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. 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 and trade decisions. If you have any questions on specific players or situations, feel free to email me or reach out via twitter.
MINNESOTA @ DETROIT
S Miles Killebrew, DET (5 solos)
The rookie is not seeing very many snaps, but he is quietly emerging as a 3rd down stopper for the Lions. A week ago, he tied for the team lead in tackles (5) despite playing just 12 defensive snaps in the game. This week, he played just 9 defensive snaps, but still collected 4 solo stops on defense plus a 5th on special teams. His playing time is obviously too small to count on as a fantasy option right now, but dynasty owners may want to grab him in anticipation of him taking on a bigger role in the future.
LB Eric Kendricks, MIN (4 solos, 1 asst, 1 TFL)
Kendricks had a full workload in week 11 (93% of the snaps), but he was limited in practice with a hip injury and was listed as questionable. He was held out of the starting lineup, but still managed to play 32 snaps (52%). Going to be tough to rely on him for consistent production until we are certain he’s over this injury, but perhaps the added rest will help in that regard.
WASHINGTON @ DALLAS
LB Sean Lee, DAL (9 solos, 5 asst, 1 TFL)
Lee has been one of the only reliable fantasy options in the Cowboys defense all season, despite a surprising lack of big plays this year. All of his fantasy production has come from tackles, and he makes a lot of them as we saw this week when he picked up 14 tackles on 75 snaps. Additionally, Dallas has seen a shift in trends from their home stat crew as the stadium went from being one of the toughest to one of the most generous in terms of tackles awarded.
LB Trent Murphy, WAS (1 solo, 1 asst)
Murphy is having a career year thanks to an incredible first half of the 2016 season that saw him post 5.5 sacks over a 6 game stretch. He was a 2nd round pick, but was likely playing over his head as the team seems to feel more comfortable with Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith as their edge rushers in key passing situations. That seemed evident this week as Murphy only played 28 snaps (50%), while Smith (73%) and Kerrigan (79%) were out there much more regularly. Also, since his hot streak ended, Murphy has collected just 6 solos, 4 assists, and 1 sack over his last 4 games combined.
PITTSBURGH @ INDIANAPOLIS
DT Javon Hargrave, PIT (4 solos, 1 asst, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 2 QH)
The rookie has seen a recent spike in playing time following the season-ending injury to DE Cameron Heyward. The hybrid lineman already logged 7 starts at nose tackle earlier this season, but he has impressed since shifting outside to DE. Note it came against some weak offensive lines in Cleveland and Indianapolis, but he played 40+ snaps and registered a sack in back to back weeks.
S Mike Adams, IND (0 tackles)
The veteran safety has been one of the most productive and reliable fantasy options for the Colts over the past few seasons. He missed week 9 with a groin injury, but played 71 snaps last week and 54 snaps (100%) this week. Unfortunately, he was shut out completely from the stat sheet here as the Steelers offense only generated 43 tackle opportunities with just 14 passes completed. At 35 years of age, it certainly seems like Adams probably doesn’t have much time left in his career.
ARIZONA @ ATLANTA
S D.J. Swearinger, ARI (7 solos, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PD)
Swearinger looked like a very promising fantasy safety early in his career with the Texans, but he fell out of favor due to issues in coverage. He seems to have found a home with the Cardinals and their safety-friendly defense, however, as he’s seen 50+ snaps in 7 straight games and has generally played well. He dropped what appeared to be an easy interception and potential touchdown on Sunday, but played well overall as he collected 7 solos and his 3rd interception of the year. Note that Tyvon Branch was recently activated from injured reserve and could potentially be a threat for playing time.
CB Jalen Collins, ATL (4 solos, 2 asst, 1 TFL, 3 PD)
Collins has been filling in for the injured Desmond Trufant, and was targeted regularly by the Cardinals on Sunday. He held up very well, however, as he tied for the team lead in tackles with 6 and made several nice plays in coverage to pile up 3 passes defensed. Situation looks great for him to see a lot of targets down the stretch if you need help at CB.
CB Desmond Trufant, ATL (DNP)
Trufant missed his second game in a row, and reports this week suggested he will likely need season-ending surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle. That’s a big loss for the Falcons defense, but will also create an opportunity for 2nd year pro Jalen Collins.
CINCINNATI @ BALTIMORE
DE Michael Johnson, CIN (6 solos, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 QH)
Johnson posted 11.5 sacks in 2012, which looks like a clear outlier in his career. However, he’s starting to produce like a reliable DE2 again. He posted 6 solos with a sack in just 48 snaps (71%) this week and is on pace to finish with 40 solo tackles, which would be a career-high.
DT Geno Atkins, CIN (0 tackles)
There were high hopes for Atkins coming into this season as he posted 11 sacks a year ago and looked completely recovered from the ACL injury that slowed him down in 2014. Not sure exactly what it is wrong but through 11 games, he has 4.5 sacks (not bad) and just 13 solo tackles. This week marked the 3rd time this year that Atkins was completely shut out from the stat sheet.
JACKSONVILLE @ BUFFALO
DT Malik Jackson, JAX (4 solos, 1 asst, 2 sacks, 2 TFL, 2 QH)
Jackson hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations that come with signing a 6-year, $90 million contract. He posted just 11 solo tackles and 1 sack in his first 7 games, but appears to have turned the corner in recent weeks. Over his last 3 games, Jackson has been credited with 9 solo tackles and 3 sacks. He’ll look to build on that momentum in a game against his old team next week when the Broncos come to Jacksonville after a short week of rest.
DT Marcell Dareus, BUF (5 solos, 3 asst, 2 sacks, 3 TFL, 2 QH)
Dareus continues to play like an unblockable force as he finished 3rd on the team in tackles this week with 8 while also adding a pair of sacks in the first half. Due to a suspension and injuries, he has only been active for 3 games so far this year but he has posted 3.5 sacks in those 3 games. That’s obviously much better than the 2 sacks he posted in 15 games last year. Due to an unspecified abdominal injury, he was kept out of the game this week on the final two drives but initial reports suggested it wasn’t anything too serious.
LB Zach Brown, BUF (3 solos, 3 asst, 1 TFL, 1 QH)
Early on this season, Brown was on pace for one of the best statistical seasons of all time for a linebacker. He is still playing a key role for the Bills, but his production has regressed considerably. Over his last 3 games, Brown has been credited with 11 solos and 9 assists. While he’s still a reliable starter, he’s not quite the LB1 he looked like early on.
TENNESSEE @ CHICAGO
LB Wesley Woodyard, TEN (5 solos, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PD)
Woodyard has mostly been a part-time player this year while splitting time with Sean Spence, which has limited his fantasy upside. He saw a big spike in playing time this week, however, as he was on the field for 62 snaps (78%) and responded with perhaps his best game of the year. The Titans didn’t play particularly well on defense, but Woodyard was one of the few who did so perhaps he has earned himself a bigger role going forward.
LB Nick Kwiatkoski, CHI (2 solos, 2 asst)
The rookie linebacker got the start at ILB this week in place of the suspended Jerrell Freeman and wound up playing 93% of the snaps. With Danny Trevathan headed to IR now, the Bears will be without their top 2 inside linebackers and that will give Kwiatkoski a full-time role to showcase himself for a long-term role. Assuming the Bears will be playing from behind quite often, he should see a lot of tackle opportunities in the weeks ahead.
LB Danny Trevathan, CHI (4 solos, 1 asst)
The Bears have been ravaged by injuries this year, and now they’ve lost one of their defensive leaders as Trevathan suffered a ruptured patellar tendon in his knee and will be placed on I.R. The injury happened very late in the game so he still managed to play 95% of the snaps, but it looks the team will now turn to inexperienced linebackers Nick Kwiatkoski and John Timu for the next few weeks until Jerrell Freeman returns from his 4-game suspension.
NY GIANTS @ CLEVELAND
DE Jason Pierre-Paul, NYG (5 solos, 2 asst, 3 sacks, 3 TFL, 3 QH, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 TD)
Pierre-Paul looked like a shell of his former self with just 1.5 sacks through the first 9 games of 2016 despite playing more snaps than any other DE in the league. He had a great game against the Bears last week, but was questionable with a knee injury leading up to this week’s matchup with the Browns. All he did was go out and post 3 sacks with 43-yard fumble recovery touchdown. That gives him 5.5 sacks in his last 2 games and vaulted him up to the 2nd highest scoring fantasy DE in the league.
DT Damon Harrison, NYG (4 solos, 5 asst, 1 FF)
Harrison was a key pickup for the Giants this year and has helped solidify their run defense, while also piling up more tackles than he ever did during his time with the Jets. He led all Giants in tackles this week with 9, and now has an amazing 43 solo tackles on the year with 5 games left to play. In most standard scoring systems, he ranks as the highest scoring fantasy DT in the league.
LB Demario Davis, CLE (2 asst)
While it seemed inevitable that Davis would see a drop in playing time due to the addition of Jamie Collins, the Browns continued to play him quite a bit the past two weeks. That changed this week, however, as he only saw 9 snaps on defense (16%) despite a favorable game script.
SAN DIEGO @ HOUSTON
LB Bernardick McKinney, HOU (8 solos, 4 asst, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 2 QH)
McKinney came into the league with a reputation for being little more than a 2-down player due to some limitations in coverage. While coverage still isn’t a strength, he has improved enough to stay on the field in passing situations and has made significant contributions as a blitzer. He picked up his 4th sack of the year this week and also reached 100 tackles (59 solos, 41 assists).
DE Corey Liuget, SD (2 asst)
While Liuget isn’t known as an explosive edge rusher, he was considered to be one of the better 3-4 defensive ends in the league. He just can’t seem to get anything going this year, however, as he’s still searching for his first sack of the season. Considering he had 46 solos back in 2014, his 17 solos through 11 games this year also make him a huge disappointment. While it’s hard to give up on a player who is just 26 years old, there just haven’t been any promising signs from Liuget this year.
SAN FRANCISCO @ MIAMI
DE Andre Branch, MIA (4 solos, 1 asst, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 1 QH)
Since replacing Mario Williams in the starting lineup, Branch has seen a steady rise in playing time and has emerged as a reliable fantasy starter. Over his last 6 games, Branch has averaged 52 defensive snaps and has posted 13 solos, 8 assists, and 3.5 sacks. He saw 69 snaps (88%) this week while Williams was only on the field for 12 (15%).
S Eric Reid, SF (DNP)
Reid was placed on injured reserve last week after undergoing surgery to repair a torn biceps. Given the poor play of the 49ers front seven, he was on his way to a career season. He was replaced in the lineup by Jaquiski Tartt, who only registered 2 tackles on his 48 snaps this week.
LOS ANGELES @ NEW ORLEANS
DT Sheldon Rankins, NO (2 solos, 1 sack, 1 QH, 1 FF)
The Saints drafted Rankins 12th overall this year and many expected him to provide the same type of disruption inside that the Rams expect from Aaron Donald. While he may not ever reach that level, Rankins is a very promising young talent and the Saints defense has improved considerably since he was activated a month ago. Over the past 3 weeks, Rankins has 4 solos, 5 assists, and 2 sacks making him a very solid starter in DT-required leagues.
LB Mark Barron, LA (10 solos, 4 asst, 2 TFL, 1 QH, 1 FR)
The converted safety has hit 70+ solo tackles in each 3 of his 4 NFL seasons, but he has a good chance to reach 100 this season. While the year hasn’t gone as expected for the Rams defense, Barron and Alec Ogletree have both put up LB1-type numbers in most scoring systems and look like long-term building blocks.
CB Lamarcus Joyner, LA (1 solo)
This looked like a great matchup for Joyner, but he wound up just playing 43 snaps (58%) and only finished with a single tackle. While he has played well for much of this year in covering slot receivers, Joyner missed practice time with an ankle injury last week that likely limited his effectiveness.
SEATTLE @ TAMPA BAY
DE Noah Spence, TB (2 solos, 3 asst, 1.5 sacks, 2 QH, 1 FF)
The rookie has been coming on strong of late with 4.5 sacks in his last 6 games, and the coaches rewarded him with extra playing time this week. With Tampa playing almost the entire game with a lead, he was on the field for 51 snaps (81%) and came up huge with 5 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and a forced fumble.
LB Lavonte David, TB (5 solos, 2 asst, 1 QH, 1 FF, 1 FR)
David has not had a memorable season with just 44 solos through 11 games, but he showed signs of life this week. He was credited with 7 tackles on 57 snaps (90%) and also created his 4th forced fumble of the season. At 26 years old with multiple 100+ solo seasons on his resume, this season looks like an outlier for him and hopefully he’ll be able to bounce back in 2017.
DE William Gholston, TB (1 solo)
Gholston has been a productive starter for much of this season, but he has seen a clear dropoff in snap count the past 3 games. This week, he was only on the field for 21 snaps (33%) while the rookie Noah Spence played 51 snaps (81%). That likely had something to do with game script as Tampa was playing with a lead for the entire game, but it suggests that Gholston has now been reduced to a part-time role whose value will fluctuate depending on the matchup each week.
NEW ENGLAND @ NY JETS
LB Darron Lee, NYJ (5 solos, 6 asst, 1 PD)
The rookie had missed most of the past 5 games, but got some extra rest over the Jets bye week and returned to a full-time role. He was one of the 3 Jets defenders to play all 73 defensive snaps in the game, and finished in a tie with David Harris for a game-high 11 tackles.
DE Leonard Williams, NYJ (2 solos, 1 QH)
Williams had an amazing start to 2016 with 2.5 sacks in the opener and 5 sacks in the first 5 games. He’s gone sackless for 6 straight games since then, however, and hasn’t generated enough tackles to make up for it. There’s so much talent on this Jets defensive line, but none of the Big 3 (Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, and Williams) are producing much right now despite each of them playing almost the entire game.
CAROLINA @ OAKLAND
DE Khalil Mack, OAK (6 solos, 1 sack, 3 QH, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 INT, 1 PD, 1 TD)
Mack started out a little slow this year with 0 sacks in his first 3 games, and 1 in his first 5. With 6 sacks in his last 4 games as well as an interception return for a touchdown this week, he’s back in the conversation for defensive player of the year and one of the truly elite IDP options.
CB Daryl Worley, CAR (10 solos, 2 asst, 1 TFL, 2 PD)
The rookie just continues to pile up huge tackle numbers almost every week. Over the past 5 weeks, Worley has been credited with 33 solo tackles and 11 assists for an average of nearly 9 combined tackles per game. Rookie corner rule in full effect here.
KANSAS CITY @ DENVER
LB Justin Houston, KC (10 solos, 3 sacks, 4 TFL, 3 QH, 1 FF, 1 PD)
If anyone was watching this game, it would have been impossible to miss the dominant performance that Houston put on. Just activated for last week’s game, he apparently was healthy enough to play 75 snaps (89%) this week and put on a clinic with 10 solo tackles and 3 sacks. He gave the Broncos fits all night, despite missing some time early on with a shoulder injury.
LB Von Miller, DEN (9 solos, 1 asst, 3 sacks, 4 TFL, 4 QH, 1 PD)
Miller wound up providing nearly a mirror image of Houston in this game. With 9.5 sacks in his first 9 games, he was already having a tremendous year but his 3 sack game helped him pull away from the rest of the league. Should get serious consideration for defensive player of the year, and is earning the huge contract he signed.
CB Marcus Peters, KC (1 solo, 1 asst)
Peters was locked up with Demaryius Thomas most of the game, and saw very little action as Trevor Siemian did not show much interest in throwing to his side of the field. Peters does gamble on making some big plays at times, but he’s proven to be such a prolific playmaker that it makes sense QBs would be reluctant to test him.