The conclusion of week 11 also sees the conclusion of bye week for the 2017 NFL regular season. As such, fantasy owners will be able to roll out their best lineup barring injuries. It also sees the “rest of schedule” value come into play much more. Although bye weeks are over, week 12 brings Thanksgiving Thursday games that will make early looks at your lineup critical. The Vikings visit the Lions in the early game, the Chargers visit the Cowboys in the midday game and Giants visit the Redskins in the late game. Ensure that you have your lineup set prior to those game.
As the fantasy regular season winds down, be cognizant of your position relative to the probable playoff cutoff. Odds are that if you are sitting 5-6 or lower right now, this season is likely over for you and unless you are in a keeper league, your days of scouring the waiver wire are likely over outside of injury coverage. On a similar wavelength, those who are 8-3 or higher are likely in the playoffs no matter what. Those who are lucky enough to be running those teams should be focusing on having the best roster for week 14 or 15, even at the expense of week 12 and 13. But those in the middle with 6 or 7 wins need to focus on this week because you can’t give away any more games. The most important lineup is your lineup this week and it needs to be optimized even if the player you are benching or cutting from the roster is a better player for the rest of the season. Your playoffs start now and every week is a must-win. Make the moves that you need to in order to win from here on out.
Sneaky play Derrick Burgess led the NFL in total tackles in week 11. He scored 7 solo tackles and 9 assists to go with a sack on 91% usage. Regardless of scoring, Burgess was an elite option for many teams and should be used with regularity going forward. Anthony Hitchens tied for the team lead in tackles for the Cowboys on Sunday night but unfortunately, the team lead was only 5 total tackles. His tackle count would have been better had he not left with a groin injury that limited him to 77% of the defensive snaps. Christian Jones continued to be a quality option with Danny Trevathan out with 8 total tackles and a sack against the Lions. In the same game, Nick Kwiatkoski proved to be a decent option as well with 3 solo tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. Interestingly enough, Jones and Kwiatkoski’s snap counts were almost identical at 87% and 86% respectively. Finally Manti Te’o led all Saints linebackers in tackles against the Redskins but that tackle total ended up being a meager 5 total tackles. Craig Robertson was the only Saint linebacker to log 100% of the snaps. Te’o took 71% of the work but Michael Mauti chewed into his usage with 43% usage in his own right. The fact that Mauti’s statline reads identical to Te’o tells me that there was a quality performance to be had if the Saints didn’t rotate in and out.
Reggie Ragland/Kevin Pierre-Louis KCC LB – 3-4 ILB Value: LB2 – LB3/Stash
I suppose that it is indeed too much to ask of Derrick Johnson, who turns 35 years old this week, to continue to produce at a high level despite a laundry list of season-ending injuries on his docket. His most recent injury that he returned from was an Achilles injury that ended his 2016 season. It’s clear that the veteran has lost a step and no one can fault him for that after that long of a run as a LB1 when healthy. However, I assumed that this year would be his swan song and as long as the Chiefs remained in games, that he would be utilized at or near 100%. Until week 11, that was largely the case with Johnson taking every snap in seven of nine games going into the bye and only missing 32 injury-related snaps in the other two games. However, against the Giants this past week, Johnson was not the most utilized ILB for the Chiefs. That distinction went to sophomore LB Reggie Ragland, acquired from the Bills via trade during the preseason. Ragland was utilized at a 68% clip and responded with a team-high 9 total tackles (8 solo). Right behind him was Johnson at 51% usage corresponding to 4 total tackles and a pass defensed. Finally, if it wasn’t complicated enough, fourth year man Kevin Pierre-Louis also factored into significant snaps at a 49% usage. He turned that into 5 total tackles. Andy Reid did not mention Johnson in the post-game injury roundup either so I don’t think that the usage is injury-related. There’s little to go off of here here but if one linebacker can emerge with a significant snap share over the others, there is value to be had. Ragland (24 years old), Pierre-Louis (26 years old) and maybe even Ramik Wilson (25 years old) are the future of the linebacking corps in Kansas City. The question is when do the reigns get turned over. My guess is that Ragland is your best bet to emerge from this situation given his age and pedigree but the Chiefs may very well employ a rotation that ruins all of their values.
Jake Ryan GBP LB – 3-4 ILB Value: LB3
Only five times in 2017 has a Green Bay linebacker played 100% of the team’s snaps; all of those instances were Blake Martinez. He remains the best bet for the Packers in terms of consistency in usage and production as a result. However, a trend has become noticeable as the Packers continue to struggle with Brett Hundley at quarterback. Where teams can get up on the Packers and utilize their running game, Jake Ryan has proven to be a valuable commodity. Ryan’s value is tied to snap counts, plain and simple. His usage has ranged from 10% in week 1 to 79% in week 11. Against the Ravens this past week, Ryan scored 7 solo tackles which is very acceptable production for this time of year. Looking at his tackles, 5 of them were on runningbacks and the other two were on passes shorter than 5 yards. 34 of the 48 tackle opportunities that Baltimore provided the Packers with had their backs as the ballcarrier or receiver. The Packers visit the Steelers in week 12 where things won’t get any easier for them. Expecting Jake Ryan to factor into another runningback dominated game doesn’t seem too far out of the question.
Tahir Whitehead DET LB – 4-3 WLB Value: LB1 – LB2
For two weeks running, Tahir Whitehead has led Lions linebackers in tackles. In addition, he has been a much more stable source of IDP production over rookie Jarrad Davis despite a usage of 87% versus Davis’ usage of 100% when healthy. In week 11, that usage trend finally went Whitehead’s way as well with the veteran logging 98% usage to the rookie’s 80%. I’m not seeing any news regarding injury or playing time so I’m choosing to chalk this up to the Lions trusting Whitehead moreso than Davis in certain situations but if this one is near and dear to you, I’d stay glued to the newswire on this one. Whitehead had already passed Davis in terms of productivity and if the snap counts continue to go that way, Whitehead might return to his LB1 form exhibited last year.
Sneaky play of the week – Jaylon Smith/Justin Durant DAL LB
The Dallas Cowboys, already without the services of Sean Lee with a hamstring injury, are bracing themselves to be without Anthony Hitchens as well who is expecting some results of an MRI soon on a potential groin injury. Already on a short week, he’s certainly doubtful at this point and owners need a backup plan right away. Jaylon Smith and Justin Durant figure to be the focal points of the linebacking corps with Lee out for sure and Hitchens questionable. The Cowboys are struggling mightily of late and if the Chargers get going on them, there will be some tackles to be had.
Defensive linemen plays
Another category and another quality sneaky play. Cornelius Washington once again took significant snaps in Ezekiel Ansah’s stead (71% usage). He was able to respond to those increased snaps with 4 total tackles, a pass defensed and a half sack. The big swing of Frostee Rucker failed to yield fruit as the Texans turned in their best performance of the year in protection by far. Owners, myself included, expected more than the single tackle that they got. Adrian Clayborn, coming off of his historic 6 sack performance in week 10, followed up with a fumble recovery touchdown that broke the Seahawks back in week 11.
Trey Hendrickson NOS DE – 4-3 DE Value: DL2 – DL3/Stash
Alex Okafor has been a solid addition to many fantasy squads as a high usage defensive end for the Saints. Through 10 games, the fifth year vet has piled up 43 total tackles, 4.5 sacks, 4 passes defensed and 2 forced fumbles. Those kinds of numbers saw him in the DL2 conversation in many balanced and tackle heavy leagues. Unfortunately, Okafor’s days of contribution are over for 2017 at least as the former Longhorn will miss the remainder of the year with a torn Achilles tendon. The next highest usage defensive end is 2017 3rd round pick Trey Hendrickson out of Florida Atlantic. The rookie has 11 total tackles, 2 sacks, 2 passes defensed and a forced fumble on 213 snaps this year. While that’s not eye-popping production, my hope is that Hendrickson can increase his tackle totals with more usage on running downs. The rookie is actually about 10 pounds heavier than Okafor but it remains to be seen how the Saints will play this one. 2015 second round pick Hauoli Kikaha is also in the mix but at 245 lbs, I don’t expect him to factor into running down much at all. The Saints have a tough one on deck at the Rams in week 12.
Davon Godchaux MIA DT – 4-3 DT Value: DL3 (DT1 – DT2)
This one is a DT-required league special. 2017 5th round pick Davon Godchaux has elevated myself into significant playing time alongside Ndamukong Suh in the interior of the Dolphins’ defensive line. In his last four games, Godchaux has produced 18 total tackles and a pass defensed. While not incredibly exciting, the fact that he has produced no less than 4 total tackles in all four games shows his consistency despite a usage of between 50-60%. In week 12, he New England Patriots host the Dolphins in what many are expecting to be a bloodbath of a game if the opening line of -17 Patriots is to be believed. Godchaux could have some opportunities to continue his run-stuffing ways against New England.
Bengals pass rush CIN DL – 4-3 DT/DE Value: DL1 – DL3
I’ll leave it up to you as to how deep to make this reach but given the fact that the Browns are tied for 4th worst in the league at 3.2 sacks per game given up as well as 4 sacks given up in each of their last two road games, this is just playing the percentages. The Browns visit the Bengals in week 12 in search of their first win. Carlos Dunlap is far and away the best option for the Bengals pass rush. He is on a down year this year with only 2 sacks prior to a 2 sacks breakout game in week 11 against the Broncos. So there’s a chance that he is available in your league but many are also likely to be after him this week. Geno Atkins has been the most profilic sack artist on the team this year but as such, he is most likely to be already owned. In addition, he is a defensive tackle giving him much higher value in DT-required leagues. Michael Johnson hasn’t scored a sack since week 5 but his 60-80% usage gives him a decent tackle floor. If any of these players are available in your league, I’d give one of them a look in the order mentioned.
Defensive back plays
TJ McDonald followed up his season debut with a respectable 5 total tackles and a pass defensed against the Buccaneers. The Dolphins appears committed to using both Reshad Jones and McDonald on almost every snap as the former Ram missed only one over the course of the game. Sneaky play Travis Carrie proved to be as advertised with 7 total tackles in a losing effort against the Patriots in Mexico City. DJ Swearinger had another big game in week 11 against the Saints, following up his two interception effort with 6 total tackles and yet another interception. Deshazor Everett did not factor much into the game as DeAngelo Hall was able to play despite a bone bruise in his knee. Hall logged 6 total tackles in the same game. Antoine Bethea did not receive much in terms of a major bump in production in the wake of Tyvon Branch’s season-ending knee injury as he scored 5 total tackles against the Texans. However, rookie Budda Baker proved to be the player that was able to capitalize on the void left by Branch by securing another DB1 performance. Baker was the top IDP in fantasy in many league scoring systems with one of the craziest statlines I’ve ever seen. The rookie out of Washington scored 11 solo tackles, 2 assists, a sack, a pass defensed, 2 forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Huge production at a critical time of fantasy owners. Hopefully you were able to get him in your lineup. Early results are putting this kid in must-start territory.
Adoree Jackson TEN CB – 3-4 CB Value: DB2 – DB3
Adoree Jackson is an interesting case. Your league scoring system will greatly influence whether Jackson is a gamble that you want to take. If your league scoring system rewards return yards, then you need to get Jackson now as the rookie out of USC has 575 return yards through 10 games this season. In addition to that, Jackson plays close to all of the Titans’ defensive snaps. He also gets a couple offensive snaps here and there. Despite the obvious talent, Jackson is still a victim of the rookie corner rule as his 11 solo tackles, 2 passes defensed and forced fumble can attest. On that wavelength, Jackson is a quality add to your fantasy team, especially one that is CB-required.
Vonn Bell/Kenny Vaccaro NOS S – 4-3 FS/SS Value: DB2 – DB3
This is not the first time I’ve recommended Bell but with Kenny Vaccaro continuing to miss time with a groin injury, Bell’s value has gone way up. His most recent performance saw him pile up 13 total tackles (10 solo), a sack and a forced fumble on 100% usage. The Rams host the red-hot Saints in week 12 and I think that Bell remains a must-start as long as Vaccaro remains out. If Vaccaro manages to play in week 12, I’d find a way to get him in your lineup.
Clayton Geathers IND S – 3-4 SS/FS Value: DB2 – DB3
Clayton Geathers was activated over week 11 from the Colts’ PUP list. Before a neck injury cost him the rest of his 2016 season, Geathers was scoring well in a hybrid linebacker/safety role that had him averaging 7.5 tackles over his last 6 games. While there is a decent chance that Geathers is worked in slowly, the Colts losing Malik Hooker to injury and getting lackluster ILB from Jon Bostic and Antonio Morrison should likely see a role form for him sooner rather than later. The Titans visit the Colts in week 12 and could be a decent matchup depending on how involved Geathers gets in run support. The best part of a Geathers pickup is that he isn’t on many radars and is virtually unowned in all but the deepest of leagues.
Sneaky play of the week – Anthony Harris MIN S
Andrew Sendejo failed to suit up against the Rams in week 11 with groin and hamstring injuries. While it’s unclear on the severity of the injuries, my guess is that Sendejo misses another game given that he did not practice all week. Taking Sendejo’s place in the lineup was Anthony Harris who managed to score 7 total tackles, a pass defensed, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. While the splash plays are nice, they are unpredictable. What is predictable is usage and the fact that the Vikings used Harris for every defensive snap bodes well for his future production. The Lions should prove to be a solid matchup for opposing safety production.