We continue to look at the Falcons linebackers weekly because there is so much potential here. If one of the middle or weak side guys can get and stay healthy they would likely be a solid every week start for us. In week six Atlanta started Vic Beasley Jr on the strong side, Laroy Reynolds in the middle and Kemal Ishmael on the weak side. Ishmael was on the field for 43 of a possible 66 plays, though all of his snaps were not at linebacker. Meanwhile no other linebacker played more than 41 including Beasley who has vanished since his big game a couple of weeks back. There may be some light at the end of the tunnel though. Both Deon Jones and De'Vondre Campbell were active and saw action against Seattle. Jones played 26 snaps and Campbell 21 with both players coming through healthy as far as we know as of Wednesday. It is too early to trust either of them in our lineups for week seven but we should see them both assume bigger if not full time roles this week.
Every year I go on a rant about the inconsistency and arguably incompetence of some NFL stats crews. The Falcons game against Seattle is another grand example of a stat crew in need of either an adjustment or a new line of work. Falcon’s defenders were credited with 26 solo tackles and 46 assists in this game. I can understand awarding no solo tackle and/or more than one assist on a gang tackle or short yardage play where several players are involved in the stop. Seattle ran 49 plays resulting in a completed pass or a run not ending with a score. There is no excuse for a stats crew awarding fewer than 40-45 solo tackles. Consistency among statistics from stadium to stadium has been an issue for years. All we can do is pay attention to this and avoid starting defenders in games played at Seattle going forward.
Lorenzo Alexander has been a major contributor the recent success of Buffalo's defense. Not only is he leading the league with 8 sacks entering week seven, Alexander joins Von Miller as the only two players in the league with at least half a sack in each of their games so far. So why is the coaching staff cutting back his playing time? Over the first three games his playing time steadily increased to a max of 80% of the snaps in week four. Over the past two games both his snap count and percentage has dropped to a low of 32 plays (60%) in week six. With Shaq Lawson expected to practice this week we could see even less of Alexander going forward.
Danny Trevathan is back in action but has not yet returned to an every down role. This is presumably because the thumb injury makes it harder for him to catch a ball and thus limits his potential in coverage, but who knows for certain what the coaching staff is thinking. Trevathan has played a slightly over 81% of the defensive snaps over the past two weeks with Christian Jones spelling him.
Vontaze Burfict is one of my favorite fantasy players but even being a Bengals homer I would suggest you trade him ASAP. This guy has more talent than 95% of the linebackers in the NFL but he just does not get it. After serving a suspension to start the season because of illegal dangerous hits and his inability to exercise self control, Burfict will be writing a check for $75,000 for unsportsmanlike behavior in week six. I used to think Ndamukong Suh was the dirtiest player in the league. Burfict is trying to wrest that title away. This kind of behavior sidetracked his college career and kept him from getting drafted. Leading with his helmet caused him to miss games due to concussions and his cheap shot was a major contributor to keeping his team from advancing in the playoffs last year. Simply put he is a time bomb that could go off at any point. The next incident will probably get him a nice long vacation from the game. It would be nice if he were on someone else’s roster when that happens. Burfict rolled his ankle in practice on Wednesday so he may not be able to shoot himself in the foot this week. Keep an eye on the late week injury reports to see if he will be available.
Jordan Poyer suffered a concussion and lacerated kidney in week six and landed on IR early this week. We would expect this injury to move both Ibraheim Campbell and rookie Derrick Kindred into every down roles but be careful moving on either of those players too quickly. On Sunday Campbell and Kindred continued to share time at strong safety after the injury while rookie corner Tracy Howard stepped in at free safety in the second half.
The bye came at a great time for the Cowboys who can use the break to get some guys healthy. Barry Church missed time late in week six with what looked like a possible concussion as did Morris Claiborne. Hits in the secondary are hard to absorb especially with Orlando Scandrick already on the shelf. Rookie corner Anthony Brown stepped up big against the Packers with 10 solo stops, an assist and a forced fumble. If he is still in line to start when the team returns to action Brown could prove to be a nice late addition for corner required leagues.
DeMarcus Lawrence saw his snap count increase from 17 in week five to 29 against the Packers as he works his way back into game shape. He will probably be back in the role of a starting three down end after the bye week. If he is un-owned in your league I would strongly consider trying to fit him on your roster.
Green Bay Packers
All the talk this week has centered on the Packers injury issues at running back. They are decimated at the corner positions as well. Green Bay was without Quinten Rollins (groin) and Sam Shields (concussion) against Dallas. When they lost Damarious Randall to a groin injury early in the first half it left them with Demetri Goodson and Ladarius Gunter to finish the game. Shields was placed on IR this week while neither Rollins nor Randall has been able to practice. Meanwhile here come the Bears who have struggled to put points on the board but have moved the ball well by ground and air alike. Brian Hoyer has completed at least 28 passes for over 300 yards in four straight games. As a result the top three corners of Chicago's opponents have totaled at least 11 solo stops in each of those games. If you are an owner who likes to gamble a little, the signs point to Goodson and/or Gunter putting up strong tackle numbers this week.
D'Qwell Jackson played every snap again in week six so it is safe to assume he will be a full time three down linebacker going forward. The Colts however, seem to be joining the movement toward safeties working at linebacker in the nickel packages. Josh McNary was in for 35 base package snaps in week six. T.J. Green played safety for 37 plays allowing Clayton Geathers and Mike Adams to see work from the linebacker level in sub packages. Antonio Morrison played one down in this game. The coaching staff is showing no interest in getting him on the field at this point. That approach could change in a few weeks when/if the team falls out of contention but even if he gets on the field it may be in a two down role.
Malik Jackson was supposed to be a big part of a great Jacksonville defensive line. After a horribly slow start he has stepped up a bit with 10 solo tackles and a sack over the past three games. Those are not great numbers by any stretch but they are solid for an interior lineman. If he is your starter you are probably starting to gain some confidence in him. Unfortunately it might be a good idea to look at your other options for week seven. Only two defensive linemen have recorded more than 2 solo tackles against the Raiders this season while Oakland has given up just 2.5 sacks to defensive linemen. So far Joey Bosa (4-1-2) is the only lineman to have even a decent day with this matchup.
With Aaron Colvin back in action the Jaguars sent Davon House to the bench in week six. Colvin made a good showing on the field and put up a solid 5 solo tackles but we should not read too much into it. He is working as the Jaguars nickel corner.
Kansas City Chiefs
There is a bit of shakeup at the inside linebacker position next to Derrick Johnson. Justin March-Lillard joined Josh Mauga on IR this week. When March-Lillard went down the Chiefs responded by turning to their big nickel package featuring Daniel Sorenson. This week we will probably see Sam Barrington and/or Sio Moore get a look. Both of these players are capable of playing three downs but the chances of it happening are slim at best. Kansas City has not used two inside linebackers in their nickel for a few years now.
Los Angeles Rams
E.J. Gaines and Troy Hill were the Rams starting corners with Lamarcus Joyner sticking in his nickel role against the Lions. As we have seen all season the Los Angeles corners continued to be productive with Hill posting 6 solo and a pair of assists while Gaines went 4-1. The Giants have been a strong matchup for corners and they are likely to follow the lead of the Buccaneers and Lions who went after Hill. In his two starts Hill has 17 solo stops which is why he is my favorite sleeper corner this week.
Tackle Michael Brockers got back on the field for a few plays in week six but aggravated his hip injury early in the second half. The setback will probably keep him out a while longer. End William Hayes managed 26 snaps and seemed to come through healthy. Look for him to start this week and return to his three down role. Robert Quinn could get back on the field this week as well though it would likely be in a limited role. Hopefully these guys will all be healthy for us in time for the stretch run in a couple of weeks.
Injuries and IR moves seem to be the main story line of the week. Reshad Jones tore his rotator cuff on Sunday and is done for the year. There is no one on the Miami Roster who can match Jones's skill set, but look for Isa Abdul-Quddus to step into his role on the field. Abdul-Quddus has shown the ability to be a rather productive fantasy option when the situation has been good. Working behind an injury riddled linebacker corps on a team that has struggled defensively is a golden situation. He is unlikely to have the big play production we have seen from Jones but Abdul-Quddus is more than capable of giving us quality tackle totals going forward. Michael Thomas should now step into a full time role at free safety where he could have some matchup based value as well this week.
The Dolphins made a couple of changes at defensive end in week six when Cameron Wake returned to the starting lineup ahead of Mario Williams and Andre Branch replaced Jason Jones. Williams has been all but invisible all season. He was questionable with a concussion heading into the game but was active and played 13 snaps in a relief role. Wake and Branch both played more than 40 of a possible 55 snaps, finishing with 2 sacks between them. Branch was the better fantasy option at 3-1-1.5 and is a player we need to have on our radar going forward. Wake is a player we know is capable of big things. He has not shown enough yet to stand out but if you are in need of help at the position I suggest moving on him now before he does.
New England Patriots
The Patriots are hurting at the linebacker positions. So much so in fact that Rob Ninkovich lined up at linebackers on a few plays while Elandon Roberts received some attention on the sideline in week six. With Jonathan Freeny on IR, Shea McClellin out with a concussion and Jamie Collins Sr sidelined with a hip problem, New England started Roberts on the weak side, Dont'a Hightower in the middle and Barkevious Mingo on the strong side. Safety Duron Harmon lined up at the second level on many of his 49 snaps during the game as the team shuffled players around. Collins was limited on Wednesday but we never know what is going on with the Patriots until Sunday morning when the inactive list comes out. Roberts was somewhat of a disappointment last week finishing at 1-5-0 while Hightower gave us yet another of his elusive big games at 3-10-1.5. Keep an eye on Collins status this week. If he sits both Hightower and Roberts become decent starting options for us.
The New England stats crew is another that loved to hand out assists like candy at Halloween, but at least they are not too stingy with the solo tackles. In all there were 37 solo and 36 assists awarded in this game. It just happened that Roberts and Hightower accounted for almost half the assists.
New Orleans Saints
Von Bell has indeed replaced Jairus Byrd as the Saints starting free safety. His total of 4-3-0 against Carolina does not seem like much at a glance but it looks much better when we consider Bell was tied for the team high in solo stops and was second in assists. The Chiefs have been an above average matchup for safeties; that and the Saints woes at linebacker are a couple of good reasons to put Bell in your lineup this week.
New York Jets
Start your Jets linemen this week. The Baltimore offensive line is hurting. Tackle Ronnie Stanley and guard Marshall Yanda were both out in week six. Both are questionable at best heading to week seven. Even the Giants, who are last in the league in sacks, got to Joe Flacco for a couple last week although one of them was on a safety blitz.
One other interesting side note from the Jets; Sheldon Richardson was listed as an LB/DE in the game book. He played outside linebacker on a number of snaps Monday night.
Darron Lee left Monday's game with what looked like a fairly serious ankle injury. He was replaced by Bruce Carter who went on to finish with 4 solo tackles. Unless the Jets can get either Lee or David Harris back this week, it looks as if Carter and Erin Henderson will get the call for week seven against Baltimore.
Malcolm Smith owners are getting frustrated. I know this because I have him in several leagues myself. All I can say at this point is hang in there at least another week. His numbers were not horrible before the injury thought they were not what we expected after his breakout last season. I believe they will come around again once he is healthy. Smith was active and played a little more than half the snaps (39) in week six. He was not 100% in that game but came through with no setback. He has been a full practice participant this week and should be back in his every down role against Jacksonville. If he does not play every down or very near it, even the Raiders fan in me will have to strongly consider looking for other options.
It took six games but the Eagles seem to have finally settled on Nigel Bradham and Jordan Hicks as their go to linebackers. Both players were on the field for all 74 plays in week six. I would not advise jumping in and starting either of them until we can confirm this will continue, but it might be a good idea to get them on your roster before their production catches up. Bradham was 3-7-0 with a pass defended against Washington while Hicks was 3-5-0, so they were close.
When I looked at the Steelers week six box scores the first thing that came to mind was who the heck is Tyler Matakevich? He is the Steelers rookie seventh round pick who was 7-2-0 on all of 18 plays against Miami. Matakevich got on the field when Vince Williams left the game with what looked like a potentially serious injury. All we have heard from the team since Sunday is Williams was experiencing cramps. He was not on the team's Wednesday practice report so apparently all is well. My apologies to all those ambulance chasers that ran out and picked up the rookie this week.
Unless we hear something different about Williams’s status I would suggest starting him, Lawrence Timmons and strong safety Robert Golden against New England this week. The Patriots are on fire and have been a quality matchup for our tackle producing IDPs even when they were without Tom Brady. I expect Golden to matchup with one of the tight ends this week.
San Diego Chargers
Denzel Perryman started on Thursday but was unable to finish due to his shoulder injury. Jatavis Brown continues to impress as the Chargers every down inside linebacker. He is producing tackles in bunches and has shown a knack for the big play as well. Even if Perryman is back on the field after the ten day break, I am confident Brown will continue to be a three down fantasy stud. Perryman may prove to be productive as well if he can get healthy. Linebackers and shoulder injuries are a bad combination though. It may be weeks before he is over it and if he keeps playing it may not heal completely all season.
My rant about stadium stats crews started with Atlanta because they played in Seattle last week. Let me expand on this here and emphasize how bad an idea it is to play your Seahawks defenders at home. In their three home games the Seahawks defense has been credited with a total of 86 solo tackles and 136 assists. If your league scores assist equal to solo tackles you are loving this. Most leagues however, do not score that way. Bobby Wagner is Seattle’s best fantasy option on most weeks. In two road games he has 11 solo tackles and 7 assists. In three home games he is 9-17 in the tackle columns including a week two game when he was scored at 0-6-0. When Seattle is at home, sit him.
The Seahawks got a scare when Michael Bennett took a low block and left Sunday's game. This is one of the few good news injury updates this week as Bennett's injury was minor. He may be limited this week but proclaimed himself to be fine and ready to roll for week seven.
Washington also got a scare when Will Compton left the field with what looked like a potentially serious injury. He has been practicing this week and is not on the Wednesday practice report so all is apparently well. Mason Foster was a decent fill in for us over the past couple of games but that could come to an end this week with the possible return of S'ua Cravens. Craven’s workload at practice will increase the week and he has a chance of playing. If Cravens is able to go, Foster will return to his early down base package role.
Washington started Duke Ihenacho at strong safety in week six but he did not last long before giving way to Donte Whitner. I had expected Whitner to push converted corner Will Blackmon to the bench and play free safety but that was not the case. Ihenacho had 2 tackles and an assist on his 19 snaps while Whitner managed a modest but team high 4 solo stops on 40 plays. Chances are Whitner will start and play full time in week seven. If he continues to work at strong safety Whitner could emerge as a quality option for us down the stretch. Washington strong safeties tend to be rather fantasy friendly.
That does it for week seven. I hope you are in the thick of the race as we turn the corner and head into the second half of our season.