Peppers in midst of decline
The Ravens certainly took on more than their fair share of the injury burden from Week 6, as future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis (torn triceps) and standout cornerback Lardarius Webb (torn ACL) both suffered injuries that are almost certainly season-ending, though Lewis could return for the playoffs if he miraculously recovers by that point. In addition to those two, elite lineman Haloti Ngata tweaked his knee against Dallas on Sunday. He's expected to play against Houston this week, however. The Ravens at least get some good news in the potential return of Terrell Suggs within the next month or so. He's just about six months away from tearing his Achilles' tendon, though, so he needs a bit more time. Suggs was activated from the PUP list Monday and must be activated within the next three weeks if he's going to play this year.
The Packers also suffered a big injury Sunday with inside linebacker D.J. Smith sustaining a season-ending knee injury against the Texans. Although he began the year as a backup, Smith was a valuable replacement who stepped in for standout Desmond Bishop, who's out with a hamstring tear. Smith had 39 tackles (29 solo), two sacks and four passes defended in six starts.
There's some more ambiguous injury news to be considered in the cases of linebackers Jon Beason (knee), Colin McCarthy (ankle), Daryl Smith (groin) and the Indianapolis duo of Jerrell Freeman (head) and Pat Angerer (foot). Beason's knee is still a problem despite a Week 6 bye and a Week 5 deactivation, while McCarthy was in a walking boot mid-week and Smith missed Thursday's practice despite making an appearance in previous practices. Tennessee coach Mike Munchak expects McCarthy to play, but all three of those players should be considered questionable at best. Freeman, meanwhile, is expected to play against Cleveland on Sunday, but his snap count is threatened by the potential but unconfirmed return of Angerer, who remains questionable despite making practice appearances over the last couple weeks.
Chandler Jones, DE, NE
It seems safe to say at this point that Jones has arrived as an elite defensive line IDP. To be fair, he's been in that category all year - he started the year with a five-tackle game against Tennesee while adding a forced fumble, then did the exact same thing against Arizona in Week 2. After a Week 6 effort that saw him total nine tackles (four solo), two sacks and a forced fumble against Seattle, Jones has the lead in the race for Defensive Rookie of the year, and he has clearly established himself as a DL1 in the process. Other than J.J. Watt and Jason Pierre-Paul, there probably isn't a single defensive lineman in the league who would be worth a straight up trade for Jones right now.
Dannell Ellerbe, (3-4) ILB, BAL
Ray Lewis' likely season-ending injury opens up a big opportunity at linebacker in Baltimore, and Ellerbe looks like the best bet to capitalize on it. Jameel McClain was the technical starter alongside Lewis all this time, but he totaled just 29 tackles (24 solo) in six starts. He was similarly unproductive in 2011 and 2010, too, respectively posting 84 and 71 tackles despite starting all but one game over that span. Ellerbe, on the other hand, has 31 tackles (29 solo), 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble as a bench player this year. Now a probable starter, Ellerbe should post numbers far better than McClain's - he already has better numbers and hasn't even started, after all.
Justin Houston, (3-4) OLB, KC
His status as a 3-4 outside linebacker limits his IDP utility outside of leagues that reward disproportionately for sacks, but Houston nonetheless deserves some recognition for his strong start to the year. The Georgia product is rewarding the Chiefs for their gamble on him in the third round of last year's draft despite some character concerns, and he has 21 tackles (17 solo), six sacks and an interception through six games. Those six sacks put him in a six-way tie for the fifth-most sacks in the league at this point. With Tamba Hali on the other side, it's difficult to imagine that offenses will have the privilege of double-teaming Houston anytime soon.
A.J. Hawk, (3-4) ILB, GB
It won't cause a major spike in his production, but the season-ending knee injury to D.J. Smith at least solidifies Hawk's IDP value as the sole remaining inside linebacker with starting experience in Green Bay. His utility in the past was harmed by Desmond Bishop (hamstring) and Nick Barnett before that, but like most NFL linebackers, Hawk should post nice numbers as the biggest fish in the pond. He's already up to 51 tackles (29 solo); his career high is 119 tackles in 16 games. He's an excellent bet to push for 130 stops this year.
Derek Wolfe, DE, DEN
Wolfe has consistently shown that he was anything but a reach when the Broncos selected him 36th overall in the 2012 draft, even if it surprised most observers at the time. He's something of a poor man's J.J. Watt for the Broncos, technically starting at defensive end but possessing a defensive tackle's size and strength at 6-foot-5, 300. The former Cincinnati star is on the DL2 radar through six games, as he has 17 tackles (10 solo) and three sacks. There's no reason to think he'll slow down. He's a top talent and offensive lines have no choice but to allocate minimal blocking resources to Wolfe - Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil will likely always be the first candidates to receive double teams.
Russell Allen, OLB, JAC
He still figures to be a starter, but when Daryl Smith makes his 2012 debut after missing time with a preseason groin injury, Allen likely will see a sharp decrease in his snap count. He has rarely left the field up until now for Jacksonville, and he's one of the top IDP steals as a result, posting 47 tackles (34 solo), a total even higher than that of the more heralded Paul Posluszny (43 tackles). Allen should have at least another week of starting value in most formats, though, because Smith's availability is up in the air after missing practice Thursday, and even when Smith returns there's a chance he'll be limited to base 4-3 snaps until he demonstrates full health. If Smith does make a full recovery, though, Allen's days of receiving nickel snaps figure to end.
Jon Beason, MLB, CAR
He hasn't been ruled out for Week 7 yet, but it nonetheless seems safe to say that Beason's stock is steadily moving downward. His Achilles' tendon and knee troubles of the last two years have taken a toll on his durability - he's in danger of missing his second straight game Sunday even though Carolina had a bye last week - and every snap he misses allows ninth overall pick Luke Kuechly to establish himself more at middle linebacker. Kuechly was drafted to be the sort of linebacker who plays 95 percent of his team's snaps, and if Beason is hobbled it's difficult to see how he can be effective enough to earn those snaps over Kuechly and James Anderson.
Trent Cole, DE, PHI
Hopefully the firing of Juan Castillo as Philadelphia's defensive coordinator will prompt a dramatic change in Cole's numbers, but it's difficult not to be pessimistic. His numbers have been so bad they're downright perplexing - after posting nine or more sacks in each of the last five years and surpassing 60 tackles in four of the last six years, Cole somehow has just nine tackles (six solo) and 1.5 sacks on the year, including just one solo tackle the last two weeks. It might be reasonable to say that it at least can't get any worse for Cole, but the impulse to make that same statement existed last week, too - and Cole to fail to post a single stat against Detroit.
Julius Peppers, DE, CHI
It's a bit early to know for sure, but it seems as if Peppers may be in the midst of decline, at least as a pass rusher. He had just 19 sacks the last two years, and through five games this year he has only 10 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Although he's presumably still the top concern for offensive lines and thus the main recipient of double teams, it's not as if Peppers is the only productive player on the Chicago defensive line - Henry Melton has a team-leading 4.5 sacks, while Corey Wootton, Israel Idonije and Shea McClellin
Charles Johnson, DE, CAR
His monstrous seven-tackle, 3.5-sack game against Atlanta was a strong reminder that Johnson is definitely a legitimate talent, but his numbers outside of that game have nonetheless been awful, presumably in large part due to the lack of talent around him. He has just nine tackles and no sacks in his other four games this year, It seems like offensive lines are all too willing to let the likes of Dwan Edwards and Ron Edwards, Greg Hardy and Frank Alexander rush against one-on-one blocking, leaving Johnson as the primary, if not sole, concern when developing blocking game plans. Johnson is still good enough to make it to double-digit sacks this year, but he might not produce on a predictable basis.
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