Sometimes, living the stream can be the difference between victory and defeat.
With the likes of Alex Anzalone of the Lions, Christian Kirksey of the Texans, Divine Deablo of the Raiders, and David Long of the Titans all on bye in Week 6, quite a few IDP managers had a hole at linebacker. Some turned to Alex Singleton of the Broncos, who was starting in place of the injured Josey Jewell against the Los Angeles Chargers. Singleton isn't a world-beater, but he has shown the ability to be productive when afforded full-time snaps in the past.
"Productive" doesn't really cover what Singleton did against the Bolts. The former Montana State standout and Calgary Stampeder made approximately all the tackles ever against the Chargers, setting a new Broncos single-game record with 21 stops. Nineteen of those tackles were solos.
There are decent fill-in plays. And there are pinch-hit homers to coin a phrase from that "baseball" thing I hear people talking about. And then there's the kind of ridiculous stat line that turns close losses into easy wins—and vice versa.
Is it reasonable to expect that kind of impact from matchup plays and injury replacements on a weekly basis? God, I hope not—that's too much pressure on me to pull a miracle out of my backside on a weekly basis. But it does go to show that fill-in plays can be more than just a temporary band-aid to get you through a week. They can be a key to securing a Week 7 victory.
And with four more teams (the Buffalo Bills. Los Angeles Rams, Minnesota Vikings, and Philadelphia Eagles) taking this week off and injuries continuing to mount, the list of IDP managers who need one isn't getting any shorter.
DL Denico Autry, Indianapolis (at Tennessee)
Tennessee Titans defensive lineman Denico Autry spent three seasons in Indianapolis from 2018-2020, the first of which was the first nine-sack season of his career. But Autry moved on to Nashville in 2021 to play for the rival Titans, and as Akeem Glaspie wrote for the Indy Star, Titans head coach Mike Vrabel has no problems getting Autry psyched up to play his old team.
"He gets in his own way sometimes because he's so talented, and he knows how to beat these guys," Vrabel said. "Sometimes he overthinks things. ... He just wants to help us so bad, each and every week. He knows how valuable he is to our football team. And I love who he is and what he's always been about in this league with his journey."
Autry is one of the more underrated 3-4 ends in the league, and he's quietly off to a great start in 2022—four sacks in his first five games. Two of those sacks came in Week 4 against a Colts team that has allowed 21 sacks in 2022—third most in the league. Add in that Indy has allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to defensive ends this season, and the latest stop on the Denico Autry revenge tour should be a productive one.
EDGE Baron Browning, Denver (vs. New York Jets)
At this point, it's becoming harder to figure out whether Denver's offensive coordinator should be lauded or Ohio State's (then) defensive coordinator should be pilloried. But one thing's for sure—moving Browning from inside linebacker to edge-rusher was a smart move. While speaking to reporters after another big game against the Chargers Monday night, Browning also made a point of thanking fellow EDGE Bradley Chubb for helping ease his transition.
“He was really the first guy to take me under his wing when I got here,” Browning said. “We do a pretty good job of communicating,” Browning said. “When we watch film, what he’s seen and stuff like that—what he thinks might work best against the opponent. He’s been a big help to me this year."
It doesn't hurt that Browning is wildly gifted athletically—a 6-foot-3 and 245-pounder with 4.56-second speed who posted a Relative Athletic Score of 9.98 at the Scouting Combine in 2021--fifth-best of any of the 2,137 linebackers who have participated in the combine since 1987. Whatever the reason, Browning now has eight tackles, 2.5 sacks, an interception, and seven quarterback hits over the past two weeks. At this rate, by the time Randy Gregory is healthy again, he may well have been full-on Wally Pipp-ed.
EDGE Preston Smith, Green Bay (at Washington)
Preston Smith's career has followed an interesting curve. In odd-numbered years, he posts big sack numbers—eight sacks in 2015 and 2017, a career-best 12 in 2019, and nine a year ago. But in even-numbered years, they tail way off—just 12.5 sacks in 2016, 2018, and 2020 combined. Per Bill Huber of Packer Central, it's a trend that Smith is hell-bent on reversing in 2022.
“I just think this year, we’re definitely going to break that curse," the 29-year-old said. "We’re going to break that curse, and we’re going to make sure we don’t go back down. We’re going to make sure we keep going up. I feel like this year is the year I break that curse, and I don’t have that rollercoaster stats no more.”
Smith was quiet last week against the Jets, logging just two solos. But with 3.5 sacks over the first six games of 2022, he's on pace to potentially post the second double-digit sack season of his career. This week's matchup with the Commanders sets up well for Smith to quicken that pace. Six weeks in, the Commanders are tied with the Chicago Bears for the most sacks in the league allowed, with 23.
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