Week 11 confirmed that Budda Baker has stepped right into the every-down role previously held by Tyvon Branch. It also confirmed Baker will pick up right where Branch left off in terms of on-field production. In fact, he might prove to be even more box score friendly than his predecessor. In Bakers first start, he rolled up a huge stat of 11-2-1 with a pair of forced fumbles and a recovery. Obviously, he will not put up that kind of production every week but there is no doubt Baker is an every-week must start going forward.
When Matt Judon exploded for 12 tackles and a pair of sacks in Week 6, I cautioned not to overreact to his one big game. He was quiet for a couple games before combining for 10-2-3 with a turnover in Baltimore’s last two contests. What looked like a one week splash earlier has now become a trend. Judon is not going to give us great tackle totals on most weeks and like nearly all 3-4 outside backers he is going to be a bit inconsistent, but he has emerged as a pass-rushing force. His fantasy value will depend largely on the scoring system but it is hard to argue against him as an every-week must play in big play based leagues.
Micah Hyde left the Week 11 game with what looked like a serious knee injury. Afterward, the team said it is not as bad as they initially thought. Hyde has been participating on a limited basis this week and early indications suggest he will play. Trae Elston stepped in against the Chargers and would get the call if Hyde is not able to go.
Ramon Humber started but played only 68% of the defensive snaps in Week 11. There is no early word of an injury so he may have been pulled due to the blow out score.
Safety Kurt Coleman has been up and down this year, causing a lot of fantasy owners to give him the boot. The Jets are a middle of the road matchup for safeties in general but if you are an owner that looks ahead, Carolina faces the Saints in Week 13. Coleman was 6-3-0 in the first meeting and only the Patriots have been a better matchup for safeties since Week 6.
Heading into last week I was a little concerned that Nick Kwiatkoski or Christian Jones could be the odd man out in sub packages. As it turned out the Bears left both players on the field in most of those situations with Kwiatkoski playing 94% of the snaps and Jones 95%. Kwiatkoski has given us quality production in each of his two recent starts including a pair of sacks. Jones has been rock solid with double-digit points in six straight games. The Eagles are a fairly strong matchup for linebackers so both players are worthy of strong starting consideration this week; the only possible exception being if Danny Trevathan returns which seems unlikely as of early on Wednesday.
The Bears could be without some key defenders in Week 12. Tackle Eddie Goldman wrist and corner Kyle Fuller both left the Week 11 games with wrist injuries. As I write this on Wednesday morning there has been no update on the severity of these injuries or their status for Week 12. Outside linebacker Leonard Floyd left early last week with a knee injury and is in danger of missing the rest of the season.
Cincinnati continues to play well on defense but they are getting thin at linebacker. Vincent Rey left early on Sunday with a hamstring injury that has his Week 12 availability in doubt. When the team lost Kevin Minter a few weeks back they shifted Vontaze Burfict inside so Rey could play on the weak side. With Rey out against the Broncos, Burfict went back to the weak side with Hardy Nickerson Jr. working in the middle.
The Browns took some hits up front in Week 11. Emmanuel Ogbah suffered a broken foot and tackle Jamie Meder left the contest with a high ankle sprain; both players were placed on IR this week. Carl Nassib moves into the starting role at end with Nate Orchard moving up to the third man role. Caleb Brantley was a healthy inactive last week but should have a role in the tackle rotation the rest of the season.
If you need help at linebacker James Burgess should be high on your free agent wish list this week. He replaced the injured Jamie Collins Sr during the Week 10 game but there were some concerns he might have a lesser role than that of Collins going forward. Burgess totaled 10-4-1 with a pass defended in a couple starts earlier in the season and after going 7-9-1 on 93% of the snaps against Jacksonville on Sunday, it looks like he is up to the challenge. The Bengals are a horrible matchup this week but Cleveland plays the Chargers, Packers, Ravens, and Bears in weeks 13-16.
It was reported last week that Justin Durant would play middle linebacker for Dallas in Week 11. Many if not most people reacted to this news as if the team would bench Jaylon Smith in favor of Durant. As I pointed out to a couple of people that emailed asking about Durant's value, there was no mention in the report of Smith's role being lessened. All it meant was Anthony Hitchens would move to seen Lee's weakside position with Durant taking over Hitchen's playing time in the middle. Smith has not played exceptionally well but he has been more than serviceable, and the Cowboys have not given up on him. In fact, he could be back in a near every-down role for Week 12 if Hitchens is not able to work through the groin injury that knocked him out against the Eagles. Lee has already been ruled out of Thursday's game and Hitchens did not practice on Tuesday although the team is holding out hope he will be able to play on the short week. If neither is able to go we could see Durant on the weak side and Smith in the middle against the Chargers.
Jarrad Davis was supposed to be the rookie sensation at middle linebacker for the Lions this year. He started out strong with 9 solo tackles in Week 1 and has given us solid numbers in a few other games but has fallen short of 4 solo stops in three of the last four games. In Week 11 we even saw his snap count drop to 80%. When we talk about the rookie wall we are usually talking about running backs, but young players at all positions can have this happen. Davis has played every snap in six of his eight games and may simply be wearing down. He has a plus matchup this week against a hot Vikings offense that has run the ball well of late, but we may still want to consider our options at this vital point of the season.
Green Bay Packers
Inside linebacker Jake Ryan had by far his most productive game of the season against Baltimore in Week 11, but we should not read anything into it. Game flow led to the Packers using a base package on almost 80% of the defensive plays, so Ryan saw the most snaps of his season to date. The Steelers will spread the field with three or more receivers often so Ryan will have limited opportunity.
After a string of strong outings, Davon House fell back to earth against Baltimore. Put him back in your lineup this week against the Steelers who have been an excellent matchup for corners. House could end up covering Antonio Brown most of the time but even if that is not the case, the Steelers will spread the ball around to their receivers, which suggests a high floor for both house and Damarius Randall.
Clay Matthews left Sunday's game with a groin injury and his Week 12 status is in question.
The Colts defense will get some reinforcements this week with the return of Clayton Geathers at safety and probably John Simon at outside linebacker. In the grand scheme of things, this is like using a squirt gun on a bonfire in NFL terms but both of these players should make a more significant splash for fantasy owners. Simon was 22-13-3 over the first six games and has some value in big play based scoring.
Geathers will line up at strong safety but in essence may be the team's best linebacker. I am a little nervous about his playing time after such an extended absence and the potential for a setback from the neck injury, so I am not going to be starting him at such a crucial juncture. I am going to snap him up anywhere I can get him and keep a close eye on his production this week with the Colts facing Jacksonville in Week 13.
Kansas City Chiefs
It may be no more than a coincidence, or it may be a changing of the guard in Kansas City; whatever the reason Reggie Ragland saw a major increase in playing time against the Giants when he went 8-1-0 on 71% of the snaps. It would be easy to write this one off as a game flow thing since the Giants lack of healthy receivers forced them to use a lot of tight ends, thus allowing the Chiefs to match up with a base package. In reality that is likely the case but we should not overlook the fact Derrick Johnson was in the game for only 53% of the plays. In fact, Johnson's playing time has declined in two consecutive games. I doubt the Chiefs see Ragland as a future three-down player but with Johnson clearly in decline, they may elect to take a look at Ragland in a bigger role. After losing four of the last five games and playing poorly on defense all season, what do they have to lose?
Los Angeles Chargers
So much for any hope that Jatavis Brown would return to significance. After seeing a considerable increase in playing time Week 10, Brown was back to eighteen snaps against Buffalo. He managed 3 tackles and a pair of assists on the limited opportunity so his level of production remains strong, if only it were matched by his opportunity. I think what we have here is a simple case of Brown not fitting as a weakside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme. Hopefully, he can escape Los Angeles in the offseason and get back to playing on the inside in a 3-4. The Chiefs could certainly use him.
Denzel Perryman has not yet reclaimed a full-time role but his snap percentage did increase significantly in his second game back from injury. He was on the field for 71% of the plays against Buffalo and may have played more had the game remained close.
Los Angeles Rams
Rookie third-round pick John Johnson III went 8-0-0 against the Vikings and seems to have established himself as the Rams starting strong safety of the present and future. The Saints are a great matchup for safeties, allowing 12.6 tackles per game to the position, making him a sneaky strong start this week.
No one needs me to tell them to start Mark Barron or Alex Ogletree on any given week but just in case you have a decision to make, the Saints have arguably been the best matchup in the game for inside and weakside linebackers since Week 6.
With Nickell Robey-Coleman (thigh) and Kayvon Webster (concussion) likely sidelined this week, look for Dominique Hatfield and Blake Countess to fill the corner positions along with Trumaine Johnson this week.
I like what I have been seeing from rookie tackle Davon Godchaux in recent weeks. With a season-high five solo tackles against Tampa Bay in Week 11, his numbers continue to creep up but it has been Godchaux's play on the field that has caught my eye in recent weeks. He is still looking for his first career sacks but has been a disruptive penetrator on early downs versus the run.
Miami sent Rey Maualuga packing late last week but they did not go with Mike Hull at middle linebacker as many anticipated. Instead they turned to undrafted rookie Chase Allen. At this point, there is nothing to see here in fantasy terms as Allen played 30 snaps in Week 11, but there is something the coaching staff likes about this youngster. I look back to Week 8 when he was on the field for five plays and made 3 tackles.
After his big debut with 7 tackles and 2 assists in Week 10, there were a lot of owners lined up to add T.J. McDonald. After going 4-1-0 against Tampa Bay last week I am already seeing some owners give up on him. Do not be one of those owners! He is not going to lead the team in tackles every week and the Buccaneers are a below average matchup for safeties. This week McDonald faces the Patriots who have helped the opposing safety position average 15-5-0 and a pass defended since Week 7. If some short-sighted impatient owners let McDonald go in your league or if he was not picked up last week, Grab him and play him this week.
New Orleans Saints
Alex Okafor tore his Achilles on Sunday and is done for the year. He was on pace for a solid 43-26-7.5 and had been a pleasant surprise for both the Saints and fantasy owners. Unfortunately for Okafor the contract he signed was a low one year "prove it" deal so he will probably be right back in the same situation in 2018. Fortunately for the Saints, they have rookie third-round pick Trey Hendrickson waiting in the wings to step in. Hendrickson is 6-5-2 on the season with a forced fumble but has looked better on the field than the numbers would suggest. I doubt the youngster will match the box score success of Okafor over the next few games but he will surely gain a lot of much-needed experience while auditioning for the starting role going forward. I see Hendrickson as a good late season dynasty stash for those with some roster room now that we have survived the bye weeks.
Safety Vonn Bell is another New Orleans player possibly auditioning for a future role. He has made a strong statement thus far while Kenny Vaccaro recovers from his groin injury. Bell was the team's second-round pick in 2016. He was a starter as a rookie but slipped into the third safety role this year when rookie Marcus Williams beat him out at free safety early in the season. Bell is a bit undersized yet the move to strong safety seems to suit him well. In two games at the position, he has 15 tackles, 4 assists, a sack and a forced fumble. With Vaccaro in the final year of his rookie contract, Bell may be playing for a chance to continue as the starter beyond 2017. The Saints Wednesday practice report is not in as I type this but Vaccaro was not able to practice at all last week which is a strong sign Bell will have at least one more opportunity to impress. Whoever is in the lineup this week against the Rams is a must-start for fantasy owners as Los Angeles has been an excellent matchup for safeties, and particularly strong safeties over the past several games.
The Rams have been a strong matchup for corners as well and Marshon Lattimore has been the Saints most productive at the position. Unfortunately, he may not be available after leaving the Week 11 game with an ankle injury. Keep tabs on the late week practice reports for his availability and turn to Ken Crowley as a sneaky start if Lattimore is out.
New York Giants
The injury woes continue at linebacker for the Giants. Calvin Munson started in the middle last week posting a strong 8-4-0 on 97 % of the snaps before injuring his quad late in the game. Munson is doubtful for the Thanksgiving tilt at Washington. B.J. Goodson is out for the game and Kelvin Sheppard is questionable with a sore groin after being limited on Wednesday. Jonathan Casillas is also questionable but will likely play after doing so last week. The only Giants linebackers not questionable or worse for the game are Devon Kennard and Curtis Grant. Avoid this mess altogether unless you are desperate.
Olivier Vernon is another player to avoid this week. After missing four games with a bad ankle he was knocked out of last week's game with a shoulder injury that has him questionable. Even if he plays it will be at less than 100% and he could exit at any time.
The big news out of Oakland this week is the firing of defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. who will be replaced by John Pagano. What is possibly most interesting and certainly most confusing about this situation is the Raiders have been running mostly a 4-3 under Norton, while Pagano is a clear 3-4 guy having run that scheme almost exclusively during his five-year stint as defensive coordinator with the Chargers. What this means in the short term is hard to call, but clearly, the Raiders defense has no place to go but up. The first thing that comes to my mind in thinking of the long-term is Khalil Mack will probably go back to being a linebacker in 2018.
Obi Melifonwu made his season debut in Week 10 but played little. His role increased to 45% of the snaps in Week 11 when he was lined up as a sub package linebacker on a good portion of his 26 snaps.
Ronald Darby returned to action with a bang (8 solo tackles, a pick and a pair of pass breakups) in Week 11 after being sidelined since early in Week 1. In most similar situations I would advise against jumping on Darby for fear of his big numbers being a fluke. In this instance, however, I will suggest jumping on him, especially in corner required leagues. This third-year player reached 60 solo tackles in each of his first two years as a pro so strong tackle numbers are not new to him. If this week's game goes as anticipated the Bears will be behind early and their rookie quarterback will be forced to throw. Mitchell Trubisky has attempted at least 30 passes in each of the Bears last three games and the coaching staff has gained enough confidence in him to let it fly again if need be. After this week Philadelphia plays the Seahawks and Rams who are both strong matchups for corners. Simply put, Darby might crash and burn but there are a lot of good reasons to expect he will flourish.
The initial word on Kam Chancellor's neck injury suggested it would be season-ending. The latest reports have him missing at least a few weeks but possibly being able to return for a playoff run should the Seahawks earn a spot in the postseason. Regardless how that plays out he will not be available for the remainder of the fantasy season. Leading up to the Monday night contest there was some speculation of rookie Delano Hill starting at strong safety but when the time came it was Bradley McDougald getting the call. Against Atlanta McDougald finished with a modest 4-1-0. This week's matchup with San Francisco is nothing to get excited about but Seattle gets the Eagles, Jaguars, Rams, and Cowboys starting in Week 13 with their Week 6teen matchup in Dallas including the return of Ezekiel Elliot. All of those teams have been strong matchups for safeties.
Rookie tackle Nazir Jones has been impressive while working as the third tackle in the rotation most of the season. With Jarran Reed sidelined for the past two games, Jones has moved into the starting role and looks like he belongs there. He is 5-2-1 in those two games combined but his play on the field has been even better than the numbers suggest. This week's matchup with San Francisco makes Jones a nice sleeper in tackle required leagues as the 49ers have given up more than a sack per week on average to interior linemen since Week 6.
Jayon Brown seems to have finally overtaken Avery Williamson at inside linebacker in Tennessee. Brown has seen more snaps in three of the last four games including a 49 to 27 split in Week 11. Brown has been particularly impressive in the box scores to date but this remains a situation to keep an eye on going forward.
Montae Nicholson started at strong safety against New Orleans but left the game with a concussion. He was replaced by DeAngelo Hall who probably would have started if not for being banged up himself. A matchup with the Giants is not great on paper but I like Hall this week. Call it a gut feeling but I like his big play ability matched up against the multiple-linebacker sets New York has been using.
This game matches up two of the league's most depleted linebacker corps. After losing both Mason Foster and Will Compton for the season, Washington started Martell Spaight next to Zach Brown against New Orleans. Brown has left the locker room in a boot after the last two games due to a sore Achilles and Spaight was out of practice early in the week with a sore ankle. Both were limited on Wednesday and are questionable work this week's game. Zach Vigil was signed last week to provide depth at the position.
That does it for Week 12. Enjoy friends and family this Thanksgiving and try to stay awake for the games!