Reading the Defense: Week 1

A weekly look at IDP trends with a mix of metrics, film study and matchup strategy

Final Preseason Notes By Team

We'll get confirmation of many starting roles, subpackage duty, platoons, and rotations this week. Here's what attracted my attention over the past ten days.




  • Lardarius Webb will play deep safety and free up Eric Weddle to see lots of time in the box and give him a chance to equal the elite numbers he had in San Diego.
  • Terrell Suggs is ready to return. Elvis Dumervil is not. Za'Darius Smith remains on my radar, but he may not play in all subpackages.
  • Zach Orr won the inside linebacker job over Kamalei Correa and will play every down.


  • Zach Brown and Preston Brown have been inconsistent over their respective careers. Aaron Williams -- if he can stay healthy -- and Corey Graham should both hold value.
  • Marcell Dareus is suspended and in rehab. He may not return when eligible in Week 5
  • Shaq Lawson was placed on the Reserve/PUP list. He's missed critical developmentaltime but is very likely to return around Week 6. The team has very little depth at outside linebacker.



  • Pernell McPhee ended up on the Reserve/PUP list. LaMarr Houston and Willie Young will get the majority of snaps, but watch for Leonard Floyd to gain ground soon.
  • The back seven is full of replacement level talent. Danny Trevathan will have a chance at top ten numbers if he can stay healthy.


  • Vontaze Burfict is suspended for three games. Vincent Rey will replace him at weak side linebacker with Karlos Dansby playing on the strong side.
  • Rey and Dansby will play every down while Burfict is out. I'd lean toward Rey sitting in the base and Dansby sitting in the nickel when Burfict returns.
  • Neither Rey nor Dansby has the same range they once did. Watch for safety Shawn Williams to be more productive than expected.
  • Paul Dawson was cut and cleared waivers to the practice squad. Nick Vigil is now the developmental prospect to watch here.


  • Add Ibraheim Campbell. He continues to fly way under the radar at safety. Tons of opportunity, questionable surrounding cast.
  • Carl Nassib turned heads in training camp but has yet to win a starting job in the base defense.
  • With Paul Kruger cut, Emmanuel Ogbah has been moved back to outside linebacker. The swings won't help his development.


  • With Demarcus Lawrence (4 games) and Randy Gregory (indefinite) suspended, the Cowboys are going to rotate ends, tackles, and outside linebackers.
  • Justin Durant started and played the first two series of the third preseason game over Anthony Hitchens. There's been no report on this depth chart battle and neither player was active in the final preseason game. Avoid anyone not named Sean Lee for now.
  • Jaylon Smith remains on NFI to start the season and his most likely ETA remains 2017.


  • The Broncos continue to use packages with six defensive backs but Justin Simmons is seeing as much time in the box as T.J. Ward
  • Demarcus Ware is healthy enough to start in Week 1 but Shane Ray and Shaq Barrett should also see time.


  • DeAndre Levy is back and playing every down. He looked healthy in his only preseason action.
  • Tahir Whitehead's ceiling is a little lower with Levy back. However, with Josh Bynes on injured reserve, Whitehead looks like his every-down role is secure.
  • Tavon Wilson won the strong safety job. Like many before him here, expect a number of strong games but lots of variance.

Green Bay

  • With Sam Barrington cut, Jake Ryan will likely join Blake Martinez at inside linebacker. Watch for Joe Thomas to challenge Ryan.
  • Martinez will likely be the lone every-down linebacker. Morgan Burnett didn't play a preseason snap but may play linebacker in subpackages.


  • The Texans say J.J. Watt is ready to return in Week 1. He's not likely to be his usual disruptive self. Jason Pierre-Paul and Dontari Poe had similar surgeries at similar times and weren't themselves until October or later.
  • Benardrick McKinney struggled through the first two weeks of the preseason. In the third preseason week, the Texans frequently played six defensive backs with starting safety Quintin Demps playing linebacker.
  • Watch a healthy Jadeveon Clowney closely in big play leagues. He could be dominant whether Watt is healthy or not.



  • Redraft leaguers should stash Myles Jack if you have deep rosters. He's already seeing a small number of first team practice reps and could find his way into more playing time than expected by midseason.
  • There's some angst with Telvin Smith Sr missing assignments. I don't know that anything will come of it, but it's notable.
  • Dante Fowler couldn't sustain his early camp strong play. As is the case with most young defensive ends, he'll still need time to develop.

Kansas City

  • Josh Mauga is on injured reserve and Ramik Wilson was cut. That leaves Justin March as the starting inside linebacker next to Derrick Johnson. I expect to see the Chiefs using six defensive backs on many passing downs, however.
  • Justin Houston stayed on the PUP list as camp ended. He's ineligible until Week 8 at the earliest as the Chiefs have an early bye week.
  • I'm rooting for Dee Ford to put things together with Houston out and Tamba Hali not ready for full time snaps yet.

Los Angeles

  • The Rams released an unofficial depth chart showing Mark Barron as a "weak side" defender and five other defensive backs.
  • If that alignment holds, Lamarcus Joyner as slot corner and T.J. McDonald at strong safety could have some value.
  • The St. Louis stat crew limited the ceiling of James Laurinaitis due to a severely depressed assist count. If there's a new crew in Los Angeles, Alec Ogletree could be a top five IDP.


  • The Dolphins first released depth chart has Cameron Wake and Jelani Jenkins listed as starters. However, Jason Jones will start over Wake in most base defensive situations and Jenkins is no lock to play Week 1 after a knee scope.
  • Rookie Xavien Howard may be targeted often opposite Byron Maxwell. Consider him a solid streaming option at corner.


  • Eric Kendricks didn't play all preseason with a hamstring injury but has been practicing for two weeks. He's expected to play this week.
  • Danielle Hunter didn't beat out Brian Robison in camp but will still see enough pass rush snaps to have value in deeper big play leagues.

New England

  • Rob Ninkovich has been suspended four games for violating the performance-enhancing drug policy. Trey Flowers is worth a long look in Ninkovich's absence.
  • The Patriots added Barkevious Mingo and Eric Rowe in trade this preseason. Mingo was listed at outside linebacker but will be a pass rush specialist.
  • New England's depth chart lists a 4-3. It's no surprise but serves as confirmation of Dont'a Hightower's upside as an every-down middle linebacker.

New Orleans

  • Stephone Anthony continues to recover from a preseason leg injury. He wasn't playing in subpackages over Dannell Ellerbe before the injury.
  • Paul Kruger was added late in the preseason after the Browns released him. He will work in rotation with Kasim Edebali and Obum Gwacham.

New York Giants

New York Jets

  • Erin Henderson likely survived camp as the starting inside linebacker next to David Harris, but Darron Lee was making up ground in late August.
  • Leonard Williams will see more playing time this year in rotation and will get the chance to prove he can be a consistent pass rusher.
  • I think both Jordan Jenkins and Lorenzo Mauldin have interesting upside at outside linebacker but will be too high variance to trust.


  • Khalil Mack will be classified at defensive end in nearly every league management system. I have him rated over J.J. Watt due to Watt's back surgery concerns.
  • Jihad Ward is going to see lots of defensive end snaps but may be classified as a defensive tackle.
  • Mario Edwards will start the year on injured reserve. It's a disappointing result for the young end with upside and a favorable depth chart.
  • Karl Joseph will start the year behind Nate Allen but you should have him at the top of your watch list. He'll start soon.


  • The Eagles list Vinny Curry as a backup but will rotate three defensive ends
  • Mychal Kendricks missed most of camp with a soft tissue injury, prompting concerns he could be pushed aside by new arrival Stephen Tulloch. If the unofficial depth chart is to be believed, Kendricks is safe for now. Whether he plays in subpackages is still an open question. Kendricks played well into the second half in the final preseason game.


  • Bud Dupree was put on injured reserve with a core abdominal muscle injury. He's ineligible until after Week 8 and loses still more developmental time.
  • If he stays healthy, I love Ryan Shazier's upside.

San Diego

  • The Chargers played a dime package on rare occasions during the third preseason game and left Manti Te'o as the only linebacker.
  • Joey Bosa missed all of training camp. His 5-technique role and the loss of key developmental time will hurt his chances of being a viable fantasy option this year.

San Francisco


  • No surprises this preseason. The depth chart remains stable and strong. I'm watching for rookie defensive tackle Jarran Reed to carve out a productive role.

Tampa Bay

  • Noah Spence attracted attention for his good play this preseason. He'll have a pass rushing role in subpackages and will be worth an add in big play leagues if he gets off to a consistent start.
  • Vernon Hargreaves will see lots of snaps opposite Brent Grimes. Though Grimes isn't special, rookie corners get targeted often.



  • Will Compton and Mason Foster will start at inside linebacker and likely play every down. 
  • Su'a Cravens has started to practice at safety now and the team would be smart to get him coached up there quickly. It's silly to keep a playmaker off the field and start David Bruton instead.
  • Last warning: Big play leaguers should roster Preston Smith before his breakout.



ARIZONA Kevin Minter : Deone Bucannon : Chandler Jones      
ATLANTA       Six linebackers to rotate for now 
BALTIMORE C.J. Mosley : Zachary Orr Terrell Suggs Elvis Dumervil Watch Za'Darius Smith snap count
BUFFALO Preston Brown : Zach Brown : Jerry Hughes      
CAROLINA Luke Kuechly : Thomas Davis     Watch for Thompson in subpackage role
CHICAGO Danny Trevathan : Jerrell Freeman LaMarr Houston : Willie Young    
CINCINNATI Vinny Rey : Karlos Dansby   Vontaze Burfict (returns W4)  
CLEVELAND Demario Davis : Chris Kirksey Nate Orchard    
DALLAS Sean Lee     Durant and Hitchens battling for MLB job
DENVER Brandon Marshall : Von Miller Todd Davis    
DETROIT DeAndre Levy : Tahir Whitehead      
GREEN BAY Blake Martinez : Clay Matthews Julius Peppers : Jake Ryan    
HOUSTON Brian Cushing Whitney Mercilus : Benardrick McKinney    
INDIANAPOLIS D'Qwell Jackson Josh McNary Sio Moore  
JACKSONVILLE Paul Posluszny : Telvin Smith Sr     Watch for Jack to sneak into some packages
KANSAS CITY Derrick Johnson Tamba Hali, Dee Ford, Justin March Justin Houston (PUP)  
LOS ANGELES Alec Ogletree : Mark Barron      
MIAMI Kiko Alonso : Jelani Jenkins      
MINNESOTA Eric Kendricks : Anthony Barr     Greenway or Lamur outside chance at nickel snaps 
NEW ENGLAND Jamie Collins Sr : Dont'a Hightower      
NEW ORLEANS James Laurinaitis : Dannell Ellerbe      
NEW YORK GIANTS Jonathan Casillas      
NEW YORK JETS David Harris : Erin Henderson Lorenzo Mauldin : Jordan Jenkins   Lee will take over Henderson's job at some point 
OAKLAND Malcolm Smith : Ben Heeney Bruce Irvin    
PHILADELPHIA Jordan Hicks : Mychal Kendricks      
PITTSBURGH Lawrence Timmons : Ryan Shazier      
SAN DIEGO Denzel Perryman : Manti Te'o : Melvin Ingram III Jerry Attaochu    
SAN FRANCISCO NaVorro Bowman      
SEATTLE Bobby Wagner : K.J. Wright      
TAMPA BAY Lavonte David : Kwon Alexander      
TENNESSEE Avery Williamson       
WASHINGTON Will Compton : Mason Foster : Preston Smith : Ryan Kerrigan      

Subscribe to The Audible on iTunes or download our weekly IDP podcast here every Thursday for injury updates, player analysis and matchup discussion. Follow and ask questions on Twitter @JeneBramel.

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