2014 In-Season Accuracy: 57.7% (3rd out of 21 Experts, 60.6% Highest, 44.5% Lowest).
We are now six weeks into the NFL season, a time when most fantasy squads should be officially locking down their rotations and planning for bye weeks. Instead, we are dealing with a run of major injuries the likes of which have not been seen for a long time. Losing guys like Sean Lee and Navorro Bowman before the season was bad enough, but since Week 1 we’ve lost guys like Derrick Johnson, Stephen Tulloch, Tyvon Branch and Jairus Byrd. Things continued to get worse last week, with Jerod Mayo going down for the year with a leg injury, and honestly IDPs everywhere have to be afraid that they’re next. Even the seemingly indestructible J.J. Watt looks vulnerable to a hamstring injury if he keeps running for long TD returns.
Some of these injuries have led to opportunities that can be exploited in IDP leagues. Tulloch’s injury has turned DeAndre Levy into a top three LB, and Charles Woodson has done okay in Branch’s stead. But it has also left other teams hurting for defensive contributors, and IDP squads scrambling for replacements when the Josh Maugas of the world play as well as you would expect an unknown to play. Most IDP leagues don’t offer the bench slots to allow for handcuffing, the way you would handle your prize RB, but it’s worth thinking about when you have a stud LB carrying your team. A great example of this is currently playing out in the Mile High City.
Brandon Marshall – No, not that one. The one who’s currently a top 25 LB. We all knew Danny Trevathan would miss the first month or so of the season, and Marshall beat out the likes of Nate Irving and Lamin Barrow as the LB to own in Denver. I was never the biggest Trevathan fan, but it was assumed that when he returned, Marshall would be relegated to the bench. And that’s exactly what happened. But Trevathan didn’t look right in his first game back, and went ahead and hurt himself again in his second, thrusting Marshall back into the limelight. For Trevathan owners who held onto Marshall, their patience/skepticism paid off. I would have no problem employing this strategy for similar situations involving Koa Misi/Jalani Jenkins and Nigel Bradham/Preston Brown. Using a precious bench spot on a backup IDP is typically a no-no, but with the way this season has played out, I wouldn’t fault you for being cautious.
Deontae Skinner – Let’s get this straight from the start. Jamie Collins is the clear LB to own for the Patriots right now, but in most IDP leagues, he’s already gone. Dont’a Hightower is probably your next best bet, but he’s also possibly owned, and currently recovering from injury. So if you’re looking for a long shot, especially in deeper leagues, Skinner appears to be next in line. I’m not ranking him just yet, but he’s worth a speculative pickup if you have the roster space and need help at LB.
Jerry Hughes – You may have noticed Hughes working his way up the rankings in recent weeks, and with good reason. He’s currently on a top 15-DL pace, and has 5+ sacks in three different games. Playing opposite Mario Williams, and with monsters like Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams occupying blockers as well, Hughes is in a dream situation. His upcoming schedule doesn’t feature many (any) pass-happy teams, so I’d expect his sack rate to drop, giving you a perfect buy-low opportunity (or even better, his owner might drop him). Be ready to make a move if one presents itself.
Robert Quinn – I…I don’t know. I watched MNF this week expecting to see Quinn breakout and get after Kaepernick for multiple hurries and a sack or two, but something just seems off. He was dominated one-on-one by Joe Staley (an admitted great tackle), but those mere mortals were no match for Quinn last year. The continued absence of Chris Long hurts, but it’s hard for Quinn owners (including yours truly) to keep starting him while getting zilch in return. He doesn’t get a juicy matchup until Week 10, after which he has a string of them, but it looks like it might be tough sledding for a consensus top 3 DL over the next month.
Dawan Landry – This was supposed to be the year of Calvin Pryor in New York. He was admittedly inexperienced, but looked to be the perfect fit for Rex Ryan’s defense, his next Ed Reed. Instead, we have seen a clinic on how not to play safety. But Pryor’s mistakes have been Landry’s gains. With Antonio Allen shifting to corner, Landry has stepped in and made tackle after tackle, on his way to DB1 on the year so far. With Dee Milliner on IR, and Allen playing well enough at CB, Landry should remain a top option at the DB position no matter who the Jets are playing.
Antoine Cason – The rare DB who is making his living getting tackles, Cason has had no signs of slowing down. His one rough game statistically came against Baltimore who, despite what Steve Smith Sr. would tell you, does not have a dominant, go-to receiver. Against Vincent Jackson, Calvin Johnson, Antonio Brown, Brandon Marshall and (for one week anyway) Mohamed Sanu, Cason put up big numbers. So basically, I’d have no issues starting him against Jordy Nelson, Julio Jones or (maybe) Josh Gordon the rest of the year, but I might shy away when he plays Seattle, New Orleans, Philly, and other teams that spread the ball out a bit more.