As is always the case, week one gave us a lot of answers, some disappointments, a few new questions and a handful of real surprises. The most difficult thing at this point in the season is determining the difference between trend and fluke. Here is my take with just one set of games in the book.
First of all I want to say hats off to my FBG teammate Jene Bramel for his call on Stephen Nicholas, and maybe even William Moore. We knew heading into the opener that Nicholas was going to inherit an every down role. I expected respectable numbers from him but certainly not the 10-2 with a pick that he racked up. We obviously can't expect double digit solo tackles from him every week but he is clearly going to be a factor and should be at or near the top of your free agent list this week. Moore managed 7 solo stops as well and looked much more aggressive than he did last season. I am still not sold that he will give us great consistency, but I am much more optimistic at this point... The season ending injury to Brent Grimes is going to hurt the Falcons chances. Veteran Dunta Robinson will move back into an every down role and is the most likely candidate to pick up Grimes production. Christopher Owens will move into the nickel role.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints had a rough go in the opener as they were pretty much lit up by a rookie quarterback. Even with Will Smith in the lineup New Orleans was unable to get much pressure on Robert Griffin. This is going to be a huge issue all season if they are not able to find an answer, especially with all the injuries at the corner position. Jabari Greer has been battling a groin injury that kept him inactive in week one and Johnny Patrick was knocked out of the game with a knee injury. As a result backup safety Corey White saw a lot of action and seems destined to do so again in week two... Both Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne were able to go in week one. The good news for those of us who have them is that they both played in the nickel sub packages. The bad news is that neither of them posted great numbers despite the Redskins keeping the ball on the ground for 44 plays. I have to believe that Lofton is ultimately going to be a very strong every week start for us but have to admit there is a little concern. Jonathan Vilma put up very average numbers over the past two seasons even when he was healthy. The Saints face off against Carolina this week. After the Panthers offensive performance in week one, I will be sitting both New Orleans linebackers this week for sure.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
We saw the Bucs use rookie linebacker Lavonte David in sub packages in the fourth preseason game but it was not a sure thing that he would hold that role when the real games started. As it turns out, he has replaced Quincy Black in nearly all passing situations. Neither David nor MLB Mason Foster managed much production against a Panthers squad that could not run the ball. Foster did manage to lead the team with 5 stops while David was right behind him at 4-2. The Giants running game was not very impressive in week one either but they will provide a lot more opportunity for the Tampa Bay linebackers this week... Strong safety Mark Barron got all the attention during our draft season but I was very interested to see what Ronde Barber would do as a safety. There was not a lot of tackle opportunity but Barber was very impressive in his new role. He finished at 3-2 in the tackle column but recorded a sack and an interception. I think he is going to be a very pleasant surprise as the season progresses, particularly in the big play columns... Adrian Clayborn was very quiet against Carolina but don't be too quick to give up on him. The front four accounted for 2 of the team's 3 sacks on the day. That is a very good sign of things to come for this unit.
Carolina may have thrown us the biggest curve of week one. All the production and quality play of Luke Kuechly during the preseason had many owners counting on him as one of their top two linebackers. If you are one of those owners it is time to start scrambling for plan B. Heading into week one I was concerned that the coaching staff might decide to limit Jon Beason to a two down role since he is coming off an injury. As it turns out Beason was the only every down linebacker in week one. In the base package Kuechly was on the weak side with James Anderson at strong. Anderson and Thomas Davis split time as Beason's partner in the nickel sub packages while Kuechly took a seat. In the end Beason was on the field for 66 of 67 snaps, Anderson for 55, Kuechly 46 and Davis 12. It look like Beason is the only one worthy as an every week start for us while Anderson will get enough opportunity to be a quality LB3 on most weeks... As expected the Panthers are using a good amount of 3-4 fronts. Anderson was usually working at one of the outside spots in those fronts with several guys seeing time there over the course of the game. Greg Hardy managed a strong 6-2-1 but I am very concerned that the scheme will hurt both he and Charles Johnson in the long run. Carolina has the Saints this week so both Anderson and Kuechly should be on your bench with Beason downgraded as well... Rookie corner Josh Norman got the start in the opener. His numbers were not impressive against Tampa Bay but it is a safe bet that Drew Brees will find him this week.
The Dolphins were not a great matchup for our Houston players in week one, but they were good enough to show me two things. J.J. Watt (2-1-1.5) was not a one year wonder as a rookie and may well prove to be the best fantasy option among 3-4 ends for the next several years; and Brian Cushing is going to be special in this defense. Cushing was 6-1 with a pick and a forced fumble against Miami. Watching him was reminiscent of Donnie Edwards who was the stud ILB in Wade Phillips defense a few years back in San Diego.
The big news out of Tennessee is that Colin McCarthy left the stadium Sunday in a walking boot. He was rolled up on by a teammate in the second quarter and appeared to suffer an ankle injury. As of Wednesday afternoon we are still awaiting the results of his MRI and will know more about his status later in the week. McCarthy was able to walk off the field without much of a limp so he may be back in action pretty soon. Will Witherspoon took McCarthy's place in the lineup but it was Akeem Ayers who took over McCarthy's role as the leading tackler (6-5). The Titans spent most of the game in a nickel base defense so it is hard to call for sure what kind of shuffle will take place if McCarthy misses time. Chances are Witherspoon will move inside but regardless of what they do to fill the void, I believe Ayers will continue to be more productive... One of the situations we were watching closely in week one was the Titans safety position. Robert Johnson did indeed get the start over Jordan Babineaux and was on the field for 65 of 67 snaps. It is however very noteworthy that the Titans matched up with New England by playing a nickel base defense with three safeties on the field most of the game. Surprisingly Ryan Mouton was the third safety over Babineaux. Michael Griffin was the third starter but none of the three recorded more than 4 solo stops on the day. The bottom line here is that the jury is still out. Johnson remains a player to keep an eye on and the most likely of the bunch to emerge as a strong option for us but it is not yet time to move on him... Both Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley looked pretty good. Morgan may still be available in a lot of leagues and would be a good add if you have room or a need.
Paul Posluszny got off to a slow start last year and his 4-3 against the Vikings was far from impressive in week one. There is however, reason for optimism. Posluszny was the team's second leading tackler against Minnesota, he got better as the season wore on last year and he has a matchup with the Texans in week two. He will be in a couple of my lineups this week as will Dawan Landry who had a solid 2011 and led the Jaguars in tackles week one.
As expected Kavell Conner and Jerrell Freeman got the call at ILB for the Colts against the Bears and as expected strong safety Antoine Bethea led the club in tackles. We can probably expect more of the same in week two when they line up against Adrian Peterson. The good news for Colts fans is that Pat Angerer has been upgraded from out to questionable this week. It will be a surprise to see him take the field this week but he may be back by week three. It is time to start thinking about picking him up before it is announced that he is close.
Miles Burris replaced an injured Aaron Curry at weak side linebacker during training camp and chances are Curry will never get his job back. Burris looked very good against the Chargers, leading the team with 7 solo stops. I like his long term potential and believe it a good idea for dynasty owners to go ahead and pick him up. On the other hand, Burris played only 37 snaps in week one, seeing no action at all in sub packages. Those snaps went to strong side backer Phillip Wheeler who also made a pretty good showing at 4-4 with half a sack. Wheeler has been surprisingly strong in coverage and seems to have a lock on the every down role for the foreseeable future. Owners in deep redraft leagues might want to consider Wheeler to bolster your depth. Burris will have some good games but will be a matchup based start for us... A couple of years ago Michael Huff put up numbers that ranked him just slightly behind Tyvon Branch in fantasy points. This summer Huff told reporters that the new scheme would put him in position to take advantage of his abilities. The week one numbers may not jump out at us, but Huff was around the ball a lot in the opener. He could come on strong down the road.
San Diego Chargers
Keep an eye on the injury status of Takeo Spikes this week. He was banged up in the second half on Monday night and did not return. Spikes was already giving way to Demorrio Williams on sub package downs and Williams took over the every down role after the injury. It is noteworthy that Spikes and Williams combined to go 7-1 in the game. Williams has a history of quality production when given an opportunity to play full time. He could be a sneaky add for those in very deep leagues... Melvin Ingram is still working in a part time role but this guy is impressing. I don't care how much they paid Jarrett Johnson, Ingram needs to be on the field and eventually will be.
Kansas City Chiefs
The big story with Kansas City was a lack of production from Eric Berry. I have not yet had time to watch this game studiously, but from the few plays I have seen Berry does not look to be bothered by last year's injury. I will rewind this one later in the week but for now I would point out that none of the Chiefs defenders really lit it up, and would advise patience with Berry... Tamba Hali will return to the lineup this week after serving his one game suspension.
Wesley Woodyard blew up the box scores in week one. While no one expected 12 tackles and a sack from him, we should not have been very surprised to see him post good numbers since he has done it in the past. Woodyard should be on our free agent lists this week but keep in mind that the chariot turns back into a pumpkin after week six when D.J. Williams returns... One guy who is going to be there for the long haul is defensive end Derek Wolfe. After an impressive preseason Wolfe opened with 3 tackles and a sack against Pittsburgh. With offenses forced to focus on Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller, Wolfe is going to see a lot of single blocking and plenty of opportunity.
San Francisco 49ers
If anyone had told me that Patrick Willis would be sitting in sub packages week one I would have to ask what they were smoking. The fact is both he and Navorro Bowman were on the sideline for a few plays against Green Bay. Willis played 49 and Bowman 58 of 72 defensive snaps. I have to believe this was a situational thing that helped San Francisco to match up with the Packers multi-receiver sets. It is reason for some concern but I would neither panic nor bench either linebacker this week against Detroit.
St. Louis Rams
Darian Stewart may eventually recapture the starting job at safety but apparently his injury is worse than anyone has reported. He was inactive for week one and has missed a great deal of time. At this point it looks as if Craig Dahl is going to be the man. Dahl had a strong outing in week one and will continue to be productive for the foreseeable future. He was undrafted in most leagues and should be at or near the top of our free agent list this week.
As expected Bobby Wagner was a two-down player in week one with K.J. Wright in the every-down role.
Last season the Cardinals sat Paris Lenon in passing situations. So far this season they have not been doing that. Lenon is not a great talent but is an over achiever with a history of quality production when playing full time. He won't have many games like the one against Detroit, but is in line for a very good year. Put Lenon high on your priority list this week and don't hesitate to start him against New England.
London Fletcher owners may find themselves looking for a sign that the ageless veteran is starting to decline. Some may see his 2-1 in the opener as that sign. Don't be that owner. Let me remind everyone that Fletcher had just 10 solo tackles after four games last season but finished with 96. The Saints are not a fantasy friendly matchup for linebackers and no Redskin recorded more than 4 solo stops in this game. Things should be much different this week against the Rams... I mentioned Madieu Williams as a player to watch last week. His 4 solo stops are not going to garner a lot of attention on this week's waiver wire but we should not overlook the fact that he tied Perry Riley for the team lead in solo stops. If you have a need at the position it might be a good idea to move on Williams before he shows up big in the box scores.
Heading into the opener Andy Reid fed us a line of bull about how all six of the Eagles linebackers were going to have a role in the defense. That made a lot of us a bit nervous, and for no reason. Brian Rolle and Jamar Chaney saw all of 3 snaps between them while Casey Matthews checked the bench for splinters. None of the Philly defenders lit up the tackle columns, but it is noteworthy that DeMeco Ryans played 60 of 62 snaps and let the charge with 5 solo stops. Michael Kendricks played 55 snaps and finished at 4-1. When they play a good offensive team these guys are going to produce well for us... Kurt Coleman didn't make a lot of tackles but he did further solidify himself as the starting strong safety with a pair of picks against Cleveland. He may be a little inconsistent but I am really starting to like this guy. Oh and by the way, the Eagles released Jaiquawn Jarrett this week.
Bruce Carter played in the sub packages during the preseason but he was out in of those packages against the Giants. If he is on your roster it might be worthwhile to sit on him one more week just to see if anything changes but only if you can't land a quality replacement this week.
New York Giants
The Giants were a big surprise in that they had no every down linebacker against Dallas. Keith Rivers started on the weak side ahead of Michael Boley with Chase Blackburn in the middle and Mathias Kiwanuka on the strong side. In the nickel all three starters left with Boley and Jacquian Williams coming in. This may have a lot to do with Boley not being 100% and the issue could be forced with Rivers nursing a sore hamstring, but until we get some clarity the situation should be avoided.
New England Patriots
In the last couple of preseason games we saw Brandon Spikes getting time in most of the sub packages. Just when it looked safe to put him in our lineups, he was busted back into a two down role. In fact Spikes saw 2 fewer snaps (38) than did Dont'a Hightower. The Patriots were using rookie safety Tavon Wilson along with Jerod Mayo in sort of a big nickel on some passing downs, and were using a lot more dime than nickel in general... Rookie end Chandler Jones continues to impress and is a must start against an Arizona club that gives up a lot of sacks when Kevin Kolb is under center.
There was no bigger disappointment in week one than the Bills defense. The let the Jets out of their clown car and took it for their own. I really had high expectations for this group and especially the front four. It is too early to give up on guys like Mario Williams but my confidence is shaken to say the least. The good news is that Jairus Byrd and George Wilson should be big for us again.
When looking at the Miami box scores for week one we need to keep in mind that they played the Texans who have been a stellar matchup for tackle producing IDPs over the past couple of years. Koa Misi led the charge with a 10 solo tackle day, but I would be careful to not over react. Misi is a strong side backer who is not on the field for most passing downs. The Texans power running game provided a lot more opportunity than he is likely to have on most weeks. Owners in very deep leagues or who are desperate for help at the position may want to take a chance, but I believe Misi will fall back to earth with a thud this week against Oakland... Heading into the season Randy Starks was one of my favorite sleepers for tackle required leagues. His 5-1-2 was a big surprise even to me. After a showing like that, there is nowhere for Starks to go but down. That said; it looks as if he could well finish among the top ten tackles and has top 5 potential... Cameron Wake was quite in week one but that could be just the calm before the storm. This week Miami faces a Raiders team that allowed 3 sacks in the opener.
Taylor Mays showed a lot of promise during the preseason and even led the club in tackles at halftime on Monday. Unfortunately he was benched in the second half in favor of Jeromy Miles. Nate Clements also saw some snaps at strong safety. The thing is, Miles didn't fare any better. In fact he missed some tackles and took a ride on some other plays. Mays may be back in the lineup this week so the jury is still out, but he should definitely not be in our lineups... Carlos Dunlap returned to practice on a limited basis this week and may see a little action against the Browns. Keep an eye on his progress this week and grab him if he's active on Sunday.
I have mentioned my concerns with Lawrence Timmons a few times in the recent past and his week one performance did not make me any more comfortable with him. If anything I am even more concerned. Most of us expected him to assume the role that James Farrior held over the past several seasons. As it turns out that role has gone to Larry Foote instead and Timmons continues to be moved around the formation, often lining up outside the offensive tackles. As a result it was Foote who led the club at 8-1 against Denver while Timmons turned in a mediocre 5-0. Timmons has a ton more big play potential and will have his share of big games, but Foote may turn out to be a very dependable quality option for us. He will be high on my wish list this week in some of my leagues. I like Foote as a starter this week against the Jets who will try to pound the rock again.
D'Qwell Jackson owners were saved by his pick six in week one but there is plenty of reason for concern. The Cleveland defense was on the field for nearly 90 plays against the Eagles and Jackson was just 1-2 in the tackle column. Much of that can be attributed to Philadelphia's offensive game plan, but Jackson's sore shoulder may have played a bigger part than we realize. A linebacker with a sore shoulder is like a running back or receiver with a sore groin. It can have a huge effect on his game. Cleveland goes to Cincinnati this week where they will face more of a between the tackles running attack. I won't be benching Jackson with this matchup but I will be crossing my fingers come game time... After going 5-3 with a pick unknown rookie LB Craig Robertson is going to be on a lot of free agent lists this week. Unless you are in a 20 team league that starts 5 linebackers, don't waste your time. Robertson was a beneficiary of the offensive game plan at best and will go back to the bench soon as Scott Fujita or James-Michael Johnson are able to play. Fujita may be back as early as this week... Struggles in the front seven are going to make T.J. Ward a stud again this year.
Erin Henderson had a strong opener at 6-4-1. Most importantly he was on the field in every sub package. It looks as if he will be a dependable LB3 or better for us on most weeks this season but I would think twice about starting him against the Colts this week. Indy was far and away the worst matchup for linebackers last season. They may not be the same team, but the week one results sure looked like it. No Bears linebacker recorded more than 2 tackles. I would even seriously consider benching Chad Greenway if there is another quality option your roster.
I mentioned last week that Justin Durant was working as the Lions every down linebacker. Not so surprisingly he was by far the team's tackle leader against St. Louis at 7-5. I am not real high on any Detroit linebacker but it is hard to ignore the combination of numbers and situation. Durant went undrafted in a ton of leagues and would be a solid addition as a fourth or fifth linebacker with LB3 upside.
Green Bay Packers
A.J. Hawk's big tackle numbers in week one will have a lot of owners clamoring to pick him up. Use your pick on someone who will help you all year. As Sterling Sharp says, when someone shows you who they are, believe them. Hawk has been showing us for years who he is and he is not a double digit tackling machine. His numbers were a product of the San Francisco matchup/game plan that was well executed. He will soon return to his usual 4-3 ways... The transition to safety was a great move for Charles Woodson. Unfortunately no one is stepping up to fill his vacant corner job. If the Packers had another option at safety I would be concerned that they might move Woodson back. I don't see that as an option at this point.
That does it for this edition. Best of luck this week.
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