Hard though it may be to believe, we’re already a quarter of the way into the 2018 NFL season — and about a third of the way into the fantasy football season. Teams are taking shape — for better or worse.
For some fortunate souls, everything’s gone right. After a sluggish start, Houston defensive end J.J. Watt has piled up five sacks over the past two games. Indianapolis linebacker Darius Leonard has gone from late-round flier to Individual Defensive Player (IDP) league superstar. They’re sitting at 4-0 or 3-1 and loving life. Every day’s a party.
Some folks haven’t been so lucky though. Atlanta linebacker Deion Jones got hurt. So did Miami safety Reshad Jones. Minnesota defensive end Everson Griffen had to leave the team to attend to some personal issues. Everything that could go wrong has, their teams are 1-3 or 0-4, and the season has been a disaster.
OK. Maybe “disaster” was a strong word, relatively speaking. But it’s been bad.
However, regardless of if the season’s gone swimmingly or is sinking like a stone, it’s still early. There’s plenty of time to turn things around and peel off a winning streak that will get you right back into the mix. Or get complacent, fall into a funk and squander a great start. It doesn’t do any good to panic — or to gloat.
Any IDP owner worth his salt maintains a constant effort level regardless of record. They are constantly looking for an edge — trying to set a lineup that will net their fantasy squad the most points possibly (and a win in the process).
And here at Fantasy Sharks, we’re here to help — with yet another edition of “IDP Studs and Duds.”
Each week during the 2018 season, I’ll point out some individual defensive players who could be set to exceed expectations this week (“Studs”), as well as some that for whatever reason are riskier plays than normal (“Duds”).
This isn’t necessarily to say that every “stud” is a must-start (it depends on your other options) or that every “dud” should be glued to your bench (just that the odds of a letdown week are greater than usual).
It may be the only week this season that Mack doesn’t get a sack.
Numbers in parentheses denote ranking in fantasy points allowed to that position in 2018 in Fantasy Sharks Default IDP Scoring.
IDP STUD OF THE WEEK
Cory Littleton, ILB, Los Angeles Rams (at Seattle) (1)
As Cameron DaSilva wrote for Rams Wire, head coach Sean McVay has been impressed by Littleton’s ability to step up and be a defensive leader in 2018.
“I thought Cory has been excellent. You really feel his speed and his instincts show up,” McVay said. “His communication – and I thought really what says as much as anything is, it was a tough start. A lot kind of unprepared for looks where you weren’t really sure. His ability to settle in in addition to our coaches and then his teammates I thought was a real credit to him and their ability to be able to work through some tough things.”
Littleton has piled up 35 total tackles over the first four games of the season, but he hasn’t amassed more than five solos in a game since the season-opener against Oakland. However, this week’s NFC West showdown sets up well for the third-year pro — Seattle has been so run-heavy the past two games that it is now surrendering the most fantasy points per game to linebackers.
WEEK 5 IDP STUDS
Jurrell Casey, DE, Tennessee (at Buffalo) (20): Casey’s off to a hot start, with three sacks over his first four games. That bodes very well heading into this week’s matchup with Buffalo, who has already allowed an eye-popping 21 sacks this season.
Taco Charlton, DE, Dallas (at Houston) (1): Demarcus Lawrence is too easy a call, but if you need a spot-starter up front in Week 5 consider Charlton or Randy Gregory. Houston is once again one of the worst pass-protecting teams in the NFL in 2018.
Brandon Graham, DE, Philadelphia (vs. Minnesota) (3): Minnesota is struggling this year in more than a few areas we didn’t expect it to this year. Pass protection is one of them — Kirk Cousins has been sacked 13 times this season and Minnesota is third in fantasy points per game (FPPG) allowed to defensive linemen.
Jatavis Brown, OLB, Los Angeles Chargers (vs. Oakland) (8): Surprisingly, it was Brown who played the most snaps of any Chargers linebacker last week with Kyzir White out. If that holds against Oakland, Brown should have a good day.
Jayon Brown, ILB, Tennessee (at Buffalo) (3): If Wesley Woodyard sits as expected, Brown will play every down. As horrible as Buffalo has been offensively this season, the team is still third in fantasy points given up to linebackers. Go figure.
Christian Kirksey, OLB, Cleveland (vs. Baltimore) (6): Thanks mainly to a bum shoulder, Kirksey’s off to a miserable start statistically. But the 26-year-old is healthy again and has a good shot at getting untracked in a plus divisional matchup with hated Baltimore.
Damontae Kazee, S, Atlanta (at Pittsbirgh) (6): The Pittsburgh run game is the worst in the NFL, but the passing game is doing just fine — and that has translated to a lot of fantasy points allowed to defensive backs this season.
Harrison Smith, S, Minnesota (at Philadelphia) (1): I’ve been asked several times this week if I’m worried about Smith after his turkey in Week 4 against the Los Angeles Rams. The answer is no — that was a bad matchup, this is a great one. Matchups matter, folks.
DJ Swearinger, S, Washington (at New Orleans) (2): If you’re the type of IDP owner who isn’t averse to streaming on the back end, consider Swearinger this week. Believe it or not, New Orleans gives up a lot of fantasy points to defensive backs.
IDP DUD OF THE WEEK
Frank Clark, DE, Seattle (vs. Los Angeles Rams) (10)
“Earl wanted an extension and stuff like that and at the end of the day he didn’t get that and it sucked,” Clark said. “It sucks to see a guy who like I said puts his all into something, puts his all into his team and he doesn’t get what he deserves.”
Clark, who is himself angling for a big extension, may be in for a frustrating week himself against the surging Rams. Yes, the Rams have been a decent matchup for defensive linemen in terms of fantasy points allowed over the first four weeks of the season, but that stat may be a bit misleading. There isn’t a quarterback in football who has been harder to sack in 2018 than Jared Goff, who has been taken down just five times in four games.
WEEK 5 IDP DUDS
DeForest Buckner, DT, San Francisco (at Arizona) (30): This matchup’s a little better now that Sam “Two Steps and Throw it Away” Bradford isn’t under center, but to date this season rotten Arizona hasn’t given up much to the defensive line fantasy-wise.
Carlos Dunlap, DE, Cincinnati (vs. Miami) (26): Dunlap’s been on a nice little roll of late, with nine total tackles and two sacks over his last two games. But strangely enough, Miami has been a bad IDP matchup for defensive linemen dating back to last season.
Yannick Ngakoue, DE, Jacksonville (at Kansas City) (28): Ngakoue finally notched his first sack of the season last week against the New York Jets, but two in a row isn’t especially likely. Patrick Mahomes has only been sacked five times all season long.
Kiko Alonso, OLB, Miami (vs. Cincinnati) (29): Alonso’s off to a smoking-hot start to the season, averaging 11.5 tackles per start on the year. But Cincinnati hasn’t been a great IDP matchup, so a slowdown might be in order.
Vontaze Burfict, OLB, Cincinnati (vs. Miami) (30): Cincinnati is no doubt glad to have Burfict back from suspension, but his snap count could be in question and Miami is the third-worst fantasy matchup in the league for linebackers.
Vince Williams, ILB, Pittsburgh (vs. Atlanta): Even if Devonta Freeman’s back for Atlanta, this is a bad matchup for Williams — Atlanta has been at or near the bottom of the NFL in fantasy points given up to linebackers dating back to last season.
Kentrell Brice, S, Green Bay (at Detroit) (29): Brice started hot and then went Antarctic-cold. The thaw isn’t coming any time soon — Detroit has not been a favorable matchup on the back end to this point in the season.
Kareem Jackson, S, Houston (vs. Dallas) (30): The fun’s over for Jackson. The converted corner who moved to safety is now back at corner (at least part-time) and headed into a matchup with a team that has no passing game to speak of.
Shawn Williams, S, Cincinnati (vs. Miami) (31): Williams can be a nice plug-and-play defensive back if the matchup’s right. But in this case the matchup is all kinds of wrong — only one team is giving up fewer fantasy points to defensive backs this year than Miami.