playing just 57% of the snaps after regularly playing 70+% of the snaps in 2020. Jarrett still played 76% of the snaps but also had trouble slowing down an Eagles offense, generating 31 rush attempts and 59 tackle opportunities.
LB Alex Singleton, PHI (3 solos, 5 asst)
Singleton played well and put up a solid box score, but his workload/role is worth monitoring. He was not in the starting lineup and did not play in the base defense, so he was limited to nickel packages. The game script still allowed him to play 43 snaps (60%), but that type of situational role will limit his upside and reliability as a fantasy option.
PITTSBURGH @ BUFFALO
DE Cameron Heyward, PIT (2 solos, 2 asst, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 QH, 2 PD, 1 FF, 1 FR)
The Steelers pass rush generated a lot of pressure on Josh Allen without relying on blitzes. T.J. Watt made his presence felt, but Heyward also filled up the stat sheet. Given what we saw in week 1, Heyward could be headed for a strong season after finishing with just 4 sacks a year ago.
S Minkah Fitzpatrick, PIT (6 solos, 4 asst, 1 PD)
The matchup helped Fitzpatrick as the Bills offense threw the ball 50 times and generated 58 tackle opportunities. Even so, his 10-tackle output in the game was the most he’d had since being traded to Pittsburgh. Fitzpatrick is already one of the best playmaking safeties in the game and would quickly climb the rankings if he can become a more productive tackler as well.
DE A.J. Epenesa, BUF (1 QH)
The Bills expected Epenesa to emerge as a key contributor this year, but rookie Greg Rousseau surpassed him in the preseason. In week 1, Rousseau got the start and played 52% of the snaps, which was nearly as much as Jerry Hughes (57%), while Mario Addison (45%), Epenesa (33%), and Efe Obada (26%) all rotated in as well.
NY JETS @ CAROLINA
LB Shaq Thompson, CAR (5 solos, 5 asst, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 QH, 1 INT, 3 PD)
Thompson has been in the league since 2015 but has yet to fully break out as a fantasy star. He has been more productive since veterans like Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis left but hadn’t put together enough games like this one to reach his true potential. Perhaps the move of Jeremy Chinn back to safety will create more tackle opportunities for him, and the upgraded pass rush will make it harder for offenses to key on him as well.
LB DelShawn Phillips, NYJ (3 solos, 9 asst)
Phillips was promoted from the practice squad over the weekend and was forced into action this week after starting linebacker Jamien Sherwood left early with an ankle injury. He played 57 snaps (89%) to rank 4th on the Jets defense and led the way with 12 combined tackles, including 3 on 22 special teams snaps. He will likely head back to the bench once Sherwood is healthy, though.
S Lamarcus Joyner, NYJ (1 solo)
Joyner was signed to provide some experience and stability to the back of the Jets defense after spending the past two years with the Raiders. He started at free safety but lasted just 9 snaps (14%) before leaving with an arm injury that seems likely to end his season. Adrian Colbert (53%) and Sheldrick Redwine (33%) filled in for him, but neither looks like a viable fantasy option.
MINNESOTA @ CINCINNATI
DT Michael Pierce, MIN (3 solos, 4 asst, 2 sacks, 2 TFL, 2 QH)
Pierce did look very good this week while getting a start and playing 59% of the snaps. While he’s primarily a run defender, Pierce is quick enough to play in passing situations and showed that this week with a pair of sacks while also finishing 3rd on the team with 7 tackles.
LB Nick Vigil, MIN (8 solos, 2 asst, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 1 QH)
The former Bengal struggled with the Chargers a year ago but is getting a great opportunity to play a 3-down role at weakside linebacker in Minnesota this year. He was one of 5 Vikings defenders to play all 69 defensive snaps this week and led all players in the game with 8 solo stops while also adding a sack. Eric Wilson finished with 119 combined tackles and 2.5 sacks last year while playing a similar role before signing with the Eagles.
DT Sheldon Richardson, MIN (1 asst)
Richardson was not a factor in the game and wound up playing just 22 snaps (32%) and splitting one tackle. However, he has a long track record of effective play, so he may need some time to adjust to his new team after spending the last two years in Cleveland.
LB Germaine Pratt, CIN (6 solos, 2 asst, 1 TFL, 1 QH, 1 FF, 1 FR)
Pratt was in the starting lineup and posted the type of numbers that would catch people’s attention, but the bigger concern is workload. He played just 37 snaps (45%) in the game, which ranked 11th among Bengals IDPs. Logan Wilson played every snap, and then Pratt seemed to rotate on early downs with Akeem Davis-Gaither, Jordan Evans, and Ricardo Allen playing more in passing situations.
SAN FRANCISCO @ DETROIT
LB Alex Anzalone, DET (2 solos, 1 asst)
While the tackle numbers were quite underwhelming, it’s worth upgrading Anzalone this week as he was one of just 3 Lions defenders to play 100% of the defensive snaps. Meanwhile, Jamie Collins Sr was only on the field for 37 snaps (67%) but still managed to collect 5 tackles and recover a fumble.
CB Jason Verrett, SF (3 solos, 2 asst)
The oft-injured Verrett suffered another crushing blow this week as he appears to have suffered a torn ACL in the fourth quarter. If confirmed, that will end his season and create an opening for rookie Deommodore Lenoir (2 solos, 1 asst), who played all 90 snaps in the game this week.
CB Jeff Okudah, DET (3 solos, 1 asst, 1 PD)
Last year’s #3 overall pick was still trying to establish himself as a starter in this league when he suffered a torn Achilles in the season opener. Before the injury, Okudah was victimized for a 79-yard touchdown catch by Deebo Samuel and will now have a long recovery ahead of him. Ifeatu Melifonwu replaced him in the game and will likely take over next week.
JACKSONVILLE @ HOUSTON
LB Christian Kirksey, HOU (5 solos, 1 asst, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PD)
There weren’t any true standout IDP performances in this game, but Kirksey warrants a minor upgrade. He played all 100% of the snaps alongside Zach Cunningham and came up with one of the three interceptions of Trevor Lawrence.
SEATTLE @ INDIANAPOLIS
LB Jordyn Brooks, SEA (7 solos, 4 asst)
Bobby Wagner (13 tackles) draws most of the attention in Seattle, but K.J. Wright had also carved out a role for himself as a fellow 3-down linebacker. With Wright now a Raider, last year’s 1st round pick has stepped into that role and looked impressive in week 1 while playing 89% of the defensive snaps.
S Khari Willis, IND (6 solos, 1 asst, .5 sack, 1 QH)
The Colts defense only faced 18 completions in the game, but their strong safety was very active playing up in the box in run support. He collected 7 tackles with a half-sack while playing all 54 defensive snaps and should provide solid production for a #2 fantasy safety.
DE Carlos Dunlap, SEA (0 tackles, 1 QH)
Dunlap played much better than his stat line indicated, and he also collected a sack on a 2-point conversion that won’t show up in the box score. What’s more concerning here is that he’s part of a deep rotation and may not get enough tackle opportunities to be a reliable fantasy starter. Seattle’s defense faced 76 snaps in the game, but Dunlap was only out there for 40 of them (53%), while Rasheem Greene (70%), Kerry Hyder Jr (54%), and Benson Mayowa (42%) also saw significant time.
ARIZONA @ TENNESSEE
LB Chandler Jones, ARI (6 solos, 5 sacks, 4 TFL, 6 QH, 2 FF)
Jones is coming off a disappointing and injury-shortened season but has been one of the most productive pass rushers in the league throughout his career. He requested a trade from Arizona when he didn’t get a contract extension but appears to have put that behind him and looks ready to prove his worth on the field. He made everybody take notice on Sunday as he piled up 5 sacks with 2 forced fumbles.
LB Jordan Hicks, ARI (3 solos, 1 asst)
Hick is another player who was on the trade block this offseason and seemingly forgotten about after the team drafted Zaven Collins in the first round. There were reports that Hicks would be benched in favor of the rookie, but Hicks wound up playing 95% of the snaps while also wearing the green dot to indicate his role as a play-caller. His production trailed Isaiah Simmons (7 solos, 2 asst, 1 INT), but that should balance over time if Hicks remains a full-time player.
LA CHARGERS @ WASHINGTON
LB Cole Holcomb, WAS (8 solos, 3 asst, 1 QH)
Holcomb finished strong in 2020 and picked up where he left off this week as he led the way with 11 tackles and a quarterback hit. He was the only Washington defender to play all 81 snaps in the game and seems locked into a full-time role. Jon Bostic (8 tackles on 84% of snaps) also had a productive outing but seems more likely to be pushed aside by rookie Jamin Davis (56%) at some point.
S Landon Collins, WAS (2 asst)
Collins wound up playing 65 snaps (80%) in the game but was mostly a non-factor as he finished with just 2 assisted tackles to his name. He’s still trying to recover from an Achilles injury that wiped out his 2020 season and may not be as effective against the run as he used to be.
CLEVELAND @ KANSAS CITY
LB Anthony Walker, CLE (8 solos, 1 asst)
Walker was a solid linebacker in Indianapolis who was often overshadowed by Darius Leonard. He is now a focal point of the Browns defense and finished third on the team with 95% of the snaps played this week, while the next-highest linebacker was rookie Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah with 38.
S Ronnie Harrison, CLE (1 solo, 1 asst)
Harrison lasted just 5 snaps before being ejected for pushing a coach during a skirmish on the Chiefs sideline. The addition of John Johnson III at safety could also limit his production this year, given that he is more capable of playing up in the box at times.
MIAMI @ NEW ENGLAND
S Eric Rowe, MIA (6 solos, 3 asst, 1 FF)
The former cornerback seems like the type of player everybody considers a placeholder until the Dolphins find somebody better, but he’s been able to hold off all challengers to this point. As the starting strong safety behind a relatively weak linebacker group who is also bracketed by elite corners outside, he should continue to see plenty of tackle opportunities each week.
S Kyle Dugger, NE (6 solos, 1 asst, 1 TFL)
Kyle Dugger appeared to serve as the team’s primary strong safety this week and was on the field in all situations. His 93% workload trailed only free safety Devin McCourty and cornerback J.C. Jackson and bodes well for his breakout candidacy this year. Adrian Phillips once again played the “big nickel” role he’s familiar with, but that led to just 61% of the snaps.
LB Jaelan Phillips, MIA (1 QH)
The rookie edge rusher was expected to be one of the most pro-ready pass rushers in the draft this year, and the Dolphins hoped he would provide an immediate boost. As is common among rookies, though, it looks like he will be brought along slowly. In a game where the Patriots threw the ball 39 times with a rookie quarterback, Phillips only played 22 snaps (29%) and was clearly behind Andrew Van Ginkel (71%) and Emmanuel Ogbah (64%) as well as Brennan Scarlett (35%).
GREEN BAY @ NEW ORLEANS
LB De'Vondre Campbell, GB (5 solos, 1 asst)
The numbers don’t stand out for Campbell this week, but he has taken over as the every-down inside linebacker for the Packers this year. He started alongside Krys Barnes but out-snapped him 56 (90%) to 47 (76%). While it would have been nice to see more production in a matchup where the opposing team ran the ball 39 times, opportunity is key, and Campbell should be set up well for success.
DE Marcus Davenport, NO (2 solos, 1 asst, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 1 QH)
Davenport had a productive game but was limited to 26 snaps (46%) before leaving with an arm injury. He was later diagnosed with a pectoral strain that could force him to miss some time, but there was no timetable as of Monday.
DENVER @ NY GIANTS
S Logan Ryan, NYG (8 solos, 2 asst, 1 TFL, 1 QH, 1 FF, 1 FR)
Many fantasy players assumed that Xavier McKinney would start to take up some of Logan Ryan’s workload, but Jabrill Peppers took the hit this week. Ryan was everywhere on Sunday and collected 10 tackles on 61 snaps (92%), while McKinney primarily lined up at free safety on his 63 snaps (95%).
CB Kyle Fuller, DEN (6 solos, 2 PD)
Fuller established himself as one of the best fantasy corners in the league during his time in Chicago and is off to a great start in Denver. With the Jaguars and Jets coming up next on the schedule, he is set up well for an interception or two in addition to his typically solid tackle production.
Jabrill Peppers, NYG (3 solos, 1 TFL)
Peppers' usage in this game was a surprise as he was in the starting lineup in a “big-nickel” package but wound up playing just 30 snaps (45%). Instead, it was Logan Ryan and Xavier McKinney out there most of the time at the safety position. If this continues, his fantasy value will take a huge hit.
CHICAGO @ LA RAMS
LB Justin Hollins, LAR (6 solos, 2 asst, 2 sacks, 1 TFL, 1 QH, 1 FF)
The Rams have had a history of getting strong production out of their outside linebackers thanks to all of the attention that Aaron Donald draws inside. Hollins could be one of the latest beneficiaries as he racked up 8 tackles, 2 sacks, and a forced fumble while playing 74% of the snaps. Terrell Lewis was more heralded coming into the league but has had trouble staying healthy and played just 25% of the snaps this week.
S Jordan Fuller, LAR (6 solos, 5 asst)
Last year, Fuller was a 6th round pick who has quickly established himself as a leader on the Rams defense. He was given the green dot on his helmet as the defensive signal-caller, which is rare for a defensive back with little experience. With the loss of John Johnson III in free agency, there is an opening for Fuller or Taylor Rapp to emerge here and become a higher-end fantasy safety.