Zach Brown, OLB, TEN
Brown was one of the most interesting defensive prospects of the 2012 draft, possessing a very rare combination of size (6-foot-1, 244 pounds) and speed (4.44-second 40-yard dash), but questions about his run-stopping ability pushed him to Tennessee at the 53rd pick. He showed a lot of playmaking ability as a rookie, though, making 93 tackles as a 14-game starter while posting 5.5 sacks and intercepting three passes, returning two for touchdowns. If his Week 1 effort against Pittsburgh on Sunday is any indication, those rookie numbers were no fluke. Brown made eight solo tackles against the Steelers while taking down Ben Roethlisberger twice, giving Brown 7.5 sacks in his first 17 career games. He has LB1 upside.
Anyone Who Plays Philadelphia
Chip Kelly and the new Philadelphia offense made waves in Week 1 when the team’s hurry-up mentality allowed the Eagles to run 53 plays in the first half of Sunday’s game against the Redskins. It is indeed a mind-boggling pace – the Week 1 leader in offensive snaps was the Patriots, who ran 91 plays, and the Eagles were on pace to breeze past that number if they hadn’t tapped the brakes with a big lead after halftime. IDPs who play the Eagles (or Patriots) have higher ceilings most weeks, because more plays equals more tackle opportunities. The Eagles in particular are helpful to IDPs, because they figure to be one of the most run-heavy teams in the league, meaning they, as a team, will have fewer pass attempts and incompletions than the Patriots will rack up. For reference, the Redskins have six defenders on pace for over 100 tackles after facing the Eagles.
Tyrann Mathieu, DB, ARZ
Listed as the backup to safety Rashad Johnson on the Arizona depth chart, Mathieu played primarily as a nickel cornerback in Week 1 against St. Louis. After an offseason of rave reviews, Mathieu wasted no time generating even more hype in his first NFL game, making seven solo tackles and adding a spectacular forced fumble on St. Louis tight end Jared Cook right just in front of the goal line. He did all this despite playing just 39 of Arizona's 67 snaps. That has to change, and Arizona should know it. It would be madness if Mathieu isn’t playing at least 70 percent of Arizona’s snaps by the end of the month, and he’s probably worth picking up in most formats even in a part-time role. It’s anyone’s guess how high his ceiling is – there hasn’t really been a player like Mathieu before.
Sheldon Richardson, (3-4) DE, NYJ
The Jets wasted no time giving Richardson a huge workload as a rookie, lining him up at defensive end for 58 of the team’s 61 defensive snaps in the season-opening game against Tampa Bay. One of the Jets’ two first-round picks, Richardson is an exceptionally athletic lineman with rare disruptiveness and pursuit abilities. That showed through Sunday as the 13th overall pick piled up seven tackles (three solo) and a half-sack. The Jets don’t have any legitimate competition to steal snaps from Richardson, so he might finish his rookie season in DL2/DL3 territory.
Bront Bird, (3-4) ILB, SD
Bird started in place of Mani Te’o (foot) against Houston on Monday and, while his poor coverage of tight ends could cost him his job in the near future, it looks like he might post standout tackle production as long as he’s starting. He played only 59 of San Diego’s 76 defensive snaps, but finished with 14 tackles (10 solo). That sort of production is definitely worth gambling on in deeper formats, because Bird showed he didn’t need a three-down role to post big tackle numbers while Te’o is out.
Manti Te’o, (3-4) ILB, SD
The Chargers traded up in the second round of the 2013 draft to select Te’o, and with that investment came the assumption that Te’o would play a three-down role for the Chargers from Day One. But Te’o suffered a foot injury in early August that was initially expected to keep him out one week. One month later, Te’o still doesn’t have a timetable to return. The good news for Teo’s owners is that Te’o’s backup, Bront Bird, struggled in coverage against the Texans on Monday, and Te’o should have a starting job waiting for him when healthy.
Jon Beason, OLB, CAR
As long as Thomas Davis stays healthy, it appears Beason is locked into a two-down role for the Panthers. Once one of the NFL’s elite linebackers, two years of Achilles’ tendon and knee troubles have evidently robbed Beason of some of his skill. Beason lost his nickel linebacker role to Davis heading into this year, leaving Beason on the sideline in passing situations. Despite playing a relatively run-heavy Seattle team Sunday, the Panthers ran the nickel formation 35 of the 65 defensive snaps, leaving Beason off the field more than half of the time. His six tackles (three solo) with that limited workload is encouraging, but probably not sustainable.
James Harrison, OLB, CIN
Harrison still has some IDP intrigue due to his pass-rushing skills, but after one week in the Cincinnati defense it appears that Harrison might not make a big statistical impact in 2013. Vontaze Burfict is locked into one three-down role for Cincinnati, and Harrison is behind Rey Maualuga in the race for leftover snaps. Burfict played 63 snaps Sunday, while Maualuga (50) landed safely ahead of Harrison (40). Harrison obviously won’t finish with just one tackle most weeks like he did Sunday, but his opportunities will be limited. In addition, Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has no history of making pass-rush threats out of his linebackers, so Harrison’s sack potential might not shine through in Cincinnati’s 4-3.
Von Miller, OLB, DEN
Already suspended six games for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, Miller put a bulls eye on himself yet again last week by getting a citation last week for speeding and driving with a suspended license. Commissioner Roger Goodell has the ability to add to Miller’s current suspension for bad behavior and, even if Goodell doesn’t go after Miller for his latest issue, it’s quite concerning for Miller’s long-term outlook that he’s still making poor decisions.
George Selvie, DE, DAL
Selvie built on his strong preseason by posting a sack and a fumble recovery against the Giants in place of Anthony Spencer (knee), and he should make for a good rental another week in deep leagues as Spencer sits or plays a limited role against Kansas City. It appears Spencer is nearing his return, though. When he does, Selvie will be pushed into a backup role. Selvie has impressed to the point that he’ll stick as Dallas’ top rotational end behind Spencer and DeMarcus Ware, but considering Dallas' backup ends combined for just 15 snaps against the Giants, Selvie will struggle to stay on the IDP radar when Spencer is back at full speed.