If you’ve been playing in IDP leagues for a while, then you know we used to just draft some quality LBs and ride them in our weekly fantasy football lineups.
Every team had a guy or 2 that would be out there basically the whole game. Sure, the stats would fluctuate, but the playing time didn’t.
Well, it’s different now – as we’ve addressed in this space previously. And that’s why I think tracking LB playing time has become so important.
Let’s check in on some key situations …
LBs coach Jason Tarver said before last week’s game that he expected LB Deion Jones to take over play-calling duties “soon.” If anything, that plan got accelerated by Sunday’s pectoral tear for MLB Jacob Phillips, who had been filling that role.
Jones has been a better run defender in his career than Phillips has shown in brief opportunities so far. Jones also spent more time blitzing in his final 2 Falcons seasons and defensed 0.5 passes per game over his 7 years there. So he brings upside.
Last week round Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah leading Browns LBs at 80% playing time, with Sione Takitaki next at 56% and then the Jones-Phillips split. It’d be OK if JOK stays at that level. But he played just 47% the week before to Takitaki’s 73%. So I’d play Jones and then otherwise try to let things get sorted out.
We might have to wait an extra week, because Owusu-Koramoah missed the practice week with a knee injury and is questionable. We obviously can’t wait for him in Week 8 fantasy football lineups.
Troy Andersen’s speed is going to make him fun when he takes over a full-time gig – probably by next year. But he played just 41% of Falcons defensive snaps in Mykal Walker’s return game last week.
Walker’s stat line probably alarmed those who have him rostered: 4 assists. But he got right back to playing every snap and faced a pass-leaning Bengals offense, with more 3-LB sets than usual (for some reason). I’d bet on Walker returning to his pre-injury production.
We’ll see, though, whether Andersen – a 2nd-round pick in April – commands more playing time at some point.
The Raiders’ LB corps watched Denzel Perryman go down twice with injuries before the Week 6 bye. It recently added former Giant Blake Martinez, who saw his 1st action in the game before the bye. So I was intrigued to see how playing time sorted out after the bye.
Week 7 gave us Divine Deablo as the continued 100% guy. Perryman trailed distantly, at 57%. Martinez remained a bit player at 23%. So it looks like Deablo – who sits inside the top 30 among fantasy LBs – should be the guy we count on going forward.
Unfortunately, this week finds him questionable after missing 2 days of practice and remaining limited Friday with back and ankle injuries. It’s good that we get a 1 p.m. kickoff at New Orleans this Sunday, so that we can know Deablo’s status early. But it might be tough to trust his health even if he’s active.
Panthers LB Frankie Luvu returned from his 2-game shoulder injury for last week’s shocker against the Buccaneers. But he played far less than usual – just 66% of snaps. Luvu hadn’t dipped below 85% in any of the 1st 4 games, with the low point coming in the season opener.
Shaq Thompson emerged for 100% playing time in the 2 games Luvu missed. He remained at that level in Luvu’s return game. Should we expect that going forward?
Here’s what interim HC Steve Wilks had to say about the plan for Luvu, who is officially questionable after going limited-full-limited in practice this week:
"Coming off the injury, we had a pitch count we wanted to give him during the game, and then we checked that, we communicated with him just to see how he felt, and he felt good, so we progressed moving forward. It'll be the exact same thing this week. I don't want to have any setbacks or try to overload these guys coming off injury and all of a sudden lose them for three weeks. I think he understands the big picture. Big picture-wise, we want him to be able to sustain and be able to play all year. He wants to play every down. That's just his makeup and his demeanor."
Doesn’t sound like we can count on Luvu in our IDP lineups this week. Atlanta is providing both solo tackles and assists for LBs at rates above the league median. So there’s a chance he’s still OK at two-thirds playing time, as well as a chance the Panthers increase his playing time vs. last week. Just know the risk going in.
Of course, any playing-time increase for Luvu might come at the expense of Thompson. He has played more than 80% of snaps in 5 of 7 games this season, though, and is probably safe enough for LB3-level use. Thompson hasn’t been a big producer so far, though. So he’s not a “must” use.
Check the Week 8 IDP rankings to see exactly where both guys sit.
Texans rookie LB Christian Harris made his NFL debut last week, following Houston’s bye. And he immediately took the #2 slot among LBs. Harris tallied just 1 tackle but played 68% of the snaps. That trailed only Christian Kirksey (100%). And Houston has since released Kamu Grugier-Hill (per his request).
HC Lovie Smith now seems to be saying things similar to how he talked about RB Dameon Pierce at the start of the season: "He didn't do anything [Sunday] that said we should give him less. To me, he did things that say we should give him more."
There’s room for Harris to climb all the way to full playing time without chipping away at Kirksey’s snaps. What will that mean stat wise? Tough to say. And we, of course, don’t know exactly what snap share Houston coaches have in mind for this Sunday.
Harris looks stashable in redraft leagues this week, though. I’d hold off on starting him in most cases, though. The Tennessee matchup seems like it should be good for tackle opportunities. But the Titans have actually supplied solos to LBs at just 87.8% of the league’s median rate. They sit 24th overall as a per-game LB-scoring matchup.
Third-year Chiefs LB Willie Gay Jr. returned last week from his 4-game league suspension under the personal-conduct policy. He tallied a solid stat line: 8 tackles (4 solo) and a half-sack. But Gay palyed only 57% of the Chiefs’ defensive snaps.
Game flow might have been an issue. Kansas City dominated, pushing the normally run-leaning 49ers to a 71% pass rate. Nick Bolton has been the Chiefs’ consistent leader in LB playing time, finishing each of the past 6 games between 87% and full playing time. In a Week 4 meeting with the pass-heavy Buccaneers, Darius Harris played just 33% snap share as K.C.’s #2 non-edge LB. He went 77%, 69% and 87% in the other 3 games without Gay, though.
Gay himself played 65% (in a Week 1 blowout that lowered all starters’ playing time) and then 92% before starting his suspension.
That 70-90% range is probably where we should expect Gay to live most weeks, with a lean toward 75%+. After the bye comes a home date with Tennessee, which should favor more 2-LB sets. The Jaguars matchup looks fine for that purpose the following week as well.After that, however, come 3 straight meetings with offenses that rank among the top 8 in pass rate over expected for the year: Chargers, Rams, Bengals. Those settings look worse for Gay, as do games with the potential to go lopsided in K.C.’s favor. That latter scenario, of course, can be tough to predict in the NFL.