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.
ARIZONA @ SAN FRANCISCO
LB Markus Golden, ARI (7 solos, 3 asst, 2 sacks, 2 TFL, 3 QH)
Golden played behind Kony Ealy and Michael Sam in college, and alongside Shane Ray as a senior. There’s a lot of pass rush talent in that group, but he may emerge as the best of the bunch. The 2nd year pro has at least 1 sack in all 5 games this year, and his 6 sacks are just 1 behind the league leader Lorenzo Alexander. The addition of Chandler Jones has dramatically impacted the Cardinals pass rush.
LB Nick Bellore, SF (7 solos, 4 asst, .5 sack, 1 FF, 1 TFL, 1 QH)
Instead of Michael Wilhoite who most expected to see, it was Nick Bellore who replaced Navarro Bowman and played an everydown role in the middle of the 49ers defense this week. In addition to the 68 snaps on defense, Bellore also was a key contributor on special teams and added 2 tackles plus a forced fumble in coverage.
S Tyrann Mathieu, ARI (3 solos, 1 PD)
Mathieu has seen a drastic reduction in his production this year as he’s been asked to play more of a deep free safety role. The coaches were protecting him as he recovers from his torn ACL. They played him more like a slot corner this week so he could make more of an impact, but he was embarrassed by Jeremy Kerley and still only posted 3 solo tackles. Doesn’t look like he’s the same player he was a year ago.
WASHINGTON @ BALTIMORE
S Duke Ihenacho, WAS (8 solos, 1 asst, 1 TFL, 1 PD)
With David Bruton sent to IR last week, Duke Ihenacho got the start at strong safety and made the most of it. He tied for the team lead in tackles, and also helped break up a fake FG attempt. It’s been awhile, but Ihenacho had a breakout year with the Broncos in 2013 and can produce if given an opportunity. The team recently signed Donte Whitner, so be aware that Ihenacho may not hold onto the starting job for long.
LB Preston Smith, WAS (1 solo, 1 TFL, 1 QH)
Smith was a high 2nd round pick a year ago who posted 8 sacks as a rookie and looked poised for a big season. Through 5 games in 2016, however, he still just has a half sack to his name. It doesn’t appear to be an issue with playing time either, as he’s averaging about 50 snaps per week.
S Eric Weddle, BAL (1 solo, 4 asst)
Weddle has long been one of the most consistently productive fantasy safeties in the league. Although he’s listed as the strong safety in Baltimore, he’s not around the ball nearly as often as he was during his time with the Chargers. Weddle has 13 solo tackles but only 1 has come in the last two games. Looks like his days as a reliable everyweek starter may be over.
NEW ENGLAND @ CLEVELAND
DT Malcolm Brown, NE (3 solos, 1 asst, 2 sacks, 2 TFL, 2 QH)
Brown was a 1st round pick a year ago and expected to replace Vince Wilfork as the anchor of the Patriots defensive line. He had a promising rookie year with nearly 50 combined tackles and 3 sacks, but got off to a slow start in 2016. Brown looked dominant in this game though, and should be able to build on this going forward.
LB Christian Kirksey, CLE (11 solos, 5 asst)
Kirksey is nothing special as a player, but he’s in a great situation as he’s playing a full-time role in the middle of a bad defense on a bad team. The Browns defense had 64 tackle opportunities in this game, and Kirksey still managed to be involved in 16 of them. That’s certainly worthy of an upgrade.
LB Dont'a Hightower, NE (1 asst)
I’m not sure if there was possibly an injury related reason or not, but Hightower only played 29 snaps (46%) in the game. It was rookie Elandon Roberts who took his place most of the time, and Roberts was impressive with 7 tackles on just 31 snaps. The Patriots may start to give Roberts more looks in their rotation if he continues to play well.
PHILADELPHIA @ DETROIT
DT Bennie Logan, PHI (3 solos, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 2 QH)
Logan is certainly overshadowed by Fletcher Cox most of the time, but he has proven to be a viable fantasy option due to his high tackle numbers the past two years. Despite coming into this game as questionable with a calf injury, he posted his best numbers of the year and now has sacks in back to back games.
CB Darius Slay, DET (3 solos, 1 INT, 2 PD, 1 FF)
Slay has earned a reputation as one of the better cover corners in the league, but he’s not good enough that QBs won’t still test him. He’s often matched up against the opposing team’s #1 WR, which tends to provide him with plenty of targets. Through 5 games this year, he has been credited with at least 3 solo tackles in every game while also adding a sack, interception, and forced fumble in the last 2 games.
CHICAGO @ INDIANAPOLIS
LB Willie Young, CHI (4 solos, 1 asst, 3 sacks, 3 TFL, 3 QH)
Young has proven himself to be a very effective pass rusher during his time in Chicago, but he can also be quite inconsistent from week to week like most 3-4 OLBs. The Bears wound up losing a close game here, but Young did just about all he could with 3 sacks of Andrew Luck. Without Pernell McPhee and 1st round pick Leonard Floyd, Young is pretty much the entire Bears pass rush.
S Clayton Geathers, IND (6 solos, 2 asst)
Geathers was one of just 3 Colts defenders to play the entire game this week, which bodes well for his fantasy value going forward. He sat out the opener with a knee injury, but had a couple of productive games in the past 3 weeks. The Colts released Sio Moore last week, but used a platoon of Josh McNary and Antonio Morrison to replace him. With a weak group of ILBs in front of him, Geathers should be headed for more weeks like this.
TENNESSEE @ MIAMI
LB Brian Orakpo, TEN (5 solos, 1 asst, 2 sacks, 3 TFL, 2 QH)
Orakpo stood out, but Jurrell Casey and Derrick Morgan also posted 2 sacks a piece as they made life miserable for Ryan Tannehill. Orakpo hasn’t made the type of impact in Tennessee that he used to have in Washington, but it looks like he’s finally gotten comfortable. With 5.5 sacks over his last 4 games, he’s on fire and has a very favorable schedule coming up.
DE Mario Williams, MIA (0 tackles)
I wasn’t sure he could fall much further, but the move to Miami created optimism that Williams would be able to revive his career. Despite playing 50+ snaps/game, Williams has been credited with just 5 solo tackles, 2 assists, and 1 sack. I guess he wasn’t just a poor fit in the Bills defense under Rex Ryan. Looks like Mario Williams has checked out completely.
HOUSTON @ MINNESOTA
LB Jadeveon Clowney, HOU (7 solos, 1 asst, 4 TFL)
Clowney hasn’t exactly lived up to the expectations that come with being a #1 overall draft pick, but he’s showing clear signs of improvement. He finished 2nd on the team in tackles this week, including an impressive 4 tackles for loss behind the scrimmage on running plays. The Texans could certainly use a breakout from him as they try to fill the hole created by J.J. Watt’s injury.
LB Anthony Barr, MIN (1 solo, 1 asst, 2 QH)
Barr is a great player, but it looks like his fantasy value is taking quite a hit this year. Through 5 games, he has just 8 solo tackles and 1 sack. That’s just not going to be good enough to make a lineup as a linebacker in most scoring systems. He’s being hurt by the fact the Vikings are so good defensively, as they only had 37 tackle opportunities this week in 64 snaps.
NY JETS @ PITTSBURGH
LB Erin Henderson, NYJ (5 solos, 3 asst)
There wasn’t much to get excited about in this game, but Henderson got the start at ILB and wound up with a season high of 58 snaps. He was expected to hold down an ILB spot until rookie Darron Lee was ready, but Lee apparently was too good to keep off the ield. Veteran David Harris has not been playing particularly well, and he left the game after 31 snaps with a hamstring injury so there could be more opportunity for Henderson here if it’s anything serious.
DE Cameron Heyward, PIT (1 solo)
Heyward posted a monster 3-sack game a week ago, but he suffered a hamstring injury early this week and could not return. Initial reports indicated he’s likely to miss 2 or 3 weeks, which will likely make things tough for some fantasy owners as they try to get through the bye weeks.
ATLANTA @ DENVER
LB Vic Beasley Jr, ATL (7 solos, 1 asst, 3.5 sacks, 1 TFL, 2 QH, 2 FF)
Beasley’s fantasy value took a significant hit when the Falcons decided to play him at LB rather than DE. He’s capable of becoming an elite pass rusher in the league, but his all around skills against the run and in coverage need some work. In any event, games like this show you the incredible future he has ahead of him and fantasy owners in keeper or dynasty leagues should probably be patient. Note the Falcons were so decimated at LB that they had to start their backup SS Kemal Ishmael at WLB this week, so there were more opportunities for Beasley than he’s likely see in a normal week.
LB Brandon Marshall, DEN (2 solos, 1 asst)
Marshall played 90% of the snaps in the game and the Falcons had 32 rush attempts. That type of information would normally suggest Marshall was going to post some big numbers, but he was only credited with 3 tackles. While his numbers aren’t usually this bad, he often seems to underwhelm thanks in part to a dominant defense and tough stat crew.
CINCINNATI @ DALLAS
LB Vontaze Burfict, CIN (9 solos, 1 asst)
Burfict didn’t play the entire game, but he once again showed how effective and productive he can be despite limited chances. He was only on the field for 44 snaps, but still piled up 10 tackles. Due to the matchup, Rey Maualuga actually wound up with more snaps in the game but he was only credited with 1 solo tackle.
DT Geno Atkins, CIN (0 tackles)
Atkins is one of the elite defensive tackles in the league, but he’s not exactly playing up to expectations this year. He has 2.5 sacks, but only 6 solo tackles through 5 games and was completely shut out this week. The matchup with the Cowboys offensive line is proving to be very difficult for opposing defensive linemen.
BUFFALO @ LOS ANGELES
LB Lorenzo Alexander, BUF (6 solos, 3 sacks, 3 TFL, 4 QH, 1 PD)
This is turning into one of the most amazing stories of the season. Alexander came into the year with 9 career sacks in a long career that saw him contribute primarily on special teams. Now, at 33 years of age, he’s leading the league in sacks with 7 through 5 games. The Bills are expected to get help from rookie 1st round pick Shaq Lawson in week 7, but he’ll have a tough time beating out Alexander for playing time.
CB Trumaine Johnson, LA (2 solos, 1 PD)
Johnson left the game late on a cart, but initial reports on Monday indicated that it was a sprained ankle. It’s unclear what his status is for next week so pay attention to the injury news if he’s a player you were relying on at CB.
SAN DIEGO @ OAKLAND
DE Joey Bosa, SD (4 solos, 1 asst, 2 sacks, 3 TFL, 2 QH)
Bosa had a long contract holdout and then missed the first 4 weeks of the year with a hamstring injury, so this debut was a long time coming. He only played 27 snaps (38%), but still finished with an impressive performance that included a pair of sacks and 5 tackles.
LB Malcolm Smith, OAK (DNP)
Smith sat out this week with a quad injury, which opened an opportunity for newcomer Perry Riley who was just signed on Tuesday last week. The former Washington player got the start and led the Raiders in tackles.
NY GIANTS @ GREEN BAY
LB Kyle Fackrell, GB (4 solos, 1 asst, 1 sack, 1 QH, 1 FF)
Fackrell was the Packers 3rd round pick this year and he made a pretty big impact this week. On just 14 defensive snaps, he managed to pick up 2 solos, 1 assist that included a strip sack of Eli Manning. He also added 2 more solo tackles on 21 special teams snaps. He’s obviously buried behind players like Clay Mathews and Nick Perry right now, but Julius Peppers appears to finally be slowing down.
CB Janoris Jenkins, NYG (1 solo, 1 asst, 2 INT, 3 PD)
There aren’t many people who pick off Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau, but Jenkins managed to do it twice in the same game. He’s always been a productive fantasy corner during his time with the Rams, and he should continue to improve as he gets more comfortable with his new team.