In week 4, I find that many times the trend you think you are seeing is typically there. Many times, it’s hard to act upon that trend especially this early but a team that is 0-3 can’t keep going to the well for that same pail of water and expect different results. Ask 2016 Todd Gurley owners whether they wished that they would have found a way to extract something out of him. Interestingly enough, in the introduction to week 3’s edition of the column where you try to verify trends, I posed three questions that many IDP owners were trying trying to answer regarding Preston Brown, Jaylon Smith and Nigel Bradham. Brown and Bradham each led their respective linebacker units in tackles while playing 100% of their team’s defensive snaps on Sunday, justifying their roster spot on fantasy teams. Especially if their are significant potential contributors on the waiver wire, you need to be honest about that player’s potential 2017 impact, and not wait in vain for that player to replicate 2016.
Last week’s recommendations proved to be solid for the most part. Mike Hull led the way with 7 total tackles and a fumble recovery against the Jets, playing on all but one of the Dolphins’ defensive snaps. Lawrence Timmons remains suspended for the interim by the team so I’d be comfortable rolling out Hull as long as Timmons is inactive. Despite his insistence to the contrary, Kwon Alexander did indeed miss week 3 against the Vikings which led to rookie Kendall Beckwith starting. The former LSU Tiger scored 8 total tackles while taking every defensive snap in the Buccaneers’ loss. Lavonte David scored 7 total tackles himself but went down with what is being described as a high ankle sprain. With David expected to be out 4-6 weeks and Alexander still day-to-day, Beckwith could be in line for a another high usage game against the Giants. Texans rookie Zach Cunningham scored 7 total tackles himself in a wild game against the Patriots. The first year man out of Vanderbilt played in 78% of the defensive snaps in a pass happy game which has to be a good sign going forward. Wesley Woodyard led the Titans in tackles against the Seahawks with 10 total (8 solo). Woodyard led all Titans’ ILBs with an 82% usage versus Jayon Brown’s 60% and Avery Williamson’s 47%. The lone whiff of the week was Christian Jones who drew into the Bears’ lineup with Jerrell Freeman and Nick Kwiatkoski both out with pectoral injuries, the former’s being season-ending. Jones managed to get in the game for only 56% of the team’s defensive snaps, giving away time to John Timu. Jones managed only 1 tackle in his time. The Bears’ ILB position appears to be a fantasy blackhole outside of Danny Trevathan.
Danny Trevathan CHI LB – 3-4 ILB Value: LB1 – LB2
With both Jerrell Freeman and Nick Kwiatkoski out with pectoral injuries, Danny Trevathan was counted on to carry the load as far as defensive production at the ILB position for Chicago. Coming back from a season-ending patellar tendon injury suffered last year, his regular season status was very much in doubt. Trevathan’s usage has been remarkably high given the injury he is returning from and given the fact that the injury was sustained less than 10 months ago. His usage has steadily increased from 71% in week 1, to 85% in week 2 and most recently 100% in week 3. Against the Steelers in week 3, Trevathan scored 10 total tackles. Although the former Bronco is no stranger to LB1 production, his injury risk coming into the season as well as two weeks prior to this one of weaker production might have seen him go undrafted or been cut in shallower leagues. Ride it out as long as you can but understand that Trevathan has played 16 games as a starter in the NFL once and that was in 2013. Have a backup plan ready to go.
Preston Brown BUF LB – 4-3 MLB Value: LB2 – LB3
I was a big buyer of Preston Brown when word broke that Reggie Ragland wasn’t getting the better of the fourth year man out of Louisville in training camp. And if someone told me that Brown would play every Buffalo defensive snap through two games as their Mike but get a grand total of 1 solo tackle (and 9 assists), I probably wouldn’t have believed you. Yet going into week 3’s game against the Broncos, there we were and Brown found himself without a fantasy owner in many leagues. Week 2 recommendation Ramon Humber had been the most productive linebacker to date on the Bills by a good margin. While the game against the Broncos featured the most defensive snaps for Buffalo in a game in 2017, it was only 54 tackle opportunities on 70 snaps, compared to week 2’s 69 snaps and week 1’s 58 snaps. Brown scored a season-high 10 total tackles (4 solo) against the Broncos on those snaps. It’s worth mentioning that Humber was also good, scoring 8 total tackles (6 solo) and a pass defensed in the same game. The Falcons should provide a good matchup in week 4 for both Brown and Humber.
Tahir Whitehead DET LB – 4-3 MLB Value: LB2
Many things weren’t clear prior to the Lions’ week 3 game against the Falcons at the linebacker position. Was rookie Jarrad Davis going to play or miss the game with his concussion? If he misses the game, will free agent acquistion Nick Bellore step into the Mike role? Or will 2016 MLB Tahir Whitehead slide over? How will former Falcon Paul Worrilow factor in? Whitehead never left the field on defense for the Lions on his way to posting 7 solo tackles. Worrilow (62% usage) and Bellore (51% usage) combined for 6 solo tackles. Whitehead’s floor value of Detroit’s top OLB is still pretty good but he becomes an every-week starter as long as he continues to cover the Mike position for the Lions. Watch the injury report to see if Davis exits concussion protocol. The Vikings in week 4 represent a good matchup as opposing Mikes have averaged 9 total tackles against the Vikings through the first three weeks of the season.
Vontaze Burfict CIN LB – 4-3 WLB Value: LB1 – LB2
This is a very simple but very impactful play that can be made in shallow leagues where bench space in at a premium. Vontaze Burfict has served his 3 game suspension for violations to the NFL’s player safety code and will likely return immediately to the Bengals starting lineup. One or both of Nick Vigil and Vincent Rey will return to fantasy obscurity will this move as well. If Burfict has managed to somehow avoid ownership early in your league due to his early inactivity, I’d consider adding him in almost every type of league.
Sneaky play of the week – Hayes Pullard/Korey Toomer LAC LB
San Diego is not playing great football right now as evidenced by their 0-3 start. However from the IDP front, there is still plenty of value present to be exploited from the Chargers. Jatavis Brown has thus far been the only fulltime linebacker on the Chargers and his stats reflect it as he leads the league in tackles with 36 through three weeks. The Chargers’ middle linebacker spot has been in a bit of flux with the injury to Denzel Perryman who is on injured reserve with an ankle injury. Perryman can return to action no sooner than week 10 as Los Angeles has a bye in week 9. Former Jaguar Hayes Pullard seemed to be pulling away with the majority of the MLB snaps but a knee injury has derailed him at least temporarily. 2016 fill-in Korey Toomer has played sporadically but tends to produce when given a full complement of snaps. The 79% usage that Toomer had in week 3 saw him post 8 total tackles and a pass defensed. The Chargers have a rough schedule in the next five weeks that includes the Eagles, Broncos, Raiders and Patriots. If Pullard is healthy, give him a look. If not, then consider Toomer in a pinch.
Defensive linemen plays
Of last week’s recommendations, Cassius Marsh was the highlight. The former Seahawk scored 5 total tackles, a forced fumble and a sack for the Patriots in their thriller win over the Texans. Surprisingly, he accomplished those stats on only 44% usage, the lowest of any defensive end on the team. Deatrich Wise and Lawrence Guy posted pedestrian lines of 2 total tackles, 1 pass defensed and 3 total tackles respectively. Trey Flowers also had a big game with 6 total tackles and a sack. Shaq Lawson scored his second sack in as many games in the Bills big win over the Broncos. Bookend Jerry Hughes managed 3 total tackles in the same contest. Finally on the downside, while Arik Armstead saw 83% of the snaps for the 49ers against the Rams, not many runs were plugged up at the line on either side. Armstead logged only 1 solo tackle in a disappointing IDP effort.
Jaguars pass rush JAC DE – 4-3 DE Value: DL1 – DL3
This is a bit of a copout play but the Jaguars defensive line have been borderline dominant at times. I really like the matchup against the Jets in week 4. The Jets looked like an NFL team last week but the Dolphins played very poorly in their own right. I don’t think that the Jets will be able to stand up to the Jaguars if Jacksonville can get their offense established. Calais Campbell is the highest value of the bunch given his high usage and tackle floor but is also the most likely to be owned after his 4 sack output in week 1. Sophomore Yannick Ngakoue is the best pickup for my money in most leagues as he has good usage but is underowned and understarted given two poor outputs in each of the last two weeks. Dante Fowler is a deeper dig if only for lack of usage. Swing for the fences in this one and consider hanging onto one of them for matchup purposes.
Alex Okafor NOS DE – 4-3 DE Value: DL2 – DL3
Alex Okafor is far from a sexy pick at the defensive line position in fantasy but few players this time of year are. Okafor is what I like in a defensive line choice though. He makes tackles to go with his sack upside. Through three weeks, Okafor has 14 total tackles to go with his one sack and forced fumble. On top of that, the suddenly surging Saints visit the Dolphins who looked listless in week 3 against the Jets. I think Okafor is good for 4 total tackles and some sack upside.
Sneaky play of the week – Michael Brockers LAR DT
No team looks to be more predicated on forcing the run to go than the Cowboys in 2017. As electric as Ezekiel Elliott looked at times in week 3 against the Cardinals, there have been many times were he’s been bottled up for minimal or no gains at the line of scrimmage. Michael Brockers has been borderline dominant at the inside of the Rams’ defense alongside Aaron Donald. While Donald remains the better talent, Brockers has been the better scorer from a tackle perspective. 15 total tackles through three contests and a high volume running team hosting Los Angeles in week 4 might mean a high scoring tackle game. It’s a gamble but it could pay off.
Defensive back plays
For last week’s recommendations, overall it wasn’t the greatest week. Rams FS LaMarcus Joyner went down with a hamstring injury, limiting him to 2 total tackles on 27% of the team’s defensive snaps. Jordan Poyer scored 4 total tackles while not missing a defensive snap for the Bills against the Broncos. Bills SS Micah Hyde finally broke out with 5 solo tackles and a pass defensed. Poyer remains a good option going forward however especially against the Falcons in Atlanta in week 4. Matthias Farley suffered from strong safety by committee as he logged 3 total tackles on 66% of the Colts’ defensive snaps. Adam Jones put in a disappointing IDP performance of 3 solo tackles on 81% usage despite 28 completions from Aaron Rodgers. Fellow corners Darqueeze Dennard (10 total tackles, 1 sack) and William Jackson (4 solo tackles, pick-six)
Josh Jones GBP S – 3-4 SS Value: DB1 – DB2
Josh Jones was one of two defensive back rookies to feature heavily in Green Bay’s defense in week 3. Both he and Kevin King played every snap against the Bengals in week 3. King logged 7 total tackles (5 solo) at corner replacing Davon Housee who missed the game with a quad injury. King played largely in defense on AJ Green turning in a decent IDP outing. Jones played as one of the three safeties employed by the Packers for most of the game. The rookie out of North Carolina State was everywhere, scoring 12 total tackles (11 solo) and two sacks. Those are monster numbers for anyone, much less a rookie. I like the usage as well. From no defensive snaps in week 1, to 50% usage in week 2 to every down in week 3, you have to like where Jones is heading. DB1 designation is a little lofty but he was the best DB in most leagues this past week. The Bears are a decent matchup in week 4 as opposing strong safeties are averaging 7 total tackles per game against them through three weeks.
Jimmie Ward SFO S – 4-3 FS Value: DB2 – DB3
After missing week 1 due to a hamstring injury and being hampered by it up to and including week 3’s game against the Rams, Jimmie Ward has slowly progressed in terms of productivity for both fantasy owners as well as the 49ers. In week 3 against the Rams, Ward logged 7 solo tackles while not missing a snap on defense. Strong safety Jaquiski Tartt also chipped in 7 total tackles but had to leave the contest due to a concussion. If the 49ers are without Tartt, Ward represents the best IDP option that 49ers can offer in a good matchup against the Cardinals in Arizona in week 4. Even if Tartt manages to suit up, Ward still carries DB3 value.
Miles Killebrew/Glover Quin DET S – 4-3 SS/FS Value: DB2 – DB3
Miles Killebrew had been mixing in as third safety for the Lions prior to a shoulder injury to starting strong safety Tavon Wilson. Killebrew started in week 3 against the Falcons and led the Lions in tackles with 9 total (8 solo) while playing just 78% of the snaps. While the Vikings aren’t as good of a matchup in week 4, I’d still consider rolling him as a DB2-DB3. Especially if the Lions are planning on increasing the sophomore’s usage. Glover Quin, starting free safety, seems to be continuing his pattern of being sneakily good in both NFL and fantasy circles despite never really getting credit for it in either. Quin logged his second interception of the season and took it back for six points in that same game. With it, he scored 8 total tackles on 100% usage, giving him 19 total tackles on the year. Quin hasn’t put up more than 72 total tackles in his last four seasons but is on pace to score 80 solos and over 20 assists this year. While I do think some regression is likely, he is enjoying a great start to this year and savvy fantasy owners should try to ride it while it lasts.
Sneaky play of the week – Tre’davious White / EJ Gaines BUF CB
If I’m gambling on a big game from a cornerback, I’m looking at one of EJ Gaines or Tre’davious White who will be matched up against the Falcons receivers in week 4. Both corners can tackle as evidenced by the 7 total tackles they each put up in week 3 against the Broncos. In addition, both can play the ball as evidenced by each of them picking off a pass from Trevor Siemian in that same game. I’d argue that the Falcons passing game might be a bit better but Matt Ryan’s carelessness with the football resulted in three interceptions including one pick-six. Especially in cornerback-required leagues, I like one of these guys to go off.