This article attempts to immediately highlight defensive players whose production was significantly better or worse than normally expected for the prior week of games. Note there is sometimes limited information available when this article is written, but I will try to give everyone an early look at players who are moving up or down in value among IDP circles. When warranted, I'll also call out some players under No Change that tries to explain why the stat lines may be misleading. It’s difficult to give waiver advice for IDPs since there is such a wide variety of lineups and scoring systems, but hopefully, the information provided can help inform your waiver, trade, and upcoming lineup decisions. If you have any questions about specific players or situations, feel free to email me or reach out via twitter.
BALTIMORE @ CINCINNATI
LB Kenny Young, BAL (5 solos, 3 asst, 1 TFL, 1 QH)
Star inside linebacker C.J. Mosley was carted off the field after just 3 defensive snaps on Thursday night. It was later revealed to a bone bruise that may not keep him out too long, but his absence created a huge opportunity for the rookie Young. After seeing 36% of the defensive snaps a week ago, his workload increased to 76% this week and he finished 3rd on the team in tackles. Fellow linebacker Patrick Onwuasor handled the full-time role after Mosley left and clearly gets a boost while Mosley is out but Young looks like he may be the more promising add/hold for the rest of the year and in dynasty leagues.
LB Hardy Nickerson Jr, CIN (5 solos, 3 asst, 1 PD)
With Preston Brown out injured, Nickerson got the start at middle linebacker and played a remarkable 84 defensive snaps (99%) in the game. While that every-down role likely won’t continue as the Bengals start to get players like Brown and Vontaze Burfict and Vincent Rey back, it’s a nice sign that the coaches trusted him and he held up pretty well. His father played 16 years in the league and was a four-time All-Pro selection so there’s certainly some intriguing dynasty stash potential here.
S Shawn Williams, CIN (6 solos, 2 asst, 1 sack, 1 QH, 1 INT, 1 PD)
Williams was ejected early last week for a late hit on the quarterback, but his replacement Clayton Fejedelem posted a huge game in his place. This week, it was Williams who posted big numbers against the Ravens with a sack and interception. If you combine the production from both players, it certainly looks like the strong safety position in Cincinnati is off to a great start. Williams has often been underwhelming in the box score but he’s a good run stopper who could be worth a pickup if available.
DE Michael Johnson, CIN (0 tackles)
The Bengals lost their starting defensive end to a knee injury very early in the game. He left after just 5 defensive snaps and is expected to miss a few weeks. That should create more opportunity for young pass rushers like Carl Lawson (60%), Sam Hubbard (59%), and Jordan Willis (58%). Hubbard, in particular, stood out this week as the rookie was credited with 5 tackles and a sack.
CAROLINA @ ATLANTA
LB Duke Riley, ATL (7 solos, 2 asst)
Riley got the start at middle linebacker in place of the injured Deion Jones and played close to a full-time role as he was on the field for 58 snaps (87%). De'Vondre Campbell played all 67 snaps and posted 9 tackles as well so both players should see steady production as the 3-down linebackers here.
CB Donte Jackson, CAR (6 solos, 1 INT, 1 PD, 1 FF)
The Panthers drafted Jackson in the second round of this year’s draft to try an upgrade a secondary that has struggled since Josh Norman left. The rookie is undersized at 5’10”, 180 pounds but he plays a physical game and has elite speed. He grabbed his first interception but unfortunately left the game soon afterward with a hamstring injury so his production came on just 42 snaps. Watch the injury news if you need short-term help at the position but Jackson is someone to keep tabs on for fantasy owners.
CB Brian Poole, ATL (6 solos, 1 asst, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 QH)
Poole is one of the better slot corners in the league and he’s averaged about 60 defensive snaps per game through the first two weeks of the season. That has allowed him to be remarkably productive as he put up 6 solos plus a sack in each game. The injuries to Keanu Neal and Deion Jones figure to create more opportunities for him.
DE Vic Beasley Jr Jr, ATL (2 asst)
Beasley led the league in sacks in 2016 with 15.5 but he has just 5 sacks since then and has not been generating any pressure so far this year. Unfortunately, he’s also not very productive against the run as he posted 23 solos last year and has just 1 this year so his fantasy value is possibly at an all-time low right now. Worth a hold in deeper leagues, particularly those that reward big plays, but it’s hard to remain optimistic that he’ll ever return to those 2016 levels of production.
LB Shaq Thompson, CAR (2 solos, 1 QH)
Thompson continues to be one of the most frustrating fantasy options at linebacker. He’s clearly talented and now playing a 3-down role while Thomas Davis is out on suspension, but weeks like this make it hard to rely on him. He was credited with just 2 solo tackles despite playing all 63 defensive snaps in a matchup that saw the Falcons rush the ball 32 times for 170 yards.
L.A. Chargers @ BUFFALO
LB Lorenzo Alexander, BUF (5 solos, 2 asst, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 1 QH, 1 PD)
I was hesitant to call out Alexander here as he’s a 35-year old part-time player at this point of his career, but his early season production warrants a mention. Through two games, he’s been credited with 13 solos, 2 assists, and a sack with 2 passes defensed on just 76 snaps. Alexander has seen a reduction in his workload over the last two years but has remained surprisingly productive. His versatility makes him more appealing in big-play scoring systems.
S Derwin James, LAC (7 solos, 1 asst, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 1 QH, 1 PD)
James is only 2 games into his career but he is already showing signs of his elite fantasy potential. He had a relatively quiet debut against the Chiefs last week with just 3 tackles but made up for it with a sack and several passes defensed. In an easy win over the Bills this week, he added another sack and pass defensed while leading the team in tackles. James can do everything well, and his effectiveness as a blitzer is helping to offset the absence of Joey Bosa.
CB Phillip Gaines, BUF (1 solo)
The Bills found themselves dangerously short at cornerback this week as Vontae Davis apparently decided to retire at halftime after starting the game. Phillip Gaines started as the team’s slot corner this week but only lasted 8 snaps before being carted off with a dislocated elbow. Rookie corner Taron Johnson was already out injured, which left them with corner Lafayette Pitts and their safeties to try and hold things down. Either way, this is a messy situation that also figures to take targets away from the rest of the talented Bills secondary.
MINNESOTA @ GREEN BAY
DE Danielle Hunter, MIN (4 solos, 1 asst, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 QH)
Hunter was a disappointment to fantasy owners last year as he finished with 7 sacks after posting 12.5 the year before. It looks like he may be able to fulfill his potential this year, however, as he’s averaging about 90% of the defensive snaps and has been credited with 8 solos and 2 sacks.
CB Jaire Alexander, GB (7 solos, 1 asst, .5 sack, 1 TFL, 1 QH)
The Packers drafted Alexander in the first round to try an upgrade a cornerback group that has been a weak link for years. He’s started out the season as the team’s nickel corner and that role has been keeping him on the field for at least 70% of the snaps each week. He could be in line for a bigger role soon, however, as starter Kevin King left the game this week with a groin injury and Davon House struggled in relief. Veteran Tramon Williams likely doesn’t have a whole of tread left on his tires either.
DE Mike Daniels, GB (1 QH)
DE Muhammad Wilkerson, GB (1 solo)
The two starting defensive ends combined for just one solo tackle in the game despite both playing well over 60% of the defensive snaps. Wilkerson came in with more potential given his history with the Jets, but we’ll have to see if playing on a good team can motivate him to get back to his earlier production levels. Daniels was credited with a quarterback hit in the game and did generate some pressure, but it’s clearly going to be hard to rely on either of these players from week to week.
CLEVELAND @ NEW ORLEANS
DT Larry Ogunjobi, CLE (4 solos, 2 sacks, 2 TFL, 2 QH)
The rookie tackle played an incredible 79 snaps (94%) last week and followed that up with 58 (88%) more this week when he recorded two sacks of Drew Brees. Considering he only recorded 3 sacks in his senior year of college, we probably shouldn’t expect him to continue his 1.5 sacks per game pace for long. Regardless, that type of heavy workload for a defensive tackle should make him a great every-week starter.
DT Sheldon Rankins, NO (2 solos, 3 asst, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 2 QH)
Rankins had a slow start last week with 3 tackles on just 64% of the defensive snaps in a lopsided game. This week, the game was more competitive and he saw an increase in playing time to 50 snaps (81%). He’s talented and capable of becoming one of the better 3-technique tackles in the league, which should lead to more games like this going forward.
S Damarious Randall, CLE (4 solos, 1 asst, 2 PD, 1 FR)
Randall fell out of favor as a corner in Green Bay but he has appeared to find a new home as a safety in Cleveland. Through two games, he’s been credited with 8 solo tackles plus an interception and 4 passes defensed. While he’s not your typical box safety that will register tackles in bunches, he looks like an every-down player and he’s making enough plays on the ball to be a viable safety option in deeper leagues.
LB Alex Anzalone, NO (0 tackles)
Anzalone impressed as a rookie before suffering an injury last year. He was expected to take on a bigger role this year but appears stuck in a timeshare with players like Manti Te’o and A.J. Klein. He saw 52% of the defensive snaps last week and this week that dropped to 37% as he was shut out from the stat sheet. Could emerge later on with an injury, but may not be worth holding onto at this point.
LB Christian Kirksey, CLE (DNP)
Kirksey didn’t see a full workload last week and was ruled out this week with shoulder and ankle injuries. Hopefully, the week off will allow him to get healthy but you may want to wait for him to finish a full game before starting him. To offset his absence, Jamie Collins Sr Sr replaced him in the nickel packages and James Burgess Jr filled in on early downs.
MIAMI @ N.Y. JETS
S Jamal Adams, NYJ (4 solos, 3 asst, 1 sack, 1 QH, 1 FF)
Many dynasty players were likely underwhelmed by Adams last year but sometimes young safeties need some time to develop and adjust to the NFL. With an interception last week and now a sack/forced fumble this week, he’s showing the playmaking tendencies that were missing a year ago. He certainly has the potential to become a Landon-Collins type force in the back of the Jets secondary and he will be helped by the lack of talent at linebacker in front of him.
LB Jerome Baker, MIA (2 solos)
The rookie started last week but was bumped out of the lineup this week by Chase Allen. Both players combined for just 22 snaps (34%) in the game, however, as neither has a role in the nickel defense. Therefore, it looks like only Kiko Alonso (100%) and Raekwon McMillan (100%) are the only linebackers to own right now unless you can afford to wait for Baker to develop.
KANSAS CITY @ PITTSBURGH
S Morgan Burnett, PIT (3 solos, 3 asst, 1 QH)
Burnett looked like he was beaten out for a starting spot by rookie Terrell Edmunds but Burnett was in the lineup at strong safety this week and played 90% of the snaps. Given the weakness at inside linebacker, the potential is there for this spot to see a lot of activity but Burnett likely needed some time to acclimate to his new team. He’s a proven veteran who has been an elite fantasy safety in the past, although he is well past his prime so his upside isn’t what it used to be.
LB Justin Houston, KC (2 solos, 2 asst)
Nothing wrong with a 4-tackle game from Houston here but it’s disappointing to not see a sack from him given the Steelers has 60 pass attempts in the game. Houston just hasn’t looked like the same explosive pass rusher we’re used to in the first two games of the year, and Dee Ford has actually generated more consistent pressure for the Chiefs up front.
PHILADELPHIA @ TAMPA BAY
DE Jason Pierre-Paul, TB (5 solos, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 4 QH)
After being shutout by Drew Brees and the Saints last week and playing with a “jacked up” knee, Pierre-Paul proved he still belongs among the elite at his position. He was on the field for 67 snaps (85%) and registered 5 solo tackles with a sack and 4 quarterback hits. Although Tampa has quality depth up front, they appear willing to give Pierre-Paul a heavy workload each week.
CB Ronald Darby, PHI (8 solos, 1 INT, 1 PD)
Darby is clearly the top corner for the Eagles but he’s not quite a shutdown guy that quarterbacks will try to avoid. That was apparent this week as Ryan Fitzpatrick torched the Eagles for 27 completions on just 33 attempts, but Darby was targeted often and finished with a great stat line. He topped 60 solo tackles in his first two years with the Bills and should get back to that level this year if he can stay healthy.
DE Michael Bennett, PHI (1 solo, 1 asst, 1 TFL, 2 QH)
There were reports in the preseason that Bennett would see a reduced workload in Philadelphia due to their impressive depth on the defensive line. He saw 45 (64%) of the snaps last week and this week that was down to 24 (41%). He can still be effective at generating pressure on a limited snap count but his overall production volume will clearly be reduced from what it was in Seattle.
HOUSTON @ TENNESSEE
DE Jurrell Casey, TEN (4 solos, 1 asst, 2 sacks, 1 TFL, 1 QH, 1 FF)
Casey certainly isn’t an exciting fantasy option as he’s topped out at 7 sacks in his best season over the last 4 years. He plays in a scheme that isn’t always conducive to fantasy success but is likely underrated. In any event, he showed this week that he can still be counted on with 2 sacks against the Texans and now has 6 solos and 5 assists through 2 games.
LB Benardrick McKinney, HOU (1 solo, 4 asst)
McKinney was one of 6 different Texans to play all 59 defensive snaps this week, but his production continues to underwhelm. The Titans had 34 rush attempts against them but he was only credited with 5 tackles and 4 of them were assists. Meanwhile, fellow inside linebacker Zach Cunningham was credited with 8 tackles (6 solos) while playing 17 fewer snaps.
INDIANAPOLIS @ WASHINGTON
LB Darius Leonard, IND (15 solos, 3 asst, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 QH, 1 PD, 1 FF)
With a game like this, Leonard has probably jumped into the lead for defensive rookie of the year. It’s also a clear sign that they have a huge hole for someone to fill in their linebacker group and he is clearly the most talented option. While this type of production is unsustainable, Leonard could be one of the rare players to hit 100 solo tackles as a rookie given the great situation he’s in. Note that Leonard played all 74 defensive snaps while the next-highest snap count for a linebacker was Anthony Walker at just 38 (51%).
LB Ryan Kerrigan, WAS (1 asst)
Kerrigan has been one of the most consistent and reliable 3-4 outside linebackers in the league over the last 7 years. Through 2 games this year, however, he’s put up just 1 assisted tackle. Considering those games came against weaker teams with questionable offensive lines (Arizona, Indianapolis), that’s definitely a concern and it’s likely safe to move on from him if there are better options available on the waiver wire.
ARIZONA @ L.A. RAMS
DE Benson Mayowa, ARI (6 solos, 1 asst, 2 sacks, 4 TFL, 2 QH)
Mayowa is holding things down at defensive end until Markus Golden returns and he’s seeing a heavy workload. After seeing 72% of snaps last week, he was up to 78% this week in a blowout loss. Despite the poor play of many on the Cardinals this week, Mayowa managed to put up one of the best games of the week with 7 tackles and 2 sacks.
LB Deone Bucannon, ARI (1 solo)
In the Cardinals base defense, Gerald Hodges started and that left Bucannon limited to just nickel snaps (35%). The coaches apparently made this change to try and be more physical against the Rams running game and they did limit Todd Gurley to an average of 2.2 yards per carry. However, any fantasy players who are relying on Bucannon have good reason to be concerned here as his playing time may not be reliable on a forward basis.
Cory Littleton, LAR (3 solos)
Don’t overreact too much to any disappointing games from IDPs on the Rams this week as the Cardinals offense only generated 35 snaps and 33 tackle opportunities. Take that into account when evaluating the low numbers put up across the board as there just weren’t enough opportunities available for many of the players on this defense to do what they are capable of.
DETROIT @ SAN FRANCISCO
LB Jarrad Davis, DET (5 solos, 1 asst, 2 sacks, 2 TFL, 3 QH)
Davis struggled in coverage last year and couldn’t hold onto a job in the Lions nickel packages, but he’s playing every snap this year. Those extra snaps provide enough additional opportunities for him to improve from maybe an LB4 to a strong LB3 or even LB2. Although his tackle numbers are still relatively low (8 solos), he made up for it with 2 big sacks this week. Christian Jones also saw a jump in playing time this week from 47% of snaps a week ago to 92% this week and it showed in his stat line (6 tackles, 1 sack).
LB Elijah Lee, SF (10 solos, 2 asst, 1 sack, 1 FF)
The 49ers had another breakout performance from a linebacker this week as Elijah Lee led the team in tackles while also adding a sack and forced fumble. He contributed primarily on special teams a year ago but got an opportunity to start as Brock Coyle went on I.R. and Malcolm Smith remains out with an injury. Reuben Foster is scheduled to return from his suspension next week but Lee showed that he belongs and can produce when given an opportunity.
S Tavon Wilson, DET (5 solos)
Wilson tied for 3rd among Lions players in tackles this week but that likely masked the fact he didn’t start and was only on the field for 32 snaps (50%). Quandre Diggs handled much of the work at strong safety so Wilson could see a lot more variability in his production if he’s back to playing only in sub-packages.
OAKLAND @ DENVER
S Justin Simmons, DEN (8 solos, 1 asst)
Through 2 games, Simmons is now the only Broncos defensive player who has been on the field for every snap. He’s clearly a core player for them and helped turn the tide this week in a comeback win over the Raiders. He chased down plays all over the field and finished with 3 more tackles than any other Bronco defender.
S Karl Joseph, OAK (0 tackles)
The former starter and 1st round pick lost his starting job under the new coaching staff in Oakland. He only saw 7 snaps last week and 3 snaps this week as veteran Marcus Gilchrist has taken over the starting strong safety position.
NEW ENGLAND @ JACKSONVILLE
DE Dante Fowler Jr Jr, JAX (1 solo, 1 sack, 1 FF, 1 FR)
Fowler was activated after serving a 1-week suspension and showed that he doesn’t need a lot of playing time to be productive. He had a strip sack of Brady and then fought to recover the fumble himself. Unfortunately, his upside likely remains capped given that he only saw 19 snaps (31%) in the game as a pass rush specialist and isn’t likely to see a big change going forward.
S Ronnie Harrison, JAX (7 solos)
The rookie safety saw his playing time increase from 17 snaps (24%) last week to 32 (52%) this week and found himself matched up against Rob Gronkowski for a decent number of those. He was extremely productive with 7 solo stops on those 32 snaps and appears to be carving out a key role for himself behind Barry Church.
DE Trey Flowers, NE (2 solos, 1 FF)
Flowers is clearly the best defensive end on the Patriots roster but he only lasted 7 snaps this week before leaving with a concussion. Keionta Davis appeared to replace him and posted 3 solos, 2 assists in 53 snaps (75%).
N.Y. GIANTS @ DALLAS
DE Taco Charlton, DAL (3 solos, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 2 QH, 1 FR)
Charlton was overlooked by many with the news surrounding Randy Gregory but he’s a talented young player in his own right. He got a chance to play a heavy workload this week (84% of snaps) while Gregory sat out with a concussion and made the most of it. This Cowboys defensive line could get even stronger when Datone Jones and possibly David Irving returns at some point, but Charlton should remain a key part of the rotation.
LB Jaylon Smith, DAL (7 solos, 3 asst, 1 TFL)
Smith appears to be more fully recovered from the devastating knee injury he suffered in college. As a result, he’s perfectly capable of handling coverage responsibilities in a nickel role and that has allowed him to see 93% of snaps last week and 84% this week. The drafting of Leighton Vander Esch was expected to keep him out of the nickel package but it doesn’t seem likely to happen unless there is an injury. Sean Lee also had to leave the game with cramps and was limited to just 60% of the snaps as a result.
LB B.J. Goodson, NYG (1 asst)
Another disappointing game for Goodson, which likely reduces him to waiver-wire fodder at this point. He was on the field for 30 snaps (57%) as he continued to share time with Ray-Ray Armstrong but only managed to come up with a single assist.