D.J. Swearinger stepped into the role previously held by Tyvon Branch. This was not at all unexpected but with his history of slacking production the 6-1-1 with a pass defended he put up versus San Francisco was a surprise. It is hard to say at this stage if Swearinger will prove to be a one week wonder or will be productive the rest of the way. What we do know is Branch was giving us good numbers in the role before his injury. For that reason I am leaning toward the production being a product of the situation and am cautiously optimistic Swearinger will continue to produce. He is at or near the top of my free agent list this week at DB.
Outside linebacker Marcus Golden is quietly becoming one of the league's elite pass rushers. In fantasy terms his generally marginal tackle totals put him in the same boat with other quality outside backers in that his value is relative to scoring system. Golden's 7-3-2 against San Francisco will catch a lot of eyes this week. That and the fact he has as sack in every game this year will make him a strong consideration as at least a bye week spot start in nearly any format.
Earlier in the year I made the statement if Kevin Minter could find a way to make a few big plays he would be a quality LB3 for us. He is one of a dwindling number of three down linebacker options we still have. In week five he put up a season best 15.75 fantasy points with a stat line of 5-4-1.5. Adding to the optimism, Minter now has 2.5 sacks over the past three games. As attrition continues to eat away at our linebacker depth, Minter is looking better and better every week. He is in concussion protocol early in the week but is expected to clear in plenty of time to play against the Jets.
Vic Beasley has finally started to show why he was a top ten pick. After exploding for 7-1-3.5 and a pair of forced fumbles against Denver, Beasley already has more sacks (4.5) and more than half his tackle total from 2015. We will have to see if this is the breakout we have been waiting for or if it was just a fluke. It is worth pointing out that Beasley is still Far from an every down player. He was on the field for 42 of the team's 70 defensive plays in week five.
Phillip Wheeler was the Falcons lead linebacker in week five but that is not really saying much. He played 53 of a possible 70 snaps and finished with a so-so 4-3-0. As expected the Falcons used a lot of big nickel with Kemal Ishmael filling in at the linebacker level on many if not most of his 59 plays. Ishmael continues to be productive and will do so until the Falcons can get some guys back healthy at the second level. Deon Jones sat with his ankle injury last week but may be able to get back on the field this week in some capacity. I would be wary of starting him unless he is a full participant in practice late in the week.
C.J. Mosley left Sunday's game with a hamstring injury that may sideline him for week six. Follow the practice reports late this week and be prepared to go with plan B. Albert McClellan stepped in during week five and would get the call if Mosley sits.
Veteran journeyman Lorenzo Alexander seems to have found his perfect fit at last. The 33 year old posted a career best of 6-0-3 in week five and has at least half a sack in every game so far. Unlike most outside linebackers Alexander has also been fairly consistent and productive in the tackle columns with at least 4 solo stops in each of the last four games.
Danny Trevathan was back in action against the Colts though he was a little short of an every down role. His numbers were not great at 4-2-0 but we should put that into perspective by considering it was 1 fewer tackle than Jerrell Freeman who was 5-2-0. Trevathan made it through the game and looked fine. The low tackle numbers had more to do with the Colts being a poor matchup than any limitations for Trevathan. At a glance it would seem Jacksonville presents another weak matchup for the Bears inside linebacker tandem but the Jaguars running game was showing signs of life heading into their bye week. I will be comfortable with Trevathan in my lineup this week.
Harold Jones-Quartey was questionable going into last weekend due to a concussion. He cleared protocol and was in the starting lineup on Sunday but lasted just 10 plays before Chris Prosinski took over. As of early on Wednesday I have seen nothing to explain why Prosinski took over but he did go on to lead the team in tackles against the Colts at 6-2-0.
No Cincinnati linebacker played every defensive snap in week five. Vontaze Burfict showed us just how special he is with a game high 9-1-0 on 44 snaps. Surprisingly it as Rey Maualuga who had the most playing time among Bengals linebackers. He was on the field for 46 of 57 plays while Karlos Dansby played 39 and Vincent Rey 13. This breakdown was purely a result of game flow and the approach of the Dallas offense. Going forward we should see Burfict in a near every down role while none of the others come close.
After his third consecutive game with 3 or fewer solo tackles it is time to part ways with Shawn Williams. He put up decent numbers over the first two weeks of the season but has since failed to make the best of matchups with Denver and Dallas. I can give him a pass on the Miami game since their offense failed to provide much opportunity but the Cowboys ran through this defense like water through a fish net. For those without many options there is always hope the New England offense can bring out the best in Williams this week. On the other hand, if Dallas was not able to do it there is not a great deal of reason for optimism.
With 6 tackles, 4 assists and a pass defended Demario Davis was a solid start for us in week five. That said, Christian Kirksey has clearly emerged as both the best IDP option in a Cleveland uniform and the likely centerpiece of the defense going forward. I have not been a fan of Kirksey over the past couple of years and still view him as being far from an elite player on the field, but have to admit he has played and produced much better than I ever expected he could. Kirksey has solidified himself as an every week must start. Davis will have a good game here and there going forward but be careful relying on him as more than a match up based bye week play.
Demarcus Lawrence was back on the field against Cincinnati with the coaching staff electing to ease him back into action. Lawrence participated in 17 plays as part of the rotation up front. It is safe to expect his role to expand against Green Bay this week but Lawrence may be a week away from reclaiming the starting spot and virtual full time role.
Devin Taylor got back on track in week five going 3-0-1 against the Eagles. A big part of his returning production has to do with the ankle getting close to 100% but the production of Kerry Hyder over the past few weeks also kept Philadelphia’s offensive line honest. Taylor was not seeing as many double team's on Sunday as he had in the previous two weeks. There is no word yet on an expected return date for Ezekiel Ansah which would be another plus for Taylor. With Los Angeles and Washington on the schedule for the next two weeks, it may be a good idea to get Taylor back in our lineups.
Strong safety Tavon Wilson had another solid outing with 5 solo stops. He has generally looked good on the field and could become a highly productive option for us if he is ever able to claim an every down role. Right now Wilson is seeing about 65% of the opportunities in a time share with Rafael Bush.
Green Bay Packers
Twenty four years of fantasy football have provided some strange and interesting situations but I do not believe I have ever seen a team use a nickel package as their base defense and have all five defensive backs play every snap in a game. The Packers did exactly that against the Giants. The odd man out was inside linebacker Blake Martinez who saw his early down role all but eliminated in this game. It would not be a surprise to see Green Bay go the other way this week and play Martinez often against the Cowboys exceptional run game. Unfortunately for IDP fantasy owners this seems to be the wave of the future as defenses completely change their approach from week to week. The only Packers defenders we can count on at this point are Morgan Burnett, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and maybe Jake Ryan who has made the most of his opportunity while playing 73% of the time.
Charles James showed up as the Texans second leading tackler in week five. He came on as the third corner when Jonathan Joseph left with a concussion midway through the first half. His 6 solo tackles were basically a product of game flow and an opponent looking to exploit a backup player who was forced into action. There is nothing to see here.
Jadaveon Clowney is filling in at end for J.J. Watt and is doing it well. With a team best 7 solo stops Clowney even looked like Watt in the week five box score. Because he has a linebacker designation with nearly all league hosting programs, Clowney is not going to have much value for us this season. What will the Texans look like next year though with Clowney and Watt as their defensive ends? Dynasty owners may want to take a hard look here. If you can afford the roster space to hold onto Clowney for the long term it could pay dividends.
Things are finally starting to round into shape with the Colts defense. Clayton Geathers was back in his every down role in week four. In week five the production caught up as well. Geathers was 6-2-0 against a Chicago team that has been no more than an average matchup for safeties. Working behind a leaky front seven makes Geathers a potential every week play at this point. I like him this week against the Texans.
When they let Sio Moore go, it left us wondering if Antonio Morrison might finally get his chance. Instead it was Josh McNary moving into the starting lineup in a continuing time share. This week Morrison may get the start and take over the role completely by default. McNary left Sunday's game with a neck injury and was not able to return. Each of these players logged 25 snaps in week five with Morrison being the most productive at 3-1-0. The Colts generally leave two linebackers on the field most of the time so if Morrison gets his chance and makes the most of it; he could have some value for us down the stretch. We will be watching this situation closely in week six.
After letting Moore go the Colts have finally gone back to D'Qwell Jackson as an every down player; or at least they did so in week five. The result was a season best 7-2-0 against the Bears. Like Geathers, Jackson looks like an every week start for us going forward. At the very least he is a must play this week against Houston and if McNary is out, start Morrison should be a good play as well. Week five was the exception but over the first four games we saw Bears inside backers Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan go 9-8-0 and 7-4-1 respectively in week one. In week two it was Derrick Johnson at 8-3-1 and two down starter Justin March 4-4-0. Week three Jamie Collins went large at 8-6-0 adding a pick while Jonathan Freeney was 4-3-0 on 41 snaps. Houston even made Avery Williamson a star in week four when he was 9-3-0.
Kansas City Chiefs
One team's trash is another team's treasure. The Chiefs wasted no time adding Sio Moore after he was cast away by the Colts. Moore is a talented and productive player with the potential to be a three down starter. There is something going on with him beyond the field however. The former Raiders starter was released by the then linebacker needy team in 2014. Moore was signed by the Colts where he was injured early in 2015 just when it looked like he might claim a starting spot. This year he opened week one as a starter and was the team's most productive player right up to the day he was cut. Moore is healthy and is clearly a better linebacker than Justin March-Lillard. Maybe he will finally find a place to fit in.
Los Angeles Rams
With both Robert Quinn and William Hayes on the shelf, defensive tackle Ethan Westbrooks made the start at end for Los Angeles in week five. I mentioned him last week as a potential plug in for those in tackle required leagues. I picked him up on Saturday night after learning I would be without Clinton McDonald on Monday. Westbrooks filled in nicely with a solid 2-0-1. Keep an eye on this week's practice reports. If the starting ends are out again which seems likely, Westbrooks could be a sneaky good start this week versus the Lions.
Trumaine Johnson left Sunday's game with what looked like a serious leg injury. The good news is nothing was broken. The bad news being Johnson will miss a few weeks with a nasty high ankle sprain. I have talked in previous weeks about how box score friendly the Rams corners have been. With the loss of Johnson and Lamarcus Joyner limited by a toe injury, E.J. Gains and Troy Hill may be in line to start week six. Hill had 11 solo stops versus the Buccaneers in week three while Gaines was 6-1-0 with a couple of batted passes as the nickel corner in week four. If Joyner is not able to go, both Gaines and Hill will be worthy of consideration as CB2 options this week.
Koa Misi landed on IR this week with a potentially career ending neck injury. Donald Butler was the replacement at strong side linebacker. Butler stayed on the field in a few nickel situations but the Dolphins elected to use Kiko Alonso as their only linebacker in most passing situations. Butler ended up with a respectable 4-2-0 on 45 of a possible 74 snaps. He is a quality veteran player with some history of solid fantasy production. It looks as if he will be the starter going forward and is worth keeping an eye on. Jelani Jenkins would likely reclaim a three down role if he can come back healthy from the groin injury. He was limited in practice last week and may get back on the field for week six. If Jenkins does not play this week the team could hold him out until after their week eight bye which should allow him to get healthy.
With Miami looking so bad it will be no surprise to see Ndamukong Suh tank. He is a nearly unstoppable player when motivated but if things are not going well Suh is a player who will go through the motions and collect a paycheck. Let's hope his 1 solo tackle in week five was not the beginning of a trend but I will not be surprised if it is.
New England Patriots
Other than their pass rushers who did little despite a strong match up, we had no grand expectations for out Patriots defenders in week five. One surprise to come out of the game however was middle linebacker Elandon Roberts leading the team in tackles at 6-1-0. Roberts looked good as a starter during the preseason and could become a fixture for the Patriots if Dont'a Hightower continues to struggle with injuries. Hightower started against Cleveland but played only 29 snaps in a time share with Roberts who saw 31. At this point I am not sure if the timeshare was an effort to limit the chances of Hightower aggravating his knee injury or the coaching staff taking a look at a promising young player. Keep an eye on this situation and on Roberts going forward. It is noteworthy to point out Hightower is in the final year of his contract.
New York Giants
Olivier Vernon in not making much of an impact as a pass rusher but he is one of the few defensive ends league wide who plays nearly every snap. Interestingly the Giants are moving him around a lot including some plays at inside linebacker in week five. He is not getting sacks but has been around the ball often and has been pressuring the quarterback. If he can continue to produce solid tackle numbers Vernon will stay in the mix as a second starter in most leagues.
Keenan Robinson not an official starter but played 66 of 72 snaps in week five which is more than Jonathan Casillas (61) for the first time this year. Robinson's numbers have not been great but we are quickly approaching a point where attrition will make him at least a viable bye week fill in.
New York Jets
David Harris left Sunday's contest with a hamstring injury and was not able to return. As of Wednesday afternoon we are still waiting on an update and word on his availability for week six. If Harris is not able to go we should see Darron Lee make his second career start. Lee was 5-1-.5 as a three down player in week three when Erin Henderson sat out. Even if Harris is able to play, Lee should be on the field a lot against Arizona who likes to spread the field on offense. The Jets will likely answer with a nickel base defense in this game. Lee's speed, quickness and athleticism should serve him well as he chases David Johnson around. I like Lee as a solid LB3 option this week.
Rontez Miles worked in a time share with Calvin Pryor against the Steelers. Pryor saw action on 45 plays with Miles working on 31. Miles however, was far more impressive both on the field and in the box score where he tallied 6 tackles and a forced fumble. Maybe it was the adrenaline of a rare start for Miles but the second year pro was flying around the field making plays while Pryor was his usual unimpressive self. There could be a changing of the guard in the near future here if Miles continues to impress. After last week it will be a surprise if he does not get more opportunity.
After a monster week four rookie middle backer Corey James came crashing back to earth with a thud against the Chargers in week five. If you were among the owners who picked up James over the past two weeks, there is no reason to panic here. Nothing has changed as James continued to play full time. The dismal 1-1-0 was mostly a result of the Chargers offensive game plan which attacked the edges of Oakland's defense. As a result it was Perry Riley with the solid 6-1-0 after being plucked off the street last week to replace the injured Malcolm Smith on the weak side. Smith owners can also breathe a sigh of relief with the knowledge Oakland kept both linebackers on the field full time. He was questionable with the quad last week but practiced on a limited basis Friday. That is a good sign for a potential return against the Chiefs this week.
At the beginning of the season it looked as if there would be an even three man rotation at end for the Eagles. That has not so much been the case over their last two games with Vinny Curry slowly being fazed out of the mix. His 16 snaps on Sunday were his fewest of the season by far. Meanwhile both Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham played at least 52.
Sean Davis was back in action week five but he somewhat surprisingly stayed in slot corner role while Jordan Dangerfield made another start at strong safety. This is a strong sign the Steelers like Davis in his current role and is also a vote of confidence for owners of Robert Golden who may have had some fear of Davis taking over the strong safety job. It has been three weeks now since Golden was lost to the hamstring injury. He was a limited practice participant last week and may be back in action for week six. Even if Golden is able to play we should give him another week on the bench. Not only is there the risk of aggravating the injury, Miami is a horrible match up.
After a second consecutive big game I am starting to feel the urge to join Sig and Jene on the Vince Williams bandwagon. He is now an impressive 22-3-2 in two starts. As we like to say, two games is a trend. Lawrence Timmons owners should be feeling a little uncomfortable about now. The 30 year old ten year veteran still has plenty of game but he may be the third wheel in the near future.
San Diego Chargers
Joey Bosa hit the ground running with a huge 4-1-2 in his NFL debut. This will have a lot of Bosa owners pointing fingers and proclaiming "I told you so". If you are one of those owners I suggest holding your tongue for another week or two. A wise man once told me it is better to coat your words with honey for you never know when you will be called upon to eat them. Bosa is a young player with fresh legs and an adrenaline rush in his first NFL game. Let the newness wear off a little and we will see if he is still all that we want to believe he is right now.
With Denzel Perryman on the sideline it was Jatavis Brown was the Chargers three down inside backer on Sunday. Brown tallied a strong 5-1-1 against a Raiders offense that has not run the ball particularly well. Perryman has still not returned to practice after the shoulder injury casting serious doubt on his availability for week six. Korey Toomer made the start at the other ILB spot ahead of Josh Perry though Perry also saw significant action.
San Francisco 49ers
One situation everyone was watching heading into last week's action was at inside linebacker for the 49ers. Michael Wilhoite and Nick Bellore were the starters as anticipated with Bellore the only defender to be on the field for all 68 snaps. Wilhoite played 54 with Gerald Hodges replacing him for 10. Wilhoite may still have the higher floor but Bellore far outshined him against Arizona both on the field and in the box scores with a mark of 5-4-.5 to Wilhoite's 2-1-.5. I would not hesitate to start Bellore this week if he had a better match up but would probably look to sit Wilhoite until we see how this all works out. We know how wishy washy Chip Kelly can be at times and Hodges getting on the field late may not be a great sign. As for starting Bellore against Buffalo, be aware that to date no linebacker has recorded more than 5 solo tackles against the Bills.
With all the injuries in the secondary Washington started Duke Ihenacho at strong safety and corner Will Blackmon at free in week five. Ihenacho is a player I have touted often in the past. When he is healthy this guy has consistently given us quality production. Dating all the way back to his initial splash in Denver in 2013, Ihenacho has battled one injury after another. Jay Gruden wanted him to be the starting strong safety last season before he was shut down with a season ending injury in week one. Ihenacho went 8-1-0 with a pass defended against Baltimore and has another good matchup with the Eagles this week. Blackmon did his best imitation of a free safety against the Ravens but look for recent addition Donte Whitner to take over the spot in week six.
With S'ua Cravens out and still nursing a concussion, Mason Foster played 57 of 71 snaps which were 12 more than he had in either of the two previous games. There was a time I called Foster the best two down linebackers in the fantasy game. His 7 solo stops in a less than full time role last week is a good example of why. If Cravens plays this week Foster's role will once again be reduced to around 40 snaps. If Cravens is out Foster could be worthy as a third starter one more time.
That does it for the week six offering. Best of luck to everyone this week as we close in on the midway point of our regular season.