DE Chandler Jones, NE (4 solos, 3 asst, 1.5 sacks, 1 FF)
Jones wasn’t in the starting lineup this week, but he still managed to play over two thirds of the defensive snaps after sitting out the past 6 games. There were no signs of rust either as he had one of his best games of the year. He posted 5 tackles in the first half and then added 1.5 sacks with a forced fumble in the fourth quarter as the Patriots pulled away. Looks like he’s a safe bet to get back in the lineup if you still have any meaningful games left to play.
DE Frostee Rucker, ARI (4 solos, 1 sack, 1 FF)
Rucker only tends to play about half the defensive snaps each week, but he has been more effective rushing the passer in recent weeks. With a sack this week, he’s now posted 4 in his past 5 games while also adding 12 solo tackles and 4 assists. As a 31-year old, his long-term value is limited but he’s making a significant contribution to the Cardinals playoff run this year.
DE Vinny Curry, PHI (1 solo, 1 sack, 1 FF)
Curry is part of a defensive end rotation for the Eagles who plays primarily as a pass-rush specialist. What he’s been able do while only playing about a third of the snaps each week is impressive though. He picked up his 9th sack of the year on Sunday night, but he’s also picked up a sack in three straight games and 5 of his last 6. The Eagles defense tends to see a lot of snaps each week because of their fast-paced offense and that seems to be giving him enough opportunities for now.
DT Johnathan Hankins, NYG (5 solos, 1 asst, 2.5 sacks, 1 FF)
Hankins didn’t make much of an impact as a rookie a year ago after the Giants selected him in the 2nd round, but he is starting to emerge as a focal point in the middle of the Giants defense. With 2.5 sacks this week, he’s now up to 7 on the year which is impressive for a 320 pound defensive tackle on a losing team. The DT position is not very deep, but he looks like a keeper.
LB Connor Barwin, PHI (5 solos, 4 asst, 1 sack)
While the Eagles like to rotate their players up front, Barwin has played the most snaps of any LB or DL this year. After looking like a free agent bust a year ago when he only posted 5 sacks, he has put those worries to rest with 14.5 sacks in 2014 and two more games to play. We know that 3-4 linebackers often have difficulty replicating this type of success, but he did have an 11.5 sack season in the past and appears to be playing in a scheme that fits his talent well.
LB Terrell Suggs, BAL (2 solos, 2 asst, 2.5 sacks)
Elvis Dumervil has gotten a bit more attention this year with his 17 sacks, but his counterpart Suggs is on an impressive run as well. With 2.5 sacks against the Jaguars this week, he’s now up to 11 on the year. Perhaps even more impressive is that 7.5 of those have come in the past 5 games even though their secondary has been banged up.
LB Devon Kennard, NYG (7 solos, .5 sack, 1 FF, 1 PD)
Kennard is making a clear case for himself to become an everydown player for the Giants next year. He has 16 solos, 4.5 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles in the past 3 games. There’s a decent chance he could be moved inside to MLB at some point, which give him intriguing upside for dynasty league owners.
LB Sam Barrington, GB (9 solos, 1 asst)
It looks like the torch is passing at ILB from A.J. Hawk to Barrington. The 2nd year pro has seen close to a full-time role the past three weeks and has been productive with his snaps. He appears to give the Packers a stronger presence against the run, which had been a weakness for them this year. Looks like they are grooming him for bigger things, while Hawk’s time with the franchise could be winding down.
S Bradley McDougald, TB (11 solos, 4 asst)
McDougald is a 2nd year undrafted pro who spent some time on the Chiefs practice squad a year ago. He started his 3rd game in a row this week and wound up posting more tackles than any player in the league this week. His 15 tackles may not be a true sign of things to come, but he could possibly provide a short-term fix.
S George Wilson, TEN (6 solos, 3 asst, 1 sack)
Wilson hadn’t done much since leaving the Bills after the 2012 season, but he has been putting up strong numbers over the past month. The Titans are obviously struggling on both sides of the ball and that is giving Wilson plenty of tackle opportunities each week. He’s posted 6 or more solo tackles in 4 of his last 5 games and also picked up his first sack of the year this week in a loss to the Jets.
S Glover Quin, DET (3 solos, 1 INT, 1 PD)
Quin hasn’t posted some of the big tackle numbers that we saw from him during his time in Houston, but he has teamed up with James Ihedigbo to give the Lions one of the best safety tandems in the league this year. Quin picked off a pass this week for the third game in a row, and is now up to 6 on the year and tied for the league lead.
CB William Gay, PIT (8 solos, 1 INT, 2 PD, 1 TD)
While it’s almost impossible to predict a play like an interception returned for a touchdown, Gay posted his 3rd of the year on Sunday in a win over the Falcons. That’s even crazier when you consider that he has just 3 interceptions on the year, and all have been returned for touchdowns. Gay has also seen plenty of targets, and that helped him put up better than average tackle numbers.
DE Ezekiel Ansah, DET (1 solo)
Tough to knock Ansah much when he’s posted 2 sacks in his past 3 games, but he had a rough outing against the Vikings this week. He was credited with just a single solo tackle, but missed several and did not seem to generate much pressure on the rookie QB. Obviously he is still a young player in the process of developing his game so some ups and downs are to be expected.
DE Cameron Wake, MIA (1 solo)
The Dolphins defense looked like it was ready to emerge as one of the league’s best but they seem to have sprung some leaks the past two weeks. Cameron Wake also appears to be slipping as he’s not only failing to add to his sack total (just 1 in past 5 games combined), but he’s also not playing as many snaps as he was previously.
DT Kyle Williams, BUF (0 tackles)
The Bills defense is making life miserable for opposing QBs this year, but Williams has been surprisingly quiet. He has been one of the most productive defensive tackles in the league over the years, but has taken a back seat to his fellow line mates in 2014. While he’s still a capable starter at a shallow position, being shut out at home in a fantasy playoff week has to hurt his value a bit.
LB Donald Butler, SD (2 asst)
Butler has had a very forgettable second half of the season and it came to an end this week as he was placed on injured reserve. He left the game early this week with a dislocated elbow, and hopefully will be able to rebound next year but there are some clear concerns about his durability at this point.
LB Ryan Shazier, PIT (2 solos)
Shazier returned to action this week, but was only given 4 snaps in the game. He’s obviously not fully healthy yet, but did manage to post 2 solos on those plays. At this point, it would be tough to rely on him, but he should still come into the 2015 season with very high expectations.
LB Mychal Kendricks, PHI (2 solos)
Kendricks has played well for the Eagles when healthy, but he was pretty much a non-factor on Sunday. He played all 85 snaps and the Cowboys had 42 rush attempts in the game, but he still finished with a disappointing 2 solo stops. The Eagles crew has been one of the toughest in the league, but things should get easier for him next week as they travel to Washington.
S LaRon Landry, IND (2 solos)
Since returning from his suspension a month ago, Landry has only been seeing about 40% of the snaps each week. The Colts appear to be using 3 corners with 1 safety most of the time, which gives them an edge in coverage. For a player who has been an elite safety in the past, it’s a big downgrade and likely leaves him unstartable for now.
CB Lardarius Webb, BAL (1 solo, 2 asst)
There have been times in the past when Webb produced like an elite fantasy corner, but the numbers this year just haven’t been there for him. He missed most of the first month of the season, and hasn’t played poorly since then but also hasn’t been very active. He has yet to come up with an interception on the year and is only averaging 3 solos per game.
CB Byron Maxwell, SEA (0 tackles)
As the starter playing opposite Richard Sherman, most expected Maxwell to see a lot of targets to his side of the field. While that happened early in the year, it hasn’t been the case of late. Even when QBs have thrown at him, they haven’t been very successful. On Sunday against the 49ers, he apparently played lockdown defense as there were zero throws in his direction. The Seattle defense doesn’t tend to face a lot of plays, so that will also limit his upside.