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DE Desmond Bryant, CLE (3 solos, 3 asst, 2 sacks)
In a game where the Browns defense only had 37 tackle opportunities, Bryant posted some impressive numbers. He saw one of the lowest play counts he had all season (42 snaps), but still found a way to pick up 6 combined tackles and 2 sacks. His upside is limited in the Browns 3-4 front, but he could be moderately productive the rest of the way at a shallow position.
DE Allen Bailey, KC (6 solos, 2 asst)
It’s not often you see a 3-4 DE posting 8 tackles in a single game, but that’s what Bailey did in a big road win over the Bills yesterday. The 25-year old player was primarily a run stopper a year ago, but he has been a nice surprise as a pass rusher this year as well. He is seeing a lot of playing time and looks like a solid buy at this point.
DE Robert Ayers, NYG (2 solos, 3 asst, 1 sack)
Although Ayers isn’t a starter with the Giants, he has been more productive than Mathias Kiwanuka in most weeks. He had a dominant outing a week ago against the Colts that flew under the radar a bit, but he was even more productive this week against the Seahawks. It came in a game when Seattle rushed for over 300 yards, but he’s looking like a solid depth option at least.
DE Ezekiel Ansah, DET (6 solos, 1 sack, 1 FF)
When Ansah entered the league a year ago, most everybody agreed he had huge upside but was very raw. It looks like he is really starting to live up to those expectations with his play over the past month or so. In the past 4 games, Ansah has been credited with 14 solo tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles. His numbers this week are perhaps more impressive when you consider that they came in just 36 total snaps. If he can hold up this well against the run every week, he should earn more playing time and could become a top-5 DE at some point soon.
DT Marcell Dareus, BUF (4 solos, 3 asst, 3 sacks)
Dareus is having a JJ Watt-type season where he is just light years better than everybody else at his position. With another dominant showing that included 7 tackles and 3 sacks against the Chiefs this week, he’s up to 10 sacks on the year and they have come in his last 7 games. The former 3rd overall pick is putting it all together and showing up each and every week, which is extremely valuable for fantasy owners.
LB Clay Matthews, GB (9 solos, 2 asst, 1 sack)
The Packers made a surprising move on Sunday night when Clay Matthews opened up at inside linebacker in a big game against the Bears. The move was made to upgrade their run defense and certainly seemed to turn out well as the Bears had few answers on offense. If he sticks inside, we can probably expect a big uptick in tackle numbers, and he may be more effective as a blitzer too.
LB Chris Borland, SF (11 solos, 6 asst, 1 FR)
The legend of Chris Borland is already starting to develop. He’s only started 3 games, but has compiled an amazing 33 solo stops and 10 assists in them. Borland also came up with a game-winning fumble recovery in overtime this week to help keep the Saints season alive. His play could allow them to be more patient with Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman, who could return later this month.
LB Ramon Humber, NO (7 solos, 5 asst, 1 sack)
Humber has moved into a full-time role with the Saints while filling in for injured starter David Hawthorne. Last week against the Panthers, he only managed 3 assists as Carolina’s offense couldn’t stick on the field. This week against the run-heavy 49ers, however, Humber exploded for 12 tackles and a sack. Pay attention to Hawthorne’s health, but Humber could be worth another spot start next week against the Bengals.
LB Nico Johnson, CIN (6 solos, 4 asst)
Johnson came from a big-time college program in Alabama, but he was buried on the Chiefs practice squad before the Bengals signed him a few weeks ago. After seeing some time on special teams, he found himself as the starting MLB against the Browns last week. While the game didn’t go very well for the Bengals, Johnson still managed 10 tackles on 61 snaps. May not have much upside as a 2-down MLB and Vontaze Burfict has a chance to return this week, but was worth a mention for those in very deep leagues.
LB Anthony Hitchens, DAL (9 solos)
The rookie Hitchens has been forced to start at all three linebacker spots this year as the Cowboys have suffered a rash of injuries. He has generally held up well in whatever role the team asks of him, and that was the case again on Sunday as he played a 3-down MLB role and led the team in tackles with 9 solo stops. Rolando McClain actually dressed for the game this week but didn’t play as the team let him recover from his sprained MCL.
LB Aldon Smith, SF (DNP)
Smith finished serving his 9-game suspension and is expected to return to practice on Tuesday. It’s unclear what type of role he’ll have to start, but the 49ers could certainly use some help with their pass rush as they make a run for the playoffs.
S Jaiquawn Jarrett, NYJ (7 solos, 3 asst, 1 sack, 1 FR, 2 INT, 2 PD)
The Jets benched rookie Calvin Pryor in favor of Jarrett this week to try and turn things around in their secondary. All Jarrett did was go out and play one of the best games any player will have in the league this year. He piled up 10 tackles while also contributing 4 big plays (a sack and 3 takeaways) that helped lead the Jets to an upset over the Steelers, who came in playing better than any passing game in the league. Jarrett was a high pick of the Eagles in 2011 who looked like a bust up until this point. It will be almost impossible to match a performance like this, but he’s clearly back on the radar now and worthy of a pickup.
S T.J. McDonald, STL (9 solos, 1 sack)
McDonald is a young safety who the Rams took in the 3rd round a year ago. It’s taken him a little while to get fully comfortable with the speed of the NFL, but he is starting to emerge as a strong player in the Rams secondary. They already have some core players up front to build around and he looks like he could be a very effective weapon playing up in the box as needed. He’ll get a big test next week as the Broncos come to town.
S Ryan Mundy, CHI (9 solos, 2 asst, 1 FR)
While it’s tough to find many positives in the Bears loss to the Packers on Sunday night, it does look like Mundy could be a nice pickup for IDP owners. He was credited with 9 tackles in a blowout loss to the Patriots in his last game, even though 7 were assists. Then this week, he came through with 11 tackles and a fumble recovery. The Bears linebackers are struggling, and things aren’t much better at the corner spots, which creates lots of tackle opportunities for a strong safety like Mundy.
S Larry Asante, OAK (8 solos, 2 asst)
The Raiders lost Tyvon Branch and Usama Young to injury this year, which forced them to bring back Asante a couple weeks ago. They had initially waived Asante at the end of training camp, but now he’s starting and played 83 of 84 snaps against the Broncos this week. If you’re looking for big plays, he’s not the guy for you but he could be a decent source of tackles as the last line of defense on one of the league’s worst teams.
CB Buster Skrine, CLE (2 solos, 1 asst, 2 INT, 3 PD)
The Browns used their first round pick to add corner Justin Gilbert, but it’s Skrine who has emerged as their clear #2 corner. With Joe Haden often shadowing the other team’s best WR, Skrine tends to see a lot more targets and he’s making the most of them. He has 4 interceptions and 10 passes defensed in the past 5 weeks to go along with 20 solo tackles.
CB Ron Parker, KC (6 solos, 2 asst, 1 FF, 3 PD)
The Chiefs pass defense has been dominant this year, and Ron Parker is a big reason why. He came up with a touchdown saving forced fumble when he punched the ball out of Bryce Brown’s hands, and then shut down the Bills passing game as they tried to drive for a winning touchdown. Although he wasn’t known by many coming into the year, he is really coming on strong of late.
DE Eugene Sims, STL (0 tackles)
While it’s always disappointing to see a zero from one of your players, it’s also important not to overreact to it. Sims played almost the same number of snaps as the two DE starters this week, but just came up empty despite generating some pressure. He’s going to remain a high risk option in most weeks.
DE Damontre Moore, NYG (0 tackles)
According to reports leading up to the game this week, Moore was headed for an increase in playing time. Due to the way the game unfolded, however, he only wound up with 3 defensive snaps. Given that Moore is used as a pass-rush specialist, the Giants went with a heavier lineup to try and slow down the Seattle running game. Jason Pierre-Paul wound up playing the entire game, which kept Moore on the bench.
DE Cliff Avril, SEA (0 tackles)
Here’s another example of a line where the player did more than the stats initially indicate. Avril played 54 snaps in the game, which was his second most all year, but he was shut out. If you look closer at the NFL gamebook, however, you’ll see that he was credited with 5 QB hits. Eli Manning got rid of the ball, but Avril was probably close to putting up a huge game here.
DE George Johnson, DET (1 solo)
Johnson serves as the Lions #3 defensive end and his snap count has been very consistent all year long. He had some fantasy value early on as he was putting up some tackle numbers while also adding 4 sacks in the first 6 games. Over his last 3 games, however, he’s gone cold with just 5 solo tackles and no sacks.
DT Stephen Paea, CHI (0 tackles)
This won’t come as a surprise to most, but when Paea posted 4 sacks over a 5-game stretch to start this season , it wasn’t exactly sustainable. He’s a big run-stopping nose tackle so those sacks were out of character for him and we have seen his production regress back to expected levels since then. Over his last 3 games, he’s been credited with 2 solos and 2 assists. He can safely be dropped at this point.
LB Barkevious Mingo, CLE (0 tackles)
Mingo is still a pretty young player finding his way in the league, but it has to be disappointing that we are through week 11 and he has just 1 sack in 2014. This week didn’t provide much in the way of opportunity as the Bengals offense couldn’t stay on the field, but it certainly doesn’t look like he is going to emerge as the dominant pass rusher that was expected when he was taken 6th overall last year. Also, with Jabaal Sheard and Paul Kruger getting most of the work at OLB, there aren’t a ton of opportunities leftover for Mingo.
LB Tamba Hali, KC (3 asst)
In a year when Justin Houston is leading the league in sacks through the midpoint of the season, it seems surprising that Hali isn’t doing more opposite him. He posted 4 sacks over a 5-game stretch earlier this year, but has just 6 solos and 3 assists in his last 3 games. Hali saw 75 snaps in a favorable matchup with the Bills this week and only finished with 3 assists.
LB Tahir Whitehead, DET (2 solos, 1 asst)
Whitehead looked like he could be one of the year’s bigger breakout candidates after Stephen Tulloch went on IR. The huge game with two interceptions that he posted against the Vikings a month ago may have been his high water mark though. Since then, he hasn’t had any other big plays and has only managed 11 solo stops and 2 assists in 3 games. He also saw a reduction in playing time this week as Josh Bynes seemed to split snaps with him. Rookie Kyle Van Noy also made his debut this week and might be worth monitoring.
S Tony Jefferson, ARI (2 solos)
Jefferson was one of the most productive safeties in the league over the first month of 2014, but he’s seen a big drop in playing time the past two weeks. Some could be driven by the concussion he suffered in week 8, but the Cardinals also have great depth at the position so they may just be going with their other options for now. Jefferson is still just 22 years old so don’t write him off, but for now it looks like he’s the odd man out in Arizona.
S Aaron Williams, BUF (1 solo, 2 asst)
Things just don’t seem to be working out for Williams this year. The strength of the Buffalo front seven is not leaving a lot of tackle opportunities for him, and he’s also not seeing a lot of work in coverage either. Williams also had a costly 15-yard penalty for hitting Alex Smith during a feet-first slide, although the call was somewhat controversial. With 4 solos and 3 assists in his last 3 games, it’s tough to rely on him as a starter right now.
S Calvin Pryor, NYJ (2 solos)
Pryor was not in the starting lineup for the Jets this week and initial speculation said it was due to him being late for several team meetings. Rex Ryan, however, said it was due to the play of Jaiquan Jarrett and not a punishment. In any event, the huge game that Jarrett just had figures to slow down the progression of this year’s first round pick for now. The Jets won’t give up on him, but they are probably looking for some reliability at safety given the issues they are having at corner.
S/CB Lamarcus Joyner, STL (0 tackles)
Joyner has safety eligibility in some leagues, but has mainly served as the nickel corner for the Rams this year. The 2nd round pick has been productive with 20 solo tackles over his last 3 games prior to this week, but he was forced to leave the game early with a groin injury and did not return. The Rams could use him with the Broncos coming to town next week, but the injury leaves his status uncertain.
CB Kyle Fuller, CHI (1 solo)
After the first month or so of the season, Fuller looked like a leading candidate for defensive rookie of the year. His season has taken a nosedive along with the rest of the Bears though. Over the past 3 games, Fuller has been burned in coverage repeatedly and managed just 6 solo tackles and 2 assists. The future is still bright for the first round pick, but the Bears defense as a whole has become a dysfunctional mess.