Week 11 overall was a rough week for the health of the stars of the NFL. Giovani Bernard (ACL), Jay Cutler (shoulder), Zach Miller (foot), Markus Wheaton (shoulder), Cam Heyward (pectoral) and Eric Reid (biceps) are confirmed or likely will be lost for the season. CJ Prosise (shoulder blade), AJ Green (hamstring) and Earl Thomas (hamstring) will likely miss multiple weeks with their individual ailments. Luke Kuechly, Mark Ingram and Andrew Luck are all highly questionable for their upcoming week 12 matchups if not week to week as they go through the concussion protocol. This week highlights how unpredictable the NFL can be. Each affected NFL team will need to draw from their benches to play snaps and your fantasy team will need to do the same. Week 12 brings Thanksgiving Thursday games and while there are no bye weeks this week, owners who have fantasy starters from the Vikings, Lions, Cowboys, Redskins, Steelers and Colts need to make sure they have their lineup set before Thursday morning.
Chandler Jones made good on my prediction of him making an impact against the Vikings. While I didn’t expect the Cardinals to lose nor did I expect them to only get 2 sacks, Jones’ statline of 5 total tackles, 1 sack and 1 forced fumble was something I certainly envisioned against Minnesota’s struggling protection. Both Chiefs pass rushers, Dee Ford and Justin Houston, failed to make much of an impact against the Buccaneers. In Ford’s case, a hamstring injury ruined his day and possibly a good remainder of the fantasy season. The good news is Justin Houston played much more than I thought he would however (55 of 77 snaps), which bodes well for his future usage down the stretch. The Chiefs in general failed to generate the plays that fantasy owners have become accustom to in recent weeks with only one team sack and one fumble recovery and for those who watched the game, that sack and fumble recovery had very little to do with the Chiefs defense and everything to do with Jameis Winston mismanaging the football. Both Packers LBs (Joe Thomas and Blake Martinez) recommended were decent but not awe-inspiring with 5 total tackles a piece with Martinez adding a PD as well. The sneaky Redskins LB to play was Ryan Kerrigan who came through with a sack whereas the other recommendations logged only two total tackles. Despite the injuries at offensive line, the Packers did well to only allowed Aaron Rodgers to hit the dirt twice.
David Mayo/Shaq Thompson CAR LB – MLB/SLB 4-3
Hoo boy. Those who watched Thursday night’s game between the Panthers and Saints were unfortunately subjected to seeing two scary concussions to star players Mark Ingram and Luke Kuechly. In Kuechly’s case, the perennial Pro Bowler looked scared when not dazed and seemed to be struggling to breathe, a situation that left him reduced to tears. While post-game photos from teammates show Kuechly is good spirits and looking no worse for wear, he has been officially diagnosed with a concussion and will very likely not play against Oakland in week 12. The talk coming from Kuechly’s camp is that he will seek out a specialist’s opinion on the injury to see “how he should proceed”. This isn’t the first concussion that he’s sustained that has caused him to miss time either. Kuechly missed three games last September with a concussion as well. Given the talk emerging from this situation, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Kuechly get shut down this year and maybe that’s the best thing for his long-term health right now. As far as fantasy fallout, there is no plug-in replacement for the best fantasy LB in the game. Sophomore backup MLB David Mayo played the 9 snaps that Kuechly couldn’t at the end of the game as the Saints were driving but that’s far from a ringing endorsement that he will play a full complement of snaps in Kuechly’s absence. SLB Shaq Thompson played 25 snaps in return from a knee injury that sidelined him for 2 weeks. If he is healthy, I’d expect Thomas Davis and Thompson to play as three down LBs with Mayo playing a two down role. That said, the Panthers are one of the very few 4-3 teams that have had all three LBs over 90% usage in certain games this year. Whether they trust Mayo to be one of those LBs is debatable. The real fantasy impact of this is that Thomas Davis owners probably see an uptick in tackles. Davis was already an LB2 and unlikely to be a free agent in any league. Thompson is unlikely to be owned except in deeper dynasty leagues and Mayo is virtually unowned in all formats. Neither Thompson nor Mayo is a slam dunk start but the snap counts and tackles will go somewhere. Give one of them a look based on your league roster size with my preference going to Thompson.
Roster Recommendation: High-end LB3 to Low-end LB3
Jatavis Brown/Denzel Perryman SDC LB – ILB 3-4
For leagues with deeper benches, it’s harder to expect to see injured LBs hit the waiver wire but such is the time of year with regards to realistic fantasy options in waiver wire entering week 12. Jatavis Brown was one of the better LBs in fantasy regardless of format from weeks 3-8 with the impressive rookie scoring 45 total tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, 3 sacks and 3 PDs over that time. He is expected to be ready to play after suffering a knee injury prior to week 9 that caused him to miss two games but I’d watch the practice participation as little news has emerged on his status over the bye week. Brown is your target assuming he is healthy enough to play. Perryman appears to be over the pectoral injury he suffered in week 8 but Perryman hasn’t been nearly as impactful as Brown or the LB that started week 9 and 10 for the Chargers, Korey Toomer. The situation is very fluid right now so I wouldn’t bank on Perryman for a start with week nor would I cut Toomer just yet as Toomer’s play might have Perryman riding the pine. Try to take a week to see how the snap counts shake out if you can. The Texans are a good matchup for opposing LBs in run support so there might be room for both LBs to start in week 12. Whoever has gotten the snaps has carried great value this year so if you have room, find a way to add a San Diego ILB.
Roster Recommendation: Mid LB1 to Mid LB3
Su’a Cravens WAS LB – ILB/SS 3-4
Su’a Cravens is one of the latest in the new breed of hybrid linebacker/safety that seem to be very popular in the NFL these days. What is good about most of these players like Deone Bucannon and Mark Barron beyond the speed and ball skills that many true LBs are jealous of is that because of their skillset, they usually end up playing three downs. While Cravens is not completely there yet, he is taking snaps away from Mason Foster, outsnapping him 37 to 34 in week 10 and 60 to 7 in week 11. His week 11 statline of (5 total tackles and 1 PD) isn’t awe-inspiring but promising in a week that didn’t feature remarkable LB production. This doesn’t amount to Cravens garnering enough value to justify a worry-free start in week 12 against the Cowboys, especially with the Cowboys rushing attack being the best in the league. There is potential for the Redskins to revert back to Foster who figures to be better in shedding blocks in the run game. However, it does warrant consideration in keeper and dynasty leagues. Will Compton is still the Redskins LB to own as he has missed less than 20 defensive snaps this year and is the leading tackler but I expect Cravens’ usage to only go up as the Redskins trust him more and more going forward.
Roster Recommendation: Mid LB3 – Bench fodder; Keeper/Dynasty stash
Jaylon Smith DAL LB – MLB 4-3
I want to preface this by saying that I don’t think Jaylon Smith plays this year. However, news is news and if I didn’t let you know that Smith was activated from the non-football injury list prior to the Cowboys win over the Ravens, I’d be doing you a disservice. This news comes in the same week that we learned that Rolando McClain is likely to receive a year-long ban after his suspension is over for a missed drug test. McClain’s career is likely over with that news. Actual news on Smith’s health and game-readiness has been slim as it has come from the top of the Cowboys organization and as you would expect, it’s all glowing. Smith’s knee has supposedly regenerated nerves and he is in great shape. Jerry Jones hasn’t hid his desire to see Jaylon Smith play this year but I don’t see it happening given how ugly that knee injury was, how dismal the talk surrounding the recovery was and the fact that it was less than 11 months ago when this injury was sustained. Dynasty leagues are very likely to see Smith already owned but shallower keeper leagues are likely to see Smith as a free agent and they might see a spot for Smith in their roster. With his name in the news, odds are that if you don’t get him now, you might miss out. Anything he might give you in terms of production late in the year is a bonus.
Roster Recommendation: Keeper/Dynasty stash
Sneaky Linebacker Plays
Nick Kwiatkoski CHI LB – News dropped on Monday that Bears ILB and leading tackler Jerrell Freeman will miss the next 4 games due to suspension for violating the NFL’s PED policy. Nick Kwiatkoski is a 4th round rookie pick from this year’s draft out of West Virginia that took the majority of the snaps in Danny Trevathan’s absence earlier this year. The numbers he put up when he did so are not remarkable but I think that the Bears are going to be a volume play for tackles going forward. Chicago is likely to start Matt Barkley at quarterback and he will be without two of the team’s better offensive linemen in Kyle Long and Josh Sitton. In addition to that, the team will be without their top two pass catchers in Alshon Jeffrey (PED suspension) and Zach Miller (foot). The Titans are represent one of the NFL’s best rushing attacks and Kwiatkoski might be a play for desperate fantasy owners hurting for an injury replacement..
Defensive Linemen Plays
The fantasy gods giveth and the fantasy gods taketh away. A week ago my recommendations scored six sacks and this week, I’m down to zero. This year has been difficult to deal with defensive linemen between injuries and inconsistent play. Hopefully you are sitting on a handful of every week starters so you can avoid the landmine field that is defensive linemen waiver wire hunting. Calais Campbell didn’t score a sack against the Vikings but did add 3 total tackles and 2 PDs to salvage a decent fantasy day. As mentioned before, the Chiefs failed to log a true sack of Jameis Winston. Chris Jones turned in 1 solo tackle and a PD. The silver lining here is that Jones led Chief’s DEs again with 51 of 77 snaps. The rookie has the usage so there’s a better than average chance that the stats will come. DeMarcus Lawrence led Cowboys’ DEs in snaps also but produced nothing but a couple hurries. The Redskins in week 12 are a poor matchup for the third year end on pure stats.
Kony Ealy CAR DE – DE 4-3
Don’t look now but the Panthers are slowly finding a bit of their old mojo. Losing Luke Kuechly (concussion) won’t help and neither will losing Mario Addison (foot), who has led the Panthers with 5 sacks over his last 3 games. He would be on this list if not for the injury he suffered expected to hold him out for a few weeks. Addison’s snap count had been rising at the expense of Ealy’s but given the injury to Addison, Ealy played over 50% of the snaps and logged a sack of Drew Brees. Ealy’s usefulness will depend on the Panthers ability to get up in games. The Raiders in week 12 are not a great matchup but the Seahawks and Chargers in weeks 13 and 14 respectively could be if Carolina can get a lead.
Roster Recommendation: Mid DL2 to Low-end DL3
Stephon Tuitt/Javon Hargrave PIT DE/NT – DE/NT 3-4
Stephon Tuitt plays just as much as Cam Heyward did but doesn’t seem to get the press that Heyward does. I have always liked Steelers 3-4 DEs because they can log big tackle games for you even if they don’t get a sack. Tuitt is coming off of one of those games where he got both. 6 total tackles and 2.5 sacks against the Browns likely put him at or near the top of the DL leaderboard this week regardless of format. The matchup against the Colts in week 12 is just as good on paper. Tuitt is likely to approach almost every down status for the Steelers as well. Javon Hargrave is the starting nose tackle based on the depth chart and saw his snaps upgraded to 60% in Heyward’s absence, good for second best on the defensive line behind only Tuitt. The 3rd round rookie responded with a sack and a lucky fumble recovery for touchdown. Don’t expect a TD again but Hargrave is an option if Tuitt isn’t available and you want to gamble on a sack against the most sacked team per game in the league at 3.5 sacks given up per game.
Roster Recommendation: Mid DL1 to Low-end DL2
Sneaky Defensive Linemen Play
Giants DTs – The Browns have been a mess all year and they do not seem to be getting any better as the year goes on. It’s a revolving door of rookies and uninspiring veterans and quite frankly, it doesn’t matter who is playing QB, the Browns have failed to protect anyone who has taken snaps. Week 11 saw the Browns give up a ridiculous 8 sacks to the Steelers, bringing their total to a league high 38, only Indianapolis gives up more per game. It’s likely that Josh McCown starts in week 12 but it will likely be the same story of the Browns needing to throw but failing to protect their signal caller. It’s also likely that the Giants ends, Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul, are likely owned and should be started. However, I think that you could play a defensive tackle and get some decent play. Both Damon Harrison and Johnathan Hankins have over 60% usage and both have been good for a high tackle floor this year. Give one of them a look for some tackles and maybe a sack. Snacks Harrison has the better statline so far with Hankins having the higher snap count.
Defensive Back Plays
Both sneaky plays were solid in the Thursday nighter. Daryl Worley tied for the team lead in total tackles among defensive backs with 9 total tackles (6 solo). James Bradberry wasn’t far behind with 7 total tackles. Tavon Wilson was a great option despite a less-than-optimal matchup scoring 5 solo tackles and an interception against the Jaguars. Glover Quin didn’t fare as well with 2 solo tackles and a forced fumble. Depending on your league’s scoring of splash plays, you can give or take that statline. Rafael Bush continued to play a third safety role, siphoning off 4 total tackles and a pick six. Bush only plays 40-60% of the snaps and isn’t really worth owning unless a Lions safety gets hurt but this sort of statline has to irk fantasy owners of Quin and Wilson. Adrian Amos was a quality play with 7 total tackles and a PD against the Giants. The Bears loss of Jerrell Freeman as well as a handful of offensive playmaker will likely keep Amos’ production high over the next four games at least. Harold Jones-Quartey was benched in favor of rookie Deon Bush and as a result, failed to score any points. A similar story happened with the musical chairs that is the Browns safeties. Ibraheim Campbell didn’t receive the start whereas Ed Reynolds and Derrick Kindred did. Reynolds scored 5 total tackles.
Deon Bush CHI S – SS 3-4
4th round rookie out of Miami from this year’s draft, Deon Bush figured to factor into the defense soon enough but I didn’t think that the Bears’ coaching staff would hand over the reins to him that way they did. Deon Bush started at strong safety in place of previous starter Harold Jones-Quartey and took all the snaps. Bush responded with 7 total tackles (3 solo) against the Giants in a losing effort. Bush’s reputation in college was that of a vicious hitter with questionable coverage and recovery speed. If he brings that kind of game to the NFL, he will be an asset to fantasy teams hoping to cash in on tackles. Chicago’s schedule for the remainder of the fantasy season is Tennessee, San Francisco, Detroit, Green Bay and Washington. The first two games will depend on Bush’s ability to contribute in run support whereas the fantasy playoffs schedule is a great series of matchups. I like Bush down the stretch as soon as he continued to be a three down player and rack up tackles.
Roster Recommendation: Mid DB2 to Low-end DB3
Artie Burns/Sean Davis PIT CB/S – CB/SS 3-4
Artie Burns (1st round, Miami) and Sean Davis (2nd round, Maryland) are both playing starters snaps at cornerback and strong safety for the Steelers. Pittsburgh normally likes to be a sit-and-learn kind of team with defensive rookies but beggars can’t be choosers in this case. Burns has played some nickel prior to the bye week and has since been promoted to starters snaps. In those games, Burns has logged 13 total tackles, 5 PDs and 2 INTs. Those are pretty solid stats that befit a first round pick. Sean Davis has only taken a full complement of snaps once this year and that was week 11. He only made 3 total tackles and a PD but had a better game against the Cowboys in a split snap role in week 10 with 6 total tackles. Assuming that your league isn’t deep dynasty, odds are that both of these guys are available. The matchup in week 11 would normally be juicy as the Steelers visit Indianapolis but backup Scott Tolzien has a good chance to get the start in this game with Andrew Luck going through concussion protocol. That said, Indianapolis will have little choice but to throw and as such, I’d give either of these Steelers a look and I might even sway towards Michael Mitchell if he’s available as well.
Roster Recommendation: Low-end DB2 to Low-end DB3
Mike Adams/TJ Green IND S – SS/FS 3-4
With starting free safety and week 9 recommendation Clayton Geathers currently in concussion protocol after a posting a third straight game with at least eight total tackles and a PD, second round rookie TJ Green figures to get a start at free safety. Mike Adams is one game in from his return to the lineup after a groin injury. Adams hasn’t been as much of an impact player this year as he was over the past few years so there’s a chance that he is a free agent despite some name value there. The reason I like these two is the matchup. The Steelers visit the Colts in week 12 and over the last two games against the Colts, Ben Roethlisberger has thrown 886 yards and 10 TDs. You are reading that correctly. Both 2014 and 2015 versions of this matchup have produced some all-time shootouts with the 2014 game being a personal favorite. I wouldn’t be shy about plugging in a Colts safety to cash in on some tackles but I’d check the injury report regarding Geathers. If he is playing, Geathers is the number one option, then Adams followed by Green.
Roster Recommendation: High-end DB2 to Low-end DB3
Sneaky Defensive Back Play
Steven Terrell SEA FS – With Earl Thomas suffering a “1st degree hamstring strain” in week 11 against the Eagles, 5th year journeyman Steven Terrell saw 37 of 80 snaps in relief of the pro bowler. Terrell was able to log 4 total tackles over those snaps. Thomas is expecting to miss 1-2 weeks with the injury so I’d expect Terrell to get a start in week 12 against the Buccaneers and maybe week 13 against the Panthers. Both matchups are decent for Seattle safeties but don’t expect Kam Chancellor numbers from Terrell, he is a tackle spot start at best.