DE JJ Watt, HOU (2 solos, 3 asst, 1 INT, 1 PD, 1 TD)
Watt’s performance in this game didn’t fill up the stat sheet, but it may go down as one of the more impressive games an IDP will have all year. According to Pro Football Focus, he had 8 QB hits in the game and 6 QB hurries and he made things miserable for EJ Manuel all day. He put an exclamation point on the game when he picked off a short pass and outran everybody for an 80-yard touchdown.
DE Michael Johnson, TB (4 solos, 1 asst, 2 sacks, 1 FF)
Johnson was a big free agent signing for Tampa this offseason and he helped them get their first win of the season on Sunday in Pittsburgh. He only played a handful of snaps over the past two weeks, but he was back to basically a full workload this week and it showed. He posted a pair of sacks and forced a fumble that led to the team’s first touchdown. Next week’s matchup in New Orleans might not be as favorable though. Da’Quan Bowers also had a nice game in limited snaps.
DE Derrick Shelby, MIA (3 solos, 2 sacks)
Shelby is an undrafted player who has steadily worked his way into additional playing time. The Dolphins have a pretty deep defensive line, but he is quietly emerging as a breakout player this year. He posted a sack and fumble recovery last week and then added 2 more sacks this week while playing in London against the Raiders. He’s a versatile player who can line up inside or outside and still find a way to make plays.
DT Marcell Dareus, BUF (4 solos, 1 sack)
Dareus is still just 24 years old and is already in his fourth year as a pro. He enjoyed a breakout season in 2013 but had some off-field issues and there were concerns raised about his maturity level. So far, it looks like he’s playing up to expectations as he’s helped the Bills become one of the tougher defenses to run against. 3 of his 4 tackles this week were behind the line of scrimmage, including a sack.
LB Keenan Robinson, WAS (7 solos, 6 asst, 1 INT, 1 PD)
Robinson took over for London Fletcher this year and he appears to be making the most of his opportunities. He was very active on Thursday night and wound up finishing with 13 combined tackles and an interception. The Washington crew also tends to hand out lots of assisted tackles, so you’ll want to make sure to start him during any home games.
LB Wesley Woodyard, TEN (6 solos, 3 asst, 1 INT, 2 PD)
This game looks like a bit of an outlier in that the Titans defense was on the field for 90 snaps, but it was good to see Woodyard out there for all of them. He responded with 9 tackles along with an interception. Given the way the Titans are struggling on offense, it won’t be a big surprise to see this defense play a lot and Woodyard should be the main beneficiary.
LB Justin Durant, DAL (3 solos, 5 asst, 1 FF, 1 INT, 2 PD)
The Cowboys got Durant back in the lineup on Sunday night and he was an everydown player. He put up solid numbers in the game with 8 tackles plus an interception and forced fumble. The Cowboys lost Bruce Carter late in the game, so that will put even more pressure on Durant to try and hold up in their nickel and dime packages.
LB Donald Butler, SD (7 solos, 3 asst, 1 FR)
Some fantasy owners were probably getting frustrated by Butler’s production this year, but he’s starting to show signs of life. He posted 9 tackles in Buffalo a week ago and then put up 10 this week along with a fumble recovery. The Chargers offense is great at controlling the ball and keeping their defense off the field, which might limit Butler’s upside but he should remain a solid starter in most IDP leagues.
LB Anthony Barr, MIN (5 solos, 1 asst, 1 sack)
Barr seems to be emerging as a candidate for defensive rookie of the year based on the numbers he’s putting up. He’s playing an everydown role for the Vikings and contributing as in all phases as he’s posted 18 solos, 2 sacks, and a pass defensed. His current numbers put him on pace for 70+ solos and 8 sacks, which would make him a very valuable fantasy option.
LB Tahir Whitehead, DET (4 solos, 8 asst)
The loss of Stephen Tulloch created an opportunity for Whitehead to take over as the team’s middle linebacker. He played every snap in a win over the Jets this week and posted 12 combined tackles. He was probably a popular pickup in most IDP leagues a week ago, but probably won’t last much longer if he’s still out there.
S Malcolm Jenkins, PHI (6 solos, 1 asst, 1 INT, 1 PD, 1 TD)
Jenkins was often rather underwhelming during his days with the Saints as he only topped out at 2 interceptions in any year. Through his first 4 games as an Eagle, however, he’s already picked off 3 passes and even returned one for a 53-yard touchdown this week. The change in scenery appears to be working well for him while Jairus Byrd has no interceptions in New Orleans despite the huge contract they signed him to.
S Brandon Meriweather, WAS (6 solos, 7 asst, 2 PD)
Meriweather was extremely active in the first half on Thursday night before cooling off slightly. He finished the game with 13 tackles and probably missed a couple that could have pushed that number even higher. He’s a risky fantasy option, but as with most Washington players you’ll definitely want to keep him in your lineup during home games.
S James Ihedigbo, DET (2 solos, 3 asst, 1 sack, 1 FF)
The former Raven had a big year in 2013 with over 100 combined tackles and 3 interceptions, and he made his debut for the Lions at strong safety this week. He added 5 tackles plus a sack and forced fumble, and could make a nice pickup on waivers if you need help at the position. The switch from Tulloch to Whitehead at MLB could provide a nice steady stream of tackle opportunities.
CB Cortez Allen, PIT (5 solos, 2 asst, 1 INT, 3 PD)
The Steelers pass defense is not stopping anyone right now, but that just means plenty of action for their most victimized CB. Allen is playing just about every snap for them, and ranks among the league leaders with 19 solo tackles and 6 passes defensed through a quarter of the season.
DE Charles Johnson, CAR (0 tackles)
Johnson has averaged double digit sacks over the past four seasons, but it’s looking like he could be in for a dramatic fall. Through 4 games, he has yet to post even a half sack, and his tackle numbers are nearly non-existent (2 solos, 1 asst). A report on Monday indicated that he suffered a hip injury this week and played through it, but his status for next week is unclear.
DE Jared Allen, CHI (DNP)
Allen was a surprise scratch on Sunday in a big matchup with the Packers, but the reports were that he had lost 18 pounds while suffering from pneumonia. Sounds like he might be able to play next week, but he was already looking pretty ineffective when healthy.
DE Jerry Hughes, BUF (1 solo, 1 asst)
Hughes enjoyed a breakout season in 2013, but that came while primarily playing OLB in a 3-4 front. This year, the Bills have switched to a 4-3 base and Hughes has been converted to DE. Through 4 games, he does have 11 combined tackles but only 1 sack. However, from watching him play, it looks pretty clear that he is struggling to put any consistent pressure on opposing QBs and he’s undersized to hold up against the run. His playing time has dipped over the past two weeks as the Bills appear to be giving him some rest on clear running downs.
DT Star Lotulelei, CAR (2 asst)
Lotulelei is playing a healthy number of snaps each week, but he’s not making much of an impact on the box score. A 1st round pick last year, he came into the league with star potential and helped contribute to a dominant Panthers front 7 in 2013. That defense is springing leaks this year, however, and it looks like he may not be a reliable starter in DT-required leagues just yet.
LB Calvin Pace, NYJ (0 tackles)
Pace showed signs of life in the first two weeks when he posted 8 solos and a sack, but he’s gone missing in the past two games. He’s played 50+ snaps in each game but has just 1 solo and 1 assist to show for it. At 33 years of age, the end was probably coming soon for him anyway, but there may not be a whole lot left in the tank at this point.
LB Derrick Morgan, TEN (0 tackles)
Morgan had a great game in the season opener when he was credited with 6 QB hurries, but he hasn’t had any the past two weeks. As a fantasy option, he showed potential as a depth DE the past couple years but the move to OLB in the new Titans 3-4 looks like it killed his value.
LB Patrick Willis, SF (2 solos, 1 asst)
Willis missed some practice time last week with a wrist injury, but he was apparently healthy enough to start and play every snap. Given that fact, it’s disappointing to see him wind up with only 3 combined tackles. Many probably expected him to put up big numbers with Navarro Bowman out of the lineup, but so far it hasn’t really materialized. It’s tough to bench him, but he’s not putting up the LB1 production we’ve all come to expect.
LB Bruce Carter, DAL (3 solos, 3 asst, 2 PD)
Carter came up lame while trying to make a downfield tackle on Sunday night against the Saints. Initial reports indicated it was a quad injury and that his status for next week was very questionable, but more recent indications listed him as ‘day to day’.
S William Moore, ATL (0 tackles)
Moore has not had nearly the type of production that was expected of him this year when you consider the difficulties the Falcons have on defense. Unfortunately, he was knocked out of the game early this week with a shoulder injury and was unable to return. If he can’t go next week, look for Kemal Ishmael to take his place.
S LaRon Landry, IND (3 solos)
Landry was suspended on Sunday for 4 games due to a violation of the league’s performance enhancing drugs policy. He was one of the better fantasy options at the position so he is probably worth holding onto, but it’s a tough loss as fantasy owners try to navigate the bye weeks. In addition to sitting out the next 4 games, the Colts also have a week 10 bye so that means he will only play once in the next 6 weekends. Sergio Brown figures to replace him in the lineup.
S Eric Reid, SF (1 asst)
Reid was a 1st round pick last year who made a major contribution right away with 62 solo tackles and 4 interceptions. He did pick off a pass in the opener, but has posted just 4 solos and 1 assist in his last 3 games combined. With Antoine Bethea soaking up most of the tackles at strong safety and a weakened pass rush up front, it appears Reid is not seeing a lot of opportunity as the last line of defense.
S Matt Elam, BAL (2 solos)
Elam took over for Ed Reed in the back of the Ravens defense and looked poised to make a big impact in his second year, but apart from a 10-tackle game in week 2 there hasn’t been much to get excited about. Despite being listed as the free safety, he sees a fair amount of work up near the line of scrimmage but it hasn’t translated to the box scores in most weeks yet.
CB Dwayne Gratz, JAX (1 solos, 2 asst)
Gratz has posted solid tackle numbers while playing a lot of man coverage for the Jaguars this year. Unfortunately, he was forced to leave the game early with a head injury this week and is currently going through the league’s concussion protocol.