This week makes the halfway point of the regular season for many fantasy leagues. It’s important to reevaluate your roster at regular intervals to ensure that you have the optimal roster but also to determine strengths that can be traded from or weaknesses that need improvement on. Most teams are starting to make up their mind on what kind of team they are going to be. Contenders and pretenders still don’t know who is who just yet but the 1-5 and 0-6 teams are typically looking to next year already. Don’t be shy about targeting a floundering team at 2-4 with a trade that strengthens your teams down the stretch, maybe not necessarily this week. Remember that weather still plays a factor especially when snow flies. Carolina and Dallas have a bye week in week 7 so owners relying on Cowboys and Panthers need to find a replacement in their lineups.
It was a bit of a rough week for recommendations for the Free Agent report in week 6. Nick Bellore was the lone shining star of the recommendations, leading the way with 12 total tackles (9 solo) and a fumble recovery against the Buffalo Bills. He remains a solid option going forward. Perry Riley started once again at WLB for the Raiders but only managed 3 solo tackles despite Kansas City running the ball 40 times. Antonio Morrison was held off the score sheet but none of the Colts LB proved very useful in Sunday night’s game against the Texans. Vic Beasley, as predicted, did not repeat his ridiculous week 5 stats against the Seahawks in week 6 with 3 total tackles and a PD. Look at him in week 7 with a better matchup against the Chargers. Pittsburgh’s lackluster performance overall precluded the Steelers’ OLBs from getting going. James Harrison’s 4 total tackle performance was the best of the lot. Owners that were able to get week 5 recommendation Nate Stupar into their lineups were treated to a respectable 6 total tackles and a forced fumble.
Jatavis Brown SDC LB – ILB 3-4
When Manti Te’o went down with an Achilles’ injury, Jatavis Brown was mentioned in this article as a deeper dig LB free agent pickup ostensibly to replace Denzel Perryman’s production as the Perryman was to take the lead in terms of snap counts and IDP production. What we’ve seen however, is Brown, the sixth round rookie pick this year out of Akron, taking the lead in terms IDP production, rewarding those who were able to stash him. His latest game against the Broncos (13 solo tackles, 1 assisted tackle, 1 sack and a forced fumble) showed all fantasy owners that he is worth consideration in all formats. His line over the last four games is 30 solo tackles, 3 assists, 3 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. Don’t let the lack of pedigree or experience fool you; Brown is the IDP producer for this defense and shallower leagues need to give him a look. The Falcons is week 7 is a dream matchup for opposing LBs. There aren’t many LBs I’d consider looking at over Brown in terms of this week and his own/start percentage is still way too low for the production he is posting.
Roster Recommendation: Mid LB1 to Low-end LB2
Dont’a Hightower NEP LB – MLB 4-3
Dont’a Hightower has always been a bit of a hit and miss linebacker is terms of fantasy relevance. His good games typically fall into two categories; either the Patriots were getting run against and he piled up tackles on first and second down or the three down LBs ahead of him were hurt. In week 6, Jamie Collins played the role of Jerod Mayo. Ruled out with a hip injury, Collins’ absence opened the door for Hightower to gain a larger role. The fifth year pro out of Alabama did not disappoint, posting 13 total tackles (3 solo), 1.5 sacks and an ever-elusive safety. While would-be owners should be wary to expecting last week’s stats this week, what is important is the utilization. Hightower was the focal point of the defense and as long as Collins remains out, should continue to command fantasy attention. The Steelers in Pittsburgh in week 7 should have been a plus matchup but that may not come to pass with Ben Roethlisberger likely to miss week 7. The ability of the Steelers to run the ball without the threat of Ben throwing will determine the quality of the matchup here. Watch the injury report to ensure that Jamie Collins remains out as Collins returning to the Patriots’ lineup will likely render Hightower back to fantasy benches/free agent pools. As of right now, Hightower should be a free agent in all but the deepest of leagues given his 10 total tackles prior to week 6.
Roster Recommendation: High-end LB2 to Mid LB3
Albert McClellan BAL LB – ILB 3-4
One of the deeper leagues, Albert McClellan filled in for an injured CJ Mosley (hamstring) against the Giants in week 6. Despite the losing effort, McClellan was very serviceable with 9 total tackles (7 solo). Zach Orr remains the lead dog in the Ravens defense with Mosley out but McClellan has posted solid fantasy numbers when given starts in the past and week 6 was a gentle reminder of that. It goes without saying that McClellan has no fantasy value is Mosley is able to play in week 7 against the Jets but I expect the Ravens to be cautious with Mosley given that Baltimore’s bye week is week 8. In addition, the Jets has been gold to opposing LBs this year with no less than 11 opposing LBs scoring more than double digit fantasy points through five games. McClellan is decent tackle play in your LB3/flex spot in week 7.
Roster Recommendation: High-end LB3 to Low-end LB3
Sneaky Linebacker Plays
Brian Orakpo/Derrick Morgan TEN LB – Recommending an OLB in balanced leagues is a swing for the fences for sure but Andrew Luck is the most sacked QB in the league, coming in at 3.8 sacks a game. However, the Titans pass rush is coming into their own over the last few games. Orakpo has 6.5 sacks in his last 5 games and Morgan has 3 sacks in his last 2 games. In fairness, the Browns and Dolphins are good remedy for any sack drought. On top of all those numbers is the fact that Tennessee plays at home against the Colts in week 7 where Luck’s sack rate per game balloons up to 4.7 sacks per game. Big play leagues probably don’t have Orakpo available but if they do, Orakpo is a great swing this week. Settle for Morgan if he’s owned already. Balanced leagues probably need to take notice here as well but probably for flex plays only.
Defensive Linemen Plays
Dontari Poe’s 1 yard catch and plunge in for the TD (technically ruled a lateral) was fun to watch. An interesting fact is that this was his second career offensive touchdown, his first being a true rushing TD last year. Reminiscent of William “The Fridge” Perry, Poe’s offensive prowess begs a thought-provoking question. How does your league handle offensive scoring for defensive players? If you are given credit, that’s a nice boost to your weekly total but impossible to forecast. If not, it might be something to address in your rules before another JJ Watt, or Mike Vrabel for the older school guys, comes along and mucks up your fantasy championship because you don’t have rules for offensive scoring for defensive players.
Stephon Tuitt’s 3 solo tackles was the best the Free Agent Report could muster in week 6. Brian Robison was on bye week and still remains a solid add to your team. Joey Bosa had pressures in week 6 but could not convert that into a sack. Week 5 recommendation Yannick Ngakoue logged a sack against the Bears coming off of his bye and Rob Ninkovich logged 4 total tackles as he solidifies himself within the Patriots defensive line rotation.
Patriots defensive line DL – DL 4-3
With Ben Roethlisberger expected to miss week 7, the Patriots have to be smelling blood with a perennial rival likely to start a quarterback with 2 career starts under his belt in Landry Jones. I expect that Bill Belichick is going to scheme out Le’Veon Bell as much as he can to force Landry Jones to win the game. This should lead to opportunities for the Patriot pass rush. In order of value, I think it’s Jabaal Sheard, Chris Long and Rob Ninkovich. Don’t look past Malcom Brown and Alan Branch at defensive tackle either. This is a great matchup that could yield monster results.
Roster Recommendation: Mid DL1 to Mid DL3
DeForest Buckner/Arik Armstead SFO DE – DE 3-4
San Francisco has a history of high producing 3-4 DEs. Rookie DeForest Buckner and sophomore Arik Armstead seem to be picking up the mantle. DeForest Buckner has appeared in this article earlier this year as an option for tackle heavy leagues given his high tackle numbers. In five games played this year, Buckner has scored an average of 6 total tackles. His 2 sack, 1 fumble recovery performace to go along with 9 total tackles against the Bills was the icing on the cake that pushes Buckner’s value into DL 1 territory as a rookie. His own/start percentage is still way too low for even shallower leagues. If he’s unowned, he shouldn’t be. A little further down the ladder sits Arik Armstead, 2015 1st round pick. Armstead’s snaps have gone up from 40% earlier in the year to above 90% in week 5 and 81% in week 6. He has responded with 6 total tackles, a forced fumble and a sack in those two games. The 49ers face the Buccaneers in week 7 who have wilted a bit in the face of a solid pass rush. Armstead is the economy model here but worth a look in deeper leagues where Buckner is a far cry from available.
Roster Recommendation: Mid DL1 to Low-end DL3
Sneaky Defensive Linemen Play
Michael Johnson CIN DE – Michael Johnson is a far cry from his dominant 2012 form that saw him log 11.5 sacks on his way to a fat free agent deal from the Buccaneers. However, he is still a threat to log a sack in any game and plays alongside two of the premiere pass rushers in the league in Geno Atkins inside and Carlos Dunlap opposite him. Johnson’s snap count percentage is in the high seventies, higher than Dunlap even so the potential is there. Compounding the opportunity is the Bengals’ week 7 opponent, the Cleveland Browns. The Browns are starting a hurting 3rd round rookie QB in Cody Kessler who got dropped 6 times in week 6 by the Titans. Those sacks all came from the Titans’ front seven. Give Johnson a look this week and hope the Bengals/Browns game turns into a laugher.
Defensive Back Plays
It was a tackle heavy week with seven DBs logged double digit tackles going into Monday Night football. Conversely, interceptions stayed down with only 15 INTs from DBs going into Monday Night. Give me tackles any day as the boom-or-bust strategy can hurt you in a must win game and the season wears on.
For last week’s recommendations, Duek Ihenacho and Donte Whitner cannibalized each other’s stats a bit with each posting 4 total tackles. The Lions in week 7 is a gem of a matchup for the Redskins strong safeties but with no clear winner in terms of snap counts, this is a guess-and-hope or sit-and-wait situation. In terms of snap counts, Ihenacho started but was outsnapped about two to one by Whitner. Chris Prosinski gave way back to Harold Jones-Quartey in Chicago. This situation is messy and one to avoid moving forward. Trumaine Johnson was ruled out prior to the Rams’ matchup with the Lions but LaMarcus Joyner’s statline of 10 total tackles (8 solo) and a PD was rock solid for fantasy owners that were able to get him in their lineups. DJ Swearinger logged solid stats in Monday Night football with 4 solo tackles, 2 PDs and an interception.
Jason McCourty/Perrish Cox TEN CB – CB 3-4
I’m going to lead off this recommendation with this stat, every time an opposing QB has attempted 35 passes or more against the Titans this year, both Jason McCourty and Perrish Cox have scored at least double digit fantasy points. Detroit, Oakland, Houston and Cleveland make up that list. Over those games, Cox has averaged 5.8 total tackles, 1.8 PDs a game and has 2 INTs. McCourty has 5.7 total tackles, 1.5 PDs and also has two INTs. The Titans host Indianapolis in week 7. Andrew Luck is averaging 39.5 attempts per game this year and has only attempted less than 35 passes once this year which was this past week against the Texans. Either makes a pretty decent stream option this week or perhaps a spot starter in CB-required leagues.
Roster Recommendation: High-end DB2 to Low-end DB3
Desmond Trufant ATL CB – CB 4-3
Philip Rivers is, in terms of attempts and completions, a middling quarterback this year but the San Diego offense has supported a double digit fantasy CB in every game this year except one. And with Atlanta hosting San Diego in week 7, I think Desmond Trufant will be that CB. San Diego has shown a penchant to be a high volume passing team when down early and I don’t think Atlanta ends up giving this one away. Obviously, Keanu Neal is a must-start but he should be owned already. Give Trufant a look as a high-risk, high-reward play in week 7.
Roster Recommendation: Low-end DB1 to High-end DB3
Bashaud Breeland/Kendall Fuller WAS CB – CB 3-4
Bashaud Breeland returned to the lineup in week 6 against the Eagles after missing two starts with an ankle injury suffered in week 3. Breeland was averaging over 9 tackles a game prior to that injury and managed to log 87% of the snaps in his first game back. With Washington visiting Detroit in week 7, expect Matthew Stafford to continue to try to throw the Lions to victory. It was another horrendous rushing game for the Lions at 3.2 YPC. Josh Norman has typically been avoided by opposing QBs so I expect that Breeland and maybe even nickelback/slot corner Kendall Fuller, who also played 87% of the snaps, to be busy. Expect tackles and PDs to follow.
Roster Recommendation: High-end DB2 to Low-end DB3
Sneaky Defensive Back Play
Michael Johnson/Walt Aikens MIA SS – Word is that all-pro Dolphin strong safety Reshad Jones is feared to have a torn rotator cuff which would almost certainly end his season if it is confirmed. Jones is currently Miami’s second leading tackler with 51 combined tackles. That tackle number is also good for tops among defensive backs. His potential loss is huge for the Dolphins and fantasy owners alike. Behind Jones on the depth chart is Walt Aikens, a third year pro out of Liberty and current special teamer for Miami. I expect that there is a good chance that the current backup free safety and third safety Michael Johnson gets a look at the job first however. The Dolphins host the Bills in week 7. Grab one or both and hold to determine the usage. The lead dog here represents a pretty big prize if given the corresponding snaps.