Making sense of week one is always a challenge. Just like every other week of the season, there were guys that unexpectedly put up eye-catching numbers and guys we had big expectations from that did little or nothing. Making the right call on these players can make or break your season.
The trend of situation-specific substitutions and big nickel sets featuring three safeties in the front seven continues to grow. It has gotten to the point where it is tough to find dependable three-down players both up front and at linebacker. If it continues, which seems likely, a dependable three-down linebacker may soon carry value similar to a three-down feature running back.
The Cardinals rolled out in week one looking much like they did in the third preseason game. Safeties Budda Baker, Antoine Bethea and Tre Boston all three put up excellent numbers against Washington and are likely to continue doing so. Boston played deep most of the time doing much of his damage via the big play (forced fumble and recovery), while Bethea led the team with 9 solo stops and Baker finished 8-3.
Arizona had two linebackers that also played nearly every snap and were productive. Deone Bucannon participated in every defensive snap finishing with a respectable 5-2 on the day, while Josh Bynes played 90% of the snaps going 8-3. Bynes is a player that will be available in many leagues and should be on the add list if you have a hole at linebacker.
Haasan Reddick’s 3-1-0 is impressive when taking into consideration he played only 14 snaps. If something happens to put him on the field full time, this guy could be a major IDP factor.
After a preseason scare, Robert Nkemdiche was healthy enough to make the start. Both he and Corey Peters logged 70% of the playing time with Nkemdiche landing his first career sack (3-0-1) and Peters going 4-1-0. Both are worthy of consideration for managers in tackle required leagues.
Injuries are the headlines in Atlanta this week. The team lost IDP studs Keanu Neal to a knee injury and Deion Jones to a foot. Both will require surgery with Jones having the possibility to return late in the campaign. Damontae Kazee will fill in at strong safety. Based on his play during the preseason Kazee should be high on your replacement list if you lost Neal or just need to bolster the position. Kazee was a beast during the warm-up portion of the season.
To cover for Jones the Falcons will probably shift Duke Riley from his two down role on the strong side to a three-down role in the middle. In preseason action Riley moved inside after the starters finished, serving as the play caller and three down middle backer with the second team. Riley displayed good production on a per snap basis as a rookie though he did not see a great deal of action. De'Vondre Campbell will also see a rise in his stock but he was already playing every down. Both of these linebackers should be on your short list of potential additions this week, especially if you had Jones.
Vic Beasley Jr left the game before halftime to be evaluated for a concussion but was able to return.
There is no reason to panic if C.J. Mosley is your LB1. The Buffalo offense provided little opportunity then the Ravens started pulling defensive starters early in the fourth quarter of the blowout win. Neither of those situations will occur this week in Cincinnati.
In a blowout loss, we would expect the strong safety to have a lot of tackles. That was not the case with Micah Hyde in the opener but show some patience here. The Bills are going to struggle all season and Hyde is plenty good enough to take advantage of the opportunity going forward.
Rafael Bush actually out-produced Hyde but there is nothing to read into it at this point. Bush played less than 40% of the snaps serving as the third safety in some big nickel sets. He has been productive when given an opportunity in the past so we should keep an eye on the situation going forward.
A sack and forced fumble rescued managers from Tremaine Edmunds poor tackle totals but he did not look very good. Edmunds continues to be slow to react and unable to fight through traffic. Meanwhile, Matt Milano may be playing the best football of his young career. His seven solo stops were second on the team against Baltimore. Even if/when Edmunds starts playing better, there will be plenty of opportunities to go around. Put Milano on your add list for this week.
Leave Lorenzo Alexander off the list though. This guy is one of the biggest teasers in the game. Every year, he has three or four big games that trigger managers to pick him up then he falls on his face.
Rookie tackle Harrison Phillips had four solo stops against the Ravens. That may not be eye-catching production but it was enough to tie him for third on the team for the game. It was also enough for the team to part ways with Adolphus Washington, making Phillips the third tackle in the rotation. He logged over 50% of the snaps against Baltimore with four players in that rotation so it stands to reason he, Kyle Williams and Star Lotulelei will all see more time going forward.
Shaq Thompson finally got a chance to play full time. He responded by finishing second on the team in tackles and adding a sack to finish 5-4-1 on the day. Thompson has three more games to prove he deserves to keep the three down role once Thomas Davis is back.
Luke Kuechly was banged up in Sunday’s game but was on the field for practice on Wednesday and is good to go.
It looks as if we may have to wait a while to see rookie Roquan Smith in a significant role. It was expected he would at least work into some sort of rotation in week one. Instead, he played sparingly, replacing Danny Trevathan for three plays after a hard hit and totaling eight snaps. Nick Kwiatkowski played 47 of a possible 60.
Do not be the fantasy manager that goes out and picks up Clayton Fejedelem this week. Yes, he had a huge game including 9 tackles and a game-icing forced fumble scoop and score. Yes he is a good player but no, he is not the starter; at least not at this point. Fejedelem was only in the game because Shawn Williams was ejected for an illegal hit on Andrew Luck. The league office usually looks at an ejection as a one-game suspension served and there has been no rumbling of further discipline so Williams should be back on the field Thursday against Baltimore.
Injuries and suspensions have the Bengals thin at linebacker. With Vontaze Burfict suspended and Vincent Rey recovering from an ankle injury Cincinnati started Nick Vigil at his normal strongside position, Preston Brown in the middle as expected and Jordan Evans on the weak side. Vigil and Brown were the nickel backers with Vigil racking up 11 solo stops while Brown added 5 and a pick before leaving with an ankle injury. He was replaced by Hardy Nickerson. Brown was limited on Wednesday and working on a short week, is far from a lock to play on Thursday. The production may not last, but for the next three games, Vigil is a strong starting option.
Rookie Jesse Bates impressed the organization enough to let longtime starter George Iloka go. In week one Bates showed everyone why that decision was made. He was all over the field making plays and brought an energy the secondary has been missing for a long time. We should not expect a repeat of the eight solo stops every week but he could quickly emerge as a quality DB3.
When the Brown jettisoned Mychal Kendricks a couple weeks back it seemed the roles of Christian Kirksey, Joe Schobert, and Jamie Collins Sr would be stable. Instead, the coaching staff promoted rookie Genard Avery into the role they had planned for Kendricks. As a result, Schobert was the team’s only three down linebacker against Pittsburgh. Kirksey was limited to 61 of a possible 84 snaps while Collins played 51 and Avery went 3-1-1 with a forced fumble on 43 plays.
After releasing nearly all their depth at tackle, Larry Ogunjobi played 94% of the snaps against Pittsburgh finishing with an excellent line of 3-4-1. Managers in tackle required league will want to move quickly to add this guy.
Myles Garrett got off to a great start going 5-1-2 with a pair of forced fumbles. He looked like a number one overall pick.
Terrance Mitchell started at corner opposite Denzel Ward and led the team in tackles with six solos. Ward did not make a lot of tackles but showed why the team took him so high with a pair of picks in his first game as a pro. Both of these players should be on the radar for managers in corner required leagues.
Emmanuel Ogbah is expected to miss some time with an ankle injury suffered early in the game. He was replaced by Chris Smith who could start this week. The team also has rookie Chad Thomas and added Anthony Zettel off waivers. They could give Thomas a shot if Ogbah is out for an extended period of time.
After starting Randy Gregory during the preseason Dallas opened with Tack Charlton opposite Demarcus Lawrence at end. Gregory was part of the rotation before leaving with a concussion. On Monday the news broke of Gregory possibly being in hot water with the league over another drug violation. Owner Jerry Jones later said the club has not been informed of any impending action. Time will tell but Gregory is clearly on shaky ground here.
Kavon Frazier got the start at free safety with Xavier Wood injured. .
Ziggy Ansah shoulder exited Monday’s game with a shoulder injury leaving the Lions shorthanded at end. He was able to practice on a limited basis Wednesday but even if he plays a sore shoulder could be a big problem.
After the release of Anthony Zettel, the Lions started Ricky Jean-Francois at end opposite Ansah, with Kerry Hyder Jr working as the third end. Hyder had a strong 2016 before missing last year with an injury. Keep a close eye on this situation as he may be a worthy pickup.
So much for what we thought we learned from the preseason. Quandre Diggs was the only Detroit safety to play every snap in week one while Glover Quin was on the field 69% of the time and Tavon Wilson 81%
No Detroit player had more than four solo stops so be patient with Wilson and/or Jarrad Davis.
A’Shawn Robinson was a surprise inactive against the Jets. Rookie DaShawn Hand started.
Green Bay Packers
Throughout the preseason Green bay had Kentrell Brice work as the deep safety while Ha Ha Clinton-Dix played up. In week one they were back to old tricks have those two player move around with both seeing time in the box and both lining up deep at times. the result was Brice leading the team with eight tackles, an assist and a sack while Clinton-Dix was second with seven solo stops. Both of these safeties belong in fantasy lineups this week against Minnesota.
Antonio Morrison got the starting nod at inside linebacker but he played only 11 snaps. ILB.
During the preseason we were wondering is Tyrann Mathieu or Justin Reid could break the curse of lacking box score value from Houston safeties. After week one we are wondering if Kareem Jackson’s eight solo stops and two forced fumbles are signs of things to come. Jackson is going to be a high priority on a lot of waiver lists this week and rightly so. That said, I for one am not yet sold. Reid played 24 of 75 snaps in the game.
The Colts middle linebacker position was way up on the watch list entering week one; entering week two we are still watching. The Colts opened in a nickel with Skai Moore and Darious Leonard at linebacker. Leonard played every snap while at the end of the day Moore and Anthony Walker had split time virtually equally. The feel here is that Moore is on his way out soon as Walker is ready to take over full time. On a positive note for Walker, he had five solo stops on 23 snaps. Grab him now if you need to beat the competition to the punch.
Never underestimate the motivation of playing against a former team and be careful not to overpay for Margus Hunt. He had a huge game against Cincinnati with a couple sacks and may finally be coming into his own. On the other hand, Hunt has never been able to sustain production.
Clayton Geathers looked healthy and made a lot of plays.
Barry Church has definitely seen his role change since last season. He is working in more of an enforcer role as an in the box safety. The result was a six tackle week one after reaching that mark just three times all last season.
If you have been following this column all throught he summer you know I have been concerned with Myles Jack at middle linebacker. He played much better there in week one that he did early last season. With seven tackles, three assists and a pick six he may not post more fantasy numbers in any game this season but he is in for a lot of quality games.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Falcons are probably wishing they had not cut Ron Parker but the Chiefs are happy they did. With Eric Berry still ailing, Parker stepped right back into the Chiefs starting lineup and had a big week one. He has been productive here in the past so the only question is when/if Berry returns, who plays strong safety and who is at free? Parker has the potential to be a quality every week play going forward.
Anthony Hitchens performed well in his first start with the Chiefs. His 15 combined tackles and assists had a lot of IDP managers sighing in relief. Anyone banking on Reggie Ragland however, was disappointed. After seeing a lot of sub-package time during the preseason Ragland was back in the familiar 2-down role week one.
Los Angeles Chargers
All through the preseason, we were trying to figure out who would be the Chargers weak side linebacker since they seemed to be playing whoever started there on all three downs. Not only do we not have a 3-down weak side backer, the Charger had no linebacker with more than 79% of the snaps. Rookie Kazyir White started on the weak side and led the way with 44 of a possible 56 snaps while middle backer Denzel Perryman was second with 41. No Chargers defender had more than five solo stops in this game so it is too early to dump White or Perryman but we cannot trust them as starters in week two.
Joey Bosa was inactive with a foot injury that could be a problem for a while. Isaac Rochell got the start in his place but the Chargers defense was not the same by far.
Los Angeles Rams
Cory Littleton showed the world why Alec Ogletree was expendable by leading the league in solo tackles for the week while adding a couple assists and an interception for good measure. This guy is the real deal and should be at the top of your waiver list at linebacker if he is still available.
John Johnson III had a great game both on the field and in the box scores. He was beaten on a deep pass early but was in a good position even then. In the end, Johnson finished a strong 6-3 with a pick. He is available in a lot of leagues and should be near or at the top of the wish list at the position.
T.J. McDonald led the Dolphins with 7 solo stops in week one but we should not count on that being a regular happening. Not that McDonald is not capable but rather because he is often deployed as the deep safety. Interestingly he was up in the box on a few nickel plays with rookie Minkah Fitzpatrick playing centerfield. If this trend continues McDonald could become a solid option.
Robert Quinn was quite in the box scores at 1-3-0 but he had a bigger impact on the game than the numbers suggest. Quinn played 61% of the snaps which was the most by any Miami lineman.
Unlike many NFL teams, the Viking do not like to rotate a lot of players up front. As a result, all four starters were on the field for at least 75% of the snaps with Danielle hunter leading the way at 95%. Hunter had a down year in 2017 but is off to a much better start after going 4-0-1 in the opener. Aaron Rodgers is usually a tough sack to land but he will not be as mobile if he plays at all in week two, making the Packers a much more favorable matchup than they would otherwise have been.
Rookie Mike Hughes got the start at corner over Trea Waynes who worked in sub-packages. The rookie corner rule is in play here.
New England Patriots
There were no three down linebackers for the Patriots in week one. JaWhaun Bentley, Kyle Van Noy and Donta Hightower all played right at 70% of the snaps. The result was Bentley leading the team’s linebackers with four tackles and three assists while Van Noy was a major disappointment at 1-2-0 and Hightower had a pair of assists with a fumble recovery. This is a dismal turn of events for IDP managers, leaving Trey Flowers as the only New England defender we can start with any confidence in week two.
Stephon Gillmore went 7-1-0 with an interception but we should not over react. This may well be his best production of the season.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints safety position was high on the week one watch list. What we saw was the worst possible turn of events for IDP managers. Instead of playing a lot of three safety sets as we had hoped, the Saints played Marcus Williams full time at free safety with Kurt Coleman and Vonn Bell splitting time at strong. In the end, Coleman logged 37 snaps while Bell had 30 of a possible 66. Until/unless something changes here, both players are useless to us.
New York Giants
B.J. Goodson started at inside backer but split time nearly equally with Ray-Ray Armstrong. Armstrong looked better on the field and was far more productive in the box scores. It will be no surprise to see him eventually claim all the playing time at the position. If that happened Armstrong could have decent value.
Alec Ogletree played every defensive snap but was not particularly impressive. Armstrong out produced him on less tha half the number of opportunities.
It is going to be a long year for Raiders fans. This unit simply lacks NFL caliber talent in too many places. Marcus Gilchrist and Reggie Nelson were the starting safeties versus Los Angeles while Karl Joseph played seven snaps when Gilchrist was banged up.
Tahir Whitehead is a solid run defender who could reach triple digit solos simply based on the abundance of opportunity.
Jordan Hicks had a great game against Atlanta but beware the mirage. His tackle totals were respectable a 5-2 while the point total got a big boost from a sack and a half. It is entirely possible Hicks will be productive like he was in that string of games a couple years back but it will take a lot more than one strong outing to prove it.
Nigel Bradham has served his one game suspension and will be back this week.
T.J. Watt is following in his brothers footsteps. With an 8-3-4 mark to open his second season, Watt is well on the way to a phenomenal year. There have been few 3-4 ends to transcend scoring systems and have great value in balanced scoring leagues. Watt may add his name to that short list this year.
Jon Bostic played all three downs during the preseason but was back in a two down role week one. He was replaced by a third safety in sub-package situations.
Sean Davis played full time at free safety with Terrell Edmunds starting at strong and playing 83% of the snaps. Morgan Burnett came on mostly in nickel sets with either he or Edmunds replacing Bostic at linebacker.
Rookie Tre Flowers got the starting nod at corner going on to lead the team with seven solo tackles. Seattle has consistently given us quality IDP value at corner in recent years so Flowers week one production should not be seen as a fluke. The rookie corner rule is definitely in play here.
Despite missing the entire preseason Eric Thomas was thrown right into the fire. Possibly the best thing Thomas does for IDP managers is to ensure Bradley McDougald stays at strong safety. McDougald had a solid five solo stops in the opener adding a pair of picks to finish near the top of the heap in fantasy points at safety. He can obviously contribute in the big play columns but his tackle totals are where most of the value lies. He will have a lot of opportunity this season.
San Francisco 49ers
Between injuries and suspensions, the 49ers started rookie Fred Warner at middle linebacker in week one. He played well on the field and blew up in the box scores for a league tying 11 solo tackles and a forced fumble. Malcolm Smith is battling a hamstring and Reuben Foster has one more game to miss on his suspension. It will be interesting to see what the coaching staff does when all three of these guys are available. If Warner impresses again next week it will be hard to take him off the field.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Brett Grimes inactive week one so Vernon Hargreaves got the start. After going 6-1-0 with a forced fumble in the game, Hargreaves landed on IR with a shoulder injury this week. That leaves the buccaneers thin and young at corner until Grimes returns. Second year man Ryan Smith will be the “veteran presence” while rookies Charlton Davis and M.J. Stewart fill out the corner positions.
Possibly the biggest mystery of week one was Jason Pierre-Paul being shut out. Maybe he is falling victim to the Tampa Bay curse. This team has struggled to produce a quality pass rush since Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice played. Every time they draft someone early or sign a big name free agent that player either gets hurt or under performs. The other possibility is the the Saints did a great job game planning and setting up their blocking scheme to stop Pierre-Paul. Chances are he will bounce back just fine in weeks to come so do not be the owner that panics and cuts a great player.
During the preseason, Tennessee teased us with the potential for another 3-down inside backer. Come week one they pulled the plug though. Jayon Brown saw most of the action paired with Wesley Woodyard but Will Compton took enough of the snaps (31%) to ruin any value Brown may have held.
Safety Kevin Byard got off to a slow start but it is not yet time to panic. Much if not most of his value last season came from the big play. Players dependent on that kind of production for fantasy value often fail to repeat great seasons. Sit tight on Byard for a week or two and see if he can pick up where he left off last year but do not be stubborn with him. If it is not happening by week three or four cut your losses and move on.
This one really hurts. Zach Brown has been an absolute fantast star since going to Washington, but there is serious reason for concern with him. In week one he was a two down player giving way to Josh Harvey-Clemons on most third down situations. Mason Foster was the three down linebacker. It is hard to say if this was done on a temporary basis to limit wear and tear on Brown who battled nagging injuries much of last season, or if this is going to be the new norm. Brown can still be productive in a two down role so hang onto him until we see how this goes, but he is not going to be the stud we expected until/unless he regains the every down job.
That is a wrap for the week one edition. Best of luck in round two!
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