We have arrived at that point in the season when attrition it taking a heavy toll on our rosters. While there is never anything good about a player getting hurt, it is part of the game. Just like players who have an opportunity to emerge when the guy in front of them goes down, there is an opportunity for fantasy owners to fill holes left by lost players and/or improve their teams by snagging the next breakout star. Often this is where the fantasy season is won or lost.
The Cardinals took a big hit when they lost Marcus Golden for the season with a torn ACL. The next man up might be Kareem Martin but don't be surprised if Haason Reddick gets a look outside now that Deone Bucannon is working his way back. Reddick was a defensive end/outside linebacker at Temple, posting 9.5 sacks as a senior. The Cardinals want him to eventually pair with Deone Bucannon at inside linebacker but Reddick has not exactly looked like a natural at that position so far. With Bucannon back on the field and Karlos Dansby playing well, Reddick might best help the team as an outside pass rusher for the remainder of this season.
With Shaq Lawson sitting out Sunday, Eddie Yarbrough made the start at end. Yarbrough looked good during the preseason and has been working as the third end since Week 1. Lawson is not expected to miss much more time and may even go this week against Cincinnati. This is a situation worth keeping an eye on if you are hurting at end. The Bengals have allowed 14 sacks already so whoever gets the call is going to have a great matchup. Obviously, Jerry Hughes is a great start in this one.
Micah Hyde was high on a lot of draft boards this summer but was dumped by many owners after a horrible first two games. He was 6-1-0 with a pair of interceptions in Week 4 and has 11 solo tackles in the last two games. Hyde is starting to look like the player I and many others thought he would be. If some inpatient owner gave up on him too early in your league, grab Hyde and play him this week. The Bengals have been a solid matchup for safeties.
Buffalo has lost Ramon Humber to a broken hand for at least the next few weeks. The Bills say he is out indefinitely with a broken hand and is a candidate for injured reserve. Rookie Matt Milano stepped in on Sunday and is probably going to be the next man up. Humber totaled 25 solo tackles over the first three games from the position with he and Milano combining to go 6-4-0 in Week 4. I do not see Milano as much of a drop off talent-wise so he could prove to be an excellent add.
Kurt Coleman left Sunday's game with a knee sprain that is expected to keep him out several games. This is a huge hit for a Panthers defense that has been carrying the team for most of the first four games. Demetrious Cox replaced Coleman in the game but the Panthers were quick to sign Jairus Byrd this week. It is unclear who will start this week though it would be hard for Byrd to go from street to starter in less than a week. No matter who gets the call they are not likely to be very productive.
Thomas Davis played through an injury in Week 4, but he was not 100% and was not working on every down. Shaq Thompson took over the three down duties while Thomas played 37 of 60 snaps. We could see a similar approach to playing time this week so it would be a good idea to sit Thomas until he returns to a full workload.
With Quentin Demps on the shelf for a while, the Bears started Adrian Amos at strong safety and rookie Eddie Jackson at free. Amos responded with 7 solo tackles and an assist in Week 4. The Vikings are not going to be as good a matchup without Dalvin Cook but the suspension of Danny Trevathan for this week's game leaves Chicago without their top three inside linebackers and nothing that resembles an NFL starter to replace them. I look for Latavius Murray to keep Amos busy this week.
Statistically, Carl Lawson came crashing back to earth in Week 4 but it had nothing to do with lack of opportunity. The coaching staff is getting him on the field by shifting Michael Johnson inside and lining up Lawson at end on passing downs. Johnson is moving inside in some base packages as well and is also losing snaps to Jordan Willis and Chris Smith who saw 47 plays between them in Week 4. Johnson is hanging on for now but his role could continue to diminish as the young guns keep pushing for time.
Emanuel Ogbah did nothing in the first two games but has come on strong with 6 tackles, 6 assists, a pair of sacks, 2 forced fumbles and a recovery in the last two. Most impressively he has done it without Myles Garrett in the lineup to keep offenses honest. Obviously, Ogbah is not going to keep up this torrid pace but all signs point toward him being a quality play going forward. This is another player that many owners gave up on too early and is available in a lot of leagues. It certainly does not hurt that Garrett expected to play this week.
Caleb Brantley is another of my preseason deep sleepers that is finally starting to show up. He is a highly talented rookie that may have been a first-day draft pick if not for off-field issues. Brantley played his first 16 snaps as a pro in Week 4, finishing at 2-0-1. It is too early to move on him as more than a taxi stash for dynasty owners but this is a player that could become a significant contributor on an excellent defensive front over the next several years.
Both Christian Kirksey and Joe Schobert should be in starting lineups this week against the Jets. The proof is in the numbers with Ramon Humber going 12-1 in the opener followed by Cory James at 5-2 in Week 2, Chase Allen 7-0 and Kiko Alonzo 5-3 in Week 3, with Myles Jack at 8-1 and Telvin Smith at 11-2 last week.
With both Sean Lee and Anthony Hitchens having a good shot at playing, the Cowboys defense could be back to full strength this week. Ironically this comes the week after Jaylon Smith played every defensive snap for the first time. The big question here is will Smith continue to play every down when all the contributors are available? Smith is clearly the future of the middle linebacker position and now that he has worked up to an every-down role with no setbacks it will be hard to justify taking him off the field in any situation. I think it more likely we see Hitchens as a two-down strongside backer if he can take that job from Damien Wilson.
Demarcus Lawrence was dinged and helped off the field at one point in Week 4. The injury did not seem serious and there has been no word of it from the team. Chances are it is nothing but keep an eye on the practice reports just in case.
The Lions caused some confusion last week and cost some owners games. Early on Sunday, there was a report suggesting Jarrad Davis would play. Like many owners, I quickly put him in three of my lineups. Fortunately for me, I was doing final projections updates for the 1:00 games when the team listed him inactive. I have talked to a few owners who were not lucky enough to have caught the inactive list before kickoff. The fact Davis was not cleared from the concussion before game time leaves some chance he will not go again this week. Keep an eye on the participation reports late in the week.
The Lions will be without Paul Worrilow for the next few weeks while he recovered from a knee sprain. If Davis is back they could adjust by moving Tahir Whitehead to the strong side and playing Jalen Reeves-Maybin at weak. That would effectively kill the value of Whitehead who has been starting in the middle while Davis recovers. The other option would be Nick Bellore on the strong side which is what they did on Sunday after Worrilow left. The bottom line here is, make sure you know what is going on before playing Davis or Whitehead against Carolina.
Green Bay Packers
With the exception of Kentrell Brice who returned after missing Week 3 with injury, the Packers used pretty much the same personnel packages in Week 4. They once again had four safeties on the field often with the difference being their alignments and responsibilities. I have not watched every play of the game but did check out a fairly large sampling. Morgan Burnett spent a good deal of time in the box including a fair number of snaps aligned as the weak inside linebacker, mostly in passing situations. At times he was assigned to coverage on the tight end in man to man. This is basically the way Burnett was used last season and how Josh Jones was used against Cincinnati in Week 3. The result was a strong outing for Burnett at 6-3-0 and a huge game for Ha Ha Clinton-Dix who finished with 8 tackles and a pick. All things considered, I think this is how the Packers will work on most weeks when everyone is healthy. I am highly optimistic that Burnett will return to form and be the best, or at least most consistent fantasy option of the group, with Clinton-Dix not far behind. This is good news for Burnett owners but probably not so much for those of us who grabbed Jones after last week's explosion.
While the four safeties are largely interchangeable and were constantly moving around, most of the slot corner assignments that were Burnett's in Week 3 went to Brice. At the end of the day, Burnett was the only defensive player to be on the field for all 65 plays. Clinton-Dix was second with 60 followed by Jones with 51 and Brice with 45. Jones was in the box for a lot of plays and was once again part of some blitz packages. Chances are he will have some strong games as well, but at this point, I am not going to trust his consistency enough to start him every week.
Joe Thomas played in some early sub packages before being forced out with a knee/leg injury. As I am writing this the Wednesday practice reports have not yet been released so the status of Thomas for Week 5 is unknown. If he is not able to go it could mean more playing time for Jones and/or Blake Martinez.
Corner Damarius Randall was benched during Sunday's game and was visibly unhappy about it, throwing a tantrum on the sideline. It is unclear if he will be in the lineup this week.
J.J. Watt has been a disappointment thus far. He has no sacks and no takeaways but has still given owners a couple solid weeks with 5 tackles and an assist and has a pair of batted passes. Just like Danielle Hunter who finally broke out in Week 4, we need to be patient with Watt. Offenses are keying on him as they should but with Jadaveon Clowney getting it done and Dylan Cole starting to step up, offenses will have to become more respectful of the supporting cast over the next few weeks. The Chiefs are not a great matchup but start Watt anyway, if for no other reason than simply because he is overdue.
As for the rest of Houston's defenders, keep in mind no one besides Watt played more than 32 snaps in Sunday's route of the Titans. There will be a lot more opportunity for guys like Bernardrick McKinney in the future, starting with this week.
I have clearly not been a fan of Jon Bostic this year but in the interest of giving credit where it is due, he has been playing better over the past two games. The Colts coaching staff is obviously committed to him and it is hard to argue with the 13 solo tackles and 9 assists he has produced over the last two games. It is probably too early to look this far ahead but I have to mention Indianapolis plays the Jaguars in week thirteen followed by Buffalo, and Denver during our playoffs.
Mathias Farley was back in a near full-time role in Week 4, playing 62 of 68 snaps. After talking last week about his losing snaps to Darius Butler, I learned he had actually suffered a quadriceps injury that led to the missed the time. Throw out the Cleveland game and Farley is now averaging 6-3-0 and a pass defended per game. The interception against Seattle was the first of his young career.
One thing we have learned about Yannick Ngakoue over the first month of the season is consistency is not among his strengths. In games against the Texans and Jets, he totaled 5-1-4 with 3 forced fumbles, while matchups with Tennessee and Baltimore yielded 2-1-0. Jacksonville has eight more games during the fantasy regular season with five of them being against the Colts (twice) who have given up 14 sacks, Bengals (14 sacks), Browns (13 sacks) and Cardinals (17 sacks). Even if you only play him when the matchups are strong Ngakoue is a player well worth the roster spot. Oh, and by the way, he gets Seattle with all their offensive line woes in Week 14, Houston (17 sacks allowed) again in week fifteen and San Francisco who is allowing more than three a game on average, in championship week.
There was another Barry Church sighting in Week 4 when he posted a season-best 5-1-1 against the Jets. Solid outings in two of the last three games make it easy to call him out as a strong start versus the Steelers this week; especially after LeVeon Bell finally got it going in Week 4.
Kansas City Chiefs
Derrick Johnson returned to his usual every-down role in Week 4 but the results were the same in the box scores. Some might blame Johnson's dismal average of barely over 3 tackles per game on the quality play of those around him and opponents being forced to play from behind during the Chiefs 4-0 start. I am going to blame it on a 35-year-old player in decline. Opponents have run the ball for an average of 4.3 yards per carry, which is the tenth most in the league, and the 104 rushing attempts Kansas City has faced is middle of the pack. In short, Johnson has had plenty of opportunities. With Reggie Ragland replacing Ramik Wilson at the other ILB position in Week 4, competition for tackles is not getting any easier. I moved on from Johnson this week so he will probably put up his best number of the year against Houston, but I still believe there are better uses for the roster spot in most leagues.
Los Angeles Chargers
Jatavis Brown was seen in a boot on Monday due to his sore foot. He only missed eleven snaps in Week 4 but his numbers were way down, presumably due at least in part to the injury. Brown expects to be a go against the Giants, but the player will often say they are going to play early in the week unless they are sure to be out. Keep an eye on his status late in the week. Korey Toomer and Hayes Pullard would be the starters at middle and weakside backer (not necessarily in that order) if Brown is not able to go. Both have shown solid production this year with Toomer going 7-1-0 at MLB in Week 3 when Pullard was out.
Los Angeles Rams
Anyone know what happened to Mo Alexander? After going 12-4-0 in weeks two and three combined, he all but vanished in Week 4 with 2 assists despite an excellent matchup. Alexander was dealing with a sore shoulder a couple of weeks back and played 44 of 69 snaps on Sunday, giving way to John Johnson who had 3 tackles on 29 plays. So far I have seen no news on this situation and the Wednesday practice reports are not yet out as I write this. Seattle is not a great matchup at this point but it would be nice to know what is going on before the Rams face Jacksonville in Week 6.
Anyone who listened to last week’s IDP podcast probably got a chuckle at my expense on Sunday. I have been preaching patience with Danielle Hunter over the first three weeks and suggested everyone start him in Week 4 if for no other reason than I was going to bench him. As is generally the case when I finally sit a struggling star, Hunter blew up while on my bench. I really hope all of you took me seriously when I made that statement because I was serious when I said it. At any rate, the beast is back in Minnesota so start him if you have him going forward. I will be sure to let everyone know when I am benching another struggling star so you can get in on the payoff.
New England Patriots
How desperate are the Patriots on defense these days? Desperate enough to use Donte Hightower as one of their main edge rushers. With Hightower active many expected Elandon Roberts to have a reduced role. His snap count was down but it had more to do with an ankle injury than the presence of Hightower. In fact, they were on the field together early in the game with Hightower in the middle on early downs and Roberts outside opposite Kyle Van Noy. Roberts’s ankle injury is not believed to be serious but the short week could make it an issue.
New Orleans Saints
Alex Anzalone left Sunday's game with a shoulder injury that has already landed him on IR. Craig Robertson will assume three down duties on the weak side going forward and could become a decent late-season pickup as the linebacker position thins due to injuries.
The disappearance of Sheldon Rankins is one of the season's biggest mysteries. This young man had 15 tackles, 5 assists and 4 sacks on 336 plays as a rookie. So far this year he is 1-1-0 on 186 snaps and has not made a tackle since Week 1. There is far too much talent here for this to continue much longer but entering the bye week gauntlet roster spots are too valuable to waste on someone giving us nothing.
New York Giants
Olivier Vernon tried to play on his sore ankle in Week 4. He was in and out of the lineup and not very effective when he did play. I suggest sitting him until he is healthy and especially this week against the Chargers who have allowed the seventh-fewest sacks on the season.
The good news is B.J. Goodson returned to action in Week 4 from his shin injury. The bad news is he only played about 70% of the snaps in a timeshare with Keenan Robinson. Hopefully, this was just a case of Goodson being eased back into the action but the Giants history of playing no linebacker full time is enough to make me very concerned. I will be watching this situation closely this week but you may want to consider sitting Goodson until we get an answer.
Start your Eagles pass rushers this week against an Arizona offense that has allowed a league-high 17 sacks to date. Brandon Graham is an every week start for many owners and is a must in this one. Vinny Curry, Derek Barnett, and even Timmy Jernigan (if you must start tackles) are worthy of serious consideration, especially if you are dealing with injuries or bye weeks.
Fletcher Cox sat out last week with his calf injury and is far from a lock to play. Keep an eye on his practice participation late this week.
Sean Davis returned from his ankle injury in Week 4 and looked fine. He finished with a respectable 5 solo stops against Baltimore which is rather solid considering how badly the Ravens struggled offensively. He should have a lot of opportunities this week against a Jacksonville running game that has been rather effective against everyone they have faced.
On the other side of the coin; no team has allowed fewer sacks than the Jaguars' three. Owners in big play leagues will have a hard time sitting T.J. Watt but you should give it some consideration if you have quality depth.
Cliff Avril is expected to miss several weeks with his neck injury. That means a full-time job for Frank Clark who excelled as a starter while Michael Bennett was out last year. The injury leaves Seattle thin at end so there may be less rotation going forward. If you have a need at end Clark should be at or near the top of your wish list this week. The Rams have only surrendered 4 sacks on the season so this week is not a good matchup but Seattle has the Giants, Texans, and Cardinals in their first four games after the Week 6 bye. Those three teams have allowed 42 sacks between them thus far.
San Francisco 49ers
Reuben Foster has not yet been ruled out for Week 5, but Kyle Shanahan does not expect him to be available. Ray Ray Armstrong is coming off a career game at 8-2-1 with an interception. He is not an every week play by any stretch but is clearly worth as a bye week plugin if you are streaming linebackers. This week's opponent is the Colts who have been a poor matchup but San Francisco has Washington, Dallas, and Philadelphia in the three weeks that follow.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers were not missing as many players in Week 4 as we thought they might be. Both Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander sat, as well as T.J. Ward, but Gerald McCoy and Noah Spence played and looked good. Ward has been back on the practice field this week on a limited basis and seems likely to go in Week 5. David has a chance to suit up but chances are both he and Alexander will sit again. Kendell Beckwith has been impressive as the stand-in for Alexander and has been nothing short of impressive. The Patriots are not a particularly good matchup for linebackers but then neither were the Giants and Beckwith had 9 solo tackles against them. At this point, he is an every-week must start.
Vernon Hargreaves is another Buccaneer worthy of strong consideration this week. Tom Brady is not going to throw many interceptions but Hargreaves is coming off a 9 tackle game, and four corners have produced at least 5 solo stops against New England over the last three weeks.
Leading up to Week 4 there was some speculation Jonathan Cyprien might be close to returning. Apparently, that is not the case as Mike Mularkey has already said Cyprien will sit again in Week 5.
The Redskins get a bye this week which is good news for Mason Foster. He started on Monday night despite the sore shoulder but gave way to Martel Spaight early on. Foster came back in to finish the game when Spaight was injured and should be fine with an extra week to heal up.
That does it for Week 5 already. The season is flying by like always. Best of luck this weekend!