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Reading the Defense: Week 3

A weekly look at IDP trends with a mix of metrics, film study and matchup strategy

DEPTH CHART NUGGETS AND KEY INJURY REPLACEMENTS

I focus primarily on linebackers early in the season. As the season progresses and we get a few more data points, important issues in defensive end and secondary rotations will become more clear and make their way into this section more regularly.

***Kiko Alonso is apparently going to try to rehab and return from a mid-grade ACL sprain to the same ACL he tore last summer. That's a very bad idea. I think smarter heads will eventually prevail and Alonso will choose surgery. He has no value in redraft leagues. Mychal Kendricks also left with a hamstring injury. Though the early reports sounded optimistic he'd play, I think Kendricks will sit at least a week. It'll be interesting to see how the Eagles approach the loss of Alonso. I think we'll see DeMeco Ryans get the bulk of the snaps, with rookie Jordan Hicks cutting into Ryans' playing time sooner than later. If Kendricks is confirmed out this week, both Ryans and Hicks will be strong adds and plays.

***The Raiders wised up and realized Curtis Lofton was their best all-around linebacker last week and put him back in an every-down role. There's some risk of another change, but Lofton belongs back on rosters and arguably in lineups again. Also, Aldon Smith continues to see lots of rotational time and looks good. A breakout pass rush week is coming. If he's still available in your sack-heavy league, roster him now.

***There were multiple questions about the rotation among Josh Bynes, Travis Lewis, and Tahir Whitehead in the local Detroit media last week. The standard answer was that all three would be rotated in various packages. That happened as expected in Week 2. What wasn't expected was the addition of Stephen Tulloch in that rotation. The Lions removed Tulloch from multiple subpackages last week. With Levy's situation still unclear (the latest report is that Levy suffered a hip strain late in the preseason), it's best to avoid this one altogether.

***Although Deone Bucannon played every down last week, he was back to his primary hybrid nickel linebacker role this week. 82% of the snaps isn't a bad result for Bucannon, but still a little disappointing after last week's every down performance. All four safeties are seeing significant work. Tony Jefferson led the team with nine solos, but played the fewest snaps (75%). Rashad Johnson (100%) and Tyrann Mathieu (97%) were the every-down options last week.

***Eric Berry is starting again for the Chiefs and played 71 of 73 snaps. He was listed at free safety in the Gamebook, but will play more of an interchangeable role. His upside is capped, however, as Husain Abdullah is now playing the hybrid linebacker role in Kansas City's dime package.

***Paul Worrilow missed time with a calf injury last week. The Falcons are calling him day to day. Allen Bradford replaced him on all downs but looked very uncomfortable, taking false steps and arriving late to plays. Bradford managed only one solo tackle in 17 snaps, while Justin Durant finished with nine solos.

***James Sample started for Johnathan Cyprien and had five solos in just over 50% of the defensive snaps. Watch for any confirmation that Cyprien will miss this week's game and Sample see a greater percentage of snaps.

***There's no change in Minnesota. It remains Chad Greenway - Gerald Hodges - Anthony Barr in the base front with Eric Kendricks joining Barr on passing downs.

***Don't get too excited about the 6-3 line for D'Qwell Jackson this week. He's still sitting in dime packages.

***It was only six snaps, but Wesley Woodyard again rotated in for Avery Williamson in a series. The number was higher last week, as the Titans took both starting inside linebackers off the field in a game that got out of hand. It's enough of a downgrade to Williamson to make him a risky LB3 for now.

***The Broncos continue to use six defensive backs as their primary subpackage. That's a change from Wade Phillips' usual plan and it's keeping Danny Trevathan off the field for 15+ snaps a game right now.

***Perry Riley left last week's game with a calf injury and isn't practicing early this week. Will Compton replaced him as usual and will be a solid play on Thursday night if you need help at linebacker.

***Carolina mixed and matched A.J. Klein and Shaq Thompson in their nickel looks with Luke Kuechly recovering from a concussion. I don't think Thompson will have a subpackage role when Kuechly returns, but it's notable for those in deeper leagues. Should Kuechly or Thomas Davis be out for a significant period at any point this season, Thompson makes a smarter add than Klein.

EVERY-DOWN LINEBACKER PROJECTION

Still some situations left to settle here. I expect more of the unexpected this week, and probably until the end of September.

TEAMEVERY-DOWN LBs75-100% SNAPSINJ | SUSPNOTES
ARIZONA Alex Okafor Kevin Minter Daryl Washington  
ATLANTA Paul Worrilow : Justin Durant     Allen Bradford would fill in for Worrilow
BALTIMORE C.J. Mosley : Daryl Smith Elvis Dumervil Terrell Suggs  
BUFFALO Preston Brown : Nigel Bradham      
CAROLINA Thomas Davis   Luke Kuechly Panthers didn't use Klein every down w/ Kuechly out 
CHICAGO Shea McClellin : Christian Jones Pernell McPhee    
CINCINNATI Vinny Rey   Vontaze Burfict  
CLEVELAND Karlos Dansby : Paul Kruger      
DALLAS Sean Lee Anthony Hitchens    
DENVER Von Miller : Brandon Marshall : Demarcus Ware     Trevathan out in subpackages
DETROIT     DeAndre Levy Lions now rotating four LBs while Levy recovers
GREEN BAY Clay Matthews Julius Peppers : Nate Palmer Sam Barrington  
HOUSTON   Brian Cushing Mike Mohamed  
INDIANAPOLIS Jerrell Freeman : Erik Walden D'Qwell Jackson : Trent Cole Robert Mathis  
JACKSONVILLE Paul Posluszny : Telvin Smith      
KANSAS CITY Derrick Johnson : Justin Houston Tamba Hali    
MIAMI Jelani Jenkins Koa Misi    
MINNESOTA Anthony Barr      
NEW ENGLAND Jamie Collins  Dont'a Hightower   Hightower creeping closer to true every-down duty
NEW ORLEANS Stephone Anthony : Hau'oli Kikaha      
NEW YORK GIANTS Uani 'Unga Devon Kennard Jon Beason  
NEW YORK JETS David Harris : Demario Davis Quinton Coples : Calvin Pace    
OAKLAND Malcolm Smith : Khalil Mack : Curtis Lofton     Lofton back playing every down last week
PHILADELPHIA DeMeco Ryans : Jordan Hicks : Connor Barwin Brandon Graham Kiko Alonso : Mychal Kendricks  
PITTSBURGH Ryan Shazier : Lawrence Timmons      
ST. LOUIS James Laurinaitis : Alec Ogletree      
SAN DIEGO Manti Te'o : Melvin Ingram Donald Butler    
SAN FRANCISCO NaVorro Bowman : Ahmad Brooks Aaron Lynch    
SEATTLE Bobby Wagner : K.J. Wright      
TAMPA BAY Lavonte David : Kwon Alexander      
TENNESSEE Zach Brown Avery Williamson : Derrick Morgan : Brian Orakpo    
WASHINGTON Keenan Robinson : Will Compton : Ryan Kerrigan   Perry Riley  

I'll update this table every week between now and Week 17.

performances of note

Henry Anderson 11-3-1, 5 TFL (in 2 games) >>> Sustained excellence and disruption from Anderson through two games against solid competition. There aren't many rookie defensive linemen capable of every week fantasy value, but Anderson is no fluke. Vic Beasley shouldn't be overlooked here either. And, yes, I still enjoy watching Leonard Williams, Matt Waldman.

Dont'a Hightower 8-4-0.5 >>> The Patriots are finding ways to get Hightower involved in all packages right now and he looks to be fully healthy. There are loads of strong stat crews on Hightower's schedule, which could send his assist count through the roof. If Hightower continues this healthy productive pace, he's going to finish in the top 15 comfortably.

Khalil Mack 1-0, TFL >>> In Week 1, Mack was held in check by Cincinnati's strong offensive line. In Week 2, the Ravens used a lot of play action, delayed handoffs, and quick passes to slow the Raiders' front. It also looked like Mack tired on some of the longer drives and wasn't finishing his rush outside. In response, The Raiders put Mack over the interior line frequently in the second half. His bull rush was generally productive but didn't result in any sacks. I'm not too worried about Mack...yet. There's still plenty of this:

Cameron Wake 0-0-0 (in 2 games) >>> Wake is playing through a hamstring injury. Prior to suffering the injury, he was doing things like this:

And this:

Or burst and acceleration like this (sack nullified by defensive holding):

Until we see him back to a full practice, he's going to be at risk of more games like last week. I dropped him out of my elite tier despite a very strong end of last season and preseason because his tackle counts haven't been there. But a healthy Wake will still be a productive pass rusher.

Jacquies Smith 3-0-3, 2 FF >>> Smith now has four sacks in two games. Neither the Titans nor Saints have the offensive lines they used to have, but Smith is showing the same edge rush capabilities he did late last season. The run of good matchups continues in coming weeks. Expect Smith to be a high variance play due to his low tackle counts, but with more than enough upside to be worth the risk.

NaVorro Bowman 0-4 || Derrick Johnson 2-0 >>> Both the Niners and the Chiefs are in the bottom quartile of rush attempts faced. I don't see any reason to suspect the down weeks for Bowman and Johnson after each had a strong Week 1 performance are a sign either is unable to recover quickly due to past injuries. Continue to use both with confidence.

Ryan Shazier 11-4-1, 3 TFL, FF/FR || Lawrence Timmons 6-3, PD >>> The Steelers, on the other hand, look like a defense that will not be limiting their own tackle opportunity. After seeing a league average 49 tackle opportunities in Week 1, Pittsburgh spiked to 69 in Week 2. They'll regress back to near average totals with Le'Veon Bell returning this week, but the defense may still not be able to get off the field consistently. Shazier (poor instincts and positioning) and Timmons (durability concerns) have their issues, but both are worth using in fantasy lineups every week.

T.J. McDonald 1-3, TFL, FR >>> I was asked to look into McDonald. I'd like to see better numbers here, but a total of nine tackles (only four solos) wouldn't ordinarily be of major concern. We're generally looking to see an average of five solos for an elite fantasy defensive back (80 solos for the season). There are two potential flags here, however. First, the Rams lead the league in tackle opportunity with a well above average 69 and 62 count through two weeks. McDonald should be taking better advantage. Second, a healthy James Laurinaitis and Alec Ogletree behind a dominant and willing to tackle front four may prove to be too much competition for McDonald to overcome. Don't give up on McDonald yet, but he has my attention.

WAIVER WIRE PRIORITIES

I'm checking the waiver wire in a mix of my most and least competitive leagues, including expanded lineups. If there's someone on your list who hasn't made mine, shoot me a note and I'll add them here.

DT: Jaye Howard || Clinton McDonald | Brandon Williams ||| Jordan Hill

DE: Henry Anderson | Jacquies Smith ||| Robert Ayers | Jared Odrick

LB: Preston Brown | Dont'a Hightower ||| Jordan Hicks | Justin Durant || Hau'oli Kikaha | Will Compton | DeMeco Ryans | Shaq Thompson | Josh Bynes | Allen Bradford

DB: Corey Graham | Trent Robinson | Eric Berry | Tony Jefferson || James Sample

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