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Tony Nowak | Archive | Email
Staff Writer

IDP Notes
Week 2

Defensive Line

  • One of my favorite IDP sleepers for this year had a strong start to his season. Despite missing most of the preseason after a motorcycle accident, Carolina DE Greg Hardy started the season with 5 tackles (4 solo) and a sack he forced a fumble on. He also batted down a pass. I discussed Hardy's history in last week's column and love his opportunity to produce this year as the clear starter opposite RDE Charles Johnson from Week 1. Johnson also picked up where he left off last season, posting 4 solo tackles with a sack and 2 other TFL. The duo should be meeting in the backfield at the opposing QB frequently this season.

  • As expected, New York Giants DE Osi Umenyiora was inactive with knee problems. What wasn't fully expected was DE Justin Tuck joining him with a neck stinger suffered in the third preseason game. Although Tuck was listed as questionable before the game, but he travelled with the team, an indication he had a shot at playing. Instead it was sophomore Jason Pierre-Paul at RDE in place of Umenyiora and Dave Tollefson at LDE in place of Tuck, with SLB Mathias Kiwanuka replacing him on the edge in their pass packages. JPP was the big winner, fulfilling the promise he flashed in limited opportunities last year. He had 6 tackles (5 solo, including 3 TFL) with 2 sacks, forcing a fumble on one. Showing the ability to fight through double teams as the featured pass rusher, JPP has solidified his place in the rotation and will remain a quality fantasy producer even when Tuck and Umenyiora return. Tollefson also made the most of his opportunity with a sack. Tuck is expected back this week, getting an extra day of rest with the team's next game on MNF. Rookie UDFA DE Justin Trattou, a converted collegiate LB, was activated from the practice squad to take the roster spot of MLB Jonathan Goff, placed on the IR with a torn ACL last week. Trattou provided depth with two ends out and saw a few snaps. If Tuck is ready to return this week, Trattou should move back to the squad so the team can use the roster spot for another LB.

  • Despite being held and double-teamed most of the afternoon, Chicago DE Julius Peppers racked up a pair of sacks. He brushed by Atlanta QB Matt Ryan on the second one, forcing him to spin and put the ball on the ground attempting to keep his balance, except Ryan couldn't hold on to the ball and left it on the ground. Peppers almost recovered it himself, but it bounced out right to MLB Brian Urlacher who returned it 12 yards for a TD. Peppers also recovered another fumble earlier in the game. DC Rod Marinelli added a new twist this year to help Peppers, moving him up and down the line, including inside, to get the best match-up against the opponent's weakest OLineman. The initial results were promising. Most frequently meeting Peppers at the QB was DT Henry Melton, who had a breakout performance 5 tackles (4 solo, including 2 TFL) and 2 sacks. He showed up at Texas as a super-sized RB and was soon converted to the DLine. The 2009 fourth-round pick was still learning the position the last two years and flashed some potential last season before putting it all together this preseason. He is one of the breakout interior linemen for the league this year and will be one of the most productive DTs for fantasy purposes. DE Corey Wooton, who is also looking like he has a promising future, was inactive with a knee injury. In his place, Nick Reed was the third DE and although he only shows 1 pass defensed in the box score, the former seventh-round pick of Seattle who showed a great motor and brought a lot of pressure. DT Amobi Okoye, one of many former first-round pick busts acquired in the offseason by GM Jerry Angelo in bizarre low-risk, low-return strategy, also had a sack as Melton's back-up. He could be the one that pays off for Angelo, but he it will be in a reserve role, as he'll work behind Melton as the UT while Matt Toenia and Anthony Adams rotate as the space-eaters in the lower production NT role.

  • Facing the team that allowed the most sacks in the league last season, Atlanta had some of their few highlights in their loss Sunday, bringing down CHI QB Jay Cutler five times. As usual, RDE John Abraham led the way, getting 4 TFL and 2 sacks. He also tipped a pass on a botched play in that fourth quarter that DE3 Kroy Biermann snagged and returned 50 yards for a TD. Biermann and DE4 Lawrence Sidbury each had a sack, as well. The only end left out was new starting LDE Ray Edwards, the free agent who was supposed to address their lack of a pass rush threat opposite Abraham. Edwards had a tough debut, posting just 1 tackle as Chicago first-round pick RT Gabe Carimi generally controlled him. I still like Edwards to be productive this year, especially once he can use his speed on Atlanta's home turf. Sidbury also almost had a safety, getting a hit on Cutler in the end zone just after he released the ball. I liked Sidbury as a speed rusher coming out of Richmond two years ago, but he hasn't done much and was inactive 10 games last year. He isn't interesting for redraft leagues, but will have some dynasty value if he finally shows some pass rush ability this year. DT Corey Peters was inactive with a knee injury and replaced by former first-round pick Peria Jerry. Peters will be needed this week, as Jonathan Babineaux was lost for about a month with a partially torn MCL in the game.

  • After indications New Orleans journeyman DE Jeff Charleston would get the start at RDE while Will Smith is suspended for the first two games, it was first-round pick Cameron Jordan who lined up opposite LDE Turk McBride on opening night. Jordan and Charleston both had 3 tackles (2 solo), while McBride had a solo and a QB hit. DE4 Junior Galette covered a bit more of the box score, posting 3 tackles (1 solo), including a TFL and sharing a sack with SS Roman Harper on a blitz. The front four generated little pressure on their own without Smith and he looks like the only one on this line worth owning in most fantasy leagues. Smith will return from suspension in Week 3, so this would be the week to snag him if an impatient owner in deep leagues let him go. DT Shaun Rogers only saw the least work in the interior rotation.

  • Injury-prone Green Bay DE Mike Neal missed his opportunity to open the season in the starting lineup due to a knee strain and shoulder problems, so Jarius Wynn started in his place and had a sack. Neal, a 2010 second-round pick, has a lot of upside and the team is counting on him to be a major contributor after losing Cullen Jenkins this year, but he needs to stay healthy.

  • Tennessee was thin on the edges with DE Derrick Morgan inactive, as expected, and new starting LDE Jason Jones also dealing with a knee injury. Instead William Hayes and Dave Ball got the starts. Hayes dinged his shoulder in the first quarter, but returned, and had a sack. Morgan targeted returning this week, but Jones seems like a safer bet. Keep an eye on the status of both if you need to possibly start either on your roster (then go and scour the waiver wire because you don't want to be relying on either this year in anything but a deep league). Rookie Jurrell Casey started at DT next to Shaun Smith and fellow rookie DT Karl Klug also seeing significant work in the rotation. DT Sen'Derrick Marks has lost a starting job as he has been struggling to return from offseason shoulder surgery.

  • Baltimore NT Haloti Ngata helped his contract negotiations with a dominant performance on opening day. He had 4 tackles (2 solo), including blowing up Pittsburgh RB Rashard Mendenhall in the backfield in the third quarter and forcing a fumble he recovered. Ngata also recovered another fumble off a sack by OLB Terrell Suggs and deflected a pass that was intercepted. Suggs was also a monster with 3 sacks on the day, forcing a fumble on 2 of them, and terrorizing Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger all afternoon.

  • The front four was as effective as expected for Philadelphia. New LDE Jason Babin picked up where he left off last season with 4 solo tackles (2 TFL) and a pair of sacks. RDE Trent Cole, DE3 Darryl Tapp and new DT Cullen Jenkins each had a sack. Tapp had a great game, also racking up 3 solo tackles and forcing a fumble DE4 Juqua Parker recovered. Tapp left the game early with a pec injury. HC Andy Reid said there is a tear, but thinks he could return to practice this week and lists him as day-to-day. That seems overly optimistic. Consider Tapp highly questionable even if he practices.

  • Detroit DE Kyle Vanden Bosch played through a shoulder injury that hampered him through the end of the preseason and had the only sack by the front four. We'll have to wait a bit longer for the debut of Detroit's dynamic interior duo as rookie DT Nick Fairley was inactive with a left foot injury he suffered in one of his first practices with the team. The timetable for his return is unknown, but the team already has an underrated Corey Williams next to Ndamukong Suh. Each had just a solo tackle on Sunday, but succeeded in occupying the Tampa Bay OLine in contributing to containing Tampa Bay RB LeGarrette Blount.

  • The Cincinnati DLine had an effective day, but unproductive fantasy one, against Cleveland. While RDE Michael Johnson was the nominal starter, he worked primarily in passing sets and Jonathan Fanene worked against the run. Same story on the other side with starter Robert Geathers was the run stopper and Carlos Dunlap the pass rusher. Johnson didn't get a sack, but gave Cleveland Pro Bowl LT Joe Thomas a workout. Johnson batted away three passes and grabbed another for an interception thanks to pressure from Dunlap and DT Geno Atkins. Dunlap was credited with just 2 QB hurries in the box score and Fanene was the most productive end with 6 tackles (5 solo, including 2 TFL). This rotation looks like a fantasy nightmare, with Frostee Rucker also in the picture. In sack-heavy leagues, I still like Dunlap to have value.

  • Jacksonville DE Aaron Kampman was a late scratch as he clearly still isn't fully recovered from his November ACL tear, his second in as many years. The team kept this relatively quiet in the preseason, even though they limited his action, the intent seemed to be he would begin the season, or they should have considered putting him on the PUP. He had a full leg brace on his right knee Monday. Stay far away from Kampman and scour the waiver wire for depth if you were counting on him this year. Considered him a risky play any week until he puts together a couple of back-to-back performances. Newly acquired Matt Roth started in his place and got a sack for the first time as both a Jaguar and 4-3 DE. Jeremy Mincey started at LDE, as expected, but was non-factor until the fourth quarter, when he had a run of bringing some good pressure, but failed to close any for sacks.

  • I wasn't a believer despite his strong preseason, but rookie NT Chris Neild, the second-to-last pick of the draft, showed he belonged in the NFL on Sunday. Rotating with starter Barry Cofield, Neild had 4 tackles (2 solo) with a pair of sacks, forcing a fumble on one. Starting ends Stephen Bowen and Adam Carriker each had a sack, as well. Second-round pick DE Jarvis Jenkins was placed on the IR with a torn ACL last week.

  • Cleveland pass rush specialist DE Marcus Benard and DT3 Brian Schafering shared a sack, but the rest of getting to the QB was done by the back seven. Rookie DT Phil Taylor was an impressive load penetrating and rung up 6 tackles (5 solo, including 2 TFL), although a lot was on Cincinnati rookie G Clint Boling, who started in place of the suspended Bobbie Williams. Rookie RDE Jabaal Sheard had 2 TFL and another solo tackle. The Bengals ran at him all day, putting up 139 yards on the ground. He'll have to improve as a run defender quickly or risk losing snaps.

  • Indianapolis DE Robert Mathis had a sack, but on the other side, DE Dwight Freeney put up a goose egg in the box score. 2010 first-round pick DE Jerry Hughes was a healthy scratch on Sunday. He's fallen behind a couple other first-round picks who are reclamation projects - Jamaal Anderson and Tyler Brayton.

  • It was a disappointing start for a defensive line that invested two first- and two second-round picks in the last two drafts. It wasn't as bad as it looked in the box score, where rookie RDE Adrian Clayborn put up a goose egg. Clayborn showed some good penetration, especially forcing a dump to Detroit RB Jahvid Best in the second quarter that should have been picked off by SS Sean Jones after Best could only deflect the pass and in the fourth quarter when Clayborn blew up Best well behind the line of scrimmage, but didn't wrap and Best bounced off of him. Clayborn's back-up, Tim Crowder, had 5 tackles (4 solo). On the other side rookie DE Da'Quan Bowers, who lost the starting LDE role to Michael Bennett in the preseason, looked a bit more lost, except for getting Best behind the line once for a TFL. Bennett 4 solo tackles. I've always liked Crowder since he flashed some pass rush ability as a rookie in Denver 5 years ago and thought he just needed more of a chance somewhere. It could finally come this year at the expense of their raw duo of rookie ends. I wouldn't touch him now, but he's a name to remember if Clayborn and Bowers keep struggling to make a consistent impact. The most impressive player up front was DT Gerald McCoy, despite posting just 2 solo tackles, he had an excellent first step and is a disruptive player who will make more of an impact this year. DT Brian Price, last year's second-round pick, didn't last long in his attempt to come back from tearing both hamstrings off the bone last year. He left with what was labeled a minor hamstring strain in the third quarter and didn't return. He is day-to-day, but considering his history, any leg problem is a major concern. He should be avoided.

  • It was expected Dallas DE Jason Hatcher had supplanted DE Kenyon Coleman in the starting lineup, but Coleman also started with Marcus Spears left as DE3. Spears was limited by a groin injury, so that impacted his snaps.

  • New Minnesota DE Brian Robison shared a sack with DE Jared Allen, who also had a pick. Letroy Guion got the start at DT in place of Kevin Williams, who is suspended one more game.

  • There was no clear fantasy winner on the DLine after one game with the revamped New England defensive schemes and personnel. They started in a four-man front with Andre Carter and Shaun Ellis at the ends and Vince Wilfork and Mike Wright inside. Carter had a sack, as did his primary back-up at RDE, Mark Anderson. They should be the most productive pass rushers for the team, albeit with little upside for tackles. DE/OLB Jermaine Cunningham was inactive with a groin injury. He is supposed to be the back-up at RDE.

  • St. Louis rookie first-round pick DE Robert Quinn was a surprise healthy scratch for the opener. Four other ends were active ahead of him. Quinn should see his first action this week, as reserve DE C.J. Ah You will be inactive after wrist surgery this week. Starting ends Chris Long and James Hall each had 2 solo tackles (1 TFL). Long also had a sack.

  • Denver DE Elvis Dumervil had a rough return after missing all last season with a torn pec. Dumervil was in and out of the lineup after aggravating a left shoulder injury from preseason in the first quarter. Jason Hunter replaced him and posted 6 tackles (5 solo, including 1 TFL) and a sack he forced a fumble on. On the other side, Robert Ayers had just a TFL and another assist. Former Jacksonville first-round pick Derrick Harvey couldn't crack the rotation and was inactive on Monday night.

  • The front four in Oakland got after DEN QB Kyle Orton on MNF. DT Richard Seymour had a pair of sacks, DT Tommy Kelly had one and so did DE Matt Shaughnessy.

  • San Diego DE Luis Castillo suffered broken left tibia and is expected to miss up to 12 weeks. With playoff aspirations, the Chargers will try to avoid putting him on the IR. Jacques Cesaire and Vaughn Martin will rotate in at DE while Castillo is out. On the right side, first-round pick Corey Liuget had 2 tackles (1 TFL) in his first game.

  • Waiver Wire Recommendations: Jason Pierre-Paul is unlikely to be available in most leagues, especially since we found out about the knee problems of Osi Umenyiora, but if he is out there in shallow leagues, run, don't walk, to pick him up. In deeper leagues, its two guys I've been talking about for some time now who are cashing in on full-time opportunities: Greg Hardy and Brian Robison. Hardy has more upside, especially as a pass rusher, but more risk. Robison is solid, low-risk choice. In very deep leagues, I'm reaching for Jason Hunter. Someone is going to get to the QB for HC John Fox. Dumervil's health scares me and Ayers may end up no better in a 4-3. Hunter has shown he can get to the QB when given the change. For leagues that segregate DLine positions, Henry Melton is the DT to get. For those who use MFL, Cullen Jenkins was designated as a DE until recently, which led to him being passed over in leagues that segregate. He's at DT now, so peruse your waiver wire.


  • It seemed like a bad idea when MLB Jon Beason rushed back from a left Achilles' tendon injury and the worst case scenario happened on Sunday. Beason tore it in coverage on Sunday and is now out for the season. Dan Connor now gets another opportunity as the man in the middle. He was a productive tackler in the role last year, when Beason was playing WLB with Thomas Davis out for the year, but his season ended early with a fractured hip bone. Connor also suffered a torn ACL as a rookie in 2008, so he hasn't been very durable either. Davis led the team with 7 tackles (4 solo) and recovered a fumble. Last year's breakout player, SLB James Anderson had just 3 solo tackles. I think Davis is the LB to own in this group, with Connor decent in tackle-heavy leagues, just don't expect big plays from him, and Anderson is the safest pick, but you're going to be disappointed if you expect a repeat of last year's career numbers.

  • Jacksonville MLB Paul Posluszny had a quiet debut, posting just 4 tackles (1 solo) and breaking up a pass. Nothing to worry about, Jacksonville dominated the time of possession, leaving few opportunities for the whole defense. His most notable play was failing to sack Tennessee QB Matt Hasselbeck on a bizarre play with a few defensive miscues that resulted in an 80-yard catch-and-run TD for WR Kenny Britt.

  • New Tennessee MLB Barrett Ruud was the beneficiary of all the time Jacksonville spent on the field, leading the team with 14 tackles (8 solo). Rookie SLB Akeem Ayers also had a nice debut with 7 tackles (3 solo). WLB Will Witherspoon had 5 tackles (4 solo) and recovered a fumble. This is a nice LB corps from a fantasy perspective, with everyone but Ruud low on the radar.

  • Chicago MLB Brian Urlacher served notice in the season opener he remains one of the best real and fantasy linebackers in the league. He made an excellent athletic play at full extension to pick off a pass in the first quarter that the offense would turn in to a TD on the subsequent drive. Then he sealed the victory when he scooped up a fumble by Atlanta QB Matt Ryan in the fourth quarter and returned it 12 yards for a TD. He also led the team with 10 tackles (6 solo). WLB Lance Briggs, who caused a minor disruption just before the season by demanding a raise by the end of the season or a trade, was quiet in the box score with just 3 tackles (2 solo), but had a few intimidating hits and should come around quickly. His last minute money demand seems completely cooked up by agent Drew Rosenhaus and I don't expect it to weigh on Briggs and impact him or the Bears at all during the season.

  • Ageless Baltimore MLB Ray Lewis opened the season with 7 tackles (6 solo), a forced fumble and a pick. He'll be a fantasy bargain again with most unable to reconcile his age with continuing elite production.

  • Detroit MLB Stephen Tulloch didn't rack up the big tackle numbers we're used to seeing in his first start for his new team, posting just 4 solo tackles, but he supplemented his fantasy output with a sack. Being tasked with spying mobile Tampa Bay QB Josh Freeman hurt his tackle numbers, but he was all over the field and a big reason for Freeman's struggles on Sunday. The tackles will come, Tulloch looked good and has the confidence of the coaching staff.

  • On the other hand, 36-year old Pittsburgh ILB James Farrior is facing the inevitable decline due to age, that I expressed concern about in last week's column, as reserve Larry Foote rotated in more frequently and HC Mike Tomlin confirmed it was by design. Avoid both in all but the deepest leagues. OLB James Harrison seemed to be another LB on the team showing his age as he struggled to recover from offseason back surgery and get in football shape, but he still had 9 tackles (7 solo) and a QB hurry on Sunday. He was got clipped in the knee awkwardly on the edge of tackle pile in the fourth quarter and had to leave the game, but it has been reported as just a contusion and he should be fine this week. The younger LBs were just fine, with ILB Lawrence Timmons leading the team with 12 tackles (10 solo) and OLB LaMarr Woodley getting the team's only sack.

  • Philadelphia rookie MLB Casey Matthews played 55 of the Eagles' 66 defensive snaps, according to Sheil Kapadia of That's more than expected, as he even split time with rookie LB Brian Rolle in the nickel. He finished with 4 solo tackles and looked overwhelmed out there, against the run and the pass. Even if HC Andy Reid remains stubborn about keeping him out there, his fantasy value looks limited despite the excellent opportunity. SLB Jamar Chaney tied for the team lead with 6 solo tackles and was the only LB to play on all the defensive snaps. WLB Moise Fokou had 5 solo tackles, including a TFL, and broke up a pass. Reserve OLB Akeem Jordan suffered a labrum tear in his right shoulder.

  • New Orleans opened Thursday night in the nickel, with MLB Jonathan Vilma and SLB Will Herring, so neither Scott Shanle nor Jonathan Castillas officially got the start at WLB. Shanle worked primarily in the base defense and posted 7 tackles (5 solo, including one on special teams and a TFL), but Castillas flashed his bigger playmaking ability, getting the only solo sack on the night for the Saints, showing nice closing speed on a blitz up the middle on the first drive, as well as another TFL. I'm long on Castillas after his preseason and finally seeing him in game action, but short-term value will be impeded by the confidence DC Gregg Williams has in Shanle.

  • Green Bay ILB Desmond Bishop picked up where he left off last season, posting 12 tackles (8 solo). New Orleans got off 74 plays from scrimmage Thursday night (they led the league in 2010), so there were plenty of IDP stats to go around for the Packers. I expect A.J. Hawk to be a riser this year, with more opportunity, and apparently faith in him by DC Dom Capers after clearing out Nick Barnett and Brandon Chillar. He had an up-and-down start on opening night. He was useless trying to cover New Orleans RB Darren Sproles, but the way Sproles played Thursday night, he would have made a lot of LBs look foolish. The pass interference called on Hawk at the end of the game that kept the Saints' remarkable comeback hopes alive briefly was actually an impressive athletic play. He dove over Sproles to knock the ball away and almost made the play clean. Either way, as opposed to a bad penalty, it might have been a game-saving play, since the Saints failed to score on the next play, as Sproles almost certainly would have caught the ball if not for Hawk. Hawk had 4 tackles (1 solo), shared a sack with DB Jarrett Bush and had another QB hit. Hawk isn't going to put up big tackle numbers because of his pass coverage responsibilities, but could get back to being a productive fantasy LB if he can get back to making big plays. The LB story of the night was OLB Erik Walden. The former sixth-round pick out of Middle Tennessee State failed to hang on with three other teams, but a Green Bay team being overwhelmed with injuries last year signed him off the street on Halloween. He quickly asserted himself, highlighted by a 12-tackle, 3-sack performance in their regular season finale, a 10-3 win over the Bears and would continue to play a role through the playoffs. This year Walden has won the starting job opposite Clay Matthews and got off to a great start with 4 tackles (3 solo), including a third-down sack to end a long drive by the Saints to start the third quarter. He helped hold the Saints to a FG on another drive in the first half when he swatted down a pass on third-and-two deep in Green Bay territory. I thought he also broke up another pass in coverage, but the NFL Gamebook only credited him with 1 PD. Walden looked solid in pass coverage, but was a liability against the run, something that might impact his snaps eventually. However, he looks like some of the potential he flashed last year was legit and is a great sleeper in deep, sack-heavy leagues.

  • Although Atlanta WLB Sean Weatherspoon was one of the biggest goats on Sunday and heard it from the coaching staff after his shove on Chicago RB Matt Forte helped him outside to assist him in taking a screen pass 56-yards for a TD instead of applying a fundamentally-sound tackle, he was otherwise a positive story in a bad loss. After knee and ankle injuries derailed his rookie season, Weatherspoon flashed the explosiveness and athleticism that made him a first-round pick. He led the team with 10 tackles (9 solo, including 2 TFL) and broke a pass. He is in for a breakout season this year and fans will quickly forget that mistake.

  • As, expected, New York Giants sixth-round pick Greg Jones got the start at MLB with Jonathan Goff on the IR with a torn ACL. DC Perry Fewell used Jones mostly as a two-down MLB, playing mainly in running situations on first and second downs. He was replaced by rookie Jacquian Williams in the base nickel, who played in that scheme with WLB Michael Boley, while SLB Mathias Kiwanuka moved down low to rush the passer. Jones looked a bit tentative, not shooting gaps, but trying to read-and-react, which was understandably a struggle in his first NFL action. He had just 4 solo tackles in his limited action, most of those chasing someone down. Way too early for too much judgment, but this is a team with playoff aspirations despite all the injuries, so I'll be shocked if they don't bring a street free agent in to look at in the middle. If Jones retains the job, he has little fantasy value due to his limited role.

  • As expected, Tampa Bay rookie MLB Mason Foster was primarily a two-down LB, being replaced by nickel corner E.J. Biggers in passing schemes. Foster had 7 tackles (6 solo, including 1 on special teams and a TFL). WLB Geno Hayes tied for the team lead with 8 solo tackles and SLB Quincy Black, who also remained in the nickel, had 8 tackles (7 solo) and forced a fumble.

  • Arizona journeyman ILB Paris Lenon not only held off former Philadelphia MLB Stewart Bradley for the starting job next to Daryl Washington, but you can feel secure it's not a temporary status as Lenon was named a defensive captain. It's time to stop thinking of Lenon as just quality filler, but with seemingly some decent job security, he could have a decent fantasy season. He was off to a good start on Sunday, leading the team with 8 tackles (5 solo), including sharing a sack with Washington. Washington flashed further playmaking ability with a pick to go with 7 tackles (6 solo, including 1 on special teams). Bradley isn't involved more because he reportedly is struggling in transitioning to a 3-4, and he put up a goose egg in the box score. Washington suffered a calf strain in the game, so keep an eye on his status this week. Bradley's value would be salvaged by an injury to either starter. On the outside, Joey Porter remains a fantasy zombie, putting up 4 tackles (3 solo), including a sack.

  • After living in the shadow of his brother on the practice squad and in a reserve role, Minnesota SLB Erin Henderson had a breakout game with a full-time starting role for the first time in his career. He had 9 tackles (6 solo, including 3 TFL) and a sack. His brother, MLB E.J. Henderson, had 4 tackles (2 solo). WLB Chad Greenway had 8 solo tackles (2 TFL).

  • It was sophomore ILB Sean Lee who got the start over Keith Brooking, but the move also impacted fellow ILB Bradie James, as Lee has leapfrogged both to be the top LB in the pecking order. James and Brooking were left to rotate at the other ILB spot. Lee led the team with 12 tackles (10 solo, including 1 on special teams) and had an athletic interception. Brooking had 4 solo tackles and broke up a pass while James was left with a goose egg in the box score. This has huge fantasy implications as James and Brooking are left with no value in all but deep leagues and Lee rockets to the top of the waiver wire. OLB Demarcus Ware had 2 sacks and OLB Anthony Spencer had another on the other side, forcing a fumble on it.

  • As discussed in this column last week, Cleveland MLB D'Qwell Jackson does indeed look like a great fit in DC Dick Jauron's 4-3 defense. With the opportunity to make plays behind their big interior line, he led the team with 11 tackles (10 solo, including a TFL) and had 2 sacks, forcing a fumble on one of them. If Jackson can stay healthy, he should be a top five LB this season. WLB Chris Gocong was in the starting lineup after battling a neck stinger in the preseason. He had just 2 tackles (1 solo).

  • Cincinnati MLB Rey Maualuga had a quiet start after a strong preseason, posting just 6 tackles (3 solo). WLB Thomas Howard seized the opportunity to be a starter again and posted 8 tackles (3 solo, including 2 TFL) and had a QB hurry. Rookie speedster Dontay Moch was inactive, battling a foot injury that could see him miss a few weeks.

  • Indianapolis MLB Gary Brackett left the game in the fourth quarter with a left shoulder injury. He sounds questionable this week. SLB Pat Angerer led the team with 13 tackles (9 solo, including 1 TFL) and returned a fumble for the Colts' only TD. Angerer would replace Brackett in the middle if he can't go this week. WLB Kavell Conner was wearing a walking boot this week for a left foot/ankle injury, but it sounds like he is expected to play. Conner had 5 tackles (4 solo, including 1 TFL) and broke up two passes. His back-up, Ernie Sims, who replaces Conner in the nickel, was also injured, hurting his knee on punt coverage in the second quarter.

  • New York Jets ILB Bart Scott was brought in by HC Rex Ryan from Baltimore to be the old school, trash-talking, heart and soul of the defense. While he's served well in that role and has been a solid producer, he hasn't consistently been the impact player he showed he could at his apex on the Ravens. Maybe it was playing in New York on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, maybe the coach pushed the right buttons in his spiritual leader for a match-up against Ryan's twin brother, but Scott was a born-again playmaker on Sunday night. His quickness in shooting the gap was outstanding as he led the team with 8 tackles (7 solo, including 2 TFL) and had a sack. His less boisterous, more consistent partner was just that, as ILB David Harris posted 7 tackles (6 solo). OLB Calvin Pace had 3 solo tackles and a sack.

  • Washington first-round pick OLB Ryan Kerrigan appears to have successfully made the transition from collegiate DE. After just officially securing the job last week, his debut featured 5 tackles (1 solo) and his first career interception nine yards for a game-winning TD. Although we'll have to see if the rookie's recognition and instincts really are that spectacular, as Mike Garafolo of the New Jersey Star-Ledger thinks teammate Barry Cofield, who came over from the Giants, tipped the team off on the play. On the other side, OLB Brian Orakpo, another converted DE and former first-round pick, had just 3 tackles (1 solo), although he also blocked a FG in the fourth quarter. ILBs London Fletcher-Baker and Rocky McIntosh had 8 tackles (3 solo) and 7 (4 solo), respectively. Both should be consistent tackle producers this season, but offer little in the way of big plays.

  • There appeared to be no problem with Houston OLB Mario Williams making the transition from DE. He didn't see much action in coverage and had his hand on the ground about as often as he was up in a two-point stance. Indianapolis tried to block with just TE Dallas Clark a few times, contributing to the 2 sacks Williams had, forcing a fumble on one. Inside, Brian Cushing (7 tackles, 4 solo) and DeMeco Ryans (6 tackles, 4 solo) were the leading tacklers.

  • After a big preseason, Buffalo OLB Shawne Merriman had just 1 solo tackle on Sunday after injuring his shoulder early in the contest. He had it wrapped up in the locker room in the first quarter, but quickly returned. ILB Nick Barnett had 4 solo tackles and broke up a pass.

  • Away from Patrick Willis and free to have the defense flow through him again in San Diego, ILB Takeo Spikes led the team with 11 tackles (5 solo). Next to him, Donald Butler had 6 tackles (5 solo, including 1 TFL). At OLB, Larry English was a healthy scratch. Offseason foot surgery cost him most of the preseason, but all indications are he was ready for the start of the season. The former first-round pick is approaching official bust status. So Travis LaBoy got the start opposite Shaun Phillips and posted just 1 solo tackle. It was nickel OLB Antwan Barnes who continues to look great as a pass rusher. He had 2 solo tackles (1 TFL) and a sack.

  • Kansas City OLB Tamba Hali picked up where he left off last season, racking up 6 tackles (4 solo, including 2 TFL) and a sack. On the other side, rookie Justin Houston got the nod as the starter and had 2 solo tackles. ILB Jovan Belcher returned to his starting role after Brandon Siler, who was brought in to replace Belcher, suffered a torn Achilles' tendon in the preseason. Next to him, ILB Derrick Johnson had 5 solo tackles.

  • Denver WLB D.J. Williams was inactive, as expected, with a dislocated left elbow, and is out again this week. As expected, Wesley Woodyard filled in and posted 6 tackles (5 solo). MLB Joe Mays had 5 solo tackles, including 1 TFL. Rookie SLB Von Miller had 5 tackles (3 solo) and forced a fumble.

  • Miami OLB Cameron Wake had a tough night against New England rookie RT Nate Solder, who worked him hard. Wake's tenacity paid off as he came away with an effort sack and 3 solo tackles, as well as batting away a pass.

  • Hope for Oakland MLB Rolando McClain to get off to a better fantasy start this year were squashed by his 1 assist and 1 pass defensed stat line.

  • Seattle MLB David Hawthorne was inactive with a knee injury and replaced by rookie K.J. Wright. Hawthorne is expected to return, fully healed, this week.

  • Despite being pulled from the nickel in favor of first-round pick Aldon Smith, San Francisco OLB Parys Haralson had a pair of sacks, forcing a fumble on both. He's their best pass rusher and DC Vic Fangio shouldn't be pulling him for long. ILB Patrick Willis had 5 solo tackles, including 2 TFL, broke up a pass and recovered a fumble. New starting ILB Navoro Bowman had 7 solo tackles, including 2 TFL and 1 on special teams.

  • The base defense to start the game featured Jerod Mayo at WLB, tweener Rob Ninkovich at SLB and Gary Guyton in the middle. The initial returns didn't look promising for Mayo, as he posted just 5 solo tackles, but Miami threw 49 times and only ran 20 on Monday Night. It's also a bit hard to gauge the rotation with ILB Brandon Spikes inactive with an ankle injury.

  • Waiver Wire Recommendations: The injury of Beason makes Dan Connor the guy everyone will be chasing, but in larger leagues if people were scared off by the back-to-back torn ACLs of Thomas Davis, I'd rather have him if also available. Actually Sean Lee is my top recommendation. Lee is new DC Rob Ryan's guy inside and his performance in it leaves little doubt it was the right decision to do so. In deep, sack-heavy leagues, Erik Walden needs to be owned, especially dynasty leagues. A couple of veterans who might be forgotten in shallower leagues whose start to the season is appealing are Bart Scott and Takeo Spikes. Two other guys for deep leagues, especially redraft, are Paris Lenon and Thomas Howard. I'd like to see it again from Erin Henderson, which means he'll probably be gone to the impatient gamblers. Hopefully they leave us someone better on the waiver wire for next week.

Defensive Back

  • Kansas City SS Eric Berry returned to the game after being cut by Buffalo WR Stevie Johnson, but the knee just gave out on a non-contact play shortly after. He has a torn ACL and is done for the season. Jon McGraw replaced him and should remain the starter. McGraw led the team with 8 solo tackles.

  • As usual, Washington S Reed Doughty was a solid fantasy performer when given playing time. Starting in place of SS LaRon Landry (hamstring injury, among others), Doughty led the team with 11 tackles (9 solo, including 1 on special teams and 1 TFL). He was on the field for every defensive snap and maintained his special teams' duties. Landry should be questionable, at best, again this week, as there is no clear timetable for his return. Free agent addition FS Oshiomogho Atogwe had a quiet debut, posting just 4 tackles (2 solo).

  • It was Tom Zbikowski dominating the playing time for Baltimore at SS over Bernard Pollard. Not the time share I expected, Zbikowski had 6 tackles (5 solo, including 1 on special teams), while Pollard had 1 solo. Time to drop Pollard in all but the deepest leagues, although I'm too excited about Zbikowski's prospects and wouldn't rush to get him in shallow leagues. Definitely more appealing in dynasty leagues, though. FS Ed Reed showed he is still an elite playmaker, when healthy. He grabbed a couple picks, broke up a couple more, and had 6 solo tackles. There's never been a question about Reed's fantasy value when he's healthy, it's just that gamble has been paying off less and less recently. There were new starters at corner, but rookie CB Jimmy Smith wasn't one of them. Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams started the game with Chris Carr, who the team spent big money to bring back in the offseason, at the nickel. Webb was everywhere, leading the team with 11 tackles (9 solo), breaking up a couple of passes and sharing a sack. Smith's career got off to a rough start, he suffered a high left ankle sprain on the opening kickoff and will miss a few weeks. Carr followed him out soon after when he aggravated a left hamstring injury that hampered him through the preseason. He is expected to miss at least this week. Domonique Foxworth replaced Carr as the nickel. Williams briefly dealt with cramps during the game and needed reserve S Haruki Nakamura to work as the nickel too.

  • Arizona first-round pick Patrick Peterson had 5 solo tackles and returned a punt for an 89-yard TD. As mentioned in last week's column, he is even more valuable in leagues that count return stats. Starting on the other side A.J. Jefferson and not free agent addition Richard Marshall, who played the nickel role. Marshall has previously proven in Carolina he can put up excellent production even as the third corner, but I'm not a bullish on his chances of doing so in Arizona, where a rookie and a former UDFA aren't going to force teams to dump to the slot as much. I'd like to see him starting to have more confidence in his fantasy upside this year and I am pretty shocked he isn't over Jefferson. Marshall had 2 TFL and a sack to salvage some decent production. Despite playing with a partially torn right biceps, SS Adrian Wilson played every snap on defense and had 4 tackles (3 solo, including 1 TFL). He's still a huge injury risk and a liability in coverage, but he no longer needs to be blacklisted, especially in redraft leagues. FS Kerry Rhodes remains a strong fantasy asset, if not as much in real football terms according to Rex Ryan, who can fill up a box score. Rhodes had 7 tackles (5 solo), including a sack and TFL.

  • The safety tandem on Chicago for the majority of the game was Chris Harris and Major Wright. The team didn't give Brandon Meriweather much work until the game was well in hand, when he teamed with Harris. I'm not reading much in to division of labor in the first game. Meriweather was on the team for only a week, so he is still learning a role in a fairly different scheme. I think ultimately he and Harris will see the majority of work. We do know Meriweather won't be playing special teams. Standout special teams coach Dave Toub confirmed that. So for Meriweather to be active on game days, it will mean he's a significant part of the game plan. The money they paid him would indicate that, as well. CB Charles Tillman did what he does better than any corner in the league, stripping the ball from Atlanta RB Michael Turner late in the fourth quarter. He also had 7 tackles (5 solo, including 1 TFL) and broke up 2 passes.

  • It was a rough night for young New Orleans nickel CB Patrick Robinson, who Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers seemingly picked on any time he had him one-on-one, all to positive results for the Packers. In Robinson's defense, Rodgers threaded the needle with some beautiful passes on him a few times and the slick turf seemed to hamper the Saints more than the Packers, who knew their field and probably sported longer cleats. With more high-scoring games to come, the entire Saints secondary should be busy once again this season, making for good fantasy production. If you are otherwise at a loss for DB to fill your roster any given week, pick a Saint.

  • Green Bay CB Tramon Williams left the game in the fourth quarter with what appeared to be a right shoulder or arm injury after a collision with FS Nick Collins on a tackle. It looked potentially serious, but HC Mike McCarthy has since called it just a right shoulder bruise. Williams is still questionable this week. Nickel CB Sam Shields replaced him and reserve S Jarrett Bush played the nickel. With a long week after the Thursday night start, Williams should be ready for Week 2. Coming off torn ACL last, SS Morgan Burnett didn't need to be eased back in. He started and led the team with 14 tackles (7 solo).

  • As expected, the New York Giants went with Aaron Ross as the starter at CB opposite Corey Webster with Terrell Thomas done for the year with a torn ACL. FS Antrel Rolle was the primary nickel corner with Ross bumped up and first-round pick Prince Amukamara out a few more weeks. When Ross was in man coverage, SS Kenny Phillips took centerfield and Deon Grant came on as SS. Phillips led the team with 9 tackles (4 solo) and 2 passes broken up. Grant was also out there again in the "Big Base" package and, with rookie MLB Greg Jones out of most pass packages, Grant and rookie S Tyler Sash both saw more time in a dime package that featured all four safeties.

  • Despite the stack at cornerback, Philadelphia CB Nnamdi Asomugha still didn't see many balls come his way. He finished with 1 solo tackle. CB Asante Samuel saw more action and finished with 5 solo tackles. The Eagles didn't use much nickel, so Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie wasn't on the field much. He put up a goose egg in the box score. As expected, SS Kurt Coleman, a seventh-round pick last year, has held off rookie Jaiquawn Jarrett for the starting job. He had 4 solo tackles. Jarrad Page won the starting FS job and even with Nate Allen limited by tendinitis in his knee, Page has earned the confidence of the coaching staff. He was on the field for every defensive snap and shared the team lead with 6 solo tackles, also breaking up a pass.

  • Last week Carolina claimed CB Darius Butler off waivers with their top slot after New England continued cleaning house in their secondary. The former second-round draft choice saw his career go in reverse early last year after working his way up to being a starter by the end of his rookie season in 2009. After getting abused by WR Braylon Edwards in a loss to the Jets in Week 2, Butler was stripped of his starting role and never found his way back in to HC Bill Belichick's good graces. He was active on Sunday, but didn't have much of a role. He should quickly work his way up to the third corner at a thin position behind starters Chris Gamble and Captain Munnerlyn. FS Charles Godfrey was the latest Panther rewarded with a huge contract the team will shortly regret. He celebrated with 4 tackles (3 solo, including 1 on special teams). The converted corner had a breakout fantasy season last year, but I think both his real and fantasy owners will be disappointed this year.

  • While Cincinnati's front four occupied the Cleveland OLine, it was the safety tandem who were the playmakers and had the team's only two sacks. FS Reggie Nelson led the team with 9 tackles (7 solo, including 1 TFL) and a sack. He also broke up 2 passes. SS Chris Crocker also had a sack he forced a fumble on, as well as 3 solo tackles and pass defensed. Reserve S Gibril Wilson even saw some action, coming off a torn ACL and MCL that erased his first season with Bengals last year. Nickel CB Kelly Jennings (hamstring) and S Taylor Mays (knee) were inactive. The Bengals were fairly high on Mays in the draft last year and he should back-up both safety spots this year with an eye on being the eventual replacement for the aging SS tandem of Crocker and Wilson. Barring injury, he should have an impact in redraft leagues, but once again has dynasty relevance. Jennings should return next week and keep the spot warm until Adam Jones comes off the PUP. Then Jennings should be back in the role soon after Pacman's next "incident".

  • While Jacksonville's featured offseason acquisition, MLB Paul Posluszny had a quiet debut, their other significant free agent addition to the defense, S Dawan Landry, led the team with 8 tackles (6 solo). Courtney Greene was the other starting safety and his most notable play was whiffing on an opportunity to tackle Tennessee WR Kenny Britt on an 80-yard catch-and-run TD that featured a few defensive mistakes. CB Derek Cox was knocked out of the game with a rib injury in the second half, but tests revealed no cracks. He should play this week, but if he doesn't, Drew Coleman will face his old team, the Jet. Coleman was the nickel corner and stepped in when Cox left. He had a nice Jacksonville debut with 5 solo tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.

  • Detroit SS Amari Spievey led the team with 7 solo tackles. The team appeared not to address their biggest weakness in the offseason when their biggest moves at corner were to resign Chris Houston and bring in Cleveland reject Eric Wright, but both had a strong start to the season. Houston was particularly impressive, turning in a lot of big plays, including a pick in the end zone to prevent a scoring drive and generally containing WR Mike Williams, Tampa Bay's top receiving threat. Houston was also great run support, posting 7 tackles (6 solo), including a big hits on TB RB load LaGarrette Blount on back-to-back plays in the second quarter. Wright and Houston are both 2007 second round picks who were impact players as rookies before struggling some and now are ideal reclamation projects with good upside. Wright was also injured last year on his way to falling out of favor in Cleveland and primed for a nice bounce-back season. All three might end up with more fantasy value than FS Louis Delmas, whose fantasy prospects are lessened by the improvement across the board on Detroit's defense, unless he can become more of a playmaker. Delmas had no tackles, broke up 2 passes and recovered a fumble on Sunday.

  • After taking over the starting CB job from Alterraun Verner this season, Jason McCourty filled up the box score like his twin brother Devin in New England. Jason had 5 solo tackles, a sack and forced fumble, and broke up a pass. McCourty doesn't seem as good in coverage as Verner, or his brother, for that matter, but he's aggressive and a more physical player. He should pile up some nice tackle numbers and a few big plays, at the expensive of getting toasted in coverage at times.

  • The nominal starter at FS in Cleveland was Mike Adams, but he shared time with Usama Young, who the team brought from New Orleans with high expectations unitl a hamstring injury hampered his preseason. Both racked up some tackles, as Adams is also the primary nickel corner, giving Young more snaps than a normal back-up.

  • Somehow Tampa Bay CB Aqib Talib avoided suspension for his role in a March shooting and he had one of the few highlights for Tampa Bay on Sunday. He returned his 16th career pick for a TD. He also had 4 tackles (3 solo) and broke up another pass in a tough assignment against Detroit WR Calvin Johnson. Talib has averaged 5 interceptions a season through his first three years despite never playing 16 games - he had 6 in just 11 games last year. He can pick it, but carries a lot of risk. SS Sean Jones had a nice start to the season, tying for the team lead with 8 solo tackles, as well as forcing a fumble and breaking up a pass, but it should have been an interception that dropped right out of his hands off a deflection.

  • The Dallas secondary was a mess on Sunday night, starting with LCB Terence Newman out with a groin injury that could keep him out a few more weeks. Orlando Scandrick started in his place opposite Mike Jenkins, but Scandrick had to be carted off the field after suffering a high ankle sprain that will sideline him for a few weeks. Alan Ball replaced Scandrick. Jenkins, already battling a knee injury, also suffered a left shoulder sprain in the game, getting knocked out by a block from New York Jets WR Plaxico Burress, who went on to catch a TD over Jenkins' replacement, Bryan McCann. Jenkins checked back in late in the game and looks likely to play this week. Journeyman CB Frank Walker was signed for depth, and could have a significant role this week, depending on Newman. I expected more from SS Abram Elam as a playmaker in reuniting with DC Rob Ryan, but the initial results were disappointing, posting just 2 solo sacks. Barry Church, coming off a strong preseason, saw work in his place.

  • The New York Jets were lamenting their inability to land free-agent crown jewel CB Nnamdi Asomugha on Sunday night as CB Antonio Cromartie, who they settled on re-signing after losing out on Asomugha, was owned by Dallas WR Dez Bryant and similarly unsuccessful when moved to WR Austin Miles. The team had to bounce CB Darrelle Revis between the two, disrupting some of their defensive plan. Bryant getting hurt during the game helped bail them out, as did untimely gambles by Dallas QB Tony Romo. An ill-advised throw by Romo gave Revis a pick to go with his 6 tackles (5 solo). Revis missed a series with cramps, but was fine. Fantasy owners avoid Revis because of his reputation for being avoided by teams, but despite this, if you look past last season, derailed by a holdout and injuries, Revis can be productive. I like his fantasy numbers to bounce back this season and he'll still get a handful of picks due to the disruptive front seven. Eric Smith replaced Brodney Pool in the starting lineup with Jim Leonard and Smith had 7 tackles (5 solo) and a sack. I'm bullish on his fantasy outlook this season and might not jump on him this week, but he is a guy to keep an eye on.

  • Buffalo S Bryan Scott continues to play a hybrid LB/DB role in the nickel package the defense frequently employs. As he has progressed in this key role, he was on the field plenty and led the team with 9 solo tackles, including 3 TFL and 1 on special teams, and a sack. SS George Wilson had 5 solo tackles and forced a fumble. CB Terrence McGee is expected to miss a few weeks after suffering a hamstring injury in the game. Rookie CB Aaron Williams replaced him and looks to have a big opportunity to get his first career start this week.

  • It was Josh Barrett who got the start at safety in New England alongside Patrick Chung. He had 4 solo tackles and rotated with Sergio Brown, as discussed last week, who had 6 solo tackles (3 on special teams). Chung had 9 solo tackles (1 TFL), a sack and broke up a pass. CB Devin McCourty continues to fill out the box score, leading the team with 11 tackles (10 solo, including 1 TFL) and broke up 2 passes. Rookie Ras-I Dowling played a significant role and finished with 2 solo tackles.

  • St. Louis CB Ronald Bartell is done for the season with two fractures in his neck. Nickel CB Justin King replaces him and Al Harris could move to the nickel role. King had a spectacular day with 7 solo tackles (3 TFL) and a sack. He was sent on a blitz a few times. The team could also be without their other starting corner, as Bradley Fletcher is questionable with a toe injury. SS Craig Dahl led the team with 9 tackles (8 solo) and FS Quintin Mikell had 4 solo tackles and a sack he forced a fumble on.

  • A leg injury that limited Miami S Chris Clemons probably helped Reshad Jones win the starting FS role. Jones led the team with 12 tackles (8 solo) and broke up a pass, but while Jones came up with some big plays, he was a huge liability in coverage, so don't rush out and pick him up, the job could go back to Clemons soon. Reserve CB Nolan Carroll was the main goat on Monday night. Whenever he was on the field, and it was a bit more than expected with starting corners Vontae Davis and Sean Smith battling cramps, NE QB Tom Brady found Carroll and torched him. Somehow nickel CB Benny Sapp was made the scapegoat, as he was released after the game. He actually had one of the few good defensive plays in a record night for Brady. Sapp sniffed out a screen and crashed it to break up a pass and deflect it to DE Jared Odrick, who rumbled down field before getting caught 40 yards later.

  • San Francisco FS Dashon Goldson was inactive with a knee, so Madieu Williams started in his place at FS and rotated with Reggie Smith.

  • Minnesota CB Antoine Winfield filled up the box score in leading the team with 10 tackles (7 solo, including 1 TFL), a pick and a forced fumble. SS Jamarca Sanford had 9 tackles (8 solo).

  • San Diego SS Bob Sanders made it through the first game, more than he did last year. He posted 6 tackles (3 solo).

  • Waiver Wire Recommendations: Morgan Burnett had a strong 2011 debut and owners in leagues that ignored him coming off a torn ACL will want to grab a player who has potential to be an elite fantasy performer. I'm also all in on Bryan Scott. They used him in that hybrid role last year and it looks like they've identified him as a key cog in their defense. In tackle-heavy leagues, more so redraft ones, also look at Reed Doughty. He remains a consistent producer when given the chance. Although LaRon Landry may return soon, I'm very bearish on his healthy holding up this season, so in deep leagues with large rosters, I'd hold on to Doughty even once Landry is back. I also like Jarrad Page to be a poor man's Brian Dawkins in Philly. The less NYG does to address the MLB situation, the more opportunity and upside there is for the top three safeties there. In deeper leagues, a quiet debut for a new team should keep Brandon Meriweather from being in much demand, but his role will grow quickly on a playmaking defense.