With week 17 on the books, for many, the fantasy season is over. One victor and many defeated. Hopefully, the Huddle once again led you to fantasy gold but if not, there is always next year. For those who have a week 17 final, yours truly is here to walk you through some pickups for the final regular season week of the year. In addition, for those whose season is over, I will forego my usual “sneaky plays” for a couple stash-type players for you guys too. The last week of the regular season features a few doozies for games. Eagle-Cowboys for the division, Packers-Bears for the division and 49ers-Cardinals with wildcard implications; just to name a few. I am personally looking forward to the Chiefs-Chargers game. I think San Diego can be a scary matchup for a team like the Bengals or the Colts. I hope they close it out for a wildcard berth because I don’t think Miami is nearly as dangerous and the defending champs might not be able to sneak out of Cincinnati with a win.
It was a rough week for LB pickups last week. Lance Briggs was shut down after his team basically coughed up the game in the first quarter. He managed one tackle in that first quarter before he was done. Owners that were counting on his to give them a boost in the championship game were left needing much more. Joe Mays tooks a back seat to Darryl Sharpton (8 total tackles) for looks at tackle from the inside linebacker position. Mays managed 3 tackles and a PD. Dekoda Watson was serviceable with 5 solo tackles and a forced fumble but simply was unable to shed blocks when the ball came his way. He had potential for much more. The embattled Falcons offensive line did a pretty good job handling a ferocious 49ers pass rush on Monday so Aldon Smith burns me twice in the same calendar year.
Erin Henderson MIN LB – MLB 4-3
Audie Cole is battling a high ankle sprain and won’t be available for the regular season finale. Week 1 MLB starter Erin Henderson returns to his old job with Marvin Mitchell sliding back into weak-side LB. Both were solid against the Bengals with Henderson posting 7 solo tackles, 5 assists and 1 forced fumble and Mitchell posting 7 total tackles. The Vikings get the Detroit Lions in week 17. Both teams are very disappointed with their season so this game will go one of two ways; a blow out for the one team that shows up or a completely horrible game all the way around. Henderson is only play I can realistically recommend here but if you are desperate, grab Mitchell and hope for a blowout.
Roster Recommendation: High-end LB2 to Mid LB3
Stephen Nicholas/Joplo Bartu ATL LB – SLB/WLB 4-3
The Falcons season goes from bad to worse with their best defensive player, Sean Weatherspoon, missing yet another game this year. This time it was a knee injury that caused the missed game. Not much has gone right for the Falcons this year but the horrible season has caused IDP value for Falcons LB to go through the roof. Guess who the top LB in tackle-heavy fantasy has been since week 8? Undrafted Falcons rookie and former column recommendation Paul Worrilow. In Weatherspoon’s absence, reserve LB and 2012 starter Stephen Nicholas emerged from fantasy purgatory to post a monster game (10 total tackles and a sack). Joplo Bartu did quite well himself with 11 total tackles. The Falcons get the now division leading Carolina Panthers in week 17. Make no mistake, this one will get messy. Start any Falcons LB you have, Paul Worrilow scored 19 tackles alone in week 9 the last time these two teams met.
Roster Recommendation: Mid LB2 to Mid LB3
Bruce Carter DAL LB – WLB 4-3
Bruce Carter returned to the lineup in style after missing week 15 with a hamstring problem. The former Tarheel posted 12 total tackles against the Redskins. MLB Sean Lee is being talked about getting shut down for the year and reserve MLB Ernie Sims missed week 16 (and likely to miss week 17) with a groin problem. Someone needs to make the tackles and Carter may be the only one left standing. The Eagles are a dream matchup as well. Start Carter with confidence this week. I think he has low-end LB1 upside.
Roster Recommendation: Low-end LB1 to Low-end LB2
Stash Linebacker Play
Michael Mauti/Gerald Hodges MIN LB – Minnesota doubled down on Linebacker U alums in the 2013 draft. Michael Mauti should have been drafted higher but was still recovering from a serious knee injury. Mauti has been given some rope at middle linebacker and the Minnesota linebacker situation is really in flux. I think Mauti has a better shot to crack the starting lineup than Hodges but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if both LBs play meaningful snaps in 2014.
Kevin Minter ARI LB – Minter was drafted in the 2nd round out of LSU in the 2013 draft but ended up taking a backseat to returning Cardinal Karlos Dansby. Dansby posted a top 3 season for IDP owners who held on after he was cut by the Dolphins but he is only signed for this year and is 32 years old. Look for him to try and get one last big contract and it might not be from the Cardinals. Minter could be in line for some quality production if so.
Defensive Linemen Plays
Pat Sims, a defensive tackle for the Oakland Raiders, was far and away the top scorers for defensive linemen in week 16. 15 total tackles and a sack? That’s a top score for any player, much less a nose tackle. Past Sims, the score sheet had some familiar names with multi-sack games. Guys like Robert Quinn, Greg Hardy and Kyle Williams were solid in the playoffs for their respective fantasy owners.
I am going to chalk up last week as a win for owners who needed the column to help them fish for a defensive lineman in week 16. Chris Long only posted one tackle but it was for a sack. Nick Fairley had a monster game scoring 3 solo tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a safety. His game might have been a championship clincher for those who have been streaming DL all year. Derrick Morgan was also brilliant with 5 solo tackles and a sack against the Jaguars.
Mathias Kiwanuka NYG DE – DE 4-3
Kiwanuka is coming off of a big week against the Lions where he posted 6 total tackles, 2 sacks, a forced fumble and a PD. The pre-week 15 Redskins might have been one of the better matchups for opposing DL looking for sacks but since then with Kirk Cousins at the controls, they have only allowed one sack. Despite that, I still think the Giants will get to Cousins more than once. Expect Kiwi to make a splash play.
Roster Recommendation: Mid DL2 to Mid DL3
Everson Griffen MIN DE – DE 4-3
I don’t normally recommend part-time players as free agent pickups but the production lately as well as the dream matchup makes this one too good to pass up. Griffen rotates in with Brian Robison on the Vikings defensive line. He logged 5 total tackles and 1.5 sacks against the Bengals in week 16. In week 17, the Vikings get the Lions; fresh off of letting their playoff hopes slip away in their overtime loss to the Giants. Griffen could be auditioning for a full-time role here with Jared Allen likely to be elsewhere next year so there is good stash potential here also for leagues where that is a possibility.
Roster Recommendation: Mid DL2 to Low-end DL3 (Stash play also)
Stash Defensive Linemen Play
Margus Hunt CIN DE – With the Bengals prioritizing Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap over current franchise tag owner Michael Johnson for long-term deals, the writing is on the wall that Johnson will likely not be playing for the Bengals next year. A likely insurance policy, the Bengals drafted 6 foot 8 Margus Hunt out of SMU in the second round of the 2013 draft. Hunt could be a starter in 2014 on a very good defensive line in Cincinnati.
Defensive Back Plays
Interestingly enough, of the top 20 scorers for defensive back, 11 of them were cornerbacks. That said, five of those CBs logged an interception to bolster their point total whereas only 3 of the 9 safeties in the top 10 snagged a pick. More tackle heavy numbers all around for the defensive back as pass-dominant offenses cause a ripple effect in IDP fantasy. Those whose leagues feature a defensive flex might consider a defensive back to play there if the cost is cheaper. Food for thought going into the offseason.
Jonathan Joseph’s season ending foot injury ruined an otherwise excellent week of defensive back predictions. Captain Munnerlyn is proving to be a great cornerback for big play leagues as his 8 total tackles, 1 sack and 1 PD performance was a big factor in Carolina winning over New Orleans. Quintin Mikell’s day was very similar to Munnerlyn’s with his stat line reading 7 total tackles, 1 sack and 1 PD. Bradley Fletcher has a great day for his fantasy owners where he logged 7 defensive tackles and a forced fumble to go with 2 special teams tackles. Teammate Pat Chung was a slight disappointment with 4 total tackles. Kendrick Lewis was similarly disappointing with 4 total tackles in a game where he should have had more.
Zack Bowman CHI CB – 4-3 CB
Make no mistake, with or without Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay is a throwing football team. They will attack defensive backs to move the ball. Zack Bowman, Major Wright and Chris Conte are all good plays this week in a winner-take-all showdown for the NFC North. Conte and Wright should both be owned already so Bowman is your stream option.
Roster Recommendation: Mid DB2 to Mid DB3
Chris Cook/Marcus Sherels MIN CB –4-3 CB
Both of these CBs are going to be in over their head against Detroit, especially Cook who I project to be covering Calvin Johnson. Neither are really great corners but both can tackle. That is a good recipe for fantasy success. I’m not going to try to dress this up more than it needs to be. I think Detroit throws the ball at the weak links of the Minnesota defense. These guys are it.
Roster Recommendation: Mid DB2 to Mid DB3
Brandian Ross OAK SS – 4-3 SS
Brandian Ross originally got into the league as an undrafted free agent signed to the Green Bay Packers. He know finds himself as the last man standing at strong safety beside a sure fire hall of famer in Charles Woodson as the starting strong safety for the Raiders. Ross isn’t the greatest coverage guy but he tackles well and is good in run support. He logged 8 total tackles against the Chargers in week 16. The Raiders get the Broncos in week 17. This matchup scares me because I see Manning only playing the minimum to ensure a victory and number one seed. That said, give me one half of that kind of tackle opportunity and another half of run support tackles. Ross likely won’t keep a starting job when Tyvon Branch and Usama Young return from injury so there really isn’t much long-term appeal here.
Roster Recommendation: High-end DB2 to Low-end DB3
Stash Defensive Back Play
Shamarko Thomas PIT S – This is a player whose situation I really like and nobody is really talking about him. Either Steelers safety position is ridiculously productive with Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu gracing IDP lineup for years. That said, Clark and Polamalu are 34 and 32 respectively with Clark unsigned after this year and Polamalu a strong candidate to be cut or at least restructured heavily. Thomas was drafted in the 4th round in the 2013 draft and could be in line for a serious role if one or both of the current starters are not resigned.
Shawn Williams CIN S – I really liked Shawn Williams as the Bengals 3rd round pick out of Georgia as a potential strong safety who could really rack up tackles for them. Unfortunately, Williams lost out to George Iloka. Iloka hasn’t been the best safety for them but for some reason, hasn’t given way to Williams yet. I expect that Williams will push Iloka for the strong safety job next year and eventually win it.