Tyrann Mathieu left Sunday's game with a shoulder injury that is expected to keep him out at least a couple of weeks. Arizona has a bye this week so the team is holding out hope he will only miss one game. What we know about shoulder injuries is even if a player is on the field; a sore shoulder will have an effect on his play and production. The Cardinals are basically out of safeties so this injury will put D.J. Swearinger into an every down role (he was playing about 90% of the snaps anyway) and will force the Cardinals to put a third corner on the field in many of their defensive sets. In week eight Justin Bethel and Tharold Simon combined for 32 snaps.
The time has come to start taking Adrian Clayborn seriously. He was a first round pick of the Buccaneers in 2011 so it should not be too difficult for us to believe him capable of consistent production. As a rookie he had 7.5 sacks and in 2013 Clayborn finished with career best numbers of 44-20-6 with a couple of forced fumbles. The rest of his career has pretty much been derailed by injuries. The Falcons have been working diligently to improve what was a nearly non-existent pass rush early in the year. In recent weeks we have seen Vic Beasley come to life and Clayborn along with him. Over the past four games Clayborn is 9-1-3.5 with a fumble recovery for a score and he has at least half a sack in three of those four games. This sure feels like a trend to me.
After playing every snap in week seven DeVondre Campbell's workload was down to 62% of the snaps against Green Bay. As of Wednesday morning I have seen nothing to suggest this was anything more than a situational match up decision by the coaching staff. I would expect Campbell back in his near every down role against the Buccaneers but there is some risk to be considered.
Coming off their bye week the Ravens hope/expect to get some key defenders back on the field. C.J. Mosley is the most significant in fantasy terms though Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs may be just as important to the team's chances of success. Mosley missed the last two games with a thigh injury so keep an eye on his practice participation as the week goes on. The Steelers have been a strong match up for our tackle producing linebackers so if he is a go Mosley should be a quality start.
The Bills placed Aaron Williams on IR this week so Robert Blanton will be the starting safety going forward. He played full time against the Patriots finishing with a solid 7-3-0 on the day. Blanton is more of a physical run support safety than Williams so it will be no surprise if he proves to be more fantasy friendly in the same role. There is also a chance the coaching staff will elect to shift Corey Graham into more of a free safety role and have Blanton play in the box more than Williams had previously. There is not a lot of big play potential here but Blanton could prove to be a good late season addition for those of us in need of a defensive back that will consistently give us 5 or more solo tackles.
There were many who anticipated the Panthers getting James Bradberry back after the team's week seven bye. Unfortunately the foot injury would not allow it. Instead Carolina started Leonard Johnson opposite Daryl Worley at corner with Robert McClain in the sub package role. Johnson was a starter for much of his rookie season with the Buccaneers in 2013 and put up pretty decent numbers for them (47-14-0 with 8 passes defended, a couple of turnovers and a score). His first start for the Panthers resulted in a strong 5-3-1 and a pass breakup. He brings much needed experience to the Panthers corner position and could stick in the lineup even when Bradberry returns (likely ahead of Worley). Johnson's history of quality production puts him on the radar for those of us in corner required leagues.
Just when thing were starting to look good for Shaq Thompson, he went down with a knee injury early in week eight. As of Wednesday we are still awaiting the results of his MRI but chances are he will be out at least this week and possibly several more.
Score keeper's note: Carolina defenders were credited with 28 solo tackles and 40 assists in week eight. Beware starting defenders playing in Carolina going forward.
Shawn Williams has rebounded nicely over the past three games but be careful. It would be easy to overreact to his 9 solo stops from week eight but keep in mind the Bengals played a full five quarters in London. That said, Williams has passed the eyeball test with flying colors of late and is looking like the player I expected him to be when I was talking him up all summer. He has been around the ball regularly and has become a bright spot for a defense that has struggled at times.
Rey Maualuga left Sunday's game early with a wrist injury. He was able to get back on the field for a few plays but was obviously bothered by the injury. Cincinnati is off this week so chances are Maualuga will be fine by the time they take the field again but it may be worth monitoring the situation. If he is out it would mean a bigger role for Vincent Rey and/or Karlos Dansby.
The big news on the IDP side this week was the Browns shocking acquisition of Jamie Collins. At this point it is tough to speculate on what this means either short or long term. The Browns can certainly use an upgrade at inside linebacker and Collins is clearly that. I expect he will replace Demario Davis though it could be a week or two before we see it happen. Cleveland's 3-4 scheme under Ray Horton is somewhat similar to what Collins has been part of in the past but Horton is not a direct descendant of the Bilichick coaching tree, so there will be a lot of differences. We should probably sit Collins this week and get a look at the situation for a short term assessment. I have little doubt Collins will soon be putting up the same if not better numbers as he will certainly have no lack of opportunity.
The long term outlook for this trade is very cloudy. The only thing Cleveland will contend for this year is the first overall pick and Collins is set to become a free agent at the end of the season. They will have the option of tagging Collins if no long term deal can be worked out but this is a player who will likely be looking for somewhere in the area of twelve million a year. The team has half a season to make him feel like Cleveland is the place to stay. After going from a Super Bowl contender to a toilet bowl contender Collins may not be overly receptive to the idea of staying. For us fantasy owners it does not really matter what uniform he wears. The talent and production of a player like Collins travels well and he will be playing somewhere.
Demarcus Lawrence was not one of the starting ends in week eight but he did play 41 snaps which was more than any other Dallas lineman except Tyrone Crawford. We have seen Lawrence with a bigger workload each week since returning from suspension but his production has not yet returned. It is hard to be patient at this time of year when we are getting into crunch time but keep in mind Lawrence was one of the hottest ends in the league late last season. He should have knocked off the rust by now and the Browns match up this week could be just the opportunity he needs to rekindle the flame. Cleveland has allowed 22 sacks which are the 4th most in the league heading into week nine.
Brandon Marshall was a no go for week eight due to his hamstring injury. He was able to practice on a limited basis late last week so there is some optimism he will be able to go against Oakland. With six teams on bye there are a lot of fantasy owners scrambling to fill lineup holes this week. If Marshall sits again, Corey Nelson will be the player to target as a replacement. Nelson was not exactly impressive going 1-4-0 with a pass defended versus San Diego, but he was the Broncos full time inside linebacker logging 77 snaps.
When the Lions traded away Kyle Van Noy there were many who took it as a sign that either DeAndre Levy was ready to return or the organization wanted to make room for Antwione Williams to get on the field. Neither of those appears to be the case. It now looks like it was simply a matter of Van Noy not being much/any better than Josh Bynes in the eyes of the coaching staff. Bynes was resigned right after the trade and started at WLB in week eight. He played 43 of a possible 67 snaps in his first game back and could see an increased role over the next couple of games. Bynes was a three down linebacker for the Lions most of last season but was a marginal fantasy value even in that role.
A new name has emerged at the Colts inside linebacker position. In week nine Edwin Jackson started next to D'Qwell Jackson and played virtually every down. Edwin finished the game with a modest 4 solo tackles but added a sack to boost his fantasy point total. Jackson is a second year undrafted free agent out of Georgia Southern who has previously been little more than a special team contributor. I have not yet had an opportunity to watch the replay of this game so the jury is still out on him when it comes to the eyeball test. What we do know is the position is loaded with fantasy potential and Colts are looking for someone to step up and claim the job. This might be a good time to slip the second year man onto our rosters before he does something to grab a lot of attention. Jackson is probably not the long term answer but one thing we know for certain, Josh McNary is not the guy and apparently neither is Antonio Morrison, at least not at this time.
Kansas City Chiefs
Other than the week seven match up with New Orleans, Chiefs safeties Eric Berry and Ron Parker have given us little over the past several weeks. In fact Berry has more than 3 solo tackles in only two games this year. At this point these guys are nearly un-startable. If you are in a bind this week and considering either of them, be aware only one safety has reached double digit points against Jacksonville since week two.
Los Angeles Rams
Robert Quinn returned to action on a limited basis in week seven. The week eight bye should help him to be as close to 100% as he is going to get this season. Carolina is middle of the pack in sacks allowed so the matchup is nothing special but with so many teams on bye it will be nice to have Quinn as a starting option.
The only Rams defensive starter in question this week is Trumaine Johnson who has missed the last two games with a high ankle sprain. Going into the bye week the team was hopeful to have him back for this game. As is usually the case with teams on bye, there was little news coming out of Los Angeles over the past several days. As of Wednesday afternoon the Rams practice report has not been made available. Carolina is an above average match up for corners in terms of tackle production and we know the Rams corners tend to make a lot of tackles. If Johnson is a go he is a strong candidate to start for us. If he sits look for Troy Hill to have another solid game.
The Vikings have looked mortal on defense over the past two weeks and injuries have been a factor in their slide. On Wednesday five starters were limited or out of practice including middle linebacker Eric Kendricks who was out with a concussion, safety Andrew Sendejo who was limited with the sore ankle that kept him out in week eight and two of the team's top three corners Xavier Rhodes (calf limited) and Captain Munnerlyn (foot limited). We may see rookie Kentrell Brothers get his first NFL start against the Lions this week. If he is called upon chances are Brothers will hold a three down role, especially with Anthony Barr also gimpy. Detroit has been a decent match up for inside and weak side linebackers so Brothers is a guy to consider if you are stuck in a tough spot between injuries and bye weeks.
Detroit has been an inconsistent match up for corners but when they are good they are very good. We have not seen Trae Waynes in a full time role since week two but remember he had 14 solo tackles and a pick in the first two games.
New England Patriots
Ripples from the Jamie Collins deal roll in both directions and the next move by Bill Belichick is uncertain at best. We may think the plan here is obvious. It is expected the Patriots will promote Elandon Roberts to starter and life goes on without the team missing a beat. While I too expect this to be the case and have snapped up Roberts in several leagues, I am approaching this one with caution as we have all been burned by one of Belichick's strange twists at some point. We should not overlook the fact he traded for Kyle Van Noy before shipping Collins off to Cleveland. In the short term I expect Van Noy will assume the Jonathan Freeney role as the top backup to all three linebacker positions. Once he is up to speed with the scheme however, who knows what will happen here. Van Noy is a quick and athletic player who fits the mold in New England. If he picks up the defense quickly and looks good he may be in the mix for significant playing time down the stretch. Adding mystery and intrigue to the situation is the fact New England has a couple of weeks to get everyone up to speed and figure out what they are going to do. You can bet no one on the outside will know until they take the field in week ten. The big winner here may even prove to be Dont'a Hightower who could slip into an every down role on a more consistent basis the rest of the way.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints defense had a new look in week eight when they started Dannelle Ellerbe and Craig Robertson at the outside backer positions with Vonn Bell in the middle. Ellerbe managed 4-1-0 on 18 snaps as he was eased back into action. Robertson and Bell played every down while Nate Stupar shared time with Ellerbe. There are a couple of key notes to be taken from this. Bell may be the next hybrid safety/linebacker to make the move into the front seven on a full time basis. He was not particularly productive in the box score against Seattle but the defense looked better than they had all season. If he stays at linebacker the numbers will come.
The other tell tale sign here is Ellerbe seems destined to replace Stupar eventually and possibly as soon as this week. What we are left guessing about for now is who will stay on the field with Bell in nickel situations with coverage being the strength of both players game. I am starting Robertson as my fourth linebacker in one league this week but am a bit nervous about it.
The team may get another big boost this week with the expected return of rookie Sheldon Rankins. He is unlikely to have a big role right away but is a player we will want to keep a close eye on over the next couple of weeks. Rankins was considered by many to be the best three down interior line prospect in this year's draft. He has the size, strength and athleticism to be a force against the run and make an impact as a pass rusher. Rankins may be a little rusty and he is lacking in experience but he has fresh legs in week nine which can be a big deal. Owners in tackle required leagues should probably make room to add him now if possible.
New York Jets
With injuries thinning the ranks New York started Julian Stanford next to David Harris at inside linebacker in week eight with both players working on all three downs. There has been no word from the team on an expected return date for Darron Lee but the fact he did not practice at all last week suggests he is not yet close. I am not expecting big things from Stanford this week or any other week for that matter, but the Dolphins have become an excellent match up for inside linebackers with the emergence of Jay Ajayi. It is a safe bet both Stanford and Harris will have plenty of opportunity in this one.
Perry Riley missed a handful of snaps after being banged up in week eight but was able to return. While he is a dependable veteran presence in the middle for Oakland, the week eight game showed us why Riley is not starting for Washington. He is an adequate player with limited upside and that is all he will ever be. Riley played 67 of a possible 70 snaps against the Buccaneers and finished with a tackle and an assist. Granted the Tampa Bay offensive game plan was a contributing factor but there were several instances where a better middle linebacker would have made the play. If Denver has Devontae Booker available this week I still like Riley as a decent fill in third starter. The good news here is all of us who drafted Malcolm Smith are starting to see his numbers head in the right direction.
The Steelers should be healthy on defense coming out of the bye. They will get Cameron Heyward back after a two game absence and should have Ryan Shazier at full speed for the first time since week two. Those of us who picked up Vince Williams might want to sit tight for a week or two and see how long Shazier lasts before going down again. He has played in more than four consecutive games only once in his three seasons as a pro.
San Diego Chargers
The Chargers woes at inside linebacker continued in week eight when Denzel Perryman lasted all of eight plays before adding a hamstring injury to go with his sore shoulder. He has already been ruled out for week nine and could miss a few more before getting back on the field. Rookie standout Jatavis Brown managed to give us a solid 6-3-0 with a fumble recovery and a pass breakup before exiting with what is believed to be a minor knee injury. He too is expected to miss at least week nine and possibly week ten. Korey Toomer has been relatively productive as the part time replacement for Perryman who has been in and out of the lineup over the last few weeks. Toomer is the favorite to be both the three down inside linebacker and the team tackle leader for the next game or two. Joshua Perry will fill the other ILB position until someone is able to return. He has not shown much promise so far.
I am out of time for this week. Best of luck to everyone as we all try to micro-manage our way through the injuries and bye weeks.