DE Justin Tuck, NYG (5 solos, 1 asst, 2 sacks, 1 FF)
The resurgence of Justin Tuck continued with 2 more sacks this week. He is now up to 7 sacks in just his last 3 games and has put an end to any talk of possible retirement. He’s going to become a free agent in the offseason so he has plenty of motivation to finish the year strong and prove that he is over the injury problems that have limited his effectiveness over the past few years.
DE Cameron Heyward, PIT (7 solos, 3 asst, 1 sack, 1 PD)
Heyward put up another strong outing against the Dolphins this week to continue his breakout season. Despite playing limited snaps early in the year, he is now playing almost a full-time role for the Steelers and putting up very reliable numbers week after week. Over his last 7 games, Heyward has posted 25 solo tackles, 17 assists, and 4 sacks. The former 1st round pick from 2011 is just 24 years old and looks like a keeper.
DE Jonathan Massaquoi, ATL (5 solos, 2 asst, 1.5 sacks)
The 2nd year player was a 5th round pick in the 2012 draft has mostly been a part-time player to this point, but he is improving and looks like he could develop into a potential starter. The Falcons have lost some of their depth up front so he’s getting regular playing time and making the most of it with 11 solos, 4 assists, and 1.5 sacks over the past two weeks.
DE Jason Babin, JAX (2 solos, 1 sack, 1 FF)
Babin was a huge disappointment for most of the year as he posted 2 sacks and low tackle numbers over the first 9 games. As the Jaguars have started to play better on both sides of the ball in recent weeks, however, Babin has also picked up his play. With another sack this week, he’s now picked up 3.5 sacks in the last 4 games. He’s still not doing much against the run but is showing he can still get to the QB.
LB Karlos Dansby, ARI (8 solos, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 PD, 1 TD)
It’s amazing that the Dolphins gave up on Dansby after he posted 101 solo tackles for them a year ago. He didn’t get a ton of interest in free agency and wound up back in Arizona where he’s been one of the most productive fantasy IDPs in the league. With 3 games to go, he’s already got 98 solo tackles on the year while also adding 5.5 sacks, 3 interceptions, and 2 touchdowns.
LB John Abraham, ATL (5 solos, 1 asst, 3 sacks, 1 FF)
The Cardinals defense has been among the league’s best this year and Abraham has been a big reason why. Going back to week 7 or so when things finally started to click for him, he’s posted 10 sacks in 7 games. Even though he’s 35 years old and made the switch from 4-3 DE to 3-4 OLB, he’s playing tremendous football and is probably one of the best free agent pickups of the year.
LB Junior Galette, NO (4 solos, 2 asst, 3 sacks)
You don’t hear much about Galette but he is quietly putting up an impressive season. His 3 sack game against Cam Newton and the Panthers on Sunday night gives him 9 on the year. He doesn’t add much in the way of tackles with just 23 solos on the year but he is an underrated pass rusher who is fitting in well with the new Saints defense.
LB Alec Ogletree, STL (8 solos, 1 asst, 1 sack)
The rookie got off to a great start and then seemed to fade a bit in the middle of the season. Over the past few weeks though, you’d have a hard time finding a more productive linebacker in the league. In his last 3 games, he has posted 25 solo tackles, 5 assists, plus a sack and interception.
LB Paul Kruger, CLE (2 solos, 2 asst, 2 sacks, 1 FF, 1 PD)
Kruger has clearly been one of the biggest free agency busts of the year with 2.5 sacks in his first 12 games, but he showed some signs of life this week. In a crazy loss to the Patriots, Kruger managed to pick up 2 sacks of Tom Brady along with a forced fumble. Probably too little too late, but he’s also probably not playing as badly as his numbers suggest.
LB Audie Cole, MIN (7 solos, 6 asst)
Erin Henderson returned to the lineup this week but the Vikings moved him outside to the weakside and kept Cole inside. He was on the field for all 87 defensive snaps in the game so it looks like he’s clearly part of the team’s nickel package as well. Leslie Frazier said that Cole would stick at that spot for the rest of the year so with 22 solo tackles and 13 assists in 3 starts, you likely have to keep him in your lineup.
S Quintin Mikell, CAR (7 solos, 1 sack, 1 FF, 1 PD)
The rookie Robert Lester didn’t see any playing time this week, which meant that Mikell and Michael Mitchell played the entire game. The Saints offense were able to keep them on the field for more snaps than usual and that helped contribute to a really strong stat line for Mikell. The veteran has averaged almost 80 solo tackles per year for the past 3 seasons, but at 33 years of age he is likely winding down.
S Antoine Bethea, IND (10 solos, 7 asst)
A 17 tackle performance warrants an upgrade but Bethea has had far too many low tackle games of late despite playing every snap for a Colts defense that has trouble getting off the field. The tackles he picked up this week were as many as he posted in the past 3 games combined. Furthermore, with just 1 interception over the past 3 years and just 1 this season so far, his fantasy value is derived almost exclusively from tackles.
S Marcus Gilchrist, SD (7 solos, 1 asst, 1 FR)
Gilchrist hasn’t done much to this point to instill confidence from fantasy owners but he had one of his best games of the season this week. He continues to play just about every snap at strong safety for the Chargers, who don’t have the strongest group of tacklers up front, so games like this should really be more common for him. He’s still a young player though and appears to be trending upward at least.
CB Byron Maxwell, SEA (5 solos, 1 INT, 3 PD)
The suspension to Walter Thurmond and injury/suspension for Brandon Browner has forced Maxwell into a starting role and he held up very well this week. He was able to deflect a few passes and also managed to track and bring in an underthrown ball for the interception. Playing opposite Richard Sherman should ensure that he continues to see plenty of targets each week.
CB Richard Marshall, SD (5 solos, 2 PD)
Marshall has replaced Derek Cox in the starting lineup for the Chargers the past couple weeks and fantasy owners are well aware of what he can going back to his time in Arizona. Although he is undersized and can struggle in coverage from time to time, he’s generally been a reliable tackler. Look for him to see plenty of action next week when the Chargers travel to Denver to face Peyton Manning and company.
DE Justin Smith, SF (0 tackles)
Although Smith doesn’t appear to be playing bad, he’s certainly not making the impact that we’ve come to expect in recent years. For a long time, Smith was always one of the most productive defensive linemen in terms of tackles but he’s been credited with just 26 on the year with 3 games to go. He’s also not dominating against the pass like he has at times and mostly seems to be tying up blockers to let his teammates make plays instead. At 34 years old, the days of him being anything more than a depth player and matchup option are probably limited.
DE Chris Long, STL (1 solo, 1 asst)
The Rams defense has mostly played great of late but Long appears to be going through a small slump. He’s always been a streaky player and posted 6.5 sacks over a 7-game stretch midseason. Since then, however, he’s gone sackless in 3 straight games while adding just a handful of tackles. Despite facing a very favorable matchup against the Cardinals offensive line this week, Long didn’t manage a single QB hurry or hit.
DE Osi Umenyiora, ATL (2 solos)
Umenyiora has certainly had his moments during his time in Atlanta this year considering he has 3 games with multiple sacks. Unfortunately, he has just 15 solo tackles and a half sack in the other 10 games combined. He’s obviously been a boom or bust option with more bust than boom to this point. At 32 years of age, he might be wearing down a bit and would likely be better suited to more of a situational pass rushing role.
DE Jason Pierre-Paul, NYG (DNP)
Pierre-Paul has missed the past two games with a shoulder injury and there was some concern that the Giants might shut him down considering how their season has gone. At this point, they are 3 games behind the Eagles for the division and don’t have much left to play for so it probably does make more sense to be smart with one of their best young players. He just hasn’t been right all year so hopefully an offseason of rest will allow him to fully recover.
DT Haloti Ngata, BAL (1 asst)
Even though the Ravens are on a 3-game win streak and have a good chance to return to the playoffs, this has looked like a lost season for Ngata from a fantasy perspective. He is seeing plenty of playing time each week and is holding up well against the run but just isn’t doing much at all when rushing the passer. At 29 years of age, there is a good chance he could rebound next year as he’s obviously capable of being much more productive than this (14 solos, 21 assists, 1.5 sacks on the year).
LB Shaun Phillips, DEN (0 tackles)
The Titans offense didn’t have much success moving the ball against the Broncos defense this week, which kept down the tackle opportunities across the board. Since the huge game in week 11 against the Chiefs when he posted 10 combined tackles and 1.5 sacks, however, Phillips has done very little. Over the past 3 games, he has been credited with just 3 solos, 1 assist, and 1 forced fumble.
LB Wesley Woodyard, DEN (1 solo, 1 asst)
Woodyard was benched this week and replaced in the starting lineup by Paris Lenon. The Broncos apparently noticed that he hadn’t been the same player of late that he was earlier in the year and in 2012. Considering that he is in a contract year, this figures to hurt his negotiating power in the offseason but there is still a chance he could win the job back after getting some time to let his body recover.
LB Pat Angerer, IND (1 asst)
The Colts are trying to find answers on defense and it looks like they decided to give more snaps to Kelvin Sheppard at inside linebacker in place of Angerer. Both appear to be playing in some type of rotation so that makes it very difficult to decide who to play on any given week and it’s probably best to just steer clear.
LB Aldon Smith, SF (1 solo)
Smith has been back playing for 5 weeks now, with 40+ snaps in the past 4 games. Although he’s not quite the full time player that he was prior to his suspension, he’s still not doing very much with the snaps he is getting. Other than a 2-sack game against Washington in week 12, he’s posted just 4 solos and 0 sacks in the other games. He is generating some pressure but likely needs more playing time to really get back to being a reliable fantasy option again.
LB Erin Henderson, MIN (1 solo)
Henderson returned to action this week but only saw 8 snaps in the game as Audie Cole took over the full-time MLB job. Henderson has always been productive when he gets a chance to play nickel snaps but it looks like those days might be over for the rest of the year as the Vikings give their young linebacker a chance to show what he can do.
LB Lawrence Timmons, PIT (4 solos, 1 asst)
Timmons has been a difficult player to get a read on at times during his career as he can look like a top-5 linebacker for awhile and then look like little more than a LB3 at others. He started out 2013 great and was making tons of tackles, but as the Steelers have started to turn their season around of late it seems like his play and production have trailed off. Over the past 4 games, Timmons has just 17 solo tackles and 8 assists with a fumble recovery. That’s not abysmal but it’s certainly disappointing for a player many owners are counting on for LB1 production.
S Tyrann Mathieu, ARI (1 solo, 1 PD)
The rookie was having a phenomenal season for Arizona and was likely in consideration for defensive rookie of the year. Unfortunately, that all came crashing to a halt this weekend as he suffered a serious knee injury. He tore his ACL and LCL and may not even be fully recovered in time for training camp.
S Roman Harper, NO (2 solos)
Harper missed most of the season with an injury, but he returned to the lineup back in week 11. He just hasn’t been the same player though and he’s been seeing limited snaps as a result. The emergence of Kenny Vaccaro has allowed the Saints to take things slowly with Harper so he is mostly seeing time in their 3-safety packages but the need for that can shift from week to week. It’s hard to figure out where he fits in long-term with New Orleans at this point and he may need a change of scenery in the offseason to re-establish himself as an elite fantasy safety again.
S Duke Ihenacho, DEN (2 solos)
Ihenacho was one of the year’s breakout IDP performers but it looks like the Broncos coaches benched him on Sunday. He went from playing just about every snap each week to seeing just about 20 snaps on Sunday in a win over the Titans. He was replaced by Mike Adams at strong safety and coach John Fox said the team was trying to get a look at FS Omar Bolden.
CB Brandon Boykin, PHI (1 PD)
The Eagles nickel back didn’t have much to do in the snow bowl against the Lions on Sunday as he finished with zero tackles for the second week in a row. He had been one of the most productive corners in the league all year, but his playing time is trending downward as is his production.
CB Dee Milliner, NYJ (1 solo, 1 asst)
The rookie who was projected to eventually replace Darrelle Revis in the Jets secondary has had a very rough start to his career. He was benched in week 13 after some atrocious play against the Dolphins, but he was given a chance to start again this week as the Raiders came to town. He played better in coverage but still finished with just 2 combined tackles in the game. At this point, he’s obviously not reliable enough to use for the rest of this year, but he could still be worth a hold in keeper and dynasty leagues.