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Muhammad Wilkerson ($4000 RedraftHero Salary) – I am assuming that well over half of the teams in Week 1 will be putting JJ Watt at one of the defensive end spots. With his salary at $11,800, saving on your other defensive end is likely a good idea. With a mere salary of $4,000 Wilkerson might be one of my top value plays for Week 1. I loved Wilkerson even before Sheldon Richardson got in trouble, and honestly like him even more now that he will likely be out for a while. Now Richardson is more of a DT, but was fairly flexible as a player and was very disruptive all over the place. The Jets drafted a similar type player in Leonard Williams who can play both DE and DT. The thing is, I don’t see Williams getting the 55.4 snaps per game which was 79.5% of the overall snaps like Richardson did, at least not right away. Wilkerson last year only played 70.5% of the snaps last year, and I expect that number to go up this year. In Week 1, the Jets will be going against the Cleveland Browns who gave up 31 sacks last year ( tied for 19th most), and contains 2 very good lineman in Joe Thomas and Alex Mack. What’s good for the defense is that they can line Wilkerson up wherever they want, and have him go against Mitchell Schwartz instead of Joe Thomas. Wilkerson is coming off of an injury plagued season where he only played 13 games, but 2 years ago when he played all 16, he had 10.5 sacks, 43 tackles, 20 assisted tackles, and 2 forced fumbles. The Browns will try and run the ball early, but Duke Johnson, Isaiah Crowell, and Terrance West won’t do much, which will make either Manziel or McCown throw the ball which is where Wilkerson will strike.
Calais Campbell ($4000 RedraftHero Salary) – I was torn between Campbell and Cameron Jordan as they are both fantastic players, but I just love the Cardinals defense and I think Campbell will get more help than Jordan. Now this isn’t the greatest matchup of all time as Campbell is going against the Saints Week 1 who only gave up 30 sacks in 2014 and have the king of the dump off in Drew Brees. That being said, Campbell does so much more than just rack up sacks that makes him so valuable and he only has a salary of $4,000. He has had between 6-9 sacks the last 6 seasons, and has had at least 45 solo tackles in the last 5 seasons. He did have a dropoff only have 3 deflected passes last year, where had 22 combined the last 3 years combined. Making up for that though, he did have an interception which helped the cause. Campbell plays the most of anybody on that defensive line, which is should set him up nicely going against the Saints who ran the 3rd most plays per game last year at 68.4. Now for team defenses you don’t want them on the field to allow points, but for IDP, just like offensive players you want them on the field as much as possible. I don’t mind Terron Armstead or Zach Strief, but I love Dan Williams plugging up the middle which will allow Campbell to rack up tackles, and for how much the Saints pass, look for Campbell to get a sack along with a few tackles week 1.
Geno Atkins ($4000 RedraftHero Salary) – With only one defensive tackle slot, I’m sure a lot of people will be on Suh for Week 1, but if you are looking to spend big elsewhere Atkins will be a great spot to save for with his salary only being $4,000. He is going against the Oakland Raiders in Week 1, who only gave up 28 sacks last year, and ran 62.1 plays per game with 62.1 plays per game. Those don’t seem great on the outside, but the Raiders offense has gotten better with Latavius Murray being the RB now, and the additions of Cooper and Crabtree should allow the offense to stay on the field a little more. The other factor being I expect a lot of Murray early which should allow some tackle opportunities, but I expect the Raiders to be losing late which will make them put the ball in the air. Atkins had a very poor year last year with 3 sacks and 34 combined tackles, but he is another player who I don’t believe was 100%. In his previous 41 games (prior 3 seasons), he had 26 sacks, 73 solo tackles, 46 combined tackles, and 6 forced fumbles. Those are elite numbers for a defensive tackle where if they can get any pressure on the QB, it is just gravy. Then you combine the fact that he gets a good amount of tackles for a guy who is meant to plug up the holes and be a disruptor. The Raiders lost Wisniewski on the interior, I’m interested to see how the Raiders react to that. I am also interested to see if Atkins can have success without Mike Zimmer, but his past stats make him an amazing value at his price.
Marcell Dareus ($4000 RedraftHero Salary) – This is more of a 1B pick as Atkins and Dareus are my two favorite defensive tackles if you are looking to save. Honestly I might like them more than anyone not named Suh with their price tags and their talent. He is going against the Colts who gave up 29 sacks last year (25th most in the NFL), and ran 69.1 plays per game last year which was the 2nd most in the NFL. The Bills might have the best defensive line in the league which can help and hurt Dareus at the same time. He played 62.9% of the defensive snaps last year (which is good considering how many plays the Colts run per game), and led the Bills defensive line in tackle % at 6.7 according to FantasyData.com. Dareus had an insane last year getting 10 sacks last year, with 35 solo tackles and 13 assisted tackles, with 1 forced fumble, and 1 pass deflection. The Bills had the most sacks last year with 54, which should help negate the fact that the Colts didn’t give up many. I mean you can’t double team one of their defensive linemen (Dareus, Williams, Hughes, Williams), because they can all burn you which actually helps them all out. The Colts also through the ball 661 times which was the most in the NFL, so Dareus should have plenty of opportunities to get after the QB. Without the addition of a good new RB and a great interior defensive line, the Colts will throw the ball a lot, which will allow Dareus to rack up some points.
Brandon Marshall ($4500 RedraftHero Salary) – With solo tackles being worth 1 point, and sacks being worth 2 points, I will be targeting linebackers that are able to rack up the tackles. When people think of Brandon Marshall, I’m sure most think of the Wide Receiver, but the linebacker for the Broncos actually had a very good year last year. He had 91 solo tackles, 22 assisted tackles, 2 sacks, 9 pass deflections, and 1 int. Those are actually fantastic fantasy numbers even if the sexy sack numbers aren’t very high. He was actually tied for 6th in solo tackles last year, with guys like Levy, Kuechly, David, and Lofton ahead of him at his price of $4,500. These guys are all significantly more expensive than Marshall, but he still kept up with them for the most part. He played 81.2% of the defensive snaps for the Broncos which was the 2nd most among linebackers only behind Von Millers 85%. The Broncos will be playing the Ravens in Week 1 which I believe is a great matchup for him. The Ravens ran 63.8 plays per game which was 14th in the NFL and ran the ball 448 times which was 11th in the NFL. Now Marshall had 9 pass deflections which is awesome for a LB, but he is really going to rack up his points on the rushing plays. I think he is a fantastic play any week, but against the run happy Ravens he definitely gets a boost.
Karlos Dansby ($4500 RedraftHero Salary) – I would have picked NaVarro Bowman, but I want to make sure that he is going to be healthy for at least the first week. Instead, I will go with the guy who seems like he has been playing forever in Karlos Dansby. He can play some DE, but mostly LB, and the guy has been a tackling machine throughout his career. Last year was Dansby’s first with the Browns and honestly he was a little unlucky. He still had 93 combined tackles which is only slightly down, but he had 46 assisted tackles which was the most in his career by far (33 was the second most in 2012). He also only had 2 pass deflections which was the worst in his career, but was coming off a year where he had 19 the year before. Part of this could be age, but his tackle numbers were roughly the same so I’m willing to keep giving him a chance. Dansby played 70% of the defensive snaps which was 2nd among Cleveland linebackers which I really like. They Browns are playing the Jets in Week 1 who run the ball a lot. They ran the ball 507 times last year which was the 4th most in the NFL. Again, Dansby isn’t a sack guy (only 3 last year), but is known for his tackling (at least 93 combined tackles the last 8 years). After looking at the numbers, Dansby at $4,500 is a steal and look for those solo tackles to go up.
Jason McCourty ($4900 RedraftHero Salary) – Probably a little less known than his brother Devin who plays safety for the Patriots, but Jason is a very good player in his own right for the Tennessee Titans. Last year, the Tennessee defense was really bad, but Jurrell Casy, Derrick Morgan, and McCourty were the bright spots. He had 77 solo tackles last year which was elite for a CB. That was tied for 23rd most in the entire league, and the next closest CB I could find was Jonathon Joseph at 70 which was 41st in the NFL. He also had 3 INT’s, 11 pass deflections, 2 forced fumbles, and 1 recovery touchdown. Those 11 pass deflections tied him for 30th most in the NFL, and the 3 INT’s were tied for 27th most in the NFL. If you are looking at straight fantasy numbers, he does everything above averagely and tackles at an elite clip for a CB. He will be going against the Buccaneers Week 1 which is a matchup I absolutely love. Tampa Bay threw 531 times last year which was 21st in the NFL, but ran it the 2nd least in the NFL. Also, he will be going against the rookie Jameis Winston who threw a ton of interceptions in college last year. You can bet he will be trying to get the ball to Mike Evans or Vincent Jackson which will give McCourty plenty of chances for tackles or INT’s. This is especially true with McCourty playing 94.4% of the defensive snaps last year, so the chances should be great for him in Week 1.
Jonathon Joseph ($4800 RedraftHero Salary) – Joe Haden at the minimum price was very tempting to take, but he is going against the Jets, and they just don’t throw the ball enough for me. Instead I will go with the guy who had the second most solo tackles among CB’s last year. Much like McCourty, there is a drop off in tacklers after Joseph as Bradley Roby, Tramon Williams, and EJ Gaines are the only other guys in the top 75 for tackles. Joseph also had 11 pass deflections last year and 2 INT’s which are both respectable for a guy who is only $4,800. Now 70 tackles was a career high with his previous high being 58 tackles, but 11 pass deflections and 2 INT’s are also low for Joseph. He has had 2 seasons where he has had 20 pass deflections and has had 5 INT’s in a season before. He may be getting a little older, and still played 77% of the snaps which was the most of any of their CB’s. He is going against the Chiefs who last year who did only throw 493 times, but again he will help with tackling Jamaal Charles and with the Chiefs running a lot of short routes, he should have plenty of opportunities. The Texans have an improving defense, and I expect them to be right in the game which will make Alex Smith throw the ball more than he will want.
Jonathon Cyprien ($4500 RedraftHero Salary) – Another guy who just racks up the tackles, Cyprien should be in for a fine day against the Carolina Panthers. Surprisingly, the Panthers ran 66.3 plays per game last year which was 9th most in football. This alone will give Cyprien a lot of chances to rack in the tackles and points and the fact that Carolina ran the ball 473 times which was the 8th most in all of football. He isn’t going to get a ton of INT’s (1 in 2 seasons), or pass deflections (10 total in 2 years), but he has averaged 83.5 solo tackles and 25.5 assisted tackles in his first two years. This is the definition of consistency and is fantastic for a guy that is only going to cost $4,500. According to FantasyData.com, Cyprien played 87.7% of the defensive snaps which was the most among all of their defensive backs. It is only his third year, so he could very well improve on his ball hawking skills and up his INT totals and pass deflections. With him being a big hitter, I expect him to get those 2 forced fumbles that he had in year 1, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get in that 90 tackle range which should be about 5-6 easy points per week.
Reshad Jones ($4600 RedraftHero Salary) – Jones is another fantastic value play for Week 1 with his $4,600 price tag, and has a pretty good matchup against the Redskins. Washington ran 62.9 plays per game last year which was 22nd in the NFL which isn’t great, but I can work with that. Jones actually does quite a few things well having 70 solo tackles which was actually lower than the previous 2 years, but is still very good, had 7 pass deflections, 3 interceptions, 1 sack, and 1 forced fumble. This was also all in 12 games, so he was on pace to have an elite year for a safety so getting him for that low price tag is huge. Also, as you can see by those stats, he does a lot well which should make everyone like him for Week 1 and any week in the future. Washington allowed 58 sacks which was the 2nd most in the NFL. Jones isn’t going to get a bunch of sacks, but RG3 will have to make some uncomfortable throws and quick throws which will allow a lot of easy tackles or even some INT’s to be had. Jones may not get the hype that other safeties get like Earl Thomas, Eric Weddle and Kam Chancellor, but his production is definitely on their tier especially when he is playing 98.7% of their defensive snaps.
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