This is part 3 in the weekly IDP Game Breakdown series. The final part of this weekly series is a narrative that will explain what to expect in the upcoming game for each team's DL's, LB's and DB's. It also acts as a supplement to the star rankings (Part 2 of the weekly series) so that owners can see the reasoning and thought process that generated those star rankings. Also, Part 1 of this series is used as a major resource in writing the narrative for each positional breakdown. In addition, each teams breakdown will be preceded by that team's average tackle opportunities given up for the past three years.
Team Tackles Allowed | Player Star Ratings
The IDP Game Breakdowns are based on a 12-team league with the following starting requirements: 2 defensive linemen (DL) (defensive ends (DE) & defensive tackles (DT)), 3 linebackers (LB), 3 defensive backs (DB) (cornerbacks (CB) & safeties (S)).
Scoring system used for this article: solo tackle (2), assisted tackle (1), sack (3), forced or recovered fumble (3), interception (3) and pass defended (1).
Tackle opportunity stats as well as other stats utilized in the breakdowns are derived from data provided by NFLData.com.
Follow me on twitter @IDPSteve and if you have any questions, criticisms, or suggestions feel free to e-mail me at IDPSteve@gmail.com. For specific lineup questions please be sure to visit our IDP Forum. Good luck & enjoy!
New Orleans at Green Bay
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Given Up:
2008: 52, 2009: 54, 2010: 54
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Faced: 2008: 48, 2009: 50, 2010: 48
Defensive Line: The Saints really bolstered their defensive line this past offseason. First they drafted DE, Cameron Jordan with the 24th overall pick in the first round. Fellow first rounder Mark Ingram is getting all the ink but just realize that the Saints did select Jordan four picks in front of Ingram. It is doubtful with the depth that the Saints have at DL that Jordan will be as fantasy relevant as Ingram will be this year. He could see a bit more action in the first couple of weeks than expected because DE Will Smith will be serving a two game suspension (StarCaps). The second thing the Saints did was to shore up the interior of the DL by signing DT, Shaun Rogers. Rogers may seem like a head case at times but he can play and will undoubtedly be a solid acquisition for the Saints. Rogers is the new guy but the other starting DT is incumbent Sedrick Ellis. Of the two I doubt you get value in DL combined leagues but in DT mandatory leagues both should have some value but Ellis is by far the better option. The Packers put the ball in the air over 33 times/game last year so the entire Saints DL is going to get a workout on Thursday night. The starters at DE will be Turk McBride and Jeff Charleston, Charleston is filling in for Smith. In deeper leagues you can give McBride and Charleston a look but in 12 team leagues I think they are both bench material this week.
Linebacker: Jonathan Vilma had a letdown year of sorts for his owners. He ranked 23rd last season, a low level LB2 in the previous season he ranked 13th so he was on the fringe of being a LB1 but it is, what it is, Vilma is now a LB2. You should not expect him to carry your team like he did back in 2005 when he was the #1 scoring LB in all of fantasy football. If the Packers go vertical and abandon the run then Vilma could struggle to put up stats this week too, so there is some small amount of risk with him this week. Outside of Vilma I would not be starting any of the other Saints LBs this week. Depth charts show that flanking Vilma as starters will be Scott Shanle at WLB and Will Herring at SLB, but beat writer Jeff Duncan of The Times-Picayuan utweeted that he feels that the starting LBs will be Vilma, Shanle and Casillas. That tells me that we should use this week as a learning experience and just keep everyone not named Vilma on the bench.
Secondary: Roman Harper is by far the best fantasy option in the Saints secondary but in week 1 against the potent passing attack of the Packers I think it is safe to get all the Saints starting DBs into lineups. Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter have shown flashes in the past of being able to put up viable fantasy numbers and matchups do not really get much better than this. Malcolm Jenkins mans the starting FS position, a position that is often not very fantasy friendly but this week I think he is a strong play too. I could have saved myself a bunch of time and just written. Start them all.
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Given Up: 2008: 51, 2009: 53, 2010: 51
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Faced: 2008: 48, 2009: 44, 2010: 46
Defensive Line: The Packers DL play a vital role in the success of their 3-4 scheme but offers little to no fantasy value. B.J. Raji will surely have value in DT mandatory leagues but against the pass happy Saints you might want to think twice about using him this week. Yes, I said pass happy, I am not 100% buying that the Saints are going to be a more balanced team with Mark Ingram but time will tell.
Linebacker: The Saints gave up the 5th fewest sacks in the NFL last year, 26 (1.625/game), so temper your expectations for Clay Matthews. Matthews will have weeks this year where he goes nuts and logs a couple of sacks and causes some turnovers but just remember that as a rush OLB he is going to be very inconsistent and makes for a risky fantasy play most weeks. This week the big scorers at LB will be Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk. Bishop is a player that I am extremely high on this year, top 5ish type high and evidently the Packers are pretty high on Bishop too because they gave him a four-year $19 million contract extension. Hawk hasn't lived up to expectations from when he first came into the league but this week he should be able to put up LB3 type numbers.
Secondary: The Packers defensive scheme is not exactly what you would call fantasy friendly with regards to their secondary. Over the past two years only CB Charles Woodson has been able to rank in the top 40, ranking 15th in 2010 and 3rd in 2009. With Drew Brees slinging the ball around I would expect Woodson to put up good numbers once again. As for the rest of the secondary I think you should be able to squeak out around 10 points from each of them (Tramon Williams, Morgan Burnett & Nick Collins). I am sure that many dynasty league owners are psyched that Burnett is finally starting but I wouldn't get to excited, DB4 numbers will probably be about his ceiling this season.
Atlanta at Chicago
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Given Up: 2008: 53, 2009: 57, 2010: 54
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Faced: 2008: 48, 2009: 50, 2010: 49
Defensive Line: The Bears gave up a league leading 56 sacks last year and that was over 10% more than the next worse team. The Bears didn't just give up the most sacks but they also led the league in "Sack % Allowed/Drop Back" at 10.7%, which was 14.6% higher than the next worse team. This year it looks like the Bears improved their offensive line a bit, they rank 27th, getting a C- across the board in John Tuvey's 2011 Offensive Line Review and Ratings: Summary. While the Bears may have improved from, "lousy" to "bad", as Tuvey said, I still say you get both John Abraham and Ray Edwards in your lineups this week.
Linebacker: You might be a bit worried about starting Curtis Lofton against a Bears team that you probably suspect will be throwing the ball all over the field, after all, Mike Martz is their offensive coordinator. However, last year over the final nine games of the season the Bears were one of the most balanced offenses in the league, ranking 8th, rushing the ball 258 times versus their 276 pass plays. That trend has continued because in the preseason they ranked 6th, with just 10 more pass plays (144), than rushing plays (134). Just to clarify, pass plays are pass attempts plus sacks. Considering that they decreased their sacks/game by 26% over those final 9 games last year I would suspect we see them try to keep a balanced offense to help keep Jay Cutler upright. All this points to confidently plugging Lofton into starting lineups. His upside is probably limited by the fact that the Falcons offense could jump out to a big lead. Second year LB Sean Weatherspoon is back in the starting lineup and is healthy again, like he was at the start of last season. Weatherspoon got injured last season and when he returned to the lineup he struggled. Weatherspoon isn't likely to be as good as his best or as bad as is worst was last year but he should be a solid LB3 with some upside. I see no reason to not have him in starting lineups this week.
Secondary: The Bears offense wasn't just bad in pass protection last year, they were also among the top 10 worst in interceptions thrown. Interceptions are not a stat that is easily predicted and isn't one I am going to base rankings on, but with that said, when a team ranks 3rd in interception %/attempt (4.51%) it shows that there is some upside in the matchup. William Moore is one of the DBs that I am pretty high on this year and I think he gets off to a fantastic start against the Bears. Also, I wouldn't hesitate to start both starting CBs, Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes this week, and I don't mean just in CB mandatory leagues.
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Given Up: 2008: 48, 2009: 47, 2010: 47
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Faced: 2008: 53, 2009: 53, 2010: 49
Defensive Line: Only the Colts (16) and Giants (16) gave up fewer sacks than the Falcons did last year. That means you should temper expectations for Julius Peppers. Don't go and over think it and try to get cute and sit him, that is unless you have another top 10-12 DL to replace him with. While I wouldn't sit Peppers I can't say the same for Israel Idonije. Idonije was a nice waiver wire acquisition for owners last year and this year he should once again provide viable fantasy numbers, I just think he needs to be on the bench in week 1. In DT mandatory leagues you will want to keep an eye on Henry Melton who will be replacing Tommie Harris in the starting lineup this season.
Linebacker: Brian Urlacher looks like he is getting "football old" to me, but he has enough football savvy that he is still going to be able to make the most of his time on the field and that should equate to him being a solid LB2 with a bit of upside and not much downside. Lance Briggs on the other hand is just acting like an old grouch as he wants to have his contract re-done. Briggs knows that if he wants to get paid he will need to continue to play well. That means he should have a chip on his shoulder, don't be surprised to see him flying all over the field and putting up fantastic numbers this weekend.
Secondary: The Bears signed Patriot castoff and former pro-bowler Brandon Meriweather. Meriweather isn't expected to start but he surely muddies the water with regards to the fantasy values of SS Chris Harris and FS Major Wright. Because of that I think it is best to hedge your bets and keep all three on the bench this week. Charles Tillman has been a mainstay in fantasy lineups over the past few years and this year should be no different. This week against the Falcons he has little downside and his upside is that of a DB1.
Indianapolis at Houston
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Given Up: 2008: 49, 2009: 49, 2010: 53
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Faced: 2008: 52, 2009: 55, 2010: 52
Defensive Line: It's no secret that the Colts have one of the best DE tandems in the league. However, for fantasy purposes only Robert Mathis can be relied on. Dwight Freeney is one heck of a pass rusher but he struggles to log tackles and that just kills his value. I think that Mathis should be able to put up DL1 numbers this year, his floor should be a mid level DL2. The one thing that concerns me just a bit is how much Jamaal Anderson will play on running downs and how much value that will siphon from Mathis, that is why I say his floor is a DL2.
Linebacker: This week I have Gary Brackett as a 3-star play. If I knew that Arian Foster was going to play, then I would have given Brackett a 4-star or possibly even a 5-star rating. Clint Session is gone to Jacksonville and it looks like Kavell Conner has locked down the starting WLB job. Currently, Conner looks like he should be a LB3/4 but if he ends up playing in the nickle more often than not then I think he could have a LB2 ceiling. Pat Angerer is the starting SLB and in the future he could have some matchup play value but until we see him working exclusively in the nickle or taking over at MLB if Brackett gets hurt he is a player with a ton of potential that should be relegated to the bench.
Secondary: The Texans should provide plenty of opportunities for the Colts secondary this week. In the past, both Jerraud Powers and Jacob Lacey have put up good fantasy numbers and this week looks like a week that fantasy owners should be able to plug them into their lineups, hence their 3-star ratings. I have FS Antoine Bethea and SS Melvin Bullitt also rated as 3-star plays. I do think we could see a 4-star or better performance from someone in this secondary this week and if I had to put money on one of the four, it would be on Bullitt. I think Bullitt is one of those guys on most waiver wires that will be a big pickup in the first few weeks of the season.
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Given Up: 2008: 52, 2009: 53, 2010: 51
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Faced: 2008: 47, 2009: 48, 2010: 51
Defensive Line: It pains me to write this but I have no choice; the Texans are now running a 3-4 scheme under the direction of new defensive coordinator, Wade Phillips and that renders their DL worthless for fantasy purposes. That means we no longer have a stud DE in Mario Williams, who is now a LB.
Linebacker: DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing are the two LBs to own in this defensive scheme. Ryans missed the Texans final 10 games in 2010 after he tore his Achilles. He looks to be back from that injury and ready to put up top 10 numbers again. The only concern going into week 1, was that he was nursing an elbow and ankle injury but he was a full participant in practice on Wednesday, so it looks like full steam ahead. I initially gave Ryans a 2-star rating because the injury report hadn't come out yet but I will be changing that rating to 3-stars, the same rating I gave Cushing. The fact that Manning is out really adds a cloud of concern with just how much the Texans defense will be on the field but I think that both Ryans and Cushing should at least be productive enough, just don't expect any big numbers this week. Mario Williams, formerly a stud DE, and now a matchup play rush OLB, at best, is dealing with Achilles and groin injuries but he too practiced fully. With Kerry Collins under center this week, Williams could be in line for a multi-sack game but starting him is risky. Williams is in the final year of his contract and while I do expect he resigns with the Texans there is the chance he could sign elsewhere next offseason, so if you are a dynasty owner and have room to stash him it could be worth it. Remember, Aaron Kampman went from stud DE to OLB and then signed with Jacksonville and moved back to DE.
Secondary: Kerry Collins may have passed for over 40,000 yards in his NFL career but this week I think he could struggle mightily. Add that to the fact that Phillip's scheme doesn't do much for his defensive backs and it is easy to see why I have everyone in the secondary ranked as a 2-star play.
Buffalo at KAnsas City
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Given Up: 2008: 49, 2009: 45, 2010: 46
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Faced: 2008: 49, 2009: 54, 2010: 56
Defensive Line: Flip flopping between 3-4 fronts and 4-3 fronts usually means different personnel packages but the Bills DL is one of those units that has the size and ability to move easily between the two. That means that Kyle Williams will say on the field and continue to rack up stats. Against what should be a run heavy Chiefs teams I see Williams as a solid start in DL combined leagues and in DT mandatory leagues even better. All eyes will also be on 1st round draft pick Marcel Dareus, I think Dareus has an immediate impact on the Bills defense but for fantasy purposes I think we should be in a wait and see mode.
Linebacker: All that Paul Posluszny did the past few seasons is rack up tons of tackles for the Bills. Well Posluszny is gone, signed with the Jaguars but the Bills replaced him with former Packer, Nick Barnett. Barnett will be hard pressed to replicate the numbers that Posluszny put up last year but that doesn't mean he isn't going to be productive. Barnett was drafted as a LB3 in most fantasy drafts, get him in your lineup this week and expect to see LB2 or even LB1 numbers. Don't let the signing of Kirk Morrison scare you, he was signed as depth only. However, if Barnett were to get injured then Morrison could step in and would probably put up solid fantasy numbers. The "other" LB you should be focusing your sights on is Andra Davis. Davis isn't flashy, doesn't play three downs but he is a thumper that will play on rushing downs. This week I think Davis is a solid LB3 which is why he got a 3-star rating. Shawne Merriman and Chris Kelsay are handling the OLB spots but relying on them isn't something that I would recommend.
Secondary: Donte Whitner had a monster year for fantasy owners last year, but he too is now gone, signed with the 49ers, and is being replaced by George Wilson. Wilson is a solid SS that should put up decent enough numbers but he won't put up the elite numbers that Whitner did last year. This week I have him as the only startable DB on the Bills but he does come with some risk. Bryan Scott is the reason for the risk but I think worse case we still see DB3 numbers from Wilson. I have Scott as a 2-star play because I want to see how the Bills use him against a team like the Chiefs before I recommend getting him into starting lineups.
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Given Up: 2008: 45, 2009: 49, 2010: 53
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Faced: 2008: 54, 2009: 54, 2010: 54
Defensive Line: For the most part the Chiefs DL doesn't provide consistent fantasy production so look for help elsewhere. Last year, Glenn Dorsey did finish as the #24 DL (DL2) but I think he will be hard pressed to finish as a DL2 this year. The reason is a combination of his scheme and I see some up and coming DL around the NFL that I feel will put up better stats this year.
Linebacker: I am looking for Derrick Johnson to put up beastly numbers this year. The reason is two fold, first, Johnson is just damn good and second, I think the Chiefs defense will spend a large amount of time on the field this year. The increased opportunity is going to add up to good things for Johnson owners. Last year against the Bills Johnson logged 6 solos, 2 assists and 2 passes defended. He should have no problem putting up a 6-2 again and I wouldn't be surprised to see 8-3 with a forced fumble. Outside of Johnson the only other LB worth looking at is Tamba Hali. Hali is a much better play in big play scoring leagues so relying on him in tackle heavy formats is a bit risky. To help make that point, Hali scored in double digits just five times, and scored 2 or fewer points four times. Now with all that said, call me crazy but I think Hali is startable this week.
Secondary: Eric Berry is another player I am very high on this year. I think he could very well end up as the #1 DB. Short of injury or his bye week, I am telling you now, do not sit Berry this season. The Bills should throw the ball a good amount this week so look for Brandon Flowers to be a decent option as a DB3.
Tennessee at Jacksonville
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Given Up: 2008: 49, 2009: 49, 2010: 44
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Faced: 2008: 49, 2009: 52, 2010: 58
Defensive Line: It is probably me but outside of Jason Babin, last year it seemed like the Titans DLs were always on the injury report and questionable to boot. Well this year the first injury report has both Jason Jones and Derrick Morgan on it as non-participants in the Wednesday practice. I had initially ranked Jones as a 3-star play but that was prior to the release of the injury report. Monitor his situation before plugging him into your lineup. Morgan is still recovering from his knee injury last year so he isn't expected to see the field this week. That leaves us with William Hayes. Hayes has talent but just hasn't seemed to be able to put it all together, then again that is because he is always fighting injury. Well, he isn't listed on the week 1 injury report, so when you couple that with the fact the Jaguars look like they have one of the worst pass blocking lines in the NFL, it is easy to see why I have him as a 3-star rated DL. For the record I did toy with making him a 4-star play.
Linebacker: The Titans led the entire NFL in total tackles in 2010 with 853, 67 more than the second leading team (ARZ). They also led the league in defensive plays from scrimmage with 1139. The defense will more than likely see those totals decrease this year but the fall shouldn't be all that dramatic. In both 2008 (1022) and 2009 (1038), the Titans ranked 8th in defensive plays from scrimmage, their 2 year average was 1030. Barrett Ruud is replacing Stephen Tulloch at MLB and with the expected number or snaps Ruud should be on the field for I see him as a low level LB1 with some upside and little downside. The Jaguars will more than likely lean heavily on Maurice Jones-Drew this week and that is what makes Ruud a strong 4-star play. Will Witherspoon is still the starter at WLB but he is on the downside of his career. He is more than likely on the waiver wire in most 12 team leagues and that is probably exactly where he belongs. He will have weeks where he puts up 10+ points but they will most likely be few and far between. Last year, Witherspoon finished as a LB4 and with the expected decrease in plays from scrimmage I just don't see him improving on his 2010 finish. Rookie Akeem Ayers draws the starting SLB job and like most SLBs he will struggle to put up consistent points. In big play leagues you could give Ayers a look this week.
Secondary: The Titans secondary sure took advantage of being on the field so much last year. They had four players finish in the top 18 and only two other teams had more than 1 player in the top 18, Cardinals (Rhodes 6th , Toler 13th) and Raiders (Branch 10th, Huff 11th). Michael Griffin led the Titans DBs ranking 5th with Chris Hope (16th), Cortland Finnegan (17th) & Alterraun Verner (18th) rounding out the top 18. Griffin will most likely slide down to a fringe DB1, high end DB2, and Hope should be able to maintain a DB2 level but probably closer to 24 than 16. Cortland Finnegan is the one DB in the Titans secondary that I think could surprise and end us as a low level DB1. Verner's value takes a big hit Jason McCourty moving into the starting lineup over him. Both McCourty and Verner should be looked at as no better than DB4/5 plays this year.
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Given Up: 2008: 50, 2009: 50, 2010: 53
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Faced: 2008: 47, 2009: 51, 2010: 48
Defensive Line: Rotation, rotation, rotation, Aaron Kampman, Austen Lane, Matt Roth and Jeremy Mincey will all see time this year. Kampman and Lane are listed as the starters, Kampman by far has the most fantasy value, but I also love Lane's motor. Roth and Mincey will see just enough snaps to make Lane a risky start and if Kampman's knee acts up they could eventually kill his value too. With Kampman being limited in practice on Wednesday I think it is probably best to be cautious and keep him on the bench for week 1. In my opinion, Lane is a stash and hold in dynasty formats. Probably the safest fantasy play on the Jaguars DL this season will be DT Tyson Alualu. Of course his value is much better in DT mandatory leagues. He was just on the outside of being a DT2 (ranked 25th) last season, this year I do think he can jump up to a solid DT2 with low level DT1 upside.
Linebacker: Paul Posluszny dynasty owners cringed a bit when he left the Bills and ended up in Jacksonville. Posluszny will be hard pressed to crack the top 5, like he would have in Buffalo but I still think he is a LB1, he just has a bit less upside is all. Of course the Jaguars defense should be on the field a ton this year so he has that going for him but the Jaguars official scorers are stingy when it comes to doling out assisted tackles and that will be a large part that takes away from his value.
Secondary: Courtney Greene is a sleeper that I really like this year and actually he is the kind of player that is a poster child for waiting to draft DBs. Last season in the SOFA IDP league, five of the top 17 DBs came off the waiver wire. Greene doesn't come without risk, he will have to play well to keep his job. However, as long as he keeps the starting SS job I see him putting up DB2 numbers at the very worst. Dawan Landry comes over from Baltimore and I see him being able to put up decent enough numbers from the FS position. He just might not be as consistent as we would like but there will be matchups where he should be in starting lineups.
Cincinnati at Cleveland
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Given Up: 2008: 48, 2009: 51, 2010: 51
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Faced: 2008: 51, 2009: 47, 2010: 48
Defensive Line: Carlos Dunlap is the "flavor of the month" at DE for fantasy owners, by that I mean he had an excellent second half last year and fantasy owners are looking for him to build on that. I like Dunlap a lot and I do think he will be a fantasy factor this year. However, there is another Bengal and former "flavor of the month" that looks to be in the best position to be the leading DL scorer for Cincinnati this season, Michael Johnson. Johnson was once the "flavor of the month" among dynasty owners after the Bengals first drafted him. Unfortunately, the Bengals transitioned him to a SLB, killing his fantasy value. Well fast forward to 2010 and now the Bengals have Johnson entrenched as a started DE. He is probably on many waiver wires in re-draft leagues, well, he shouldn't be. Expect DE2 numbers with some upside and not much downside, after all the Bengals defense is going to be on the field a ton this year.
Linebacker: Patience is a funny thing in fantasy football, redraft owners have very little patience and dynasty owners too much. We have all seen those redraft owners that want to drop Jared Allen in week 3 because he had yet to crack double digits in points yet. Then there are those dynasty league owners that are still sitting on a guy like DE Everett Brown. Well, sometimes patience is indeed a virtue, especially for dynasty owners that kept Rey Maualuga stashed. Maualuga has taken over as the starting MLB for the Bengals and everything this preseason points to Maualuga doing very well with the transition. That patience should translate into dynasty owners ending up with a LB1 or at worst a high level LB2. Keith Rivers is recovering from injury (wrist surgery), go figure, and has been placed on the PuP which means he will miss the first six weeks of the season. Flanking Maualuga will be two players new to the Bengals this year, SLB Manny Lawson and WLB Thomas Howard. Lawson is an afterthought for fantasy owners but Howard very well could provide some value. The thing we need to keep an eye on will be how much the Bengals use Brandon Johnson. Still I "reluctantly" gave Howard a 3-star rating.
Secondary: In the AFC North Pre-Season Breakdowns I wrote, "I have never done this before and it might seem like a cop-out but as it stands now I suggest treating the Bengals secondary the way you would a 3-4 teams DLs. The Bengals secondary is just a mess for fantasy purposes. I am sure there will end up being some value there but at this point it is about as clear as mud as where that value will be.", and I still feel exactly the same. Defensive back is a deep enough position that you should have no problem looking past the Bengals secondary.
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Given Up: 2008: 42, 2009: 47, 2010: 47
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Faced: 2008: 53, 2009: 54, 2010: 53
Defensive Line: The Browns are a team that now will give us some DL value due to their switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3 scheme. Ahtyba Rubin was a huge pickup for fantasy owners off the waiver wire last year, finishing as the #7 overall scoring DL. Not bad for an undrafted fantasy DT. This year people are probably overvaluing Rubin based on last year's production. For me there are three points of contention with regards to Rubin, point 1, he is in a different scheme, point 2, he has a very talented rookie, Phil Taylor that will be lining up inside with him, and point 3, last year stats look like career high type numbers. I just have a hard time seeing him approach the 57 solos he logged last year. I think Rubin still has value in DT mandatory leagues but don't be surprised to see him fall to a DL3 or worst in combined leagues. The player that I am really excited about is rookie DE Jabaal Sheard. I am looking for Sheard to put up Dl2/DL3 type numbers with some upside of a high end DL2. If he hits it out of the park he could contend for Defensive ROY. In deeper leagues where it is difficult to find bye week fillers take a look at Jayme Mitchell. He should be available on just about all waiver wires. The Browns evidently really like him so there could be some nice upside too.
Linebacker: D'Qwell Jackson, remember him? You know the highly regarded LB that was lost in each of the past two seasons due to injury. I can understand people being cautious with regards to Jackson due to his injury history but with where he was going in drafts I think he presented fantastic value. I do expect the Browns to be an overall better team this year but the defense is still going to be on the field an above average number of plays this season. I think we see Jackson end up a top 15ish LB and he has the upside to be a LB1. Flanking Jackson will be SLB Scott Fujita and WLB Chris Gocong. The Browns new 4-3 scheme should provide the WLB spot with some value. I do have to admit that I am slightly surprised to see Gocong manning the WLB spot, he was a SLB while with the Eagles and in college he was a DE, so the conversion to SLB made sense. Before I jump on Gocong as a viable fantasy starter I need to see what he does the 1st couple weeks of the season.
Secondary: TJ Ward had a great rookie year, ranking 2nd in fantasy points among all DBs. This year I would temper expectations some, not because Ward isn't a top-notch talent but because repeating a top 5 performance at DB is one of the more difficult things to do. Since 2007 only two DBs have repeated a top 5 finish, with 11 of them finishing as a DB4 or worse. As good as Ward was last season there was actually a 7 week period where he wasn't even the highest scoring DB on his own team, that designation went to Abram Elam. Elam is no longer a Brown and Usama Young is slated to start at FS next to Ward. I doubt that Young will be much of a threat to Ward this year and he is really only a viable fantasy option in deep leagues. The biggest threat for tackles is going to be that D'qwell Jackson is back in the middle of the defense. Ward isn't the only promising young DB the Browns have, Joe Haden is also a very promising CB. I don't expect Haden to be much of a fantasy force but he is an important part of the defense, NFL wise.
Philadelphia at St. Louis
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Given Up: 2008: 50, 2009: 47, 2010: 51
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Faced: 2008: 47, 2009: 51, 2010: 48
Defensive Line: The DL is led by one of the best DEs in the game today, Trent Cole. Cole is a must start each and every week and with the CBs that the Eagles have in their secondary he could be in line for a 15+sack season. Jason Babin is one of the many free agents the Eagles signed this offseason. Babin had a breakout year last year and this year he should benefit by playing opposite Cole. Fantasy wise I think we see him take a small step backwards but he should still be a low level DL2 with a floor of DL3. Brandon Graham is still recovering from an ACL tear last year so he won't be a fantasy factor until later this season, if at all. Juqua Parker restructured his deal and will provide depth for team. Something you may not know about Parker is that he is just 3 sacks shy of breaking into the top-10 all time in sacks for the Eagles. I know, hard to believe.
Linebacker: Last season when Stewart Bradley was injured Jamar Chaney filled in and did an excellent job. Many expected that Chaney would end up taking over the productive MLB position but that isn't how it played out. The Eagles drafted Casey Matthews and have installed the rookie as their starting MLB. Chaney slid over to SLB and former SLB Moise Fokou is now the starting WLB. Matthews was less than impressive during the pre-season but he is still the starting MLB. As long as he is starting and playing in sub-packages he has value and can be used by fantasy owners. This week the Eagles should see a large dose of Steven Jackson so I think you can safely play both Matthews and Chaney this year. With the way the Eagles are using their OLBs, Fokou could be the least productive WLB in the NFL this year. It is a situation that I will monitor as the season progresses.
Secondary: All the hoopla surrounding the Eagles secondary this offseason has been around their unbelievable trio of CBs. Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will surely pose big problems for opposing offenses but fantasy wise their value is next to nil. The value in the Eagles secondary has always been at their safety position, remember the likes of Michael Lewis, Brian Dawkins and newly departed Quintin Mikell. Many thought that rookie Jaiquawn Jarrett would be next in that line of great fantasy safeties, but unfortunately Jarrett isn't ready to start so he currently only has value as a stash and hold for dynasty owners and those with very, very deep benches. Starting at safety for the Eagles this year is going to be Kurt Coleman and one of Nate Allen or Jarrad Page. Like the Bengals situation, let this situation work itself out before committing to one of those three.
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Given Up: 2008: 47, 2009: 48, 2010: 51
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Faced: 2008: 51, 2009: 53, 2010: 48
Defensive Line: Chris Long has yet to live up to the lofty expectations fantasy owners have had for him since he entered the league. Last year, Long finished the season as a DL3 which means he was depth at best in most leagues. Long under-performed expectations last year but James Hall didn't. Hall actually finished the season as a top 10 DL. This year I think we see Hall struggle to meet expectations. My two main reasons are that I think he had a career year last year and second I think that rookie Robert Quinn will eat into his production. At this point I am not sure we will be able to rely on any of those three for viable weekly fantasy production but I do think that Quinn, unlike Long, will live up to the lofty expectations that dynasty owners have for him. Of the three, I have Long rated as a 3-star play and that is due to the fact that Michael Vick takes a lot of sacks. That doesn't mean I don't think Hall or Quinn will get to Vick, just that I think they could be in a rotation that will hurt each of their value.
Linebacker: The Rams added Ben Leber as a starter this offseason but when it comes to fantasy relevance the only Rams player to concern yourself with is James Laurinaitis. Laurinaitis finished as a mid level LB2 last year and this year should be more of the same and that isn't a bad thing. For starters with Laurinaitis you get consistency, he scored in double digits in all but two games in 2010. What hurts his value is that he offers little upside, and much of that comes from the fact that the Rams official scorers, like the Jaguars scorers, are very stingy with regards to assisted tackles. Against the Eagles I would expect between 12-14 fantasy points.
Secondary: The Rams added safety Quintin Mikell to their secondary this offseason and he is the one to own too. Don't forget that Rams head coach, Steve Spagnuolo has ties to Philadelphia and Mikell. He will use him in a very fantasy friendly way and a DB1 finish should be in the cards for him. With the addition of Mikell, Craig Dahl will move to FS and with that his fantasy value will take a hit. At best, Dahl should be viewed as nothing more than fantasy depth.
Pittsburgh at Baltimore
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Given Up: 2008: 51, 2009: 52, 2010: 51
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Faced: 2008: 46, 2009: 46, 2010: 46
Defensive Line: The Steelers run a 3-4 scheme that basically renders their DL useless for fantasy purposes.
Linebacker: After 8 weeks last season the top scoring LB was Lawrence Timmons, with 153 points scored, a 21.86 PPG average. However, things changed over the second half of the season. From week 9 thru week 16 he scored more than 13 points in a game just once and in weeks 14 and 16 he scored single digits. His PPG average from week 9-16 was just 11.75 and ranked 34th over that span of time. Surely his owners weren't expecting him to be a low level LB3 for the second half of the season. However, his trying second half didn't seem to have any bearing on his draft status this year, as he was more than likely taken as one of the top 3-5 LBs. Now, with all that said, I do think that we see Timmons perform closer to what he was in the 1st half last season, rather than what he was in the second half. I don't know if I am sold on him being a top 5 LB but I do think he is at worst a low level LB1 with little risk. As for the rest of the LBs this is what I wrote about them in the IDP Pre-Season Game Breakdowns and I think it bears repeating, "
James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley both signed contract extensions that will keep them in black and gold for the next six years. Combined the two extensions cost the Steelers $112.675 million dollars. Harrison, even though he relies on sacks to put up stats has been able to be active enough in run support in the past to make him a viable fantasy player. This year should be no different but for my taste, I think he is to up and down to rely on as a LB1 or LB2. Woodley is a talent for sure but when it comes to fantasy, his value lies in big play leagues."
Secondary: I am sure that I will write this more than once this year, Troy Polamalu is worth much more NFL wise to the Steelers than he is to fantasy owners. Polamalu does have a nose for the ball and that makes him an excellent option in big play leagues. However, in tackle heavy formats I think he is more of a DB3 that presents some weekly upside. Well this week is one of those weeks that I think he has upside. It might only be week 1 but Ravens/Steelers is always a big game, Polamalu shows up in big games. With the running attack of the Ravens I also think that safety Ryan Clark makes for a solid 3-star play this weekend.
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Given Up: 2008: 53, 2009: 52, 2010: 52
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Faced: 2008: 44, 2009: 48, 2010: 47
Defensive Line: Terrell Suggs, he is a DE, he isn't a DE; he is a LB, he isn't a LB. To make it clear, for the purpose of all huddle content we view Suggs as a DE. If your league lists him as a LB then you should consider him pretty much useless for fantasy purposes. There are a few reasons why we consider Suggs a DE; 1: Rotoworld lists him as a DE on their depth charts and myfantasyleague.com utilizes Rotoworld as their source for player position designation. 2: When the Ravens placed the Franchise tag on Suggs they did so at the LB position, Suggs challenged that and an arbitrator rules that his pay should be based on the combined average FT cost of LB and DE. 3. In 2009 I dug into some stats and turned up that in 2008 Suggs played on the DL in 66% of his snaps. There, now we can put that all to rest. As for this week and this year, Suggs is easily a tier 1 DL, you start him each and every week and don't think twice about it. The other player on the Ravens DL with fantasy value is DT Haloti Ngata. Ngata is one of those rare DTs that has value in DL combined leagues. This week against Steelers running game he is a solid 3-star raking and in DT mandatory leagues bump him up to a 4-star play.
Linebacker: Ray Lewis has said that he will retire if the Ravens win the Super Bowl this year. You know what that means? That means that Lewis will be playing with a purpose, a chip on his shoulder as they say. Of course that isn't really any different than in previous years because you will be hard pressed to find a player that is as focused and intense as Lewis is. Still, knowing his time is coming to an end I can see him stepping his game up another notch. Lewis might not end his season as a Super Bowl winner but you can bet your bottom dollar he is going to go out guns a blazin'. Until we see otherwise, Lewis remains a must start each and every week. Outside of Lewis, I would pass over all the other Ravens LBs. Dynasty league owners have been holding Tavares Gooden as the hopeful heir to the MLB spot that Lewis mans. Well, the Ravens cut Gooden, so much for that, when the heir-to-be has a shorter career than the guy he is waiting to replace.
Secondary: Everyone wants the answer to the following question; "Who will be the Ravens starting SS, Tom Zbikowski or Bernard Pollard?". Well if I knew the answer to that question I would be playing the lottery. All that I can say is that Pollard presents the best fantasy value but we will have to wait and see how the Ravens use each of them the first few weeks. So if you are a Pollard owner your best bet is to find someone else to start in his place as he presents plenty of risk, if you are a Zbikowski owner, you are probably the only one, that is unless you are in a deep league, you do the same thing, sit and wait. In the star ratings I did give Pollard 3-stars but that is only because I think he will see a good amount of time in the box against the Steelers running game. That doesn't mean he doesn't come with a good amount of risk because if he was 100% in line to play all snaps I would have had him as a 5-star play.
Detroit at Tampa Bay
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Given Up: 2008: 43, 2009: 48, 2010: 51
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Faced: 2008: 54, 2009: 53, 2010: 51
Defensive Line: Ndamukong Suh was everything the Lions and fantasy fans could have hoped for. NFL wise Suh hit the ground running and showed he wasn't just full of potential but rather full of production. I have no doubt that Suh will be in the same neighborhood with regards to his 48 solo tackles last year. What I do have some doubts about is if he can hit double digit sacks again. He has the talent but I think that it would be best to temper expectations some. I mean there would be nothing wrong with Suh recording 48 solos and 6 sacks. Unfortunately if his sacks do slip by just four you would then be looking at a mid to low level DL2. He would still be a top 3 DT in DT mandatory leagues. One thing that everyone should realize is that Suh isn't the Lions pass rush, but he makes their pass rusher better. Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril will also give teams fits this year and then there is Lawrence Jackson who will see situational snaps which will help to keep everyone fresh. On the IDP front Vanden Bosch should end up as the 2nd best fantasy option this season but this week against the very mobile Josh Freeman I think it is best to keep any DL not named Suh on your bench.
Linebacker: If you think Paul Posluszny owners were upset when he moved on from the Bills, how do you think Stephen Tulloch owners felt when he left the Titans for the Lions? To answer that question, they didn't feel very good. Sure Tulloch should still be a productive fantasy LB this year, but more likely as a LB3 with some upside, rather than a top 5 LB like he was with the Titans. Tulloch's value will really hinge on if he is able to maintain status as a 3-down LB. Even with the bit of uncertainty surrounding Tulloch I think it is safe to run him out in starting lineups this week. DeAndre Levy owners also weren't very happy with how things shook out this past offseason. Levy went from looking like he could end up as a LB1 to now being a fringe LB3 since Tulloch and Justin Durant showed up in Motown. Like Tulloch, I think Levy is still able to be put in starting lineups this week. Durant on the other hand is the riskiest of the three and that is why he only got a 2-star rating.
Secondary: The Lions secondary has a very solid front seven playing in front of them and that very well could limit the tackle opportunities that safeties Amari Spievey and Louis Delmas see. I think that it is best to leave Spievey on the bench this week but with how much the Lions should put the ball in the air I think that Delmas is a safe start, hence his 3-star rating.
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Given Up: 2008: 52, 2009: 45, 2010: 48
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Faced: 2008: 47, 2009: 54, 2010: 49
Defensive Line: The Buccaneers are building a very nice defensive line. Last year they drafted DT Gerald McCoy in the first round and this year they added Adrian Clayborn in the first round and Da'Quan Bowers in round two. If not for injury concerns Bowers also would have been a 1st round selection. As it stands now Bowers is listed behind Michael Bennett on the depth chart. He should eventually work his way into the starting lineup. For fantasy purposes I think we are in a holding pattern with the young guns.
Linebacker: The Buccaneers have a new MLB this year, rookie Mason Foster. Foster won the starting job in training camp but as far as fantasy numbers don't expect him to put up the type of numbers that Barrett Ruud did. Foster could eventually become that type of player but currently he is just a 2-down LB. The 3-down LBs are WLB Geno Hayes and SLB Quincy Black. Hayes was pretty meh last year but I think that he is currently the best fantasy option on the Bucs. I would expect him to log around 10-14 points this week. Black is the one wearing the communications helmet so he won't be leaving the field but I just don't think he will be able to put up consistent enough numbers to warrant starting.
Secondary: As cool as I am on both the DL and LBs for the Buccaneers I am also just as cool on their secondary. Ronde Barber is back for his 45th season but he isn't what he used to be. In CB mandatory leagues he is worth the occasional spot start, and I think this week is one of those weeks. The Buccaneers Tampa-2 scheme is prohibitive towards safeties Sean Jones or Cody Grimm being able to log consistent tackles making them poor starts. Aqib Talib is a CB that in the past I had high hopes for, but his past "behavior" has me wondering when he is going to do something "else" and end up getting suspended.
Minnesota at San Diego
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Given Up: 2008: 52, 2009: 55, 2010: 49
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Faced: 2008: 46, 2009: 47, 2010: 49
Defensive Line: Jared Allen got off to a slow start last year but he eventually turned it around. Allen is a tier 1 stud DE, if he starts slow again all you do is keep plugging him into your lineup. Don't ask if you should drop him for some 1 week wonder on the waiver wire, don't sit him, just keep plugging him into your lineup. With that out of the way now let's address Brian Robison who will be playing opposite of Allen this year. Robison more than likely went undrafted in your league but I think that he has two things going for him, one is that he plays opposite of Jared Allen so he won't be saying any double teams, and two is that the Vikings offense looks like it could struggle this year and that would lead to more opportunities. In 12 team leagues Robison is nothing more than depth and a bye week filer but in deeper leagues I think he has DL3 value with some upside to a low level DL2 and not much downside. DT Kevin Williams is serving a 2 game suspension, you know, the StarCaps issue.
Linebacker: With Chad Greenway ranking 4th in LB scoring last year you would expect he had his fare share of sacks and big plays (forced fumbles, fumble recoveries and interceptions), but nope not really. All that Greenway could muster was one fumble recovery, one forced fumble, one sack and two passes defended. That means that almost all of his fantasy value came from his 109 solos and 36 assists. One one hand I don't see Greenway repeating a LB1 performance because I see those solos and assists as career high numbers but on the other hand I see the Vikings defense being on the field a lot more this year and can't see him not repeating as a LB1. Perplexed to say the least but worst case you have a solid LB2 and best case you end up with a LB1 with top 5 upside. This week against the Chargers offense I think Greenway is a strong play. Joining Greenway in the starting lineup at the other two LB spots are brothers EJ and Erin Henderson. EJ has turned into a solid high-end LB3 type that won't give you much upside but you know he is going to get you 10-12 points every time out, and that is what I pretty much see for him this week. Erin at this point in time is nothing more than a stash and hold for dynasty owners.
Secondary: Antoine Winfield wasn't very consistent last year but he was clutch for owners that started him during their Fantasy Bowl Championships last year in week 16. If you owned Winfield you know what I am talking about, and if you played against Winfield you know what I am talking about. Let's just leave it at that. As for this year, Winfield is healthy, he has always been one of the more active CBs in run support so I see no reason for him not to be a solid DB2/3 this year. Outside of Winfield I would take a pass on safeties Jamarca Sanford and Husain Abdullah, as well as CB Cedric Griffin. Griffin has put up top DB numbers in the past but he is once again coming back from a torn ACL and I think it is much safer to wait and see how he looks over the first couple of weeks. With regards to Abdullah I do have him as a 3-star play but understand that I went back and forth between 2 and 3 stars and have very little confidence in his rating.
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Given Up: 2008: 47, 2009: 49, 2010: 53
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Faced: 2008: 53, 2009: 49, 2010: 46
Defensive Line: The Chargers 3-4 scheme doesn't offer consistent fantasy value for it's DL. About the only fantasy value will be had in DT mandatory leagues with Antonio Garay. Last year Garay was a low level DL1 and at best that is what I see from him this season too.
Linebacker: My how the Chargers LBs have changed over the past few years. This year they will have two brand new ILBs, Donald Butler and Takeo Spikes. Spikes seems like he has been around forever and last year he had a very good year for the 493ers. I think Spikes value lies in deeper leagues this year, I just can't see him putting up the type of numbers like he did last year. Now Butler, he is another story, he should be an extremely nice fantasy play this year. LB2 numbers with some upside is what I would expect.
Secondary: Eric Weddle re-signed with the Chargers this past offseason and once again he should be their best fantasy DB. Last season he finished as a high level DB3 but he had a couple of very disappointing games it the first month of the season so he wasn't very far off from being a solid DB2 option. His numbers could suffer once again at the start of the season, not because of poor play or lack of opportunities but because the Chargers signed SS Bob Sanders. I figure that Sanders should bite into Weddle's production for about 3 games before he winds up injuring himself. So, If you are a Mr. Glass owner I suggest you use him while you can. As for Weddle, I think he is able to be active enough to still warrant starting.
NY Giants at Washington
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Given Up: 2008: 51, 2009: 51, 2010: 52
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Faced: 2008: 46, 2009: 48, 2010: 46
Defensive Line: Talk about a team besieged by injuries. The Giants will start the season without starting DE Osi Umenyiora who underwent the knife on his knee. Umenyiora is expected back in or around game 3. Until then second year DE Jason Pierre-Paul (JPP) moves into the starting lineup and also way up the rankings. JPP has the makings of an elite DE and owners should get him in their lineups while he doesn't have to content with Umenyiora. On the other end of the line is Justin Tuck, stud DE extraordinaire. If you own Tuck then you have the luxury of never having to worry about your DL1 spot in the lineup, except for his bye week that is. Luckily for the Giants they have the depth on their DL to overcome the loss of Umenyiora.
Linebacker: The Giants also lost one of their starting LBs due to injury, but unlike Umenyiora, he will not be playing again this year. The starter I am talking about is MLB Jonathan Goff, he who tore his ACL. The Giants are expected to sign Kawika Mitchell to replace Goff but as of this writing that has yet to happen. Since Mitchell as yet to sign it looks like rookie Greg Jones will get the start at MLB. There could be some value there but if you need to start Jones this early in the season you have bigger problems than I am going to be able to help you with. I currently have Jones and Mitchell as 1-star plays since the situation is so fluid. Just watch this week's game and make a mental note about how Jones plays, if that is what ends up happening. Michael Boley on the other hand is the Giants LB I would be willing to start as a LB3 at times this year but this week against a Redskins team that could just stink up the joint I think he belongs firmly planted on the bench. If you were holding out hope that Mathias Kiwanuka would end up going back to being a DL your worst fears came to fruition as "Kiwi" is entrenched as the starting SLB. If by some crazy way you can start him as a DL then by all means do so and expect high level DL2 numbers at worst.
Secondary: OK, so the Giants suffered an injury to one of the DL starters, they lost their starting LB and to make matters worse and finish the triple play they also lost starting CB Terrell Thomas for the year to a torn ACL like Goff. On top of that they also saw their first round CB Prince Amukamara injured his foot in the preseason and required surgery. I was already high on Kenny Phillips prior to Thomas' injury and am even higher on him now. How high? Top 10 high, that's how high. Antrel Rolle will once again man the Giants FS spot but due to the injuries in the secondary he might also be used to play some CB. His value is on hold until we see how that all plays out but even a best case scenario I don't see Rolle as anything more than a DB3/4 type player.
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Given Up: 2008: 52, 2009: 49, 2010: 47
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Faced: 2008: 44, 2009: 50, 2010: 53
Defensive Line: Washington plays a 3-4 defense that basically renders their DL useless in the realm of fantasy football. However, if you are in a dynasty league just make sure you keep an eye on both of the Redskins starting OLBs, Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan because they would both be valuable fantasy DEs if the Redskins ever switched back to a 4-3 scheme.
Linebacker: As long as London Fletcher is suiting up and starting you too keep starting him. Don't worry about his age or him slowing down, all the guy does is produce and I feel safe in saying he will be productive until the day he stops playing football. There was a point when it looked like Rocky McIntosh wasn't going to be a Redskin this year, but he ended up re-signing and is once again starting inside next to Fletcher. McIntosh isn't flashy and his upside is limited by Fletcher but he should be good for a strong LB3 with some upside to a LB2 this week.
Secondary: LaRon Landry is an absolute beast, that is, when he isn't injured and is actually on the field. Landry looks like a no-go for week 1. All you can do is run someone else out and wait for him to get back on the field, because when he does you know he will pay dividends. The Redskins signed OJ Atogwe to play FS this year. Playing a deep centerfield will depress his fantasy value some but this week without Landry in the lineup I think he is a nice 4-star play. Washington cut Chris Horton so it will be Reed Doughty who gets some playing time with Landry out and I think he should be good for a 5 solo, 2 assist game. In CB mandatory leagues it is hard to look past DeAngelo Hall but just realize how much of his damage he did last year came in one game against Jay Cutler and the Bears.
Carolina at Arizona
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Given Up: 2008: 47, 2009: 51, 2010: 46
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Faced: 2008: 51, 2009: 49, 2010: 54
Defensive Line: The first thing you probably noticed when you looked at the star ratings was that the Panthers were coded in red which means they were facing a below average tackle opportunity matchup. Just remember that this week those color codes are based off of last years end of season numbers. If there is one thing that is true it is that the Cardinals finally have an NFL quality starting QB. So with that in mind I think this week the matchup is a bit juicier than the red code makes it seem. Charles Johnson had a fantastic year last year and he turned that into a huge payday this offseason. There might be some that will worry that Johnson will now rest on his laurels after getting paid, I am not one of them. I think that Johnson will show that last year was no fluke and will once again be one of the top DEs both in fantasy and in the NFL this year. The other thing he has going for him is that the Panthers offense will likely struggle and that should add up to more time on the field for Johnson and the rest of his defensive counterparts. Dynasty league owners will want to keep a close eye on Greg Hardy as he had some flashes last year. I don't see him as a fantasy starter yet but don't sleep on him and keep your finger on the trigger if he does indeed start to put it all together.
Linebacker: Jon Beason owners fall into three groups, those that drafted him early in drafts, those that drafted him at a value due to his injury and dynasty owners that are pulling their hair out. For those that drafted him early you need to find a replacement at least for week 1, for those that drafted him at a value you more than likely made sure you had the depth to cover Beaon's injury and in dynasty leagues you are probably still just pulling your hair out. What it comes down to is that even if Beason plays he presents plenty of risk but I wouldn't hold my breathe with regards to him being on the field. He did practice in a limited fashion on Wednesday but he didn't practice on Thursday. I am sure he will be a GTD (game time decision) but do your self a favor and just cover him now. Beason isn't the only productive fantasy LB the Panthers will have this year. Both Thomas Davis and James Anderson should be viable fantasy starters. Davis is returning after tearing an ACL in each of the past two seasons, but he is the one that should have the most value. I know Anderson was white hot at times last year but this year I see him more as a LB3. Davis should be a LB2 and once he is back on the field then Beason is a LB1. I guess I should also point out that if Beason can't go that Dan Connor will start in his place. Connor's value will be limited due to playing a 2-down role and for the most part he should only be considered to start in very deep leagues.
Secondary: With the Panthers front 7 you shouldn't expect the Panthers secondary to be all that productive. Charles Godfrey is a fringe DB3 that can be used when the matchup is right, but he isn't a plug and play DB. The other player I like as a sleeper in the Panthers secondary is CB Captain Munnerlyn. He might not be a solid play in DB combined leagues but I do think he should be a solid CB2 with upside in CB mandatory leagues.
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Given Up: 2008: 50, 2009: 49, 2010: 41
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Faced: 2008: 49, 2009: 49, 2010: 55
Defensive Line: This week the Cardinals DL and the rest of the defense could be limited by a, let's say, challenged Panthers offense. Cam Newton is mobile that is for sure but I still think that Calais Campbell and Dockett will both get to him this week. I think each are a safe start even in what looks like a rough matchup. Campbell is a guy I am very high on so if he doesn't get out the chute fast he is someone I would recommend looking to trade for.
Linebacker: Last year at the start and end of the season fantasy owners got a glimpse of what Daryl Washington's value would be in the near future. Well that near future is now. At worst Washington should be a top 20 LB and he has the upside to sneak into the top 10 too. The Panthers offense isn't going to scare anyone, I know they have a nice 1-2 punch at RB but I don't think they are going to be able to run the ball all that much this week. I do see Washington as a plug and play LB for the most part this year but this week I just see him as a risky play. Starting next to Washington at the other ILB spot is Paris Lenon. Once the Cardinal signed free agent LB Stewart Bradley the prevailing thought was that he would start inside with Washington, and while he currently isn't he very well could work his way into that position. As it stands now I find it hard to rank Lenon as a starter and think it is best to see if he can really cement his starting job or wait for Bradley to eventually take it over. The heart and soul of most 3-4 scheme is their rush OLBS, but the Cardinals OLBs don't really strike much fear into their opponents. O'Brien Schofield is a guy that could develop into a nice rush OLB but currently he still has a way to go.
Secondary: Kerry Rhodes was the best fantasy DB the Cardinals had last year and this year will probably be more of the same. This week against the Panthers I don't like his matchup but I do think he is the only DB worth starting in the Cardinals secondary this week. During the pre-season there was concern that Adrian Wilson was going to miss time due to a torn biceps muscle. However, Wilson is going to play with the pain and is expected to be ready for week 1. He might play but I can't see how a torn biceps doesn't hurt his play. At this point Wilson is another one of those players that I am willing to watch and wait on. At CB the Cardinals will also have two new starters this year. Rookie Patrick Peterson will be one and the other will be one of AJ Jefferson or Richard Marshall. Paterson should have value this year, just not this week against the Panthers. As for the other CB spot I would put my money on Marshall being the one that ends up with the gig and some fantasy value, but like Peterson I don't see any value this week.
Seattle at San Francisco
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Given Up: 2008: 45, 2009: 51, 2010: 46
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Faced: 2008: 54, 2009: 52, 2010: 53
Defensive Line: Chris Clemons isn't a big name DE that is going to get much if any press on the NFL Network or ESPN but he should have no problem being a solid DL2 for fantasy owners. Against the 49ers I see him having a pretty good game but most people probably drafted him as a DL3 and if that is the case then I can understand leaving him on your bench if you have two better options. Outside of Clemons I don't really see much fantasy value so that is why he is their only DL with a star rating higher than 2-stars.
Linebacker: Repeat after me, David Hawthorne is going to be a stud LB this year. Say it again, one more time. OK, now that we have that out of the way let me say that Hawthorne is a plug and play LB this year. Don't think twice about it just keep him in your lineup. He should approach 300 fantasy points this season. The other LB worth a look on the Seahawks is former first round pick Aaron Curry. Curry hasn't done much fantasy wise but up until now he has been stuck playing SLB, that changes this year and he is playing the more productive WLB spot. I don't expect Curry to put up LB1 type numbers but i think we see him consistently put up solid LB3 numbers.
Secondary: I am almost as high on Kam Chancellor as I am on Hawthorne. I actually stashed Chancellor late last season on my DTS is one league. I wouldn't be surprised if Chancellor is available on many waiver wires and if he is I will say one thing, he won't be there long. Earl Thomas may have the pedigree but that doesn't mean he will have the most fantasy value because of it. Look for Thomas to play a more traditional FS role. That will depress his value in tackle heavy leagues but his nose for the ball makes him a good option in big play leagues.
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Given Up: 2008: 48, 2009: 45, 2010: 45
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Faced: 2008: 51, 2009: 51, 2010: 53
Defensive Line: The 49ers play a 3-4 but unlike most teams they actually have a DL that has fantasy value. DE Justin Smith may not be flashy but he is a solid DL2. In deeper leagues he is a fringe DL1. My biggest concern for Smith is how the loss of Aubrayo Franklin affects his fantasy value.
Linebacker: Patrick Willis is still a plug and play LB and this year the 49ers offense could be even worse than it has been in the past. That adds up to Willis possibly having even more value. Willis will have a new running mate inside this year as Takeo Spikes signed on with the Chargers. Replacing Spikes is NaVorro Bowman. Bowman is more than likely sitting on many dynasty league teams but I don't think we will see him match what Spikes did last year. At best he is probably a LB3/4 in deeper leagues. In 12 team leagues he is nothing more than waiver wire fodder.
Secondary: The 49ers added SS Donte Whitner in free agency and later in the pre-season parted ways with Taylor Mays. Whitner will be hard pressed to replicate what he did in Buffalo last year so if you go in with those types of expectations you are going to be sorely disappointed. That doesn't mean that Whitner won't be an every week starter, just that you shouldn't expect huge upside from him. This week could be one of the worst games he has all year, the Seahawks offense just looks horrid so his tackle opportunities could be very limited. Dashon Goldson also looked like he was going to be in another uniform this year but he ended up re-signing with the 49ers. His fantasy value will be limited by Whitner and with this week's matchup I see him as bench material.
Dallas at NY Jets
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Given Up: 2008: 48, 2009: 51, 2010: 52
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Faced: 2008: 48, 2009: 47, 2010: 49
Defensive Line: Outside of DT Jay Ratliff in DT mandatory leagues the rest of the Cowboys DL has no fantasy value.
Linebacker: With Rob Ryan as the new defensive coordinator for the Cowboys you can expect to see a much more aggressive defensive approach this season. I won't be surprised in the least to see DeMarcus Ware end up with over 15 sacks. Even if Ware does go off with regards to sacks he will still make a very risky start in tackle heavy leagues. Bradie James should be a solid LB3/4 this year but I have my doubts about Keith Brooking being able to hold off Sean Lee and if Brooking is going to put up viable fantasy numbers he will have to hold him off. If Lee is able to wrestle his way into the starting lineup he will be a nice option to nab off of the waiver wire. This week against the run heavy attack of the Jets you would expect that there would be a ton of good plays for the the Cowboys LBs, but unfortunately with the uncertainty surrounding Brooking I think that only James is the safe start.
Secondary: The Cowboys wanted to address their secondary in the free agency and they did end up doing that but it wasn't until after they missed out on two of the top targets, Nnamdi Asomugha and Michael Huff. Instead they ended up settling for Abram Elam. Elam played for the Browns last year and there was actually a 7 week span (weeks 7-13) where he was actually the top scoring DB in the entire NFL. Terrance Newman is dealing with a groin issue that has kept him from practicing this week and I would be shocked to see him on the field this week. That means that Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick should be the starting CBs, but with the Jets offensive philosophy I wouldn't start either of them.
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Given Up: 2008: 50, 2009: 53, 2010: 52
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Faced: 2008: 51, 2009: 45, 2010: 46
Defensive Line: The Jets are another one of the many 3-4 teams that offers very little in the way of fantasy value for their DL.
Linebacker: The Jets are a much better NFL defense and their players importance translates much more to NFL success than it does to fantasy success. David Harris leads the way as the best fantasy option at LB for the Jets a and this week I think he is the only Jets LB worth starting. I don't think he is going to be much better then a 10-12 point play this weekend. That isn't bad, but there isn't a ton of upside as I see it. Bart Scott is a key cog to Rex Ryans defense but Scott is one of those guys that doesn't have his NFL talent translate into fantasy talent. Only in the deepest of leagues should you consider starting Scott, otherwise all others should keep him firmly planted on the bench.
Secondary: A big question has to be how Miles Austin and Dez Bryant will do against Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. I think they will have some success but not enough to help the Cowboys pull out a win and not enough to make Revis or Cromartie fantasy starters this week. For me the play in the Jets secondary is Jim Leonhard. Leonhard is one of those nondescript type players that just seems to quietly put up numbers. Leonhard is one of the few on the Jets that has a big impact on their defense from an NFL standpoint and also on the fantasy side of things too.
New England at Miami
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Given Up: 2008: 56, 2009: 55, 2010: 51
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Faced: 2008: 46, 2009: 46, 2010: 52
Defensive Line: The Patriots struggled to get pressure on the QB last year, and that can be seen by lowly 31 sacks which were the 9th fewest in the NFL. Well if the Patriots have a weakness you just know that coach Belichick is going to do something to rectify it. Well his way of rectifying it is by adding more 4-3 looks and by signing players like Andre Carter, Shaun Ellis and Albert Haynesworth who are a great fit for the 4-3. This year I don't see the Patriots struggling to get to the QB. Carter is who I really like to make the most of his opportunity. I think he has DL2 value right off the bat. Haynesworth should be a strong DT play this year too.
Linebacker: With the addition of the 4-3 looks there are some that are worried about Jerod Mayo. To those people I say, DO NOT WORRY. Mayo may not repeat the incredible performance he had last season but he should have no problem maintaining value as a LB1. Brandon Spikes is the guy to really watch, if he can find a way to play in sub-packages his value could vault all the way up to a low level LB2. However, as it stands now he looks like a 2-down player and that depresses his value enough to make him a risky start, especially against a Dolphins team that could be challenged to move the ball.
Secondary: Patrick Chung is the only player in the Patriots secondary that I feel comfortable giving anything more than a 2-star rating. Sergio Brown looks like he has been thrust into a starting safety role with the release of former pro-bowler Brandon Meriweather. Brown is someone that I see getting snapped up in deep leagues and that does make sense but in a 12 team league he is nothing more than waiver wire fodder at this point in time.
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Given Up: 2008: 50, 2009: 55, 2010: 51
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Faced: 2008: 46, 2009: 48, 2010: 48
Defensive Line: The Dolphins play a 3-4 scheme that basically renders their DL fantasy irrelevant. You should look elsewhere for DL help.
Linebacker: It might be hard to believe but Channing Crowder retired at the young age of 27 years old. Crowder basically has been fighting injury for the last two years and just decided not to put his body thru the rigors of an NFL season again. To replace the departed Crowder the Dolphins signed former Charger Kevin Burnett. has had nice fantasy value in the past and I do think he will be fantasy relevant again this year. Unfortunately, his upside will be limited by playing next to Karlos Dansby. Dansby is a player that has lost some of his fantasy "shine" but he is still a solid LB2 option and in deep leagues he could even creep into LB1 territory. The only concern I have is that Burnett could also siphon away Dansby's upside. The other LB that deserves mention is rush OLB Cameron Wake. Wake was a monster rushing the QB last year, of course he was a very inconsistent fantasy play unless you were in a big play league. In big play leagues I think Wake has top-5 upside this year.
Secondary: Yeremiah Bell's is the only DB in the Dolphins secondary that is really going to be worth starting on a weekly basis this year. However, against the Patriots potent passing attack Chris Clemons looks like solid play this week too. You might be scratching your head thinking that Reshad Jones was the other starting safety but
Armando Salguero, who covers the Dolphins for the Miami Herald has reported that the Dolphins week 1 depth chart has Chris Clemons listed as the starting FS. Even with a potent Patriots offense I think it is best to leave both Vontae Davis and Sean Smith on the bench. In CB mandatory leagues I can see wanting to get them into your starting lineup.
Oakland at Denver
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Given Up: 2008: 45, 2009: 45, 2010: 52
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Faced: 2008: 53, 2009: 53, 2010: 48
Defensive Line: The Raiders have a really stout DL. Both Tommy Kelly and Richard Seymour are startable in DL combined leagues and are top options in DT mandatory leagues. At DE the Raiders two nice young players. Both Matt Shaughnessy and Lamarr Houston will be fantasy factors this year. Houston will be more of a matchup type play but Shaughnessy is a player i like to approach DL1 status. Yes, I think top 12 isn't out of the question for Shaughnessy. The Broncos have what appears to be one of the worst pass blocking OLs in the NFL this year so don't hesitate to get any of these guys into your lineups.
Linebacker: While the Raiders have four viable fantasy players on their DL they only have one at LB. Rolando McClain was a player that many were expecting big things from last year. McClain never really delivered on those expectations but by year end he was putting up decent numbers. This week I think he should be in starting lineups but if he gets out of the gate slowly we may have to reassess expectations for him this year. Outside of McClain you can forget about Kamerion Wimbley or Quentin Groves having viable fantasy value.
Secondary: For the past two seasons I have been preaching about how much turnover there is among the DB position and that you shouldn't be surprised when a perceived stud fails to live up to expectations. One thing that Tyvon Branch has going for him is that he has actually been extremely consistent the past two seasons, of course that probably just means he is due to flop. However, I think that if anyone is going to buck the trend and stay consistent I would be willing to say it will be Branch. The Broncos probably won't be the best matchup but I think Branch should still be able to carve together 6 solos and a couple of assists to make him a solid 3-star play. Michael Huff had a career type year last year and he ended up finishing the season as the 11th best DB. This year I have a hard time seeing him repeat his 2010 performance. I mean I am already putting money on Branch to repeat as a top DB option, the odds just aren't good for Huff to do the same.
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Given Up: 2008: 49, 2009: 51, 2010: 48
Average Tackle Opportunities/Game Faced: 2008: 52, 2009: 50, 2010: 53
Defensive Line: Last year the Broncos DL had little to no value due to the 3-4 scheme that they played. This year that isn't the case, by switching back to a 4-3 we now have another top notch DE back in the fold and Elvis Dumervil is his name. Dumervil isn't the prototypical DE but he just gets the job done. He is someone that I would start each and every week without hesitation. In addition to Dumervil we could finally get some fantasy value from Robert Ayers too. Ayers failed to do much of anything when he was forced to play OLB in the Broncos old scheme but now he has a chance to pay some dividends for fantasy owners. Just don't jump the gun and throw Ayers into starting lineups yet, let's see how he fares as a DE again.
Linebacker: The big news with regards to the Broncos LBs is that DJ Williams dislocated his elbow this pre-season and he will miss the first two weeks of the season. Filling in for Williams will be Wesley Woodyard. Woodyard should have value but is a much safer start in deeper leagues and if it helps any I will admit to owning both Williams and Woodyard in a deep 16 team league and I am not starting him this week. Joe Mays and Von Miller are the other starters. Many are high on Miller and I can certainly understand why but with that said I do think he struggles to put up consistent fantasy numbers. This week I think you can get away with playing him but I just don't see him being a plug and play LB.
Secondary: I am not really sure what we are going to get from the Raiders this week so that is why I was so stingy with my star ratings for the Broncos secondary. Veteran Brian Dawkins is the only one that I gave a 3-star rating too and that is because I do think he will be active in the box against the Raiders rushing attack. Rookie Rahim Moore looks to have a nice skill set but until he shows he can consistently put up viable fantasy numbers I am not willing to rank him above a 2-star play.