Week one brought us a lot of unexpected starters at the defensive back positions but the front seven was largely as anticipated; at least in terms of who was playing what roles. Sprinkle in a normal dose of injuries, a few underperforming studs and a handful of guys with unexpected big numbers. What we have is a typical NFL Week 1.
Kevin Minter started at inside linebacker as anticipated. What we did not know was how Sean Weatherspoon would fit into the grand scheme of things. After one game I am not sure we know any more than before. Minter was on the field for 62 of 74 defensive snaps. He finished with a respectable 5-2-0 and looked pretty good for the most part. He was quick to diagnose run plays, took good angles and made some big hits. Weatherspoon was only on the field for 12 plays but he was 2-1-0. Though he was not as physical, Weatherspoon seemed to have more range than Minter. The Cardinals have eleven different personnel packages but none that we saw on Sunday featured the two linebackers on the field together. Weatherspoon basically replaced Minter for a series or two in the second half. The fact neither of them were full time is reason enough for concern. I am left wondering if Weatherspoon's role will grow as he plays his way into football shape. Based on what we have seen thus far, it is a real possibility he could be starting in a couple of weeks.
As anticipated Deone Bucannon and Tyrann Mathieu were the only two defenders in on every snap. Rashad Johnson was on the field for 64 of 74 plays and Tony Jefferson played 54 snaps despite being an every down guy throughout most of the preseason. Johnson was a fantasy star last season but his new role as the deep safety in most situations should all but kill his value for 2015.
After working as backups at end during the preseason, it was somewhat of a surprise to see Jonathan Babineaux and Adrian Clayborn start at tackle. At first glance I thought this was a nickel package situation which would make a lot of sense, but Babineaux was at the position for most if not all his 41 snaps while Clayborn saw most of his 48 plays at the position.
O'Brien Schofield started opposite Vic Beasley Jr as the defensive ends. Together they managed to get some pressure on Sam Bradford but their efforts were not reflected in the box scores. They could fare better this week against the Giants.
Entering week one many Nigel Bradham owners were anxious to see how his role as a three down strong side linebacker would influence his box score potential. The news is all good. Both Bradham and Preston Brown were three down players. Bradham finished as the Bills leading tackler, adding a sack to finish 7-1-1. Meanwhile Brown owners were disappointed with his 2-4-0 and a pass defended. Bradham won round one between these two players but we can expect Brown to get his share as well over the course of the season. Both players are worthy starters in most leagues.
Corey Graham suffered a concussion early in the game and was replaced by Bacarri Rambo. Graham is going through protocol this week so his status is unknown as of Wednesday afternoon. He was able to practice on a limited basis Wednesday which is a good sign.
Jerry Hughes failed to get to the quarterback and Mario Williams was invisible in week one. The Patriots are not a great matchup for pass rushers but both of these guys are every week starters for us regardless of matchup.
Luke Kuechly was his normal highly productive self on Sunday until he was forced out of the game with a concussion. This was a monster collision that had Kuechly walking on shaky legs as he left the field. He has not participated in practice yet this week but according to Coach Rivera, Kuechly does not need to practice to play. That said I would not count on him for week two. In fact it would not be a shock if he misses more time from this one. A.J. Klein was the replacement on Sunday and would be in line for the start if Kuechly is out. Klein could have some value but Thomas Davis is the guy to have in this situation. Davis went off against Jacksonville with 7 tackles a sack and a pick.
As expected Kony Ealy got the start at end opposite Charles Johnson. Ealy was on the field more for than 60% of the snaps in week one but he failed to make a splash in the box scores. Instead it was Mario Addison kicking in 2 of the team's 5 sacks. Ealy will likely get the call again in week two but Addison could see his opportunity expand if he continues to impress.
The Bears let Mason Foster go with the final cuts and Jon Bostic was a healthy inactive in week one. That is a strong statement the club is going to stick with Shea McClellin and Christian Jones as three down inside backers. Neither was particularly impressive versus Green Bay but they were both on the field for every defensive snap. They will have plenty of opportunity going forward but I do not like the matchup this week. Chris Johnson is an outside speed guy who has shown little success running between the tackles over the past few years. Unless the Cardinals turn David Johnson loose there may not be a lot of opportunity on the inside.
Adrian Amos continues to play well and solidify his spot in the starting lineup. He joined the inside linebackers and Antrel Rolle as the only Bears defenders to be on the field for every play in week one. I like what we have seen thus far from Amos and will be looking to add him in some leagues this week.
The Bengals go up early and played a lot of backups in the fourth quarter but there were some interesting notes from this game. Adam Jones finished with 10 solo tackles. While those are obviously not numbers we can expect on a regular basis, it is worth mention Jones has been rather productive as the team's nickel corner in recent years. Now that he has assumed an every down role, he could become a valuable commodity in corner required leagues and possibly even leagues that lump the positions together.
There was a Shawn Williams sighting in Oakland on Sunday. The second year pro was expected to compete for a starting job during camp but we never saw him with the starters during the preseason. Williams replaced George Iloka (who may have been dinged) well before the backups started getting on the field. He is a talented player with a lot of upside and is a player we need to keep an eye on.
After missing nearly all of training camp and the preseason, Michael Johnson was active in week one. He did not start but was on the field for nearly 60% of the Bengals defensive snaps. Johnson had one tackle but was also credited with a quarterback hit and a hurry. He may not yet be fully healthy but is close. I like Johnson as a sleeper this week against a San Diego offense that had a pair of linemen go down in week one.
Vincent Rey is indeed the Bengals only three down linebacker at this point. His 6-3-0 in the opener are about what we can expect from him on a regular basis.
After starting Craig Robertson at inside linebacker and giving him a big majority of the playing time during the preseason, Cleveland parked both players on the bench when they opened in a nickel package against the Jets. In that package Barkavious Mingo and Paul Kruger were on the field with Karlos Dansby and the three defensive line starters. By the end of the game Robertson and Christian Kirksey had each played 24 snaps.
Scott Solomon was a hot player during the preseason. He went down early with a high ankle sprain that will keep him out several weeks. This makes Armonty Bryant the third man at outside linebacker for a while.
There has been a lot of talk about the Cowboys outside pass rushers. If they can get everyone healthy defensive end should be a talented and deep position for them. With the loss of rookie Randy Gregory to a high ankle sprain and Greg Hardy still on vacation, they are thin at the position right now. DeMarcus Lawrence has not been particularly impressive. He will be joined this week by versatile veteran Jeremy Mincey with Jack Crawford serving as the third end. Atlanta failed to get to Sam Bradford last week but I have a feeling Mincey will have better luck in week two. I like him as a deep sleeper.
One sleeper that is not so deep is tackle Tyrone Crawford. I called him out in my preseason articles as a target for owners in tackle required leagues. Crawford was 3-0-1 in the opener. There is a lot of talent on this front line (or will be an a few weeks at least) and the Cowboys defensive tackle position has provided good value for us in recent years.
Anthony Hitchens played against the Giants but he was not in a full time role. Hitchens was on the field for 48 of 62 plays going 4-4-0 on the day. It is hard to say if the lighter than expected workload is a result of his playing with a sore foot or if it is a sign he will not be an every down player in the coming weeks. Either way it is enough to have us think hard about other options this week. One good sign is that Hitchens was not replaced by another linebacker on the plays he was out. Dallas used a lot of defensive backs in this game including third safety Jeff Heath who played 38 snaps
Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall look just fine in the week one box score at 6-1-0 and 6-1-1 respectively, but all is not necessarily sunny in Denver. The Broncos defense was on the field for 58 total plays. Marshall played 54 of them but Trevathan saw action on only 32. This may be a case of the team easing him into a full time role but there is a chance it could be reason for some concern. Stay tuned for the week two results and think twice about plugging him in against the Chiefs on Thursday.
Green Bay Packers
Sam Barrington made the start on Sunday despite being questionable with a sore ankle. He made it sixteen plays before going down with a season ending injury. Nate Palmer stepped right into the three down role, going on to record a solid 6 solo stops and an assist on 61 plays. While Palmer looked okay in the box scores, his play on the field was less than impressive. He graded out poorly according to the folks at Pro Football Focus which pretty much confirmed my opinion after watching a good portion of the game film. Palmer is a hot pickup this week but we may want to keep Jake Ryan on the radar.
The Texans threw us a major curve ball at their safety positions. A week ago we were told Lonnie Ballantine and Andre Hal were the starters. Then we saw Eddie Pleasant who was listed as number two, work with the first team when Ballantine was hurt. In week one it was Rahim Moore at free safety and Quentin Demps at strong. Both of these guys are serviceable veterans but we have seen enough of them both to know they are nothing special. So much for any chance the Texans will help us at safety.
Brian Cushing looked better than he has in the past couple of years. He is healthy at last and will put up good numbers for us until that changes. With Mike Mohamed out is was Akeem Dent next to Cushing on early downs. Other than J.J. Watt, there is simply not a lot of competition for tackles. Cushing could have a big year.
Defensive end Henry Anderson had a big debut in the box scores with 8 solo tackles. The numbers have a lot of owners scrambling to pick him up. While I will not advise against that, we should temper our excitement a little here. Anderson has the potential to become a quality play for us. One week is a good start but is not enough to set our expectations. The Bills game plan may have had more to do with Anderson's numbers than many realize and he still has to overcome the restrictions of a 3-4 scheme.
Rookie safety Clayton Geathers is a player I am watching this year. He had a sub package role against Buffalo, posting a pair of tackles on eleven snaps. Dwight Lowery is average at best and Mike Adams is 34 years old. Geathers may get a shot before long; especially if he continues to play well in his limited role.
Kansas City Chiefs
Ramik Wilson was fairly impressive during the preseason. He even held a three down role most of the way. It looked as if he had earned the starting nod over two down thumper Josh Mauga who was injured. Mauga returned to the lineup in his same old two down role in week one, sending Wilson to the bench. Wilson never got a sniff of the field. As well as he played it is surprising he did not come away with some sort of role. Dynasty owners should tuck this young player away on a taxi squad. He could be the long term future of the position.
Husain Abdullah was on the Tuesday injury report after being banged up against the Texans, but he does not seem to be in serious danger of missing Thursday's game. With the short week this is something to keep an eye on however. Eric berry played 48 of the team's 77 defensive snaps. The big workload could be a step toward his reclaiming the starting spot. It could happen at any time. If Abdullah is unable to go or is limited it may be the break Berry needs.
Koa Misi led the Dolphins in tackles (9-0-0) as a three down strong side backer. He will have some good games for us but we should not let one big game convince us he is an every week play. Let us see what he does this week with a much weaker matchup. SLB 9-2, Jamar Taylor slot corner 6-3, Terence Fede DE 4-2-0 Wake not injured. Vernon Olivier 30 of 79 snaps. Walt Aikens started and played 60 snaps at FS, Michael Thomas also got a look with 23. Aikens was not impressive so we could see a switch in week two.
Anthony Barr is a younger, more athletic version of Chad Greenway. He was all over the field against San Francisco, finishing with 10 solo stops and a pair of assists. This will not be his last double digit solo tackle game of 2015.
The Vikings threw us a curve by starting Andrew Sendejo over Robert Blanton at strong safety. It took them about three quarters to realize the folly of that decision. In all Sendejo played 53 snaps and was virtually invisible. Blanton was on the field for 20 plays at the end of the game, recording 3 solo stops. We should probably sit Blanton this week due to the uncertainty, but cutting him might come back to bite you.
Surprisingly Trae Wayne saw little or no action in the opener.
New York Jets
The Jets pulled the biggest fake out of the preseason. All summer Calvin Pryor lined up fifteen or more yards from the line of scrimmage most of the time. He was so far back that Pryor was usually outside the camera view at the snap. When the curtain opened on the 2015 season Pryor move up in the box. On most snaps he was up even with the linebackers. The result was a strong 8-2 with a forced fumble. If he continues to work in this role, Pryor may well be a top ten defensive back.
I will go on record now with the prediction Jack Del Rio will not be the Raiders head coach at the end of this season. The team has traded Sio Moore who was one of their two best linebackers and Del Rio has given his best middle linebacker a demotion. Curtis Lofton should be the veteran leader of the Oakland defense. Instead he spent much of the week one debacle on the sideline. If you have room it might be a good idea to sit tight on Lofton in hope the coaching staff comes to their senses soon.
The Raiders were thin at safety heading into the season. Having lost Nate Allen for the year and Charles Woodson for at least a week or two, they are expected to start Larry Asante and Keenan Lambert against Baltimore. Asante stepped in for Allen in the opener and put up 7 solo stops. He is not a great player but the sheer volume of opportunity could make him a solid pickup. Woodson's injury happened late in the game so we did not get to see much of Lambert who is the only other healthy safety on the roster. If he is any good at all, Lambert could be a pleasant surprise.
The Eagles seem content to ease Kiko Alonso into the mix. Against Atlanta DeMeco Ryans was on the field for base package downs with Alonso on the field in sub packages. That will likely change as we get deeper into the season so sit tight on Alonso. I expect he will be an every down player within the next few weeks.
Lawrence Timmons missed most of the preseason with a toe injury. He returned to start in week one but was not the same aggressive player we have seen in the past. Timmons was late to the party often and seemed to pull up at times, letting someone else make a hit. Unless Timmons regains his explosive physical approach, Ryan Shazier may lead team in tackles this year.
Will Allen had a big game in week one. He is a capable player and a dependable tackler but I am less than convinced his week one is the beginning of a trend. There is also the fact no Steelers safety has graced the top 20 over the past several seasons. Move on Allen if you have a need but let him show us one more solid game before trusting him in your lineup. Shamarko Thomas played 5 snaps in week one.
San Diego Chargers
Donald Butler earned his starting job back this summer along with a role in the nickel sub packages. Against Detroit he was 4-2-0 on 34 of the team's 47 snaps. Butler has not been bumped from the nickel but the Chargers used a lot of dime versus the Lions. In that package Manti Te'o was the lone linebacker. This is great news for Te'o owners but the point is Butler owners should hold tight. There are not going to be many games with the Chargers using the dime on ten plus plays.
Dion Bailey attempted to replace Kam Chancellor in week one. To say he struggled would be an understatement. Keep in mind DeShawn Shead played strong safety early in the preseason and he played it pretty well. Shead has since been working at corner where he has looked okay as well, but if Bailey has another game like the first one Seattle will be looking to make a change.
Michael Bennett is an outstanding player who struggled in the box scores last season because he was shuffled around too much and rotated out too often. Against the Rams he was a three down end who played nearly 85% of the defensive snaps. The result was a solid 4-0-1. If the Seahawks continue to use him this way he could be a 40 tackle guy with double digit sacks by season’s end.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers are quickly becoming Chicago South. While Lovie Smith was with the Bears the safety positions were a mess. They were constantly adding players to the mix, changing starters, moving players from one position to another etc. After the final preseason contest there was a big deal made about D.J. Swearinger Sr being names starter at strong safety. The problem is, he didn't. In fact the team opened with Bradley McDougald at strong safety after he had worked at free all preseason, and Major Wright at free. By the time the game was over Chris Conte had played a significant role and Swearinger managed to go 3-1 on 32 snaps. These rotations were not late in the game when the team was way behind, they started in the first half. McDougald looks like the best option of the group and Wright was dinged during the game so Swearinger may actually be in the starting lineup for week two, but we would probably be better off to avoid this mess until there are some better answers.
The Titans defense started strong but this team is not as good as they seem after blowing out Tampa Bay. The most misleading numbers to come from this game may be those of safeties Da'Norris Searcy (3-1) and Michael Griffin (4-1). When these guys face off with better offenses, they are going to produce.
Duke Ihenacho has been a productive player for us when healthy but he has not been able to stay on the field. He suffered a broken wrist in the opener and is expected to miss several weeks. Trent Robinson replaced him in the game but we could see Jeron Johnson in that spot at some point soon. Robinson managed to go 6-2 on the day, proving that whoever is plugged in there has upside. DaShon Goldson also had a solid day with 6 solo stops. He too has struggled to stay on the field in recent years though some of his issues have been self inflicted (suspension). With Ihenacho out I am looking to add Goldson in a few leagues.
I am out of time so that is going to do it for this week. There were a few more players and situations I wanted to get to but technical difficulties cost me a couple of hours on Wednesday. Be sure to check out the IDP round table podcast for some additional takes of mine as well as some thoughts from my respected colleague Jene Bramel. Best of luck in week two.