I say the same thing every year but it bears repeating; do not judge too harshly one way or the other based off of this one week of football. One week does not make a trend and as such, additions (and more importantly, subtractions) should be done with caution. That said, the opportunities only get fewer and farther between from this week out typically so while it’s important to strike while the iron is hot, dropping guys like CJ Mosley or D’Qwell Jackson because you were disappointed this week is probably a premature reaction. If you do decide to drop a player, try to make that decision on something more tangible like snap counts or presence in subpackages.
The Free Agent Report did fairly well in week one even given the shotgun scatter of a recommendation-heavy column. Big-play leaguers that added Terrell Suggs in his return from major injury were rewarded with a sack to go with a pair of solo tackles. His teammate Zach Orr produced a double digit fantasy day with 6 total tackles. DeAndre Levy (4 total tackles, 1 PD), Anthony Hitchens (6 total tackles, 1 solo) and Jordan Hicks (4 solo tackles, 1 PD) each posted decent but otherwise pedestrian stat lines. DeMario Davis led his team in total tackles with 7 (6 solo) as he got out of the gate well against the Eagles. Ben Heeney left a bit to be desired after posting 5 total tackles. Kiko Alonso was among the stars of the recommendations in week one with 11 total tackles and a fumble recovery against the Seahawks. Packer ILBs Jake Ryan (6 solo tackles, 1 assist, 1PD) and Blake Martinez (5 solo tackles, 1 assist) played well against the Jaguars and Redskins ILBs Mason Foster (14 total tackles) and Will Compton (13 total tackles) were even better. Perhaps the biggest surprise however, was the emergence of Justin March, who led Chiefs LBs with 9 total tackles (8 solo) against the Chargers.
Jerrell Freeman/Danny Trevathan CHI LB – ILB 3-4
Leading off with a couple shallow league gems, Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan are in their first year playing for the Bears. The Bears went to free agency to solve their inside linebacker problem after starting a handful of ineffective veteran and a few rookies in 2015. In week one against the Texans, former Indianapolis Colt Freeman and former Denver Bronco Trevathan were among the IDP stars of the game with Freeman logging a game-high 17 total tackles (9 solo) and Trevathan scoring 11 total tackles (7 solo) and a sack. Trevathan seems to be adjusting well after being more of a two-down LB last year and probably carries more splash play potential based on what I saw on Sunday but both players have some potential in the big play category. With both players being between a LB2 and LB3, shallow leaguers may want to take notice as one or both of these guys carry some LB1 potential going forward.
Roster Recommendation: Low-end LB1 to High-end LB3
Tahir Whitehead DET LB – MLB 4-3
I will admit that while Stephen Tulloch’s release signalled a fulltime promotion of fifth year LB Tahir Whitehead to the Mike position in the Lions defense, I expected that the return of DeAndre Levy to fantasy relevance to render Whitehead as more of a depth LB for fantasy purposes. After what we saw against the Colts in week one, Whitehead might be more of a player that I expected. Whitehead scored 10 total tackles (6 solo) and 2 PDs against the Colts versus Levy’s 4 total tackles and 1 PD. I’m not saying that we will see that kind of disparity every week, but the fact that there is potential for it makes Whitehead an upside free agent acquisition target.
Roster Recommendation: High-end LB2 to Mid LB3
Sio Moore IND LB – ILB 3-4
Sio Moore was a guy that I had earmarked at the beginning of the season as a guy who could replace Jerrell Freeman beside LB1 D’Qwell Jackson in the middle of Indianapolis’ 3-4 defense. When Nate Irving was released late in camp, I figured that Moore would start but could yield snaps to rookie Antonio Morrison and would likely be two downs only. After all, LB-needy Oakland let him go so my expectations were low here. What we saw against the Lions was D’Qwell Jackson post only two assists while Sio Moore led the game with 13 tackles (10 solo). Jackson didn’t appear in the in-game injury report but a clear ILB rotation was used with Jackson (78%) and Moore (72%) receiving the most work. Reserve ILBs Josh McNary and Antonio Morrison also got snaps in the game. I don’t think that Moore is going to markedly outpace Jackson all year but the fact that Moore was used so prevalently throughout the game even in obvious passing situations bodes well for Moore’s value going forward. For what it’s worth, Moore seemed like one of the few Colts who were a surer tackle in a game where they desperately needed some.
Roster Recommendation: Mid LB2 to Low-end LB3
Todd Davis DEN LB – ILB 3-4
Thursday night was a bit of whirlwind in social media. Brandon Marshall (the Denver ILB) kneeling during the national anthem sparked enough activity but his subsequent potential concussion provoked even more discussion. The other thing that Marshall’s exit provoked was a solid IDP performance from ILB partner Todd Davis, who is starting at ILB to replace former Bronco Danny Trevathan. While Marshall did return to the game, Davis posted 7 total tackles (6 solo) and a half sack against the Panthers in a wild Superbowl 50 rematch in Denver. I don’t particularly like that Davis’ snap count was 63% for the game but it’s not unheard of for ILBs in Denver’s defense to score LB1 or LB2 numbers at 60-75% of the snap counts. If you can stash him, I’d hold onto him to see how his usage and stats develop.
Roster Recommendation: High-end LB3 to Low-end LB3
Deion Jones/De’Vondre Campbell ATL LB – MLB/WLB 4-3
I didn’t expect to have to put this entry into the Free Agent Report until about week 5 or even as late as the Falcons’ bye week in week 11 but Dan Quinn confirmed that rookies Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell would start week 1 at MLB and WLB respectively. In a losing effort against the Bucs, Jones logged 6 total tackles (5 solo) and Campbell scored 4 solo tackles. Former LB1 Paul Worrilow and Sean Weatherspoon did take a couple series and Philip Wheeler rotated in but I expect that both rookies will only increase their snap count percentage going forward as they gain more experience. The Falcons are prioritizing speed in their linebacking corps and both rookies provide it. Jones might be startable in a flex type role but I’m firmly in the wait-and-see camp for Campbell.
Roster Recommendation: High-end LB3 to Low-end LB3 with upside (stash)
Sneaky Linebacker Plays
Craig Robertson NOS LB – Danelle Ellerbe was able to post some remarkable statlines last year while struggling through injuries as New Orleans’ WLB for part of the year in 2015. Going into this year, I discounted the likeliness of Ellerbe to replicate those performances with tackle-vacuum James Laurinaitis starting in the middle of the Saints’ defense. Pair in a hip injury from Ellerbe and I had “Little Animal” pegged for a big day. What we saw in the Saints week one game against the Raiders was reserve WLB and former Browns ILB Craig Robertson go off for 11 total tackles (8 solo) and a PD. Ellerbe’s issue is a hip problem that saw him miss practice all week. Robertson is virtually unowned in all formats but is very startable against the Giants in week 2 if Ellerbe continues to miss time.
Bernardrick McKinney/Max Bullough HOU LB – Hard luck Houston ILB Brian Cushing went down in week 1 against the Bears with a reported torn MCL and is expected to miss 6 weeks of action. Cushing seems to miss significant time every other year and IDP-value replacements that the Texans have managed to produce in his absence are few and far between. McKinney is a 2nd round pedigree sophomore that figures to factor into the gameplan moreso with the former USC Trojan injured whereas 3rd year Michigan State product Max Bullough is first in line on the depth chart to step into Cushing’s role. Both Bullough and McKinney logged 5 total tackles against the Bears in week one and the Texans host the Chiefs in week two.
Defensive Linemen Plays
Through Sunday night, defensive linemen logged only 31.5 sacks compared to 25 from linebackers and 4 from defensive backs. Those numbers are very interesting to me as the ability for fantasy teams to identify sack-producing linemen might continue to decline going forward. True DL1 players or safer tackle-heavy producers might end carrying even more value than many were projecting them to.
The Free Agent Report had a pretty good week in week one, especially for sack hunters. Chris Long scored 3 solo tackles and a sack and fellow Patriot defensive end Jabaal Sheard scored 4 solo tackles. Sheard came remarkably close to a big play when Carson Palmer dropped a snap in the middle of the game. Both Brandon Graham (3 total tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble) and Connor Barwin (2 solo tackles, 1 sack) logged sacks in a winning effort against the Browns. Robert Ayers scored 2 solo tackles and a sack against the Falcons as well. Unfortunately, Dante Fowler failed to log a sack on Aaron Rodgers but managed to score 3 total tackles.
Danielle Hunter MIN DE – DE 4-3
Danielle Hunter was a name that appeared on the Free Agent Report last year but was difficult to prognosticate in 2016 in his sophomore year after a solid rookie year for the Vikings due to not being able to pass Brian Robison on the depth chart. That said, in week one, Hunter led all defensive linemen in fantasy scoring with 4 solo tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery touchdown in his game against the Titans. Hunter’s snap counts is far from 100% and you can’t project touchdown scoring from IDPs but he finished 2015 strong and appears to be on track to continue that success into 2016. Hopefully his snap counts increase to help level out his production going forward. It is worth mentioning that both of Hunter’s big plays this week were on early downs which is a good sign.
Roster Recommendation: Mid DL2 to Low-end DL3
New York Jet Defensive linemen NYJ DL – DL 3-4
The New York Jets defensive line is probably the most star-studded in the league and they showed it on Sunday against the Bengals. Muhammad Wilkerson, Leonard Williams and Steve Mclendon combined for 13 solo tackles, 5 assists and 6 sacks in week one. If that weren’t enough, Sheldon Richardson will return from suspension in week two against the Bills. In order of value, I have them as Wilkerson, Richardson, Williams and then the nose tackle Mclendon. That said, odds are that Williams and Mclendon are the only free agents in most leagues. Add according to availability. The Jets were scary good up front today. Damon Harrison scored over 70 total tackles from the Jets nose last year, if Mclendon can cover 80% of that with some sack upside, he is a DL2 easily.
Roster Recommendation: Mid DL1 to Low-end DL3
Benson Mayowa DAL DE – DE 4-3
Dallas’ depleted defensive line woes have been well publicized and although his move to Dallas from Oakland has come with little fanfare, Benson Mayowa is now a starting end for the Cowboys. His first start with America’s game yielded a sack of Eli Manning to go with two total tackles. The Redskins in Washington in week two isn’t the greatest matchup but the opportunity may be there in volume as there is little behind Mayowa for competition.
Roster Recommendation: Low-end DL2 to Low-end DL3
Sneaky Defensive Linemen Play
Xavier Cooper/Carl Nassib CLE DE – If you are a gambling man, think about adding a young Cleveland defensive end. Both Xavier Cooper (2015 3rd round pick out of Washington State) and Carl Nassib (2016 3rd round pick out of Penn State) saw decent snaps against the Eagles although only Cooper is listed as a starter. Cooper logged 4 solo tackles whereas Nassib scored 3 solo tackles, 1 PD and a sack. I think Nassib has better upside but likely will share snaps. The Ravens visit Cleveland in week 2.
Defensive Back Plays
Overall, it was a very skinny week for defensive backs in terms of splash plays. Through Sunday night, only 10 INTs were caught by defensive backs. This tells me that tackles are going to likely be safer to target for defensive back going forward.
Last week, the Free Agent report posted some decent numbers. Ibraheim Campbell tied for the lead in Cleveland Browns with 6 solo tackles. Adrian Amos and Harold Jones-Quartey were both serviceable with 5 solo tackles and 7 total tackles respectively. The Eagles are a decent matchup next week for both safeties next week as well. Jahleel Addae also posted a decent statline with 5 total tackles against the Chiefs.
Isa Abdul-Quddus MIA S – FS 4-3
Abdul-Quddus came over to Miami from Detroit this year and appears to have locked down a starting role alongside perennial DB1 Reshad Jones. And while Jones’ 12 total tackle, 1 PD performance was definitely expected by IDP owners, Abdul-Quddus’ statline of 8 total tackles, 2 PDs and an interception was not. It’s not the first time that Jones’ running mate has been able to post some solid IDP numbers but Abdul-Quddus’ hold on the starting role is probably far from absolute and the opportunities are not equal from game to game for the free safety. The Patriots are a bit of quandary in week two to me. They have just as much potential to yield a zero as they do a ten tackle performance. Abdul-Quddus carries risk but also a bit of upside also.
Roster Recommendation: Mid DB2 to Low-end DB3
Tony Jefferson/Tyvon Branch ARI S – SS 4-3
The three safety looks that Arizona presents teams yielded some great tackle numbers for IDP in week one against the Patriots. Both depth chart listed strong safeties, Tyvon Branch and Tony Jefferson, logged great tackle numbers with 10 total tackles and 8 total tackles respectively. Jefferson is the listed starter and has more experience in the Cardinal defense and should carry more value as such. With Rashad Johnson gone, I like both to remain good tackle options go forward with the suddenly pass-happy Buccaneers visiting in week 2.
Roster Recommendation: Low-end DB1 to Mid DB3
Trae Waynes MIN CB – CB 4-3
Starting corner Xavier Rhodes reportedly felt a pop in his knee prior to the Vikings week 1 contest against the Titans. Third cornerback Trae Waynes drew the start in his stead and was picked on enough that he was able to log a game-high 10 tackles. Reports on Monday revealed no major damage but I’m assuming that if he felt a pop, that the injury isn’t minor in nature. One of the surer tackles among cornerback ranks, Trae Waynes could be a huge play against a pass-heavy attack in Green Bay for the Vikings week two matchup.
Roster Recommendation: Low-end DB2 to Low-end DB3
Sneaky Defensive Back Play
James Bradberry CAR CB – James Bradberry is my 2016 pick for following the rookie corner rule. For those not familiar, the rookie corner rule states that a rookie corner that is starting is going to be targeted early and often and will post some good to great tackle numbers as such. Bradberry is in a great situation. He took over 90% of the snaps against Denver on Thursday. The Panthers are a good team and are likely to be up on some teams, causing them to get thrown at but they don’t have great depth behind Bradberry to replace him if he struggles. Finally, Bradberry seems to be an ok tackler. The Panthers’ week 2 matchup sees them host the 49ers which isn’t the greatest matchup but Bradberry figures to be a hold for the foreseeable future.