The Falcons were finally able to start their two rookie linebackers together in week seven. Both Deon Jones and De'Vondre Campbell were every down players in the loss to San Diego. Both were productive as well with Jones going 5-2-0 and a pick while Campbell was 6-4-0. Just as importantly, both players came through healthy. The Packers are a somewhat unknown commodity in terms of matchup this week due to their injury situation at running back, but it is worth considering Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan combined for 16 solo stops and 3 assists against the Packers last week. Some of those numbers undoubtedly came from the Bears inability to move the ball at all after Brian Hoyer was lost, which in turn kept the Green Bay offense on the field for a lot of plays. With six fewer teams to draw on for starters this week I would not hesitate to start either of them. With Jones and Campbell in three down roles, Kemal Ishmael went back to the bench. He had all of one snap against the Chargers.
Defensive end Adrian Clayborn turned in great week eight performances with a line of 3-1-1, a fumble recovery for a score and a batted pass just for good measure. Clayborn is a capable player who has flashed at times in the past. The recent emergence of Vic Beasley should keep the attention of offenses going forward which is a plus for Clayborn. Green Bay is not exactly a juicy matchup for outside pass rushers but the shortage of options makes him a worthy consideration for owners in a pinch this week.
Robert Blanton replaced free safety Aaron Williams who left with head and neck injuries after a nasty crack back block by Jarvis Landry on Sunday. Blanton had a strong 7 solo tackles on 34 snaps in the game and could be in line for another good game if Williams is not able to go this week. As of Wednesday Williams had not practiced this week but he was able to attend meeting and participate in other off field preparation. His chances of playing this week do not seem good.
Lorenzo Alexander was back in a near every down role for week seven and responded with yet another strong outing (4-0-1). The return of Shaq Lawson in week seven will likely lead to more of a three man rotation at outside backer in the weeks to come but Alexander has probably solidified his position enough to continue getting 70% or more of the playing time the rest of the way.
It has not been talked about much but there was an interesting development when we last saw the Panthers in action. Against the Saints in week six Carolina kept all three of their linebackers on the field full time. Against a run heavy team this would not be anything to think twice about but nearly everyone uses a nickel package as their base defense when facing the Saints. The Panthers struggles in the secondary this season surely contributed greatly to the decision to make Shaq Thompson a three down player. The results were hardly spectacular so it is hard to say if Thompson will continue to have a three down role over the next few weeks. This does however send a clear message of the confidence the coaching staff has in his coverage ability. Thompson was a solid 6-1-0 with a pass defended against the Saints. Those numbers were not eye catching enough to make many owners pick him up but if he continues in the three down role Thompson could be an excellent add for the stretch run. Dynasty owners in particular should be paying attention here as he is the heir apparent to the soon to be 34 year old Thomas Davis.
Karlos Dansby had a big game against the Browns (9-2-0 with a pass defended) but we should not mistake this as a sign his production has returned, at least not with any consistency. His 44 snaps versus Cleveland were the most for Dansby in a contest since week three but were still less than 70% of the team's total. The big numbers were more a result of Cleveland's offensive game plan and possibly a little extra motivation for Dansby having been cut by the Browns after last season.
To anyone who happened to start strong safety Shawn Williams last week; you are welcome. After being patient with him all season I finally gave up and cut him in several leagues leading up to week seven. Right on queue Williams put up his best fantasy score of the season. The important point to note here is he did most of the damage via big plays. Williams has recorded more than 3 solo stops in one of the last five games. He will make a few big plays and have quality outings here and there over the remainder of the season but his production is too hit or miss for my taste.
When the Browns lost Jordan Poyer for the year there was speculation Derrick Kindred and Ibraheim Campbell would both assume bigger roles going forward. As it turned out one Sunday they continued to split time at strong safety while relocated corner Tracy Howard took over at free safety full time. The jury is still out on Howard's potential value but it is brutally obvious the coaching staff has no intention of making full time players out of Kindred or Campbell anytime soon.
Brandon Marshall is considered day-to-day this week with a sore hamstring. Keep an eye on his practice participation this week and be prepared with a plan B just in case. The Chargers have been a fairly strong matchup for inside linebackers this season. Marshall was 5-1-0 against them in week six. Corey Nelson stepped in when Marshall left the field in week seven.
Ezekiel Ansah has not yet returned to form in the box scores but he was back in a three down role for the Lions on Sunday. His production should not be far behind but I would not count on it this week against the Texans who shut Denver out of the sack column last week.
Green Bay Packers
After Brian Hoyer was injured the Bears offense flat lined in week seven. As a result Chicago ran all of 28 plays ending in a tackle opportunity. There is no doubt the Falcons offense will provide a much more significant challenge. Last week I touted the Packers replacement corner tandem of LaDarius Gunter and Demetri Goodson as a couple of quality sleeper starts in corner required leagues. Their potential fell off with Hoyer's exit but I will mention them again this week with one qualifier; the Falcons like to find a matchup they like and then pick on one corner. In week six it was DeShawn Shead with 7-1-0 and 3 passes defended while Richard Sherman and slot corner Jeremy Lane combined to go 3-3 with a pair of breakups. In week seven it was Casey Hayward with 6 tackles and a pass defended while Steve Williams and Craig Mager were 2-1 with a PD between them. If forced to choose here I would go with Gunter who has shown flashes of value and would be most likely to matchup with Julio Jones.
Kansas City Chiefs
Ramik Wilson was a hot fantasy option early in the 2015 season before vanishing into obscurity by mid-season. He failed to make the 53 man roster this summer and spent the first six weeks on the taxi squad. Kansas City has added both Sam Barrington and Sio Moore since the end of preseason games but surprisingly it was Wilson getting the call to replace the injured Justin March-Lillard. At a glance Wilson's 5-3 in week seven seem respectable. When we consider he produced those numbers while playing 28 snaps the totals take on a new light. I am not sure what it was about Wilson that the coaching staff was not happy with last year but the guy has been productive nearly every time he has had an opportunity. We need to keep an eye on this situation going forward but until/unless he can earn at least 75% playing time; Wilson is not a player we can trust.
Kansas City had five defensive backs with at least 5 solo tackles versus the Saints. From a matchup perspective the Colts are a similar team in that they like to spread the field and throw the ball a lot. Even so I am not sure I trust the Chiefs secondary to put up the similar numbers across the board. Eric Berry and Ron Parker have both been inconsistent at best. Berry has reached 6 solo tackles twice this year; the first in week one and the second in week seven. In between he averaged 2.5 tackles a game. Parker averaged fewer than 3 tackles over the first 5 games before going off in week seven. Some owners will need to play the matchup this week because so many players are off. I would avoid everyone in the Chiefs secondary not named Marcus Peters if possible.
Los Angeles Rams
Robert Quinn got on the field in week seven though his playing time was limited to 11 snaps. With the Rams off this week Quinn will have another week to get healthy. I expect he will be back in the usual three down role when the Rams return in week nine.
In week six Cameron Wake and Andre Branch worked in a clear cut three down role, seeing starters snap counts. In the last game Miami was in more of an even rotation with Wake going 1-1-1.5 on 32 plays, Branch 0-2-.5 on 45, Mario Williams 2-0-0 on 32 and Jason Jones 2-0-1 on 17. Miami is on bye this week but when they return we should avoid all of these guys until we get some consistency from them; at least in terms of playing time.
When the team lost Reshad Jones for the season it looked as if Isa Abdul-Quddus would be the guy to pick up. He started and saw most of the playing time but was not an every down guy. Instead he worked on 41 of a possible 57 plays while Walt Aikens picked up the rest of the playing time. As of Wednesday I have seen no word of an injury to Abdul-Quddus so unless we hear something different when the practice reports start rolling in, we will have to assume it was by design.
The Vikings were held without a sack against Philadelphia so I look for their pass rushers to be hungry this week. Chicago did a good job protecting Brian Hoyer over the past five games but Jay Cutler is back under center in week eight. He was dropped 8 times in the first two weeks.
New England Patriots
Rob Ninkovich started at strong side linebacker but lined up at several spots over the course of the game including defensive end. In all he played 56 of the team's 72 snaps in week seven. Meanwhile Jabaal Sheard saw his role reduced to 35 plays which was by far his fewest opportunities of the season. It is unclear if this was a result of game flow or the beginning of a trend. Whatever the reason, Sheard has clearly been in a slump with 11 fantasy points over the past three games combined. With the bye weeks limiting our options it is hard to sit a player we had so much expectation for, but something seems to be amiss here. If you have other decent options consider them strongly despite the good matchup.
Eric Rowe replaced Ryan Logan as the starting corner in week seven with Ryan moving into the nickel role. Rowe picked up the torch and like Ryan, continued to put up decent tackle totals finishing at 5-0-1 on the day. If Ryan was your starting corner it is time to move on and Rowe might be your answer as a replacement.
Both Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins were virtually every down players against the Steelers with neither sitting out more than 8 of the 73 plays. Both guys came through healthy so Collins moves back into must start status while Hightower seems likely to be productive as well on most weeks. The team traded for Kyle Van Noy this week which was an interesting move. He is a versatile and athletic player who fits the mold of a Patriots linebacker. Van Noy probably will not have a big role right away but he may be the next Jonathan Freeney for New England. I expect he will have some role in the near future though he is unlikely to bump either Collins or Hightower into a lesser piece of the pie.
New Orleans Saints
If you need a bye week fill in at linebacker Nate Stupar may be your answer. James Laurinaitis was active but did not play in week seven leaving room for speculation that Stupar may have moved into the starting role on a permanent basis. The fifth year career backup has performed well on the field and has averaged over 13 fantasy points in his three starts. Stupar is 19-4-0 with a forced fumble, a recovery and a pass defended in those three games and has looked much better than Laurinaitis did before the injury.
New York Giants
Keenan Robinson has been getting plenty of playing time over the past few weeks. His production finally caught up when he was 7-1 against the Rams. For those who like to look ahead; the Giants face Pittsburgh, Dallas, Detroit and Philadelphia in weeks 13 through 16. Three of those teams provide strong matchups for tackle producing linebackers.
New York Jets
Bruce Carter made the start in week seven replacing Erin Henderson who was placed on the Reserve/Non-Football injury list out of the blue on Saturday. The Jets promoted Julian Stanford from their taxi squad to provide depth. He ended up playing 37 snaps at next to David Harris when Carter left with a quad injury. New York faces Cleveland this week. Despite their struggles the Browns have been a pretty good matchup for linebackers. This could be a rather interesting game between two teams contending for the first pick in next year's draft. Darron Lee is probably at least a week or two away from returning so if you are in a bad spot and need a plug in for the week, keep an eye on the late injury reports and pick up either Carter or Stanford.
Malcolm Smith was a full go against Jacksonville and led the team with a solid 6 solo tackles. It seems safe to plug him back into our lineups this week against a Tampa Bay squad that has been a pretty decent matchup for linebackers on most weeks. The surprise out of Oakland in week seven was Perry Riley starting over Corey James at middle linebacker. Riley only managed a couple of tackles in the game but that had a lot to do with the game flow and the Jaguars game plan. He played every down and seems likely to have the same role this week. Riley is not a great player but he is a quality veteran option for the team and should help to bolster their weak run defense. Meanwhile he becomes a viable play for those of us in need at the position. We should not expect big numbers but I like him as a quality third starter this week and most weeks going forward.
In last week's column I suggested picking up Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham. If you did so the results were good and Hicks was 8-3-1 and Bradham 6-1-1 against the Vikings. Both players were on the field full time for a second consecutive game so starting them against Dallas this week is a no brainer. The Cowboys are arguably the best matchup in the game for linebackers and safeties at this point.
Vince Williams started the week seven game but shared time with Ryan Shazier who played a few more snaps. With the bye week to get healthy Shazier should resume full time duties in week nine pushing Williams back to the bench for now. With Shazier's injury history it might be a good idea to sit tight on Williams if you have the roster space; especially those in dynasty leagues.
San Diego Chargers
Denzel Perryman started against the Falcons but was in and out of the lineup due to his sore shoulder. He finished the game with a team best (for their defenders) 16.25 fantasy points on the strength of 6-1-0 and a pick. The bum shoulder still scares me but he has what should be an excellent matchup with Denver this week.
Jatavis Brown failed to show up in the box score until late in Sunday's game but there is nothing to report here other than a fluke situation. Brown was one of two defenders (Dwight Lowery the other) to play every defensive snap. He should be just fine going forward and is a must play this week against Denver considering he was 13-1-1 against them in week six.
Joey Bosa had another monster outing in week seven going 4-1-2. I still have my doubts that he can sustain quality production with consistency but have to admit I am warming to the possibility he could be the next IDP stud to emerge from the defensive end position in a 3 man front. That said three games is not much of a sample.
San Francisco 49ers
Chip Kelly is as indecisive as any coach in the league when it comes to who his starters will be at any given position. San Francisco started Nick Bellore and Michael Wilhoite on Sunday but benched Wilhoite in favor of Gerald Hodges early in the contest. It will be no shock if he benches Bellore and puts Wilhoite back in the lineup when the team returns to action after the bye. Starting any of these guys is going to be a risk but if we get the right guy on the right week the rewards will be big. Both Hodges and Bellore left Sunday's game with injuries in the final minutes. Bellore looked to be favoring his right shoulder while Hodges may have had the wind knocked of him. With the 49ers on bye this week we are unlikely to hear anything about these injuries. They did not look too serious.
Start Avery Williamson against Jacksonville this week. The Jaguars have faced 5 opponents that use a 3-4 base scheme. In those games the inside linebacker tandems have averaged nearly 12 solo tackles, 1.8 passes defended and half a turnover.
As anticipated Donte Whitner started and played every down at strong safety for Washington in week seven. Whitner's 4-4-0 was second to Will Compton at 5-2-0 in terms of solo tackles but Whitner scored more fantasy points in the game. The Bengals have not been consistent as a matchup for either linebackers or safeties but if they decide to give Jeremy Hill the ball that will change. On a week where the picking is slim both Compton and Whitner are worthy considerations.
Bashaud Breeland missed snaps with his sore ankle but was able to return and finish the game. Keep an eye on the injury reports late this week to see if he will go. Josh Norman seems to be a long shot to play as he continues to go through concussion protocol. With the game in London this week coach Gruden said a decision on Norman will probably be made on Thursday which does not bode well for his chances of playing. Without Norman, Breeland would likely draw most of the coverage on A.J. Green and should have a busy day. If neither starter plays it will be Kendall Fuller and Quinton Dunbar at corner for the Redskins.
That does it for week the week eight offering. Best of luck to you this weekend.