Join the Footballguys Daily Update
Start your morning with our roundup of the most important stories in football - with the fantasy insight you need to make league-winning decisions. Delivered straight to your inbox, 100% free.
John "The Guru" Norton and Gary "The Godfather of IDP" Davenport are two of the most experienced and knowledgeable IDP analysts in the fantasy football industry. Every week during the 2022 season here at Footballguys, The Guru and the Godfather will come together to answer five of that week's most pressing questions.
With the regular season in most IDP leagues coming to a close, the Guru and the Godfather have come together again to discuss unsettled linebacker situations and some players to stash for the IDP playoffs, as well as to look ahead at potential smash plays, busts and sleepers for Week 14.
1. The linebacker carousel in Cleveland keeps spinning, and after Sione Takitaki tore his ACL, it was second-year pro Tony Fields (and not Deion Jones) who played the most snaps the rest of the way. Can Fields be trusted by IDP managers? Are there any other hidden gems at the position they should try to scoop up?
Guru: For me, there is no such thing as trust when it comes to the Browns’ linebackers; there is only calculated risk. The biggest factor in the calculation is potential and there is plenty of that. Considering that this organization has a history of ruining high potential, the risk is significant as well.
Cleveland had been difficult to project in recent years because they have not shown consistency since Joe Schobert was their starting middle linebacker. They have commonly had no every-down linebacker, instead using three or even four guys in situational personnel packages. That changed earlier this year with Jacob Phillips playing every snap in three straight games before his injury.
Even with their depleted depth at the position, I am still concerned that no one will play more than 70-75% of the snaps here, and if someone does, there is a good chance that Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah will be that guy. That said, I think it is a good idea to snag Fields and stash him on your roster for a week, but unless you are in a pinch or are willing to gamble that his huge week 13 was not a fluke, I would not put him in a lineup until we have some confirmation.
I’m very surprised that Jones was not the replacement for Takitaki. At this point, I am left wondering if this is simply a case of yet another questionable coaching decision, or have Jones's physical skills eroded that far at age 28?
As for the “other gems” part of the question, the picking is slim at this late stage of the season. One possible option might be Nakobe Dean. He totaled 5-1 on 15 plays after Kyzir White left with an ankle injury last week and is the heir apparent at the position. White is practicing on a limited basis early in the week, but if he sits, Dean would be in line for his first start at the position he is expected to hold in 2023.
David Long Jr is dealing with a hamstring injury that could keep him out for a bit. The next man up in the three-down linebacker role is probably Joe Schobert, who coincidentally will be playing his former team when the Jaguars come to town this week. Schobert may not be the player he once was, but he has plenty of experience and can still make a lot of tackles.
Godfather: I could pontificate on the fluidity of the linebacker situation in Cleveland for a couple of hundred words, but the reality is the Guru said just about everything that needs saying. It's a shame, really—this week the Browns face a Bengals time that has been consistently kind to opposing linebackers this season. But right now, the only Cleveland linebacker who can reasonably be trusted is Owusu-Koramoah—and that trust isn't absolute.
With that said, Fields is worth a stash if you have an extra roster spot to spare. His playing more than Jones last week was the last nail in the latter's IDP coffin for me. We need to stop thinking about Jones as the LB1 of the past and get real with the waiver wire fodder of the present.
Sadly, even if Long sits, the linebacker situation is every bit as muddy. Dylan Cole was already "starting" and played the most snaps overall last week. Schobert saw the biggest bump in snaps. Monty Rice was the most productive of the bunch in the box score. If I had to start one this week, I guess it would be Rice, but it's just that—a guess. A desperation play.
Norton's call on Dean is a good one—I was a big believer in the former Georgia standout's talent before he fell in the 2022 draft over health concerns. Micah McFadden of the Giants might be worth keeping an eye on, too. McFadden has something of a Malcolm Rodriguez vibe—a Day 3 pick who drew praise in the preseason. Last week against the Commanders, McFadden played a season-high 67 percent of the snaps, logging nine total tackles. Those aren't week-winning stats, but sometimes beggars can't be choosers.
2. Speaking of scooping, with the IDP playoffs starting next week in most leagues, are there some pre-emptive pickups fantasy managers should make with Weeks 15-17 in mind?
Guru: The Bears’ safeties were disappointing last week and are on bye this week, but their last three games are against Philadelphia, Buffalo, and Detroit. All three of those teams have been plus matchups for safeties on most weeks. With Eddie Jackson gone, DeAndre Houston-Carson should have a full-time job the rest of the way.
The Broncos have not deployed two full-time inside linebackers very often this year, but they came pretty close last week when Alex Singleton logged 63 of a possible 72 snaps. When this guy is on the field, he puts up numbers. Singleton is solid in coverage, so he could see 80% of the snaps in games against the Cardinals, Rams, and Chiefs.
Remember the beginning of the season when we were trying to figure out if Marcus Williams was for real? Just about the time, we determined that he was, he got hurt. Williams returned to practice last week and could get back on the field against the Steelers. That would give him a chance to knock off the rust just in time for the fantasy playoffs.
Godfather: Marcus Williams isn't the only player set to return from injured reserve of interest to IDP managers. Raiders linebacker Divine Deablo was eligible to return in Week 14, but with Vegas playing on a short week the team played it safe with the second-year pro. Signs point toward him being activated next week, though, and once he is, Deablo should reclaim his role as the Raiders' defensive play-caller.
The potential return of Pete Werner in New Orleans when the Saints get back at it in Week 15 has led many fantasy managers to cut bait on IDP waiver darling Kaden Elliss. But in the immortal words of Lee Corso, "Not so fast, my friend!" Will a healthy Werner start ahead of Elliss? Yes—Werner was pacing the league in solos when he got hurt. Could the Saints also try to get Elliss snaps given how well he played in Werner's stead? Also yes. Could Werner aggravate his ankle injury? Yep. Bailing prematurely on Elliss could be the kind of regret that haunts an IDP manager until Easter.
It's not a bad idea for managers with playoff spots locked in to start looking ahead where waivers are concerned. Grab the player in Week 15 who can help you in Week 16 and so on. Just as a few examples, Eagles edge-rusher Josh Sweat gets a plus pass-rush matchup in Week 15 with Justin Fields and the Bears. Ja'Whaun Bentley of the Patriots isn't a full-time linebacker, but he gets a great matchup for his position with the Bengals in Week 16. Tennessee Titans safety Amani Hooker is hardly a household name in IDP circles, but he could swing some championship games given a primo matchup with the Dallas Cowboys.
Check the schedule. Find favorable matchups. And grab a couple of spot-starts a week early. It's a better use of bench spots this time of year than low-ceiling injury insurance reserves you have no intention of starting—ever.
Continue reading this content with a ELITE subscription.
An ELITE subscription is required to access content for IDP (individual defensive players) leagues. If this league is not a IDP (individual defensive players) league, you can edit your leagues here.
"Footballguys is the best premium
fantasy football only site on the planet."
Matthew Berry, NBC Sports EDGE