Rashad Johnson, Tryann Mathieu, Deone Bucannon and Mike Minter were all full time players while the starters were al playing in week three. The Rams have been a marginal matchup for Linebackers thus far, with Bobby Wagner's 5-2-0 being the best box score numbers against them. Safeties have fared better with Earl Thomas, Trent Robinson and Will Allen all having quality point totals against them.
The Texans have injury issues up front where they are missing left guard/tackle Jeff Adams who is out for the season and left tackle Duane Brown who could miss a second straight game with a hand injury. This could be a great week to play Vic Beasley and possibly Adrian Clayborn as well. Both players landed sacks against a much better Dallas line in week three. Beasley has a sack in back to back weeks and may be in line for the first multiple sack game of his career in this one.
Ricardo Allen was injured late in Sunday's game. He was replaced by Therezie Robenson for the final eight plays. If Allen misses week four which seems likely, we may see Kemal Ishmael get another opportunity. If we can confirm this later in the week, both Ishmael and William Moore could have strong numbers against a Texans offense that has provided a lot of tackle opportunity. Justin Durant and Paul Worrilow should both be quality starts this week as well.
The Steelers have not been a great matchup for any of our defenders to date. Jamie Collins went 3-3-0 and Navorro Bowman was 0-4-0 against them. Alec Ogletree had a big game but take away his 2 sacks and his 5 tackles with 4 assists are rather pedestrian as well. It is hard to say what the Steelers offense will look like with Michael Vick under center. C.J. Mosley is an every week automatic start but we may want to consider options other than Daryl Smith as our third starter.
Safety Corey Graham is also worth a start. He will be a waiver pickup in many leagues and has gone 17-5-0 with a forced fumble over the last two weeks. The Giants should help him to a third straight strong outing. Consider Barry Church was a solid 4-4 against them in week one, followed by William Moore at 5-3 with a pass defended and Dashon Goldson at 7-3 in week three.
New York has allowed 3 sacks to date so they have not been a great matchup for pass rushers. Jerry Hughes and Mario Williams are every week must starts but we cannot expect big numbers from them in this one.
Looking for a quality corner to pick up? Ronald Darby is your man. The rookie corner rule is all about this guy. He has 13 solo tackles (at least 4 in each game), a couple of assists and 8 passes defended. Leodis McKelvin is not yet close to getting back on the field and there is no guarantee he will be a starter when he does the way Darby is playing. We know Eli Manning has a habit of finding the wrong color jersey. Maybe Darby gets his first pick as a pro this week.
The Panthers will be without Charles Johnson for a while after he was placed on short term IR with a serious hamstring injury. Kony Ealy failed to step up in two games as the starter. He looked a little better coming off the bench in week three but again failed to make a serious impact. Wes Horton started week three but played only 12 snaps. In an effort to produce some pass rush and hold down the fort until everyone is healthy, the Panthers traded for Jared Allen early this week. Allen was not a good fit in the Bears 3-4 so this was a good move for everyone involved. He may not be the player who was once a perennial top five lineman, but Allen will be an improvement over what the Panthers were looking at otherwise.
The Panthers thought they might get Luke Kuechly back this week but it is looking more like he will sit week four. Carolina has a bye in week five so it makes a lot of sense for them to give him one more game off; especially against a Buccaneers team they should be able to beat without him. The problem is Thomas Davis is also dinged with a pectoral injury. As of Wednesday afternoon we are still awaiting the results of the MRI but the tone coming out of Panthers camp seems optimistic. We will see A.J. Klein with a significant role again this week. If Davis sits, Klein should be a three down option.
With three games in the books, Kyle Fuller has been a disappointment. The Bears new scheme does not allow the corners to be as active un run support and Fuller has not yet found his comfort zone. He may never be the solid fantasy option we saw last season but it is noteworthy the Raiders have been a strong matchup for corners so far. Oakland has been a quality opponent for linebackers as well but Shea McClellin and Christian Jones have not been able to take full advantage of other strong matchups thus far. Jones was not an every down player in week three when he saw action on 56 of 67 snaps, sitting out of some nickel packages.
Shawn Williams continues to see snaps in a time share with George Iloka. There is nothing eminent here but it is a situation worth keeping an eye on. Williams could become a factor if he can earn a full time role. He is a fast and physical strong safety type who could give the Bengals some much needed pop at the position.
Four corners have recorded 6 or more solo stops against the Chargers and Phillip Rivers is on a streak of nine consecutive games with at least one interception. Joe Haden is questionable with a rib injury but if he is able to go he could have a big game. Tramon Williams is also a strong sleeper this week in leagues that break out the defensive back positions.
Anthony Hitchens is still not seeing action in all the sub packages but he did stay on the field in most if not all nickel situation in week three. In all he played 63 of a possible 74 snaps. While this is a good sign, he can still not be trusted this week against a Saints team that likes to spread the field with a lot of receivers. Dallas could use plenty of dime in this game.
Danny Trevathan still not playing in sub packages but should have a solid game against a Vikings offense not known for spreading the field and now has Adrian Peterson cranked up. Darian Stewart and T.J. Ward are also worth sleeper consideration with this matchup. Stewart has quietly looked good thus far with double digit points in all three games. James Ihedigbo was 7-2 with a forced fumble against Minnesota in week two and Eric Weddle went 6-2 on Sunday.
Ezekial Ansah got off to a fast start this year but he left Sunday's game with a groin injury and did not return. As of Wednesday afternoon we are still waiting for word on his week four status but even if he is able to go, we should temper expectations. Devin Taylor picked up the slack against Denver and could be in line to start versus a Seattle offense that has allowed 12 sacks already; including 4 to a struggling Chicago defense. If he gets the call Taylor is an excellent sleeper play.
Green Bay Packers
San Francisco has been an outstanding matchup for quality three down linebackers. Anthony Barr recorded 10-2-0 with a pass defended against them in week one, Ryan Shazier was 11-4-1 with a forced fumble and a recovery in week two with Lawrence Timmons contributing 6-3 and a pass defended. Even Kevin Minter managed a solid 7-1. This matchup could help Clay Matthews to his most productive game of the season.
Owners in corner required leagues may want to take advantage of the Atlanta matchup this week and start Jonathan Joseph or Kareem Jackson. Matt Ryan is not throwing many interceptions but he is completing a lot of passes to wide receivers. Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Jayron Hosley, Byron Maxwell and Nolan Carol have all put up at least 5 solo tackles against the Falcons.
It did not seem to hurt his point totals much but D'Qwell Jackson was out of some dime packages over the first couple of games. Either the Colts used none of that package against the Titans or Jackson was part of them. He was on the field for 77 defensive plays in week three, which was one more than Jerrell Freeman. Jacksonville has not been a great matchup but they are much better than last season when the Jaguars were an opponent to avoid for all but the elite defenders.
The Jaguars got some good news this week when Johnathan Cyprien returned to practice on Wednesday. He missed the last two weeks with a calf injury and some other nagging issues. With Cyprien inactive in week three and Josh Evans leaving the game early, rookie James Samples was able to get on the field for a significant number of snaps (45). He was one of the few Jacksonville defenders to grade out well in the blowout loss to New England. We have not seen a great deal of Samples but what we have seen has looked pretty good. Keep an eye on him going forward.
Kansas City Chiefs
Cincinnati has the potential to be a great matchup for Derrick Johnson, Eric Berry and Ron Parker but we should not count on it. If the Bengals feature Jeremy Hill and the power running game there will be a lot of opportunity for the middle defenders. If they continue to feature scat back Giovani Bernard as they have over the past two games, we will want to consider sitting Johnson in particular. With Bernard in the feature role over the past two weeks Manti Te'o, Donald Butler, C.J. Mosley and Daryl Smith have all recorded 5 or fewer solo tackles. If you have other quality options I would suggest playing it safe. Unless Hill blows up with a few good carries early in the game we may continue to see a lot of Bernard.
The bad news for Cameron Wake owners is he was invisible for a third straight game. The good news is he played 40 snaps without aggravating his hamstring injury. It is not yet safe to put him back in our lineups, especially against a Jets offense allowing less than a sack per game, but we should try to keep him on our rosters at this point. If/when he gets right, Wake is going to put up good numbers. Miami has a week five bye which should allow Wake to be healthy for the second half of the fantasy regular season.
Andrew Sendejo left Sunday's game early with a knee injury after a collision with Xavier Rhodes took both players out of the game. Rhodes went through concussion protocol and has been cleared but Sendejo has not practiced as of Wednesday. Those in need of help at safety or defensive back will want to keep an eye on this one. Robert Blanton may not be as strong in coverage as Sendejo but we know last year's starter can be a productive third starter for us.
New England Patriots
The Patriots are on a bye this week but it is worth mentioning Dont'a Hightower had a reduced role in week three. He totaled 41 of a possible 57 snaps. Some of this may have been due to the lopsided score but we all know Bill Belichick never calls off the dogs. The other telling fact is no backup linebacker picked up the extra snaps. Instead it was safety Jordan Richards seeing some action.
New Orleans Saints
Kenny Vaccaro has been a fantasy bust for the most part but he is finally beginning to show signs of life. Over the last two games Vaccaro is 10-8 with a pass defended. While those are not big numbers, they are much better than what we had been seeing from him previously. The Saints front seven are not making a lot of plays/tackles and the team is already circling the drain by many counts. A long year for New Orleans could lead to a productive one for Vaccaro. He should be on our radar if he is not on a roster already.
New York Giants
Jon Beason was somewhat of a tease in week three. The Giants told us he would be back in the lineup and indeed he was, for all of 24 plays. With Washington being the best matchup in the game for inside linebackers over the first two weeks, Beason seemed to have big upside in his return. This was a mirage as well. He played sparingly but did manage to come through no worse for wear from an injury standpoint. The question now becomes when or if he returns to an every down role. Uani' Unga has played well in relief for the most part and has looked particularly good in coverage. The fear here is a situational role for everyone here. If we can get some clarity from the team this week there is a lot of potential to be tapped against Buffalo. If we were sure Unga's role would not be reduced he would be a worthy start. As it is Devon Kennard might be the best option as a solid two down starter with big play upside.
The Raiders shuffled their depleted secondary in week three with starting corner Travis Carrie working at safety, nickel corner Neiko Thorpe moving into a starting role and David Amerson seeing time as the nickel back. Carrie was not particularly impressive in the box scores at 3-1 with a couple of passes defended, but he looked better on the field than the numbers suggest. Owners in corner required leagues should pay close attention to this as the opportunity should provide a boost in tackle numbers if this continues over the long haul.
We may want to sit Curtis Lofton, Malcolm Smith and maybe even Charles Woodson this week unless you are willing to gamble on him picking up another turnover. The Bears offense is a shambles without Cutler and I am not sure they will be a lot better when he comes back.
Aldon Smith started opposite Khalil Mack in week three as the Raiders went to a lot of 3-4 looks. We can expect this to be the norm going forward as the coaching staff looks to take advantage of their new pass rush tandem. Both Mack and Smith played 65 of a possible 75 plays.
With both starter out many of us anticipated both DeMeco Ryans and Jordan Hicks working in three down roles. That was not the case. Ryans continued to be a two down guy while Hicks stepped up as the every down option. The rookie was everywhere, finishing with a mark of 9-1-0, a fumble recovery and a pick. He is now 16-1-1 with 3 turnovers in 2 games. The Eagles may get Mychal Kendricks back this week and reports have Kiko Alonso missing only a few weeks. What was a crowded inside linebacker position heading into the season may become even more complicated in November if Hicks continues to impress. When everyone is healthy it will be a shock if Ryans is not the odd man out.
Washington has been an outstanding matchup so far with Jelani Jenkins, Koa Misi and Reshad Jones combining to go 23-11-0 in week one; James Laurinaitis and Alec Ogletree totaling 12-13 in week two and Uani' Unga and Jonathan Casillas going 13-3-1 with a pick and a forced fumble in week three despite neither being in the starting lineup. It would sure be nice to get some clarity from the team later this week on the expected playing time breakdown, but that is unlikely to happen. The way he has played it would be a tough call to take Hicks off the field, so we may see Ryans and Kendricks sharing time for a game or two.
St. Louis Rams
Arizona has been a strong matchup for corners but other positions have not produced well. Navorro Bowman is the only non-corner to total more than 4 solo tackles against the Cardinals. Alec Ogletree is an every week must start in nearly any league and James Laurinaitis is a solid LB3 in most, but we should not expect big numbers from either of them this week. Likewise Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn are players every owner would have a hard time sitting, but beware. Carson Palmer has been sacked once in the first three games.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
We knew Jacquise Smith could get after the passer but there were questions about his tackle production. After a 4 tackle outing in game three he is currently on pace to go 48-6-21. He will obviously not be able to keep up that torrid pace but the deeper we go into the season the more it looks as if the Buccaneers may have a long term answer at defensive end and fantasy owners may have another 40 tackle and double digit sack guy.
Washington's running game dominated the first two games they played so the defense was not on the field much. As a result Keenan Robinson got off to a slow start. The running game was stuck in neutral for most of week three so the defense in general and Robinson in particular, had a lot more opportunity. The result was a 10-3-0 for Robinson who seemed to be in on nearly every stop. Start him this week as well as Will Compton and Dashon Goldson against an Eagles squad that has been an excellent matchup for linebackers and middle defenders in general. Start Keenan Robinson for sure and consider Will Compton as well.
Start the tackle producers but be careful with the pass rushers. Ryan Kerrigan is an every week must play in most big play based leagues but keep in mind the Eagles have allowed two sacks on the season.
Owners in corner required leagues may want to look hard at Bashaud Breeland. He will be the replacement for DeAngelo Hall who is likely to miss several weeks with a toe injury. Breeland replaced Hall last season and put up 49 tackles, 10 assists, 13 passes defended and 3 takeaways in eleven starts. I have Hall in several leagues and am picking up Breeland to replace him in most of them.
That does it for the week four offering. Hope you are off to a strong start and best of luck to everyone this week.