This article attempts to immediately highlight defensive players whose production was significantly better or worse than normally expected for the prior week of games. Note there is sometimes limited information available when this article is written, but I will try to give everyone an early look at players who are moving up or down in value among IDP circles. I've also added a section this year called No Change that tries to explain why the stat lines may be misleading for some players. It’s difficult to give waiver advice for IDPs since there is such a wide variety of lineups and scoring systems, but hopefully, the information provided can help inform your waiver, trade, and upcoming lineup decisions. If you have any questions about specific players or situations, feel free to email me or reach out via twitter.
BUFFALO @ NY JETS
LB Ramon Humber, BUF (5 solos, 2 asst, 2 TFL)
While there wasn't much of a dropoff in play with rookie Matt Milano in the lineup over the past month, Humber's return sent him back to a limited reserve role. Humber returned from a broken thumb and was able to play 50 of 67 snaps despite the short week of practice before the Thursday night road game. With some extra time to rest and a full week of practice, he should become a viable fantasy option once again although it's unlikely he'll match his average of 8 solos per game that he posted in weeks 1 to 3.
LB Darron Lee, NYJ (5 solos, 3 asst, 1 sack, 3 TFL, 2 QH)
While Lee's numbers have been pretty consistent throughout the year, his level of play has improved quite a bit over the last few games. The former safety was considered a project when the Jets took him in round 1 last year, but he is starting to look more comfortable and making more of an impact defending the run. The Jets run defense came through in a huge way this week as they held LeSean McCoy to just 25 yards on 12 carries, and Lee combined with fellow inside linebacker Demario Davis for 2 sacks and 5 TFL.
LB Matt Milano, BUF (0 tackles)
The rookie flashed some big-play ability the past several games but was only given 10 snaps on defense this week (plus 23 snaps on special teams) as veteran Ramon Humber returned to the starting lineup. Milano may still see some work in subpackages but it looks like the coaches were being truthful when they said Humber would keep the job once he got healthy.
ATLANTA @ CAROLINA
LB Vic Beasley, ATL (4 solos, 1 asst, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 1 QH)
Beasley isn't seeing as many snaps this year as he did a year ago, but he has been seeing his snap count steadily increase over the past month. He played 35 snaps in week 7 against the Patriots, 38 snaps in week 8 against the Jets, and was up to 43 snaps this week. While his fantasy value is limited due to his LB designation in most fantasy leagues, he is now up to 4 sacks in 6 games and the tackle numbers are improving as well with the rise in playing time.
LB Shaq Thompson, CAR (1 solo, 1 FF)
Thompson has seen a clear drop in playing time (and a huge drop in production) over the past couple games since Luke Kuechly returned from a concussion. He is no longer playing in the team's nickel packages, which is disappointing since cover skills were considered a strength of his. In week 8, Thompson saw just 36 snaps while Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis played the entire game and that trend continued again this week with Thompson seeing just 39 snaps of 60. Unfortunately, he was completely shut out during those 39 snaps and came up with his only box score production on 10 special team's snaps.
INDIANAPOLIS @ HOUSTON
DE Jadeveon Clowney, HOU (3 solos, 1 asst, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 QH)
The Texans lost two of their best defenders to season-ending injuries so it looks like their plan is to ride Clowney hard and hopefully maximize his production. He was one of just two Texans defenders to see all 66 defensive snaps this week, despite missing some practice time last week with a knee injury. He now has 5 sacks over his last 6 games and should remain highly productive given the heavy workload he's receiving.
LB Barkevious Mingo, IND (5 solos, 2 asst, 1 FR)
John Simon and Jabaal Sheard have provided some flashes of fantasy relevance this year but the former Colts 1st round pick Mingo is now getting an opportunity due to the injury to John Simon. Keep in mind that Simon could return soon from his neck injury, but Mingo has seen 41, 43, and 46 snaps over the last 3 games and has 10 solos, 6 assists, and 1 FF with 2 FR to show for it. He's yet to record a sack, however, so his upside is limited.
CINCINNATI @ JACKSONVILLE
S Shawn Williams, CIN (4 solos, 1 FR)
Williams doesn't stand out as a fantasy option at safety since the position is one of the deepest on this side of the ball. He suffered a hamstring injury midway through the game this week, however, which limited him to just 32 snaps (40%). So, he was actually on his way to one of the more productive games he's had this season, but it seems his status for next week could be in doubt.
DT Marcell Dareus, JAX (3 solos)
Dareus is an incredibly talented player who almost certainly will do better in Jacksonville than he was doing in Buffalo this year. His playing time had been limited by the Bills coaches who were probably unhappy with his commitment off the field. In Jacksonville, he should significantly upgrade their run defense but it remains to be seen if they will find any snaps for him in clear passing situations given how stacked their defensive line is. He only saw 12 snaps on defense this week in his first action since being traded but the Bengals offense generated fewer than 30 tackle opportunities.
TAMPA BAY @ NEW ORLEANS
DE Robert Ayers Jr, TB (5 solos, 1 asst, 1 sack, 1 FF)
Ayers continues to average nearly 50 snaps per game, which should be enough to make him a viable fantasy starter in most leagues. For some reason though, the production was not there for him earlier this season as he collected just 6 solo tackles in the first 5 games with 0 sacks. Over the past 3 games or so, however, he has turned things up as the season continues to slip away for the Buccaneers. During that span, Ayers has been credited with 8 solos and 2 sacks including a rare sack against Drew Brees this week.
S Kenny Vaccaro, NO (1 solo)
Vaccaro went through a brief benching earlier this year but has turned things around along with the rest of the Saints defense. He had been one of the most productive safeties in the league over the prior 3 games thanks in large part to his big plays. He was a huge disappointment this week, however, as he was knocked out with a groin injury after just 28 snaps (47%). His absence seemed to open up more opportunity for Vonn Bell, who added 5 tackles with a half sack and forced fumble during his 49 snaps (83%).
LA RAMS @ NY GIANTS
DE Aaron Donald, LAR (3 solos, 1 sack, 1 QH, 1 FF, 1 FR)
Donald had a bit of a slow start after holding out for a better contract all preseason. He seems to be getting more and more comfortable in the Wade Phillips-coached defense now and it shows on the field. Over his past 3 games, he has 3 sacks with 2 forced fumbles and should have a field day against Tom Savage and the Texans this week.
LB Keenan Robinson, NYG (2 asst)
Robinson had started to emerge as the safest fantasy option among the Giants linebackers this year. His game this week was limited to just 25 snaps (39%), however, as he suffered a quad injury. That left the Giants without their top 3 inside linebackers and forced lesser-known players like Curtis Grant and Calvin Munson into heavy action.
DENVER @ PHILADELPHIA
LB Brandon Marshall, DEN (6 solos, 1 asst, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 QH, 1 PD, 1 FR, 1 TD)
Marshall has underwhelmed as a fantasy linebacker for much of his career in Denver despite playing a key role on one of the league's best defenses. His production this year has been up and down but seems to be trending up of late. Over his last 3 games, he has been credited with 16 solos, 6 assists, as well as a sack and fumble recovery for a touchdown.
S Darian Stewart, DEN (0 tackles)
Stewart had a great start to the season after taking over for the departed T.J. Ward at strong safety. As the offense has struggled over the past few weeks though, his production has fallen off a cliff despite seeing a slight increase in snaps/game. He had a particularly bad game this week in a blowout loss to the Eagles as he was burned on several big plays and finished the game with 0 tackles on 62 defensive snaps.
BALTIMORE @ TENNESSEE
LB Wesley Woodyard, TEN (9 solos, 5 asst, 1 TFL, 1 PD)
Woodyard continues to be one of the year's biggest surprises. He had mostly been reduced to a part-time player in recent years with the Titans after having some success earlier in his career with the Broncos. Through 8 games this year, however, he continues to play an every-down role and ranks among the top-10 fantasy linebackers in many scoring systems. With 50 solo tackles, he's on pace for 100 solo stops which would certainly rank him among the league's elite despite being 31 years old and not hitting 60 or more solo tackles since 2012.
S Kevin Byard, TEN (4 solos, 2 INT, 3 PD)
The magical year of Byard continues as he added 2 more interceptions this week to give him 5 over his last 2 games combined. With 6 interceptions in half a season, it certainly looks like he could have a shot at 10 or more, which would really be a remarkable accomplishment for the 2nd year pro. One of the best playmakers of recent memory Ed Reed had never even topped 9 in a single season.
S Lardarius Webb, BAL (0 tackles)
Webb was moved to safety but his role has mostly been as the team's nickel corner. While he hasn't always played well in terms of his coverage of slot receivers, the position often provides plenty of tackle opportunities. He was cleared from the concussion protocol prior to the game but only wound up seeing 4 defensive snaps as the team appeared to reduce his role in favor of rookie Marlon Humphrey.
WASHINGTON @ SEATTLE
LB Will Compton, WAS (8 solos, 1 asst, 1 INT, 3 PD)
Although Compton has been a very productive starter in the past, he was overtaken in the lineup this year by Mason Foster and newcomer Zach Brown. With Foster going on IR recently, we saw Compton share time with Martrell Spaight a week ago and that left neither of them as a viable option for fantasy owners. This week, however, we saw Compton handle a full workload of 82 snaps and it looks like he could make a solid LB3 if that holds up.
S DeAngelo Hall, WAS (4 solos, 1 asst, 2 PD)
Washington got some much-needed reinforcement in their secondary this week as DeAngelo Hall was activated from the PUP list. He was able to play all 83 snaps and should see plenty of action as Washington continues to get strong play from their outside corners, which winds up funneling much of the action to the middle of the field.
ARIZONA @ SAN FRANCISCO
LB Reuben Foster, SF (13 solos, 1 asst, 1 TFL)
Foster only missed two snaps in the game when he aggravated his ankle injury but it's an encouraging sign that he was able to return to the game and held up under 75 snaps. He showed his potential with a game-high 14 tackles as he was often to the task of slowing down Adrian Peterson on his 37 carries.
LB Ray Ray Armstrong, SF (0 tackles)
Brock Coyle got the start at weakside linebacker this week and saw 64 snaps while Armstrong only saw 1 snap in the game. This seems like a remarkable turn of events as it seemed that the play of Armstrong helped convince the 49ers to release Navorro Bowman. Also note that it was Coyle who was the defensive signal caller in this game, which seems to bode well for his future value.
KANSAS CITY @ DALLAS
DT David Irving, DAL (3 solos, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 QH)
This amazing season for Irving continues to show improvement as he has now collected 6 sacks in his last 4 games. With offenses spending most of their attention on slowing down Shaq
LB Kevin Pierre-Louis, KC (6 solos, 1 asst, 1 TFL)
Pierre-Louis saw extensive work this week and wound up leading the Chiefs in tackles with 7. Many here probably assumed that Reggie Ragland would be the heir apparent to Derrick Johnson inside but it may actually wind up being Pierre-Louis. Seattle traded away special teams linebacker D.J. Alexander for Pierre-Louis and he wound up out-snapping Ragland in this game 39 to 20. Pierre-Louis offers more versatility as an athlete while Ragland is primarily a run stopper.
OAKLAND @ MIAMI
S Obi Melifonwu, OAK (2 solos, 1 asst)
The rookie only saw 7 defensive snaps in the game, but they were very productive for him as he finished with 3 tackles on those plays. He was drafted as a safety but has the ability to contribute as a linebacker or corner in subpackages. He was just activated off injured reserve this week and the Raiders decided to use him in their dime packages due to all the injuries they have suffered at corner. There isn't a clear path right now for him to take on a big role, but he may be a nice stash for keeper/dynasty league owners and is certainly a player to monitor.
DE Cameron Wake, MIA (1 solo)
Wake appears to have cooled off after his incredible streak of 6 sacks in 5 games earlier this year. Over his last two games, he has not been able to generate much pressure off the edge and has also not been very active in run support with just 1 solo and 2 assists to his name. Pass-rushing defensive ends are always going to have variability from week to week and he'll have a great chance to turn things around next week against Carolina.
DETROIT @ GREEN BAY
DE Jacquies Smith, DET (2 QH)
While he didn't make much of an impression in the stat sheet, Smith did play half the game on 29 snaps and led the team with 2 QB hits. The Lions are not getting much of a pass rush up front, so it appears the coaches are trying some new things. Smith had 13.5 sacks over two years with Tampa before an injury eventually led to his release, but he may be able to find a home here as a pass rush specialist.
J Josh Jones, GB (5 solos, 3 asst, 1 TFL)
The Packers appeared to make some changes on defense this week as they started Morgan Burnett at linebacker and inserted Jones into the lineup at strong safety as they were missing Kentrell Brice. Burnett suffered an injury which limited him to just 43 of 68 snaps, so that also gave Jones some opportunity to come up and play linebacker in the team's "Nitro" package. He wound up playing all 68 defensive snaps in the game and while he didn't look all that impressive, it may soon be time for the Packers to start giving their younger players like Jones a longer look as the season slips away.