This article attempts to immediately highlight defensive players whose production was significantly better or worse than normally expected for the prior week of games. Note there is sometimes limited information available when this article is written, but I will try to give everyone an early look at players who are moving up or down in value among IDP circles. When warranted, I'll also call out some players under No Change that tries to explain why the stat lines may be misleading. It’s difficult to give waiver advice for IDPs since there is such a wide variety of lineups and scoring systems, but hopefully, the information provided can help inform your waiver, trade, and upcoming lineup decisions. If you have any questions about specific players or situations, feel free to email me or reach out via twitter.
ATLANTA @ PHILADELPHIA
LB Jordan Hicks, PHI (5 solos, 2 asst, 1.5 sacks, 1 TFL, 2 QH, 1 PD)
Hicks played all 70 defensive snaps in his first game since returning from a torn Achilles injury. Fellow 3-down linebacker Nigel Bradham sat out due to a suspension but Hicks picked up the slack as he led the team in tackles and made life difficult for Matt Ryan with 1.5 sacks. Definitely an encouraging sign for the young middle linebacker.
S Keanu Neal, ATL (1 solo, 1 asst)
Only lasted 37 snaps (51%) before leaving the season opener with a torn ACL that will end his season. This is a huge loss for the Falcons defense and fantasy owners alike as Neal was one of a small group of elite fantasy safeties.
BUFFALO @ BALTIMORE
Both young Bills linebackers were a bright spot in an overall dreadful game. They were all over the field and came up with several big plays that went for naught given how disappointing the Bills offense was. In any event, this offense isn’t likely to improve overnight so we should expect both linebackers to remain strong starts just about every week.
CB Tavon Young, BAL (3 solos, 2 sacks, 2 TFL, 2 QH, 1 PD)
Young got the start at corner in place of suspended Jimmy Smith and came up with 2 sacks in the first half alone. The Ravens are an aggressive blitzing team and that plays into the strengths of Young, who missed last year with a torn ACL but is a sure tackler who often lines up in the slot. Could make a nice short-term pickup at least.
PITTSBURGH @ CLEVELAND
LB T.J. Watt, PIT (8 solos, 3 asst, 4 sacks, 4 TFL, 3 QH, 1 BL)
Watt posted 7 sacks as a rookie last year and looks like he might be able to double that number if he continues to play like he did this week. Even more amazing is that Watt sat out the preseason as he dealt with hamstring issues, but he clearly showed that he can be a productive playmaker when healthy.
CB Denzel Ward, CLE (2 solos, 4 asst, 2 INT, 3 PD)
Ward looks to be the latest in a long line of defensive stars from Ohio State. He was considered by many to be a better corner than Marshon Lattimore and he showed why on Sunday with a two-interception debut against Antonio Brown and the Steelers.
S Morgan Burnett, PIT (1 solo, 1 asst)
Burnett used to be an elite fantasy safety in Green Bay but he’ll have to earn his spot in the Steelers lineup this year. Following a rough training camp, Burnett is going into the season as a backup behind rookie first-rounder Terrell Edmunds. Without a full-time starter’s role, it’s hard to justify spending a roster spot on a player whose best days are clearly behind him.
CINCINNATI @ INDIANAPOLIS
DE Margus Hunt, IND (3 solos, 2 sacks, 3 TFL, 2 QH)
Hunt opened the season as a starter opposite Jabaal Sheard at defensive end and the recent release of John Simon likely means he’ll continue to get plenty of work. He was on the field for 42 of 55 defensive snaps this week to lead all Colts defensive linemen and made the most of it with a pair of sacks.
LB Nick Vigil, CIN (11 solos, 2 TFL)
Nick Vigil was one of the just three Bengals defenders to play all 82 defensive snaps in the game. The 2nd year pro has a strong all-around game and even though he didn’t come up with any big plays this week, he showed that he can be a productive tackler while Vontaze Burfict is out of the lineup at least.
S Shawn Williams, CIN (1 solo)
Williams started at strong safety but only lasted 13 snaps (16%) before being ejected for a late hit on Andrew Luck on a play where he launched headfirst into a sliding quarterback. Clayton Fejedelem replaced him and posted very strong numbers in 69 snaps. May be a good idea to pick up the rookie Jessie Bates III here as he played every snap and finished 3rd on the team with 8 solo tackles.
TENNESSEE @ MIAMI
LB Wesley Woodyard, TEN (7 solos, 5 asst)
There was some concern that Woodyard may not see the same role this year but he picked up right where he left off last season with 12 combined tackles on 60 snaps. He’s the most productive tackler in this defense and should remain that way throughout the year given the injury issues Rashaan Evans has been dealing with.
DE Charles Harris, MIA (1 asst)
Harris remains a promising young talent up front but the Dolphins may have too much depth at defensive end for him to emerge this year. He was only on the field for 23 snaps (33%), which ranked him 5th among defensive ends on the team. The heavy rotation also may wind up limiting the upside of a player like Robert Quinn who saw 41 snaps (59%) in the game and finished with 1 solo and 3 assists.
SAN FRANCISCO @ MINNESOTA
DT Sheldon Richardson, MIN (4 solos, 2 asst, .5 sack, 3 QH)
The addition of Richardson to this defensive line flew somewhat under the radar this offseason as he collected just 2.5 sacks in 30 games over the past two seasons. He was a dominant force inside, however, as he picked up 6 tackles and 3 quarterback hits. With all the talent around him, he has a great chance to put up a career year.
LB Fred Warner, SF (11 solos, 1 asst, 1 TFL, 1 QH, 1 PD, 1 FF)
Warner started at middle linebacker while Reuben Foster sat out the first of his 2-game suspension. The rookie looked comfortable and helped limit Dalvin Cook to a 2.5 yards per carry average. He was also the only 49ers linebacker to play all 71 snaps in the game but was also likely helped by the absence of Malcolm Smith who sat out with a hamstring injury.
CB Trae Waynes, MIN (2 solos, 1 PD)
Waynes only wound up playing 24 snaps (36%) before leaving with a knee injury. The severity wasn’t immediately known but he was replaced by rookie Mike Hughes, who looked great with 3 passes defensed and a 28-yard interception return for a touchdown.
HOUSTON @ NEW ENGLAND
S Kareem Jackson, HOU (8 solos, 2 FF)
Jackson made a very successful transition from cornerback to safety as he led the Texans with 8 solo tackles and added several forced fumbles as well. He’s the longest-tenured player on the team and moved over to safety following the loss of Andre Hal, who was diagnosed with cancer over the summer.
DE Adrian Clayborn, NE (2 QH)
The Patriots will often change their personnel groupings as their game plans change. Clayborn didn’t play poorly in this game as he generated several pressures, but he finished with no tackles and was only on the field for 22 snaps (30%). Fellow defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr also saw just 23 snaps but was highly productive with 3 tackles and 1.5 sacks and clearly looks like the more promising fantasy option. Surprisingly, Keionta Davis finished with the second-most snaps among defensive ends with 35.
TAMPA BAY @ NEW ORLEANS
LB Demario Davis, NO (5 solos, 3 asst, 1 TFL)
The Saints defense was shredded and there weren’t any strong performances to point out, but one takeaway is that Davis looks like the only safe linebacker option on this team. He played all 66 defensive snaps in the game while Alex Anzalone (52%) got the start but split time with Manti Te'o (41%) and A.J. Klein (38%).
DE Noah Spence, TB (1 QH)
Spence went from being a young and promising pass rusher to the roster bubble late in the preseason. Despite Tampa spending much of the game in a prevent defense as the Saints tried to mount a late comeback, Spence only saw 4 snaps in the game. Meanwhile, Carl Nassib who was just picked up off waivers saw 27 snaps.
JACKSONVILLE @ N.Y. GIANTS
LB Myles Jack, JAX (7 solos, 3 asst, 1 INT, 1 PD, 1 TD)
With the retirement of Paul Posluszny, this should be the year that Jack finally starts to reach his potential as a fantasy option. He was one of four Jaguars defenders to play all 71 defensive snaps in the game and led the team with 10 tackles and a tipped-pass interception that he returned for a touchdown.
LB B.J. Goodson, NYG (1 solo, 1 asst)
Goodson started at inside linebacker next to Alec Ogletree but only saw 33 snaps (52%) in the game. He hasn’t proven to be all that durable to this point in his career and was out-produced in the game by fellow linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong (4 solos, 1 asst) who saw a similar workload of 30 snaps.
KANSAS CITY @ L.A. CHARGERS
LB Anthony Hitchens, KC (7 solos, 8 asst, 2 TFL)
Hitchens and Reggie Ragland started at inside linebacker but Ragland sat out in passing situations while Hitchens played 78 snaps (95%). Hitchens is a capable coverage linebacker and an experienced starter, which points to a very productive year as the replacement for Derrick Johnson in the middle of the Chiefs defense.
LB Jatavis Brown, LAC (2 asst)
Brown was replaced in the starting lineup by rookie Kyzir White, a 4th round pick who is more of a safety/linebacker hybrid. White posted 5 tackles on 44 snaps (79%) while Brown only saw the field for 15 snaps (27%). Brown has had trouble staying healthy and it looks like a strong preseason for White has reduced Brown to a situational role.
WASHINGTON @ ARIZONA
LB Josh Bynes, ARI (8 solos, 3 asst)
Bynes started at middle linebacker in the Cardinals new 4-3 front and was on the field for 71 snaps (90%). So it looks like he’s playing in passing situations and is likely to be much more productive than the highly regarded Haason Reddick, who only played 14 snaps in the game but did post 4 tackles (3 solos).
LB Zach Brown, WAS (5 solos)
Brown only played 36 defensive snaps (68%) in the game as Washington pulled their starters late in the blowout win. He was still productive with 5 credited solo stops and should be in line for another huge season so don’t get too concerned here as numbers were down for Washington defenders across the board in a lopsided game.
DALLAS @ CAROLINA
S Kayvon Frazier, DAL (4 solos, 4 asst, 1 TFL, 1 PD)
Frazier showed on Sunday that the Cowboys need at safety may be slightly overstated. Xavier Woods sat out with a hamstring injury, so Frazier got the start at free safety and played all 67 snaps while also leading the team in tackles. This performance came after two serious health scares in the preseason and should allow Woods to take his time getting back into the lineup.
LB Leighton Vander Esch, DAL (2 solos, 1 asst)
The 1st round pick is known for his range and cover skills but it looks like he’ll need some time as a 2-down linebacker before he gets a chance to emerge as a fantasy starter. Jaylon Smith is more mobile than he was a year ago and teamed up with Sean Lee to play nearly the entire game while Vander Esch only saw 17 snaps (25%).
SEATTLE @ DENVER
S Bradley McDougald, SEA (5 solos, 2 INT, 2 PD)
The Legion of Boom has been rebuilt in Seattle but Earl Thomas is back in the fold at free safety. Having him patrol the deep secondary certainly gives strong safety McDougald more confidence to make aggressive plays. He showed that this week with two interceptions, including a diving grab when he had tight coverage on the tight end.
CB Tre Flowers, SEA (7 solos, 1 asst, 1 PD)
Flowers was a safety in college and taken in the fifth round of this year’s draft but he started at cornerback. He was often matched up with Emmanuel Sanders, who finished with 10 catches on 11 targets, and that certainly helped Flowers to a very productive day. As long as he remains in the lineup, Flowers should remain heavily targeted and a great fantasy cornerback option.
CHICAGO @ GREEN BAY
S Kentrell Brice, GB (8 solos, 1 asst, 1 sack)
Brice appeared to beat out Josh Jones for the starting strong safety spot even before Jones was declared out in week 1 with an injury. Brice made the most of his opportunity, however, as he played all 70 snaps and led the team with 9 tackles while also picking up a sack. With Morgan Burnett no longer in Green Bay, there is a clear opening for a player like Brice to emerge and enjoy a breakout type of season.
LB Nick Kwiatkoski, CHI (4 solos)
Roquan Smith missed too much time this preseason to earn a starting role for the Bears, but he picked up 3 tackles and a sack while seeing just 8 defensive snaps in the game. Kwiatkoski got the start and saw 47 snaps (78%) but only managed to collect 4 solo tackles. That should be enough to convince the Bears coaches that they need to get Smith out there more often, which will bump Kwiatkoski back to a reserve role.