As bye weeks (at least planned ones) descend on the fantasy landscape, the depth of your team becomes tested. The reserves for both yours and your opponent’s team become major players, often deciding matchups even in the most shallow of leagues. In week 5, Atlanta, Denver, New Orleans and Washington will have the week off so if you are among those that depend on players from one or more of those teams, you need to have another option this week. Another thing that week 4 reminded us of is injury replacement depth. Dalvin Cook, Julio Jones, Odell Beckham, Marcus Mariota, Derek Carr and on the IDP side, Ramon Humber and Jarrad Davis owners are all feeling the sting of injuries at the moment to varying degrees. If your team needs some depth to get you past either some bye weeks or the injury bug, you’ve come to the right place.
If I were to tell you that all of week 4’s recommendations would prove to be fantasy assets and that of them, Vontaze Burfict would be the weakest link, you likely wouldn’t have believed me. However, that’s exactly what happened. Burfict returned to the Bengals starting lineup in week 4 after serving his three game suspension, posting 6 total tackles against the Browns on 80% of the Bengals snaps. Sneaky play Hayes Pullard helped out deep leaguers with 7 total tackles (6 solo) against the Eagles. Danny Trevathan led the way for week 4’s recommendations with 13 total tackles on Thursday night against the Packers but that wasn’t the story of that game. Trevathan delivered a scary head shot to Davante Adams that left the Packers receiver unconscious for several moments. That head shot saw Trevathan suspended for 2 games before Sunday’s game started, leaving the Bears dangerously thin at inside linebacker. Preston Brown put in a workman-like 10 total tackles in the Bills’ upset win over the Falcons. Ramon Humber missed a large portion of the game with an apparent thumb injury. If Humber misses a significant chunk of time, Brown’s productivity may increase. Tahir Whitehead put up a rare statline with 5 solo tackles and 2 fumble recoveries in yet another game leading the Lions’ defense in the absence of Jarrad Davis. Finally, although not mentioned in last week’s column, Jaylon Smith posted the best fantasy outing of his young career with 10 total tackles (7 solo) against the Rams with Sean Lee out with a hamstring injury. Jaylon Smith won’t appear in this week’s column as I posted him as a stash in weeks past. If he has managed to avoid ownership somehow in your league, I’d find a way to get him.
Ray-Ray Armstrong SFO LB – 3-4 ILB Value: LB1 – LB2
I’m really getting the feeling like Navorro Bowman might be a touch slow for San Francisco’s new 4-3. In addition, the defensive calls really make me think that the IDP value resides in the attacking WLB here. With Reuben Foster still out with a high ankle sprain, reserve WLB Ray-Ray Armstrong led the 49ers in tackles against the Cardinals with 10 total. He added a sack and a interception to that total to make him a stellar option in all formats for IDP fantasy despite only playing in 74% of the 49ers’ defensive snaps. Although Armstrong was recommended as a sneaky play in week 2, he’s quickly becoming an every-week option for fantasy teams as he is either outperforming or on par with MLB Navorro Bowman, who many teams drafted to be their LB1. I think Armstrong is an upside play with a high tackle floor every week until Foster returns to action. Given that the rookie was rruled out of week 4 by Thursday and hasn’t practiced yet, I think that will be at least a week or two away.
Lawrence Timmons MIA LB – 4-3 SLB Value: LB2 – LB3
The saga of Lawrence Timmons and the Dolphins might be over, at least for now. The former Steeler drew into the lineup for the first time in meaningful games wearing Miami colors in week 4 after an odd turn of events played out before week 1 where Timmons was unreachable by the team. Playing in London against the Saints, Timmons turned in 6 solo tackles which ended up being the most of any defender on either side while playing every defensive snap for the Dolphins. With now two-down MLB Mike Hull suffering a shoulder injury during the game, Timmons will likely be uncontested for three down snaps and might even slide inside if the Dolphins’ coaching staff feels more comfortable with former Saint Stephone Anthony on the outside. The Titans in week 5 don’t present the greatest matchup for Timmons but the Falcons in week 6 do. Odds are that you won’t get him if you don’t get him this week though. In addition, with his bye week already behind him, Timmons might never have to leave your starting lineup.
Nick Vigil CIN LB – 4-3 SLB Value: LB2 – LB3
Nick Vigil also has appeared on this column before but many, myself included, wrote off the sophomore as the guy whose role would likely diminish with the return of Vontaze Burfict. On the contrary, it was Vincent Rey who was rendered a non-factor and Vigil’s 12 total tackles and a sack saw him end up outproducing Burfict who logged only 6 total tackles against the Browns. While you could argue that the Browns were in catch-up mode for the majority of the game, that does not account for the fact that Cleveland offered up only 38 tackle opportunities (21 pass, 17 rush) for the entire game of which Vigil factored in on 32%. In addition, Vigil was the Bengals’ most utilized defensive player, playing in 98% of the team’s defensive snaps. While he has been hot and cold to start the year, if his “cold weeks put him at 5 total tackles and his “hot” weeks look like what we saw in week 4, I can deal with that. The Bengals play one more game against the Bills in week 5 before their bye week in week 6.
Shaq Thompson CAR LB – 4-3 SLB Value: LB2
Third year man Shaq Thompson is arguably the best linebacker in the NFL that doesn’t play every down but when you play with Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, that is understandable. Prior to week 3, Thompson was playing in less than half of Carolina’s defensive snaps. But in week 3 against the Saints, Thomas Davis injured his ribs. He was able to return in that game but didn’t practice all week. Ultimately, Davis suited up in week 4 against the Patriots but has not a major factor in the game, clearly limited by his injury and playing only 53% of the Panthers’ defensive snaps. Thompson, however, played into the final outcome much more so with 10 total tackles (9 solo), playing every snap but one. The Lions and Eagles in weeks 6 and 7 respectively represent solid matchups that Thompson should be able to score in should Davis continue to be limited. Watch the injury report here.
Sneaky play of the week – Blake Martinez GBP LB
While I concede that there might be some debate over how “sneaky” the top ILB of Green Bay might be in terms of a fantasy play, the facts dictate that Martinez might be the most utilized of all Packer ILBs but that only amounts to about 75% usage, much lower than your average starter LB. That said, with Dallas coming to town in week 5, I expect a heavier defense to attempt counter the running game of the Cowboys. With 25 total tackles on the year so far, Martinez likely hits a floor of 3 or 4 tackles but I think that his ceiling could be 10 total tackles given that Mark Barron and Alec Ogletree combined for 14 tackles in week 4 against the Cowboys.
Bonus Sneaky play of the week – Christian Jones / John Timu CHI LB
Unless Nick Kwiatkoski manages to get healthy enough to play against the Vikings in week 5, the Bears will be starting the 4th and 5th options based on their week 1 depth chart in Christian Jones and John Timu after a suspension was levied on Danny Trevathan after week 4’s game against the Packers. Timu is a deeper dig that likely sees 50-75% of snaps, similar to what Jones got while Trevathan took every snap in week 4. Christian Jones is likely to get every down duty which could put him in LB2/LB3 country but there is some risk here given that the Bears probably don’t trust any of these guys. I’d also keep close to the news wire here. It wouldn’t surprise me to see a street free agent signed which could throw a wrench into this prediction.
Defensive linemen plays
Week 4 was definitely among my better weeks for defensive line recommendation, especially given the hit-and-miss type of production that you tend to get from them. No matter which Jaguars DE you rolled out, you got quality production. Calais Campbell led the way with 6 total tackles and a sack. Yannick Ngakoue scored 2 sacks and a forced fumble. Dante Fowler logged 3 solo tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. Huge production acorss the board for all Jaguars ends. Don’t expect those kind of numbers against the Steelers in week 5. Alex Okafor didn’t register a sack but managed to hit a decent tackle floor of 3 solos. Finally, sneaky play Michael Brockers came through with 3 total tackles, 2 passes defensed and a sack against the Cowboys. I will take those kinds of numbers any week.
Emmanuel Ogbah/Myles Garrett CLE DE – 4-3 DE Value: DL1 – DL2
While I’ve mentioned Ogbah before, he bears another mention given the recent production he is putting out lately. Against the Bengals in week 4, he posted 6 total tackles, a forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries and a sack on 66% of the Browns’ defensive snaps. On top of that, he gets the Jets in Cleveland in week 5 who gave up 5 sacks to Jacksonville in week 4. While you wouldn’t expect that the first overall pick getting his first NFL start would take a backseat to much, in fantasy circles, I expect that exact thing to happen. Given Ogbah’s monster week 4, I expect that Myles Garrett is not the priority add in redraft leagues. It’s entirely likely that the Browns bring along their prized rookie slowly in his return from an ankle injury which gives him risk as a fantasy play. That said, the matchup doesn’t get much juicier than the Jets so if you’re going to start him, week 5 might be the time.
Julius Peppers CAR DE – 4-3 DE Value: DL2 – DL3
How many games can Julius Peppers make an impact in before I stop ignoring his production as an anomaly? Well, apparently the answer is just two. On paper, you don’t like starting a 37 year old pass rushers who gets about 50% of his team’s defensive snaps. At least not unless that pass rusher is Julius Peppers. I don’t understand how Peppers is 5th in the NFL sack leaderboard with 4.5 sacks after playing barely over 100 snaps. Ultimately, you don’t get points based on usage though, you get points based on production. And if Peppers continues to give you that production, you have to roll with him until he doesn’t. Fair warning however, you are sack hunting with Peppers as he only has 11 total tackles to go with those 4.5 sacks. Peppers and the Panthers visit the Lions in Detroit in week 5. Detroit has only given up 3 sacks at home over 2 games this year but just finished letting Matthew Stafford get planted 6 times against the Vikings in week 4. If you are desperate, see if the old man can nab you a sack or two.
Jurrell Casey TEN DE – 3-4 DE Value: DL2
A former slam dunk DL1, Jurrell Casey has seen his stock drop a bit as tackles and sacks have come off slightly. However, over the last two weeks he has improved to not just ownable levels of production but startable levels. Casey has put up 11 total tackles and a sack through his last two games with usage levels in the 65% range. With the Dolphins, Colts and Browns making up his next three weeks schedule, I like Casey’s chance to continue to post numbers, especially in tackle heavy leagues.
Defensive back plays
It was a wide array of production as far as the production from last week’s recommendations went. Either it was a big win or a slight disappointment. Josh Jones leads us off under the slight disappointment category. Jones played 75% of Green Bay’s snaps but only managed 3 total tackles whereas fellow safeties Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett combined for 17 total tackles and an interception. Jimmie Ward posted 4 solo tackles in a game that saw 34 total tackles go to defensive backs. In fact, Ward was the only 49er defensive back that got significant playing time but did not to get double digits fantasy points. Miles Killebrew posted 3 solo tackles and 2 passes defensed but his production was limited by the return of Tavon Wilson who scored 3 solo tackles and a forced fumble. Glover Quin followed up his huge game in week 3 with a decent 4 solo tackle and forced fumble effort against the Vikings. EJ Gaines left some stats on the table by exiting his game against the Atlanta Falcons with a groin injury after posting 3 total tackles and a forced fumble. On the big win front, Gaines’ running mate Tre’davious White posted a monster game with 4 total tackles, 1 pass defensed and a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown. While those kinds of games are difficult to predict, fantasy owners will take them when it happens.
Jahleel Addae LAC S – 4-3 SS Value: DB2 – DB3
I had hoped that the acquisition of Tre Boston to play more of a true free safety role might allow Jahleel Addae to play more in the box to support the lack of linebacker talent for the Chargers. However, that hasn’t really materialized despite the usage being virtually 100% for both safeties until week 4 against the Eagles. Addae posted 11 total tackles and a pass defensed. Of those tackles, 5 were against running backs and 4 were against tight ends. With the Giants hosting the Chargers in week 5, Addae has a chance to build on what has been his best output of the season thus far.
Adrian Amos CHI S – 3-4 FS Value: DB2 – DB3
Adrian Amos started 30 games for the Bears over the last two years at free safety but lost his job to former Texan Quintin Demps this year. However, after week 3, Demps was placed on injured reserve with a broken arm which opened the door for Amos to retunr to the starting lineup. In week 4 against the Packers, Amos played all but one snap on defense, scoring 7 solo tackles and an assist. I expect that the Vikings offense will look similar to Green Bay’s in week 5 with a variety of short passes to supplement a running game that likely isn’t going to be as potent with Dalvin Cook potentially lost for the season with a knee injury. That offensive gameplan should mean good things for Amos’ tackle numbers.
Chris Conte TBB S – 4-3 FS Value: DB2 – DB3
Interestingly enough, Chris Conte isn’t regularly owned in many of my fantasy leagues despite posting decent tackle numbers to his name. Conte is behind only Vernon Hargreaves is terms of total usage for Tampa Bay and given the fact that TJ Ward and Keith Tandy’s usage creates a difficult situation to navigate for fantasy owners, Conte is probably the only safety I trust out of Tampa Bay at least for now. Conte scored 7 solo tackles, 1 pass defensed and a forced fumble against the Giants in week 4 on 81% of the Buccaneers’ defensive snaps. The Giants’ attack, largely through the air, provided 31 solo tackles and 6 passes defensed for Buccaneer defensive backs. That Giants’ passing game ranked 7th going into the week whereas Tampa Bay’s week 5 opponent, the New England Patriots, ranks 1st. Tom Brady is also top 5 in the NFL in passing completions with just under 26 completions per game average as well as attempts with just under 39 attempts per game average. I really like the chance of Conte to step into some decent tackle numbers in the next few weeks with New England and Arizona in the next two weeks.
Sneaky play of the week – Vernon Hargreaves / Brent Grimes TBB CB
What Vernon Hargreaves showed me against the Giants in week 4 is that a team that can or needs to throw on the Buccaneers will yield tackle and passes defensed production for would-be fantasy owners. For all of the reasons I listed Conte as a good pickup, I think that both Tampa Bay outside corners deserve a look as well. Those 31 solo tackles and 6 passes defensed against the Giants to Tampa Bay defensive backs included 14 solo tackles and 4 passes defensed just for Hargreaves and Grimes. I think those who stream defensive backs, especially those in cornerback required leagues, and are looking for a home run. These two might be your guys.