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Reading the Defense: Week 8

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

NEWS AND NOTES

***The Patriots traded for Kyle Van Noy on Tuesday. It's an odd move. The Patriots have a fairly deep depth chart at linebacker, though their top three off-ball linebackers have been dealing with injuries. Van Noy fits multiple positions, however, and represents the type of risk the Patriots love to take: Identify a talented player who doesn't have an obvious fit with their current team and try to find a role that works. The Lions are worse off at linebacker than the Patriots. DeAndre Levy has not been practicing and there has been no evidence he's ready to return this week. Maybe this deal suggests he's closer than expected. The Lions may also like what they've seen from Antwione Williams, who's first in line to replace Van Noy, and they quickly re-signed Josh Bynes as well.

***Ryan Shazier returned last week, but not full time. He rotated with Vince Williams, with Lawrence Timmons continuing to play every down. Don't be surprised if the situation changes this week. Before his MCL aggravation, Shazier had ascended to the main inside linebacker in the rotation, with Timmons resting and Williams playing sparingly. I think Williams has earned more playing time, but would expect to see Shazier get back to an every-down role again shortly.

***Justin Houston is now practicing but the Chiefs will continue to be cautious with him. I still expect Houston to be activated rather than moved to injured reserve. I also still expect Houston to be used only situationally for the rest of the season. Add him if you've got the roster space in sack-heavy leagues but be patient. If you're looking for more immediate help, I expanded my tier of big play matchup edge players below.

***Landon Collins drew the most attention around the safety ranks this week, but I was more impressed with Keanu Neal. Impressive from the moment he joined the starting lineup, Neal was shockingly good last week. I'm not sure I've seen a strong safety more sudden and downhill in run support since Bob Sanders. Neal has averaged a shade under nine total tackles over his last four games with two forced fumbles. With Reshad Jones on injured reserve, Collins and Neal are likely to separate themselves in the next few weeks. Antoine Bethea's opportunity will likely keep him breathing on the heels of the two young studs.

***In the latest instance of taking care to not overreact to stat lines, the Raiders benched Cory James this week -- for Washington cast-off Perry Riley. Immediately playing every down, Riley will compete with Malcolm Smith and Karl Joseph for tackles. Riley is barely above replacement level talent, too, but you'll want to continue to target and stream the Oakland middle linebacker. Add Riley and watch the Oakland media closely for news of depth chart movement.

***The Saints kept Craig Robertson at middle linebacker two weeks ago despite having James Laurinaitis active after missing a game with a calf injury. When asked why, Sean Payton said, "We felt like it." That seemed dismissive and, although I was surprised to see Laurinaitis play every down over Stephone Anthony this preseason, I didn't expect him to lose base snaps to Nate Stupar. But this week showed that the Saints are serious with this -- Robertson went from an afterthought to "careful when Ellerbe returns," to a now every-down linebacker in a great situation.

***The Niners threatened to rotate Nick Bellore out more often to keep him fresher but didn't follow through. For now, Bellore remains an every-down linebacker, with Gerald Hodges holding a clear edge over Michael Wilhoite (and Shayne Skov) at the other inside linebacker position.

Make sure you're reading Aaron Rudnicki's upgrades and downgrades and John Norton's Eyes of the Guru for more details on last week's play. And we'll have more in our Thursday podcast, including lots of matchup and injury discussion after Wednesday's first practice participation report.

POSITIONAL TIERS

These tiers will not be as extensive as my offseason tiers. During the season, I put players into three categories: Matchup Independent Starters, Matchup Dependent Plays, and Priority Watch List. As the season progresses, the watch list shortens as we learn whether teams are willing to move off their early season starters for unproven talent or not. Dynasty league owners should have an additional category: Stashes you must keep on your roster. In deeper leagues, the matchup dependent list will obviously need to be longer.

This week: Linebacker

LINEBACKER TIERS

Matchup Independent Every-Week Starters
Luke Kuechly, Alec Ogletree, Kwon Alexander, Zach Brown, Paul Posluszny, Derrick Johnson, C.J. Mosley, Bobby Wagner, Jatavis Brown, Benardrick McKinney, Zachary Orr, Ryan Shazier, Preston Brown, Telvin Smith, Jamie Collins, Eric Kendricks, Deion Jones, Mark Barron, Craig Robertson, Lawrence Timmons, Sean Lee, Tahir Whitehead, D'Qwell Jackson, Vontaze Burfict, Jerrell Freeman, Nick Bellore, LaVonte David, Kiko Alonso, Will Compton, DeAndre Levy (inj)

Rosterable Matchup Dependent Plays
Nigel Bradham, Dont'a Hightower, Deone Bucannon, Jordan Hicks, Avery Williamson, Danny Trevathan, Darron Lee (inj), Christian Kirksey, Kevin Minter, DeVondre Campbell, Malcolm Smith, Brandon Marshall, K.J. Wright, Antwione Williams, Karlos Dansby

Big Play Matchup Plays
Von Miller, Chandler Jones, Melvin Ingram, Lorenzo Alexander, Jerry Hughes, Vic Beasley, Markus Golden, Nick Perry, Whitney Mercilus, Brian Orakpo, Terrell Suggs, Dee Ford, Willie Young, Erik Walden, Clay Matthews, Demarcus Ware (inj)

Dynasty Watch List / Roster Stashes
Myles Jack, NaVorro Bowman (inj), Su'a Cravens, Jadeveon Clowney, Denzel Perryman, Shaq Thompson, Vince Williams, Preston Smith, Mychal Kendricks, Leonard Floyd, Blake Martinez, Za'Darius Smith, Elandon Roberts, Bud Dupree, Shane Ray, Shaq Lawson, Jaylon Smith, B.J. Goodson, Stephone Anthony


EVERY-DOWN LINEBACKER PROJECTIONS 

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
Markus Golden : Kevin Minter    
ATLANTA
Deion Jones : DeVondre Campbell
 
Sean Weatherspoon (IR)  
BALTIMORE
Zachary Orr : Za'Darius Smith
 
Suggs could return after the bye week
BUFFALO
   
CAROLINA
     
CHICAGO
   
CINCINNATI
 
 
 
CLEVELAND
Demario Davis : Chris Kirksey
   
DALLAS
   
 
DENVER
 
Brandon Marshall  
DETROIT
  DeAndre Levy  
GREEN BAY
none
 
 
 
HOUSTON
Brian Cushing : John Simon
 
 
INDIANAPOLIS
D'Qwell Jackson Trent Cole (IR)  
JACKSONVILLE
     
KANSAS CITY
 
LOS ANGELES
     
MIAMI
 
 
MINNESOTA
     
NEW ENGLAND
Jamie Collins : Dont'a Hightower
     
NEW ORLEANS
Craig Robertson : Nate Stupar
 
Laurinaitis benching continues
NEW YORK GIANTS
none    
NEW YORK JETS
  Darron LeeErin Henderson (NFI)
 
OAKLAND
Ben Heeney (IR)  
PHILADELPHIA
   
 
PITTSBURGH
    Shazier and Williams rotated W7 
SAN DIEGO
 
Manti Te'o (IR)  
SAN FRANCISCO
Ahmad Brooks : Gerald Hodges NaVorro Bowman (IR)   
SEATTLE
     
TAMPA BAY
     
TENNESSEE
   
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.