We are officially past the halfway point of the fantasy regular season. Trends have been established, matchups are becoming clearer and the depth of your roster becomes ever more important as bye weeks and injury continue to take their tool. Arian Foster (Achilles), Vincent Jackson (knee) and Philip Dorsett (ankle) owners are scrambling to backfill after injuries forced those players from their week 7 contests. On the IDP side, Denzel Perryman is out an indefinite amount of time with a strained pectoral. Calvin Pryor and Sheldon Richardson both left their game against the Patriots in week 7 and William Moore left with the game against the Titans with a groin injury. For bye weeks, fantasy owners that count on players from the Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars, Philadelphia Eagles or Washington Redskins in their starting lineups need to find other options this week. Next week’s column will be guest hosted by Kyle Holmes as I will be headed on vacation, typically my guest hosts pick very well so I will be tuning in like the rest of you to read what he has to say. I will be back in week 10.
Week 7 was rough for the Free Agent Report. Week 6 option Danelle Ellerbe (7 solo tackles) and Wesley Woodyard (9 total tackles) continued to be strong options going forward. Jeremiah Attaochu fell victim to an early scoring burst from the Raiders and was never able to get going. Kevin Pierre-Louis did not make an impact on Thursday as Bobby Wagner drew back into the lineup. If you were able to get him in your lineup, you were rewarded with 5 solo tackles and a PD. Christian Kirksey was the lone bright spot in an otherwise dismal week. The former Iowa Hawkeye scored 8 total tackles against the Rams. Quick reminder here to stay tuned on Vontaze Burfict news to see if he is activated if you didn’t add him last week.
Jon Beason NYG LB – MLB 4-3
Jon Beason has had an incredibly rough road in terms of injuries over the past few years and in fairness, he’s not a quality NFL linebacker. That said, many IDP studs have been predicated on playing ok defenders on bad teams for big impact. More so than offense, situation is incredibly important. The New York Giants middle linebacker spot had been split between week 2 recommendation Uani Unga and Jon Beason since Beason’s return to the lineup in week 3 with Unga logging the majority of the points. With Beason getting the lion’s share of the snaps with Unga out (neck injury), the veteran responded with 11 total tackles. Unga is the player to own when healthy but if he is out, get the former Panther into your lineup. The Giants visit the surging Saints in week 8.
Roster Recommendation: Mid LB2 to Mid LB3
Aaron Lynch SFO LB / Jadeveon Clowney HOU LB – OLB 3-4
The reason that both of these sophomore rush OLBs are on the list together is because both weren’t expected to make big early impacts; Lynch due to playing time and Clowney due to recovery from injury. Lynch has performed admirably in the absence of Aldon Smith, responding with 5 sacks through 7 games including 2 against Seattle in week 7. The Rams aren’t the best matchup in week 8 (allowed only 11 sacks year to date) but has shown a propensity to log some tackles in addition to being a sack artist, raising his floor. He has 22 total tackles on the season thus far. Jadeveon Clowney came with all of the fanfare but never really delivered until week 7 against the Dolphins. Granted it was a blowout game but 8 total tackles (7 solo) and his first career sack is nothing to scoff at. Give the former first overall pick a look next week against the Titans who are sporting either a backup QB or a QB coming back from an injured knee and giving up 3.5 sacks a game. Both OLBs obviously carry more big play value than tackle-heavy so add accordingly.
Roster Recommendation: High-end LB3 to Low-end LB3 (tackle-heavy); Mid LB2 to Mid LB3 (big play)
KJ Wright SEA LB – WLB 4-3
More of a shallow league pick here, I’m following the carousel of tackle opportunity that had been provided to LBs from the Dallas Cowboys offense. The New York Giants logged 31 total tackles from linebackers in week 7 as Dallas really focussed on emphasizing their running game. I don’t expect week 8 to be much different as Dallas can’t hope to contend with Seattle throwing the ball. KJ Wright has been a historically good in terms of both tackles and big plays from a 4-3 LB. Give him a look as a flex LB this week looking for high tackle volume.
Roster Recommendation: Low-end LB2 to Low-end LB3
Sneaky Linebacker Play
Donald Butler/Kavell Conner SDC LB – With Manti Te’o out in week 7 and Denzel Perryman missing action with a pectoral injury, former Colt Kavell Conner stepped into action with 5 solo tackles. Donald Butler chipped in with 6 total tackles as well. While IDP owners remember Butler’s great seasons in 2011-2013, he isn’t exactly universally owned in 2015. Joe Mays is also on the radar as a potential free agent acquisition. I don’t expect him to provide any more than depth. Add Butler or Conner in that order of priority to man the middle of the San Diego defense. Someone needs to make the tackles. The Chargers get the Ravens in week 8.
Defensive Linemen Plays
The top 10 DLs in terms of production last week was an interesting list. Three of the linemen were defensive tackles including number one and two. Also interesting was the fact that 3 pairs of players came from the same team (Detroit, Miami and Seattle). Sack numbers, tackles and splash plays were up week over week. Hopefully your guys were able to cash in for you. Often times, it is the defensive line that provides the edge (no pun intended) in close IDP matchups given the “hero or zero” chance they can imply at times.
I’m taking credit for the Greg Hardy recommendation of week 6 this week as he was on bye in week 7. Hardy, as polarizing as he is, continues to buy himself chances in this league with his play. Despite getting into an argument on the sidelines and reportedly missing practice for no reason earlier in the week, Hardy logged 3 total tackles and a sack against the Giants. Much to the chagrin of many, he is the best defensive linemen that the Cowboys have right now and will be given every opportunity to succeed. Cameron Wake followed up his monster week 6 with another ridiculous outing against the Texans. The former CFL standout scored 3 total tackles, 2 sacks and 2 forced fumbles to land him in the top 10 for points. Not bad for a guy who was waiver wire fodder a few weeks ago. Olivier Vernon didn’t fare as well on the other side, positing a donut. Lawrence Guy was mediocre against the Cardinals, logging three solo tackles after posting three sacks over his past two games. The unsung Falcon that sacked Zach Mettenberger was O’Brien Schofield not Adrian Clayborn unfortunately.
Kawann Short CAR DT – DT 4-3
Normally, I’m not a huge advocate for defensive tackles unless they are a high tackle volume 3-4 nose. Typically, the Gerald McCoys and Warren Sapps are rare. However, Kawann Short is really making a case to not only be owned but started with confidence given his play as of late. Over his last two games, Short has posted 14 total tackles, 5 sacks, 2 PDs and a forced fumble. You read that right; five sacks. With the Colts on deck in week 8, fresh off of giving up four sacks to the Saints, Short may be primed for another big game. It’s tough to expect DL1 numbers week in and week out but he has shown that he can do it. Week 4 recommendation Jared Allen also appears to be finding his legs for a suddenly scary Carolina front four.
Roster Recommendation: Low-end DL1 to Low-end DL2
William Hayes STL DE – DE 4-3
Drawing into the lineup over Chris Long who was out in week 7 with a knee injury, William Hayes performed remarkably well with 3 total tackles, 2 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. Hayes’ snap counts are directly tied to Chris Long being inactive so watch the injury report to make sure that Long isn’t returning to the lineup from his knee hyperextension. The matchup is prime with the 49ers in town in week 8. Colin Kaepernick has been dumped behind the line of scrimmage 25 times this year, tied for second most in the league. He was sacked by Seattle six times in week 7. Hayes is virtually unowned right now but his breakout week 7 will have him looked at.
Roster Recommendation: Low-end DL1 to High-end DL3
Sneaky Defensive Linemen Play
Jaye Howard/Allen Bailey KCC DT/DE – Detroit was an absolute mess and an offensive line isn’t something you can fix in a week with a new offensive line coach and coordinator. Factor in Matthew Stafford’s lengthy injury list and you have the recipe for a bloodbath. Minnesota put Stafford to down behind the line seven time in week 7 and I’d argue the Kansas City’s pass rush is better. This one might get ugly. Give some of the linemen a shot but understand that the majority of the value lies with Justin Houston and Tamba Hali.
Defensive Back Plays
Sneaky splay of week 7, Greg Toler, was the best of the bunch for production. The Colt corner scored 7 total tackles, 1 PD and a forced fumble. The remaining selection weren’t awful but weren’t good either. Robert Golden had 4 solo tackles in an ugly game against the Chiefs. Da’Norris Searcy continued to disappoint despite a prime matchup, logging only 5 total tackles. Kurt Coleman scored 5 solo tackles in a win against the Eagles. While none of these performance likely won you’re your matchup, it’s important to recognize “floor” production capability. The reason for this is that you can be certain to hit your floor (even if it is a couple tackles) if your guy disappoints. If you can still get eight points out of a miss, that’s better than a donut.
Mark Barron STL S – SS/LB 4-3
Mark Barron is a guy that I’ve had on my radar a bit lately, trying to understand his usage. What I’ve seen is that the Rams aren’t shy about playing Barron as a true weakside linebacker, likely to cover for the loss of Alec Ogletree. And as a true weakside linebacker, Barron has begun to deliver in the stat sheet as well, logging a gaudy 16 total tackles against the Browns. He won’t hit that number every week but it’s not a stretch to say that 7-10 every week is possible as he settles in. The 49ers in week 8 aren’t the best matchup in the world but the Vikings and Bears in the following weeks are. You won’t be able to roll him out in weeks 9 or 10 if you don’t get him here.
Roster Recommendation: High-end DB2 to Mid DB3
Jimmy Smith BAL CB / Will Hill BAL SS – CB/SS 3-4
The San Diego Chargers represent the best opportunity to stream opposing defensive backs at this stage of the season. Philip Rivers has thrown the ball 311 times so far this year, completing 215 of those. Rivers has more completions than Aaron Rodgers has attempts. Ten opposing defensive backs over the Chargers last three games have scored double digit fantasy points or better. With the Ravens hosting San Diego in week 8, I like Jimmy Smith for a corner and Will Hill as a safety to make the biggest impact.
Roster Recommendation: High-end DB2 to Mid DB3
Green Bay Defensive Backs – DB 3-4
In my leagues, I will be playing my Green Bay defensive backs and expect them to have a big game. Denver’s running game is a mess but may stand to improve with the bye week. I see Peyton Manning needing to move the offense with a high volume of throws and given Manning’s lack of zip on his throws lately, there might be more than Green Bay’s fair share of interceptions. I like Green Bay DBs in this order: Morgan Burnett, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Sam Shields, Casey Hayward and Damarious Randall. Morgan Burnett is expected to return from injury this week. He is a proven DB1 in years past that has only played half a game this year. If an impatient owner has cut bait, he needs to be your priority DB1 pickup.
Roster Recommendation: Mid DB1 to High-end DB3
Sneaky Defensive Back Play
Brandon Meriweather NYG S – Meriweather is still criminally underowned and represents a solid value against a resurgent Saints team in week 8. Meriweather has been the Giants most consistent fantasy DB this year and has two weeks in a row with interceptions. Seven opposing safeties have scored double digit fantasy points against the Saints over their last three games. Meriweather is a strong but safe play here.