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.
Darius Leonard (IND)
After whiffing on Margus Hunt last week it is hard to go back to the Colts defense with anything positive. However, Leonard is most likely the pickup of the week after his monster game against the Redskins. With 18 total tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble there was no one who could stop him. Leonard downplayed his big game afterward and credited it as a team effort. I would not expect quite that great of a game this week, but Leonard showed enough potential to warrant a pickup in any format.
Kenny Young (BAL)
With the injury to CJ Mosley, someone has to step in and fill that void. Young is talented enough to do so and should see his playing time increase as he gets more comfortable. The injury to Mosley is being categorized as a bone bruise but until more tests are done he is on the shelf indefinitely. He has 9 solos, 3 assists, and a sack already this season and should see that production increase as he gets more playing time.
Josh Bynes (ARI)
There is not much to celebrate in Arizona these days. They have an offense that is not clicking and a defense that is on the field way too much as a result. Bynes is a tackling machine and is the best option to own at linebacker on this team. If you are looking for a quick way to add tackles to your roster, pickup Bynes and get rewarded immediately.
Nick Perry (GB)
It can be tough to gamble on Perry after his constant injury issues, but he has gotten off to a good start this season. With 7 solos, an assist, a sack, and a forced fumble so far, he is finally looking healthy. The game script against Minnesota was very pass-heavy and he did not see a lot of action against the speedy receivers, but that should all change this week against the Redskins. Perry is a solid play as a low-end LB2/3.
Nathan Shepherd (NYJ)
The first two games have not shown very much for Shepherd, but he has worked his way on to the top of the first team depth chart and will see his playing time increase as the season wears on. He only has a single tackle so far this season, but he has a great matchup against the Browns on a short week. Thursday Night games are known for being sloppy and Shepherd has his chance to cement his starting role with a big game.
Jurrell Casey (TEN)
Casey had a monster game in week 2 with 5 total tackles, 2 sacks, and a forced fumble. He has at least 5 total tackles in each of the first two games this season and is showing that he should at least be on your roster. The next two matchups are not exactly favorable against Jacksonville and Philadelphia, but he is posting numbers to this point that cannot be ignored.
T.J. McDonald (MIA)
A lot of people got turned off to McDonald when Miami took Minkah Fitzpatrick. Their loss can be your gain as he is not slotted to lose as much playing time as originally thought. For anyone who rolled the dice with him, you have already been rewarded with 10 total tackles and an interception. Position dynamics change all season long, but right now McDonald is locked into his spot and should provide an instant return on value.
Justin Reid (HOU)
He may be a rookie, but he is going to get his shot at playing time for Houston. The biggest thing that he has going for him is the pass rush up front. With quarterbacks constantly running from J.J Watt, it is easy to think that Reid could sit back and wait for an errant pass to come his way. He does not have any big numbers yet, but it is a matter of time before playing in that defense really pays off. Reid is a great stash option to see if he reaches his potential.
Ricardo Allen (ATL)
With Keanu Neal done for the season, it was Allen and not Kazee who stepped into the safety box in Week 2. Kazee was also ejected from the game after a late hit on a sliding Cam Newton and may have hurt his chance at playing time for Atlanta. Allen stepped up with 5 solos and an interception last week and should get the chance to do it again this week. Allen is not the long-term replacement for Neal by any means, but he is a serviceable option if you need someone in the meantime.
Duke Riley: 7 solos 2 assists
Riley ended up with a solid tackle total against Carolina but was also burned for 73 yards after the catch. His coverage may prove to be a liability down the road and he will need to work on it or else he may lose playing time. The Falcons are still confident in Riley and he is a solid play again this week.
Tahir Whitehead: 5 solos 1 assist
Whitehead did not have the best all-around day and even sustained an injury that kept him off the field for a period of time. He is still the best option for tackles in Oakland and should see an increase in numbers in the right game. There is double-digit tackle upside every week with Whitehead.
Oren Burks: DNP
The inactive tag was a distinct possibility for Burks. The pickup was purely speculative for when he does slide into the starting role when his shoulder is healthy. Burks is a guy to keep your eye on as the season progresses.
Trent Murphy: 3 solos 1 assist
There was nothing good that came from the Bills defense this week. No one was able to stop the run and the Chargers had a field day on offense. With the game out of hand very quickly, Murphy did not have a lot of opportunities to get after the quarterback last week.
Margus Hunt: 2 solos 1 assist
The two sacks from the first game are starting to look more like an exception than the rule. The Colts had the Redskins on their heels most of the game, but Hunt was not the one creating a pass rush. Alex Smith has been known for short and quick passes, so give Hunt one more week to see if the right matchup brings about better numbers.
D.J. Reader: 2 solos 2 assists
Even with a backup quarterback, Reader did not generate much pass rush. It is understandable to not get ahold of Mariota, but Reader failed to get after anyone this week. He still plugged the hole up the middle but was not rewarded with very many tackles.
Damontae Kazee: 3 solos 1 pass defended
Kazee was on his way to a good game until he came in late on a hit to a sliding Cam Newton. Kazee was ejected from the game and will most likely be facing a stiff fine. Before the late hit, Kazee looked good and is still a solid play going forward.
Mike Hughes: 1 solo
Hughes did not play a big role for the defense this week but did have a good return to set up a scoring drive for the offense on special teams. The Vikings are loaded in the secondary and Hughes is going to play a big part in that. Aaron Rodgers did a good job getting the ball out quick and did not give any corner time to make many plays.
Bradley McDougald: 8 solos 1 TFL
McDougald did not quite get to the double-digit tackles that I had originally thought, but he did get into the backfield and recorded a tackle for loss. The Seattle defense looks shaky at best, but McDougald may be one of their bright spots throughout the season. There is a great upside in the tackle department every week for him.
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