You could not tell by looking at the box scores but Devondre Campbell played every snap again in Week 8. I really believed the full-time role would bring some consistency to his game but that may not be the case after all. The up and down Panthers have been an inconsistent matchup as well. I would try hard to avoid starting him even as a bye week flier.
With Jordan Poyer out, the Bills started undrafted rookie Trae Elston at free safety. Elston proceeded to lead the team in tackles at 8-3-0, adding an interception for good measure. Chances are that will be his fifteen minutes of fame as Poyer practiced in full on Wednesday. He is still listed as questionable though.
Adolphus Washington took over the starting spot after Buffalo traded Marcel Darius to the Jaguars. Washington is a talented young player but that has not translated to box score production so far.
So much for the idea of Thomas Davis being phased out. With all three of their starters healthy the Panthers were business as usual on defense. That means Luke Kuechly in the middle with Davis in a three-down role on one side and Shaq Thompson playing on early downs on the other side.
Christian Jones put up good numbers again in Week 8 despite being limited to 37 of a possible 61 snaps. Adding concern for those who have been relying on Jones of late, Nick Kwiatkoski is back from his pectoral injury. Kwiatkowski played one snap in Week 8 but the Bears have been mum on his status for Week 9. If/when he is ready; it could send Jones back to the bench.
Michael Johnson left Sunday's game with a back injury that is likely to make him miss some time. This will open the door for more playing time for youngsters Carl Lawson, and Jordan Willis as well as Chris Smith. All three have played well in the current timeshare, but none of them have seen enough opportunity on a consistent basis. Pro Football Focus ranks Lawson number on among rookie pass rushers with 31 quarterback pressures. With Kevin Minter out I have to wonder if the Bengals coaching staff might consider moving Zach Vigil to the middle where he is most comfortable and making Lawson the starter on the strong side. That would certainly be a great move in the eyes of Vigil owners. Regardless where they line up, Vigil and Vontaze Burfict should post strong numbers against a Jacksonville offense that has been an excellent matchup for tackle producing defenders.
Keep an eye on Cowboys rookie safety Xavier Woods in the coming weeks. The 37 snaps he played in Week 8 represented the second most playing time he has seen this year but his role looked a little different to me. Instead of working as the third safety in sub packages, Woods actually replaced Jeff Heath in some base packages against Washington. Heath has never impressed me and I believe we are seeing the rookie push for a bigger role.
Apparently, the bye week was good for Tavon Wilson's shoulder. Against the Steelers, he looked better on the field and showed no hesitation about hitting with the bad wing. As a result, Wilson was able to lead the team in tackles (7-4-0) for the second time in three games. The Packers are a stronger matchup for safeties now that they have discovered a running game, so Wilson is worthy of strong consideration this week.
Jarrad Davis owners need not panic after his vanishing act last week. Nothing has changed with his role. He is still playing every down; the Steelers just did a great job against him with their blocking scheme and the design of their game plan. Davis will be in my lineups this week anywhere I have him.
Green Bay Packers
As we work on this week's column we are still awaiting word from the Packers Wednesday practice. What I am watching for in particular is news on Morgan Burnett's it has been almost four weeks since the injury possible return from the hamstring injury. Fantasy production from the Packers secondary has been a crapshoot in recent weeks and Burnett's return would likely bring some stability. Not to mention the Lions have been a solid and dependable matchup for safeties. Regardless of Burnett's presence, owners should be starting Ha Ha Clinton Dix in this one.
Most owners look at the 22 sacks allowed by Cincinnati this year along with the struggles they had against Pittsburgh a couple weeks back and assume the Jaguars league-leading pass rush will feast this week. That could be the case but keep in mind Cincinnati has allowed 2 sacks a game on average since the Week 1 debacle. Another 10 sack game by the Jaguars is far from a sure thing.
Cincinnati has been a poor matchup for our tackle producing defenders in general and they have been particularly bad for opposing safeties. Since Week 4, only 1 safety has exceeded 3 solo tackles in this matchup. In other words, sit Barry Church if you can.
The rich got richer when the Jaguars traded for Marcel Darius. He should step right into a major role with his new team where he will be surrounded by more talent than ever before. Opponents are not going to have the luxury of doubling him every snap so I expect the change of scenery to be a big plus for his production and value.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs pulled a fast one on us last week by completely benching Terrance Mitchell who had been a starter over the first half of the season. He got the quick hook after a rough Week 7 outing and did not play a single snap. Meanwhile, Kenneth Acker, who had logged less than fifteen snaps leading up to Monday's game, got the start. Acker played well finishing with 5 tackles, an assist and an interception in his first start with the Chiefs. With Steve Nelson returning to action, there was some speculation he would reclaim his starting job. Instead, Nelson was used as the slot corner in nickel packages. It is unclear if that was a temporary thing or if he will continue in that role going forward. The only really clear message to come from all this is sit your Chiefs corners until we get some clarification.
The Dallas offense will look different without Ezekiel Elliot but I expect they will continue to be a quality matchup for our tackle producing defenders. They still have an exceptional offensive line while Alfred Morris is a good between the tackles power back and Darren McFadden can still play. I would not hesitate to play Daniel Sorensen this week and would give Ron Parker consideration as well.
Dee Ford was forced out of Monday's game with a back injury and seems unlikely to go until at least week eleven after the bye. The Chiefs could also have Tamba Hali by then as he has been activated from the PUP and will begin practicing this week.
Los Angeles Chargers
While I remain baffled by the Jatavis Brown situation, it is clearly time to move on Adrian Phillips. The strong safety has been seeing significant time at linebacker over the past month, logging at least 46 snaps in three of the last four games. In those three games, he has averaged nearly 8 solo tackles and 2 assists. Against the Patriots in Week 8 Phillips played a season-high 59 snaps (of a possible 86) and recorded 12 solo stops. Who knows what the coaching staff is thinking here but Phillips is clearly working well as the weak side linebacker. He is a candidate to become the next Mark Barron so even with Denzel Perryman expected back soon, Phillips is a player to target on this week’s waiver wire.
Los Angeles Rams
If you are looking for a deep sleeper at defensive back this week, consider the Rams starting strong safety. The Giants matchup is a good one, with three of the last four opposing strong safeties recording at least 7 solo tackles. The problem here is figuring out who will start at the position. Between the injury to Lemarcus Joyner and the surprise release of Mo Alexander in Week 5, both Cody Davis and rookie third-round pick John Johnson III have made starts at safety. Johnson started at strong safety in Week 7 but that was with Davis inactive due to a thigh injury. If Davis is still gimpy the decision will be easy but even if he is available I can see the Rams going with the rookie instead, as Johnson may be seen as the future of the strong safety position anyway.
For those that like to look ahead and beat the competition to the punch, this is the week to consider adding T.J. McDonald. He will have served his eight-game suspension after Week 9 and will be eligible for reinstatement. In last week's game, the Dolphins lost free safety Nate Allen for the season with a calf injury. McDonald is more of an in the box strong safety so it will be interesting to see if they play him out of position or shift the more versatile Reshad Jones to free. That move would certainly hurt the value of Jones.
New Orleans Saints
Trey Hendrickson has moved up the depth chart and is now the third man at end in New Orleans. The 32 snaps in Week 8 were a new season high for Hendrickson who recorded his second sack against the Bears. He will have a tough time getting ahead of Cameron Jordan or Alex Okafor for a starting spot but he has a bright future and is an injury away from being an impact player.
New York Giants
When last we saw the Giants in Week 7, B.J. Goodson played all 41 snaps before leaving with an ankle injury. The first update on his status came Wednesday when Goodson was not able to practice. Jonathan Casillas has missed the past few weeks with a sore neck but was able to participate on a limited basis Wednesday. The Rams have been a strong matchup for linebackers so someone is going to have good value this week, right now it looks like Keenan Robinson is that guy. He has played 135 of 155 plays in the last two games totaling 11-4-0 with a couple batted passes and is a safe bet to play near full time again this week.
The bye week should go a long way toward helping Landon Collins get over his ankle injury. There is still some risk of his not being 100% but it would be a shame to miss this excellent matchup. Collins has already played through the worst of the recovery process so I am pretty comfortable with him in my lineups for Week 9.
Anyone that was worried about the value of Cory James after the addition of Navorro Bowman can breathe a sigh of relief. James was back in action Week 8 and led the team in solo tackles with 8, on 49 of a possible 59 snaps. It looks as if Bowman will stay on the field in dime packages with one linebacker while James works on base downs and in the nickel packages. The Dolphins were not a good matchup before trading away their lead running back but I have a feeling the Oakland linebackers will still be fairly productive this week.
Owners in tackle-required leagues need to move on Justin Ellis if he is still available. His role increased starting in Week 5 and he has played at least 43 snaps in every game since. Ellis has 12 tackles and 6 assists over the past three weeks including a mark of 5-1-0 in Week 8.
Shalom Luani went 6-1-0 as the stand-in for Karl Joseph at strong safety last week. As of Wednesday early afternoon, there has been no word on the status of Joseph for Week 9. Groin injuries are notorious for lingering and the Raiders have a bye in Week 9, so they may elect to hold Joseph out if he is not completely healthy.
One of our focus points for Week 8 was the playing time of Eagles linebackers. As expected Nigel Bradham was the every-down guy that never left the field. Meanwhile, Mychal Kendricks went 6-1-1 on 52 of 66 plays. Without sitting down and mapping every play, I believe Kendricks played in all the nickel sub packages but sat out when the sixth defensive back came on in dime situations. This is great news for Kendricks and anyone that grabbed him. Kendricks has several excellent matchups going forward so signs point to quality production from him the rest of the way.
Joe walker got the start at middle linebacker but played only 29 snaps in a base package role.
Be sure to start Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry and possibly even Derek Barnett this week against Denver. Over the past four games, the Broncos have given up huge production to Khalil Mack (7-0-2), Jason Pierre-Paul (7-1-3), Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram III (11-2-5 combined) and Justin Houston 5-1-2. Mack, Pierre-Paul, and Houston are all outside rushers that line up on the left side which is where Curry usually lines up. The Eagles will move guys around some though.
The Seahawks signed Dwight Freeney last week to give them some depth at the defensive end position. Freeney played 18 snaps while Branden played 13. The rest of the playing time went to Michael Bennett (59 of 71 snaps) and Frank Clark (49), both of whom put up strong numbers. This week Seattle faces a Redskins offense that is decimated by injuries up front and has allowed 4 sacks in each of the last two games.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers have been fighting an uphill battle and it is not going to get any easier for the rest of the season. San Francisco added to their already long list of injured defenders in Week 8 with free safety Jimmy Ward suffering a broken forearm that landed him on IR. They also lost defensive end Solomon Thomas and tackle D.J. Jones to knee injuries that will cause them to miss time. With Ray Ray Armstrong fighting a sore shoulder, the coaching staff has been using Eric Reid at weakside linebacker for the past couple of weeks and Reuben Foster was inactive yet again in Week 8 so Brock Coyle got the call in the middle. Heading into Week 9 the only starters in the front seven still standing are DeForest Buckner and strongside linebacker Eli Harold.
As of early on Wednesday we are not sure what to expect at the linebacker positions. Hopefully, there will be some clarity on those spots as we get deeper into the week. Whoever plays will have good potential against an Arizona offense likely to feature Adrian Peterson. If Foster is out, Coyle becomes a stream option at LB. If Armstrong is out, look for Reid to have a solid game. It is never a bad thing to have one of your defensive backs lining up at linebacker.
The one safe play here is Jaquiski Tartt who is in line for a big day. He will probably be flanked by Adrian Colbert who replaced Ward at free safety on Sunday.
Leger Douzable had a career game at 5-0-2 against the Eagles. This is a career backup that has never produced more than 24 tackles and 2.5 sacks in a season. He is a starter by default the rest of the way but the big numbers are a mirage.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The numbers from Week 8 would suggest Chris Conte had the lead role at safety with T.J. Ward and Justin Evans splitting time. That was not the case, however. The playing time split was same as last week with Conte and Ward sharing strong safety duties while Evans played every down at free. The difference in production between Conte at 8-1-0 with an interception on 38 snaps, and Ward at 1-1-0 on 27 plays, probably goes a long way toward explaining why Ward is not playing full time.
The Titans expect to have Jonathan Cyprien back on the field this week against Baltimore. It is hard to say if he will have a full workload and the matchup is not great even if he does. Cyprien could, however, be a solid late-season addition for the stretch run. Scoop him up this week before he plays.
Mason Foster missed the Dallas game then landed on IR this week with the shoulder injury that has plagued him since Week 3. Unfortunately, there is no Washington player to pick up as a replacement. Martell Spaight was that guy when Foster missed a game earlier in the season but last week he split time with Will Compton 38/27 respectively.
Bashaud Breeland was a surprise scratch on Sunday afternoon but both he and Josh Norman should play against Seattle this week. If you have one of these guys in a corner required league, this is the week to play them. The corner position of opponents has averaged 12.8 tackles per game on the season.
That is all I have for Week 9. Best of luck as we head down the stretch.
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