The IDP Breakdown is a weekly feature column that goes game by game and looks at all of the key matchups to help you identify big value plays, some not-so-obvious starts, and players to avoid. Analysis is based in part on Jeff Ratcliffe’s weekly projections for the defensive linemen, linebackers, and defensive backs.
Jacksonville @ Houston
Jeremy Mincey looked really impressive on Monday night against the Ravens, and deserves some attention in IDP leagues. The fifth-year player out of Florida has graded out positively in six of seven games this season, and currently sits 16th among 4-3 DEs here at PFF. He has converted two of his 23 QB interruptions for sacks to go along with 15 solo tackles. In looking closely at his play, especially over the last three weeks, Mincey has been the most effective Jaguars pass rusher. This week, he faces a Texans team that gives up the fifth most fantasy points to opposing defensive linemen. If Mincey is available in your league, grab him and start him as a DL2 in all formats.
After back-to-back down weeks from Antonio Smith, look for him to rebound this weekend against a Jacksonville team that has given up the sixth most sacks this season. Owners in big play formats in need of a spot play may want to look to Brooks Reed. The rookie LB has stepped in to replace Mario Williams and has played nearly every snap since. He recorded his first sack of the season last week against a very good Titans offensive line, so we should see him get some shots at Blaine Gabbert this weekend. Consider him an interesting LB3/flex play in big play leagues. Daniel Manning broke his left tibia and will likely miss at least a month. Troy Nolan will move into the starting spot for the time being. While it looked like Manning was starting to get more action in the box, don’t expect the same for Nolan, who is more of a cover guy. This means a bump in IDP value for Glover Quin, who has the ability to make plays in the box. Though certainly a situation to monitor, Quin is worth a flier as your DB3 this weekend against the underneath play heavy Jacksonville offense.
New Orleans @ St. Louis
After grading out negatively in each of his first five games this season, Jonathan Vilma was moved to the weak side last week against the Colts. He proceeded to again grade out negatively (currently sitting at -9.9) and failed to record a solo tackle. While the Rams have been a slightly favorable matchup for LBs this season, you just can’t put your trust in Vilma as an LB2 this week or moving forward. A Saint you have been able to trust for a better part of the season has been Roman Harper. Though not the most technically sound safety, he tends to show up big in the stats sheet. Most weeks, Harper is a solid DB1, but the Rams currently yield the seventh least fantasy points to opposing DBs. With Sam Bradford still on the mend, I wouldn’t want to rely on Harper as anything more than a low-end DB2 this week.
New Orleans tends to have the exact opposite effect on DB value, as they currently give up the second most fantasy points to the position. That means good things for owners of Darian Stewart and Quintin Mikell, as I expect both players will get a production boost based on the matchup. On the other hand, I would not expect the same for Chris Long. New Orleans has given up just eight sacks to defensive linemen this season, which is slightly more than one per game. Pay close attention to Justin King’s status as we move into the weekend. King injured his groin last week against the Cowboys and missed practice this week. If he can’t go, the Saints will likely turn to Josh Gordy to get the start along with Al Harris. I wouldn’t want to rely on either player, but would want to start as many Saints offensive players as possible in this one.
Arizona @ Baltimore
Baltimore hasn’t exactly been the best matchup for opposing IDPs this season, and if they play anything like they did this past Monday night, this could be a long day for owners of any of the Cardinals defenders. Daryl Washington owners may not only want to take caution based on the matchup, but also because he was not in the nickel packages last week. While he still does have fantasy value, I wouldn’t want Washington as anything more than an LB3 unless he’s getting those nickel snaps. Richard Marshall racked up ten solos last week, but don’t read too much into this performance. Patrick Peterson and A.J. Jefferson are still the starters. Marshall saw 55 snaps last week because the Cardinals were forced to play a lot of nickel against the Steelers. Marshall is a situational guy who cannot be counted on to give you consistent fantasy production.
Tom Zbikowski looks to be returning from a concussion this week for the Ravens. While he will not find his way into your fantasy lineup, his return could impact whether or not you start another player – Bernard Pollard. Since Zbikowski’s concussion, Pollard has taken over as an every-down player and has notched 12 solos and three passes defensed. He also forced two Maurice Jones-Drew fumbles last week. For now, you have to keep Pollard in your lineup as a DB2. The Ravens as a whole tallied five sacks least week, and I would expect more of the same this week against an Arizona team that has given up an average of three per game this season. Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata are obvious must starts and should capitalize on the matchup. Ray Lewis is also another matchup-proof play despite the Cardinals struggles on offensive and likelihood that Beanie Wells does not play.
Indianapolis @ Tennessee
The Colts LB corps have certainly put up the tackle numbers this season. The problem for fantasy owners has been predicting which of their LBs will lead the team in a given week. In the first five weeks of the season, Pat Angerer led the team in three games, Kavell Conner in one game, and the two tied for the team lead in the remaining game. Since then, Conner has been demoted from the nickel package in favor of Ernie Sims. At the same time, Phillip Wheeler has seen increased snaps. In Week 6, Wheeler tied with Angerer for the lead among Colts LBs, and last week, Wheeler led the team with 10 solos. We could be seeing the beginnings of a trend here, so it may be a good idea to stash Wheeler in deeper leagues and monitor his performance moving forward. Another Colt to take a close look at is Kevin Thomas, who got the start at left CB last week in place of Jacob Lacey. At 6’1” Thomas has good size, and managed seven solos and a pass defensed last week. Though not a play this week, he’s definitely someone to keep an eye on, especially in CB required dynasty leagues.
From an IDP matchup standpoint, the Colts have been the worst team this season. They currently give up the least fantasy points to opposing defensive backs and linebackers. Defensive linemen do fare slightly better, but even there the Colts sit just below the league average for points yielded. If you own any Titans IDPs, this may be the week to sit them in favor of better options. I’m not crazy about Barrett Ruud, Michael Griffin, Courtland Finnegan, Jason Jones, or Derrick Morgan in this one. The only Tennessee defender who I may consider starting is Jason McCourty based on his tackle production and big play potential. But even there, I’m tempering my expectations and have him as a DB2 play.
Minnesota @ Carolina
With Minnesota’s bye looming next week, we can expect Antoine Winfield to again sit out this week. Chris Cook initially got the start in his place, but Cook was arrested last week and will not be playing for the Vikings any time in the near future. That leaves Asher Allen to play opposite Cedric Griffin at corner. Aside from Week 3, Griffin hasn’t really put up numbers that would warrant a look in IDP leagues, but Allen could potentially be an interesting play. Last week against the Packers, Allen racked up 10 solo tackles and receivers caught nine of the ten targets thrown into his coverage. Expect Allen to again see a lot of action in this one, which makes him a sneaky DB2 play in tackle heavy and balanced scoring formats. Jared Allen continues to defy the laws of nature and now has 12 sacks on the season. That’s a pace that would shatter the league record. Surely it’s not sustainable. Is it? Brian Robison’s production has dropped off in the last two weeks, but I wouldn’t give up on him. Carolina hasn’t been the friendliest team to opposing DLs, but Robison will continue to benefit from playing opposite Allen. He’s still a DL2 this week and moving forward.
In the off-season, the Panthers stepped up and gave Charles Johnson a massive $76 million contract. Now, for reasons unknown, the Panthers are experimenting with a 3-4 base defense that would render Johnson almost unplayable. He’s simply not big enough to play 3-4 DE, and he has looked extremely out of place when playing with his hand off the ground as an OLB this season. Though it’s not certain that this experiment will actually come to fruition, Johnson’s IDP value will be severely compromised if it does. A player who has been gaining fantasy value as a result of this shift is Antwan Applewhite. In the last three weeks, Applewhite has eight QB interruptions and a sack to go along with eight solos. Though he only gets about 40-50% of the snaps, Applewhite could have some sneaky value moving forward in big play leagues if the Panthers make the shift to a 3-4. For this week, keep Applewhite in free agency. Of course, you want to start your regulars from Carolina. In addition to Johnson, that means Greg Hardy, James Anderson, and Charles Godfrey. Another guy to consider if you’re in a bye week jam is Dan Connor. While he’s only a two-down player, he was very effective last week in that role. He racked up ten solos in just 30 snaps played. While that kind of frequency can’t be expected on an every week basis, he does make a nice fill in as an LB3/flex play against Adrian Peterson.
Miami @ New York Giants
The Dolphins inside linebacking tandem of Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett underachieved for fantasy owners through the first five weeks of the season. In that span, Dansby recorded only 17 solo tackles, and Burnett had just two more. Last week against a Denver team who had not been kind to opposing LBs this season, the pair went out and racked up 17 solos between the two of them (nine for Dansby and eight for Burnett). They have a nice matchup this week against a Giants team who will likely get out to an early lead and then lean on the run. Dansby makes a solid LB2, and Burnett an LB3. The other Dolphin you want in your lineup this week is Yeremiah Bell. Miami used Bell to spy Tim Tebow last week, and Bell landed two nice hits on the Broncos new QB (one of them for a sack). Though we likely won’t see Bell doing the same to Eli Manning, he should still be quite active on Sunday. He’s a high-end DB1 option in all formats.
According to Justin Tuck, he will play this week, come hell or high water. Keep a close eye on his status, but he needs to be in your lineup if he plays. The Dolphins have given up the most sacks this season, and just yielded six of them to the Broncos last week. With Tuck in the lineup, Osi Umenyiora’s value will not be effected, but the same cannot be said for Jason Pierre-Paul. He was a DL1 up to the Giants bye week, but Tuck’s presence will limit Pierre-Paul’s snaps, which in turn will lower his fantasy value. He’s definitely not droppable, but should not be relied on as anything more than a DL2. Another interesting situation to pay attention to this weekend is what the Giants do at LB. In Week 6, Jacquian Williams got the start at MLB with Michael Boley on the weak side. If Williams stays in the middle, he could have significant value in the second-half of the season. This week, however, I think you keep him on your bench against a Miami team that has given up the least solo tackles to opposing LBs.
Detroit @ Denver
Though I speculated that DeAndre Levy’s value would take a hit with the return of Justin Durant, that isn’t what we saw play out in Week 7. Levy was in the nickel packages, and played in 77 of the Lions 80 defensive snaps. He notched eight solos, and now has 37 in his last four games. Though this is still a situation in flux, Levy looks to still be a borderline low-end LB2 in tackle heavy formats for the time being. Both Levy and Stephen Tulloch make nice plays against a Broncos squad who was quite friendly to Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett last week. Tim Tebow also showed us last week that he is prone to be sacked. Start your Lions DLs. Louis Delmas also makes a sneaky DB2 play. He’s had seven or more solos in three of the past four games, and could be used similarly to Yerimiah Bell against Tebow.
Elvis Dumervil again disappointed fantasy owners last week, and failed to record a sack in an excellent matchup against the Dolphins. In the process, Dumervil also injured his ankle, and he has been held out of practice this week. He should be moved to your bench even if he does try to give it a go this week. While Dumervil failed to record a sack, Brian Dawkins notched two of them last week. I wouldn’t read too much into this performance, though, as Dawkins’ age has made him extremely inconsistent this season. Another interesting note from last week is that Quinton Carter got the start at FS for the Broncos over Rahim Moore. Though not a natural strong safety, this move is a telling one about the Broncos belief in Carter. He’s not worth a roster spot in redraft leagues, but he’s an interesting player in deep dynasty leagues.
Washington @ Buffalo
London Fletcher left last week’s game against the Panthers with a hamstring injury. The veteran player is currently sitting on 169 consecutive starts, but this streak will likely come to an end this weekend. Keyaron Fox will start if Fletcher can’t play, but there’s really no fantasy value there. The value is with Fletcher’s ILB counterpart, Rock McIntosh. McIntosh hasn’t been an IDP factor this season. He’s averaging just slightly under 6 solo tackles per game, but with Fletcher out he will get the green dot and the bulk of the tackle opportunities. If you need a plug and play, grab McIntosh as an LB3 in all formats. Buffalo has been a very fantasy friendly team to opposing DBs so far this season. LaRon Landry is a high-end DB1 option, but be careful if you own O.J. Atogwe, who did not play last week. He was a limited participant in practice this week, so his status is still in question. If he doesn’t play, Reed Doughty will get the start. Doughty has put up good tackle numbers when he has gotten the chance to play this season, so he could be a very sneaky DB3 play in tackle heavy leagues.
Washington has been a middle of the road matchup for IDPs at all three levels this season. George Wilson and Jarius Byrd will continue their productive ways this week. Wilson enters the game with 42 solos and makes a solid DB1. Byrd has 38 solos and will give you a DB2 numbers. Owners in CB required leagues may want to take notice of Terrence McGee who returned from injury in Week 6 and put up 11 solos. If he’s out there in your free agent pool, snatch him up as we should see CB1 numbers from him the rest of the season. Another player to take a look at is Kelvin Sheppard. The rookie LB will take over for Andra Davis as the starter opposite Nick Barnett on the inside for the Bills. Sheppard is a talented tackler, who could put up solid fantasy numbers if he gets the nickel snaps. Keep an eye on how the Bills use him this weekend, but he is worth a preemptive stash, especially in dynasty formats.
Cincinnati @ Seattle
Despite having last week to rest, it’s looking almost certain that Rey Maualuga will miss another game for the Bengals. With Maualuga out in Week 6, Dan Skuta got the start in the middle and recorded four solo tackles on 37 snaps. The Bengals brought Brandon Johnson in on nickel situations, though, so it looks like neither is a three-down option. It’s best to avoid either player. Thomas Howard was limited in practice this week, but should play on Sunday. He will see nickel snaps and could be used as an LB3/flex option. I wouldn’t expect much from any Bengals defender in this one, as Seattle gives up the eighth least fantasy points to opposing defenders.
David Hawthorne finally showed up big last week, recording 11 solos, a sack, and a pick against the Browns. He looked to be moving much better, which is a good sign that he’s recovered from the injuries that hampered him throughout the earlier part of the season. If he was somehow dropped in your league, grab him, as he’s a must-own in all formats. Moving forward, he’s an every week LB2. The Seahawks were again struck with injury at DB last week, losing Walter Thurmond III for the season. Richard Sherman will get the start this week on the left side. The fifth-round pick out of Stanford is a big boy at 6’3” and will likely see plenty of targets. He saw seven of them last week, and could see more against Andy Dalton and company this week. He’s worth a bye week flier, especially in deeper leagues.
New England @ Pittsburgh
Jerod Mayo was a limited participant in practice this week, so keep an eye on his status as we move into the weekend. If he plays, he makes a solid LB2. But if he doesn’t, Gary Guyton will again start on the weak side. The Patriots look to have completely moved to a 4-3 base defense, so Brandon Spikes will continue to man the middle regardless of Mayo’s status. This shift has also upped the fantasy value of Andre Carter, who is coming off of a Week 6 performance where he notched two sacks against the Cowboys. Carter (+11.4) currently grades out as the eighth highest rated 4-3 DE, and has solidified his status as an every DL2. I especially like him this week against the sack prone Ben Roethlisberger. Both Devin McCourty and Pat Chung make DB1 plays against the recently pass-heavy Steelers offense. You may also want to get Kyle Arrington into your lineup, especially in big play leagues.
Defensive backs have fared extremely well against the Patriots this season. Because of this matchup boost, Troy Polamalu is my number one DB this week. Another more sneaky play would be Ryan Clark. Clark has 33 solos on the season, and we have seen numerous free safeties have their biggest weeks of the season against New England. Clark is likely not owned, and makes a nice high floor plug and play. Whether or not he’s on Wes Welker, I would stay away from Ike Taylor. Taylor has just nine solos on the season, and it’s likely we don’t see that trend reverse this weekend. James Harrison has already been declared out for Week 8, so that means another long week for Lawrence Timmons owners. Keep him on your bench until Harrison returns. A Steelers LB who should not be kept on your bench is LaMarr Woodley. He has six sacks in the last three games, and will continue to roll this weekend. The Patriots have given up 11 sacks on the season, and eight of them have gone to LBs (including five in the last two games). Woodley makes an LB1 play in big play leagues, and an LB2 in balanced formats.
Cleveland @ San Francisco
The 49ers have given up nearly two sacks per week and the fourth most fantasy points per game to opposing defensive linemen. Both Jabaal Sheard and Ahtyba Rubin make solid DL2 plays based on the matchup. You may also want to consider Jamie Mitchell as a DL3 if you have some bye week problems. Joe Haden did end up playing last week, despite reports that he was going to sit. He made it through the game without a setback, so we should definitely see him this weekend. I’m not crazy about playing him, however, as San Francisco currently yields the second least fantasy points per game to opposing DBs. You may want to look to other options if you’re a Haden owner. That being said, I don’t think T.J. Ward’s value is affected as much, and would still consider him a DB2 in all formats. Ward will be used up in the box to try and stop the 49ers run game, and should have plenty of tackle opportunities.
Coming into this game, Navorro Bowman is averaging roughly 8.2 solo tackles per game. He’s now a borderline LB1, and if you have him, you’re starting him every week regardless of matchup. Another emerging force in San Francisco is OLB Aldon Smith. Though still technically not the starter, Smith is getting used almost exclusively on passing downs. So far, 75.7% of his snaps have occurred in passing situations. He has responded to this role with six sacks in his last three games. This week, he faces a Browns team that yielded seven sacks last week to the Seahawks. Keep Smith out of your lineups in tackle heavy leagues, but in big play formats he’s a solid LB2 play.
Dallas @ Philadelphia
With just three solo tackles, Sean Lee didn’t give us the LB1 numbers we have come to expect from him this season. I wouldn’t worry if you own him, as this was more a product of the matchup than anything. Lee will get back to LB1 status this week against the surprisingly run-heavy Eagles. Philadelphia currently yields the most fantasy points per game to opposing defensive backs. While the Cowboys do not really have any DBs worth owning in IDP leagues, Terrance Newman is actually sneaky good play in this one. He will see plenty of action, and should get his chances to make some tackles. Michael Vick has also shown us this season that he is prone to give up an interception or two. This one isn’t for the faint of heart, but if you’re willing to gamble, Newman could pay off as a high upside DB3 play.
There hasn’t been any consistency from the Philadelphia LB corps this season, due in part to the lack of continuity from this young group. Jamar Chaney is the best fantasy option from this bunch, though it has been tough to rely on his production as anything more than an LB4. This week, Chaney will get it going against a Cowboys team who gives up the most fantasy points per game to opposing LBs. Get him in your lineup as an LB2 in all formats. Trent Cole will return this week and give a much-needed boost to the Eagles defensive line. When he plays, Cole is an automatic DL1. His presence also helps out Jason Babin’s cause, and you can also play Babin as a DL1. Keep an eye on Brandon Graham, who is set to come off the PUP list and could return next week. The last time we saw the Eagles, Kurt Coleman had three picks in a single game. Despite being benched earlier in the season, it looks like Coleman has strengthened his grip on the starting job. Both he and Nate Allen make low end DB2 plays this week.
San Diego @ Kansas City
In case you haven’t heard, Antoine Cason has been benched in favor of Marcus Gilchrist for the Chargers. The rookie out of Clemson will now play opposite Quentin Jammer and should see a lot of targets, making him ownable in most all formats. Despite not seeing the nickel snaps, Donald Butler continues to put up solid fantasy numbers. Last week, he notched six solos and scored on a very odd play that was ruled a force fumble and fumble recovery. While I’m never a fan of playing two-down LBs, Butler may be the exception to the rule this season. Don’t go getting too confident with Butler in this one, though. Kansas City has given up the third least fantasy points to opposing LBs.
After several disappointing fantasy weeks, Derrick Johnson gave owners a huge 13-tackle performance last week against the Raiders. While he hasn’t had the IDP production that we have hoped for, Johnson has graded out positively in each of his six games this season. His overall grading of +10.8 places him sixth among all ILBs. Look for Johnson to show positive regression moving forward, especially this week against a San Diego team that gives up the second most fantasy points to opposing LBs. Another Chief to like in this one is Jon McGraw. McGraw stepped back into the starting lineup and recorded five solos to go along with one pick. The Chargers yield the fourth most fantasy points per game to DBs, so expect another nice day from McGraw. He makes a solid DB2 play in all formats.
Week 8 is here, and so too is Halloween. May you eat, drink, and be scary this weekend. And, of course, best of luck in all of your leagues. As always, if you have any questions, comments, or just want to talk football, feel free to hit me up on Twitter – @JeffRatcliffe.