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.
Jayon Brown (TEN):
Brown currently leads the Titans in sacks this season with 5 and registered half a sack last week against the Texans. Brown has a juicy matchup against the Jets this week and then the Jaguars next week. Both clubs are struggling at quarterback and should be ripe for sacks. His tackle totals are lacking this season, and he will be highly sack-dependent.
Elijah Lee (SF):
The Reuben Foster saga continues, but this time he was waived by the 49ers. Lee should be the primary beneficiary of his departure, but the Cardinals still have not shown a full commitment to him. He has a high ceiling if they continue to increase his playing time as the season winds down. He is a must pick up this week, but has a lower ceiling until the Cardinals commit to using him in an every-down role.
Gerald Hodges (ARI):
Hodges will see an uptick in production with the injury to Josh Bynes. Hodges finished last week with 10 tackles on only 67% of defensive snaps. Look for his playing time to increase and with that his production. A road game against a Packers team that is suddenly running the ball should provide a decent matchup this week. Look for a snap count somewhere north of 80% and a ceiling of 10+ tackles this week.
Derek Wolfe (DEN):
It may not be the same vaunted Denver defense of the past few seasons, but they are starting to pick things up in recent weeks. There is so much attention paid to Von Miller and Bradley Chubb that Wolfe often goes unnoticed. There is a great matchup against a Bengals offense using their backup quarterback. Look for Wolfe to get home this week and add to his sack total for the season.
Robert Nkemdiche (ARI):
It is rare that a former first-round pick would be considered a sleeper, but Nkemdiche’s play during the middle of the season has been less than spectacular. However, he started the season well and then broke back out last week with a 2.5 sack performance. He was all over the backfield and looks to have returned to form. Do not expect 2.5 sacks a week for the rest of the season, but some favorable matchups give him a chance to continue his resurgence.
Allen Bailey (KC):
Sometimes a guy will go unnoticed on a team when he has a teammate drawing all the attention. Bailey already has 6 sacks on the season but has been overshadowed by Chris Jones. A low tackle rate may be to blame, but he has a favorable matchup this weekend against a Raiders team that cannot protect their quarterback. If Bailey continues to go unnoticed in your league, take him and start him this week and reap the rewards.
Ibraheim Campbell (GB):
Injuries always catch up to a team and the Packers have had their fair share in the secondary. Kentrell Brice went down last week and that paves the way for recent signing Campbell. He ended up playing 53 snaps last week and had 8 tackles. This is the type of sneaky pickup that could help you get into the playoffs if Brice ends up missing time. Pick up Campbell and watch the injury report to see who is starting this week.
Jordan Whitehead (TB):
Coming off back to back monster weeks, Whitehead continues to benefit from the injury bug that has hit Tampa Bay. They have lost Kwon Alexander for the season, and Lavonte David and Justin Evans are currently hurt. If that duo continues to miss time, Whitehead is the main beneficiary. He has a safe floor of around tackles and the potential for 10+ any given week when he starts.
Jayron Kearse (MIN):
It has not been a pretty season for Kearse, but with Andrew Sendejo going on the IR this week, the Vikings have no one else to turn to. George Iloka has not paid dividends since the late signing and Kearse is the next man up at strong safety. There should be a huge jump in playing time and ample opportunity for tackles against the Patriots this week.
Fred Warner (SF): 6 solos, 1 assist, 1 pass defended
Warner fell right in line with his normal projection and was a safe source of tackles this week. He also made a play on a ball in the air and that is not something he has done very often this season. Warner was a safe floor bet and he made that projection. He will provide you with about 7 tackles per game and should be good for that for the rest of the season.
Mason Foster (WAS): 2 solos, 6 assists
Foster came close to continuing his streak of 10 total tackles per game, but unfortunately, those numbers came in the form of assists this week. Foster was all over the field but was never isolated in space against the ball carrier. He had a good run the past few weeks, but his luck ran out against a Dallas team that leaned on the pass and Amari Cooper rather than the run last week.
Benardrick McKinney (HOU): 6 solos, 4 assists, 1 tackle for loss
McKinney was all over the field on Monday night and put up just his second 10 total tackle game of the season. He was constantly harassing Marcus Mariota in the backfield and helped shut down the running game for the Titans. He surpassed his 7-tackle floor this week and has another great matchup next week against the Browns. Looks for another good showing from McKinney in week 13.
Emmanuel Ogbah (CLE): 1 assist
The Browns may have taken the Bengals to the woodshed over the weekend, but Ogbah did not play a very big role in that. He played almost 80% of defensive snaps this week and another 36% on special teams. He was all over the field but did not fill up the stat sheet. Ogbah was highly sack-dependent coming into the game and did not prove to be a good play. He would be a highly volatile play for the rest of the season.
Sam Hubbard (CIN): 1 solo, 3 assists
It was not the breakout game that we were hoping for from Hubbard. His 4 total tackles were respectable, but he never got close to Baker Mayfield in the backfield. The entire Bengals defense looked bad against the Browns and that included Hubbard. He has not made as much noise as we would have wanted this week, but he still has a 5 tackle and a sack upside in him going forward.
Jack Crawford (ATL): 3 solos, 1 assist, 1 sack
The Saints destroyed the Falcons defense this past week, but Crawford was able to sneak in a sack against the best offensive line in the NFL. He also doubled up his tackle performances from the past 2 weeks. It was a great showing from an unexpected player with a poor matchup. Crawford now has a sack and a forced fumble in his last 2 games and should garner some attention in his matchup against the Ravens.
Donte Jackson (CAR): 1 assist
It was a very promising start for Jackson. He recorded an assist on his first defensive play of the game, but unfortunately, he also got hurt. Jackson injured his quad and did not return to the game. His snap count has been very high in recent weeks and he would have had ample opportunity to score points this week. The injury seems to be healing well and there is a chance he is back out there in his starting role next week.
Denzel Ward (CLE): 4 solos
It was a middle of the road game for Ward. The entire Browns defense was chomping at the bit to get after Andy Dalton, and then he got hurt. The game changed with the backup quarterback and Ward and others had to play a bit safer. Interceptions are a very fluky stat, and while Ward did not have one, we will take 4 tackles from him any week.
Tony Jefferson (BAL): 1 assist
Jefferson was wildly ineffective this week against the Raiders. His playing time was cut in half as he only saw 52% of snaps after registering 100% the week before. A lone assist is not going to cut it from his safety position. This looks to be a case of it not mattering how much playing time the player gets. He has not had much luck racking up the tackles and there are plenty of other good options out there.