Tyvon Branch started slow but finished 9-1-0. He and Tyrann Mathieu played all 71 snaps while Antoine Bethea played 60. This situation has the potential to be a moving target as it was last year, but it feels like it will remain constant. Branch is playing well, Mathieu is healthy and Bethea is old so it would make sense.
Haason Reddick put up a respectable 6-2-0 and made some nice plays but be aware he is not playing full time. He shared snaps with Josh Bynes in the opener with Reddick playing 41 and Bynes 30 on the day. Karlos Dansby was the three down backer going 5-2 on the day. The Deone Bucannon watch continues as he is currently listed as doubtful for Week 2.
During the preseason it looked as if Duke Riley had secured the starting job at WLB over De'Vondre Campbell. In Week 1 however, the two played nearly equal snaps with Campbell seeing 47 and Riley 49. The two were even on the field together at times but it does not look as if either is going to be a three-down option for now.
Brooks Reed had a big game at 5-0-2 but temper your excitement. The seven-year veteran has never totaled more than 6 sacks in a season and has not recorded more than 25 tackles in a season since 2014. He will probably turn back into a pumpkin in Week 2. Takkarist McKinley totaled 14 snaps in sub packages and is not yet ready to become a factor.
Za'Darius Smith got the start at end and looked great coming out of the gate. He was 2-1-1 on only seven snaps before being carted off with a knee injury. Kamalei Correa got the start at inside linebacker as expected but played only on base package downs. He was replaced by Patrick Onwuasor in most sub packages.
I was concerned that Tony Jefferson would have a hard time producing with his new team. That was not the case as he finished 5-4-1 against the offensively challenged Bengals. He even played in a linebacker alignment on some sub package snaps.
Ramon Humber had a monster game finishing with 12 tackles and an assist. He is a hot waiver add this week as he should be but don't be shocked when he comes back to earth in Week 2. Humber looked good during the preseason and I expect he will continue to be productive but I still believe Preston Brown will ultimately lead the team in tackles. Brown was quiet in the opener but don't write him off; I think the production breakdown had a lot to do with the Jets offensive game plan. Micah Hyde was also quiet but unless there is a great pickup option, I would give him a second chance as well.
The Panthers defense was only on the field for 57 plays so there was not a great deal of opportunity for Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. Mario Addison led the team's defensive ends with 36 snaps while four guys saw at least 23. For the past several years Carolina has shuffled a lot of guys at end. This year will be more of the same so even if we get good sack numbers there will probably be a shortage in the tackle column.
Jerrell Freeman left Sunday's contest in the fourth quarter with a concussion severe enough to have already landed him on IR. The good news for Chicago is Danny Trevathan was able to play and came through healthy. He was on the field for 71% of the snaps in Week 1 and with Freeman out, is likely to take over the every down job. Nick Kwiatkoski will start alongside him and is worth waiver consideration this week just in case he lands three down duties.
Michael Johnson left Sunday's disaster in Cincinnati with a stinger and a possible concussion. Jordan Willis and Chris Smith split time at the position after Johnson left and will likely continue to do so if Johnson misses time. The Bengals generated no pass rush to speak of against Baltimore but will face a Houston offense that gave up a ton of sacks to Jacksonville. It’s the stoppable force versus the movable object.
Vincent Rey led the Bengals in tackles Week 1 with 6 solo and 5 assists despite playing less than 80% of the snaps. Nick Vigil was the only Cincinnati linebacker not to come off the field. His 5-4-0 with a pick led Bengals defenders in fantasy points. The game was ugly for Bengals fans but the defense actually played pretty well as a whole.
Shawn Williams is still recovering from the elbow dislocation and is likely to miss at least another game or two.
The Browns were one of my sleeper defenses heading into the season and they showed why against the Steelers. Coach Tomlin can blame penalties or make whatever excuse he wants but the truth is Cleveland gave his offense all they wanted in Week 1 and they did it without Myles Garrett. Being a Bengals homer it pains me to say this is no longer your fathers Cleveland Browns. Joe Schobert lead the team in tackles from the middle linebacker spot, but the most interesting note here is they kept all three starting linebackers on the field full time in this game. Jamie Collins Sr moved around a lot and should continue to do so. While no one had big numbers in Week 1, I continue to be impressed with Schobert. Snap him up if you have a need or an available roster spot.
Emmanuel Ogbah was disappointing but I suggest exercising patience. Once Garrett returns to take the pressure off I can see the Browns making some quarterbacks miserable. Carl Nassib started for Garrett in Week 1 and will continue to do so until Garrett is ready.
As anticipated Jaylon Smith started at middle linebacker and played on early downs, seeing action on 36 of 56 plays. While Justin Durant replaced him on a couple sub package snaps, we saw a lot of safety Kavon Frazier in sub packages. Smith looked good and came through healthy so if he does not experience problems with the knee we will likely see his role increase slowly over the next few games. Barring a setback I believe he will be a three down player by midseason.
Demarcus Lawrence got off to a great start going 4-1-2 against the Giants. He is healthy and seems ready to pick up where he left off in 2015. Jump on him if you can.
When Denver let T.J. Ward walk there were a lot of people expecting Justin Simmons to step right into the role of in the box strong safety and possibly even nickel linebacker. If game one is any indication, none of that is going to happen. Simmons may be the strong safety, but he spent little time closer than twelve yards from the line of scrimmage and was often out of the camera shot at the snap. He finished 3-3-0 in the game and unless his role changes we can expect a lot of similar production going forward. There were several safeties that stepped up in Week 1. I would suggest dumping Simmons for one of them.
Will Parks had a significant role and saw more in the box opportunity than Simmons or Darian Stewart. Unfortunately, Parks was not on the field full time.
If there was anyone in doubt about Jarrad Davis, his huge debut with 9 solo tackles and a fumble recovery should make a believer of them. This kid is going to be an elite fantasy option.
I mentioned Anthony Zettel back in the preseason as a player to watch. He was 3-0-1 in the opener and continues to impress. Zettel is near the top of my add list heading into Week 2. Ezekiel Ansah managed 1 tackle which has to make some owners nervous, but he actually looked pretty good on the field. Ansah got some pressure on Carson Palmer, had a knockdown or two and was a factor as a pass rusher. I can understand wanting to sit him until he produces but keep in mind the Giants had trouble protecting Manning Week 1.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers really threw us a change up with safety Kentrell Brice (not Josh Jones) working as the third safety and playing linebacker on many of his 47 snaps, while Jake Ryan was on the field for all of 5. The Packers defense saw 49 total so no one really had much opportunity to produce in the tackle columns. Blake Martinez played 42 snaps including most sub package situations and is clearly the best fantasy target among the Packers front seven.
Most of us had grand expectations for the Texans defense in Week 1. J.J. Watt, Jadaveon Clowney, and Whitney Mercilus were on the field together for the first time, the team was emotionally charged after all that is going on in Houston and they were facing a Jaguars offense led by Blake Bortles. Watt suffered a dislocated finger early in the game and was a non-factor, Brian Cushing left with a concussion and the entire defense did next to nothing with no sacks and no takeaways. We are obviously not going to give up on Watt but Cushing is a different story. While few if any fantasy owners wasted a roster spot on Cushing, to begin with, his injury opens the door for rookie Zach Cunningham who made a strong impression during the preseason. Cunningham played all 28 snaps after replacing Cushing and is likely to continue in a near every down role going forward. Unless Cushing is cleared quickly he may be done as a starter for the Texans.
Jon Bostic started and played every snap at ILB for the Colts on Sunday. His play on the field was just as mediocre as his box score of 5-2-0. The problem for the Colts is they have no one else at this point. Edwin Jackson is on IR and rookie Anthony Walker is sidelined with a hamstring injury. The team re-signed Sean Spence this week but he is not any better. Antonio Morrison is the team's best healthy linebacker. He played 57 of 65 snaps against the Rams producing a modest 3-1-0. Bad as this team looked in the opener it is hard to argue against rostering either of these guys as they are going to have a boat load of opportunity. I still think Morrison will lead the team in tackles when it is all done. I also believe his closest competition will come from strong safety Mathias Farley and not Bostic.
If this team tanks early (and they are well on the way), there will be no reason to bring back Clayton Geathers. That would give Farley an opportunity to play a full season. He had 8 solo stops against Los Angeles and was arguably the only bright spot in what was a dismal performance all round. I look for the Colts secondary to be a target rich environment all season long and Farley seems good enough to make the most of it.
My hat is off to Myles Jack and the rest of the Jaguars defense. After watching them throughout the preseason I would never have believed they were capable of manhandling the Texans like that. Jack was a completely different player, getting off or avoiding blocks and finishing 8-6-0. There is still one point that bothers me a little here. Telvin Smith Sr finished the game with 1 tackle and 1 assist. What this tells us (and the game film confirms) is the Texans offensive game plan had a lot to do with the unbalanced production of the two linebackers. While I was impressed with Jack on the field and especially in the box scores, I expect the numbers to be more balanced between the two linebackers going forward. One more linebacker note from this game; Paul Posluszny played just 7 snaps. The time has come to send him packing and make better use of the roster spot.
Calais Campbell set a new Jaguars single game record with 4 sacks and the team set a new record with 10. Yannick Ngakoue is a player I have been high on since early in the summer. He was 3-1-2 with a pair of forced fumbles in the game and even Donte Fowler got into the groove going 3-0-1 with a forced fumble. Campbell is not going to be available anywhere but Ngakoue probably is. He should be at the top of your DL-add list this week.
Barry Church went 3-3 in his Jaguars debut but there are bigger things to come for him. The Jaguars looked great but they are not going to dominate many teams like they did Houston, so be patient.
Kansas City Chiefs
Eric Berry did an outstanding job shutting down Rob Gronkowski on Thursday, right up to the play where he tore his Achilles. The question now is how with the Chiefs compensate for the loss? Free safety Ron Parker had a huge game with 10 tackles and an assist. He should see more opportunity going forward but the player I think gets the big boost is Daniel Sorensen. Sorensen has been working as the third safety and nickel linebacker since last season. He is not the complete package like Berry is, but is a big physical presence versus the run and a solid pass defender. I like his chances of becoming a three down player going forward. The Chiefs other option is Eric Murray who came on for the last few plays against New England. I can see Murray at safety in the nickel with Sorensen continuing his linebacker role in those situations.
Los Angeles Chargers
Jahleel Addae did little in the box scores Monday night but it is too early to give up on him after the way he finished last season. Keep him on the bench this week if you have other good options but I would not throw him back in the pond just yet.
There was a big deal made early in the off season about Melvin Ingram III moving to defensive end. All through the preseason, he played with his hand in the dirt as an end but in Week 1 he worked almost exclusively from a two point stance. Ingram lined up in the same position he had earlier and had the same responsibilities, but playing from a two point stance will have a lot of people calling him a linebacker. This is yet another argument for a sweeping change in the IDP game that would create a new position of outside rusher. That's a discussion for a different day, however.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams defense was arguably the most dominant in a Week 1 filled with dominating defensive performances. Of course, much of that had to do with their opponent lacking an NFL caliber quarterback. What we need to keep in perspective here is the Rams defense was on the field for far fewer plays (41) than any in the league Week 1. Don't be the short sighted owner that cuts Mark Barron or Alec Ogletree this week.
Aaron Donald finally reported just before game one. He did not play versus the Colts but should be on the field for a full workload in Week 2.
I had a customer email me this week asking if he should drop Danielle Hunter after his game one goose egg. For anyone else that might be thinking the same thing I'll tell you just what I told him; if you drop Hunter now you will be kicking yourself for the next fifteen weeks. In the word of the immortal Forrest Gump, “that's all I'm gonna say about that”.
New England Patriots
It is uncharacteristic for the Patriots to show something real in the preseason but they did so this year. The Patriots showed Kyle Van Noy as their every-down weak side linebacker in the last two preseason games. In Week 1 Van Noy was indeed the team's every down linebacker and play caller. His total of 5 tackles and 1 assist are not eye catching by any stretch but he is in a role that should make him much more productive on most weeks. He is certainly worthy of consideration if you have a need or an empty spot on your roster.
They showed us Van Noy who was the real thing but much of the rest of the Patriots preseason defense was a smoke screen. After working in a three down role with the first team in preseason games three and four, David Harris played only a handful of snaps against Kansas City. Even after Dont'a Hightower left with a sore knee, Harris stayed on the sideline. Instead, New England went to backup safety Jordan Richards to fill the hole. While that certainly does not mean Richards will play a lot in Week 2, it does mean we cannot count on anything beyond Van Noy.
When the Patriots traded for Cassius Marsh it was expected he would fill a hole at defensive end. Instead, he played most of his 24 snaps at strong side linebacker. After getting trampled by the Chiefs it is hard to say what New England will look like defensively this week. It is probably a good idea to avoid all of them except Trey Flowers and maybe Van Noy.
New Orleans Saints
Week 1 showed us the Saints still have a long way to go defensively but it also proved they are heading in the right direction. A.J. Klein was huge going 8-3-0 with a forced fumble but he looked even better on the field than the box score suggests. Between Klein, Cameron Jordan and Sheldon Rankins New Orleans has the foundation of a good defense.
Some interesting notes from the contest; youngsters P.J. Williams and Marshon Lattimore were the starting corners. Rookie Marcus Williams has replaced Vonn Bell as the starting free safety. Rookie Alex Anzalone started at weak side linebacker. He played 48 snaps at the position while Craig Robertson played 17. This was not a situational time share though. When Anzalone was in the game he played all three downs with Robertson replacing him on a couple of series. Neither player made a splash in the box scores but I still like Anzalone as a long term target.
The bottom line here is the Saints played better than last year's historically bad defense and they are very young. They should get better as the season progresses.
New York Giants
With 14 tackles and 4 assists, B.J. Goodson stole the thunder from Landon Collins in Week 1. Goodson stood out during the preseason and quickly showed that the Giants finally have a true three down middle linebacker. He was all over the field against Dallas and is well on the way to triple digit solo tackles. This means fewer opportunities for Collins and a likely slide in production for last year's IDP MVP. Not enough of a slide to take him out of the elite tier at DB however; especially when we consider Collins big play production.
New York Jets
Jets linebackers Demario Davis (8-6-.5) and Darron Lee (7-3-1) had impressive box scores in Week 1. This is a work in progress so these guys are going to have a huge amount of opportunity all season. I have not yet had a chance to closely watch their game against Buffalo but my first impression after watching a couple series is they are better than I expected both on the field and especially in the box scores.
Newcomer Kony Ealy made little impact despite being on the field for 43 of 68 snaps in his debut with the team.
As expected the Raiders started Cory James at WLB and Marquel Lee in the middle. James ended up playing 60 of a possible 64 snaps while Lee gave way to Tyrell Adams after 21 snaps. None of the Raiders young linebackers were particularly impressive in the game. I have to wonder if James is completely healthy or is possibly still bothered by the sore knee that kept him out the last couple preseason games. He did not have the same change of direction quickness that was on display early in August. I will be keeping him out of my lineups this week but I am not yet ready to throw in the towel here.
Ronald Darby left Sunday's game with a dislocated ankle that will keep him out a while. He was replaced by Patrick Robinson who will likely be the starter for the next few games. The big story was Jalen Mills who racked up 8 tackles and a pick as the starter opposite Darby. It is hard to say if this was a fluke or the beginning of a trend but Mills certainly has our attention. If you need help at corner, there is no time to wait for confirmation. Pluck him off the wire but I would get a second look before plugging him into your lineup.
Jordan Hicks had a down year in 2016 and his 5-2-0 in Week 1 is nothing to get excited about on paper. On the other hand, he looked good on the field and the respectable numbers look a lot better when we consider Washington only ran the ball thirteen times. I am cautiously optimistic about Hicks going forward. Nigel Bradham was just 2-2 but again I would not put too much weight on it due to how the game played out. I still like him as a solid LB3 on most weeks.
The Steelers initially feared the worst when Stephon Tuitt went down with an arm injury. Now it sounds as if he might even be able to go this week. Even if he plays I would sit him until we see just how healthy he really is.
Vince Williams was less than impressive against Cleveland, finishing at 4-1-0. It is a little too early to give up on him yet but another mediocre week and I will find a better option to fill the roster spot on my teams.
Anthony Chickillo and T.J. Watt were impressive and highly productive against Cleveland. Much was expected from Watt but Chickillo was a surprise. Another solid game in Week 2 will almost certainly earn him a spot in the three man rotation once Bud Dupree returns.
Joe Haden made an immediate impact as a starter, but beware having big expectations for him every week. NFL players often go off against former teams, especially ones they were recently shipped off by.
San Francisco 49ers
Reuben Foster injured his ankle after recording 3 tackles and a pass defended on the first eleven snaps. Ray Ray Armstrong took over and could start a few games while Foster recovers. If Foster can stay healthy he is going to be a beast.
Solomon Thomas did not start Week 1 but played 43 snaps, which was more than starter Cornelius Carradine who played 31. Most of Thomas's opportunity came in sub packages though he did see some base package action.
No inside backers played more than 50 of the team's 66 defensive snaps, and Wesley Woodyard played more (50) than Avery Williamson (43). Keep an eye on Jayon Brown who had 3 tackles on 37 snaps and could find his way into the lineup before long.
No surprises from the Redskins with Mason Foster (8-1) and Zach Brown (7-5) playing nearly every snap. Deshazor Everett got the start at safety replacing S'ua Cravens. There has been no word on Cravens situation since the team put him on the inactive list.
That does it for Week 1. Best of luck to you as we try to sift through all the debris this week.