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.
NEW ORLEANS @ ATLANTA
DE Cameron Jordan, NO (2 solos, 1 TFL, 3 QH)
Jordan's stat line won't jump out at anyone but he warrants an upgrade for his huge workload. He was on the field for all 74 defensive snaps, which was more than anyone else on the Saints including their defensive backs.
DT Dontari Poe, ATL (2 solos, 3 asst, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1QH)
Poe played 83% of the defensive snaps for the Falcons as they tried to slow down the vaunted Saints running attack. He finished with 5 tackles and also added a sack of Drew Brees. With 10 tackles and a sack over his last 2 games, he's starting to look like the player he was back in Kansas City earlier in his career. He also saw a couple snaps on offense in goal-line packages, which increases his upside slightly if they continue to use those packages.
LB Deion Jones, ATL (7 solos, 6 asst, 3 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PD)
While Jones has been a very reliable starter for fantasy purposes this year, he was not always putting up LB1 numbers that he's capable of. That wasn't the case this week, however, as he had perhaps his best game of the year in a huge division win over the Saints. He was credited with 13 tackles and came up with the game-clinching interception at the end. Not many young linebackers in the game you'd want to build a dynasty team around more than Jones.
S A.J. Klein, NO (0 tackles)
Klein was knocked out of the game with a groin injury after just 7 snaps. That forced the Saints to rely more heavily on Manti Teo, who saw a season-high 57 snaps and finished with 10 tackles. Teo should see an increase in playing time if Klein remains out next week but the Saints may also just move a safety up to play nickel linebacker.
S Kenny Vaccaro, NO (3 solos)
Vaccaro was on his way to a strong game with 3 solos in a little more than a quarter of action but he aggravated a groin injury and was taken out of the game after just 29 snaps (39%).
S Vonn Bell, NO (1 solo, 1 asst)
It looks like Bell's rise to the top of the IDP ranks has hit a roadblock. The Saints got Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Williams back this week, which reduced the role for Bell. He still saw 57 snaps (77%) as starter Kenny Vaccaro was forced to leave early with an aggravation of his groin injury, but didn't do a whole lot with them. With injuries to Kenny Vaccaro and A.J. Klein though, he could be headed back to a full-time role next week.
INDIANAPOLIS @ BUFFALO
LB Matt Milano, BUF (10 solos, 1 asst)
Milano got the start over a healthy Ramon Humber this week and was extremely active, leading the team in tackles with 11 as the Colts generated 46 rush attempts in the snow. Humber was productive as a starter in Buffalo but offers little upside while Milano has shown a knack for making plays. Note that Humber still saw time in sub packages with 20 snaps (28%) compared to 51 (72%) for Milano, but we can probably consider the next few weeks to be an audition for Milano to earn the starting weakside job in 2018.
S Matthias Farley, IND (7 solos, 2 asst, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PD)
The Colts secondary has been decimated by injuries so Farley remains one of the last healthy bodies standing. In a game that went late into overtime where the Bills offense generated 51 rush attempts, it was impressive that Farley led the Colts in tackles with 9 compared to just 4 for every-down linebacker Jon Bostic. Farley looked comfortable in the heavy snow and came up with a huge interception at the end of regulation that put the Colts in position for a game-winning field goal.
LB Ramon Humber, BUF (0 tackles)
Humber wasn't injured but was passed on the depth chart by rookie Matt Milano this week. While he still saw 20 snaps in the game in sub packages, he failed to record a tackle and it looks like his time as a full-time player are likely over. While he started out the year strong, his overall level of play had trailed off and it makes sense for the team to give the rookie a longer look.
MINNESOTA @ CAROLINA
DT Linval Joseph, MIN (3 solos, 7 asst, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 QH)
When a defensive tackle leads his team in tackles with 10 and posts a sack, he certainly warrants an upgrade. He was on the field for 51 snaps (80%) and was very active in trying to slow down the Panthers running game that generated 36 rush attempts. Joseph has remained a very reliable fantasy option in leagues that break out defensive tackles but doesn't put up enough games like this to be considered among the elite.
CB Daryl Worley, CAR (8 solos, 1 asst, 1 INT, 1 PD)
Worley has been playing injured and splitting time with Kevon Seymour but he had a very strong game in week 13 on just 29 snaps. He saw a large increase in playing time this week (66 snaps for 89%) and responded with another productive outing, including his first interception of the season.
S Harrison Smith, MIN (1 asst)
Smith played the entire game but finished with just 1 assisted tackle. He made some mistakes, including one that let Jonathan Stewart score on a 60-yard run early in the game. The Vikings often stacked the box to try and stop the Panthers from running the ball, which typically left Smith in deep coverage and limited his tackle opportunities.
CHICAGO @ CINCINNATI
DE Michael Johnson, CIN (4 solos, 2 asst, 2 sacks, 3 TFL, 2 QH)
In a game where the Bengals were missing 4 key starters in their back seven, it was an old standby that came through with the biggest game of the day. Johnson hadn't posted a sack since his 2-sack game against the Bills in week 5, but picked up the only 2 of the day against Mitch Trubisky. He also out-snapped Carlos Dunlap 56 to 44 in the game.
DT Geno Atkins, CIN (0 tackles)
Atkins missed practice time last week and was questionable to play with a toe injury. He tried to play through it but clearly wasn't effective and only lasted 12 snaps in the game for a decimated Bengals defense. He does have 7 sacks on the year but only 1 in his last 4 games and now has a tough matchup coming against the Vikings this week.
LB Christian Jones, CHI (1 asst)
Jones started the game as one of two Bears linebackers in their nickel package but finished with just 1 assist on special teams in the game. He was also limited to just 10 defensive snaps so it appears he left with an unspecified injury. Meanwhile, Nick Kwiatkoski saw a jump in playing time as a result and posted 3 tackles and 2 passes defensed on 46 snaps.
GREEN BAY @ CLEVELAND
DE Mike Daniels, GB (4 solos, 1 asst, 1 TFL, 1 QH)
As a 3-4 defensive end, Daniels isn't an exciting fantasy option but he has quietly been very productive this year when healthy. He has played what amounts to 10 full games and has collected 30 solos and 4 sacks, with 18 solos and 2.5 sacks coming in his last 5 games.
CB Jason McCourty, CLE (8 solos, 2 asst)
While his performances have gone to waste on a winless team, McCourty has been a great addition to the Browns this year. He excelled in coverage earlier this year and posted 3 interceptions and 9 passes defensed over a 5-game stretch. With the Browns using plenty of zone coverage, he has also shown off his tackling ability with 19 solo tackles and 2 assists in his last 2 games. Even though he has missed some time to injury, he's likely been the #1 fantasy cornerback this year.
SAN FRANCISCO @ HOUSTON
LB Zach Cunningham, HOU (6 solos, 3 asst, .5 sack, 1 TFL, 1 QH, 1 PD)
Brian Cushing (2 solos, 3 asst, .5 sack) returned to action this week as the strongside linebacker. He wound up playing 39 snaps (53%), but the workload of Cunningham is what really stood out. He lined up as the team's weakside linebacker and played all 73 defensive snaps compared to just 66 for Benardrick McKinney. The rookie Cunningham led the team in tackles and also added a partial sack. Given the disappointing year for McKinney, it is starting to look like Cunningham could be the long-term player to own in this defense.
DE Solomon Thomas, SF (1 solo, 1 asst)
Thomas flashed his potential earlier this year when he posted 13 solos and 2 sacks over a 3-game stretch. Since returning from injury in week 12, however, he has not been very productive or helpful for fantasy owners. In his last 3 games, Thomas has been credited with just 4 solo tackles and 1 assist. The 3rd overall pick was considered to be one of the best interior pass rushers in this year's class but likely needs some better edge rushers (and cornerbacks) to help unlock his potential next year.
OAKLAND @ KANSAS CITY
LB Nicholas Morrow, OAK (4 solos, 4 asst)
Navorro Bowman obviously draws most of the attention as the new centerpiece of this Raiders defense, but there can be value found elsewhere. Morrow is an undrafted rookie who has been filling in for Cory James the past two weeks at weakside linebacker. While averaging around 60 snaps/game, Morrow has posted 7 solos and 10 assists.
LB Bruce Irvin, OAK (4 solos, 2 sacks, 2 TFL, 2 QH)
Irvin is often overlooked in this defense given how much focus is placed on Khalil Mack but he is on quite a tear of late. With 2 more sacks this week, he's up to 5 in his last 3 games and also has 14 solos and 2 forced fumbles during that stretch. Irvin was one of several Raiders players who were unhappy with the firing of defensive coordinator Ken Norton, but the switch to John Pagano certainly seems to have lit a fire under him.
S Daniel Sorensen, KC (2 solos)
This just looks like one of those games where Sorenson didn't have many opportunities available. He played the entire game but finished with just 2 solo tackles as the Raiders offense only generated 11 rush attempts and 38 tackle opportunities.
DALLAS @ N.Y. GIANTS
LB Sean Lee, DAL (10 solos, 8 asst, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PD)
Lee returned to the starting lineup this week and posted one of the biggest weeks of the year for any IDP. He posted an incredible 18 tackles including 10 solo stops while also adding his first interception since 2015. One of the knocks on Lee has been that he doesn't make enough big plays and his fantasy value relies so heavily on tackle output so this was an encouraging sign as we head into the fantasy playoffs. He played 66 snaps (82%) while Anthony Hitchens (10 solos, 4 asst, 1 FF) also put up huge numbers on 59 snaps.
S Landon Collins, NYG (6 solos, 1 asst, 1 TFL)
Collins injured his ankle late in the game and was seen wearing a walking boot afterward. The severity of the injury wasn't immediately known but it wouldn't be a surprise if they decided to shut him down given how the year has gone for the Giants. He remains an elite fantasy safety and is still just 23 years old.
DETROIT @ TAMPA BAY
DE Ezekiel Ansah, DET (6 solos, 1 asst, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 QH)
Ansah was listed as questionable with an ankle injury after missing a lot of practice last week, but he was healthy enough to play and held up over 38 snaps (54%). He posted 6 solo tackles and a sack and looks like he'll have some great matchups coming in the weeks ahead.
S Glover Quin, DET (8 solos, 1 asst, 1 FF)
Quin is a very capable safety in coverage but he doesn't always see a lot of action in the back of the Lions defense. With Tavon Wilson out injured, he saw more chances to come up and support the run this week and looked great.
DT Gerald McCoy, TB (0 tackles)
McCoy started the game but had to leave after just 12 defensive snaps with an arm injury. Early reports indicated a torn biceps, which would mark the third time in his career he has suffered that injury. If confirmed, that would put an end to another disappointing season for the talented player. Robert Ayers saw an increase in playing time and generated a lot of pressure but couldn't sack Stafford.
S Justin Evans, TB (1 solo, 1 asst)
The rookie had a down game for the first time in months. Lavonte David (14 tackles) and Kwon Alexander (12 tackles) were very active but Evans was not. This was odd considering the Buccaneers allowed Matthew Stafford to complete 36 of 44 passes in the game, but Evans played all 68 snaps and should bounce back.
TENNESSEE @ ARIZONA
DE Jurrell Casey, TEN (5 solos, 2 sacks, 2 TFL, 2 QH)
Casey had gone 4 games without topping 2 solo tackles or posting a sack so it's unlikely many fantasy owners trusted him enough to start him this week. He posted his best game of the season, however, with 5 solos and 2 sacks and now likely becomes a strong consideration for next week's game against the 49ers.
S Jonathan Cyprien, TEN (9 solos, 1 asst, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 QH)
In a pretty uneventful game that saw Arizona win on the strength of 4 field goals led by 20 carries from Kerwynn Williams, it was Cyprien who stood out. He led all players with 10 tackles and picked up his first sack of the year. While the free agent signing hasn't worked out great, he is a strong run defender playing behind some below-average linebackers so more games like this could certainly be coming.
CB Tramon Williams, ARI (2 solos, 1 INT, 3 PD)
Williams is 34, which seems very old for a cornerback these days but he has proven to be a huge upgrade over Justin Bethel opposite Patrick Peterson. He played shutdown defense on Sunday (which limited his tackle opportunities), but also came through with an interception and 3 passes defensed overall.
LB Deone Bucannon, ARI (1 solo, 1 asst)
Bucannon returned to the starting lineup after missing most of the past two games, but he didn't look like himself out there. He finished with just 2 combined tackles despite being on the field for 58 defensive snaps (97%).
N.Y. JETS @ DENVER
DE Muhammad Wilkerson, NYJ (3 solos, 3 asst, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 QH)
Reports came out last week that suggested Wilkerson has been mailing it in since signing his big contract. He's often been late to team meetings or missed them entirely, and it seems likely the Jets will cut him this offseason. Maybe a move to a new team with a more incentive-laden contract will motivate him because he clearly has a ton of talent. He's also starting to produce on the field with 6 solos, 6 assists, and 1.5 sacks over his last 2 games.
DE Leonard Williams, NYJ (1 solo, 1 asst)
While we have some of an explanation on what went wrong with Wilkerson, the demise of Leonard Williams this year remains a mystery. He has just 1 solo, 3 assists, and a half sack over his last 3 games despite playing over 80% of the defensive snaps.
S Justin Simmons, DEN (0 tackles)
Simmons lasted just 3 defensive snaps this week before leaving the game with an ankle injury. That's likely a huge disappointment to fantasy owners who were counting on him in fantasy matchups this week.
WASHINGTON @ L.A. CHARGERS
S Deshazor Everett, WAS (6 solos, 5 asst, 1 PD)
Everett was one of just 3 Washington defenders to play all 72 snaps this week. With the Chargers generating 35 rush attempts, he saw plenty of time up in the box and wound up leading the team in tackles.
CB Desmond King, LAC (7 solos, 3 asst, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 QH, 1 PD)
King continues to be a very impressive nickel back for the Chargers. He is very aggressive and being allowed to blitz regularly, which has allowed him to post 4 sacks in his last 6 games. With 30 solo tackles and a pick-6 in that same time span, the 5th round pick looks like one of the biggest steals in this year's NFL draft.
CB Bashaud Breeland, WAS (4 solos, 2 asst, 1 INT, 1 PD, 1 TD)
Breeland finished with great numbers in this game thanks in large part to a 96-yard interception return for a touchdown late when the team was already trailing by 24 points. That may mask the fact that he was only on the field for 28 snaps (39%) as he was demoted to a rotational role with Quinton Dunbar (who finished with 47 snaps).
SEATTLE @ JACKSONVILLE
CB A.J. Bouye, JAX (2 solos, 2 INT, 3 PD)
While Jalen Ramsey gets most of the hype, his strong play tends to funnel more targets to Bouye's side of the field. He showed this week why that's not generally a better option for quarterbacks, however, as he gave up just 2 catches for 8 yards on 7 targets while picking off two passes. He's now tied for the league lead with 6 interceptions this year and also ranks 4th in the league with 16 passes defensed.
LB Bobby Wagner, SEA (2 solos, 1 asst)
Wagner was having a relatively quiet day on Sunday before leaving the game with a hamstring injury after just 31 snaps. This is an injury that had kept him out of practice for the past few weeks and there was no initial timetable for his return. Michael Wilhoite (4 tackles on 47 snaps) would likely slide over to middle linebacker if Wagner can't play next week.
LB K.J. Wright, SEA (2 solos, 1 asst)
Wright lasted a little longer than Wagner (37 snaps) before leaving the game with a concussion. That leaves Seattle without their best two linebackers and two huge pieces in the middle of their defense. He'll have to clear the concussion protocol but it seems likely Seattle would turn to Terence Garvin next who posted 0 tackles on 33 defensive snaps this week.
PHILADELPHIA @ L.A. RAMS
LB Nigel Bradham, PHI (6 solos, 1 TFL, 2 PD, 1 FF)
Bradham was everywhere for the Eagles on Sunday as he made most of his 6 solo tackles in coverage while also adding in two passes defensed (one of which should have been an interception). It was also his forced fumble that led to the defensive touchdown on the last play of the game. The injury to Carson Wentz likely means more snaps for the Eagles defense and that could help boost Bradham up even further.
S John Johnson, LAR (7 solos, 4 asst, 2 PD)
With the Eagles offense generating 63 tackle opportunities in the game, numbers were up across the board for the Rams defense. The player who stood out the most, however, was the rookie safety Johnson. He's been a nice upgrade to the back of the Rams defense and should continue to post above-average tackle numbers as he's been averaging just under 6 solos/game for the past 4 weeks.
LB Mychal Kendricks, PHI (1 asst)
The Rams offense only generated 35 tackle opportunities in this game as the Eagles dominated time of possession. Kendricks was still disappointing, however, as he finished with just a single assist on 38 snaps (79%). He hasn't benefited from the season-ending injury to Jordan Hicks as much as expected with just 1 game over 4 combined tackles in his last 5 starts.
CB Kayvon Webster, LAR (3 solos, 1 INT, 1 PD)
Webster has put together a solid season opposite Trumaine Johnson and he picked off his first pass of the year this week. Unfortunately, he ruptured his Achilles on Sunday and will be lost for the rest of the season. That should lead to more playing time for Nickel Robey, who posted 7 solos and 3 passes defensed this week on 84 snaps.
BALTIMORE @ PITTSBURGH
S Sean Davis, PIT (8 solos, 4 asst, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PD)
The one player who seemed to benefit most from the absence of Ryan Shazier was strong safety Sean Davis. The Steelers run defense was shredded by the Ravens as Alex Collins piled up 120 yards on just 18 carries. Many of those plays broke into the second level and had to be cleaned up by Davis. He's also going to take on more coverage responsibilities as Shazier was their best cover linebacker. Based on what we saw this week, Davis should be due for another big game next week as the Patriots come to town.
S Tony Jefferson, BAL (8 solos, 3 asst, .5 sack, 1 TFL, 1 QH)
Jefferson hasn't quite lived up to the high expectations that came along with being one of the top free agents at his position. He is just 25 years of age though and many players need some time to adjust to their new surroundings when they change teams or defensive schemes. Given those qualifications, he seems like he's starting to look more comfortable and get more involved as he was this week with 1 tackles and a partial sack.