Welcome to Defensive End and Defensive Tackle week. There are some big changes this year. First of all J.J. Watt is back! Second of all Khalil Mack now has a DE designation on most platforms. On the other end of the spectrum, Aaron Donald is now a DE instead of a DT after the Rams switch to a 3-4 defense. Phillips has coached some decent DE’s like J.J. Watt and Bruce Smith, and while there aren’t many others Donald may one day be in this category. The Los Angeles Chargers have done the opposite, and switched to a 4-3 defense which should help Joey Bosa and adds Melvin Ingram to the DE category. There have been all of these and more changes which have all influenced the Defensive End and Defensive Tackle rankings below.
- J.J. Watt (Houston Texans) – It’s nice to see J.J. Watt back on the field and in uniform. It would be nice to see his Fantasy Points from 2012-2015 back in your lineup too. Watt should easily retain his accustomed spot atop the IDP DL Rankings. Jadeveon Clowney’s growth should also help Watt this season as offensive lines have a lot of decisions to make when facing the Houston Texans.
- Khalil Mack (Oakland Raiders) – Mack is one of the best players in the league. He has finished with 73-77 tackles in each of his three seasons, adding 15 and 11 sacks over the last two. I look for his sack total to be back up to at least the 15 mark this season with the return of Mario Edwards Jr. from injury. It’s also nice to see Mack with a DE designation this season.
- Joey Bosa (Los Angeles Chargers) – Bosa had 10.5 sacks last season in 12 games after holding out early in the season. He also did not play a big percentage of the team’s snaps. This was from the DE position in a 3-4 defense which traditionally does not do as well as a 4-3 DE (exception is J.J. Watt). This year Bosa and Melvin Ingram will both be helped by the move to the 4-3 defense.
- Danielle Hunter (Minnesota Vikings) – Hunter should benefit from added snaps this season as DE Brian Robison will no longer start. In Hunter’s second season last year he accrued 56 tackles and 12.5 sacks while only playing in a little over 58% of the defensive snaps. With even a 22% increase in snaps Hunter is capable of attaining some pretty lofty numbers.
- Melvin Ingram (Los Angeles Chargers) – Ingram has had 60 to 65 tackles and 8 to 10.5 sacks in each of the last two seasons. This was from the OLB position, but in the Chargers new 4-3 scheme Ingram is now a DE, and these numbers put him at # 5 in the rankings.
- Olivier Vernon (NY Giants) – Vernon finished the last two seasons with 61 and 63 tackles along with 7.5 and 8.5 sacks. He has been very consistent over the last four seasons, and I project him again to be slightly better than #7, Carlos Dunlap.
- Carlos Dunlap (Cincinnati Bengals) – Dunlap has never finished below 49 tackles and 7.5 sacks in a 16 game season. He has been one of the most consistent defensive ends over the last seven seasons and is still just 28 years of age. I expect more of the same from him this season.
- Jason Pierre-Paul (NY Giants) – In Pierre-Paul’s best season he finished with 16.5 sacks and 87 tackles. This was six years ago in 2011. After injuries and the well-known fireworks incident that led to the loss of digits on his hand he probably will not reach that level again, but then last year over a two game period during weeks 11 and 12 Pierre-Paul put up 5.5 sacks and 12 tackles. He is capable of a big season, but has only played a full season once over the last four seasons which is why I have him ranked here.
- Aaron Donald (Los Angeles Rams) – Donald is currently holding out, and when he gets back he will find himself in a new position as the Rams switch to Wade Phillips’ 3-4 Defense. It will be interesting to see if he can be the same force he has been in the 4-3 defense over his first three seasons. His quickness and strength have served him will on the interior of line, but now he will be going up against the tackle a lot of the time. I think he has the talent to make the transition into an effective defensive end.
- DeForest Buckner (San Francisco 49’ers) – The 49’ers are switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense and Buckner is expected to get time at both the DT and DE positions. As a 3-4 LE, Buckner put up 73 tackles and 6 sacks in his rookie year last season. The switch to the 4-3 should benefit Buckner who was great against the run last season and give his sacks total a boost.
Honorable Mention: Everson Griffen (Vikings), Jerry Hughes (Bills), Muhammad Wilkerson (Jets), Michael Bennett (Seahawks), Noah Spence (Bucs), Leonard Williams (Jets), Cameron Jordan (Saints), Brandon Graham (Eagles) and Myles Garrett (Browns).
Sleepers: Shaq Lawson (Bills) and Trey Flowers (Patriots)
- Ndamukong Suh (Miami Dolphins) – Suh was the second best DT in the league last season behind Aaron Donald, who now moves to the DE position. With 72 tackles he was a force against the run, and even with his second lowest career sack total (5 sacks) he still finished first in Fantasy points in 2016, among 2017’s Defensive Tackle group. Over a seven-year career he has missed only two games and can again be counted on in the middle of the Dolphins defense this season.
- Linval Joseph (Minnesota Vikings) – Joseph has the best chance to finish ahead of Suh. Last season he finished with 77 tackles, 4 sacks and 3 forced fumbles. Suh has the advantage when it comes to explosiveness and making plays in the backfield, but Joseph is not very far behind.
- Kawann Short (Carolina Panthers) – Short is coming off of a 55 tackle and 6 sack season, a little down from his prior year with 55 tackles and 11 sacks. It looks like we’ve found his floor at 55 tackles and 6 sacks. I’d look for around 60 tackles and 8 sacks this season.
- Damon Harrison (NY Giants) – Harrison over the last two seasons has had 72 and 87 tackles. This is great production from an IDP DT. However he does not match the three players above in the sack category, with only 3 sacks over the last two seasons.
- Fletcher Cox (Philadelphia Eagles) – Cox’s numbers dropped off last season. He finished with 43 tackles and 6.5 sacks last year after finishing with 71 tackles and 9.5 sacks the prior year. Last year was his first in Jim Schwartz’ defense, so I except his stats this season to fall somewhere between the prior two years. A reasonable expectation would be 56 tackles and 7 sacks.
Sleepers: Sheldon Rankins (Saints) and Corey Liuget (Chargers). Other: Marcell Dareus (Bills).
Only about 20 Fantasy Points separates the number one defensive tackle from the number 5 defensive tackle. If you play in a league that requires this roster spot, some teams will definitely lose points at this position. However, as with all teams, points can be gained at other positions. If Marcell Dareus is healthy this season he can definitely finish within this 20 point range for tackles, Corey Liuget in a 4-3 defense this season should also be a force, and Sheldon Rankins showed in a few games last season, 4 sacks in 9 games after returning from IR, he is also capable of a spot among the top DT’s.
I’ll be back next week with another article. Good luck this Fantasy Season!