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.
Leighton Vander Esch (DAL)
This is probably the pickup of the week in any IDP format this week. With Sean Lee expected to miss time with another hamstring injury, Vander Esch should slot back in as an every down linebacker. He has had elite tackle production on a per snap basis and there is no reason to expect much of a fall off with an every down role. If he somehow slipped through waivers and you have the chance, pick him up and ride it out until Lee comes back.
Nigel Bradham (PHI)
I have written about Bradham in the past and he continues to produce. He does not have a high boom potential, but he is a steady performer in the tackle department. He has five or more solo tackles in four consecutive games and he has a great matchup this week. After throwing the ball excessively in a loss on Monday Night, look for Dallas to get back to the run game and give Bradham a lot of chances to rack up the tackles. Look for a slight uptick in tackles this week, or at least hitting his average with five solos. It is the safe play if you are looking for easy points.
Tanner Vallejo (CLE)
Injuries continue to plague the Browns linebacking core. With Christian Kirksey joining the ranks of Joe Schobert on the injury report, Vallejo is projected to take over the every-down role. He had six total tackles last week after taking over and should see an uptick with more snaps this week. Watch the injury report for Kirksey and Schobert later this week, but Vallejo is a viable option if they are both ruled out again.
Michael Davis (LAC)
After taking over the starting job from Trevor Williams, Davis has performed admirably. He racked up 8 total tackles last week and should continue to see a high volume as opposing teams target the rookie in the passing game. While he has the starting job, there should be plenty of opportunities to add to the box score. Davis is a great short-term option right now and could even be on the radar for some dynasty leagues.
Ezekiel Ansah (DET)
This is a guy that was on almost every radar during draft season and can be a terror up the middle when he is healthy. However, he is just now coming back from a seven-game absence due to a shoulder injury. There is a good chance he was dropped, and their loss should be your gain. Ansah played just under a quarter of defensive snaps last week and still came away with a sack. His playing time should increase each week until he gets back to his norm. If he is there for the taking, this may be your last chance to get him.
Matt Ioannidis (WAS)
All of the numbers are trending in the right direction for Ioannidis this season. He has 3.5 sacks in his last two games and started the season with a sack in three consecutive games. The recent increase in playing time has also given him season highs in tackles the last two games. With seven tackles and a sack last week, Ioannidis is not going to fly under the radar for much longer.
Kenny Clark (GB)
Before running into the buzz saw Patriots last week, Clark had racked up 12 total tackles and 3 sacks. He has a much better matchup this week with a Miami team lacking an identity and using a backup quarterback. Look for Clark to get going again this week against the Dolphins.
Tedric Thompson (SEA)
There is no replacing Earl Thomas, but Thompson has been a steady performer in his stead. The rest of the Seattle defense is also banged up and that should provide more opportunity. Thompson also has a great matchup against the Rams this week. He had the best game of his career against them earlier in the season with 6 solos, 2 assists, and an interception. Thompson is a high-volume play that should benefit from the aerial attack of the Rams.
Logan Ryan (TEN)
Despite how ugly the Tennessee offense has been, the defense has been a pleasant surprise. They are currently the highest rated defensive scoring team allowing just 17.6 points per game. Ryan has benefitted from playing across from Malcolm Butler. Opposing teams try to pick on Ryan and avoid Butler. With five or more total tackles the last three weeks, he is a solid play this week against New England.
Jordan Evans (CIN): Bye Week
Evans made the list because of circumstance. He was coming off an 11-total tackle game with an interception and 1.5 sacks. The Bengals had another week to get some of their guys healthy. Watch the injury report and if Nick Vigil and Vontaze Burfict are out again against New Orleans, it will be Evans in line for the starting reps.
Jamie Collins Sr (CLE): 6 solos, 1 assist
It was not the double-digit tackle total we were hoping for, but Collins put up a respectable game this week. He fell in line with his season average and would have been a good plug-and-play option for someone needing help last week. No one on the Browns seemed to be able to tackle Kareem Hunt last week and that included Collins.
Marquel Lee (OAK): 2 solos, 1 assist
It was not the projected upswing in production for Lee this week. He played 31 defensive snaps or only about 56 percent of those possible. He has seen his average drop in the last two games after posting three consecutive games with 75+ percent usage. Lee continues to be the most useful on special teams right now and does not look to be a viable option for your roster going forward.
Damon Harrison (DET): 4 solos, 2 assists, 1 tackle for loss
Harrison was the big trade deadline move for the Lions in the hopes that they could bolster their defense and get a better pass rush. He had respectable numbers against the Vikings this week but should have done more damage against their below-average offensive line. Harrison will be the best option on the defensive line for the rest of the season coming out of Detroit.
Chris Jones (KC): 3 solos, 1 assist, 1 sack, 2 tackles for loss
The Jones sack train continues to chug along. He now has five straight games with a sack and has been a force up the middle for the Chiefs defense. He will be another great play next week against a very poor Arizona offensive line and do not be surprised if he makes it a sixth straight game with a sack.
DaRon Payne (WAS): 1 assist
It was not a great game for the 2018 13th-overall pick. Payne played 82 percent of defensive snaps this week and was unable to do much of anything with them. He has seen heavy usage since Week 3 and should see his numbers increase. If we are being fair, no one on the Redskins defense played overly well this week against Atlanta.
Clayton Geathers (IND): Bye Week
This was another speculative grab for the future. Geathers was on a bye and should have been overlooked in your league. He has plus matchups the next three weeks with Jacksonville, Tennessee, and Miami all struggling on offense.
Eli Apple (NO): 4 solos, 1 assist, 1 pass defended
It was a regression to the average for Apple this week. The nine-tackle outburst against the Vikings seems to have been an outlier, but five tackles from a corner in a league where they must be started is a very good average. He has not shown the same pass defense from his time at Ohio State, but Apple has turned into one of the better tackling corners in the league.
Patrick Chung (NE): 3 solos, 2 assists
It was not the breakthrough game we were hoping for from Chung, but he did put up respectable numbers. This game was slated to be one of the best of the weekend and it is rare that Aaron Rogers would make a mistake that Chung could capitalize on. Five tackles is a solid outing for Chung and should be about what you can expect from him for the rest of the season.