There is a growing trend in fantasy football for leagues to use individual defensive players (IDP) instead of traditional team defense and special teams. IDP league scoring typically includes tackles, assists, sacks and turnovers, plus defensive touchdowns.
Players that produce high tackle numbers tend to be consistent IDP performers. Players that rely more on the big play – sacks and turnovers – are usually more inconsistent but can be as sweet as a 120 yard, 2 TD day by a wide receiver when they produce one of those games causing absolute fits for the opposing quarterback.
Experienced IDP team owners know there are a lot of variables to consider when drafting defensive players. Knowing the position requirements and IDP scoring for your league is crucial, because these vary more widely across leagues and have a big impact on the value of defensive players.
Research includes knowing which NFL teams primarily use a 3-4 or 4-3 defensive scheme, to help understand who is likely to have more activity, a defensive end or a linebacker. If a team is weak on offense, that means their defense may be on the field longer, resulting in more opportunities for points as opposed to stronger offensive teams.
That overview of IDP leagues brings us to the point of this article, identifying the next best IDP options, in general (know your league), from this year’s rookie class. Here are my post-NFL Draft Top 10 Rookie Defensive Players.
Khalil Mack could not have landed in a better spot than Oakland. He will bring youth and athleticism into the organization. With offensive lines having to worry about outside pressure from LaMarr Woodley and Justin Tuck, Mack will have many opportunities to blow up holes with his excellent burst of speed and crush whomever has the ball. With a 4.65 sec 40-yard dash and 40 inch vertical jump, Mack will fly to the ball, earning tackles and forcing turnovers.
Jadeveon Clowney, the consensus first overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft, is not the top rated rookie defensive player in fantasy football. Instead of his natural down position defensive end, the Houston Texans are making Clowney an outside linebacker, which downgrades his value. There are many more linebackers to compete with for fantasy points, and they accumulate those mostly through tackles. Had Clowney stuck at DE in a 4-3, he would be one of only a small exclusive group of defensive linemen projected for 12+ sacks a season.
Clowney proved at South Carolina he is a disruptive force and he should remain one in the NFL as his ability to rush the quarterback is elite. He has the ability to work all over the line of scrimmage causing defenses to game plan for him. Oh wait, this is the team with 2012 defensive player of the year, J.J. Watt. Opposing teams obviously must continue to game plan for Watt. This has the makings of an offensive coordinator’s nightmare. Expect many sacks and forced fumbles from this double-headed monster. Clowney will get his share. Pay the price for him in sack heavy scoring leagues. Be careful to not overpay in tackle heavy scoring leagues.
Ryan Shazier offers a tremendous combination of speed, tackling and coverage skills to become an instant playmaker. In Pittsburgh, Shazier is expected to start right away with the offseason departure of LaMarr Woodley, and he should gain quality experience working with veteran LB Lawrence Timmons. Shazier is freakishly fast to fill holes and get to the ball with his unique athletic ability. The only concern is he sometimes takes the wrong angle and misses the tackle on the ball carrier. As a quick study, that problem should be fixable in the short-term.
Pro Bowl potential star C.J. Mosley plays smart, instinctive, and is very quick. Mosley can blitz effectively but can also play like a safety in pass coverage. He will start along side Daryl Smith on opening day. Playing for SEC powerhouse Alabama will help him quickly get acclimated to the NFL. With his football knowledge and desire to work, it should not take long for Mosley to emerge as a tackling machine.
Demarcus Lawrence hit the jackpot when he was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys. He will stay at defensive end in a 4-3 defense. He is used to throwing offensive lineman out of the way to get after the ball carrier, but that won’t be so easy in the NFL. However, he can rely on his bull rush and quickness as a pass rusher, not to mention his long arms (33 ¾” arm length) to help disrupt a passing offense. Lawrence has great lateral agility that he can use to slide across the line of scrimmage filling any gap. With the departure of their stud DE Demarcus Ware and loss of LB Sean Lee to injury, Dallas is looking for their next defensive play maker and Lawrence might be that guy.
Calvin Pryor has all the qualities of a strong safety in the NFL. At 5’11” and 207 pounds, Pryor has the ability to play close to the line of scrimmage versus the run while also guarding tight ends one-on-one. The former product of Louisville has also shown enough speed on tape to roam in coverage as well. Look for him to patrol the middle of the field with authority. This year we’re going to see Pryor lineup opposite Rob Gronkowski, Julius Thomas, Kyle Rudolph, Charles Clay and Martellus Bennett, which will give this rookie plenty of opportunities to make plays and make a statement in his rookie campaign.
The first safety taken in the draft was Ha-Ha Clinton Dix, and there is plenty of support to back up this pick. Listed at 6’1″, the ability to read and react, and the hands of a wide receiver, this product of the SEC has the ability to shine right out of the gate. In addition to having all the tools to be successful, it also helps that you’re on a high scoring team, which will force opponents to air out the ball in order to keep up with this high octane offense. With the talent and opportunity, the Green Bay Packers first round pick should make an immediate impact.
Pairing Justin Gilbert with veteran Joe Haden gives the Cleveland Browns the best cornerback duo in the AFC North. Gilbert’s raw speed allows him to cover a ton of ground, plus helps him recover from his mistakes. At the NFL Combine, Gilbert was considered to have better hands than some wide receivers. With his combination of speed and hands, plus opposing quarterbacks avoiding passing towards Haden, expect some pick six opportunities, and conversions, from Gilbert.
Getting drafted to the second ranked defense and being compared to Robert Quinn, Kony Ealy’s future appears very bright. Ealy will spend his rookie season learning the finer points of pass-rushing from two of the best in the game right now, Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy. A team can’t have enough quality pass rushers, so if Ealy gets up to speed quickly, the coaching staff will find a way to get him involved. He could be a surprise fantasy performer as soon as this year while opposing teams focus attention on Johnson, Hardy and Luke Kuechly.
Deone Bucannon will most likely draw some flags in the NFL simply because of how heavy a hitter he is. At 6’1″, 210 lbs., Bucannon will match up very well against the ground and pound backs in the NFC West, Marshawn Lynch, Frank Gore and Zac Stacy. Bucannon doesn’t have issues when it comes to getting to the ball. He shows good ability and speed (sub-4.5 40) to get sideline to sideline. The opportunity is there for Bucannon to be a top rookie tackler with last year’s rookie sensation Tyrann Mathieu likely to be placed on the physically unable to perform list to start the season, and a sketchy middle linebacker spot in the desert given Daryl Washington’s year long suspension.