Once is a fluke but twice is a trend. When Gerald Hodges stepped in at middle linebacker and had a strong box score in Week 12 it was eye-catching. When he played every down and racked up 12 solo stops in Week 13 Hodges leaped to the top of the waiver add list. We know this guy is not going to be a long-term answer for anyone but he is likely to finish the season as a three-down middle linebacker on a struggling team.
Matchups with the Lions this week and the Rams in Week 16 make Hodges an even more attractive addition. Detroit is likely to have LeGarrette Blount as the lead dog for their running game which is a dream matchup for any linebacker. In fact, it is even enough to make Haason Reddick a strong LB3 consideration this week for many managers.
Budda Baker started last week but was banged up just before halftime. He returned for the third quarter and ended up playing 89% of the snaps. He has been dealing with a sore knee for a couple weeks so keep an eye on his practice participation this week. Both he and Antoine Bethea could be in line for big numbers if the Lions are able to establish the run.
Deion Jones returned to action in a big way. He was limited to less than 80% of the snaps against Baltimore but still managed huge numbers at 13-2-1. Jones came through healthy and should return to his normal every play role against the Packers. Green Bay is not as stellar a matchup as the Ravens at this point but Jones should still have another big game.
With the return of Jones, Foyesade Oliokun went back to a part-time role. He still put up good numbers going 6-3-0 on 64% of the snaps, but it might be a big mistake to count on a repeat of that production this week. Most teams play a nickel base defense against the Packers which could spell a marginal role for Oliokun.
De’Vondre Campbell played 86% of the time going 5-1-0 versus Baltimore and is still seeing most of the subpackage action.
One Falcon to sit this week is Damontae Kazee. His tackle numbers have been marginal since moving the free safety, with big plays (six picks) keeping him fantasy relevant. Aaron Rodgers has not thrown an interception since Week 2.
This would be a good week to sit Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano. Few linebackers have put up good numbers against the Jets this year with Edmunds and Milano posting a combined for seven solo tackles and seven assists against them in the Week 10 meeting. Both fell short of double-digit points in that game.
Mario Addison has been feast or famine this season and the cards are stacked against him this week. Cleveland has not allowed a sack in three straight games after allowing no more than two in any game since Week 7.
Adrian Amos is worthy of strong starting consideration this week versus the Rams. At least one safety has put up six or more solo stops against Los Angeles in six of their last seven games. Five of the six were strong safeties.
In Week 13 the Bengals defense was as close to full strength as it has been all season, and it looked like it for a while. Then Dre Kirkpatrick went down in the third and Vontaze Burfict left with a concussion. Kirkpatrick would return to finish the game while Burfict remains in protocol as of Wednesday and seems unlikely to go.
Nick Vigil made it through the game playing virtually every down, though he was rusty and no match for the speed of Phillip Lindsey. In fact, Lindsey fully exposed the Bengals lack of speed at linebacker. There will be plenty of change in Cincinnati this offseason. Hopefully one of the moves will be the addition of a stud linebacker that can run and cover. In the short term look for Vigil to have a much better day against the Chargers this week.
The Browns are dealing with injuries to key players Denzel Ward (concussion) and Larry Ogunjobi (biceps) this week. Neither was able to practice on Wednesday. Early in the week, Ogunjobi said the injury was not serious and he hopes to be available versus the Panthers. No one has expressed great optimism for Ward so far.
On a positive note, corner Terrance Mitchell activated from IR on Monday and may be available. He averaged 14 fantasy points over the first three games before suffering the forearm injury. Mitchell is a major big-play threat with four takeaways in three games this year. If he looks good this week he could be a sneaky strong start against the Broncos and Bengals in Weeks 15 and 16.
Some people are just hard headed. Jerry Jones said this week that Sean Lee would be a starter if/when he returns from injury. Maybe that was a statement to the respect he has for Lee and the fact Jones likes to show appreciation for his veteran players. On the other hand, Jones may want to sit down and watch some game film before telling the coaching staff they have to take Leighton Vander Esch off the field. The rookie has been a major contributor to the great play of this defense in recent weeks.
Jeff Heath was a call out as a matchup-based strong start last week. He was not able to come through but them who really expected that game to unfold as it did? Heath gets another shout out this week though. The Eagles have been a strong matchup for safeties in recent weeks and he had eight solo tackles against them back in Week 10.
Denver took some injury hits against the Bengals. Linebacker Josey Jewell left with an ankle issue, Derek Wolfe went out with a rib injury and corner Chris Harris Jr suffered a fractured fibula. Harris is the only one sure to miss this week’s game while Brandon Marshall and Tramain Brock have a shot at getting back on the field.
Ezekiel Ansah ’s role has increased steadily since his Week 9 return. Week 13 saw him start for the first time since the season opener. The 41 snaps he played against the Rams were 59% of the pie and by far the most he has been involved in a game thus far. Meanwhile, Arizona has allowed more than three sacks per game since Week 7.
Jarrad Davis has been horrible over the last two games. He has been late to the party on a regular basis, has struggled to get off blocks and make plays versus the run, which is supposed to be his strength and has virtually vanished from the box scores despite having quality matchups. This week we can add in a poor matchup to give us plenty of clear reason to sit him.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers started Tramon Williams and Ibraheim Campbell at safety against the Cardinals but Williams spent much t of his day as the slot corner with Josh Jones joining Campbell at safety. When all the numbers were in, Campbell had eight solo tackles on 74% of the defensive plays before leaving with a hamstring injury that landed him on IR Tuesday. Maybe this is karma’s way of telling the Packers they are going to start Jones one way or another. Recently signed Eddie Pleasant stepped in for Campbell and should continue to see plenty of action until/unless Kentrell Brice is able to play. Jones should finally become the starting strong safety this week against Atlanta.
Sunday’s game between the Colts and Jaguars is the kind of thing that gives fantasy prognosticators gray hair. After allowing one sack in the previous six games, the Colts give up three to a Jaguars defense that had recorded two in their previous three contests.
While it is hard to say what caused the light to come back on for the Jaguars defense, there was one notable lineup change that may have contributed. Barry Church was active for the game but never got on the field. He was replaced by rookie Ronnie Harrison who played every snap at strong safety. Harrison managed two tackles, an assist, and a sack despite the Colts total lack of offense in this game. There are no great matchups on the schedule for Harrison to exploit but this will be a great opportunity for fantasy managers to get a look at his future potential. Dynasty managers with some roster space may want to tuck him away for safe keeping.
Kansas City Chiefs
Eric Berry continues to practice on a limited basis. He could see some action in Week 14 but chances are he will be on a pitch count when/if he finally gets on the field
Los Angeles Chargers
With the recent string of injuries, Cincinnati’s offense has already circled a couple times quickly and gone straight down the drain. Unless you are counting on a big play or two, consider sitting everyone on this defense besides the pass rushers.
Robert Quinn has been a major disappointment, in general, this season but has warmed up a bit over the last three games. He is 6-2-2.5 in those games including a 2-1-1 with a forced fumble against the Bills last week. The numbers are not eye-catching, but Quinn was a much bigger factor than they suggest. He has been getting a lot of pressure on the quarterbacks in recent weeks and is showing shades of earlier years. With the Patriots, Vikings, and Jaguars on the schedule there is no hurry to pick him up as a starter this year, but for those looking to next season, Quinn could be worth a stash. He will turn 29 in May.
New England Patriots
Trey Flowers has been a marginal starter, for the most part, this season. He is currently on pace for 30 solo tackles and 6.5 sack. On the other hand, Flowers has a sack in each of the two games since the Patriots bye. Despite the marginal numbers, Flowers remains the Patriots best pass rusher. Meanwhile, the Dolphins are giving up nearly 3.5 sacks per game. Call it a gut feeling but I like Flowers chances in this one as Miami should be playing from behind early.
New York Giants
Landon Collins was off to a strong start against Chicago before suffering a shoulder injury that landed him on IR Wednesday. Michael Thomas is the next man up at strong safety and could put up decent numbers the rest of the way. That said, free safety Curtis Riley could prove the better fantasy option; especially this week versus Washington with Mr. Interception Mark Sanchez under center.
The Raiders have played much of 2018 like an extended preseason. They have looked at a multitude of players with the starting lineup changing regularly. After seeing enough of middle linebacker Marquel Lee to realize he is not going to be a long-term option, Coach Gruden decided to give Nick Morrow as shot. He started out sharing time with Lee, seeing action in sub packages for a few weeks. Morrow had four tackles and a sack against Baltimore two weeks ago then got the start versus Kansas City. He logged 92% of the snaps at middle linebacker, finishing with seven solo stops. Morrow is undersized at 6’0” and 224 pounds but fits the new NFL mold of a fast middle backer with good cover skills. He is a long shot to earn the job beyond the next few games but is worth keeping an eye on.
Rasul Douglas had six tackles and an assist as the Eagles number one corner on Monday night. Coincidentally he had six solo stops and two assists against the Cowboys in Week 10 as well. Unless Jalen Mills returns this week, and maybe even if he does, Douglas projects as a solid start versus Dallas. The Cowboys are a different offense with the addition of Amari Cooper. As evidence, we need only look at Marshon Lattimore’s 9-1-0 against them last week.
L.J. Fort turned a lot of heads with his play and production against the Chargers but IDP managers should not get too excited here. Fort is a journeyman who has shown a few flashes since coming into the league in 2012 but has never been able to sustain anything. He scored 22.5 points against Atlanta back in Week 5 then had 16 in the next five games combined. He has earned some attention from the IDP community but will have to put together a string of production before gaining serious consideration. Unfortunately, it is far too late for that to happen this season.
Mychal Kendricks has a strong history of quality production as a three-down linebacker. This includes an impressive three-game stretch with the Seahawks early in the season. That ended when he was suspended for eight games. Kendricks was activated on Monday and will be available to face the Vikings. K.J. Wright began running this week but has a way to go before returning to the field. With Austin Calitro playing well in recent weeks there is a chance he could continue to have a role, so Kendricks comes with some risk until we get some confirmation. Playing him this week may not be a great idea but picking him up for matchups with the 49ers and Chiefs in Weeks 15 and 16 could be a difference maker for your season.
San Francisco 49ers
Jaquiski Tartt moved to free safety against the Seahawks to save wear on his sore shoulder, but it was not enough. He has already been ruled out for week 14 and it will come as no surprise if the team elects to shut him down for the season. Antone Exum should get the start this week against Denver.
The 49ers pulled the old switcheroo on us in Week 13. After giving Elijah Lee a big role the week before, he played all of three snaps versus Seattle. Instead, it was Malcolm Smith joining Fred Warner at linebacker on every snap. Both starters finished with marginal numbers making it tough to trust anyone in this linebacker corps in a playoff game, despite what should be a solid matchup with Denver. Keep in mind Warner is a rookie and is not used to the grind of an NFL season. He may have hit the rookie wall a couple weeks back which could explain his having 10 solo tackles and an average of 9 fantasy points over the last three games.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
LaVonte David had a huge return to action, playing every snap and finishing 10-2-1 with a pass breakup. Getting him back with fresh legs in Week 13 is perfect timing. The return of safety Justin Evans was far less successful, however. Evans made a couple tackles before aggravating his toe injury. He has not yet landed on IR but it seems unlikely we will see him again this season. With Isaiah Johnson suffering a concussion later in the game, Andrew Adams is in line to start at free safety versus the Saints.
Jacksonville’s defense woke up last week and with the return of Leonard Fournette, the offense will once again be about running and controlling the clock. Jayon Brown and Wesley Woodyard combined for a line of 15-4-1 when these teams met in Week 3. With Fournette in the lineup in Week 12, Trumaine Edmunds and Lorenzo Alexander combined for a line of 14-2-1 with a couple pass breakups. The moral of this story, start Brown and Woodyard this week.
Zach Brown was on the field for 91% of the defensive snaps Monday night. The 68 plays were by far the most action he has seen in a game this year as he was not replaced in nickel sub packages. It would have been nice to see this happen a few weeks ago so we could have some confidence in it being a trend rather than a fluke. That said, the Giants are a quality matchup for linebackers so this could be a good week to roll the dice on Brown.
Best of luck as we start the playoff run. Hopefully, you will still be with us come Week 16.