Chris Jones, DT, NE
Although he was just a sixth-round pick in the 2013 draft and was eventually cut by Houston (the team that drafted him) in September, Jones has been very busy – and productive – since the Patriots claimed him off waivers. Jones has been highly disruptive, just like he was in college at Bowling Green, and has posted 30 tackles and five sacks in New England's last five games. Until he cools off, Jones is a legitimate DL1 starter. With Tommy Kelly headed to IR due to a knee injury, Jones should remain very prominent in the New England defensive tackle rotation.
Jon Bostic, MLB, CHI
With Lance Briggs and D.J. Williams out due to injury, Bostic has laid claim to a full play count in the Chicago defense, paving the way for the rookie second-round pick out of Florida to produce at a triple-digit tackle rate over a 16-game schedule. Bostic played each of Chicago’s 55 snaps against Green Bay on Monday, indicating that he’ll continue to play every snap until Briggs returns. Although he posted just four tackles Monday, expect Bostic to produce closer to his eight-tackle output against the Redskins prior to the Bears’ bye week.
DeMarcus Ware, DE, DAL
Ware missed three games with a thigh injury – the first time Ware was ever inactive for a game in his nine-year career – but he is set to return against the Saints on Sunday. Ware is one of the league’s toughest, most competitive players, and he figures to play with a little extra fire Sunday after having his pride stung the last three weeks. Although he didn’t get to Drew Brees when the two teams faced off last year, Ware did post three sacks in the two games he faced the Saints prior to last season. Even if he doesn’t go off Sunday, Ware should provide solid DL2 value at the least going forward.
Sean Weatherspoon, OLB, ATL
Weatherspoon was placed on the IR-designated for return list and therefore isn’t eligible to play until Week 11, but it looks like he might be able to hit the ground running when the Falcons take on Tampa Bay that week. Weatherspoon returned to practice Wednesday, indicating he’s nearing a return from the foot injury that sidelined him since Week 2. Weatherspoon has legitimate LB1 upside when he’s healthy, as he’s one of the league’s most athletic linebackers and can make plays in coverage and as a blitzer. Weatherspoon posted 210 tackles, seven sacks and an interception in 29 games over the last two campaigns.
Clay Matthews, (3-4) OLB, GB
Playing outside linebacker in a 3-4 forces Matthews to play more like a 4-3 defensive end than a traditional linebacker, so his tackle opportunities are relatively limited, but owners in leagues that reward heavily for sacks should take note of the fact that Matthews appears poised to play against Philadelphia this week after sitting out Green Bay’s last four games with a thumb injury. Matthews posted three sacks in the first four games for Green Bay, adding a respectable total of 18 tackles to boot. Matthews has 16 sacks in his last 16 games.
Ezekiel Ansah, DE, DET
Ansah, the fifth overall pick in the 2013 draft, looked poised for a strong rookie season as he got off to a fast start during Detroit's first five games, posting 3.5 sacks and forcing two fumbles. However, it looks like he may have hit the “Rookie Wall” since. The BYU product has just five tackles and zero sacks in his last three games, leaving him on pace for 38 tackles and six sacks over a 16-game stretch. To make matters worse, Ansah might miss this week’s game against Chicago with an ankle injury. It appears as if he isn’t worth owning outside of dynasty formats right now.
Rashad Johnson, S, ARZ
Although Johnson began the year as Arizona’s starting safety opposite Yeremiah Bell, he has since been removed from the starting lineup in favor of rookie third-round pick Tyrann Mathieu. While it’s disappointing for Johnson, he shouldn’t feel too bad about getting bested by Mathieu, who by any measure is one of the most impressive young players in the league. Despite starting just six games, Mathieu is on pace to finish his rookie year with 98 tackles, two sacks and four interceptions. Johnson likely won’t see the field except for when Mathieu gets moved to the slot.
Joe Mays, (3-4) ILB, HOU
He’s still a top-two inside linebacker for Houston, but the Texans are clearly higher on fellow linebacker Darryl Sharpton, who played all of Houston’s 62 snaps against Indianapolis on Sunday while Mays played just 30. Mays produced quite well on a per-snap basis, totaling five tackles and one sack, but that was likely an anomaly. Mays has just 31 tackles in eight starts, which is a rather remarkably low total. He also posted just 75 tackles for Denver back in 2011. Mays just doesn't seem to have much ability to pursue ballcarriers.
Brad Jones, (3-4) ILB, GB
Jones has been a good player for Green Bay at both the inside and outside linebacker positions, but it appears that he might lose snaps going forward due to Green Bay’s extreme depth at inside linebacker. After sitting out three games with a hamstring issue, Jones returned to the starting lineup against Chicago, only to post three tackles on 43 snaps. Jamari Lattimore, who impressed while Jones sat with his injury, managed to steal 23 snaps. It’s possible that Lattimore will head to the sideline permanently once Jones is back at 100 percent, but a rotation could stay in effect going forward as long as Lattimore keeps playing well.
Ed Reed, S, HOU
Reed’s low tackle totals always made him a bit of a liability in most IDP formats, but it’s worth noting that utility has gone entirely in the gutter in recent weeks. Reed just hasn’t been any good for Houston since the Texans signed him away from Baltimore with a big contract, and now the Texans appear set on playing Shiloh Keo and rookie second-round pick D.J. Swearinger ahead of Reed. Swearinger played all of Houston's 62 snaps against Indianapolis on Sunday, while Keo's 48 snaps also ranked ahead of Reed (32 snaps). Reed has just 16 tackles and no interceptions in six games this year.