The first two weeks of the 2018 NFL season have been unlike anything I’ve ever seen — and not in a good way.
The amount of carnage among big-name defensive players this early in the season is unprecedented in the decade-plus I’ve been writing about Individual Defensive Player (IDP). We’re two games into the 2018 season, and three of my Top 5 fantasy linebackers heading into the year are hurt — two significantly.
Atlanta’s Deion Jones wound up on injured reserve with a bad foot. Baltimore’s CJ Mosley suffered a non-contact knee injury in Week 2 that will more likely than not cost him multiple games. Seattle’s Bobby Wagner sat out Seattle’s Week 2 tilt in Chicago with a groin injury.
But wait! There’s more!
My No. 1 defensive lineman for 2018 (Joey Bosa of the Los Angeles Chargers) is out until at least October with a foot injury that was supposedly no big deal two months ago. Atlanta safety Keanu Neal tore his ACL in the season opener against Philadelphia.
It’s a maddening start to the season. The loss of the first defensive player you drafted isn’t just a blow — it’s a potential season-killer.
But if there’s a silver lining to players getting hurt early, it’s that the waiver wire isn’t as picked over. There are better replacement options available in Week 3 than in Week 13,
So, put down that bottle of rum you’ve been carrying around since Mosley left the field last Thursday night and settle in.
We’ve got work to do.
IDP PICKUP OF THE WEEK
Darius Leonard, OLB, Indianapolis
Leonard was an absolute force in Week 2 against Washington, posting the highest score among all individual defensive players thanks to 18 total tackles (15 solo) a sack and a forced fumble. However, the rookie deflected praise of his huge game while speaking with Gregg Doyel of the Indy Star.
“It’s not a one-man game,” he says. “Eleven guys out there, and it takes all 10 guys to free me up – or all 11 guys to make a play. It’s never about me. It’s about the whole defense.”
Granted, Leonard isn’t going to post stat lines like that every week. But there’s a reason I was high on the youngster before the season as a “sleeper” linebacker—he’s easily the most talented player on the Indianapolis roster at the position. I can’t tell you with certainty that Leonard’s going to be a star in the NFL. But someone has to make tackles in Indianapolis — and more weeks than not the guy who leads the team in regard is going to be Leonard.
WEEK 3 IDP WAIVER WIRE TARGETS
Jurrell Casey, DE, Tennessee
ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen is a huge fan of Casey’s game.
“He’s a star. He gives you interior disruption consistently,” Bowen said. “Casey is super strong with his hands, so when he is engaged with a blocker, it leads to his ability to create disruption inside. He is nasty on contact. His effort level stands out. He pursues to the football. The top defensive linemen get extra production because they run to the ball. He has the size, athleticism, he’s physical, a great technician, and gives maximum effort. You can win with that every Sunday.”
Casey’s long been an underrated IDP asset who is capable of a big stat line in favorable matchups — a trait he showed off in Week 2 with five total tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. Casey’s next two matchups aren’t great (at Jacksonville, vs. Philadelphia), but with at least five total tackles in each of his first two games in 2018, Casey’s showing an IDP floor that rates a roster spot.
Kawann Short, DT, Carolina
After a huge season in 2015 (55 total tackles, 11 sacks), Short’s big-play numbers have been down the last couple of years. However, the 29-year-old told Max Henson of the team’s website he has a big goal in mind for 2018.
“To be one of the best in the league, if not the best,” Short said. “I want to win – I want to bring that championship.”
I don’t know about a Super Bowl win, but two weeks into the season Short’s playing as well as any three-technique in the NFL, following up two sacks in Week 1 with six total tackles and a forced fumble in Sunday’s loss to Atlanta. Short’s averaged 53 total stops a season over the last three years — if he can get his sack number back up in the 8-10 range, Short could serve as a nice cheap source of DL2 numbers.