As the season progresses it is hard to find those diamonds in the rough or that guy that no one has heard of. This week we are going to examine the plethora of injuries across the league and who the most likely successor is to that starting job as well as highlight some prime matchups as well as surprising performers to this point. This article will also highlight a few long-term and speculative players that could see their value rise over the course of the season.
Roquan Smith (CHI)
It has been a very slow start for Smith, but he has really turned things on in recent weeks. After missing a big chunk of time in training camp due to his holdout, Smith is finally rounding into form. There is a chance that he is already rostered in your league, but he is worth any sort of add your league uses if he is available. The Vikings get Dalvin Cook back this week and should look to establish the run more than recent weeks. This should provide a lot of opportunity for Smith to build on his impressive past few weeks.
Deion Jones (ATL)
Hardly considered a sleeper most seasons, but Jones is finally active from his foot fracture and looks to slide back into his starting role. There is a chance he is on a pitch count this week to try to ease him back, but this is a pivotal game for the Falcons against the Cowboys. Ezekiel Elliot ran all over the place last week and look for Dallas to feed him the ball again. Jones will have his opportunity to rack up tackles and you may have a steal if people forgot about him after the injury.
Nick Vigil (CIN)
Another player returning from injury, Vigil is slated to return to his starting duties. Just like Jones mentioned earlier, there is a chance people dropped Vigil and forgot about him. The Ravens may be without Joe Flacco this week and that should have them rely on the run game. There should be a lot of tackles to go around for the linebacker core in Cincinnati this week and expect Vigil to be right in the middle of it.
Jonathan Allen (WAS)
We have talked about both DaRon Payne and Matt Ioannidis in recent weeks, but there is another defensive end for the Redskins that is making plays. Allen has helped Washington stay competitive despite a rash of injuries. He has a juicy matchup against a Texans team that cannot seem to protect Deshaun Watson at all. They are giving up the most opposing points to defensive ends, have allowed the 5th most sacks, and the most quarterback hits in the league. Look for Allen to get home on at least 1 sack this week.
Carl Nassib (TB)
It is all about playing time in this new world of defensive line rotations. Nassib has seen a bump in playing time in recent weeks and is coming off 3 games with 75% or more of defensive snaps played. Coming off back to back games with a sack, Nassib is primed to get after the quarterback again this week. The tackle numbers are not there for him this season, but he is a boom or bust option with a high sack upside this week.
Eddie Goldman (CHI)
It helps when you play for the best defense in the NFL, but Goldman has a great matchup this week to go with it. The Vikings have been unable to protect Kirk Cousins and Cousins has had trouble holding on to the ball this season. It just takes one good rush from Goldman to result in a strip sack. The offensive line has also not been great in run blocking and it results in a lot of negative plays. Look for Goldman to have one of his best games of the season in prime time this week against the Vikings.
Bene Benwikere (ARI)
It pays to play opposite Patrick Peterson. Benwikere has averaged 6 tackles per game since taking over for Jamar Taylor. Teams continue to throw at him as they try to avoid Peterson. He may not have the flashy numbers or big interceptions of Peterson, but he is a consistent performer and will add points to your lineup every week.
Jessie Bates III (CIN)
Bates has racked up double-digit tackles in 3 out of his last 4 games. He also jumped a route and added his 2nd interception of the season and a touchdown in week 8 against Tampa Bay. It has been a very consistent season for Bates with an average of about 8 tackles per game. He is taking on the same Ravens team that he had his first interception of the season against and has a chance at more tackles with Joe Flacco out of the lineup and a concentration on the run game.
Sean Davis (PIT)
It was a bit of a letdown last week after Davis posted his best line against Baltimore in week 9. However, he has a very similar matchup against Jacksonville and will try to repeat that 9-solo tackle performance this week. The Steelers defense has played better in recent weeks and will take on a struggling Jaguars offense. With Leonard Fournette back in the lineup, there should be more opportunity for Davis to rack up tackles.
Leighton Vander Esch (DAL): 13 solos, 1 tackle for loss, 1 interception, 1 pass defended
This is the pickup we all dream of. Vander Esch was all over the field for the Cowboys and continues to have elite production. With Sean Lee dealing with another injury, Vander Esch is a safe play for the rest of the season. His tackle to snap ratio was elite in his part-time role and then when given the start he played like a man possessed.
Nigel Bradham (PHI): 8 solos, 2 assists
After establishing a relatively safe floor the entire season, Bradham crashed through it with a 10-total tackle performance. This was his best-tackling performance of the season despite coming in a loss. Bradham and the Eagles take on the high-flying Saints next week and he could be in line for double-digit tackles again against their ground and pound offense.
Tanner Vallejo (CLE): 4 solos, 2 assists
It was not an earth-shattering game for Vallejo, but he did show the Browns that he is capable of producing. He split time a little more than projected and came away with 6 total tackles. The Browns are still very thin at linebacker and he should be in line for more playing time as the season wears on.
Michael Davis (LAC): 3 solos, 1 assist, 1 pass defended
It was a quiet game for Davis a week after having his best game of the season. He managed to get his hand on a pass this week and knock it down, but he was not picked on in coverage as much as expected. He regressed back to his norm this week and continued to put up below average numbers against the Raiders.
Ezekiel Ansah (DET): 1 solo
The entire Lions defense did not have an answer for the Bears this week. Ansah was unable to generate any pressure up the middle and did not even register a quarterback hit. It was a game to forget for that defense and he does not have any better matchups coming. With Carolina, Chicago again, and Los Angeles on the horizon, Ansah may be better suited for the bench.
Matt Ioannidis (WAS): 1 solo, 1 sack
He may not jump off the stat sheet, but Ioannidis got home for a sack this week and made it 3 straight games with one. The tackle numbers have been very up and down all season, but he now has 7.5 sacks on the year. Ioannidis is not going to blow you away with tackles, but he does have a legitimate chance at a double-digit sack season.
Kenny Clark (GB): 5 solos, 1 assist, 1 sack
This makes 4 sacks in Clark’s last 4 games. The Dolphin’s offensive line did not have an answer for Green Bay all game and Clark was able to get home on Brock Osweiler. He also chipped in one of his highest tackle totals of the season and had one of his best all-around games. The Packers have a tough road ahead and will need Clark to continue to perform.
Tedric Thompson (SEA): 3 solos, 2 assists
It was the offense that failed at the end of the game this week, but Thompson also failed to produce on the defensive side of the ball. He was unable to replicate his 8-tackle outburst against the Rams from week 5 and looked shaky in coverage this week. Thompson has done an admirable job filling in this season but should not be viewed as a long-term option.
Logan Ryan (TEN): 5 solos, 1 assist, 1 pass defended, 1 sack
There were not a lot of people who thought the Titans would beat the Patriots this week, but Ryan had other plans. He was all over the field and even got home on a sack. The Patriots offense looked lost and Ryan had his best all-around game of the season. He has a safe floor of 5 tackles per game for the rest of the season if you are desperate for help.