Week 13 is the last fantasy regular season game in many formats. Hopefully your team is safe and sound with a playoff spot locked up but in the event that you are playing for your fantasy life this week, you have to get your lineup as tight as you can. That is something easier said than done and this week was a stark reminder of how quick your fantasy team can get turned upside down. Consistency is something fantasy players crave but rarely seem to get. A guy that averages 10 points a game and gets no less than 8 in any one game can be more valuable to me than a guy who averages 12 points a game but will give you less than 3 points in half of the games.
DeMario Davis owners were reminded that playing time isn’t always for sure for fringe players. Over the last three weeks, Davis posted 19 total tackles, 1 sack and a forced fumble, earning back some trust amongst fantasy owners. All of that favor was lost quickly after logging only 9 of the Browns’ 56 defensive snaps against the Giants. Sometimes we are reminded that fantasy production is not the same as NFL production, especially when it comes to defensive backs. Owners of Perrish Cox were reminded of this in short order. A fantasy CB1 through the first six weeks of the season, fantasy owners saw their asset get burned on the NFL stage while racking up tackles. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, the Tennessee Titans don’t want to see their corners making a ton of tackles on opposing receivers because that means completions and yards are being given up. Cox went from NFL starter to NFL reserve to unemployed over the course of the next few weeks. Finally, Danny Trevathan owners joined AJ Green and Luke Kuechly owners as those who were recently reminded of the cruel fate that can befall seemingly any NFL players at any time. The former Bronco and the Bears second leading tackler will miss the rest of the 2016 season (and maybe some of the 2017 season) with a torn patella tendon.
This week was a really rough week for linebackers. David Mayo and Shaq Thompson did nothing against Oakland in favour of a guy who will be mentioned shortly. As I feared, the rush heavy attack of the Cowboys saw Su’a Cravens’ snaps drop to just under 50% in favour of the bigger Mason Foster. The results saw Foster log 5 total tackles and Cravens get 2 solo tackles. The situation isn’t ideal with fantasy owners having to guess which players will fantasy relevant from week to week but it will be interesting to see how the Redskins play the Cardinals in week 13. I suspect that Cravens will play a much bigger role in that game. Jatavis Brown failed to get back into the Chargers’ lineup after the bye week with a nagging knee problem. Denzel Perryman was able to shake off a hip injury and return to the lineup against the Texans in week 12. Perryman scored 10 total tackles alongside former recommendation Korey Toomer (13 total tackles) in that game, effectively containing a potent Texans rushing attack. Nick Kwiatkoski’s name will be mentioned again in this article but managed to log 4 total tackles against the Titans in a game where the leading Bears tackler scored 5. Finally, those who were able to get week 11 recommendation Justin Houston into their lineups were rewarded with a monster game regardless of format (10 solo tackles, 3 sacks, 1 forced fumbles and 1 PD).
AJ Klein CAR LB – MLB 4-3
I have to eat some crow on this one. I didn’t think that the Panthers would turn over three down duties vacated by the concussed Luke Kuechly to anyone other than Shaq Thompson alongside Thomas Davis. Davis was a definite benefactor of Kuechly’s absence, scoring 7 total tackles (6 solo), a fumble recovery and an interception. Surprising me however, was AJ Klein’s quick return from his own concussion, one that caused him to miss week 11. Klein drew the start and played all 74 defensive snaps that the Panthers played compared to Thompson’s 17 snaps. He made good on the opportunity as well, scoring 5 solo tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. With Seattle hosting Carolina in week 13 and assuming that Klein got out the game healthy and Kuechly fails to get back into the lineup, I’d expect similar results from the 4th year man out of Iowa State. Seattle’s offense has carried no less than five opposing linebackers to double digit fantasy days in the last three weeks with both Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David doing it most recently in week 12. I expect that Thomas Davis and AJ Klein to be the next two to do so.
Roster Recommendation: Low-end LB2 to Low-end LB3
Nick Kwiatkoski/Christian Jones CHI LB – ILB 3-4
Fantasy owners that depended on one or more Chicago LBs for fantasy success were on easy street for good chunk of the year but are scrambling now. Jerrell Freeman missed week 12 and will miss the next three weeks serving a PED suspension and now Danny Trevathan is gone for the rest of the 2016 year at least with a ruptured patellar tendon. Trevathan owners in dynasty leagues know his knee injury history extensively and yet another knee problem can’t bode well for his future value. Filling in for Freeman in week 12 against the Titans was rookie 4th round pick Nick Kwiatkoski who was mentioned in last weeks’ article. The former Mountaineer played over 90% of the snaps as the Bears had him in for most situations. He logged 4 total tackles in a game that didn’t feature gaudy tackle numbers from anyone with Trevathan’s 5 total tackles leading the way despite playing 95% of the snaps. With Trevathan gone, I expect the rookie’s usage to push 100% as the Bears have little else they trust to turn to. Taking Trevathan’s spot for Bears ILBs is Christian Jones if you believe the depth chart. I tend to subscribe to that theory given his usage this year and his past production. Outside of Kwiatkoski, Jones has more defensive snaps logged this year at 80 than all other available Bears ILBs put together. Maybe the best point towards a sneaky play for a desperate owner is the fact that Jones led the Bears in tackles last year with 83 while starting 13 games. The Bears still think he is replacement talent; that’s why was replaced in the offseason. But beggars can’t be choosers here and experience will help Jones’ case to start and play a full game. Facing the league’s 6th best rushing attack in terms of attempts, the opportunity to score tackles should be there for both men. Neither figures to be largely owned in any leagues short of the deepest dynasties so look at a Bears.
Roster Recommendation: Mid LB2 to Low-end LB3
DeAndre Levy DET LB – WLB 4-3
DeAndre Levy is getting farther and farther removed from his LB1 days in 2014 but until proven otherwise, Levy is a potential difference maker at the LB position. After missing all of 2015 with a hip injury and all of 2016 thus far except for the season opener with a knee/quad injury, hopeful dynasty owners are wishing for a payoff on their patience. Rumor has it that Levy’s season debut might happen against the Saints in week 13 after missing week 12 despite limited practices all week. If that’s the case, would-be fantasy owners couldn’t ask for a better matchup as long as Levy’s usage is in line with a fantasy starter. Josh Bynes has been taking snaps alongside everydown starter Tahir Whitehead but his usage is around 50-65% of the snaps. That usage has translated to only 13 total tackles and a PD so I can’t really recommend Bynes if Levy doesn’t play. Levy doesn’t come without risk given how long fantasy owners have waited for an impact game from him but he is a proven LB1 commodity when healthy. Give him a look if someone has cut bait earlier in the season.
Roster Recommendation: Mid LB1 – Mid LB3
Darron Lee NYJ LB – ILB 3-4
Would it surprise you to know that in his first game starting since his ankle injury that Darron Lee not only tied David Harris for the team lead in tackles but he outsnapped him 73-66 as well? I think that the Jets playing him so extensively against a hated rival in a game that they needed to win badly speaks volumes as to the trust they have for their first round pick. Darron Lee is a rangy linebacker whose speed and coverage abilities carry his value. The Jets have also turned the rookie loose on some pass rushing as well. Both abilities should be on full display against the Jets week 13 opponent, the Indianapolis Colts. If his usage stays high, I think Lee pushes into LB2 territory.
Roster Recommendation: Mid LB2 – Mid LB3
Sneaky Linebacker Plays
Edwin Jackson IND LB – Coming out of Indianapolis’ bye week, Edwin Jackson has been taking a majority of the snaps beside every-down ILB D’Qwell Jackson. Over those two weeks, Edwin has scored 14 total tackles and a sack. Jackson is a second year undrafted free agent out of Georgia Southern. His hold on the Colts other ILB spot in tenuous but he is worth owning in dynasty leagues as D’Qwell Jackson is 33 years old and has had injury problems in the past. As far as starting him, I’d only look at him as a LB3/flex starter. The Jets and Texans are decent matchups for a two-down hitter with some pass rush chops.
Defensive Linemen Plays
It was a bounce back week for the free agent report in week 12 after a disastrous week 11. Kony Ealy (2 solo tackles) was not expected to score well against the Raiders but should be a good option against the Seahawks and Chargers in the next two weeks as long as Mario Addison remains out. Javon Hargrave was a huge play for DT-required league and other owners willing to gamble on a rookie DT. The 2016 third round pick scored 5 total tackles and a sack on backup QB Scott Tolzien as the Steelers rolled over the Colts. Fellow defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt was not as productive with only two total tackles despite playing all but 4 Steelers defensive snaps. Finally, both Giants DTs were great options against the Browns as Damon “Snacks” Harrison scored 9 total tackles and a forced fumble whereas Johnathan Hankins logged 3 total tackles, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble. In actuality, every starter on the Giants defensive line was at least a DL2 and Jason Pierre-Paul put up one of the all-time great IDP fantasy scores with 7 total tackles, 3 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery leading to a 43 yard return for a touchdown.
Marcel Dareus BUF DT – NT 3-4
This isn’t Marcel Dareus’ first time on the free agent report. He was recommended as he returned from suspension, only to stay down with injuries. When he has played, he has gotten at least one half sack in every game. That’s rare production from a nose tackle. In week 12 against the Jaguars, Dareus logged 8 total tackles and 2 sacks. His matchup in week 13 against the Raiders is arguably the worst matchup in the league for pass rush but it might be tough to expect Dareus to remain a free agent after his game in week 13. His week 15 matchup against the Browns might be worth holding him for however. In DT-required leagues, he’s arguably the top DT in the league for upside. All that said, his own percentage in many leagues is criminally low for the upside he represents.
Roster Recommendation: Mid DL1 to Mid DL2
Michael Bennett SEA DE – DE 4-3
When healthy, Michael Bennett is one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL. In addition to that, the defense he plays on affords him many opportunities to make impact plays. This translates well into fantasy value also with Bennett carrying DL1-2 value over the last few years. Bennett has been out for the last 5 games with a knee issue. His replacement, former recommendation Frank Clark, scored 3 sacks in his absence. With all of the remaining five games of the Seahawks’ season coming against bottom third teams (Panthers, Packers, Rams, Cardinals, 49ers) in terms of pass protection, Bennett’s return is coming at a great time for would-be fantasy owners.
Roster Recommendation: Low-end DL1 to Low-end DL2
Sneaky Defensive Linemen Play
Rakeem Nunez-Roches KCC NT – When Dontari Poe left his a back injury, sophomore nose tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches stepped in and played admirably on the Chiefs defensive line at nose tackle. Nunez-Roches had already been playing some defensive end so his snap counts have been on the rise lately but with Poe out, Kendall Reyes stepped up at end with RNR in at nose. The former Southern Miss lineman responded with a solid 5 solo tackles and 1 assist. Two of those tackles were behind the line of scrimmage which shows he can get penetration. I like him as a run-stuffer that can pile up tackles. With the Chiefs visiting the Falcons, give him a look for a high tackle floor, especially if Dontari Poe misses more time with his back injury.
Defensive Back Plays
I mentioned last week that the majority of Steelers DBs were in play for me and while the ones I touted played ok, it’s the ones I mentioned in passing that did the best. Sean Davis scored 5 solo tackles and Artie Burns scored 5 total tackles whereas their counterparts Mike Mitchell (7 total tackles, 2 PDs, 1 INT) and William Gay (3 solo tackles, 2 PDs, 1 INT, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble). Fantasy football can be a frustrating game at times. Deon Bush’s second game as a fulltime starter was a bit of a flop as he only scored 2 solo tackles. I still like him to contribute in the fantasy playoffs especially with both of Chicago’s ILBs out of the picture. Colts safeties scored poorly because the Steelers passing attack received so little resistance that they scored at will. The Steelers averaged almost 16 yards per completion and 5 yards per carry. 43 total tackles opportunities is much less than I expected them to see. Finally, sneaky play Steven Terrell scored 5 total tackles, 1 PD and a fumble recovery to pay off Earl Thomas trying to replace the injured all-pro.
Tyvon Branch ARI S – FS 3-4
Tyvon Branch is a rare case that I’m not sure I’ve recommended before. Branch was placed on injured reserve prior to the Cardinals week 5 games against the 49ers with a sports hernia. He was designated as the Cardinals player who can return from IR with the first game he can be active in being week 13 against the Washington Redskins. Anytime you see the big red “I” beside the name of your player in any redraft, it usually means that player is getting dropped. I’d imagine that is the case for Branch as well. In weeks 1 and 2 when given a majority of snaps, Branch scored an average of 8 solo tackles per game. Branch’s replacement, DJ Swearinger has produced a handful of quality games as one of the three starting safeties for the Cardinals including a big game against the Falcons in week 12 (7 solo tackles, 2 PDs, 1 INT). Expect that if the designated to return tag was used on Branch that he is both ready to go and figures to factor into the defensive gameplan right away. The Redskins in week 13 and the Saints in week 15 are plus matchups for any Cardinals DB who gets a majority of snaps and Branch should be no different assuming he gets into the lineup.
Roster Recommendation: High-end DB2 to Mid DB3
Ron Parker KCC S – FS 3-4
Odds are that Eric Berry is owned in your league as he is a DB1 in most leagues. The other every-down Chiefs safety, Ron Parker, is likely not as the free safety has only 43 total tackles on the year. That said, against the only top 5 passing attack that the Chiefs have faced all year in the New Orleans Saints, Parker logged a season high 7 solo tackles in addition to 2 forced fumbles. You can’t bank on the splash plays but I do think that Parker is going to be a streamable option against a top passing attack in the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons are at home and the Chiefs are just stingy enough in the running game to force a few more short passes that should inflate Chiefs DB tackle numbers.
Roster Recommendation: Low-end DB2 to Low-end DB3
James Ihedigbo BUF S – SS 3-4
This one is a bit of a gamble. James Ihedigbo is no stranger to posting DB1 numbers as he did in 2013 with the Ravens. Ihedigbo wasn’t resigned by the Lions after two years starting at strong safety for them and didn’t garner any interest elsewhere. He was just signed by the Bills prior to week 11 and was tabbed to start at strong safety in week 12 after injuries to Aaron Williams and Robert Blanton. Ihedigbo took 44 of the Bills 68 defensive snaps in week 12, scoring 3 total tackles. While those numbers aren’t very inspiring, I expect Ihedigbo’s numbers to continue to rise with more practice time. In addition, the Bills travel to Oakland to face a stellar passing attack in week 13. Give him a look if you are willing to gamble or you have room on your bench to stash him.
Roster Recommendation: Mid DB2 to Low-end DB3
Sneaky Defensive Back Play
Darius Slay/Quandre Diggs DET CB – New Orleans offense looked unstoppable on Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams and that same offense hosts the Detroit Lions in week 13. That game has all of the makings of a shootout and quite simply, playing some tackling cornerbacks in that game seems like an easy way to get some tackles.