Deone Bucannon lasted five plays before leaving Sunday's game with an ankle injury. He was replaced by Josh Bynes who went on to play every remaining snap and finish with 8 solo tackle, an assist, and a forced fumble. Bucannon spent the entire offseason and the first few games recovering from an ankle injury so this is particularly concerning. The good news here being he is said to be day to day which suggests the injury is not so serious this time. Keep an eye on the practice reports late in the week and keep in mind Bynes has been fairly productive as a starter in the past. The Rams are a strong matchup for linebackers.
The Rams are also an excellent matchup for safeties in general and strong safeties in particular. In each of their last four games, the opponents strong safety has either led his team in tackles or been tied for the lead. The Cardinals shut down Jacksonville last week leaving Budda Baker with a surprisingly low point total. I expect a strong bounce back from him this week.
Corners Brian Poole and Desmond Trufant both left the Week 12 contest early. Poole's back injury is said to be minor so he should be ready to face the Saints. Trufant remains in concussion protocol as of Wednesday which puts his availability in question. If Trufant is not able to go, Poole would start opposite Robert Alford with C.J. Goodwin likely working in the slot. Poole has been productive at times as the third corner, and the Saints have been a solid matchup for corners in general.
Duke Riley was back in action Week 12 but he only got on the field for four plays. Unfortunately, those snaps came at the expense of De'Vondre Campbell which tells us nothing has changed in all likelihood. Chances are Riley will see his role increase over the next week or two until they are back to the same time share we saw early in the year; which was just enough to render both players useless in fantasy terms.
Preston Brown has come to life over the last month or so, including 17 tackles and 5 assists over the last two weeks. Coincidently Ramon Humber has not played more than 80% of the snaps in three of the last four games and finished at 2-1-0 in Week 12. The Patriots have been a strong matchup for middle linebackers on most weeks so Brown seems like a good play.
When we look at how dismal the Chiefs offense played in Week 12 it is easy to understand why Micah Hyde gave us a goose egg. It is natural for us to be reluctant about a player after such an outing, but do not sleep on Hyde this week. In Week 8 Jahleel Addae had 8 solo tackles versus the Patriots. In Week 10 it was Justin Simmons at 8-4-1, Week 11 Karl Joseph 6-1-0 and last week Reshad Jones went off for 9-3-0. What all four of these players have in common is they are strong safeties just like Hyde. Jordan Poyer has been hot of late and could also have a strong game but I think Hyde is the guy to have here.
Thomas Davis suffered a hamstring injury in the second half on Sunday. He is hopeful of playing against the Vikings but his status is in doubt early in the week. My concern here is Davis being active but playing a reduced role. When he was banged up earlier in the season Davis played on early downs while Shaq Thompson took over the sub-package duties. If you are in a must-win situation I would look for a more safe option.
Nick Kwiatkoski has been highly frustrating over the last three games. In Week 10 he blew up for 9-1-1 on 36 snaps. He was on the field for 95% of the play the following week finishing at 3-1-1. It looked like he would have a near every-down role so many of us (including myself) played him in what should have been a plus matchup Week 12, he let us down by recording 1 solo stop while playing less than 70% of the snaps. The 49ers are actually not a bad matchup for linebackers on most weeks but I simply cannot trust Kwiatkoski at this vital stage of the season.
Nick Vigil left last week's game with an ankle injury and was in a boot on Monday. He was replaced by Josh Evans who went on to have a solid game recording 5-1-0 on 38 plays. The Steelers have been a hit or miss matchup for tackle producing linebackers, but when they hit it has been big (Blake Martinez 12-3-0 with 2 turnovers on Monday). Vigil went 3-5-0 in the first meeting so even if healthy he is not much more than a high floor start with a little upside. Be prepared to go elsewhere for your third starter this week.
Dre Kirkpatrick has been on fire of late. He has reached double-digit points in five straight games while averaging 5 solo tackles and a pass defended over that span. Kirkpatrick also contributed a sack and a pair of turnovers in those games. He is the Bengals number one corner at this point which means he will see a lot of Antonio Brown this week.
The Cowboys remain a mess at linebacker with all the injuries. It does not help that they play on Thursday this week. As expected Sean Lee has been ruled out with last week's starting middle linebacker Justin Durant also out due to a concussion. Anthony Hitchens has been limited since last week and is questionable with a sore groin. With ten days until their next game, it will not be a surprise if Hitchens is also inactive. We may see Dallas turn to Jaylon Smith and Damien Wilson as their three down linebackers against the Redskins. If Hitchens is inactive Smith becomes a viable LB3 option with some upside. He finished last week's game at 7-1-0 on 38 snaps (about 60% of the total).
The coaching staff elected to bench Anthony Brown after last week's game but they have not exactly confirmed who will start in his place. We can only assume nickel corner Jourdan Lewis will move into the lineup with Chidobe Awuzie taking over the nickel. That said it would not be a shock if Awuzie jumped into the starting spot.
Wondering where David Irving has gone? After a great start, he has done nothing for the past couple weeks. It is not hard to figure out why; the offense has fallen apart so instead of playing with the lead against teams throwing often, it is the Cowboys working in catch up mode. The other, and possibly bigger, factor is opponent’s game planning to take him out of the equation. This is how the NFL often works; when a player (especially a defensive lineman) has great success, the opponents emphasize him in their blocking scheme until a different player steps up and forces them not too. No one is stepping up to take the pressure off Irving.
Tavon Wilson is heading to IR with a shoulder injury that will require surgery. This will have some owners looking to add Miles Killebrew as a replacement. Keep in mind, however, when Wilson missed time early in the season Killebrew never played more than 82% of the snaps. His role did increase significantly but he was still on the bench in favor of a backup corner in some sub packages.
Tahir Whitehead was 10-3-0 in Week 12 and has emerged as the best IDP option in Detroit once again. Jarrad Davis is still the starting middle backer and remains the future, so dynasty owners need not panic. With the exception of a couple games missed with a concussion, Davis had played every snap through Week 9. Over the last two games, he has lost some snaps to Paul Worrilow. Davis saw action on 80% of the plays in Week 10 with the percentage slipping to 74% in Week 11. At this point, I am chalking it up to a rookie hitting the wall and running out of gas. It is something we will need to keep an eye on though.
Green Bay Packers
Morgan Burnett returned to his every-down role and had a huge game in Week 12. This sent Josh Jones back into the third safety spot where he played 37% of the snaps. Jones has been impressive and may well be the long-term future at strong safety in Green Bay, but for now, Burnett is the every-week must-start regardless of matchup.
Brian Cushing is back from suspension and could play as early as this week. After missing ten games it is unlikely he will jump right back into an every-down role. In fact, he may never regain that status. Cushing's best football is well behind him and the young guys at inside linebacker have played well, even though it has not shown up that way in the box scores.
The Colts already thin secondary took yet another hit when corner Rashaan Melvin suffered a hand injury on Sunday. There has not been a lot of word on the injury other than Chuck Pagano saying it is significant and he will miss some time. Kenny Moore stepped in when Melvin went down and would likely get the call. There is not much fantasy relevance here in IDP terms but it might be a good idea to start Marquise Lee or Dede Westbrook this week.
Clayton Geathers made his season debut in Week 12 though it was rather anti-climactic. Nick Farley started at strong safety and played full time while Geathers made a 4 snap cameo. It does not look like we are going to get anything from Geathers this year, but the fact he was back in game action speaks well for his future. Dynasty owners with roster space may want to stash Geathers away for safe keeping.
Telvin Smith Sr was not able to practice on Wednesday after suffering a concussion in the first half on Sunday. Blair Brown got on the field in base packages after Smith left but it was Paul Posluszny getting the sub package snaps. If Smith is not able to go this week, Posluszny will return to his familiar role as a three-down middle backer. The Colts are a below average matchup for linebackers but I still see him as a solid LB3 in that situation. The Jaguars wanted to get younger and faster at linebacker this year but the 33-year-old Posluszny can still play. There are several teams out there that would love to have him about now. I mention this because he is in the final year of his contract and is all but certain to be looking for a bigger role somewhere in 2018. This is another guy we should target as a dynasty stash. He could give us a couple more solid years before hanging it up.
Kansas City Chiefs
Reggie Ragland now has more snaps than any Kansas City linebacker not named Justin Houston over the last two games. Unfortunately, that is not saying a lot as he was on the field for only 67% of the plays over those two games. On the positive side, Ragland racked up 16 tackles and 2 assists in those contests and has clearly established himself as the best of the team's inside backers. It is hard to say if he will ever become a true three-down player but I like his matchups down the stretch.
The only thing more strange than their inside linebacker situation is the Chiefs signing of over the hill corner Darrelle Revis for big dollars. The team has already stated Revis will start once he is up to speed. This seems like a desperation move to me. There is a good reason we had not heard anything about Revis for months.
Los Angeles Chargers
There was an interesting development at linebacker in Los Angeles as the Chargers started Hayes Pullard in the middle and shifted Denzel Perryman to the weak side in Week 12. Pullard did not play a lot (11 snaps) because the Chargers spent most of the day in their nickel packages with Adrian Phillips joining Perryman at linebacker depth.
T.J. McDonald was a bust in Week 12 but I am not yet ready to give up on him. As I mentioned previously, it looks like the Dolphins are using a lot of right and left safeties rather than a true strong and weak. I believe this, and the fact their coaching staff saw Reshad Jones as a better matchup for Rob Gronkowski, led to the huge disparity in production between the two.
New England Patriots
The Patriots opened against Miami in a 3-3-5 nickel package with David Harris on the strong side, Kyle Van Noy in the middle and Elandon Roberts on the weak side. This is an interesting side note but probably means nothing since the Patriots are always throwing new defensive packages at their opponents. What is more noteworthy is the calf injury suffered by Van Noy. He was a limited participant on Wednesday lending an optimistic feel for his chances of playing against the Bills.
New Orleans Saints
Kenny Vaccaro was back on the field in Week 12 but the box score would suggest he returned to a lesser role; in reality, he did not. Vaccaro actually went right back to the same three-down strong safety role he had played before missing a couple games with an injury. There was a difference in the scheme, however. The Saints played all three safeties virtually full time with Vaccaro seeing action on 77 plays, Vonn Bell 74 and Marcus Williams 67. The result was Bell continuing his impressive streak of production while Vaccaro made a late game run to finish with respectable numbers. Bell's impressive streak has made him the fantasy game's top defensive back over the last five weeks and the Saints scheme in Week 12 suggests he will have plenty of opportunities to keep it going. With the potential for either Bell or Vaccaro to lose snaps, there is some risk with either of them. On the other hand, the upside tells us both of them are solid starters against a Carolina offense that has been a quality matchup.
Trey Hendrickson did not get a boost in playing time with the injury to Alex Okafor. Instead, the Saints played John Hughes at end on early downs. Hau'oli Kikaha saw time as a pass rusher in some sub packages.
New York Giants
Janoris Jenkins is done for the year with his ankle injury and has landed on injured reserve. This is particularly interesting considering Eli Apple was a healthy scratch in each of the last two games and was reportedly close to leaving the team last week. Some of the decisions coming out of New York in recent weeks leave me wondering if Ben McAdoo is committing career suicide.
With Curtis Grant going on IR this week the Giants added Ray-Ray Armstrong to the roster for depth. It looks like Kelvin Sheppard will be the three down middle backer against the Raiders. Unless you are in dire need, the only Giants defenders worthy of consideration this week are the defensive ends and of course Landon Collins who is coming off a 12 solo tackle game and should be a top five defensive back pretty much every week the rest of the way.
New York Jets
Darryl Roberts put together a string of quality production that had a lot of owners picking him up in corner required leagues. Coming out of the bye week Roberts was bumped back to the slot corner role where he played 42% of the snaps.
Corey James is trying to play through the knee injury that has slowed him much of the season. He was not able to play much (15 snaps) against Denver, while Nicholas Morrow played 75% of the defensive snaps at weakside backer. James has no value for us at this time but dynasty owners may want to hang onto him or pick him up for an offseason stash. When he was healthy James played well and the Raiders still consider him a big part of their future.
Ron Darby led the team in tackles at 5-0-0 against the Bears in what turned out to be a poor matchup. The Chicago offense ran just 31 plays that resulted in a tackle opportunity. Darby has a solid matchup this week with the Seahawks who throw the ball around the yard. Since Week 7 Russell Wilson has averaged one interception a game with the opposing team’s corner positions averaging 11.6 tackles, 3 assists, and 3.4 pass breakups.
The Bengals had no answer for Pittsburgh's pass rush in their first meeting and they have struggled to keep Andy Dalton clean in recent weeks. While this is a good matchup for the Steelers pass rushers, it is probably not a good one for Ryan Shazier, Vince Williams, and Sean Davis. Cincinnati had a breakout game against the Browns last week but it was the first time since Week 5 that one of their running backs exceeded 50 yards.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
T.J. Ward left last week's game with a concussion and was not at practice on Wednesday. This could spell a full-time role for Chris Conte who has been splitting time with Ward for several weeks. The Packers are not a particularly strong matchup for safeties but the current state of affairs in Tampa Bay allows any offense to be productive.
Zach Vigil got the start at next to Zach Brown at inside linebacker in Week 12 but unlike those that came before him, Vigil was relegated to a two-down role. The Redskins could get Martell Spaight back for the Thursday matchup, which would send Vigil back to the bench. Spaight was limited on Wednesday and listed as questionable.
That does it for this week's offering. For many of us, the playoffs start this week. Hopefully, you will have a good reason to check back for the Week 14 column. Until thien, best of luck and Just Win Baby!
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