Week 9 is the last week with 6 NFL teams on bye with Arizona, Chicago, Cincinnati, Houston, New England and Washington rounding out the list this week. With the end of the fantasy regular season within a month for many leagues, be cognizant of two things within your league. The first being when any deadlines are, many leagues have a trade deadline, some even have a free agency deadline. Understand when yours is and make sure you are as set as you can be for your starting lineup as well as depth before the deadline passes. The second thing is what position your team is going into the final month of the season. If you have six wins or better, you aren’t really worried too much about the upcoming weeks and can afford to make a move for a player(s) whose bye weeks are yet to come but will be a better player in the fantasy playoffs. Conversely, if you are a 3 to 5 win team, you have work to do in order to put yourself in a position to contend for a playoff spot. You are likely the team that might be willing to deal a good player with an upcoming bye in order to field the strongest lineup that you can in the next month. Finally, if you are a zero to two win team, this year just wasn’t your year. If you can move assets for picks or youth, now is the time. If not, make sure you are fielding your best lineup even though this season is a wash for you. Make sure you are keeping teams honest.
Week 8 was one of the better weeks for returns from the recommendations made. Leading the list of big producers was Nigel Bradham, the former Buffalo Bill and current Philadelphia Eagle logged a game-high 11 total tackles (8 solo) in a losing effort against the Cowboys. His running mate Jordan Hicks was also a great option. The sophomore MLB scored 6 total tackles (4 solo) and an interception. Jatavis Brown returned to his productive ways with 10 total tackles (7 solo), 1 PD and a fumble recovery against the Broncos. Denzel Perryman did not retain his form from a week ago, disappointing spot starters with only 1 solo tackle. Julian Stanford led Jets linebackers in both snaps and tackles with 6 total tackles in a winning effort against the Browns that deep leaguers will take. Similarly, De’Vondre Campbell led Falcons linebackers with 5 total tackles. While I was expecting better, the Packers not having Ty Montgomery due to an illness likely hurt Falcons LB production. Speaking for the Packers, Jake Ryan tied for the game lead in total tackles with 9 (6 solo). Deeper leaguers were able to roll out Blake Martinez who was serviceable with 6 solo tackles and a PD against the Falcons. Unfortunately, this week is likely to be skinny for LB options for a plug and play outside of previous week’s options. Comb over previous weeks’ reports if you are in a pinch to make sure nobody has been skipped over.
New Orleans Saints LBs – LB 4-3
The Saints LB core has been overhauled this year due to injury and inconsistent play. At the start of the year, free agent acquisition James Laurinaitis was expected to man the middle of the defense. Sophomore Stephone Anthony was expected to slide over to strong-side, nullifying his IDP value. Finally, former Raven Danelle Ellerbe was expected to remain on the weak-side and hopefully get in a full season of production. What actually happened was Ellerbe failed to start the first six Saints games this year (quad injury) with former Brown Craig Robertson covering his starts at weak-side. James Laurinaitis played the first three Saints games at middle linebacker and was largely ineffective. He missed game four with injury (the first missed game in his career) and has been benched ever since despite getting healthy after the Saints bye week. Robertson slid over to the middle with Nate Stupar putting in four solid, fantasy relevant games covering weak-side linebacker. Danelle Ellerbe returned to limited action in a week 8 win against the Seahawks, logging 5 total tackles over 33% of the snaps. That’s a pretty good clip and the coaching staff appears to really want Ellerbe on the field. Nate Stupar covered the remaining 67% of the snaps at weak-side LB and scored 5 solo tackles and a crucial interception of Russell Wilson. Stupar’s performance muddies the waters a bit here but I believe that Ellerbe is the guy at weak-side when fully healthy. Robertson is a decent LB2 as long as he remains a fulltime starter whereas Ellerbe and Stupar are low-end LB3/flex options until one of them takes fulltime snaps. Robertson is still woefully underowned in shallow leagues and Ellerbe/Stupar should be available in most leagues.
Roster Recommendation: High-end LB2 to Low-end LB3
Nick Perry/Julius Peppers GBP LB – OLB 3-4
Normally, streaming a 3-4 rush OLB into your lineup is a risky proposition. It still is risky here but Dee Ford and his 3.5 sacks illustrated just how bad the Colts are at protecting the Indianapolis Colts. With the Chiefs piling another 6 sacks on in their week 8 win, the Colts remain dead last in sacks allowed with just under 4 per game. Andrew Luck and the Colts visit Lambeau Field in week 9 against a Packers team that lost a heartbreaker to the Falcons in week 8. Look for the Packer defense to get after Andrew Luck. Clay Matthews is assumed to be owned on name value already in this recommendation but if he isn’t, he’s also an option. That said, out of the three Packer OLBs mentioned; consider that Matthews has the least amount of sacks with 3 to Peppers’ 3.5 and Perry’s 5.5 and given a hamstring injury that he is battling, the most likely to miss the game or be on a pitch count. It’s tough to roll with a rush-end LB given the boom and bust nature but give a Packer a shot this week if you don’t have a suitable replacement for injuries or bye weeks.
Roster Recommendation: Mid LB2 to Low-end LB3
Shaq Lawson BUF LB – OLB 3-4
First round rookie and Rex Ryan man-crush Shaq Lawson saw the first action of his NFL career in week 7 against the Dolphins after missing the first six weeks with a shoulder injury. That outing was largely uneventful but against the Patriots in week 8, the former Clemson Tiger logged 3 total tackles and a sack of Tom Brady. Lawson saw his snaps shoot up to over 50% while NFL sack leader Lorenzo Alexander’s snap counts largely diminished due to an injured hamstring. Lawson has raw upside for sacks but likely isn’t going to contend for early down work as much as Alexander would and as such, likely only has value in big play leagues. The matchup against the Seahawks in week 9 is also a poor one in terms of sack production but after logging his first sack, the rookie might be on enough radars to force an early add.
Roster Recommendation: High-end LB3 to Low-end LB3 (big-play scoring)
Sneaky Linebacker Plays
Elandon Roberts/Kyle Van Noy NEP LB – With the shocking Monday news that Jamie Collins was traded away to the Browns, one has to look at the Patriots current linebacking corps to see where the IDP production slack will be picked up. Logic says that Dont’a Hightower gets a boost but he was already playing the lion’s share of snaps prior to the trade and tends to be injury-prone. Shea McClellin was signed in the offseason but has been used sparingly and is currently out with a concussion and only worth a pickup for extra deep bench league speculators. Sixth round rookie Elandon Roberts has produced well in limited use on running downs and stands to see the most increase in playing time with Collins’ departure. The smaller Roberts likely isn’t going to be a factor on passing downs with Mingo likely increasing his playing time in a pass rush capacity I expect but Mingo’s usage this year has been very sparing at best. Recent acquisition by trade, former Lion Kyle Van Noy, is the wildcard here. Bill Belichick trade targets at LB have recently been lackluster at best with Jon Bostic and Barkevious Mingo doing little to impress. That said, the timing of these trades leads me to believe that Van Noy will be given a shot to compete. Roberts is my early pick with Van Noy getting a look for later in the season as he learns the defense.
Defensive Linemen Plays
Week 8 was pretty good as far as defensive linemen recommendations go. Frank Clark led the way with 6 total tackles (3 solo) and a sack on Drew Brees in a losing effort against the Saints in week 8. As long as Michael Bennett remains out, Clark is a plus option on the defensive line, arguably despite the matchup. Rookie Noah Spence was also a great option despite a tougher matchup against the Raiders. The former Eastern Kentucky edge rusher scored 3 solo tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. Jaye Howard was one of the few Chiefs who didn’t get into the sack parade but he did manage to log 2 solo tackles.
Adrian Clayborn ATL DE – DE 4-3
Adrian Clayborn has put together a couple quality outings in a row with 6 solo tackles, 3 sacks, a fumble rocvery and a touchdown over his last two games against the Chargers and Packers. Clayborn’s utilization has gone up about 10-15% over the last few weeks also which has helped his upside. The Buccaneers are currently allowing about 2 sacks per game on average and there’s no reason to believe that one of those couldn’t go to Clayborn.
Roster Recommendation: Mid DL2 to Low-end DL3
Trey Flowers NEP DE – DE 4-3
Sophomore defensive end Trey Flowers has appeared on this list before as a streaming option for deeper leagues against slow pass protection. Flowers has taken a back seat to Jabaal Sheard, Chris Long and more recently Rob Ninkovich in terms of snap counts but the former Razorback has shown that he can produce. Against the Bills in week 8, Flowers logged 5 total tackles (4 solo) and 2 sacks. He did this on a total of 21 snaps (30% usage) which is incredible. I like Flowers as a stash because both Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard are free agents after this year and I suspect that it might be difficult to retain both. Going into the bye, Flowers might be snatched up by owners that saw what he did in week 8. He’s not an every week starter yet but could be next year or even this year if there’s an injury.
Roster Recommendation: High-end DL3 to Low-end DL3 (stash)
Sneaky Defensive Linemen Play
Kyle Williams BUF DE – I like Kyle Williams as a high tackle floor option as defensive end with some sack upside. The Seahawks aren’t a great pass rush matchup but I think that this can be offset with tackles in run support where Seattle is averaging slightly over 25 rushes per game. Williams has averaged over 3.5 tackles per game this year and has two sacks.
Defensive Back Plays
Both Cincinnati safeties led the Free Agent report off with great production aided by an overtime game in London. Shawn Williams led all defensive back with 9 solo tackles whereas running mate George Iloka scored 5 solo tackles and an interception. AJ Bouye got off to a fast start but Matt Stafford’s uncharacteristically poor day throwing the football left fantasy owners expecting more. That said, 5 solo tackles and a PD isn’t the worst outing. Ricardo Allen scored 4 solo tackles in what has to be described as a disappointing performance given the score and Steven Nelson’s 2 solo tackle, 2 PD performance was muted by the return of Philip Gaines.
Going forward as the weather gets colder, remember to double-check the weather in outdoor stadium games. Not only is this important to your fantasy QBs and WRs, it is also important for your fantasy DBs as well. Don’t let a little snow ruin your DBs day when you can start another one just as easily. The Patriots among other teams seem to be good for one of these a year it seems.
Robert Blanton BUF S – FS 3-4
With Aaron Williams potentially long-term neck issue becoming apparent after suffering a devastating hit from Jarvis Landry in week 7, Robert Blanton emerged to play every snap except one in Buffalo’s loss to the Patriots. The former Viking logged 11 total tackles (8 solo) to tie for the team lead. Granted, the Patriots are a pretty good matchup for any free safety, but Buffalo safeties have a history of fantasy relevance and as such, Blanton should be owned in fantasy. The Seahawks, Buffalo’s week 9 opponent, carried free safety Jairus Byrd to 10 total tackles in week 8.
Roster Recommendation: Low-end DB2 to Low-end DB3
Jairus Byrd NOS S – FS 4-3
Speaking of Jairus Byrd, the former Buffalo Bill and widely considered free agent mega-bust, recently returned to 90%+ snap counts in weeks 7 and 8 after a couple weeks of reduced snap counts. New Orleans is operating largely out of a base nickel with three safeties; the other two being Kenny Vaccaro and rookie Vonn Bell. As previously mentioned, Byrd scored a team-high 10 total tackles (8 solo) against the Seahawks. The Saints matchup in week 9, the 49ers sport one of the worst passing offenses in the league in the first half of the season so the matchup for Byrd isn’t good but with the Broncos, Panthers, Lions, Bucs and Cardinals in the future for the Saints, I like Byrd’s chances to continue to contribute.
Roster Recommendation: High-end DB3 to Low-end DB3
Kam Chancellor/Kelsie McCray SEA S – SS 4-3
Kam Chancellor has been out since before the Seattle’s bye in week 5 with a groin injury. Kelsie McCray has stepped in at strong safety in Chancellor’s absence and would likely do so again in week 9 against the Buffalo Bills. While the Bills aren’t the best matchup (only six safeties have scored double digit fantasy points against the Bills), Chancellor is an impact player that has DB1 potential seemingly regardless of matchup although inconsistent. The following weeks yield plus matchups in the Patriots, Bucs, Panthers, Packers and Cardinals among others. Seattle’s strong safety is a position that you want in your lineup despite not being the top DB overall in fantasy anymore.
Roster Recommendation: Low-end DB1 to High-end DB3
Sneaky Defensive Back Play
Vernon Hargreaves TBB CB – General IDP mantra says that the “rookie corner rule” is a guideline you can follow to get DB1-2 production by starting a rookie corner who is expected to be burned more often than not and as a result, will receive a larger thrown-at stat than the corner opposite him and should score better IDP stats because of it. Rookie corners Jalen Ramsey, James Bradberry, Eli Apple and Daryl Worley have all shown flashes of this but none have been picked on enough to produce consistent IDP production. Enter former Florida Gator Vernon Hargreaves. Hargreaves is leading rookie corners with 35 tackles (31 solo) through 7 games and is coming off of an 8 solo tackles, 1 PD performance against the Raiders. Up next is the high powered Atlanta Falcons in week 9. Give the rookie a look as a streaming option or a potential longterm solution with the Saints playing Tampa Bay twice during fantasy playoffs.