DE Mario Williams, BUF (4 solos, 1 asst, 3.5 sacks)
Despite some of the big numbers being put up by his linemates, it had been a pretty quiet year for Mario Williams. He came into this week with 6.5 sacks in 9 games, and had at least a half sack in 7 of 9 games so he was consistent but he had yet to really dominate. That changed on Thursday night as he took advantage of a depleted Dolphins offensive line to pile up 3.5 sacks. The Bills may have a tough decision to make given his contract and the fact that Jerry Hughes and Marcell Dareus will be up for new deals soon, but Williams will only turn 30 in January and likely has plenty left to give.
DE DeMarcus Ware, DEN (6 solos, 1 asst, 1 sack, 1 FF)
While sacks are always the focal point for a player like Ware, he’s also trending up in his tackles and run defense. Over his past 4 games, he has been credited with 16 solo tackles, 5 sacks, and a forced fumble. He also has a great matchup coming next week when the Dolphins come to town.
DE Ray McDonald, SF (5 solos, 2 asst, 1 sack, 1 FF)
The news broke last week that Ray McDonald would not be charged in the domestic violence case that had hung over him since the season began. It was controversial that the 49ers let him play while that was going on, but it appears the the relief of having it behind him may have helped spark him to his best game of the year. He picked up his first sack while also adding 7 tackles and a forced fumble as the 49ers defense made things very difficult for Eli Manning.
DE Jacquies Smith, TB (3 solos, 2 sacks, 1 FF)
Smith was cut by several teams before landing with Tampa this year, but he has also played well in limited snaps. He was rewarded with 47 snaps this week and made the most of it with 2 sacks and a forced fumble in a win over Washington. He has good speed to get around the edge, and hasn’t been a liability against the run. Could be a nice find for Tampa here.
DE Charles Johnson, CAR (4 solos, 2 asst, 1 sack)
It was early to write off Johnson earlier this year when he posted 0 sacks and just 2 solo tackles in the first 4 games. Since then, he has rebounded to post numbers more in line with what was expected of him this year. In his last 7 games, he has 16 solos, 10 assists, and 5 sacks. Those aren’t elite numbers but he has been a reliable starter despite some of the struggles going on around him.
DT Clinton McDonald, TB (3 solos, 1 asst, 1 sack)
McDonald may not be anything special as a player, but he clearly benefits from playing alongside Gerald McCoy. He is taking advantage of the opportunity this year by posting some impressive numbers for a defensive tackle. Over his last 4 games, he’s been credited with 7 solos, 5 assists, 2.5 sacks, and an interception.
LB Chris Borland, SF (9 solos, 4 asst, 2 INT, 3 PD)
With Patrick Willis going on IR last week, there is little risk that Borland is going to lose his spot in the lineup for at least the rest of 2014. He continues to post incredible numbers every week, with 13 tackles and 2 interceptions this week in a road win over the Giants. The interceptions are a nice bonus, as most fantasy owners would be plenty happy with his 42 solo stops in 4 starts. His relentless pursuit of the ball really stands out when you watch him play, and it looks like the 49ers got a steal in round 3 of this year’s draft.\
LB Alec Ogletree, STL (10 solos, 3 asst, 1 INT, 2 PD)
Ogletree has been solid this year, but hadn’t really stood out after posting some incredible numbers as a rookie in 2013. That seems to be changing over the past two weeks, however, as he has become much more active. Last week, he was credited with 7 solos and a forced fumble while also returning an interception for a touchdown. He followed that up with this week’s huge stat line in a surprising win over the Broncos.
LB Jameel McClain, NYG (11 solos, 3 asst)
Without Jon Beason around, McClain has settled in to the MLB role for the Giants. He posted 12 tackles a week ago, but 7 of them were assists. He followed that up with a 14 tackle game this week, including 11 solo stops. The Giants have one of the most favorable stat crews in the league, and he was also helped this week by the fact that everydown WLB Jacquian Williams sat out with a concussion.
LB Kavell Conner, SD (6 solos, 3 asst, 1 sack)
Conner is just a part-time player for the Chargers, but his performance this week warrants a mention. He played just 29 snaps, but still managed to lead the team in tackles while also contributing a sack. The Chargers seemed to use Conner and Donald Butler on early downs, while subbing in Manti Te'o in passing situations. Don’t overreach to the numbers here, as the return of Teo this week could reduce his playing time even further in the weeks ahead.
S Michael Adams, IND (8 solos, 3 asst, 2 INT, 2 PD)
LaRon Landry returned to action this week but only saw 8 snaps. Adams has taken advantage of his absence and posted his third consecutive game with 8 solo tackles. With 24 solos and 7 assists in the last 3 games, he’s easily been one of the most active safeties in the league of late. He also helped his case with 2 interceptions off Tom Brady on Sunday night. The veteran is not a long-term option, but is coming up big as the fantasy playoffs near.
S Earl Thomas, SEA (10 solos, 1 asst, 2 FF, 1 PD)
Thomas was a defensive player of the year candidate last year as he posted over 100 combined tackles and 5 interceptions. He hadn’t been nearly as dominant this year, but he has posted back to back strong games and appears poised for a strong finish. He picked off his first pass of the year last week, and then followed that up with a 10-solo outing this week that also included several forced fumbles.\
S Kemal Ishmael, ATL (5 solos, 1 asst, 1 INT, 2 PD)
Ishmael was forced into the lineup after William Moore went down with an injury, and he has been a reliable source of production during most weeks. He has picked things up a big of late as he posted an interception in his last 2 games, and also has 5 or more solo tackles in 4 of his last 6 games.
CB Joe Haden, CLE (10 solos, 3 asst, 1 INT, 1 PD)
Haden has a well-earned reputation as a shutdown corner, but the Texans didn’t shy away from him on Sunday as he was targeted 10 times and gave up 7 short completions while also coming up with a great interception. The Browns defense was on the field for 86 snaps in this game, but it was certainly surprising to see Haden as their leading tackler. With 43 solo stops in 9 games, he’s well on his way to setting a career high in tackles this year, even though his interceptions are down.
CB Ron Parker, KC (11 solos)
Parker played great against the Bills a week ago, and then had a very rough outing this week against the Seahawks. But he posted great fantasy nubmers in both. He gave up 8 catches on 8 targets this week as Russell Wilson picked on him repeatedly. There have been some bumps in the road for Parker, but he has been one of the most reliably consistent fantasy corners in the league this year.
CB A.J. Bouye, HOU (9 solos, 1 asst, 1 PD)
Johnathan Joseph returned to the lineup this week, but 2nd year pro Bouye got the start opposite him. All he did was post his second huge game in a row. He was targeted an amazing 16 times in the game, but only gave up 7 receptions. The young player will obviously continue to be tested if he can stick in the lineup, so keep an eye on him if you’re looking for help at the position.
DE Jason Hatcher, WAS (1 solo)
Hatcher is playing better than his numbers seem to indicate, but it has been a disappointing year considering he put up 34 solos and 11 sacks last year with Dallas. He had 2.5 sacks in his first two games with Washington, but has just 1.5 in the 8 games since and has just 6 solos in that same time span. 3-4 defensive ends have a notoriously difficult time replicating their success, and it looks like Hatcher is falling victim to that same type of regression.
DE Mike Daniels, GB (1 solo)
Daniels started out 2014 on fire with 12 solos and 2.5 sacks in his first 4 games, but he’s been almost non-existent in the box scores since then. He has 8 solos, 1 assist, and no sacks in his last 5 games, and 6 of those solos came in a single game againts New Orleans. Probably not enough consistency or upside to warrant a roster spot for him.
DE Cedric Thornton, PHI (1 solo, 1 PD)
The Eagles are using a rotation on the defensive line, and it’s Thornton’s playing time that seems to be taking the bigger hit among the starters. He still gets about 30 to 40 snaps most weeks, but he has yet to post a sack this year and his tackle numbers have fallen off the map. He has 5 solos and 6 assists over his last 6 games combined, which makes him very difficult to rely on going forward.
DE Brian Robison, MIN (0 tackles)
Robison continues to see a heavy workload each week, but his production generally has been underwhelming. With just 10 solos and 2.5 sacks on the year, it’s tough to count on him in any given week. Despite that, he has shown signs of breaking out of his slump. As Everson Griffen commands and even Anthony Barr begin to command more attention, that might give Robison more favorable opportunities to add to his sack numbers down the stretch.
DT Jay Ratliff, CHI (1 solo)
Ratliff exploded for 5 solos, 9 assists, and 3.5 sacks in a recent 2-game stretch, but he has quickly proven that to be unsustainable. In the two games since then, he has been credited with just 1 solo and 1 assist. He still is generating some pressure up the middle, but it seems he’s settling back into the level we’ve come to expect from him as a 33 year old interior lineman.
LB Casey Matthews, PHI (1 asst)
Last week, Matthews got the start in place of the injured DeMeco Ryans and put up solid numbers in a blowout win over the Panthers. This week, the Eagles were blown out by the Packers, however, and Matthews was almost invisible. This is the type of roller coaster you can probably expect to see from him going forward as he’s not an everydown player so his production figures to fluctuate a lot depending on matchups and situations.
LB Jabaal Sheard, CLE (2 solos, 1 asst)
The Browns use their three top OLBs in a heavy rotation so that each of them basically can receive starter-type snaps each week. Despite the quality playing time he receives, Sheard just hasn’t been able to convert it into solid production most of the time. He has just 2 sacks on the year and none since week 5. Also, he left the game early this week with a foot injury, so that might limit his effectiveness/playing status in the weeks ahead.
LB Ryan Kerrigan, WAS (2 solos, 1 asst)
Kerrigan doesn’t appear to be playing poorly, but his numbers certainly seem to have dropped off following the season-ending injury to Brian Orakpo. Helped by a 4-sack outing against Jacksonville, he put up 6.5 sacks in his first 6 games but has just 1 in his last 4. Obviously, he’s a 3-4 OLB so his numbers will be up and down normally, but they definitely seem to be more down than up of late.
LB Ahmad Brooks, SF (0 tackles)
Brooks only saw 12 snaps this week, and it was apparently because he took himself of the game. Reports indicated that he was unhappy to be part of a rotation with Aldon Smith and Aaron Lynch, so he went to the bench and took his cleats off. Doesn’t seem like the type of thing that will go over well with anyone in the 49ers organization.
S Mark Barron, STL (1 solo)
Barron was acquired at the trade deadline, but he continues to see limited playing time as he adjusts to the Rams defensive scheme. He was used primarily as a blitzer last week against the Cardinals when he knocked out Carson Palmer, but this week he saw just 12 snaps on defense while facing Peyton Manning. The Rams may not feel comfortable with him in coverage just yet, so it’s probably best to keep him on the bench until he earns a more consistent role.
S D.J. Swearinger Sr, HOU (2 asst)
The Texans started Danieal Manning at strong safety this week over Swearinger, but the coaches said it was just part of the game plan and not for any disciplinary reasons. Swearinger still saw plenty of playing time, but he didn’t do much with it as he finished with just 2 assists. He’s been posting clunkers like this more regularly of late, with just one strong start in his last 4 games but the 2nd year pro still has some intriguing upside.
CB Brandon Flowers, SD (1 solo)
Flowers continues to play very well in coverage for the Chargers this year, but that has also limited his fantasy value at times. He only has gone over 2 solo tackles once in his last 5 games and also has no passes defensed in the past 3.
CB Leodis McKelvin, BUF (2 solos)
McKelvin has been one of the year’s bigger surprises at corner, but it looks like his year has come to an premature end. He missed a key tackle on Thursday night and suffered a broken ankle. There hasn’t been any confirmation that he’ll be headed to injured reserve, but the Bills have a capable replacement in Corey Graham ready to go.