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.
Eric Kendricks (MIN):
It has been a very poor season for Kendricks, until the past three weeks. He has posted an outstanding 35 total tackles in that time frame and also intercepted Tom Brady last week. Kendricks had 16 total tackles last week and 12 solo tackles against the Bears three weeks ago. If he is still available in your league, he is a must own and start for the rest of the season. His slow start may have kept him off the fantasy radar and that may be your gain.
L.J. Fort (PIT):
It has been hard to predict what the Steelers are going to do each week at linebacker. Their usage has been all over the place behind Jon Bostic, but he is currently standing on the sideline. Fort did not get the starting nod but played 83% of snaps. He has a good chance to see similar numbers and would make for a great play. Follow the Steelers injury report this week and if Bostic can’t go, Fort looks to be the best play.
Cory Littleton (LAR):
With 8 total tackles in two of his last three games and a sack last week against the Lions, Littleton continues to perform well for the Rams. He gets a great matchup against a struggling Bears team this week who may still be without their starting quarterback. Look for Littleton to have a safe floor and a good chance to get home and rush the passer.
Darius Philon (LAC):
The return of Joey Bosa boosts everyone on the Chargers defensive line and that includes Philon. He has not had the best season to this point but has a great matchup against the Bengals this week. He will be taking on a backup quarterback and a team that likes to lean on Joe Mixon. He has a recipe for a great game and just has to show up and do what he is capable of. Look for Philon to have one of his better games of the season.
Denico Autry (IND):
Indianapolis has been a sneaky source of defensive fantasy points this season and the next man up is Autry. He had fallen off a lot of radars due to different injuries but is coming off a career three-sack game. He also has a great matchup against a Texans team that has not figured out how to protect their quarterback. Autry has a chance at a big game this week and should be rostered.
B.J. Hill (NYG):
We highlighted Damon Harrison after the trade to Detroit earlier this year and left off Hill. That was a mistake as Hill is now averaging three solo tackles per game and coming off a career-high three-sack game. Do not expect him to repeat those sack numbers, but he should be a steady performer going forward. Look for the rookie to continue to grow as well as his role in the defense.
Eli Apple (NO):
Sometimes in fantasy, it is not about how well the player is playing their position but about the opportunity they get. Apple has been the weak link for the Saints and teams have been throwing his way excessively. That is not good when it comes to wins and losses for a team, but great for someone who needs tackles on their fantasy team. Apple will get a Tampa Bay team that throws it as much as anyone else in the league and has a chance to be a top 20 defensive back this week.
Adrian Phillips (LAC):
With a nine-total tackle performance, Phillips had one of his best games of the season against the Steelers. He gets another great matchup against a struggling Bengals team that is using a backup quarterback. Look for him to jump up and stop the run when Mixon gets the ball and sit back and provide help over the top on Green. There are a lot of opportunities to fill up the stat sheet for Phillips this week.
Shelby Harris (DEN):
The tackle numbers have not been there, but Harris has made big plays in the last two games for the Broncos. He had an interception the same day he became a dad against the Steelers and then he had 1.5 sacks against the Bengals. He has seen a bump in playing time and may be in line for even more tackles going forward. A matchup against the 49ers provides the perfect recipe for success this week.
Jayon Brown (TEN): 4 solos, 1 assist, 1 sack, 1 pass defended
Brown continues to lead the Titans in sacks on the season and is largely overlooked in the IDP format. He had 2 doubled digit tackle games earlier in the season, but he has faltered in recent weeks. The sacks have been his saving grace this season and he has a decent chance of getting another one next week against the Jaguars. Brown may be a sneaky pickup to try and grab a sack in the last 3 weeks against struggling offenses.
Elijah Lee (SF): 6 solos, 1 assist
It was not quite the breakthrough that we wanted for Lee in the wake of the Reuben Foster departure, but he still put up respectable numbers. Lee has all the tools to be a run stopping linebacker in the NFL, but the 49ers need to give him more playing time. He has a safe floor of 5 tackles per game for the rest of the season and might be a safe source of points if you need them.
Gerald Hodges (ARI): 12 solos, 1 assist
I do not know what is more shocking, the Cardinals winning the game or Hodges racking up 13 total tackles. It was a monster game for him after a few injuries to the defense gave him more playing time. This is not a line to expect for the rest of the season, but a worthwhile pickup last week. With games against pass-heavy teams in the Lions, Falcons, and Rams left this season it will be tough to reach these numbers again.
Derek Wolfe (DEN): 1 assist
The Broncos defense has played much better in recent weeks, but Wolfe has not been a big part in that. With all the attention being paid to Bradley Chubb and Vonn Miller it should have opened things up for Wolfe, but he has not been able to make a difference. He is not a viable option going forward and should be dropped in any format.
Robert Nkemdiche (ARI): 1 solo, 1 assist
It was a very slow game for Nkemdiche this week. After exploding back onto the scene with 2.5 sacks the week before, he only managed a tackle for loss this week. The Cardinals walked away with the victory, but he did not do much to help your team. Even in a league that requires defensive tackle positions filled, it was a poor showing.
Allen Bailey (KC): 4 solos, 3 assists, .5 sack
Bailey was all over the field this week and had one of his best tackling games of the season. His 7 combined tackles this week account for a quarter of his tackles the entire season. He was unable to register a full sack but did get home on a split sack. It would have been a great day to start Bailey and he still has value going forward this season.
Ibraheim Campbell (GB): 8 solos, 1 forced fumble, 1 tackle for loss
Campbell got his chance this week and produced for the Packers. It was not enough for the team to get the win, but Campbell forced a fumble and had a season-high in solo tackles. This week pushes him over 100 total tackles for his career. Campbell also added a tackle for loss and it is the only game he has played as a starter this season.
Jordan Whitehead (TB): 5 solos, 2 assists
Whitehead could not replicate his 11-tackle explosion from last week, but he did help Tampa beat a division rival this week. He played solid defense on the back end and came up to make plays when possible. It was not a flashy game by any means, but a safe floor of points. Whitehead will have a tougher test next week against the Saints.
Jayron Kearse (MIN): 3 solos
The Vikings did not end up starting Kearse with the injury to Andre Sendejo. He still played in the game and had three tackles, but it was not as big a role as originally thought. Kearse has been good for about 2.5 tackles per game and that is not enough to crack your starting lineup. The Vikings look to fill Sendejo’s spot by committee until someone steps up and takes it.