I feel like a bear slowly rising from the winter slumber, shaking off the sleep, emerging from my den to step out into the sunlight. Into the sunlight, into the world where there are finally meaningful NFL games. Speaking of bears, guess who is a Chicago Bear? I am sure you all have heard of Khalil Mack, that has been perhaps the biggest story to come out of preseason – should be fun to watch these new Monsters of the Midway. Each week I will take a look at all the defenses and provide a quick outlook on who to start and who to fade if you have that option. I typically won’t cover any of the absolute must-starts, will focus on players that most may or may not start in your IDP leagues.
Start of the Week
Ezekiel Ansah, DE, Detroit Lions
I am not the biggest fan of Ansah, but the situation here is too juicy to pass up. Ansah has a few games each season where he really shines and this will be one of them. The New York Jets feature one of the bottom five offensive line units in the NFL and start rookie Sam Darnold at quarterback. Darnold has shown promising footwork in preseason but the game changes Monday night. I foresee Ziggy getting a few sacks and a handful of tackles, making life hectic for Mr. Darnold.
Frank Clark, DE, Seattle Seahawks
Clark will line up against a middle of the road offensive line at Denver and will wreak havoc opposite second-year starter Garrett Boles at left tackle.
Akiem Hicks, DE, Chicago Bears
Hicks sees a bump due to Mack’s arrival as a pass rusher in Chicago. Mack forces opposing offenses to focus on him when he is on the field and Hicks will see a more fruitful situation. Hicks is a defensive end I already loved and Mack gives him a bump up for me.
Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, Tampa Bay Buccanneers
Pierre-Paul and the Bucs travel to New Orleans and face the Saints, the Saints offensive line allowed 20 sacks in 2017 – the second fewest amount. He will be part of a strong defensive line in Tampa Bay but I don’t see him having hardly any production in this game.
Aaron Donald, DE, Los Angeles Rams
It’s awful tough to sit the reigning Defensive Player of the Year but the Raiders feature a strong offensive line, and Donald has sat the entire preseason. I am not recommending you sit Donald for a scrub but if you have several strong options, fade Donald here.
Start of the Week
Malcolm Smith, LB, San Fransisco 49ers
Smith is manning the middle of the defense for the 49ers and has notched 100 tackles or more the past few seasons in Oakland. Smith is also starting without stud linebacker Rueben Foster, serving a suspension, and will have loads of opportunity facing Minnesota. Minnesota will likely feature a run-heavy game plan here and Smith should easily post double-digit tackles.
Shaquem Griffin, LB, Seattle Seahawks
Griffin will get the starting nod with K.J. Wright out rehabbing from knee surgery. Griffin showed in preseason and college what he can bring, he tackles everything and has instincts that you can’t teach. I see Griffin getting around 10 tackles and he makes it tough for Seattle to take him out of the lineup.
Darius Leonard, LB, Indianapolis Colts
The Colts do battle with the Bengals in Indianapolis and Leonard is the man in the middle now. Leonard averaged 95 tackles a season through four seasons at South Carolina State and even chipped in 8 sacks his senior season. Leonard will be a tackling machine this season, and double-digit tackles are highly likely Week 1.
Raekwon McMillan, LB, Miami Dolphins
This one is a riskier call, going with my gut here – I am high on McMillan and Tennessee comes to town in Week 1. He didn’t have a great preseason and has been faded much recently, the talent is there and he has an opportunity to step up. The Titans should run often, I don’t have a lot of faith in Kiko Alonso, this is the game McMillan arrives in the NFL.
Jon Bostic/Tyler Matakevich, LBs, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers have a need at ILB and one of these will step up, it honestly depends on who you ask. The Steelers seem high on Matakevich but Bostic has been a solid option in the past. I think one could step up, but both could rotate all season. It’s a situation I am avoiding or stashing both of these linebackers if I have depth.
Sean Lee, LB, Dallas Cowboys
This is another like the Aaron Donald call above, it’s nearly impossible to sit Sean Lee. I believe Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch eventually will man the linebacker corps for Dallas. Lee should have a decent game against Carolina but I would look to move Lee now before the decline or another injury.
Start of the Week
Justin Evans, S, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Evans and Chris Conte man the back of the secondary for Tampa Bay, they travel to New Orleans in Week 1 and both should fare well. Evans posted 66 tackles to go with 3 picks last year, I see him building on that this year and entering into DB1 conversation. Evans will step up and build on those tackles, he should get close to double-digit tackles in this matchup and get him now – before it’s too late.
Marshon Lattimore, CB, New Orleans Saints
I rarely advocate starting a cornerback over a safety but the Week 1 matchup for Lattimore is good. He is a corner that can tackle and Tampa Bay will be in a game situation where they need to throw and I just can’t see Ryan Fitzpatrick not getting intercepted several times – the Saints secondary is good. Lattimore has a high likelihood of 8-9 tackles and pass deflections, possibly an interception too.
John Johnson, S, Los Angeles Rams
Johnson is one of my favorite sleepers heading into the 2018 season and week 1 he has a good matchup versus the Raiders. Johnson tallied 71 tackles while playing on only 66% of the snaps. Johnson started later in the season, he isn’t a ball-hawking safety but will figure more on the tackle stat sheet. Johnson is a solid producer that will give you a safe floor each week at the safety position.
Sean Davis, S, Pittsburgh Steelers
Davis racked up 90 tackles in 2017, 2018 sees Davis move more into a free safety versus the strong safety role he filled last season. Davis’ production will show, his tackles should reduce quite a bit and veteran Morgan Burnett along with rookie Terrell Edmunds should fill the strong safety and “linebacker” role in the secondary.