Denzel Perryman and Jatavis Brown, (3-4) ILB, SD
I said in the last IDP Barometer that it was difficult to see a light at the end of the tunnel with Perryman, who up to that point had been limited to base formation snaps exclusively and was a total IDP bust as a result. Well, a torn Achilles' tendon for fellow linebacker Manti Te'o doesn't qualify as a light in this metaphor, but it works equally well for Perryman's IDP purposes. Now the Chargers are all but compelled to give Perryman snaps at least three fourths of the time, which Perryman's career tackle rates imply is more than enough for him to hit triple-digit tackles with ease by the end of the year.
Te'o's injury also opens things up for Brown, a rookie fifth-round pick out of Akron who has an athletic profile and history of production curiously similar to fellow rookie linebacker Deion Jones, who went three rounds earlier and is thriving as a starter in Atlanta. Perryman should be an LB2 or something close right away, and Brown is worth monitoring closely in case the Chargers give him a three-down role. Brown has at least 4.5 speed and was an absolute wrecking ball at Akron, totaling 116 tackles, 20 tackles for loss and 12 sacks in 13 games last year. Brown flashed some of that same ability against Indianapolis on Sunday, posting six tackles, one sack and a forced fumble.
Deion Jones, OLB, ATL
Speaking of Jones, he’s feasting. He looks like a future IDP star at the least, and quite plausibly one in the present too. He returned a Drew Brees interception 90 yards for a touchdown Monday, and made nine tackles while he was at it. Through his first three games he has 25 tackles (20 solo), and his three-down role in Atlanta is assured. One has to wonder if a guy like Jones would have even gotten this opportunity if not for Arizona's mold-breaking utilization of Deone Bucannon, but it's in any case nice to see the NFL shed its fear of 220-pound linebackers.
Danielle Hunter, DE, MIN
Hunter demonstrated big upside as a rookie last year, producing at a blistering, if not seemingly unsustainable, rate of six sacks on 393 snaps, making him appear a lock for double-digit sacks on a starter's play count. As it turns out, maybe that rate of production was entirely sustainable for Hunter. He continues to produce at a rate implying a rare level of talent, as through 120 snaps in 2016 he's already up to three sacks. That's nine in his first 513 snaps, which would project to roughly 15 sacks over 850 snaps, a conservative snap projection for a starting end. Hunter is poised to go nuts whenever Brian Robison is out of the picture, and in the meantime Hunter's unique rate of production has him in DL2 territory even with Robison screwing things up.
Benardrick McKinney, (3-4) ILB, HOU
McKinney was limited to a part-time role as a rookie second-round pick last year, but the A&M product is breaking out in a three-down role this year. Big (6-foot-4, 260) for a linebacker yet athletic (4.66 40-yard dash, 121-inch broad jump, 40.5-inch vertical), McKinney's upside was always obvious, and now he's getting the playing time to make it translate in practice. McKinney has been on fire the last two weeks, totaling 24 tackles and two sacks, highlighting McKinney's potential to produce not only at a triple-digit tackle pace, but also with standout pass-rushing production at linebacker. He's a candidate to finish the year as an LB1, and anything less than LB2 would be shocking.
Zach Brown, (3-4) ILB, BUF
Brown has been an ineffective player most of his career and is therefore someone to keep on indefinite Bench Watch, but as long as he's getting snaps in Buffalo he should yield standout IDP production. Brown is nothing if not incredibly athletic, and it turns out he'll pile up lots of tackles if you give him the snaps. He has 34 tackles in 184 snaps this year, which is an extremely fast pace even if a handful of those tackles came on any of Brown's 34 special teams snaps. He's yielding LB1 production.
Zachary Orr, (3-4) ILB, BAL
C.J. Mosley, of course, has one three-down role locked down at inside linebacker in Baltimore, but the other spot's owner wasn't entirely clear heading into this year. After three games it's clear that the owner is Orr, a former special teams specialist who was undrafted out of North Texas in 2014. His modest pedigree hasn't held him back -- indeed, Orr has been a standout IDP with 24 tackles in the first three games, as well as an interception Sunday that ended Jacksonville's comeback attempt in Baltimore's 19-17 victory. There doesn't appear to be any threat to his workload, so he should be able to keep it going.
J.J. Watt, (3-4) DE, HOU
Well, it turns out trying to return from back surgery a month earlier than a doctor-issued prognosis isn't a great idea. Now we know. Watt's season appears over after another herniated disc flared up this week, likely ending his 2016 with a box score of eight tackles and 1.5 sacks in three games. It's, of course, remarkable that Watt was able to play at all and produce at that level while doing it, but he probably had more sustainable returns in mind. Given that the 3-4 end position isn't a generally productive one for IDP purposes, there isn't necessarily anyone who will provide useful production in Watt's place.
Bashaud Breeland, CB, WAS
Breeland is the rare cornerback who can provide standout IDP utility because of his unusually high tackle production. He definitely has some ballhawk in him, too, but it's the stable tackle production that makes him unique – you get the interception potential, but none of the goose eggs in between the interceptions. Unfortunately for Breeland's owners (I happened to start him in the Steak League last week), he suffered a high ankle sprain early in Sunday's win over the Giants. Cornerback isn't a position where you can play on a bad ankle, so a multi-week absence appears likely.
Darian Thompson, S, NYG
Thompson was expected to start opposite Landon Collins heading into this year, but the rookie third-round pick split snaps with Nat Berhe in the first two weeks, and he suffered a foot injury in the second week that looks like it will cost him at least a couple games. Thompson had seven tackles on his first 87 snaps -- a small sample, but one with discouraging production. Berhe, meanwhile, has 14 tackles and a forced fumble on 123 snaps. As a rookie, the missed time could make it difficult for Thompson to catch up to Berhe upon returning to the field.