Let’s start this week by meeting the prime beneficiary of Manti Te’o’s season-ending injury.
Fifth-round rookie Jatavis Brown will take over Te’o’s starting spot, doing so ahead of 4th-round classmate Joshua Perry. At just 221 pounds, Brown’s light for an ILB, but he boasts cover skills good enough that some considered him a potential safety – or another in the new trend of safety/LB ‘tweeners; good enough that he played 95 snaps as the slot cover man last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
PFF gave Brown the 4th highest coverage grade among all draft-eligible LBs in 2015. But he also showed out as a blitzer. PFF credited Brown with 15 sacks, 12 QB hits and 22 hurries among just 144 snaps as a pass rusher last season.
The rookie needs to improve his run defense and missed too many tackles at Akron. But you have to arrive at those tackle opportunities to have the chance to miss them. He arrived enough to rack up 107, 94 and 116 total tackles over 3 seasons as a starter. Brown made a career-high 19.5 of those for loss as a senior, when he won MAC defensive player of the year honors.
He didn’t land an invite to the Scouting Combine but rocked a 4.47-second 40-yard dash at the regional combine. That speed will only help his big-play upside as Brown learns the defense and the league.
Denzel Perryman is taking over play-calling duties with Te’o out and will likely stay on the field more after leaving in passing sub packages early this season. But Brown had started replacing him in those situations and looks like an even better bet to stay on the field – as long as he’s not a liability in run defense.
With Te’o in the final year of his contract, Brown should find a roster in all dynasty leagues. Don’t be surprised if he quickly turns into a redraft factor as well.
Aaron Donald, DT, Rams
PFF credited Donald with 2 QB hits, 2 hurries and 2 batted passes in Week 3 at Tampa. He’s still without a sack through 3 games, but that will change soon.
Keanu Neal, S, Falcons
Neal played 64% of the defensive snaps in his 1st action of the season at New Orleans on Monday night. That doesn’t make him a fantasy starting option yet, but it does push Kemal Ishmael immediately aside (as expected).
Cameron Wake, DE, Dolphins
PFF credited Wake with a sack and 6 hurries on just 26 pass-rushing snaps vs. Cleveland in Week 3. He registered no official stats while playing just 15 snaps against the Bengals on Thursday night. Wake’s only an option in big-play heavy IDP leagues.
Kony Ealy, DE, Panthers
Ealy has 0 solo tackles and just 1 QB hit through 3 games – a very disappointing start for a guy who has been wildly inconsistent through his 1st 3 seasons.
Devin Taylor played 78% of the defensive snaps (42 of 54) vs. Green Bay in Week 3. Kerry Hyder played 63% (34 of 54). Both look like considerations in deeper IDP leagues.
Karl Joseph, S, Raiders
Joseph played 61 of 68 snaps in his 1st start and led the team with 10 tackles (including 6 solo). He’s worth a look in all IDP leagues that require DBs.
From the Week 3 Thursday night shutout of Houston: Chris Long led New England DEs by playing 55 of 71 snaps. His low tackle ceiling (dating back to his Rams days) makes him a marginal fantasy options, but Long is at least playing enough to be worth a look in sack-heavier leagues. Jabaal Sheard checked in just behind Long at 53 snaps. Trey Flowers played 43 snaps. He sports intriguing talent but might see his playing time slashed when Rob Ninkovich returns.
Danielle Hunter, DE, Vikings
Hunter has delivered a sack in each of this season’s 3 games and 6 of his past 7 regular-season contests dating back to last year.
Michah Hyde, DB, Packers
Hyde delivered 11 tackles (including 8 solo) while filling in for SS Morgan Burnett against the Lions. We’ll see if Burnett’s ready to return after the bye.
Nick Perry, OLB, Packers
Perry has registered 3.5 sacks through 3 games, with a half-sack or more in all 3. He has never surpassed 4 in an NFL season, so let's not go nuts over Perry's hot start. But he certainly bears watching. Perry's low tackle trajectory keeps his appeal limited to big-play leagues.
Christian Kirksey, ILB, Browns
Kirksey has notched QB hits in all 3 games so far. His 4 total have included 1 sack. He's looking like the lead fantasy option at LB in Cleveland -- over Demario Davis -- and is worth adding in leagues of moderate depth.
Gerald Hodges, ILB, 49ers
The season-ending injury for Niners LB Ray-Ray Armstrong should move Hodges closer to full time. His playing time has gone from 31.1% in Week 1 to 67.5% in Week 2 and then 85.7% in Week 3. Hodges won’t wow anyone as an IDP option, but he’s worth knowing about in deeper leagues.
Eric Reid, S, 49ers
Reid now has QB hits in each of the first 4 games. That’s still not particularly useful to your fantasy lineup, but interesting nonetheless for a guy who has been a deep safety.