Week 4 brings about the first instances of the bane of fantasy football; bye weeks. Green Bay and Philadelphia are the first teams to get a week off this year so owners that depend on Eagles or Packers in their starting lineup need to look elsewhere for at least a week. It has been an interesting year where injuries, inconsistent play and veteran to rookie turnover have changed the landscape of fantasy early in the season on both offense and defense. For example, D’Qwell Jackson and CJ Mosley are tied for third on their team in tackles. The Dallas Cowboys scored three rushing touchdowns from three different rushers against the Bears on Sunday night football and Ezekiel Elliott was not among them despite logging over 70% of his team’s rushing yards. Rookie Carson Wentz has led his team to a 3-0 while posting QB1 fantasy stats. Wentz was one of four rookie QBs to start a game in week 3 but none of those rookies were first overall pick Jared Goff.
Frustrated owners need to adapt to the changes in the NFL and week 4 is typically where I decide to do it. Three weeks is considered a trend for me and while I try not to do anything drastic, you do need to consider the health of your playoff bid if you get out of the gate at 1-2 or 0-3. Lavonte David owners breathed a huge sigh of relief as the perennial LB1 posted a solid day against the Rams. It’s worth mentioning that he was again outshined by super sophomore Kwon Alexander. This is the exact situation I’m talking about. 8 total tackles through two games might have you panicking. Selling after his donut last week would have been a big mistake. That said, not understanding that David might have fallen a tier or two and might not be the best IDP option on his own team is also a similar mistake. Comb over your roster and readjust your expectations. Too often, owners will hold or start players on their name alone. Understanding your actual weaknesses will make it easier to fill the gaps with trades and free agency.
The Free Agent Report had a bit of a mixed bag with selections last week. John Simon turned back into a pumpkin in terms of production (3 total tackles) despite getting 81% of the snap count. New England’s game plan was the limit the time that rookie Jacoby Brissett spent with the ball in his hands and it worked to perfection. Jonathan Casillas logged 9 total tackles in a losing effort against the Redskins. In that contest, there were plenty of tackles to be had with 24 total tackles going to Giant LBs. The big plays of the week were Zach Brown and Sean Weatherspoon. The former Titan and current Buffalo Bill logged a game-high 12 total tackles (10 solo) against the Cardinals in an upset win. Sean Weatherspoon led all Falcons with 10 total tackles.
Denzel Perryman/Jatavis Brown SDC LB – ILB 3-4
Unfortunately, those who watched the Chargers/Colts game saw Manti Te’o go down with a non-contact Achilles injury that looked pretty bad. There is no confirmation yet but I expect that the fourth year Notre Dame product is very likely to miss significant team. Sophomore Denzel Perryman will likely be expected to lead the defense and hopefully performances like the 10 total tackle, 1 sack one he posted against the Colts will become more frequent. In deeper leagues where Perryman is already owned or bench space is high, prospective owners might look towards Jatavis Brown, a 6th round rookie out of Akron. Brown is the direct backup to Te’o on the Chargers’ depth chart and logged an impressive 6 total tackles, 1 sack, 2 PDs and a forced fumble in the same game against the Colts, largely after Te’o went down. It’s an interesting situation in that Ohio State product and 4th round Chargers pick Joshua Brown was inactive this week and seemingly behind Brown on the depth chart despite having a better draft pedigree. Perry is worth monitoring in those same deep leagues for this reason. The Chargers face the Saints, Raiders, Broncos, Falcons and Broncos again in the next five weeks. That is a pretty good schedule for IDP matchups as long as the Chargers offense can keep the game close enough. Give Perryman a look as an LB2/LB3 option and Brown for LB3/flex as long as his usage level stays high.
Roster Recommendation: High-end LB2 to Low-end LB3
Christian Kirksey CLE LB – ILB 3-4
I normally try to use snap counts as a way of not only determining opportunity but also pecking order within a defense, so to speak. It’s a way to determine who the defensive coordinator wants out there the most, who is the most trusted. What I find the most interesting with the Browns defense is despite all preseason accounts of how DeMario Davis is supposed to lead this defense; Christian Kirksey is outsnapping him and outproducing him. Through three games, Kirksey has logged 22 total tackles and a sack to Davis’ 19 total tackles. Davis isn’t a drop candidate by any means but I had hoped for more of an established pecking order here. That said, through three games, Kirksey’s production has been sustained and needs to be considered going forward. The Redskins this year have proven to be a decent IDP matchup at times for opposing LBs and the Browns will face them in week 4, following that by hosting the returning Tom Brady and the rest of the Patriots in week 5. Kirksey is a decent tackle volume guy that might be able to fill a LB3 role on your tackle-heavy or normal scoring league.
Roster Recommendation: Low-end LB2 to Low-end LB3
Darron Lee NYJ LB – ILB 3-4
Darron Lee is a player that I recommended as one of the safer bets in redraft leagues if he could carve out a role early in the season from veteran Erin Henderson. Henderson’s snaps and production have dropped every week since the start of the season while Lee’s has increased over that same timeframe. Despite playing in 63% and 77% of the defensive snaps in weeks one and two, the first round pick out of Ohio State still has 17 total tackles and a half sack through three games including 6 total tackles and a half sack against the Chiefs on Sunday. Lee is easily the fastest LB on the team and is superior in coverage but will not likely take over the defense entirely from 32-year-old David Harris any time soon, capping Lee’s upside a bit this year. The rookie’s arrow is currently pointing up however and if he is a free agent, he might be able to help your fantasy squad. The Seahawks, Steelers (hopefully with Le’Veon Bell at that point) and Cardinals make up the next three weeks of the Jets’ schedule. Depending on which Seattle shows up, that could be three great matchups in a row making Lee a decent LB3/flex starter.
Roster Recommendation: High-end LB3 to Low-end LB3
Sneaky Linebacker Plays
Lorenzo Alexander BUF LB – Alexander is a career special teamer that has really come into his own on defense as a starting OLB for the Bills. Through three games, Alexander has 3 sacks and 15 total tackles. The Bills get the Patriots in Foxboro in week 4 and although Houston was only able to get one sack of rookie Jacoby Brissett despite their pass rushing prowess, I have faith that Alexander will be a factor in the running game as well even if he doesn’t get home for sacks. This divisional matchup has the feel of a messy one and I like Rex Ryan to get his pass rushers involved.
Shane Ray DEN LB – I really wanted to put Shane Ray on the report last week as a guy to watch with DeMarcus Ware’s broken arm taking him out of action for a while but I didn’t have the guts to do it. It turns out that was a bit of a mistake as Ray was left on single blocks by the Bengals and made them pay to the tune of 6 total tackles and 3 sacks. He likely won’t post 3 sacks every week but big play leagues need to have this guy owned and normal leagues might even consider him if he can sustain a decent sack pace. Denver visits Tampa Bay in week 4. Jameis Winston has hit the turf 5 times in his last two games and I like Denver to better that pace.
Defensive Linemen Plays
One thing I am noticing this year more than ever before is the emergence of part time or rotational defensive linemen as useable IDP fantasy commodities. Similar to running backs, it is always ideal to have a three down player for any IDP position with defensive linemen being the most difficult to obtain. Rotational DLs were similar to committee running backs; you’ll use them if you have to but you’d rather avoid trying to win the guessing game each week. Fearsome DL rotations that are becoming solid fantasy commodities, two or even three players deep, are very rare in IDP and seem to be more prevalent than ever before. Minnesota (Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter and Brian Robison) and New England (Chris Long, Jabaal Sheard and Trey Flowers) are two examples.
The Free Agent Report was hit and miss once again but I’d caution you to not give up on Devin Taylor despite his 1 assisted tackle performance. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers got up early on the Lions in week 3 which really neutralized the pass rush. The Bears will be rolling out Brian Hoyer or Jay Cutler at less than 100% in week 4, either option is a plus matchup for Taylor and the Lions defensive line who are expected to be without Ziggy Ansah again. Jason Jones was the better play amongst the recommendations of week 3 as he scored 3 solo tackles and a fumble recovery of a Cameron Wake strip sack. The Bengals are due up for the Dolphins in week 5 and Andy Dalton is among the most sacked QBs in the NFL through three weeks. Keep Jones in your lineup unless you have better options. Paul Kruger failed to break through (2 total tackles) as defensive tackle Nick Fairley shone in Monday Night Football with 7 total tackles and 1.5 sacks.
William Gholston TBB DE – DE 4-3
William Gholston has always been second or third fiddle in terms of Bucs DEs over the last few years but with Jacquies Smith on IR with a knee injury and Robert Ayers out with an ankle injury, Gholston has been pressed into a larger snap count. He responded with 6 solo tackles against the Rams. The Broncos in week four aren’t the best matchup for sack miners but I like defensive linemen that have high tackle floors and Buccaneers DL have fit the bill over the past few years.
Roster Recommendation: Low-end DL2 to Low-end DL3
Damon Harrison NYG DT – DT 4-3
Owners of Damon “Snacks” Harrison are used to high tackle outputs, not necessarily sacks. With the Jets last year, Snacks logged over 70 total tackles but no sacks. Things don’t really look much different now that Harrison plays for the other New York team. He has 19 total tackles through three games, including a 10 total tackle (9 solo) effort against the Redskins who ran the ball 27 times in week 3. Minnesota is due up for the Giants next. If you are struggling to find some decent sack production, maybe consider a high tackle floor kind of guy like Harrison.
Roster Recommendation: Mid DL2 to Mid DL3
Sneaky Defensive Linemen Play
Chris Baker WAS DE – Baker got off to a bit of slower start this year but managed to log a sack on Eli Manning in week 3. The Redskins host the Cleveland Browns in week 4 and although I thought that Cody Kessler did fine given the circumstances, I do expect him to be sacked as much if not more than the four times he was sacked in week 3 against the Dolphins. Bank on Baker nabbing one of those.
Defensive Back Plays
Three safety looks are becoming more and more commonplace in the NFL. You are seeing it in much of the tackle production so far in this year as well as with a few teams last year. Some teams like Atlanta are trying to find younger, faster LBs to play coverage whereas some teams like St Louis are repurposing safeties like Mark Barron into linebackers. Finally, some teams like Arizona are running big nickel looks as a base defense along with rolling guys like Deone Bucannon and Tony Jefferson at times as linebackers. What this means to IDP owners is two-fold; your prize LBs are worth that much more due to scarcity and that defensive back production is that much more watered down. This message isn’t much different than the streaming message that I have been preaching for a few years but make sure that your transaction decisions are made with this in mind especially if your league is inflexible with starting positions.
Despite Keanu Neal returning from injury and spoiling Kemal Ishmael’s run at the top of safety tacklers, the IDP Free Agent report did pretty well in week 3. Andrew Sendejo logged 8 total tackles (4 solo) in a win against Carolina in week 3. Marcus Cooper scored 7 total tackles (6 solo) and a PD. Buffalo challenged Patrick Peterson more than I thought they would have so this number could have been even higher. The Rams aren’t the best matchup for Cooper and the Cardinals in week 4 but Vernon Hargreaves was able to score 5 solo tackles and a PD against them in week 3. Monday night football produced some average numbers for defensive back recommended in the game despite the score. Ricardo Allen led the Monday recommendations with 6 total tackles (5 solo) and a PD. Kemal Ishmael ( 5 total tackles) and Keanu Neal (4 total tackles, 1 PD) cannibalized each other stats in the rookie’s first action of the year. Jairus Byrd was decent as well with 6 total tackles and a PD. Sterling Moore’s 2 solo tackle, 1 PD performance left something to be desired but it was the Falcons RBs that hurt the Saints all night.
Karl Joseph OAK S – SS 4-3
First round rookie out of West Virginia Karl Joseph was promoted to starting strong safety prior to week 3 in an effort to help the ailing Raiders’ defense to get back on track. Replacing Keith McGill and Nate Allen, Joseph immediately made an impact with 10 total tackles (6 solo) in a win over the Titans. Starting free safety for the Raiders is Reggie Nelson. His tackling prowess along with big play ability leaves him as a clearcut DB1 in fantasy and the Raider safety to own but if Joseph can establish himself as a tackle volume player, he deserves a spot in fantasy lineups. Until this week, he hadn’t played a defensive snap so temper expectations a bit while the rookie gets the kinks worked out.
Roster Recommendation: Mid DB2 to Low-end DB3
Jordan Poyer/Derrick Kindred CLE S – FS/SS 4-3
There are certain teams where safeties tend to produce well, either due to system or sheer volume. Cleveland tends to be one of those places. Ibraheim Campbell was a recommendation early in the year but a hamstring injury has kept him out of the lineup since mid-way through week 2. Derrick Kindred has filled in for Campbell and has produced well in limited opportunity. Starting free safety Jordan Poyer has produced gaudy tackle numbers (25) through three games this year. The Redskins have yielded 4 double digit scoring safeties through three games this year including both Giants safties. Both Poyer and Kindred have some upside going into week 4 with momentum being on Poyer’s side as he is coming off of a 13 total tackle, 1 PD performance against Miami in week 3.
Roster Recommendation: High-end DB2 to Low-end DB3
Chris Conte TBB S – FS 4-3
Chris Conte is a guy that I recommend every year because all the guy does is get tackles. And yet somehow, he is overlooked every year on draft day. This is likely because Conte hasn’t always been the top option for his team’s safety ranks until this year and he does have a tendency to get injured. That said, Conte is off to a great start with 26 total tackles through three games. That is good for 2nd on the Bucs (ahead of Lavonte David) and 3rd amongst safeties in the NFL going into Monday Night Football. Holding Conte back is the lack of big plays. He is usually good for an interception or two but he’s not a good blitzing safety and that hurts his big play upside. Despite that, tackles are steady production and Conte is among those pacing the league in it. Add him if you are looking to add some production into your DB ranks before word gets out on him as Conte is criminally underowned at this point.
Roster Recommendation: Low-end DB1 to Low-end DB2
Sneaky Defensive Back Play
Bears DBs – Sophomore cornerback Jacoby Glenn has been pressed into a starting role with the knee injury to Kyle Fuller. The UCF product has been solid for would be CB streamers this year, scoring 19 total tackles, 5 PDs and a forced fumble through three games. Kyle Fuller is the best CB on the team but hasn’t played this year yet due to a knee ailment. He did practice is limited fashion prior to week 3 so I expect him to go in week 4. Fuller starting would likely push Glenn out. Tracy Porter rounds out the relevant corners. He has been serviceable this year in fantasy, logging 15 total tackles, 2 PDs and an INT through three games. Bears safeties Adrian Amos and Harold Jones-Quartey were mentioned in previous Free Agent Reports and remain DB3s. The Bears face the Lions in week 4. Matthew Stafford is in the top 5 in every major passing category this year as the Lions offense has had to go through his arm even more than it has in years past despite losing Calvin Johnson. Week 4 should see plenty of throwing as Marvin Jones, Eric Ebron, Theo Riddick and Anquan Boldin are the key players to get the ball for the Lions. Look for the Bears DBs to carry the load in terms of tackles and coverage.