Kiko Alonso, MLB, BUF
It’s early in the year, but Alonso has given every reason to believe he has star potential at linebacker for Buffalo. He earned a three-down role early in training camp, and he has been one of the league’s most explosive playmakers at linebacker early in his rookie season. Not only does Alonso have an exceptional total of 27 tackles (17 solo) in three games, but he also has one sack, an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Alonso is a very talented athlete, and the Bills have him playing at a very high level. He’s a clear LB1 until further notice.
Tyrann Mathieu, S, ARZ
Three games into the season, it’s already clear that Mathieu is too good for Arizona to keep him off the field. Despite playing just 156-of-200 snaps so far this year, Mathieu already has 23 tackles (22 solo), one interception and a forced fumble. Starting Arizona safety Rashad Johnson might miss time due to a gruesome finger injury, moreover, clearing the way for Mathieu to take on a full play count against Tampa Bay as they throw rookie third-round pick Mike Glennon into the fire. Mathieu is closing in on DB1 status. He might already be there, in fact.
Daryl Smith, (3-4) ILB, BAL
Smith was one of the most underrated players in the entire NFL over the last decade, regularly grading among the league’s better linebackers in Jacksonville and generally receiving very little credit for it. The Ravens shrewdly added him to their defense in free agency, and Smith is thriving in his new, more visible role as the top inside linebacker in Baltimore. Playing on a more talented defense with more creative playcalling, Smith's skill set has finally been fully realized at age 31. Through three weeks he has 25 tackles (13 solo) and an interception returned for a touchdown. The Ravens are also capitalizing on Smith's standout blitzing abilities, and he has 1.5 sacks to show for it. Smith is safely in LB2 territory right now and could easily produce as an LB1 from here.
George Selvie, DE, DAL
Anthony Spencer will miss the rest of the season due to microfracture knee surgery, opening up a starting role for Selvie. It looks like Selvie is to the defensive end position what Laurent Robinson was at the receiver spot for the Cowboys in 2011 – an unwanted free agent signed as emergency depth that turns out to be a standout starter. After bouncing around from St. Louis to Carolina to Jacksonville over the last three years, Selvie had a great preseason for the Cowboys and earned the top backup role behind Spencer. Due to Spencer’s injury, that equaled a starting role for Selvie, and he came through with seven tackles and two sacks in three games. He also had three sacks in four preseason games for Dallas. Selvie is penciled into DL3 territory in most formats for the time being.
Manti Te’o, (3-4) ILB, SD
Te’o (foot) has been practicing all week for San Diego, and it looks as if he will be able to make his NFL debut Sunday against Dallas. The Chargers have been quite thin at inside linebacker due to Te’o’s injury, relying on Reggie Walker and Bront Bird next to standout starter Donald Butler, so it would be a huge disappointment if Te’o didn’t earn a three-down role almost immediately. So long as Te’o starts and makes his way into the nickel formation, he should become a solid LB3 option in most formats.
Julius Peppers, DE, CHI
Peppers’ isn't losing his starting job anytime soon, but it looks like the long-time star defensive end might be all used up. He heads into Week 4 with a somewhat shocking total of two tackles and no sacks, and the season-ending knee injury to tackle Henry Melton might allow opposing offensive lines to devote even more resources to stopping Peppers. Sure, Peppers has a touchdown, but for now, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where Peppers is worth owning in IDP formats.
Russell Allen, OLB, JAC
Allen was one of the breakout IDP bargains of the 2012 season, taking over as Jacksonville's nickel linebacker next to Paul Posluszny after serving as a depth linebacker for the three seasons prior. He posted 131 tackles (107 solo) in his new role, which probably had him on the LB2 radar in most cases heading into 2013. It seems as if Allen has little or no chance of approaching his 2012 production this year, though. The Jaguars have given Geno Hayes the nickel formation snaps so far, leaving Allen on the sidelines roughly 40 percent of the time. He’s probably not worth owning in IDP leagues right now.
Patrick Chung, S, PHI
Chung has been a useful plug-and-play IDP to this point in the year thanks to his tackle production, but after heading into Week 3 with 15 tackles over his first two games, he suffered a shoulder injury that threatens to keep him on the sidelines against Denver on Sunday. Chung didn’t earn high reviews for his play to this point, so if Chung sits out, he might end up losing part or all of his role in the Philadelphia defense to rookie fifth-round pick Earl Wolff.
Sean Lee (MLB) and Bruce Carter (OLB), Dallas
Lee and Carter are two of the best linebackers in the NFL, and they’ve done very well for Dallas in the first three weeks, playing a lead role in forming a Cowboys run defense that has shut down opposing running backs. But the duo has combined for just 35 tackles in the first three weeks – a total that Lee alone is more than capable of posting over a three-week span. It’s not clear why their tackle totals are so low, but if the trend continues, the cause would have to be scheme-related, because talent is not an issue. One thing that hasn’t helped Lee and Carter’s numbers is that new coordinator Monte Kiffin isn’t afraid to rotate his linebackers. Lee and Carter each played just 54 snaps against St. Louis on Sunday, while Justin Durant played 31 and rookie sixth-round pick DeVonte Holloman stole 15 snaps. The fact that Dallas was crushing the Rams at the time certainly played a role in Holloman seeing the field, but the Cowboys gave seven snaps to Ernie Sims in their close Week 1 matchup with the Giants, too. This is a situation to keep an eye on.