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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

WEEK 2 NOTES

Arizona

  • Maybe Tyvon Branch isn't a statistical fluke after a second consecutive big week. His 9-1 line with a quarterback hit and pass defensed alongside an even bigger game from fellow safety Tony Jefferson is notable. Branch played 84% of Arizona's snaps. I'm still nervous there's a bubble here, but it's impossible to keep Branch out of lineups for now. The bubble is on the verge of bursting when and if Tyrann Mathieu returns to full-time duty. Last week, Mathieu rested often with the Cardinals leading big in the second half.

Atlanta

  • The Falcons linebacker depth chart is working itself out. Deion Jones is now the full-time starting middle linebacker. His 7-3 line this week is a sign of things to come. 
  • WAIVER WIRE NOTE: Sean Weatherspoon replaced DeVondre Campbell, who missed Week 2 with a mid-week ankle injury. Weatherspoon continued to look like the best linebacker on the roster with a solid 8-1 line. There's no current report on how long Campbell will miss. If he isn't practicing on Wednesday, Weatherspoon is a must start as the every-down weakside linebacker.
  • Paul Worrilow has now played a total of nine snaps in two weeks and was on the field for just one defensive snap in Week 2.
  • Kemal Ishmael was the team's leading tackler with a sharp 13-2 line. Keanu Neal will reportedly return to practice this week, however, and could cut into Ishmael's production.

Baltimore

  • The Ravens saw 46 tackle opportunities last week against Cleveland. That's two consecutive weeks with well-below-average opportunity. Zach Orr outpaced C.J. Mosley again and is in a more favorable schematic role. The schedule is a little more favorable (@JAX, OAK, WAS) over the next three weeks. If you can get a leaguemate to sell low on Mosley, it's worth a shot. Orr is an every-week play.
  • Don't give up on Shareece Wright yet. One solo tackle is a disappointment but the Browns completed only 11 passes to wide receivers and generally ran the ball between the tackles. What is just a marginal schedule for the inside linebackers sets up nicely for the corners over the next two weeks.
  • Elvis Dumervil may return for Week 3. He will give the Ravens a fourth viable outside linebacker option in rotation. Za'Darius Smith could see his snap percentage drop below 60%.

Buffalo

  • There were no major changes to the Bills' depth chart last week. 
  • Both Buffalo inside linebackers are must starts when the Bills are home. Their stat crew awarded 54 solos and 29 assists on 58 plays that didn't end in a touchdown last week. 15 of those assists went to Preston Brown and Zach Brown.

Carolina

  • It's not time to add him yet, but put defensive tackle Vernon Butler on your radar. I had concerns about inconsistent effort and a slow first step on tape and during Senior Bowl practices, but Butler has improved significantly between the start of the preseason and now. If he earns more rotational duty, he could have value in the future for those in DT-required leagues.
  • James Bradberry was beaten badly at times against the Niners, but his big play production (an interception and two passes defensed) made for another strong streaming effort.

Chicago

  • Danny Trevathan injured his thumb Monday night and will need surgery. There's a chance he'll be able to return quickly and play with a cast but Week 3 is a longshot. Jonathan Anderson would be next man up here.
  • The Bears also lost Lamarr Houston to a torn ACL and Eddie Goldman to a high ankle sprain. Goldman's loss could be felt by the inside linebacker group, who will be seeing more offensive linemen getting to the second level. Houston's injury opens up even more snaps for Leonard Floyd.

Cincinnati

  • There's been lots of love tossed Margus Hunt's way thus far this season. With good reason, he's been very good in his 67 snaps. But he's not been productive in the box score, managing just a 1-2 with two passes defensed thus far. The breakout may be coming, but he's still a watch list dynasty option only.
  • WAIVER WIRE NOTE: On the other hand, the 9-5 from Shawn Williams is no fluke. Add him as an every-week DB2 if available.
  • Vinny Rey continues to see every-down duty. The return of Vontaze Burfict is around the corner, however, and the Week 4 rotation will likely see Rey on the bench in base packages.

Cleveland

  • WAIVER WIRE NOTE: Ibraheim Campbell didn't finish last week's game with a hamstring injury. It's not known whether he'll be able to return this week. Derrick Kindred replaced him and had five solos and two passes defensed. Campbell is the better talent, but this role will remain productive. Add Kindred if Campbell doesn't practice this week. Hold Campbell until it's known whether this will be a multi-week injury if you can.
  • Carl Nassib broke his hand this week and will miss at least one week before a decision is made about whether he can play in a cast. He was shut out in 34 snaps against Baltimore. If he does return quickly, he'll be limited by a cast/splint for 3-4 weeks.
  • Scooby Wright was a productive college talent that drew attention for huge tackle numbers. But his limited athleticism and inability to return to full form after knee surgery kept him from reaching his potential after a promising start to camp. The Browns waived him this week.

Dallas

  • The Cowboys continue to rotate Anthony Hitchens and Justin Durant at middle linebacker. Hitchens "started" but played 23 snaps to Durant's 29. If you're in a deeper, tackle-heavy league, Durant is the better stash and hope.

Denver

  • Todd Davis played under 65% of his team's snaps. He still out-tackled Brandon Marshall but be careful trusting Davis. There will be variance here soon.
  • WAIVER WIRE NOTE: Deeper dynasty league owners should go ahead and add Justin Simmons. T.J. Ward is the defensive back to own right now, but Simmons is playing over half the team's snaps in subpackages. This is a poor man's Deone Bucannon situation in the making.

Detroit

  • Multiple front seven players are dealing with serious injuries. DeAndre Levy played every snap in Week 1 but didn't practice at all last week and was inactive with a quad injury. If it's a mid-grade strain -- and the inability to practice at all is worrisome -- Levy could miss multiple weeks. Ezekiel Ansah left after three snaps with a high ankle sprain. His lack of durability continues to keep him from reaching his elite potential. Kyle Van Noy and Antwoine Williams were the starting outside linebackers against Tennessee. Both left early with injury.
  • WAIVER WIRE NOTE: Prior to leaving, Van Noy played every down in place of Levy. If Levy is out multiple weeks and Van Noy's injury is minor, Van Noy is a solid addition. If Levy, Van Noy, and Williams are all down, take a long look at Brandon Copeland -- he may be listed at defensive end in your league and was the every-down linebacker of last resort.
  • WAIVER WIRE NOTE: Not surprisingly, strong safety Tavon Wilson put up a nice seven solo tackles with the linebacker group decimated. He'll be a worthwhile add against Green Bay this week.
  • WAIVER WIRE NOTE: Devin Taylor has quietly been averaging 50 snaps dating back to last year. Taylor is 8-5-1.5 through two games and had seven sacks last year after struggling to find himself over two inconsistent seasons. There's even more upside here this week against Green Bay's weak offensive line. Kerry Hyder will also see more playing time. Another attractive big play target may be Wallace Gilberry.

Green Bay

  • Morgan Burnett is becoming the Arian Foster of IDP leagues. When healthy, he's a stud. But he seemingly suffers a mid-high grade muscle strain every other week. He left Sunday night's game early in what should have been a tremendous spot.
  • The linebacker rotation continues. Jake Ryan saw a few more snaps than Blake Martinez last week but this remains a three-man rotation with Joe Thomas.

Houston

  • J.J. Watt is coming around. There were still struggles last week, but Watt was credited with five tackles and 1.5 sacks against Kansas City. Expect some ups-and-downs through mid-October, but Watt will hopefully hit a consistent stride soon.

Indianapolis

  • D'Qwell Jackson played nearly every down against Denver. He was on the field for 93% of the snaps, with Sio Moore having another solid 83% week. Watch for Jackson's rotational count next week against San Diego. If he remains a 90% player, his value will stabilize.
  • WAIVER WIRE NOTE: The Colts must believe Clayton Geathers and T.J. Green are healthy enough now after cutting Winston Guy early this week. Add Geathers, who should be a solid play behind this front seven.
  • Watch for Henry Anderson to return and slowly increase his snap count in the coming weeks. It's not time to add him yet, but redraft owners should watch his usage carefully and be ready to move.

Jacksonville

  • With the Chargers well ahead, Myles Jack saw 16 snaps in garbage-time relief of Paul Posluszny. The coaches still believe Posluszny is the better player and better huddle presence. Don't expect Jack to gain ground here soon.
  • Jalen Ramsey played every snap last week with Prince Amukamara out with a hamstring injury. A rookie corner with slot duty is arguably a DB1. He's certainly an every-week play in CB-required leagues right now.

Kansas City

  • I warned readers off Justin March-Lillard last week after a solid performance in minimal snaps. I'm doubling down on that recommendation this week. March-Lillard had another strong 4-4 effort, but played just 32 of 72 snaps. The crash is coming, especially if Brandon Marshall and Quincy Enunwa are healthy enough to put the Kansas City nickel package on the field again this week.
  • Enjoy Derrick Johnson everyone. He's an IDP treasure.

Los Angeles

  • It's not clear whether it's the same group from St. Louis, but the Rams' stat crew was average in their first home game. The back seven didn't rack up assists, but 15 assists on 48 tackle opportunities is reasonable.
  • Robert Quinn had a sack and forced fumble last week. He's not putting up enough numbers to be considered elite any longer. Big play league owners should hold, but Quinn's mediocre start against two strong matchups is worrisome for tackle-heavy and balanced owners.
  • Lamarcus Joyner had another strong week in the slot and should be owned in all CB-required leagues.

Miami

  • Mario Williams is 2-1-1 through 101 snaps against two average to above-average matchups. In Week 3, the Dolphins -- at home -- get a Cleveland line that's allowed six sacks in two weeks. If you haven't already moved on, this is Williams' last chance at IDP redemption for the most patient among us.
  • Jelani Jenkins doubled his snap count percentage last week but still isn't fully healthy. He's a priority watch, but not playable yet.

Minnesota

  • REPEAT BIG PLAY LEAGUE NOTE: Danielle Hunter had another sack and forced fumble last week. He also added three solos and an assist in just 29 snaps. His day is coming. He's a must own in any dynasty league with bench spots.

New England

  • There's an argument that Dont'a Hightower's injury may have limited enough in Week 1 to account for his poor week. Unfortunately, it just raises more questions about his durability. We'll see if he returns to practice this week.
  • Logan Ryan is probably not available in your cornerback required league. If he is, he's spending enough time in the slot once again to hold top value.
  • It wasn't a great week for Jabaal Sheard in a favorable matchup. The Dolphins double-teamed him often and he dropped into coverage at times. Games like this are concerning, but don't give up on him yet.

New Orleans

  • Dannell Ellerbe was inactive once again last week and Craig Robertson once again took advantage. James Laurinaitis -- in 79 snaps -- managed one solo and two assisted tackles. Ellerbe was ruled out early last week. Robertson owners can continue the ride the train until it derails.
  • WAIVER WIRE NOTE: With Delvin Breaux out, the Saints moved Kenny Vaccaro into the slot and started Vonn Bell at safety in subpackages. Both players put up huge numbers, with Vaccaro posting a 6-3 with a forced fumble and Bell finishing with a 7-2 performance. If this continues, Bell will be a high variance but productive option in deeper leagues.

New York Giants

  • The Saints are a terrible pass-rushing matchup. Give Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon a mulligan and get them back in your Week 3 lineups at home against Washington.
  • The mess at linebacker continues. Keenan Robinson saw 30 rotational snaps last week and played nearly every down in Week 2 as the Giants game planned to keep Robinson on the field over Jonathan Casillas in all subpackages. There's no use in trying to predict usage here unless and until there's a break in the depth chart.

New York Jets

  • Erin Henderson left last week's game with a foot sprain. The Jets have called him day-to-day, but watch for updates here. Even if he's able to return to practice, Henderson may not be playing well enough to hold off Darron Lee. Already playing in subpackages, Lee is growing closer to an every-down role.
  • Sheldon Richardson played 40 of 53 snaps last week. His return didn't affect the playing time of Muhammad Wilkerson (51/53) or Leonard Williams (45/53). The Jets used a lot of four man fronts regardless of Buffalo's offensive personnel. Richardson and Wilkerson were on the ends in that four-man front as well as in a frequently used nickel subpackage, with Williams at 3-technique. Lorenzo Mauldin was the odd man out, playing just 42% of snaps. That may not continue, but it's good news for the statistical value of all three stud defensive ends.

Oakland

  • Try to steal Khalil Mack this week if you weren't lucky enough to draft him. Mack has been shut out of the sack column through two games but has run up a 6-5 stat line through two games and was credited with four quarterback hits last week against Atlanta. The Tennessee matchup is a good one this week.
  • Reggie Nelson and Keith McGill continue to play just well enough to keep Karl Joseph in a special teams role. Dynasty owners must be patient here.

Philadelphia

  • The Eagles are growing more and more frustrating for fantasy owners. Nigel Bradham, arguably the least talented overall linebacker on the roster, saw the most snaps last week. Mychal Kendricks played better but remains an afterthought in some packages. Stephen Tulloch started seeing time in rotation over Jordan Hicks. Stay patient, but it's impossible to start any of these guys in most leagues.
  • Brandon Graham -- 6-1-2, forced fumble in two games. FREEEEEDOM!!!!

Pittsburgh

  • Ryan Shazier -- if he can stay healthy -- is cementing himself as an elite LB1. His missed time in the second half last week was likely precautionary. Though he missed practice time last week and was listed questionable, Shazier played every down against Cincinnati and led the team with a 6-6 line. 
  • The news isn't as good for Lawrence Timmons. After a so-so week in coverage against Washington, the Steelers used a lot of dime packages and brought Timmons to the sideline. His 6-1 line looks good but the 61% snap count bears watching.

San Diego

  • Denzel Perryman sat in subpackages again -- but out-tackled Manti Te'o in half the snaps. Unless there's clear news that Perryman is returning to an every-down role, he cannot be trusted. It's a shame. Perryman was set up for a huge year.
  • WAIVER WIRE NOTE: Jatavis Brown again looked good in a subpackage role. Like Su'a Cravens, I'm lamenting the fact the Chargers want to use him as a subpackage linebacker rather than an every-down strong safety. Dynasty owners need to watch Brown closely. 
  • Jahleel Addae is out with a broken clavicle. Dexter McCoil is likely next man up and is worth a look in deeper leagues.

San Francisco

  • WAIVER WIRE NOTE: With Ray-Ray Armstrong on injured reserve with a pectoral injury, Gerald Hodges becomes an every-down linebacker in a target-rich environment. Don't be scared off too much by his two solo tackle performance last week. Hodges had eight assists in front of the most assist-heavy stat crew in the league (Carolina). He'll have some down weeks while competing with NaVorro Bowman and Antoine Bethea and isn't without his own durability concerns, but Hodges should be a LB3 with upside in most weeks.

Seattle

  • BIG PLAY NOTE: After drawing attention with a strong effort in just 29 snaps last week, Frank Clark followed up with a 3-1-2 effort against Los Angeles in 35 of 62 snaps. He's a dynasty add and bye week option in big-play redraft leagues.

Tampa Bay

  • Lavonte David was credited only with two quarterback hits this week. Don't panic. David started relatively slowly last year and finished with a top five season -- 84-60-3 with well above-average peripheral stats.
  • WAIVER WIRE NOTE: The Bucs are very thin at defensive end. Robert Ayers left last week's game with an ankle injury. If it's a long-term absence, that could mean more Noah Spence. He's an extremely high variance big-play league add only.

Tennessee

  • Despite tons of opportunity, it may be best to avoid this defense right now. Avery Williamson remains the best bet for production but left last week's game with a back injury in the fourth quarter. If he's healthy enough to play, he'll have some value at home against Oakland. Sean Spence and Wesley Woodyard continue to rotate.
  • WAIVER WIRE NOTE: If Williamson isn't able to play this week, add Sean Spence.
  • The Titans doubled down on their safety rotation in Week 2. Rashad Johnson (71%), Da'Norris Searcy (54%), Daimion Stafford (53%), and Kevin Byard (34%) all saw significant snaps. Searcy was again most productive but managed only marginal fantasy value. Johnson didn't seem pleased with the rotation last week and hasn't been productive through two games. If the rotation breaks, the player with full time duty will be an immediate add. For now, none have every-week value.

Washington

  • Expect to see more and more of Su'a Cravens. It hasn't happened yet, but he'll continue to take snaps from Mason Foster in subpackages. There's still hope the Washington coaching staff will see the light and get him on the field at safety over David Bruton, too.

EVERY-DOWN LINEBACKER PROJECTION

 

Additions to the every-down column in BOLD. Injury situations to monitor this week in italics.

TEAM
EVERY-DOWN LB
75-100% SNAPS
INJ | SUSP
NOTES
ARIZONA
     
ATLANTA
Deion Jones : Sean Weatherspoon
 
DeVondre Campbell  
BALTIMORE
C.J. Mosley : Zachary Orr
Za'Darius Smith
 
BUFFALO
 
   
CAROLINA
     
CHICAGO
  Watch for news on Trevathan injury
CINCINNATI
Vinny Rey
Karlos Dansby
Vontaze Burfict (returns W4)
 
CLEVELAND
Demario Davis : Chris Kirksey
   
DALLAS
   
Durant and Hitchens continue to rotate
DENVER
   
DETROIT
    Watch Van Noy, Williams, Copeland if Levy out
GREEN BAY
none
 
Base - dime rotation among ILBs
HOUSTON
 
Clowney playing defensive end
INDIANAPOLIS
D'Qwell Jackson    
JACKSONVILLE
     
KANSAS CITY
 
LOS ANGELES
     
MIAMI
 
 
Jenkins may get to 80% snaps soon
MINNESOTA
     
NEW ENGLAND
  Dont'a Hightower  
NEW ORLEANS
 
Ellerbe will replace Robertson when healthy 
NEW YORK GIANTS
 
 
   
NEW YORK JETS
   
Lee may take over every-down this week
OAKLAND
   
PHILADELPHIA
Jordan Hicks   
Kendricks out in subpackages 
PITTSBURGH
Lawrence Timmons    
SAN DIEGO
Manti Te'o : Melvin Ingram
   
SAN FRANCISCO
NaVorro Bowman : Gerald Hodges
  Ray-Ray Armstrong (IR)  
SEATTLE
     
TAMPA BAY
     
TENNESSEE
  Watch Williamson practice participation 
WASHINGTON
   

Subscribe to The Audible on iTunes or download our weekly IDP podcast here every Thursday for injury updates, player analysis, and matchup discussion. Follow and ask questions on Twitter @JeneBramel.