Can we talk a bit about how awesome it is that the Broncos-Saints game was decided by a defensive two-point conversion this week? The rarest of points in football since its inception last year, the defensive two-point conversion has happened only twice prior to week 10. I remember talking with few other fantasy football pundits who insisted how much of a waste of time that rule was at the time. Saints’ fans are probably a bit sour over the prospect of seeing yet another famous extra point gaff added to their team’s lowlight reel but the football world is general was reminded on Sunday how unpredictable it can really be.
Week 11 sees the last four team bye week come upon us with Atlanta, San Diego, New York (Jets) and Denver all getting the week off. Entering into the homestretch of the fantasy regular season and most leagues past their trade deadline, the waiver wire is likely your only source of replacement players. Use it to the fullest advantage. Unfortunately, the waiver wire tends to be as slim as it ever gets all year as the winter months close in. You’ll see that this week isn’t much different.
An early ankle injury against the Titans in week 10 forced Jake Ryan out of the contest which really hurt fantasy owners, myself included, hoping for a big day from him. That said, he was the only major disappointment of the week 10 recommendations. Sneaky play Korey Toomer was a monster play for tackle heavy and balanced leagues in week 10 against the Dolphins. His 11 total tackles (10 solo) and a PD not only led the game but he also led the NFL in solo tackles through Sunday. He remains a great option as long as Jatavis Brown and Denzel Perryman remain out for the Chargers. Shallow league play Ryan Shazier rewarded would-be fantasy owners with 9 total tackles (4 solo) and a fumble recovery in a losing effort against the Cowboys. If you were a gambling type and rolled with week 9 recommendation Danelle Ellerbe against the Broncos, you were rewarded with 7 total tackles, a PD and a sack. Gerald Hodges rounded out the recommendations with 6 solo tackles and a critical interception that allowed San Francisco to tie the game at 20. Hodges played more than Nick Bellore (4 total tackles) which bodes well for his future fantasy potential and obviously not so much for Bellore. Finally, Elandon Roberts logged 83% of the snaps against Seattle for the Patriots and looks to be the replacement for Jamie Collins for the most part outside of some pass rush duty. His 4 total tackle performance left fantasy owners wanting but I feel like there will be better games for him down the road.
Blake Martinez/Joe Thomas GBP LB – ILB 3-4
Jake Ryan broke my heart in week 10 after weeks of solid if unspectacular tackle performances by going down with an ankle injury. Ryan didn’t return to the game leaving the bulk of the tackle work to fourth round rookie Blake Martinez. The former Stanford Cardinal responded by piling up 10 total tackles ( 7 solo) against the Titans in a losing effort. Martinez has been a deeper league recommendation before but he was never as dependable for tackles as Jake Ryan was so far this year. The Redskins and Eagles are due up for the Packers in weeks 11 and 12 respectively. Those NFC East teams are about par for the course in rushing attempts per game at 25 and 26 respectively with the NFL average at about 26-27. Understanding that 8 of Martinez’s 10 tackles on Sunday came on rushing attempts, it becomes clearer where Packers ILBs are valuable. Assuming that Jake Ryan misses time, Joe Thomas, not the Cleveland left tackle, should slide in where Martinez was originally being used and remains an option for deep leaguers. Both Martinez and Thomas should see a value increase as Thomas was already logging 2.5 tackles a game in part time usage prior to Ryan’s injury as the third ILB rotated in. The tackle production should go from an uneven three way split to a two-way split creating more useable IDP value overall for would-be owners. Watch the injury report to see how bad Ryan’s injury ends up being.
Roster Recommendation: Low-end LB2 to High-end LB3
Justin Houston/Dee Ford KCC LB – OLB 3-4
Dee Ford is finally showing the talent that made him a first round pick in 2014. The former Auburn Tiger has logged a staggering 8.5 sacks in his last 5 games to grab a share of the NFL’s sack lead. Part of Ford’s success has to be a large uptick in snap counts, largely due to all-pro Justin Houston’s absence from the Chiefs’ lineup with a knee injury. With Houston activate from the PUP list prior to week 10’s contest against the Panthers but missing the game, the writing is on the wall for Houston’s eventual return to the lineup. As good as Ford has been this year, he’s not close to Houston’s 2014 form where the Georgia product logged 22 sacks. Depending on the depth of benches and IR rules, there’s a good chance that Houston is a free agent right now. In addition, despite being the hottest big play league LB option over the last few weeks, Dee Ford’s ownership percentage is staggeringly low. I expect Houston to be eased into the Chiefs lineup but eventually take a large percentage of snaps. What will be interesting is how the Chiefs coaching staff manage to handle snaps for both of them as Ford has been too good to bench entirely. I’d roll with Ford one more week in order to see how Houston handles his return. The Chiefs have a favourable pass rush schedule in the near future with Tampa Bay visiting Arrowhead stadium in week 11 and then playing the Broncos and Falcons on the road in weeks 12 and 13 respectively. All three teams are averaging between 2.4 and 2.6 sacks given up per game, good for the bottom third in the league.
Roster Recommendation: High-end LB1 to Low-end LB2 (big play)
Chandler Jones ARI LB – OLB 3-4
Chandler Jones is likely to be owned in many big play leagues but in many balanced leagues, he’s not. In fact, looking a couple fantasy providers, Jones’ ownership percentage is as low as 35%. Jones is coming off of a 4 solo tackle, 2 sack performance against the 49ers, bringing his sack total up to 7 this year. He also has some splash play potential, forcing 2 fumbles this year and recovering the same amount. The main reason I like him this year is because the Vikings host the Cardinals in week 11. Already down two starting tackles in Matt Kalil and Andre Smith, the Vikings were dealt another big blow to their offensive line when they lost starting left tackle Jake Long to a suspected Achilles injury. The Vikings will be starting either backup swing tackle TJ Clemmings (who was deemed a lesser option than Long) or a street free agent as left tackle against a quality pass rush. Long wasn’t exactly protecting Bradford perfectly already as the Vikings have allowed 4 sacks per game over the last 4 weeks and this news likely makes things worse. Get Jones into your lineup. Better yet, a handful of providers still have Jones as DE eligible, he’s worth twice as much there.
Roster Recommendation: Mid LB1 to Low-end LB2 (big play); Mid LB2 to Mid LB3 (balanced)
Sneaky Linebacker Plays
Preston Smith/Ryan Kerrigan/Trent Murphy WAS LB – The Packers struggled mightily to protect Aaron Rodgers on Sunday, allowing a season-high 5 sacks in week 10 against the Titans. An injury to left tackle David Bakhtiari caused him to leave the game late in the third quarter. Rodgers was sacked three times after that within 10 minutes. Guard TJ Lang also missed time during the game. Granted those are obvious passing downs there but the Packers looked shaky in making pockets for their franchise QB. Those 5 sacks taken cap off a lackluster three weeks where Rodgers has been sacked 11 times. If Bakhtiari misses significant time (maybe even if he doesn’t), the Packers could be in for a rough ride protecting themselves from a fierce Redskin pass rush in Washington in week 11 currently ranked 7th in the NFL in sacks. Ryan Kerrigan is most recognizable OLB on Washington’s roster based on past performance (currently with 6.5 sacks) and as such, he is most likely to be owned already. Third year Trent Murphy is quietly enjoying a breakout campaign this year and is tied with Kerrigan for the team lead in sacks with 6.5. Sophomore Preston Smith is also an option with 4 sacks so far this year but is coming off of a 2 sack, 1 INT performance against the Eagles. I like Kerrigan/Murphy/Smith in that order with my confidence rising if Packers starting offensive linemen miss the game.
Defensive Linemen Plays
Week 10 might have been one of the most productive days for defensive line recommendations in the history of this column. Cam Wake stayed woke (pardon the pun) with 3 solo tackles and 2 sacks against Philip Rivers. He was even better than the statline reads and would have had at least another half sack but it was negated by an unrelated penalty. Week 9 stash Trey Flowers also posted an identical 3 solo tackles and 2 sacks of Russell Wilson. Flowers looks better than all of the other Patriot pass rushers and was finally rewarded with the snap count to go with it, playing 87% of the snaps in Sunday Night Football largely at the expense of Jabaal Sheard. My prediction that the Rams would have the Jets under siege was incorrect but guessing that Hayes would get a sack was not. Hayes logged the only Rams sack of the game to go with 3 solo tackles. Robert Quinn logged 1 assist and 2 PDs but was prevented from doing any other damage. Sneaky play Timmy Jernigan also logged a sack against the Browns. Six total sacks from my recommendations has to be some kind of record for me.
Calais Campbell ARI DE – DE 3-4
Calais Campbell is in the midst of a slightly “off” season than fantasy owners are used to. Campbell is currently on pace for his lowest tackle total since his sophomore year (53) and tied for the lowest sack total since his rookie year (5). The former Hurricane is still in the conversation of DL2-DL3 in many leagues but could be in play for many shallower leagues given that before this week, Campbell only had one game that he posted a sack in. Campbell has always been one of my favorites as his tackle totals can save an otherwise weak outing, giving him a high floor. His upside is present for all of the same reasons that I like Chandler Jones this week. I’m rolling with as much Cardinal pass rush as I can with Campbell being a feature piece if you can get him. And before deep leagues get on my case about this recommendation, for at least two providers, Campbell has less than 50% ownership currently. The Falcons, Redskins and Dolphins are on deck for the Cardinals after week 11. While the Redskins have not been a plus matchup for pass rush, the Falcons and Dolphins have been middling to good matchups.
Roster Recommendation: Mid DL1 to Mid DL2
Chris Jones KCC DE – DE 3-4
2016 second round draft pick Chris Jones has slowly climbed in snap counts this year from 25% early in the year up to 63% in week 10 against the Panthers, leading the defensive ends. Jaye Howard missing the game with a hip problem certainly helped but the former Mississippi State Bulldog responded to the increased playing time with 3 solo tackles and a sack of Cam Newton. The Bucs are a decent pass rush matchup and at worst, Jones is a decent stash candidate for leagues with rookie taxi squads.
Roster Recommendation: Low-end DL2 to Low-end DL3 (Stash)
Sneaky Defensive Linemen Play
DeMarcus Lawrence DAL DE – DeMarcus Lawrence finally recorded his first sack of the 2016 season in his fifth game back after serving a four game suspension. If Lawrence is truly rounding into form, it makes an already good team even more dangerous. The third year man out of Boise State logged 4 solo tackles, a sack and a forced fumble against the Steelers but hadn’t produced anything significant this season thus far. The Ravens in week 11 are a middling pass rush matchup but are likely to be throwing their way into the game. Lawrence could be a difference maker again.
Defensive Back Plays
Darian Stewart led the week 10 recommendations with 2 solo tackles, 2 INTs and a fumble recovery. The splash play heavy stat line was a monster addition for teams able to get him into their lineups with the bigger reward going to big play heavy leagues. Predicting INTs isn’t really a business anyone can get into for a living but when they come, take the gift to the bank. Rookie Kevin Byard provided fantasy owners with 8 solo tackles and a sack of Aaron Rodgers in Tennessee’s week 10 win over Green Bay. What’s interesting about this is that Rashad Johnson returned to the lineup. Johnson played roughly 40% of the snaps whereas Byard was up around 80%, leading all Titan safeties. Byard might be approaching every week status if he plays a majority of snaps and continues to produce. Nolan Carroll was the lone disappointment as 2 total tackles was not the game I was looking for. In general, the Philly-Atlanta game wasn’t the offensive display I thought it could be and Philly’s defense might just be for real. Finally, those who waited around for Kam Chancellor were rewarded with 8 total tackles, 1 PD and a forced fumble. It should have been two forced fumbles but one was called back on an unrelated penalty. Chancellor is an impact player for the Seahawks and can be the same for your fantasy team.
Ibraheim Campbell/Ed Reynolds CLE S – SS/FS 3-4
Campbell has appeared in this list before but injuries and inconsistent usage have seen him become an unusable fantasy commodity. Until week 10, Campbell hadn’t seen above 80% of the defensive snaps since week 1. Against the Ravens, the sophomore safety logged 9 total tackles, his best output of the season. Ed Reynolds, a recent practice squad callup, played even more snaps than Campbell at over 90% in the same game. Reynolds responded with 6 total tackles of his own. With the Steelers in town, I feel like both safeties are a plus matchup, especially when you look at the 20 total tackles that Cowboys safeties logged against the Steelers in week 10. For the Steelers, the Browns game is unlikely to play out the same way but the Steelers attack will always be predicated on the pass; week 11 should be no different. I’d view Campbell as a safer bet than Reynolds but Reynolds is much less likely to be owned already.
Roster Recommendation: Mid DB2 to Low-end DB3
Adrian Amos/Harold Jones-Quartey CHI S – FS/SS 3-4
Both Bears safeties have appeared on this column before in the season but this is more of a matchup play. The Bears face the Giants in week 11 in New Jersey. Opposing safeties have scored 36 total tackles, 3 PDs and an INT over the last three weeks against the Giants which makes the prospect of rolling one of the Bears safeties a pretty good one. Jones-Quartey has more tackles on the year but that’s nit-picking. Either or make a decent DB3/flex in a week that doesn’t feature much for slam-dunk plug-and-play options.
Roster Recommendation: Low-end DB2 to Low-end DB3
Glover Quin/Tavon Wilson DET S – FS/SS 4-3
The Jaguars (Detroit’s week 11 opponents) hasn’t been particularly kind of opposing safeties this year but Tavon Wilson is averaging 8.5 total tackles over his last two games and might be in line for another big game if the Lions and Jaguars get into a shootout. Glover Quin is actually out-tackling Wilson this year 45 to 43 with neither contributing much by way of splash plays. Detroit’s safeties are number two and three and only have MLB Tahir Whitehead as major competition for tackles. In a week with little to offer in terms of good options, Wilson or Quin might be a decent swing for the fence. Detroit’s schedule later in the year (Saints in week 13 and Giants in week 15) offer some hold potential as well.
Roster Recommendation: Mid DB2 to Low-end DB3
Sneaky Defensive Back Play
Daryl Worley/James Bradberry CAR CB – Another week and I’m recommending another cornerback streaming option. Bradberry has been on the Free Agent report before but the Panthers have been playing better as of late which has necessitated teams to pass against them. Both Worley and Bradberry have piled up tackles because of it. Both play every snap for the Panthers and the Saints coming to town has to be a good matchup. Worley would be my first pick given his tackle average with Bradberry as a close second.