DE Chandler Jones, NE (6 solos, 2 asst, 2 sacks, 1 TD)
After a slightly disappointing opener and some concerns that he’ll be playing more 3-4 OLB than 4-3 DE this year, Jones reassured his owners with a dominant outing against the overmatched Vikings this week. 8 tackles, 2 sacks, and a special teams TD are just about as good as it gets for a fantasy DE and he’s back on track for a top-5 season.
DE Mario Addison, CAR (2 solos, 1 asst, 2.5 sacks)
The Panthers decided to sit Greg Hardy this week, and that created a great opportunity for Addison to see more playing time. He’s got the speed of a linebacker, which has helped him contribute primarily on special teams as well as a pass rush specialist at times. He wound up playing about half the snaps in the game, but he really took over with 2.5 sacks in the fourth quarter. He’s stuck behind two star players, and the Panthers also have high hopes for rookie Kony Ealy but Addison may be a player to keep track of pending what happens with Hardy.
DE Mike Daniels, GB (5 solos, 1 sack)
Daniels quietly had a solid season in 2013 with 6.5 sacks, but his fantasy value was limited due to low tackle numbers he put up. He’s playing more of a full-time role with the Packers this year and responding with some great production so far. Through two games, he’s already been credited with 8 solo tackles, 3 assists, and a sack. He also forced a key interception with a QB hit in the game this week.
DE William Gholston, TB (4 solos, 2 asst, 1 sack)
Gholston missed last week’s game while recovering from an injury, but he got a start this week and put up solid numbers. Tampa is already going to be without Adrian Clayborn for the year due to a torn biceps, but they were also missing Michael Johnson this week and then saw DT Gerald McCoy suffer a broken hand. That should create more opportunities for last year’s 4th round pick going forward.
DE Willie Young, CHI (4 solos, 2 asst, 2 sacks)
The Bears aren’t getting any production from their big signings this offseason (Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston), so they may want to consider giving Young more playing time. He posted just 3 sacks in a full season with the Lions last year but already has 3 in two games with the Bears. Young should continue to see time at DE in passing situations with Houston sliding inside.
DT Johnathan Hankins, NYG (2 solos, 4 asst, 1 sack)
Hankins didn’t show much as a rookie in 2013, but he looked impressive during the preseason and has carried that level of play into the regular season. He helped control the line of scrimmage against the Cardinals this week and picked up 6 combined tackles along with his first career sack. The Giants are certainly looking like one of the worst teams in the league so far, but Hankins looks like a nice building block for the interior of their defensive line.
LB Ryan Kerrigan, WAS (4 solos, 4 sacks, 1 PD)
Washington can’t ask for much more from Kerrigan than what he gave them on Sunday in a win over Jacksonville. Kerrigan posted 4 of the team’s 10 sacks as they made life miserable for Chad Henne. Kerrigan is a typical 3-4 OLB who won’t give you reliable tackle numbers each week, but can put up some huge weeks like this often enough to make it worth starting him. His yearly production has been remarkably consistent since he entered the league as a first round pick in 2011.
LB Dont’a Hightower, NE (7 solos, 1 asst, 2 sacks, 1 PD)
Last week, we saw Hightower play basically the entire game and put up very little in the way of fantasy production. This week, he again saw a full-time workload but was able to fill up the stat sheet with an impressive performance against the Vikings. He was solid in all phases and will give the Patriots some flexibility, even if Jamie Collins Sr returns next week.
LB Brandon Marshall, DEN (6 solos, 2 asst, 1 sack, 1 FF, 1 PD)
The Broncos are not afraid to throw some lesser-known players into the mix on defense, and Marshall has been the early surprise in 2014. The former Jaguar had seen almost no playing time coming into the year, but he has shown no dropoff from the player he is replacing. Danny Trevathan enjoyed a similar rise last year and figures to be out a few more weeks, but Marshall may not be ready to give up his spot. Through two weeks, he’s already posted 14 solo tackles, 4 assists, plus a sack, forced fumble, and 2 passes defensed.
LB Rolando McClain, DAL (5 solos, 2 asst, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 PD)
McClain was out of football last year and looked like a colossal bust since the Raiders took him with the 8th pick overall in 2010. The desperate Cowboys gave him a shot, however, and it looks like he’s ready to take full advantage. He’s posted solid tackle numbers through 2 weeks and even came through with a sack and interception this week. Justin Durant is expected to miss a few games with a groin injury, and Bruce Carter has been disappointing so McClain appears to have a 3-down role.
LB Jelani Jenkins, MIA (9 solos, 5 asst)
With WLB Dannell Ellerbe out for the season, the 2nd year pro from Florida appears to be in line for a bigger than expected role. In a tough matchup on the road this week, Jenkins played in all situations and helped keep the Bills running game in check with 14 combined tackles. He may not offer much in the way of big plays, but could be worth a look in deeper balanced leagues.
LB Preston Brown, BUF (7 solos, 6 asst)
When WLB Kiko Alonso went down with an injury in the offseason, the Bills initially indicated they would be comfortable using the rookie Brown in that role. He saw very little time with the starters in the preseason, however, and that seemed to suggest they would rely heavily on their veterans like Nigel Bradham and Keith Rivers. Bradham missed week 1 due to suspension and Rivers missed week 2 with an injury, but it is Brown who played every snap in both games. Looks like he’s earned the trust of the coaches in coverage early on, and that could pay dividends for fantasy owners.
S Dashon Goldson, TB (9 solos, 2 asst, 1 FR)
Tampa’s defense still seems to be figuring things out, but they are dealing with a rash of injuries up front. That is going to put more pressure on the secondary and so far Goldson seems to be the biggest benefactor. The former 49er has 16 solo tackles, 4 assists, and a fumble recovery through two games. He doesn’t appear to be playing particularly well but is still winding up with lots of tackle opportunities.
S Josh Evans, JAX (8 solos, 6 asst, 1 PD)
Evans replaced Jonathan Cyprien (concussion) in the starting lineup this week and played well. He was all over the field and piled up 14 combined tackles along with a pass deflection in the game. He played well in coverage, and may have shown enough for the coaches to consider using him at FS even after Cyprien returns.
S Rashad Johnson (6 solos, 1 sack, 1 FR) and Tony Jefferson (7 solos, 1 asst), ARI
The Cardinals came into the year with the expectation that young talented players like rookie Deone Buchanon and Tyrann Mathieu might wind up seeing most of the playing time at safety. Buchanon may not be ready yet, however, and Mathieu is still recovering from an injury. The Cardinals can be more patient with both because they have been getting good play from guys like Rashad Johnson and Tony Jefferson. Through 2 games, Johnson has posted 10 solos plus a sack and fumble recovery. Jefferson sees more time up in the box and has posted back to back 7 solo games as a result. Both could possibly serve as decent short-term pickups.
CB Corey Graham, BUF (7 solos, 3 asst, 3 PD)
The Bills signing of Corey Graham didn’t receive a lot of attention during the offseason, but he has played very well through the first two games. He took the place of Stephon Gilmore in week 1 and got another start in week 2 in place of Leodis McKelvin. He is an experienced corner who is equally comfortable playing in the slot or on the outside, and it looks like his emergence has shifted bumped McKelvin back to 4th string for the time being.
CB Prince Amukamara, NYG (8 solos, 1 asst, 1 PD)
The former 1st round pick had to fight through some injuries early in his career, but he posted 76 tackles in 2013 as the Giants suffered through a difficult season. Early on, it’s looking like 2014 could be more of the same for them and that could mean another big year for their young corner. Through 2 games, he’s already been credited with 12 solos, 5 assists, and 3 passes defensed.
CB Kyle Fuller, CHI (5 solos, 2 asst, 2 INT, 2 PD)
The Bears lost one of their best defensive players on Sunday night in Chicago as Charles Tillman went down with an arm injury that could end his season and possibly his career. Fortunately for Chicago, they already have his replacement in place as they added Fuller with their first round pick of this year’s draft. He was all over the field and played a key role in the comeback win over the 49ers as he picked off two passes late in the game.
DE LaMarr Woodley, OAK (0 tackles)
Woodley had his moments during his early years with the Steelers, but his production had tailed off considerably in recent years. He’s still just 29 years old and was looking to turn things around with a move to Oakland this offseason, but through 2 games he’s managed just 1 solo tackle and 1 assist. Given the struggles the Raiders are expected to have on offense this year, he might not get many pass rush opportunities. The move to DE should have helped make him a more viable fantasy option, but it’s not happening so far.
DE Muhammad Wilkerson, NYJ (0 tackles)
Wilkerson established himself as an elite fantasy DE last year when he hit double digit sacks and added 43 solo tackles. The 2014 season has started slowly for him, however, as he didn’t do much in the opener and then was shut out completely in a tough loss to the Packers this week. Making matters worse, he was ejected in the third quarter for throwing some punches during a scrum. Stay tuned to see if he’s subjected to any additional NFL discipline.
DE Osi Umenyiora, ATL (0 tackles)
There were signs that Umenyiora was possibly due for a drop in production this year, but his playing time is way down as he doesn’t appear to be a great fit for the new Falcons defense. That’s somewhat surprising for a team that should be desperate for pass rush help up front, but so far it looks like Umenyiora has very little fantasy value. Through 2 games, he hasn’t generated any pressure in the limited snaps he’s been getting and he’s never been a big tackle producer anyway.
DE Adrian Clayborn, TB (DNP)
Clayborn suffered a torn biceps muscle last week and was placed on injured reserve. While he wasn’t likely to develop into an elite pass rusher, he was a decent starter. He’ll be a free agent in 2015 and probably looking for a change of scenery to try and salvage his career after missing most of the two previous seasons to injuries.
DT Gerald McCoy, TB (0 tackles)
It took him a few years to get there, but McCoy emerged as one of the best interior pass rushers in the league with 9 sacks in 2013. He looked ready to build on that performance with 8 solo stops and a sack in the opener, but he was knocked out of the game early this week with a broken hand and was shut out. It’s not clear whether he’ll be able to play through the injury or not, but if he does it’s unlikely he’ll be as effective.
DT Michael Brockers, STL (0 tackles)
The Rams appear to be going mostly with a 3-man rotation at defensive tackle this year, and that reduction in playing time could spell trouble for Brockers production. He was a key piece of a resurgent Rams defensive line last year, but they also added a potential star with the selection of Aaron Donald in the first round this year. Through 2 games, Brockers has just 2 solo tackles and he’s only playing about half the snaps each game.
LB Brandon Spikes, BUF (1 asst)
Although Spikes appeared to be headed for a 3-down role this year, it seems the Bills are more comfortable with rookie Preston Brown and Nigel Bradham in those packages. With the Dolphins falling behind early, the Bills nickel and dime packages wound up playing most of the game and that limited Spikes to just 15 snaps. He did come up with a key block on Spiller’s kickoff return touchdown, but that’s not exactly the type of contribution IDP owners were hoping for.
LB Rey Maualuga, CIN (1 asst)
Unlike Spikes, there weren’t any real expectations for Maualuga coming into the season. We’ve seen his ceiling in the past and it’s just not very high. He’s a starting MLB who doesn’t play in the team’s nickel packages, and that helps explain why he saw just 18 of 69 defensive snaps this week. Feels like it should only be a matter of time for him to be replaced in the starting lineup in favor of Vincent Rey.
LB Whitney Mercilus, HOU (1 solo)
The loss of Jadaveon Clowney for 4 to 6 weeks figured to create some additional snaps for Mercilus in the Texans defense. He wound up playing nearly the entire game against the Raiders this week, but only managed a single solo tackle. With 7 sacks a year ago, the former 1st round from 2012 seemed headed for bigger and better things. Don’t overreact to one bad game, as he did generate some QB pressure in the game but he’ll need to show more in the weeks ahead.
LB Bruce Carter, DAL (1 solo)
Carter played the entire game this week and still finished with just a single solo tackle. For a defensive end, that type of game would not be unusual but it stands out for a weakside linebacker who should be involved in most plays to some extent. The Cowboys would certainly love to find an upgrade for Carter but it doesn’t seem like they have anyone available yet.
S Roman Harper, CAR (1 solo, 1 asst)
A week ago, Harper only saw 18 of 57 snaps as the Panthers wanted to take things slowly with him as he got back up to full strength. Despite the limited workload, he still came through with an interception. This week, he was back to playing in the team’s base and nickel packages but his production lagged as he only finished with 2 combined tackles in 65 snaps. Tough to get a read on him so far, but next week should be a good test when the Steelers come to town. He’s been an elite safety during his time with the Saints, but may suffer a bit from playing behind tackle machine Luke Kuechly.
S Eric Berry, KC (0 tackles)
Berry came into the year as probably the league’s #1 fantasy safety option, and he further cemented that ranking with a 14 solo game in the opener. Unfortunately, he suffered an ankle injury early in the game against the Broncos this week and wound up getting shut out on the stat sheet. It seems like the type of injury that could flare up again if it doesn’t have time to fully heal, so keep an eye on the practice/injury reports.
CB Charles Tillman, CHI (4 solos, 1 INT, 1 PD)
The Bears signed Tillman to a one-year contract in the offseason with an understanding that it might be his last with the team. Sadly, he suffered a torn triceps injury during the game on Sunday night and was placed on injured reserve. He is one of the best Bears players of all time, but at 33 years of age the end of his career could be here.