As the NFL season moves into October, it’s worth mentioning that fantasy owners need to be aware of the weather and its effect on your roster. Rain, snow and most importantly wind can wreak havoc on a fantasy team depending on a passing game for points. Similarly, you can expect that effect to trickle into the defensive side of the ball as well. Less passes mean less PDs, less tackles in general for the defensive backs and less points overall as the number of snaps taken per 60 minutes tends to go down. Make a point of checking the weather report quickly before confirming your lineup on Sunday morning. The number of bye weeks teams extends to four this week. The teams with a week 5 bye are Jacksonville, Kansas City, New Orleans and Seattle.
The Free Agent Report had a pretty good week in terms of predictions last week. Leading the way was sneaky play Lorenzo Alexander. The Buffalo Bill pass rusher logged 6 total tackles and a sack in Buffalo’s shutout of New England. Teammate and week 3 recommendation Zach Brown was once again a top option as he posted a gaudy stat line of 18 total tackles (13 solo), 1 sack and 2 forced fumbles to lead fantasy LBs in almost any scoring system. Rookie Jatavis Brown rewarded those able to sneak him into their lineups with 7 solo tackles. Denzel Perryman owners were not as lucky as the sophomore injured his shoulder early in the second quarter and did not return to the game. Jatavis Brown performed well fantasy-wise and owners shouldn’t shy away from starting him even if Perryman does return to the lineup in week 5 against the Oakland Raiders. Darron Lee and Christian Kirksey were serviceable for fantasy owners, each posting 7 total tackles. In Lee’s case, Erin Henderson was still on the field more than I’d like but I expect Lee’s usage to only increase as the year wears on. In Kirksey’s case, his 7 tackles tied him for the team lead in a messy contest with the Redskins. Shane Ray was the lone disappointment with 2 solo tackles. Derek Wolfe, Shaq Barrett and Von Miller all logged sacks on Jameis Winston on Sunday afternoon which makes this sting even more.
Cory James OAK LB – MLB 4-3
The overhaul of Jack Del Rio’s defense continues as rookie 6th round pick Cory James started in the middle of the Raider defense in week 4. I didn’t think he would get as much work as he has on third down and specialty packages but of the 15 tackles he collected along with a forced fumble, 9 of those tackles were made against the pass, most in obvious passing situations. This is great for his future value and devastating for incumbent MLB starter Ben Heeney’s value. It’s worth mentioning that Del Rio was pleased with the rookie but noted that the Colorado State product needs to “clean up” his game. The Chargers are a pretty good matchup for James in week 5 and given his week 4 statline, you need to nab the rookie this week before he’s gone.
Roster Recommendation: Low-end LB1 to Low-end LB2
Vince Williams PIT LB – ILB 3-4
Ryan Shazier is quickly becoming the new Dan Morgan. He’s a top LB option when healthy but never seems to stay healthy. Shazier has appeared as questionable in every game so far this year but failed to practice all week and was unable to suit up for Sunday night football. Reserve ILB Vince Williams stepped in admirably with a hefty 15 total tackles (13 solo) and a sack against the Chiefs in a blowout win. Trying to peg fill in ILB production for either injured ILB for the Steelers has historically been difficult but the Jets, who face the Steelers in week 5, have been an opposing LB’s dream for fantasy stats this year. No less than 8 opposing LBs have finished with double digit fantasy points through 4 weeks against the Jets. 4 of those LBs were better than 20 fantasy points and all 4 of those LBs played inside. Obviously if Shazier manages to get back into the lineup then this recommendation is toast for this week but Ryan Shazier has never played more than 12 games in a season before. If you have the bench space, Williams might not be a terrible handcuff.
Roster Recommendation: Mid LB2 to Low-end LB3
Michael Wilhoite SFO LB – ILB 3-4
The 49ers defense was already struggling with health going into week 4’s game against Dallas. When Ray Ray Armstrong when down with a pectoral injury, I assumed that Gerald Hodges would move up from part time duty to full time duty alongside Navorro Bowman. What actually happened was Gerald Hodges was demoted to special teams and Wilhoite resumed his 2015 starting role alongside Bowman. Against the run-heavy Cowboys, Wilhoite tied for the team lead with 12 total tackles (10 solo). Bowman was on his way to a monster game himself but left in the middle of the 3rd quarter with what has been diagnosed as a torn Achilles. This is huge blow to the 49ers defense as nobody on the roster can replace Bowman’ talent and nose for the ball. Wilhoite will once again resume starting duties as the defacto leader of the front seven likely alongside Gerald Hodges. I expect Wilhoite to be the LB to own but the situation is likely to be somewhat fluid. Wilhoite is not a threat for splash plays and as such, games where you expect a heavy dose of the run game are going to be his calling card. Navorro Bowman is still the 49er LB to own but the Robin to his Batman is worth a spot on your roster. The 49ers face the Cardinals in week 5 which is a bit of a quandary given how inconsistent the Cardinals have been.
Roster Recommendation: High-end LB3 to Low-end LB3
Vontaze Burfict CIN LB – WLB 4-3
Coming off of a three game suspension for disregard to player safety, former LB1 Vontaze Burfict returned to the lineup against Miami. I figured that rust would be a factor in Burfict’s game and it was. However, the Bengals used him much more than I thought they would. Burfict was on the field for 34 snaps versus Rey Maualuga’s 23 snaps, Karlos Dansby’s 22 snaps and Vincent Rey’s 15 snaps. Owners that have been rolling with Karlos Dansby and Vincent Rey need to consider other options if that usage continues. Meanwhile, as long as Burfict stays on the right side of the law and stay healthy, he should be a top option going into a better matchup than Thursday night football against the hapless Dolphins. Week 5 brings a visit to Dallas and week 6 brings a visit to Foxboro for Burfict and the Bengals.
Roster Recommendation: Mid LB1 to Low-end LB2
Sneaky Linebacker Plays
Nate Stupar/Danelle Ellerbe NOS LB – This is a week 6 play as the Saints are on bye in week 5. Given the statline, if you don’t get Stupar this week, you may not get him at all. James Laurinaitis missed the first game of his career on Sunday against the Chargers and the benefactor was Nate Stupar who stepped in at weakside linebacker as Craig Robertson (week 2 recommendation) slid into the middle linebacker role. Stupar went on to pace the Saints in tackles with 9 solos and added a fumble recovery for good measure. Danelle Ellerbe has been on the shelf since the start of the season with his own quad injury but has been practicing, albeit in limited fashion. I assume that the quad injury that had sidelined Laurinaitis is serious enough to warrant a watch for multiple weeks and as such, Stupar should remain on your radar. Watch the injury report to see if Laurinaitis or starting WLB Danelle Ellerbe practices at all. If either are able to suit up, Stupar can be released. Ellerbe is a productive player when healthy and deserves a spot on a roster if he is getting closer to drawing back into a lineup.
Defensive Linemen Plays
The defensive linemen market in terms of viable free agent acquisitions is pretty bare as per usual this time of year. One thing I always try to mention to fantasy owners is the ability to trade for one for a position of strength. While that advice seems rudimentary, even if you trade from a position of average strength or even borderline weakness when that position can be covered by free agents, your team may not be ok this week, but one free agent run and you are back on your feet. Linebacker is great example of a position that has name value players that owners will pay for and yet can be backfilled relatively easily from the free agent pool given injuries, matchups etc. If you can avoid playing the guessing game with defensive linemen, your team will be better off in the long run. That said, with JJ Watt injured and Khalil Mack’s average stats over the last four weeks, I’m not sure that the list of DLs I would trade an impact player for is very long these days.
The Free Agent report was not too bad when it comes to the defensive linemen. William Gholston salvaged a good afternoon in a tough loss to the Broncos with 3 total tackles and a half sack. Chris Baker scored 4 total tackles in a contest against the Browns that surprisingly produced only 1 sack. “Snacks” Harrison posted a decent Monday night football line.
Yannick Ngakoue JAC DE – DE 4-3
It’s not ideal to grab a guy going into a bye week but the rookie 3rd round pick isn’t affording would-be owners much choice. The Maryland product has been borderline dominant over his last three weeks with 3 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 1 INT, 1 PD and 8 total tackles. His snap counts are as close as the Jaguars have had to a three down DE with 76% utilization and Jacksonville has been much more competitive in games than in years past. The Bears and Raiders are up next for the Jaguars in week 5 and 6. Give the rookie a look especially if you are struggling with DL health. If you don’t need him but have a taxi suqad for rookies, he’s an ideal stash as well.
Roster Recommendation: High-end DL2 to Low-end DL3
Rob Ninkovich NEP DE – DE 4-3
Tom Brady isn’t the only Patriot retuning in week 5. Rob Ninkovich returns from a four game suspension for violating the PED policy. It’s also worth mentioning that Ninkovich hasn’t been completely healthy either. Ninkovich has been rehabbing a torn triceps muscle since early August. You still need to check the injury report to see how the long-time Patriot is coming along. The week 5 matchup against the Browns seems juicy but the Browns have been markedly better against opposing pass rush as of late. Ninkovich has prior years of DL1 production so fantasy owners can add a potential DL1 down the stretch in Ninkovich if he can be effective coming back from both injury and suspension.
Roster Recommendation: Mid DL1 to High-end DL3
Marcell Dareus BUF DT/DE – DT/DE 4-3
Marcell Dareus is also returning from a four game suspension due to a violation of the substance abuse policy in week 5. The Buffalo Bills are riding high after pitching a shutout against their rival, the New England Patriots. Dareus is a disruptive, game-changing player when he is on. Fantasy owners could do worse than a gamble on Dareus. The Rams are a decent matchup in week 5 for sacks. Unless you’re desperate, I’d like to see his usage before deploying him.
Roster Recommendation: Mid DL1 to High-end DL3
Sneaky Defensive Linemen Plays
Akiem Hicks CHI DE – Hicks has been as well utilized as any lineman for the Bears at 82% for the year. The Bears are a bit of a mess this year but their defense showed in week 4 that they can clamp down at times. Hicks logged a sack against Matthew Stafford in a winning effort in week 4. Week 5 brings a shaky Indianapolis Colt team that is struggling to finish games. Give Hicks a look for a couple tackles and a shot at a sack.
DeMarcus Lawrence DAL DE – Lawrence is also returning from suspension to a Cowboys defense that is still sorely lacking in playmakers, especially on the defensive line. He’s not a household name per se but has the talent and opportunity to make a splash in fantasy. The Bengals are among the NFL leaders in times sacked so the situation may be ripe to exploit if Lawrence get the snaps he needs to make an impact.
Defensive Back Plays
It’s rare to see solid-tackling cornerbacks in the NFL given how the position has evolved over the years. That why seeing the second highest tackle performance in the NFL year to date, 17 total tackles, coming from a cornerback is so rare. Logan Ryan was everywhere for the Patriot defense in both the run and pass game today in a losing effort against the Bills. Tackles are safe points for IDP as INTs are hard to predict so if you have a solid CB tackler, hang onto him.
Karl Joseph led a decent effort from the Free Agent Report with 8 total tackles (5 solo) and a PD in a thriller against the Ravens. The Browns safeties, Derrick Kindred and Jordan Poyer, were serviceable but pedestrian with 5 and 6 total tackles respectively in a losing effort against the Redskins. Chris Conte (4 solo tackles) was overshadowed by teammate Bradley McDougald who logged 7 solo tackles against the Broncos. Bears safeties Adrian Amos (7 total tackles, 1 PD) and Harold Jones-Quartey (7 solo tackles) were both great against the Lions for tackle production and Jacoby Glenn logged an interception to go with a single solo tackle.
Kurt Coleman CAR S – SS 4-3
Coleman’s first two games likely saw him released back into the free agent pool after a monster 2015 where he scored 89 total tackles and 7 INTs. It took a few games for him to get going but Coleman has been slowly rounding into form with 14 total tackles and an interception returned for touchdown through his last two games. The Panthers struggles have likely hurt Coleman’s production but a dream matchup over the next two weeks in the Buccaneers and Saints in the next two weeks, look for Coleman to continue his ascent up DB scoring rankings.
Roster Recommendation: Low-end DB1 to Low-end DB2
Keanu Neal ATL S – FS 4-3
It didn’t take long for Keanu Neal to assume a starting role and make an impact with it on the surging Falcons. The rookie out of Florida logged 9 total tackles in a winning effort against the Panthers in week 4. Leading tackler and former starter Kemal Ishmael quickly faded into part time and subpackage usage, only scoring 3 solo tackles. Touted by many as one of the top rookie IDPs to own this year, Neal appears to be rewarding would-be owners for his early usage. The Falcons face the Broncos in Denver, the Seahawks in Seattle and the Chargers in Atlanta in the next three weeks. I like the matchup in all three weeks. Find a way to get the rookie into your starting lineup.
Roster Recommendation: High-end DB2 to High-end DB3
Trevin Wade/Nat Berhe/Darian Thompson/Leon Hall NYG S – FS 4-3
The Giants free safety position, like it has been for many years previous is currently devoid of talent and healthy bodies. And with the Packers hosting the Giants in week 5, the timing is ripe for Aaron Rodgers and would-be fantasy owners to exploit a weakness. Nat Berhe (concussion) and Darian Thompson (foot) split snaps prior to both being injured. In week 3 when Thompson was out but Berhe played, he played 100% of the defensive snaps. Start either one is one of them is healthy enough to go. Nickelback Trevin Wade logged 6 solo tackles against the Vikings on Monday night football with regular nickel corner Eli Apple out with injury and will likely remain a decent play in Green Bay. Leon Hall also took some snaps at free safety on Monday night football and scored 7 total tackles (4 solo). If Green Bay smells blood, I expect them to attack the weakness which will lead to tackles and PD opportunity.
Roster Recommendation: Low-end DB2 to Low-end DB3
Sneaky Defensive Back Play
Dexter McCoil/Jason Verrett SDC S/CB – Undrafted rookie Dexter McCoil has drawn into major defensive snaps with injuries in front of him. Against the Saints in week 4, the Tulsa product scored 6 total tackles and a PD. The Raiders are just as good of a matchup as the Saints this year and that’s exactly who the Chargers face in week 5. Watch the injury report to make sure the Jahleel Addae remains out. Cornerback leagues might consider Jason Verrett who piled up 6 solos and a PD covering Saints receivers.