With week 14 in the books, we are in the home stretch of the NFL regular season but in the heart of the fantasy playoffs. Unfortunately, week 14 was the first week that we were exposed to the dreaded “resting for the playoffs”. Owners of Duke Ihenacho, Wesley Woodyard and Derek Wolfe were subjected to lackluster games from their players as their coaching staff “rested” them for various reasons (injury, poor play or getting 2nd string some playing time). Be careful of starting these players going forward, there is no reason to believe that this won’t happen again. If you can, it is always better to start players from teams that still have something to play for; be it playoff positioning this year or jobs next year. Compounding some of the bad news, there were no less than 3 marquee players who fell to devastating knee injuries in Rob Gronkowski, Jonathan Stewart and super-rookie Tyrann Mathieu. Mathieu was putting up studly numbers for a rookie safety (68 total tackles, 1 FF, 1 sack, 2 INT, 9 PD) before his injury and might still win defensive rookie of the year despite missing the remaining 3 games. Owners that count on the “Honey Badger” on a weekly basis will need to look elsewhere for defensive back help.
It was tough to complain about week 14 for IDP Free Agent Report. Audie Cole and Mason Foster were both in the lower LB1 conversation with their performance. Foster logged 9 total tackles (7 solo) against Buffalo along with 1 of 2 interceptions to go Tampa Bay LBs on Sunday. His return to 3rd down duties leaves him a quality start down the stretch. Audie Cole logged 12 total tackles (6 solo) on defense as well as a special teams solo tackle against the Ravens. Cole doesn’t represent as high of splash play potential as his predecessor Erin Henderson did; likely because of a reluctance to send Cole on blitzes as often as Henderson was. With that said, I would argue that this was done to hide Henderson’s deficiency in coverage moreso than an aggressive defensive style or propensity to score splash plays. Craig Robertson was fairly invisible throughout the day against the Patriots despite Shane Vereen catching a ridiculous amount of balls in their miraculous come-back win against the Browns. This may be due to Robertson not being 100% as usually runningback catches relates directly to him scoring. Sean Lee also looked to be ok after being sidelined with a hamstring injury after the first half but struggled with a neck stinger in second half and ultimately left the field. He logged 7 total tackles before succumbing to his injury.
Tamba Hali KCC LB – OLB 3-4
After a stretch of poorer games (trying to pass rush against the Chargers and the Broncos twice will do that to you), Hali came roaring back with 6 total tackles and 2 sacks against the Redskins. With the Raiders due up in week 15, Hali could in for a monster game. The Chiefs also get the Colts in week 16 (29 sacks given up) so the potential to ride Hali through a good two week stretch through the playoffs is there. Big play leagues should boost him up accordingly.
Roster Recommendation: Mid LB2 to Mid LB3 (Mid LB1 to Mid LB2 Big play)
Moise Fokou TEN LB – MLB 4-3
After going down with a knee injury for 5 weeks, I had wondered aloud whether this would be the opportunity for the Titans’ coaching staff to move Colin McCarthy back into a fulltime middle linebacker role. Injuries and inconsistency (usually stemming from those injuries) were the reason that this young LB lost his job in the first place. If he could stay healthy taking over from Fokou, surely he would regain his lost starting role. The stats were there. Over a 4-game, 5-week stretch, McCarthy posted 28 solo tackles, 8 assists, 1 FF and an interception. However, in week 12, Fokou returned from injury and McCarthy was relegated to the bench. Fokou’s productivity after returning from injury was lackluster at best, averaging 4 solo tackles a game until breaking out with 8 solo tackles against the Broncos in week 14. The Titans get the Cardinals at home in week 15 and Fokou may be one of the very few volume tackle options remaining in standard 2-3 LB start formats.
Roster Recommendation: Mid LB2 to Mid LB3
Denver LBs (Von Miller, Paris Lenon and Danny Trevathan) – SLB/MLB/WLB 4-3
Both of the OLBs have graced the IDP Free Agent Report in weeks past, but this week’s entry is not for anything they are doing but rather the boost that they will likely receive with the benching of Wesley Woodyard. Why are all three LB spots on here you ask? Each of the three represent different options to different owners. The big play leaguers will like that Miller should score slightly better on base downs with Woodyard out in addition to Denver getting San Diego in week 15. That game will be a track meet and Von Miller scores well in those games (see week 10 v. Chargers and week 12 v. Patriots). Tackle-heavy leaguers will like that Danny Trevathan represents more third-down value as Paris Lenon is atrocious in coverage and will likely not see the field at all in passing situations. And finally, desperate deep leaguers might be able to spot start Paris Lenon as a two-down run stuffer.
Roster Recommendation: Low-end LB1 to Low-end LB3
Sneaky Linebacker Play
Junior Galette NOS LB – St. Louis really struggled to deal with the pass rushing threat of John Abraham in week 14. Galette is really hot after dropping Cam Newton behind the line 3 times on Sunday night football. I like this matchup as I see New Orleans making this one a laugher.
Defensive Linemen Plays
Another week, another multi-sack game for Justin Tuck who is enjoying a bit of a scoring renaissance late in the year. Scoring in general was lower this week with the top 10 averaging 5 points less than the top 10 of last week. In addition, this week in defensive line scoring was more tackle filled than sack filled. The top 10 of week 14 combined for just 9 sacks whereas the top 10 of week 13 combined for 16.5 sacks.
Jonathan Massaquoi proved to be the option of the week from the DL recommendations. He posted 5 total tackles and 1.5 sacks to go along with 2 special teams tackles. I really like him as an emerging talent for keeper leagues and his matchup this week against the imploding Redskins is golden. The Cardinals did a great job protecting Carson Palmer (0 sacks) and as such, my Chris Long/Mike Brockers recommendation was rendered a poor one as each managed only 2 total tackles. Olivier Vernon scored a sack to go with 2 total tackles. The Dolphins get the Patriots and Bills in weeks 15/16. Vernon logged a sack in each of their previous meetings so I like him throughout the fantasy playoffs.
Cameron Heyward PIT DE – DE 3-4
Heyward might be the best run stuffing 3-4 end in football right now. The former Buckeye has logged 42 total tackles in his last 7 games to go with 4 sacks and 4 PDs. Heyward is breaking out in his third year in the league and as with so many of the Pittsburgh Steeler defensive draft picks, he was given seasoning behind the veterans whether he needed it or not and when it came time to perform, he excelled. Heyward is a guy that I like down the stretch as well as for next year. Stash him if you can. The Bengals don’t provide the greatest matchup ever but the Packers in week 16 do.
Roster Recommendation: High-end DL2 to Mid DL3 (Stash opportunity)
Tyson Jackson KCC DE – DE 3-4
For very similar reasons to why Tamba Hali is recommended, Tyson Jackson is getting the call. He posted 2 sacks against the Redskins as well as Hali. Jackson isn’t the strongest play in the world in terms of safety. He’s not a great bet for a ton of tackles but he is the best bet for sack production from the Chiefs defensive line.
Roster Recommendation: Mid DL2 to Mid DL3
Sneaky Defensive Linemen Play
George Selvie/Jason Hatcher DAL DE – I am exploiting the Packers as the sack matchup to go until (if?) Aaron Rodgers returns to the lineup. Matt Flynn is very sackable and should provide some fodder for the largely no-name Dallas Cowboys defensive line.
Defensive Back Plays
Once again, a defensive back (Antoine Bethea) leads the league in tackles for the week with 17. Of the top 10 defensive backs this week, there was only one splash play (1 sack). That’s incredible to me and seems to indicate a shift of dominant tackling going from middle linebacker to strong safety. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues with the increase of passing offense in the league.
Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner were the good recommendations of the week. Verner was a top 3 DB for the week with 8 solo tackles, 1 assist and 3 PDs. McCourty logged 6 total tackles in that same contest against the Broncos. The frigid conditions and the return of Major Wright (albeit limited) limited Craig Steltz to 2 solo tackles. Chris Conte was still more than startable with 9 total tackles (7 solo). Buster Skrine wasn’t the Cleveland CB that scored against the Patriots. It was 3rd round rookie Leon McFadden coming out of nowhere to post 7 total tackles. Skrine was limited to 3 total tackles.
James Ihedigbo BAL S – 3-4 SS
James Ihedigbo is an interesting case. An undrafted free agent out of UMass that has risen to the top of the depth chart due to poor play or injury ahead of him at every spot of his career with the Patriots, Jets and now the Ravens. Ihedigbo seems to be quicker to the ball than ILB Daryl Smith at times as well in the box. I would start Ihedigbo until he gives you a reason not to. With 5 out of his last 6 games going for double digit fantasy points and the Lions on deck in week 15, give the 7th year man a look at DB.
Roster Recommendation: High-end DB2 to Mid DB3
Marcus Gilchrist SDC SS –3-4 SS
Marcus Gilchrist has 60 total tackles through 13 games including 13 total tackles, 1 FF and 1 FR over his last two games. Queue up the Broncos in a track meet game in week 15 and I think the young safety could be a good play of owners into the fantasy playoffs.
Roster Recommendation: Mid DB2 to Mid DB3
Trumaine Johnson STL CB – 4-3 CB
I’m not going to pretend that this is an amazingly insightful pick. Simply put, Trumaine Johnson was picked on by Carson Palmer and the Cardinals in week 14. Personally, I don’t see that Drew Brees and New Orleans will provide an easier challenge. Johnson should be good for 6-8 total tackles and a PD or two.
Roster Recommendation: High-end DB2 to Low-end DB3
Sneaky Defensive Back Play
Chris Clemons MIA S – The Patriots will throw it around to whomever they have to in order to score. The Dolphins are rotating their cornerbacks (Grimes, Patterson and Carroll) so I expect that the best game of the Dolphin DB will come from their free safety.