As the season progresses it is hard to find those diamonds in the rough or that guy that no one has heard of. This week we are going to examine the plethora of injuries across the league and who the most likely successor is to that starting job as well as highlight some prime matchups as well as surprising performers to this point. This article will also highlight a few long-term and speculative players that could see their value rise over the course of the season.
Solomon Thomas DT (SF): The third overall pick in last year’s draft finally turned it on last week and lead the 49ers defense in tackles. The biggest benefit to Thomas is the DT designation for leagues where you are required to fill the tackle spot rather than just anyone on the line. Thomas has been hot and cold so far this season rotating 5 and 7 solo tackle games with a sack and single solo games in his last four. Solomon would be more of a long-term option and is a must-own in dynasty formats. Consider Solomon a DT1/DL3 for the rest of the season depending on your league’s format.
Akiem Hicks DE (CHI): Hicks is a complete boom or bust kind of play and is entirely dependent on sacks. He has shown the ability to get after the quarterback against both Atlanta and Minnesota this season recording 2 sacks in each game. The tackle total really leaves something to be desired as he has not been playing every down this season. However, with 3 sacks in his last 2 games, it appears as if the Bears are content cutting him loose against opposing quarterbacks. If his volume of snaps continues to rise then Hicks should be a good play for the rest of the season.
Calais Campbell DE (JAX): Another week and another solid contributor for Jacksonville. There was a sharp increase in ownership after his four-sack game to open the season but things slowly tapered off as the season went on. Campbell is surprisingly still available in roughly 67% of leagues, though that looks to change again after another two-sack performance last week. The Jaguars defense has been very opportunistic all season long and Campbell has been a big part of that. If the offense can ever start clicking and put the defense in a position where they are not trailing then these numbers could get even better. Right now Campbell’s value is directly tied into sacks and he has recorded at least a half sack in all but one game this season.
Preston Smith LB (WAS): Smith may not be an ideal choice but he has been a solid contributor all season long in the sack department. With a full sack in the first four games of the season and half a sack in his fifth, Smith has registered part of a sack in every game this season. The overall tackle numbers leave something to be desired but Smith is not a full-time player currently. He is used mostly on third down and clear passing situations where he can get after the quarterback. The Redskins defense is giving up 18 points per game and a lot of that is through the air. As teams continue to pass, look for Smith’s snap numbers to increase. This is more of a speculative play for the rest of the season but he could add instant value against an Eagles team that loves to throw the ball this week.
Vince Williams LB (PIT): Williams makes this list but with the qualifier of if he is healthy. Williams was having a monster game against the Chiefs last week until he left in the fourth quarter with an apparent leg injury. He was relieved by Tyler Matakevich for the rest of the game. With 27 solos and 4 sacks on the season, Williams has been big for the Steelers playing alongside Ryan Shazier. There has been no update on his injury status to this point, but if Williams is down then Matakevich would be the next best play. Look to make your move after the Steelers final injury report for the week as neither player is highly owned.
Thomas Davis/Shaq Thompson LB (CAR): Here is another case of an injury causing a void and there is no true consensus as to who will step up. Luke Kuechly is under concussion protocol for the third time in his career and could miss serious time as he has in the past. Both Thompson and Davis have almost identical lines on the season and a case could be made for each to take over the starting duties in Kuechly’s absence. Thompson currently has the lower ownership rate and could be a speculative add if Davis is already owned in your league. This will be an interesting battle to watch as the season progresses. Either way, both young linebackers have enormous shoes to try and fill for Kuechly.
Trae Waynes CB (MIN): Waynes continues to be tested week in and week out for both his coverage and tackling ability. He was targeted as the weak link in the Vikings defense coming into the season and that has given him ample opportunity to rack up the points. Waynes currently has 32 solos, 4 passes defended, and 2 interceptions. Teams continue to avoid Xavier Rhodes on the other side and this gives Waynes a chance to make plays every week. Averaging just over 5 solo tackles a game, Waynes could be a nice addition to your league that requires CBs.
Justin Simmons S (DEN): The Broncos decided to let TJ Ward walk earlier in the season and probably regretted that decision until last week. Simmons simply did not perform at all until last week where he had 11 solos. Simmons accounted for almost half of his total output for the season in one game and showed the potential that the Broncos were betting on. It may be a little early to go all in on Simmons but if he can average even half of what he did last week for the rest of the season then he will be a solid play. He is worth a speculative add to see if he can repeat his performance.
Morris Claiborne CB (NYJ): Claiborne has been tasked with shadowing the other team’s top receiving option almost all season and that has given him ample opportunity to rack up tackles. His past two games he has racked up 18 solos and an interception. This is much better than the two games prior where he did not record a solo tackle at all. It is tough to know which Claiborne is going to show up week to week, but if teams keep targeting him in the passing game he will have ample opportunity to rack up the tackles.