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I’ve always loved defensive football so when a true genius came up with the idea to score defensive players based on stats, just like you would offensive skill players, I said, “Wow.” Since that day I have fallen in love with individual defensive players for fantasy, or IDP. While the format has not caught fire, despite being around for many years, many NFL fans find IDP content invaluable to yearly fantasy. QBList has given me the opportunity to write weekly IDP articles and rankings to help hungry fantasy owners with the advice you need.
Today we take a look at the top 25 Defensive Linemen for the 2018 fantasy season. All stats are based on film grades from Pro Football Focus. All players are ranked base don position eligability from Fantasy Pros.
1. Joey Bosa (Los Angeles Chargers) – Bosa finished 8th in the league with 75 pressures and converted those into 13 sacks, good for a 7th place tie. He added to his sack totals and improved his pass rush efficiency in his second year and I don’t see him slowing down. He’s a technician who sheds blocks almost as well as any player I’ve ever watched. An ascending player, he’s just 23 and has some room to add to his sack totals and finish above his DE5 finish last season.
2. Chandler Jones (Arizona Cardinals) – Position designation is a big reason why Jones owners should be thrilled that he is back at DE designation this season. Jones has registered double-digit sacks in 4 of his 6 seasons, a consistency that is rare. Jones has never had high-pressure numbers but in his career, he’s converted 30% of all pressure to sacks, ridiculous numbers when league sack rate is less than 10%. Jones won’t finish with high tackle numbers, he won’t play in coverage but he will finish among the top sack leaders with the potential to lead the league.
3. Khalil Mack (Oakland Raiders) – While I am worried about Mack’s holdout I fully expect him in camp late in the pre-season and back to his wrecking ways. One of the most important reasons he’s #2 for me is his position designation of DE. If your league system has Mack listed as a DE his value skyrockets. Mack’s pressure rate was down last year, as were his snaps but his grades remain consistent and he has always been able to convert his pressure to sacks. Add to that his solid 50+ tackle numbers and I feel he should be the second player off the board.
4. Demarcus Lawrence (Dallas Cowboys) – In 2017, D-Law became the ‘War Daddy’ Jerry Jones was hoping he would be. With a full off-season and a healthy camp, Lawrence realized his potential and flirted with the league lead in sacks for much of the year. Dallas has an under-rated defense and D-Law will be one of the keys. All reports out of camp are that he’s looking like a beast. Lawernce will finish with 10+ sacks, 50+ tackles with potential for much more.
5. Aaron Donald (Los Angeles Rams) – In any other off-season, Donald would be ranked higher for me. But given his position and holdout status, I think the safe play is to put him in his own tier with another question mark. Donald dominated last season and was the best defender in the league from Week 1. His pressure rate led the league and he registered the second double-digit sack season of his career. When on the field, I expect the dominance to continue to but I hope to get him at a discount given the questions.
6. J.J. Watt (Houston Texans) – In the three year stretch between 2012 and 2016 Watt turned in historic years, ranking among the all-time greats for a single season. The remarkable thing is he did this not just for one season but for four. Unfortunately, the injury fairy paid him a visit and he’s only seen the field for 8 games in two seasons, several of which he played injured coming in. If Watt can be 75% of the player he once was, he is a top 5 pick. Monitor the off-season and move him up accordingly should he perform well and the news out of camp is full health. He is a league winner at full health but comes with high risk.
7. Melvin Ingram (Los Angeles Chargers) – Ingram is the second half of the dynamic pass rush duo in LA. Ingram is a safe and solid option, who posted the second double-digit sack total of his career in 2017. Bosa’s presence will ensure that he doesn’t get consistent double teams and he’s solid in the run game posting multiple seasons of 50+ tackles.
8. Cameron Jordan (New Orleans Saints) – Jordan had the third double-digit sack season of his career and played as well as he ever has. He is the key to the New Orleans defense and NO brought in some help on to take some pressure off of him. He’s a lock to finish with 50+ tackles, a key stat that separates the top tiers from the potentials. Add to this his sack potential and he’s my first target should the top tier dry up and I want to mitigate my risk.
9. Myles Garrett (Cleveland Browns) – Garrett registered 7 sacks in just 11 games, and his pass rush efficiency was below average. But some players just give you a feeling and for me that’s Miles. All indication is he is healthy, with a full off-season and weightlifting program. I expect his second year to be a break-out, players with this sort of talent and drive won’t be held down long. He’s a huge target for me, I am even willing to bypass some of the players ahead of him to secure him on my team.
10. Everson Griffen (Minnesota Vikings) – Griffen recorded the third double-digit sack season of his career in 2017. He has shown he can bring consistent pressure from the edge and has a bevy of talent surrounding him on the Vikings. He’s a solid option in this tier and should have no trouble living up to his draft cost.
11. Trey Flowers (New England Patriots) – I might be too low on Flowers. In just his second season of full-time work Flowers was among the league leaders in pressures while registering 50+ tackles. Sacks are a binary stat, bring pressure and they will come. It wouldn’t surprise me if Flowers lead the league in sacks this season, all while maintaining a solid weekly floor for your team.
12. Calais Campbell (Jacksonville Jaguars) – No player benefitted more from the talent surrounding him than Campbell. He registered the highest numbers of pressures and sacks of his long career and was the anchor of the Jacksonville defense. While I expect his numbers to regress, I am just not willing to drop him any lower than this spot based on the team alone.
13. Frank Clark (Seattle Seahawks) – This young Seahawk is a beast on the field. A first-round talent, he fell in the draft because of questions about his history and maturity. Back to back double-digit sack totals show you how much the risk was worth it to Seattle. Clark played in about 80% of the snaps last season and the team cleared the way for more when they traded Michael Bennett. Clark has the chance to explode this year and I’m willing to take a shot right after the top 12.
14. Ezekiel Ansah (Detroit Lions) – Surprisingly Ziggy turned 29 this off-season, the same age as many in this tier and on the wrong side of his career. However, Ansah has registered three 10+ sack seasons in his five-year career and that potential alone puts him at the top of this tier. His production is based almost purely on his pass rush potential, his tackle numbers have always been low. But even with limited snaps last season, Ziggy was highly productive and is worth a pick at this slot.
15. Jason Pierre-Paul (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) – I’ve always felt Pierre-Paul was drafted on name value alone, often over drafted. His last 10+ sack season came in 2014 yet he’s been solid in the previous two. He’s a high-ceiling option but I wouldn’t expect big numbers. He should be drafted as a DE2, an ideal pick if you have a top ten player at the position already.
16. Danielle Hunter (Minnesota Vikings) – If one player has a chance to jump straight up these tiers it’s Hunter. Still just 23, Hunter came on to the scene in 2016 with 13 sacks. Look closely though and you would see this came on just 600 snaps and 55 pressures. Those numbers were always unsustainable. Perhaps he was always suited for a part-time role but the Vikings made him the starter and his snaps increased by almost 300. His down season may have been more about getting used to playing 60 minutes. After a full season of the true rigors of being a starting defensive end, Hunter has a chance to pin his ears back and attack the quarterback. He’s a bounce-back candidate this year.
17. Yannick Ngakoue (Jacksonville Jaguars) – You could say that Ngakoue had the season many expected Hunter to have. He played in a full-time role and nearly double his sacks to 14. He finished with 84 pressures, a big number that might come back down to earth. With surrounding talent and options on the defense, this may be a year he steps back. If you are risk averse he could have a similar season but I will proceed with caution.
18. Carlos Dunlap (Cincinnati Bengals) – I could just copy and paste the JPP section because almost everything applies to Dunlap. He’s always produced low tackle numbers, which is why he should never be drafted in the top tiers. He’s also only had one 10_ sack season in his career but he still holds value as a safe DE2 that will be consistent.
19. Jadeveon Clowney (Houston Texans) – The former number one overall draft pick has enjoyed a solid, yet unspectacular career. Clowney struggled with injury early, and for a couple of seasons, the Texans struggled to deploy him in the defense properly. He began as an outside linebacker but for a player that can’t bend the edge, he was didn’t produce. However, recently Clowney has been moved inside on the D-line which allows him to rush the passer with strength and quickness moving forward. It’s an ideal scheme fit for him and we’ve seen him produce high DL2 numbers for the past couple of seasons. Check your league position designation. If he is listed as LB his value takes a big hit but as DL he can be a monster.
20. Brandon Graham (Philadelphia Eagles) – Graham is a great example of a player who has always shown the ability to pressure the QB but his sack numbers didn’t come until 2017. In 2016 he recorded 17 hits but just 6 sacks. That changed as he converted this pressure into 12 sacks. When you watch this man play you can see him jump off the screen, and I expect his production to continue.
21. DeForest Buckner (San Francisco 49ers) – I expect Buckner to be the anchor of a young defense and not necessarily a great one. Buckner’s tackle production is enough to place him here and he has high sack potential. He hit the QB19 times last year but only registered 4 sacks. Buckner should easily finish here given his tackle floor and the amount of pressure this young player can bring.
22. Akiem Hicks (Chicago Bears) – Hicks will be a solid, consistent player for your teams and the anchor of the Bears surprising defense. Hicks should approach 7-9 sacks and a rejuvenated team could energize him.
23. Jabaal Sheard (Indianapolis Colts) – Sheard is another player that can be relied on as a consistent every week scorer, if not on the low-end. I expect 8+ sacks and 45+ tackles which is solid this late in a draft.
24. Mario Addison (Carolina Panthers) – Addison is coming off back to back double-digit sack seasons. His pressure numbers have improved each season in the last three, and even at 30, I expect his production to continue for at least one more.
25. Cameron Heyward (Pittsburgh Steelers) – Heyward has been a steady, reliable presence in the Steelers line for years. The team has focused on tacking this off-season and you can expect his tackles totals to get a bump. Heyward is able to pressure the QB and finished with a career high in sacks. While I expect these to come back his mean, high single digits sacks are well within reach. He’s an ideal DL2.
Check back later this week for Linebacker and Defensive Back rankings, as well as expanded overall rankings for all IDP positions.