DE Greg Hardy, CAR (5 solos, 3 asst, 3 sacks)
The Giants offensive line had no answer for Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson on Sunday. Despite playing just 41 snaps in a blowout win, Hardy still managed to pile up some big stats with 3 sacks and 8 combined tackles. Johnson’s numbers were less noticeable (4 combined tackles, 1 sack) but he had many QB hurries in the game that likely contributed to the great game from Hardy. The two complement each other well and helped protect a secondary that has been decimated by injuries.
DE Ezekiel Ansah, DET (3 solos, 4 asst, 2 sacks, 1 FF)
The Lions figured that Ansah would be a bit of a project when they drafted him in the first round but his potential upside was as high as any other player in the draft. Based on what we saw from him on Sunday, it looks like he could be ready to contribute sooner than expected. In a close game with Washington, he led all Lions defensive linemen with 7 combined tackles while also adding a pair of sacks and a forced fumble. The Lions also lost veteran DE Jason Jones to a season-ending injury yesterday, which could create some additional playing time for Ansah but he’s already seeing upwards of 50 plays per game thus far.
DE Darnell Dockett, ARI (3 solos, 3 asst, 3 sacks)
Despite posting just 5 sacks over the past two seasons, Dockett exploded for 3 sacks on Sunday against the Saints. He abused an undrafted rookie free agent in guard Tim Lelito, who was starting in place of All Pro Jahri Evans. In any event, Drew Brees is generally not an easy player to sack so it’s a good sign that Dockett may still have a bit more fuel left in his tank despite turning 32 years old earlier this year. Don’t overreact too much to this performance though.
DE Osi Umenyiora, ATL (4 solos, 1 asst, 2 sacks, 2 FF)
Umenyiora is trying to replace some of the pass rush presence the Falcons used to get from John Abraham. He hasn’t generally been a high tackle producer so he gets most of his value from sacks and he added a couple this week (with several forced fumbles) in a game against the Dolphins. Miami does have one of the weaker offensive lines in the league but Umenyiora is already showing a penchant for big plays with his play this week and the 68-yard interception return for a touchdown a week ago.
OLB Justin Houston, KC (6 solos, 1 asst, 4.5 sacks, 1 FF, 2 FR)
Anyone who watched the game on Thursday night had to notice the one-man wrecking crew known as Justin Houston help take down the Eagles offense. He was unblockable around the edge and was credited with 4.5 sacks in the game, not to mention a forced fumble and a couple of recoveries. The Chiefs have been one of the most impressive defenses in the league this year and Houston is a big reason why. With the suspensions to players like Von Miller and Aldon Smith, Houston has a great chance to post some of the best sack numbers at the linebacker position in the league this year.
ILB Reggie Walker, SD (6 solos, 2 asst, 1 sack)
Walker replaced Bront Bird in the lineup last week and wound up playing every snap this week with Donald Butler out of the lineup. Walker was just signed a few weeks ago and was primarily a special teams player during his 4 years in Arizona, but he’s solid in coverage and could have a great opportunity in front of him here. Chances are he’ll lose his starting job to Te’o as soon as he’s healthy but for now the Chargers figure to lean on him.
OLB Manny Lawson, BUF (11 solos, 3 asst)
Lawson is a key player for the Bills this year as he provides an anchor at OLB against the run on early downs but he can also contribute some as a pass rusher in nickel situations. He was credited with 14 combined tackles this week, including 11 solo stops. While his upside is limited, Lawson could be a source of decent tackle numbers if you are in a deeper league. However, there is a chance the Bills could give him fewer snaps when they face teams that are less reliant on the run than the Jets.
ILB Brad Jones, GB (9 solos, 2 asst, 1 FF, 1 FR)
Jones was one of the more underrated IDPs coming into the season as he took over a full-time job at inside linebacker. Given A.J. Hawk’s struggles in coverage, Jones is playing just about every snap for the Packers. He was all over the field on Sunday, finishing with 11 combined tackles and a forced fumble and recovery. Green Bay has a bye next week but he should be able to post LB2 numbers as long as he’s healthy the rest of the season.
S Major Wright, CHI (6 solos, 1 asst, 1 FF, 1 INT, 1 PD, 1 TD)
Wright took over the Bears strong safety job a year ago and appears to be well entrenched at this point. Although he doesn’t do anything great, Wright is a good all-around player and he is already showing an affinity for big plays. He finished with 7 tackles against the Steelers on Sunday night while also contributing a forced fumble and interception that he returned for a touchdown.
S Tyrann Mathieu, ARI (9 solos, 1 asst, 1 INT, 1 PD)
The rookie safety came into the league with mixed opinions given the fact he missed last season after being kicked off the LSU team, but he is quickly emerging as one of the better playmakers and fantasy safeties in the league. His tackling has been better than expected and he obviously has a natural gift for always being around the ball. Mathieu has posted 22 solo tackles on the season already and has also contributed a forced fumble and interception.
S Robert Lester, CAR (3 solos, 2 asst, 1 FR, 1 INT, 1 PD)
Lester is an undrafted free agent out of Alabama who the Panthers activated this week and pushed right into the starting lineup given a recent rash of injuries. FS Charles Godfrey was lost for the year and SS Quintin Mikell sat out with an ankle injury. Lester wound up playing every snap and held up surprisingly well against the Giants. Lester was a playmaker in college and posted an interception and fumble recovery in his first NFL game so he certainly looks like a player to pay attention to.
CB Chris Houston, DET (5 solos, 2 asst, 1 INT, 2 PD)
The Lions secondary has not played very well this year but they made a move to try and shore things up this week when they benched rookie CB Darius Slay and replaced him with veteran Rashean Mathis. Houston remains the one constant on defense and he has been pretty consistent so far this year with 4 or more solo tackles in every game. He’s also up to 5 passes defensed on the year and figures to see plenty of targets with the Bears and Packers coming up next on the schedule.
DE Kamerion Wimbley, TEN (0 tackles)
Wimbley was a disappointment during his first year with the Titans and the team talked about reducing his playing time to try and help him become more effective. On Sunday against the Chargers, however, Wimbley wound up seeing just 6 snaps in the game out of 59 total. Through 3 games, he’s only been on the field for about one third of the Titans defensive snaps as they are giving more time to Ropati Pitoitua to try and keep opponents running games in check. Unless the coaches make some dramatic changes to the way they are using him, it looks like Wimbley can probably be cut from most fantasy rosters.
DE Cameron Wake, MIA (0 tackles)
Wake posted his second disappointing game in a row but this one came with a better explanation. He apparently suffered a minor MCL injury early in the game and is now expected to miss 2 to 3 weeks while recovering. That’s a big blow for fantasy owners who were likely counting on him to provide elite DE production, but it should open up more opportunities for rookie Dion Jordan now.
DE Jared Allen, MIN (0 tackles)
Allen was shutout by Joe Thomas of the Browns on Sunday. Despite 52 pass rush attempts in the game, Allen was only able to manage one single hurry as Brian Hoyer picked them apart through the air. While there’s no shame in being bested by a great player like Thomas, the play of the Vikings secondary leaves a lot to be desired and their pass rush as a group has not been much better this year. He posted two sacks in his first two games but can’t do it all himself.
DE Chris Long, STL (1 solo)
The Rams have been getting some big contributions from players up front, but Long has to be considered a big disappointment at this point. After posting double digit sacks in each of the past two seasons, he figured to be the team’s primary pass rush threat again. Despite starting and playing most of the snaps thus far, however, Long has no sacks and just 4 solo tackles to show for it. Robert Quinn and backup Eugene Sims have outplayed him at this point, but he’ll get a chance to turn things around on national TV when the 49ers come to town on Thursday night.
DT Henry Melton, CHI (2 solos, 1 FR)
The DT position is not particularly deep for fantasy purposes, but Melton had exciting potential as an interior pass rusher. Unfortunately, he was injured for most of the preseason and was off to a slow start this year as a result. He was carted off on Sunday night with what was later diagnosed as a torn ACL so his season is now over. It’s a significant loss for the Bears defensive line, and figures to make things a bit tougher for everyone else.
OLB Russell Allen, JAX (2 solos, 3 asst)
Allen was a breakout player in 2012 as he helped fill-in for an injured Daryl Smith in the team’s nickel package and posted over 100 solo tackles. Things aren’t going as well for him this year, however, as he has been replaced by veteran Geno Hayes in the nickel. That has reduced Allen to a 2-down role and his productivity has clearly suffered. Through 3 games, he’s been credited with just 7 solos and 5 assists. Probably safe to drop him at this point as his numbers last year were more a function of situation and opportunity than talent.
OLB Aldon Smith, SF (5 solos)
The star pass rusher was allowed to play in this week’s game after being arrested for a DUI recently, but that might be the last time we see him for awhile. Immediately after the game, his locker was cleaned out and he was suspended indefinitely while he was sent to undergo treatment. Initial speculation is that he could miss a month or so of the season, and that figures to hurt the 49ers defense which hasn’t played up to its normal standards the past couple weeks.
OLB Jon Beason, CAR (0 tackles)
Beason was taken out of the starting lineup this week in a matchup with the Giants. Things went pretty well for Carolina as they pitched a shutout so this is a trend that may continue. Chase Blackburn replaced him but only played a small number of snaps as they went primarily with their nickel package after getting out to an early lead. Beason used to be one of the best IDPs in the league but injuries have robbed him of his explosiveness.
OLB Zach Brown, TEN (1 solo)
Brown was one of the most productive linebackers in the league over the first two weeks of the season but he saw a big reduction in playing time this week for some reason. It looks like he only lined up for about half of the team’s snaps in a matchup with the Chargers that went down to the wire, and finished with just a single solo tackle. Keep an eye out on this story to figure out if there was any type of injury or if the Titans were simply mixing things up based on their matchup.
S Jamarca Sanford, MIN (0 tackles)
Sanford played most of the game against the Browns this week but was still shut out on the stat sheet as they had no answers for Josh Gordon, Jordan Cameron, and the Browns surprisingly effective passing game. Sanford had posted 15 solo tackles in the first two games combined so the lack of production this week was surprising considering the Browns threw the ball all over the field. He did leave the game late with a hamstring injury and was expected to have an MRI on it this week so it’s probably safe to bench him if he happens to be on your team.
S Bacarri Rambo, WAS (0 tackles)
The rookie free safety was not in the starting lineup this week and wound up not playing a single snap from scrimmage. Washington decided to use 3 corners and a safety as their base defense so they could play a lot of man coverage, and the veteran Brandon Meriweather wound up playing every snap at the safety spot. Rambo was limited to special teams duties this week and it sounds like the team wants to see more plays from him. These could just be normal growing pains for the rookie as they obviously see some potential in him, but it looks like he may have to earn his playing time.
S Devin McCourty, NE (1 solo, 1 asst, 1 PD)
McCourty has not been nearly as active so far this year as we typically expect him to be. It’s not due to a lack of playing time, but most likely due to the way he’s being used. The Patriots are not dominating on offense the way they have in the past, which is likely causing teams to take fewer chances downfield against their defense. With McCourty patrolling the deep secondary most of the time, he is not seeing as many tackle or playmaking opportunities. Through 3 games, he has just 4 solo tackles, 3 assists, and a couple of pass deflections.
CB Leodis McKelvin, BUF (2 solos)
With Stephon Gilmore out of the lineup, McKelvin has taken over the role of the #1 corner for the Bills. Despite limited ball skills, he has actually played very well in coverage and is also a willing tackler. Unfortunately, he was knocked out of the game early this week with a hamstring injury and his status for next week looks uncertain. After he left the game, Aaron Williams moved back outside to corner to replace him but it was Justin Rogers who was victimized repeatedly by Geno Smith and the Jets. The Bills are already missing their best two players in Gilmore and FS Jairus Byrd so losing McKelvin could really cripple the secondary.