The season ending hernia surgery for Tyvon Branch is a big loss for the Cardinals but it does help to clear the water for fantasy owners. In week four Tony Jefferson and Tyrann Mathieu were both on the field for every snaps and this should be the case going forward as well. D.J. Swearinger will assume some of the sub package duties Branch had held but it is doubtful Swearinger will have as big a role as Branch did. Even if he does we have seen enough of Swearinger to know he has little box score potential. The loss of Branch could also be a little boost for Kevin Minter as there will be less competition for tackles.
With the loss of Sean Weatherspoon to a torn Achilles the Falcons have been reduced to signing A.J. Hawk as a place holder at their once deep linebacker position. We can now safely assume the weak side job will belong to DeVondre Campbell once he has recovered from the week one high ankle sprain. Meanwhile with Paul Worrilow (groin) also on the shelf, Phillip Wheeler should be the next man up. Wheeler has been productive for us in the past when working in an every down capacity. One significant fact to be aware of however, no Atlanta linebacker played more than 47 of a possible 71 snaps in week four. Deon Jones probably would have played nearly every down but he too went out with an ankle injury. Unless one of the walking wounded can make it back Wheeler will likely be a three down guys this week. Hawk may be forced into base package action immediately with the other option being to play number three safety Kemal Ishmael at linebacker. Ishmael should at least see time at linebacker in sub packages.
Zach Brown has emerged as a stud for us and is coming off what is probably a career best 13-5-1 with 2 forced fumbles against the Patriots. He is an every week must start for us at this point but I still believe there will be weeks when Preston Brown steals the spotlight. Both players were on the field for every defensive snap versus New England.
After a big play explosion in week three Corey Graham turned back into a pumpkin in week four as expected. After going 1-1-0 in week four he is now on pace to finish with fewer than 40 solo tackles. If you have not yet moved on the time has come to do so.
James Bradberry left Sunday's game early with a toe injury. It may not be too serious but was bad enough to keep him on the sideline for the rest of the game. If he is not able to go against the Buccaneers it would be a big loss for the Panthers and probably fantasy owners as well. Tampa Bay has been a pass happy offense thus far resulting in 55 solo tackles and 6 interceptions by opposing corners to date. If Bradberry does not play look for fellow rookie Daryl Worley to draw the start. Bene Benwikere is a decent sleeper start with this matchup as well
On September 27th the Panthers signed veteran safety Michael Griffin off the street. On October 3rd he replaced Tre Boston at the free safety position for roughly half of the team's defensive snaps. As of Wednesday I have seen nothing to suggest this was an injury related move. It is hard to say who will open week five as the starter but this is a situation to keep an eye on as Griffin has been productive for us in the past.
Thomas Davis missed time in week four with a hamstring injury but is expected to go in week five. Be sure to follow the practice reports late in the week if he is your guy.
After entering concussion protocol during the week three game Harold Jones-Quartey was cleared and back in the week four lineup. He has not been particularly eye popping but Jones-Quartey has produced 12 solo stops over the past game and a half while Danny Trevathan has been out. The Bears scheme is not all that fantasy friendly in terms of safety production but a solid tackling safety on a bad team with injuries to their starting inside linebacker is an equation that can lead to quality production. The Colts are not a great matchup but I have a feeling Jones-Quartey will give us 5 or more solo stops for a third straight game.
The Bears gave Josh Timu a shot at the starting inside linebacker spot in week four. The results were not much better than the previous week when Christian Jones and Jonathan Anderson did little with their opportunity. Timu shared time with Nick Kwiatkoski who also had a quiet game.
Vontaze Burfict played 34 snaps on Sunday but that was 11 more than any other linebacker on the team. The Bengals defense manhandled the Miami offense and was only on the field for 45 plays. The important factor here being Burfict looked good. He was not limited and was flying around the field like he had never missed a snap. There were not many tackle opportunities for Cincinnati players in this game as reflected by Burfict's 2-1-0 with a pass defended. This will not be the case when Cincinnati goes to Dallas this week. Expect Burfict to put up quality numbers in this one as he will see plenty of Ezekiel Elliot.
As for the other Cincinnati linebackers; Vincent Rey was limited to 15 snaps versus Miami while Karlos Dansby played 22 and Rey Maualuga 23. On paper Dallas is a great match up but how can we trust any of these guys knowing they may only play 50% of the snaps?
Everyone expects Tom Brady and the Patriots to come out on fire this week. The problem is we have no idea what kind of game plan to expect from them. There is little doubt they could ride Legarrette Blount if so desired, or they could feature the twin towers at tight end (Gronkowski and Bennett), or they may elect to let Brady show off his deep passing prowess. In my eyes ILB Christian Kirksey and safety Jordan Poyer are must start players this week with Joe Haden getting plenty of consideration as well in corner required leagues.
Anthony Hitchens had a bigger piece of the playing time pie in week four. His 36 snaps (of a possible 53) represented his biggest opportunity of the season. While it is nothing to get excited about at this point, Hitchens situation is one we will be keeping a close eye on. If he can get back into a three down role the guy can be productive, and he only has to be better than Justin Durant to make that happen.
Demarcus Lawrence has served his suspension and rejoined the team this week. There is no confirmation of his expected workload but it would be a shock if it were not significant. The Bengals allowed 7 sacks in the season opener but have given up an average of 2 in their other three games. Plug Lawrence in if you have limited options but give him a week to knock the rust off if you can.
I am looking to pick up and play Aqib Talib this week in all my corner required leagues. Not only has he been red hot in the big play columns so far, I expect he will be matched up against Julio Jones most of the day. Even if Talib fails to pick off a pass or force a fumble he should have ample opportunity to make tackles and/or knock down passes. If you are in a pinch he is even a high upside gamble as a DB3 in league not breaking out the positions.
Devon Taylor continues to tough it out and play through his sprained ankle but he is clearly not the same player. Those owners in dynasty leagues should be patient if possible. The Taylor we saw in weeks one and two is the guy I believe will be there for the long term. Redraft owners may not be able to afford such patience as we are closing in quickly on the midpoint of the fantasy regular season. If you have to move on take a hard look at Kerry Hyder who continues to impress. He is not making a lot of tackles but is averaging better than a sack per game and has at least one in every contest so far.
Kyle Van Noy stepped up with a solid 7 solo tackles in week four but we should not read much into it. Nothing has changed here and he is still seeing action on about 71% of the defensive snaps.
With Tavon Wilson sidelined, Rafael Bush was the Lions every down strong safety against Chicago. The Bears are hardly a strong matchup but Bush managed a decent 5 solo stops. If Wilson sits again this week Bush should have another solid game against the Eagles.
Green Bay Packers
Green Bay will get some injured players back after their bye week. The most fantasy relevant on the defensive side being Morgan Burnett who left the week two game with a sore hamstring. There is going to be some risk with him for the next couple of weeks as hamstring injuries tend to linger, but if he is full go there is no defensive back I would rather have in my lineup almost regardless of matchup.
Last week I told everyone to start D'Qwell Jackson if for no other reason than I had given up and cut him in a couple of leagues. As is the tradition Jackson responded by putting up his first decent stat line of the season with 6 tackles. Like the Corey Graham situation, nothing really changed here. Jackson played 51 of a possible 72 snaps. Going forward we could see a difference however. The Colts surprisingly parted ways with Sio Moore early this week. I say surprisingly because Moore had been their most productive inside backer and was the team's leading tackler through week four. When the team let Nate Irving go among the final cuts my first reaction was to assume they would go with rookie Antonio Morrison who is seen by many as the future of the position. After getting burnt on that one I am being much more cautious here. The only thing we know for certain here is there would seem to be fewer players in the rotation going forward. Over the first four game Indianapolis had four inside backers sharing time. They could surprise us by adding someone to the mix but chances are the snaps will be divided in some way between Jackson, Morrison and Josh McNary. In week four Morrison played 24 while McNary saw action on 25 snaps. I am moving to pick up Morrison in a couple of leagues in hope of hitting it right, but will be waiting until after this weekend's games before trusting any Colts linebacker in my lineup.
Clayton Geathers had 2 solo tackles against the Jaguars but there is reason to be optimistic about him going forward. For the first time this season he was an every down strong safety. Most owners would not think of the Bears as a plus matchup for safeties but a deeper look at the numbers leads us to a different reality. Over the past three games there have been five safeties with at least 6 tackles and/or double digit fantasy points against the Bears. Indianapolis is certainly not a powerhouse on either side of the ball at this point and the Chicago offense looked okay against Detroit. It would be nice to have seen better numbers from Geathers last week but all things considered I think we will get at least 5 solo stops from him in week five.
With Dan Skuta on the shelf Jacksonville finally gave Myles Jack a start in week four. He was limited to a part time role on the strong side so there is no reason to believe fantasy stardom is on the horizon in the next few weeks, but it was good to see him get some experience.
Over the past few weeks I have been pimping defensive end Yannick Ngakoue for his success as a pass rusher. After watching him go 4-0-1 with a forced fumble and a pick in week four maybe it is time to start recognizing him as a three down starter and potential fantasy stud. He is averaging 53 snaps a game (played 60 last week) and is already showing considerable improvement versus the run. Watching Ngakoue brings back memories of former Raiders end Lance Johnstone. Those of us who have been at this for a while will remember Johnstone giving us 40 tackles and double digit sacks for four or five straight seasons, while checking in at around 250 pounds. Go get the rookie if it is not too late.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams are off to a strong start but injuries are beginning to mount for their defense. William Hayes missed last week with an ankle sprain and may be out again in week five. He was replaced by Eugene Sims who finished at 2-2-.5. Safety T.J. McDonald is currently in concussion protocol and is questionable at best for week five. Cody Davis could get the call there if McDonald is not cleared. Those guys have a little fantasy significance so keep an eye on their status. The other guy I am watching here is Robert Quinn. No one is talking about his being helped off the field on Sunday. Had I not been watching the game I would have known nothing about it. He did not return to the game immediately and I am not sure if he came back at all. In the end his 39 plays (out of 77) was both his lowest snap count and lowest snap percentage of the season. Hopefully no news is good news but if Quinn is your guy, be sure to check the injury report on Friday.
With both Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins sidelined in week 4 the Dolphins used a combination of Neville Hewitt, Spencer Paysinger and Donald Butler at their outside linebacker positions. While the playing time was pretty much even, Butler did have a slight edge in snaps playing 42. There is nothing to move on here but this situation is worth keeping on our radar.
One situation we need to move on is at safety. Isa Abdul-Quddus has been productive enough to slip onto a lot of rosters. That party may be over already as he split time with Michael Thomas almost equally. At the very least we need to keep him on the bench for week five.
New England Patriots
The Patriots will start to look normal on both sides of the ball this week. Brady and Gronkowski will be back on offense and they will have both Donta Hightower and Rob Ninkovich available on defense. Hightower returned to action last week though he did not have a big impact in the box scores. Unless Cleveland can somehow keep it close this week Hightower is unlikely to have much opportunity. I like the idea of starting Ninkovich though. He has fresh legs, a matchup that should provide plenty of opportunity to rush the passer, and like Brady is returning from suspension with a chip on his shoulder.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints are on a bye this week but there are a couple of guys worth talking about anyway. Safety Vonn Bell has put up 6 or more solo tackles in two of the last three weeks. His 7-2-0 in week two was seen largely as an exception since he was not working in a reliable role. That seemed to change in week four when Jairus Byrd was on the field for 15 plays while Bell played 69 of a possible 70. Byrd has looked horrible at times and it seems the coaching staff may have pulled the plug. Saints safeties have been in a target rich environment so far and there is no reason to believe that will change when they return from their bye. Beat the competition to the punch and grab Bell this week or next before everyone realizes he has taken the job.
The other player worth mention is Nick Fairley who is playing arguably the best football of his career. He is 6-4-3 over the past two games and may be emerging as a force at a position short on quality fantasy options. This is not the first time I have called him out as Fairley's play caught my eye all the way back in the preseason. This is an exceptionally talented player who seems to finally be tapping into his ability.
New York Jets
Darron Lee looked good in an every down role back in week three but apparently not good enough to land the base package job. Erin Henderson was back on the field in week four and stepped right back into his two down base package role. Lee still managed to log more plays by a margin of 34 to 26, and he made the best of the opportunity finishing at 5-2-0. For those of us sitting on him there is still hope he can take the job full time. Be patient and see if his role continues to increase over the next few games.
Last week I talked about Cory James replacing Ben Heeney at middle linebacker. I made the mistake of tweeting the news before waivers ran in my own leagues. It's a safe bet that will not happen again (thank you Matt Montgomery and others). James not only replaced Heeney, he was the Raiders only every down linebacker seeing action on all 89 plays and going 12-3-0 with a forced fumble while Malcolm Smith was on the field for 58 plays going 6-0-0 before sitting the rest of the game with a quad injury. Smith was replaced by Heeney for 8 snaps before Heeney was injured. When he went down veteran journeyman Daren Bates was the next man up. Smith has not practiced as of Wednesday so if he is your guy it is time to start working on plan B.
Vince Williams put up big numbers (13-2-1) while standing in for Ryan Shazier in week four. The breakout game has a lot of owners scrambling to pick him up. Keep in mind this is far from Williams first opportunity. The fourth year player has started several games over his career. In none of them did he eye catching numbers. While it is hard to argue with those who are snapping him up already, remember one week is a fluke and it takes two to make a trend. It was interesting however, to see Williams wearing the communications helmet and calling the plays. Stay tuned here as this story may not be over yet.
Lawrence Timmons returned to his every down role in week four after sitting out some sub package snaps in week three. His status as a quality LB3 does not seem to be in jeopardy at this point.
The Steelers were holding out hope Sean Davis would be able to play against the Chiefs. He was active for the game but Jordan Dangerfield got the start while Davis was able to rest his sore back. Having Davis on the active list and not playing him really threw a wrench into the plans of some IDP owners. Keep an eye on the injury reports late this week to see if either Davis or Robert Golden (hamstring) can get back on the field. I was not very impressed with Dangerfield. I guess you can say I am giving him no respect.
San Diego Chargers
With the loss of Manti T'eo we were expecting Denzel Perryman to finally get his shot at the lead role. Unfortunately Perryman was not able to make it through week four. He had been battling a sore shoulder prior to last week's game and was forced to the sideline before halftime. In Perryman's absence rookie Jatavis Brown stepped into the lead role with Joshua Perry and Nick Dzubnar seeing time as the other inside backer. As of Wednesday evening there has been no update on Perryman's status or availability for week five. Even if he does play there is a huge risk when starting a linebacker with a bad shoulder. Brown is not completely healthy either as he is dealing with a tender hamstring. He was able to make it through Sunday's game though and like usual looked like a bowling ball shot out of a cannon. As the war of attrition continues I think Brown is going to become a key contributor for both the Chargers and IDP owners.
San Francisco 49ers
Michael Wilhoite was a surprise starter over Gerald Hodges in week four. With the loss of Navorro Bowman for the season, Wilhoite once again becomes the 49ers lead linebacker. The other surprise was six year veteran and career backup Nick Bellore getting the call over Hodges as the replacement. There has been no official word from the organization about who will start beside Wilhoite this week but Bellore told reporters he believes it will be his job. Whoever has been plugged into this position in recent years has put up good numbers. If you are looking for the safe guy with the high floor, Wilhoite is your best target. For those of us in deep drafted leagues scrambling for someone to start, Bellore is a good gamble. If you are already sitting on Hodges it might be a good idea to sit tight for a week. Who knows how this is going to play out. Along that train of thought; it will be no surprise if safety Jaquiski Tartt somehow figures into the equation at linebacker.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers are running out of bodies up front. Gerald McCoy left last week's game with a calf injury and Noah Spence with a shoulder. Robert Ayers and Jacquise Smith are already out leaving William Gholston as the only healthy end. They are not in much better shape on the interior with no one behind Clinton McDonald and Akeem Spence. At least we know these guys will have plenty of opportunity.
Injuries are the story in Washington as well. Strong safety David Bruton landed on IR Wednesday with a concussion and sub package ILB S'ua Cravens is in concussion protocol. Inside linebacker Will Compton is dealing with a bad shoulder that could limit or sideline him and Ryan Kerrigan was forced out of Sunday's game with an elbow injury. Duke Ihenacho stepped in for Bruton in week four but recently signed Donte Whitner could be the guy come Sunday. If either Cravens or Compton are out, Mason Foster may find himself back in a full time role by default for at least this week
That is it for week five. Things are really starting to get ugly on the injury front so these next few weeks are going to make or break a lot of seasons. Stay on top of things right up to game time and best of luck to you.