This article attempts to immediately highlight defensive players whose production was significantly better or worse than normally expected for the prior week of games. Note there is sometimes limited information available when this article is written, but I will try to give everyone an early look at players who are moving up or down in value among IDP circles. It’s difficult to give waiver advice for IDPs since there is such a wide variety of lineups and scoring systems, but hopefully the information provided can help inform your waiver and trade decisions. If you have any questions on specific players or situations, feel free to email me or reach out via twitter.
MIAMI @ CINCINNATI
DE Carlos Dunlap, CIN (4 solos, 1 asst, 2 sacks, 1 TFL, 2 QH, 2 PD, 1 FF)
This was a huge game for Dunlap and continues his impressive start to the season. He’s now up to 12 solos, 6 assists, and 3 sacks through 4 games, which puts him on a clear top-5 fantasy DE pace.
LB Vontaze Burfict, CIN (2 solos, 1 asst, 1 PD)
Burfict returned from his suspension this week, and wound up playing more snaps (76%) than any other Bengals linebacker. His numbers were underwhelming here, but that was primarily due to the Dolphins offense providing very few tackle opportunities. Look for him to be a 3-down linebacker going forward, which could limit Karlos Dansby to a base package role and Vincent Rey potentially into a nickel specialist.
LB Karlos Dansby, CIN (2 solos, 2 asst)
Dansby only saw 22 snaps (49%) in this game, due in part to an ineffective Dolphins offense as well as the return of Vontaze Burfict. It’s expected that Burfict and Vincent Rey will play in the nickel packages, which would limit Dansby to a 2-down role. That means he’s no longer a strong starting option unless it’s a particularly favorable matchup.
INDIANAPOLIS @ JACKSONVILLE
DE Yannick Ngakoue, JAX (4 solos, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 QH, 1 INT, 1 PD, 1 FF)
The rookie 3rd round pick picked up a sack and forced fumble for his 3rd game in a row, and also added a nice interception off a deflected pass as well. Although he flew well under the radar this offseason, he has to be an early candidate for defensive rookie of the year based on what he’s done thus far. Dante Fowler gets most of the attention, but Ngakoue played 9 more snaps than him in this game.
LB Erik Walden, IND (3 solos, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 2 QH)
Walden set a career high with 6 sacks last year, and he’s building off that with a better start to 2016. Through 4 games, he has 4 sacks along with 11 solos and 3 assists. He’s already 31 years of age, so it’s surprising to see him emerging as a fantasy factor now but he is getting plenty of snaps each week and taking advantage.
CB Davon House, JAX (0 tackles)
House has been a significant disappointment for the Jaguars and he saw his snap count reduced dramatically this week. He started the game, but was only on the field for 30 snaps (38%). The Jaguars will welcome Aaron Colvin back from suspension in their next game, and that should move House to the bench.
CAROLINA @ ATLANTA
DT Kawann Short, CAR (4 solos, 1 asst, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 1 QH)
Short had a breakout year in 2015 with 11 sacks, but he was off to a slow start with 0 sacks in his first 3 games. He got back on track with his first sack of the year this week, and should be able to keep it going with a matchup against Tampa next week.
S Keanu Neal, ATL (6 solos, 3 asst)
The rookie 1st round pick started at strong safety and played every snap this week. He led all Falcons players with 9 combined tackles, and showed a glimpse of his long term potential.
S Tre Boston, CAR (3 solos, 1 TFL)
The Panthers are apparently losing some of their patience with Boston as he only saw 23 snaps (34%) this week. Micheal Griffin wound up playing half the game alongside Kurt Coleman, and his experience could be helpful in a young inexperienced secondary that had no answers for Julio Jones and Matt Ryan.
OAKLAND @ BALTIMORE
LB Cory James, OAK (12 solos, 3 asst, 1 TFL, 1 FF)
I mentioned James in last week’s report, but he warrants another upgrade. He was one of just 2 Raiders defensive players to play all 89 snaps in the game, and blew up the box score with 15 combined tackles plus a forced fumble. Malcolm Smith suffered a groin injury, which forced the team to use a timeout in order to move the communication device to the helmet of James.
LB Malcolm Smith, OAK (6 solos)
As mentioned above, Smith was knocked out of the game with a groin injury late in the 3rd quarter and did not return. Also has to be concerning that his numbers this year (19 solos, 6 assists, 0 sacks) seem well off his pace from a breakout 2015 (99 solos, 23 asst, 4 sacks).
DETROIT @ CHICAGO
DE Devin Taylor, DET (1 QH)
Taylor posted 7 sacks a year ago and seemed headed for more after a strong start to the year. Over his past 2 games, however, he has been held to just a single assisted tackle despite playing 93 combined snaps. Inconsistency is normal for defensive linemen, but he needs to be more active against the run to regain his fantasy value.
TENNESSEE @ HOUSTON
LB Avery Williamson, TEN (9 solos, 3 asst)
Williamson is starting to emerge as a viable everyweek starter for the Titans defense. He plays every down for them inside, while Wesley Woodyard and Sean Spence fight over the remaining snaps. Although his playing time has remained consistent, he has seen a recent uptick in production 9 tackles last week and then 12 this week.
LB Brian Cushing, HOU (3 solos, 1 asst)
Cushing returned to action earlier than expected and was healthy enough to play 48 snaps (73%). He’s going to take a back seat to Bernardick McKinney in most weeks, but the loss of J.J. Watt up front could help keep this defense on the field more and provide everybody with more opportunities than they were used to previously.
BUFFALO @ NEW ENGLAND
LB Zach Brown, BUF (13 solos, 5 asst, 1 sack, 3 TFL, 2 QH, 2 FF)
The amazing season of Zach Brown continues as he posted another huge game in a shutout win. Despite seeing just 42 tackle opportunities, he was credited with 18 combined tackles or nearly half. He has yet to miss a snap for the Bills defense, and is currently leading the entire league in tackles with 52 combined (35 solo).
LB Lorenzo Alexander, BUF (4 solos, 2 asst, 1 sack, 1 QH)
Given a lack of depth outside, Alexander is seeing heavy snaps opposite Jerry Hughes and just continues to impress. He has at least a partial sack in all 4 games this year and is providing some of the secondary pass rush the Bills thought they would miss with the injury to 1st round pick Shaq Lawson.
CB Logan Ryan, NE (14 solos, 3 asst, 1 TFL)
Despite a less than favorable matchup, Ryan finished with a remarkable 17 combined tackles. That pushes him up to 28 solos on the year, which is obviously not sustainable for a corner, but worth mentioning. He nearly hit 60 solos a year ago and has a good shot at 70+, making him a pretty reliable CB starter in balanced scoring leagues.
SEATTLE @ NY JETS
DE Muhammad Wilkerson, NYJ (1 solo, 2 asst, 1 TFL, 1 QH, 1 PD)
In a game where the Seahawks ran the ball 26 times for 66 yards, you would expect a player like Wilkerson to post more than 3 combined tackles. Apart from a very strong effort in week 1, he has been rather underwhelming for 3 straight weeks despite entering the season as a clear top-10 DE. Maybe the presence of Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams is hurting him more than expected.
LB David Harris, NYJ (2 solos, 2 asst)
Harris is averaging about 60 snaps/game this year and continues to be a full-time player for the Jets, but his production continues to underwhelm. Through 4 games, he has yet to top 5 solos or 6 combined tackles in any single game. At 32 years of age, it does seem likely that he is slowing down a bit and the presence of the dominant Jets defensive line probably isn’t doing him too many favors either.
CLEVELAND @ WASHINGTON
LB Will Compton, WAS (5 solos, 6 asst, 1 QH, 1 FF, 1 FR)
Apart from a strange game in week 3 that saw him post 2 tackles in a game against the Giants, Compton continues to post solid numbers each week. He’s benefited from playing all 4 games in front of a pretty favorable stats crew, but has compiled 15 solos and 21 assists. Meanwhile, Mason Foster only saw 62% of the snaps this week as the team started to work rookie Su’a Cravens into the mix in passing situations.
LB Demario Davis, CLE (1 solo, 4 asst)
Davis played all 62 snaps alongside Christian Kirksey, but still only managed a disappointing 1 solo tackle in a game where Matt Jones piled up 117 yards on 22 carries. Davis appeared headed for a boost in production with a move from the middle of the Jets defense to the middle of the Browns, given how little competition there should be for tackles most weeks. Through 4 games, however, he’s only managed 13 solos and 11 assists with no supplemental big plays. This is a position in desperate need of an upgrade.
DENVER @ TAMPA BAY
DE Derek Wolfe, DEN (5 solos, 1 asst, 2.5 sacks, 2 TFL, 5 QH)
Wolfe posted his second huge game of the year as the Broncos made things miserable for Jameis Winston. Wolfe now has 4 sacks in 4 games to go along with 14 solo tackles, which are great numbers for a 3-4 DE.
DT Clinton McDonald, TB (6 solos, 2 asst, 1.5 sacks, 2 TFL, 2 QH)
McDonald has often been underrated while playing in the shadow of Gerald McCoy. He doesn’t have huge upside as a pass rusher, but operates with a steady consistency that makes him a nice option in deeper DT required leagues. With 10 solos, 5 assists, and 1.5 sacks in his last 2 games, he appears to be heating up.
DT Gerald McCoy, TB (2 asst, .5 sack, 1 QH)
McCoy left the game very early (after just 12 snaps) with a calf injury that is expected to keep him out of next week’s matchup with the Panthers. With just 1.5 sacks through 4 games, the 6-year, $95 million contract he signed back in 2014 isn’t looking so great.
LOS ANGELES @ ARIZONA
DT Aaron Donald, LA (4 solos, 1 asst, 1.5 sacks, 1 TFL, 4 QH, 1 FF)
Donald is the type of dominating player whose impact on a game doesn’t always show up in the stat sheet. Through the first 3 games of the year, he had yet to make any big plays but he was generating a lot of pressure and ready to break out at any time. That time came this week as he picked on Carson Palmer and collected 1.5 sacks, 4 QB hits, and a forced fumble. Obviously he’s still one of the truly elite players in the league.
S Tyvon Branch, ARI (2 solos)
Branch came into the game with a questionable designation and appeared to have aggravated his groin injury in the second quarter. He was limited to just 23 snaps, and could be headed for another down game against the 49ers next week if he’s healthy enough to play.
NEW ORLEANS @ SAN DIEGO
S Vonn Bell, NO (6 solos, 1 FF)
Bell showed flashes of his potential prior to this week despite limited playing time, but the Saints decided to give him a chance this week and he made the most of it. Bell didn’t start the game on defense, but wound up playing every other snap and tied for 2nd on the team with 6 solo tackles while also forcing a fumble. The 2nd round pick out of Ohio State may provide the spark this secondary needs to turn things around.
LB Stephone Anthony, NO (0 tackles)
It’s amazing how fast Anthony has fallen out of favor, but he saw just 1 defensive snap this week. The team turned to Nathan Stupar at MLB to replace James Laurinaitis over Anthony. Stupar was making just the 5th start of his 5-year career, and he posted 9 solos with a fumble recovery while playing nearly the entire game. Michael Mauti was once again used more often than Anthony, and it’s hard to see him coming back from this given how buried he appears to be on the depth chart right now.
LB Denzel Perryman, SD (1 solo, 3 asst)
The value of Perryman appears to have taken another dive as he saw just 27 snaps (37%) before leaving with a shoulder injury. The Chargers relied heavily on rookie Jatavis Brown (93%) and Korey Toomer (90%) who was just signed off the Raiders practice squad just last week.
DALLAS @ SAN FRANCISCO
DT Tyrone Crawford, DAL (3 solos, 1 asst, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 QH)
The Cowboys pass rush has been depleted to start the season, but Crawford continues to do his part. He picked up his 2nd sack of the year while playing an impressive 81% of the defensive snaps this week. Worth considering in DT-required leagues.
LB Michael Wilhoite, SF (10 solos, 2 asst)
Gerald Hodges was apparently benched this week in favor of Wilhoite, who got the start at ILB and played all 76 defensive snaps. Even after Navarro Bowman left the game with an injury, he was replaced with Nick Bellore so it certainly looks like Wilhoite is in line for a full-time LB role going forward.
LB Navarro Bowman, SF (7 solos, 1 asst, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 QH)
After signing a long-term contract extension just a couple months ago, Bowman is looking at another long rehabilitation process. He suffered another devastating injury to his Achilles this week, which will end his year and possibly put his status for 2017 at risk. Brutal blow for the 49ers and fantasy owners alike.
KANSAS CITY @ PITTSBURGH
DE Cameron Heyward, PIT (6 solos, 3 sacks, 3 TFL, 3 QH, 1 PD)
Heyward has posted very solid numbers the past two seasons while playing solid 2-way defense. He had a quiet start to the 2016 season, but changed that in an instant on Sunday night when he harassed Alex Smith with 3 sacks. He should hold onto DE2 value.
LB Vince Williams, PIT (14 solos, 2 asst, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 1 QH)
With Ryan Shazier out of the lineup once again, Williams got a chance to start and made the most of it with an incredible 16 tackles including a sack. The Chiefs offense provided 52 tackle opportunities and Williams was involved in nearly a third of them. Shazier is a very talented young player, but he has missed a lot of time so it’s probably not a bad idea to hold onto Williams if you have a chance to do so.