Over half of the fantasy regular season is over at this point and we begin to enter the really rough weeks of fantasy as six teams will be on bye this week and next. The week sees Arizona, Green Bay, Jacksonville, Los Angeles (Rams), New York (Giants) and Tennessee get the week off. Not only does this mean that odds are that you need a bye week replacement more so than most other weeks, it only means that there are that fewer replacement options with only 13 games being played. Those who are fortunate enough to have the majority of their bye weeks dealt with or have the depth to handle it might see this week as an opportunity to make a trade for a better player that is on bye this week. 2-4 teams have to pull out all the stops in an effort to make the playoffs and may be ripe for trades.
Hayes Pullard continues to be the linebacker to own for the Chargers as the third year man scored 8 solo tackles in their shutout of the Broncos in week 7. It’s important to note that Pullard logged 75% of the defensive snaps in the game, the most of any linebacker. Comparing this to Brown’s 28%, there’s no wonder that Brown has hit the bench or the waiver wire in a few leagues. There’s an injury angle there as Brown’s ankle has been far from 100% but Brown hasn’t put up a decent fantasy week in a few weeks. NaVorro Bowman started in his first game as a Raider in week 7, three days after signing with the club. It was a solid debut as the veteran logged 11 total tackles in the Thursday night thriller. He looks to be an every week option going forward as the Raiders had him on the field for 60 of a possible 62 snaps. The man who replaced Bowman in San Francisco, Reuben Foster, looked to be scoring well with 5 total tackles through 37 minutes of football but suffered a rib injury on Dak Prescott’s touchdown run. He was able to return but with the game out of hand at that point, he remained on the sidelines. Lavonte David was a rock solid addition to any fantasy owner able to get him in their lineup. Tampa’s weakside linebacker scored 14 total tackles (12 solo), a forced fumble and a fumble recovery while only missing one snap in the Buccaneer’s loss to the Bills. Mychal Kendricks‘ hamstring injury prevented him in suiting up for the Monday nighter. Nigel Bradham assumed middle linebacker duties after Jordan Hicks was carted off with an ankle injury. He scored a paltry 3 solo tackles and a pass defensed as the Redskins gameplan shifted to the pass earlier on. If Hicks and Kendricks continue to miss time, Bradham remains a quality add.
DeVondre Campbell ATL LB – 4-3 WLB Value: LB2
Many people, myself included, thought that the arrival of Duke Riley through the draft would have spelled doom for DeVondre Campbell’s usage and fantasy value. While his usage hasn’t been awful to start the year at 83%, it wasn’t until week 7 against the Patriots that we saw his usage rival that of every down MLB Deion Jones. Both Campbell and Jones logged all but two defensive snaps for the Falcons as Duke Riley logged only 7 snaps before leaving with a knee injury. Kemal Ishmael drew into the game in his stead but only played 38% of the snaps. In the same game, Campbell responded with 8 total tackles (7 solo) and a sack. The sack was Campbell’s second of the year, proving that the former Gopher has some pass rushing chops in him as well. The Jets host the Falcons in week 8 which should be a decent matchup. High usage LBs has averaged 16 fantasy points a game against the Jets over the last four weeks. In addition, the Jets have provided an average of over 31 team rushes plus running back catches over that same time period. The opportunity will be there to score tackles in this game.
Patrick Onwuasor BAL LB – 3-4 WLB Value: LB3/Stash
This is a pick up for the dynasty guys. While 2016 second round pick Kamalei Correa started the year splitting snaps at weakside linebacker for the Ravens with 2016 undrafted free agent Patrick Onwuasor, the split has gone from closer to 50-50 to about 90-10 in Onwuasor’s favor over the last three games. In that time, Onwuasor has logged 18 total tackles and a forced fumble. Those aren’t eye-popping numbers but serviceable in deeper leagues. He’s being used on 79% of the Ravens defensive snaps over that timeframe as well. With the Raven hosting the Dolphins in week 8, there should be plenty of opportunity to make a few plays as the Dolphins are averaging over 31 running back touches per game in their last three games played. Deeper leagues might get him in the lineup as a flex/bye week coverage, shallower leagues might grab him for a stash. Zach Orr proved in 2016 that Onwuasor’s position can score in fantasy.
Kwon Alexander TBB LB – 4-3 MLB Value: LB1 – LB2
Kwon Alexander left many fantasy teams in trouble early as they expected big production early from the former LSU Tiger. What they got was a week 1 bye, an early exit in week 2 due to a hamstring early followed by a month of no action. Rookie Kendall Beckwith filled in admirably for Alexander while he was out with injury but with Alexander back in the fold in week 7 against the Bills, Beckwith received 78% of the snaps but at strongside linebacker. Alexander played every snap and turned in 9 total tackles (7 solo). Alexander is a must-start in every game he is healthy for but given the fact that prior to week 7, he had only logged one solo tackles and an interception, there is a chance that he is on the waiver wire of a shallower league. If that describes your league, you need to pick him up. Tampa Bay hosts Carolina in week 8.
Antonio Morrison IND LB – 3-4 ILB Value: LB2 – LB3
No sneaky play this week. Morrison’s play recently deserves more than a passing week’s mention. Despite the fact that Jon Bostic has played virtually every Colts’ defensive snap versus Morrison’s 81% usage year to date (ignoring week 2 where Morrison was out), Morrison has scored almost the same amount of tackles as Bostic (45 to Bostic’s 49). Looking at the Colts’ last three game trend however, Bostic’s 16 total tackles trails greatly behind Morrison’s 27 total tackles, including a 13 total tackle performance against the Jaguars. Both guys leave much to be desired in big play leagues but if you play in balanced leagues or tackle heavy, Morrison is a solid add given his play lately. The Colts visit Cincinnati then Houston in successive weeks followed by hosting the Steelers. I like this three game stretch for Morrison’s productivity.
Defensive linemen plays
David Irving led the way for a lackluster offering last week. Irving scored three total tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a pass defensed in Dallas’ dismantling of the 49ers on Sunday. He got only 55% of the Cowboys’ snaps but looks to be an impact player despite less than rotational usage. Solomon Thomas followed up his big outing last week with a terrible outing this week. The rookie scored only a single solo tackle despite being on the field for 61 snaps, 11 more snaps than DeForest Buckner. From what I saw, Thomas struggled to shake blocks when the ball came his way. Frank Clark was one of many Seahawks who failed to get to Eli Manning in week 7. The Giants did a remarkable job protecting Eli, allowing only one sack. Clark came close with a few hurries but only managed one assist and a fumble recovery on the lone sack of the day for Seattle that went to Jarran Reed. Clark was on the field for 85% of the Seahawks snaps so despite the disappointment, I’d still try to find ways to get him in your lineup.
Cameron Heyward/Tyson Alualu PIT DE – 3-4 DE Value: DL1 – DL3
The Steelers visit the Detroit Lions in week 8. My gut says that the Steelers will do their best to continue to use Le’Veon Bell and playaction to control the game whereas the Lions won’t have a chance to win unless it’s on the right arm of Matthews Stafford. Stafford is currently averaging over 39 passing attempts over his last three games. Over those same three games, Stafford has been sacked 17 times for an average of 5.7 sacks per game. By record, the Steelers are the best team in the NFL and I think that if they prove it against the Lions in week 8, some value could be had from their pass rushers. Cameron Heyward is more of the shallower league option as his tackle floor is much higher. Tyson Alualu is likely to draw into the lineup if Stephon Tuitt’s back issues continue to plague him. Given his lack of ownership, he is your deeper league target.
Michael Johnson CIN DE – 4-3 DE Value: DL2 – DL3
Despite being less heralded than bookend Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson has sneakily been the better defensive end for both the Bengals and fantasy owners. Ownership numbers definitely haven’t reflected that fact either. Johnson and the Bengals host the Colts in week 8 who are reeling after giving up 10 sacks against the Jaguars. Granted the Bengals do not have the pass rushing capabilities of the Jaguars but offensive line woes like the Colts are dealing with do not fix themselves overnight. Johnson, Dunlap and the rest of the Bengals pass rush could be in line for a big game if the ship continues off course for the Colts.
Sneaky play of the week – Chris McCain LAC DE
The Patriots host the red-hot Chargers fresh off of a shutout of the Broncos in week 7. Would you believe that Tom Brady is the 11th most sacked QB in the NFL at over 2.5 times per game? Would you also believe that Chargers have the 4th most sacks in the NFL this year at 3.3 per game (23 total)? Three players are responsible for 21 of those sacks; Melvin Ingram with 8.5, Joey Bosa with 7.5 and Chris McCain with 5. While Ingram and Bosa are likely to be universally owned in almost every format, McCain is virtually unowned despite being tied for 14th in the NFL in sacks. His 26% usage probably doesn’t help matters on that front but he’s got 15 total tackles and 2 forced fumbles to go with his sacks despite the low usage. I’m not going to hide the fact that you are sack-hunting here but McCain could be the homerun swing you are looking for in an otherwise down week for free agent defensive linemen.
Defensive back plays
Both Denver safeties fell victim to the way that the Broncos/Chargers game played out. Philip Rivers didn’t have to throw the ball so neither safety made very many tackles. Justin Simmons finished with 2 total tackles and Darian Stewart finished with 1 tackle despite both with very high usages. Ricardo Allen was decent for the Falcons against the Patriots with 6 total tackles while playing every snap but one. DJ Swearinger had a more quiet Monday night game with 4 solo tackles as the Eagles had their way with the Redskins. Montae Nicholson fared worse in the same game with 3 total tackles.
Eddie Jackson/Adrian Amos CHI S – 3-4 SS/FS Value: DB2 – DB3
I had Adrian Amos on the report in week 5 as priority pickup due to an injury to opening day starter Quintin Demps and he remains a great option this week along with his strong safety counterpart Eddie Jackson. The Bears use both Jackson and Amos at virtually 100% usage with maximize point potential for them. Jackson is coming off of a once in a lifetime game where he ran back two touchdowns of 75 yards or better; one from interception and one from a fumble recovery. Let’s be straight. To that point in NFL history, no one had ever done that before and it might never happen again. You’ll never be able to predict touchdowns on defense so I won’t try. What you can predict is that opportunity to make tackles (and maybe the odd splash play) should be more prevalent than average against the Bears week 8 opponent, the New Orleans Saints. Drew Brees is averaging 25 completions per game and I expect the Bears safeties will be expected to step up and make some tackles. If I’m being honest, Eddie Jackson might be incredibly overvalued in waiver wire runs this week. Don’t break the bank trying to chase NFL history, put in a modest bid and have Amos as your backup if/when you get outbid.
Byron Jones/Jeff Heath DAL S – 4-3 FS/SS Value: DB2 – DB3
Neither safety for the Cowboys has been much of fantasy commodity with both Byron Jones and Jeff Heath logging 30 total tackles a piece through 6 games this season. But with Washington hosting Dallas in week 8, I like their chance to post some inflated matchup numbers. Opposing safeties have scored 27 total tackles, a sack, a interception and a fumble recovery in Washington’s last two games. Washington hasn’t been able to run the ball very well on offense lately so assuming that Dallas keeps them in a position to need to score to keep up, Kirk Cousins will put the ball in the air which should lead to some Cowboy safety production.
Sean Davis PIT S – 3-4 SS Value: DB2 – DB3
Sean Davis has been the most utilized safety on the Pittsburgh Steelers roster at 94%. He also leads all Steeler defensive backs with 35 total tackles this season. While 5 total tackles per game average isn’t exciting, he does present decent value as a stream option against a high volume passing team. Four times this year have opposing quarterbacks averaged over 30 attempts against the Steelers, in those games Davis has averaged 13.6 fantasy points. I have little doubt that Detroit in week 8 will not throw the ball more than 30 times. That’s solid stream value at a defensive back position that lacks some star power this week.
Sneaky play of the week – Trae Waynes MIN CB
Trae Waynes is a staple for most cornerback required leagues but is surprisingly lacking ownership in many mixed defensive back leagues despite 40 total tackles, 2 interceptions and 5 passes defensed to his name so far this season. So in fairness, I’m not sure how sneaky this pick is. Regardless, Waynes is going to be in for another heavily targetted game. The Cleveland Browns, the Vikings’ opponent in week 8, will be forced to throw at him as teams continue to avoid Xavier Rhodes which should continue to boost Waynes’ tackle values as well as his chance of making a big play. As a team, the Browns are averaging 21 completions per game on 39 attempts and a league-leading 2.4 interceptions per game which is a full interception per game more than any other team in the NFL. Waynes gives you a high tackle floor and a better than average chance at an interception this week.