Last week we hit the top of the defensive end ranks. This time around we’re looking at potential sleepers and matchup plays. Here we go with the second half of the DE ranks, starting with the first Cowboy on the list:
31) Corey Liuget (SD) – Luiget valiantly played all of last season with a torn labrum in his shoulder, but still managed to post 5.5 sacks and 42 tackles. He had surgery this offseason and is expecting to be back at 100% in 2014. Not only is a return to his 2012 numbers (50 tackles, 7.0 sacks) probable now that he’s at full strength, there’s a case to be made that this will be a career year for Liuget.
32) George Selvie (DAL) – After bouncing around the league his first three professional seasons, Selvie found a home in Dallas last year when injuries forced him into an expanded role. He responded with 45 tackles, 7.0 sacks and 6.5 run stuffs. Selvie will be asked to shoulder even more of the load this year with Ware now in Denver. That means not only his primary role as a run defender, but the Cowboys will look for continued production in getting to the QB.
33) LaMarr Woodley (OAK) – Since becoming a stalwart in the Steeler defense the first few years of his career, Woodley has seen injuries take a toll on his production the last couple seasons. After just 9.0 sacks in 2012 and 2013 combined, he gets a fresh start in Oakland where he will be paired with former Giant Justin Tuck. Not only will Woodley have to steer clear of the injury bug, but learning the nuances of being a 4-3 DE will take some getting used to.
34) Wallace Gilberry (CIN) - The biggest enemy to Gilberry’s production has been a lack of playing time over his career. With Michael Johnson on his way to Tampa Bay, no one serves to benefit more than Gilberry, who will get most of the playing time across from Carlos Dunlap. Gilberry had 6.5 sacks in 2012 and 7.5 last season. Consistent production will keep him on the field and another jump in sacks is well within reach.
35) Fletcher Cox (PHI) – One might look at Cox’s 2013 stats and wonder how he’s even this high on the rankings. 3.0 sacks and 41 tackles are hardly earth-shattering statistics. But a closer look at his on-field play shows that Cox was a disruptive force, leading the Eagles in QB hurries despite his two-gap responsibilities. Numerous outlets have him charted as Philly’s breakout candidate on defense and the third-year pro is set to make the jump this year.
36) Jason Hatcher (WAS) - Speaking of Hatcher, he was hands down the surprise of the position last year. After tallying just 16.0 sacks in his first seven seasons with Dallas, Hatcher had a monster season notching 11.0 sacks and his first career pro bowl selection. There’s a lot working against Hatcher this time around, most notably having his knee scoped less than a month ago. He’s also 32 and transitioning back into a 3-4 scheme where he was not nearly as impactful. Chasing Hatcher’s 2013 output could prove to be nothing but fool’s gold.
37) Akiem Hicks (NO) – This unknown commodity out of little known Regina College in Canada really turned some heads in the second half of last season, posting 3.5 sacks and 30 tackles in the season’s last seven games. His upside is somewhat limited as he sometimes lines up in the middle of the Saints 3-4 front, but Hicks has shown the ability to cause a commotion no matter where he puts his hand down. He’s another candidate for a prime breakout season as some tout him as being a potential pro bowl player in the near future.
38) Damontre Moore (NYG) – Moore is another player whose stats don’t tell the whole story. A third-round pick last year, he injured his shoulder in the preseason and never really recovered, playing only 136 snaps and posting zero sacks in his rookie season. Justin Tuck is now in Oakland providing a big opportunity for Moore if he can assert himself. Remember, this is a player who registered 12.5 sacks his final year at Texas A&M. Should Moore get out of the blocks fast, he could be in for a surprise campaign.
39) Antonio Smith (OAK) – After signing a two-year deal with Oakland, Smith will find himself on the interior of the line after years as one of the best 3-4 rush ends. He’ll be the 3-technique in Oakland’s 4-3 and will hope to have a similar jump in production to Hatcher after he made a similar transition. While 11.0 sacks might be a little far-fetched, an uptick from the 5.0 he posted last year seems very doable.
40) Osi Umenyiora (ATL) – After a disappointing final season with the Giants, Umenyiora came back in 2013 with decent numbers (7.5 sacks, 47 tackles), but nothing near the dominant pass rusher we’ve known in the past. It seems those days of consistent production are gone, but on any given Sunday Osi can show up big. He had three games last year with 2.0 sacks. He’s more of a matchups play from this point forward.
41) Arthur Jones (IND) - Another versatile defender along the defensive front, the newly-acquired Colt will see snaps at both end and tackle in Chuck Pagano’s 3-4 scheme. Despite only posting 8.5 career sacks, Jones will give you solid tackle numbers as he is a strong defender and will look to make an improvement on the 4 run stuffs he tallied last season. Nothing overwhelming here, but Jones has a higher floor than most you’ll find this far down.
42) Derrick Morgan (TEN) – It wouldn’t be a proper ranking session for me if I didn’t get to talk about a former Yellow Jacket. This week it’s Derrick Morgan, who will now line up as a rush LB in Ray Horton’s 3-4 defense. Coaches seem to like what they see so far from Morgan who, despite his rather so-so 16.5 sacks in 50 career games, has been a strong source of QB pressure for the Titans. His athleticism will be a big boost and the move could potentially pay big dividends for those who still believe in his talent.
43) Cedric Thornton (PHI) – Another staunch run defender, Thornton is one of the few DEs whose fantasy value comes almost exclusively from tackles. He notched 60 last season including 6.5 run stuffs for the Eagles. To his credit, Thornton has worked extensively this offseason on his pass rush skills in the hopes of improving on the 1.0 sack he recorded last year. Any improvement on that would bolster his fantasy outlook significantly.
44) Margus Hunt (CIN) – Another Bengal who will see an increased role due to the departure of Michael Johnson, Hunt barely saw the field in his rookie year as he compiled just half a sack and 3 tackles while appearing in 10 games. Coaches are raving about Hunt during OTAs though, impressed that he bulked up to 290 pounds while not sacrificing the trademark agility that he was so known for coming out of SMU. He’ll have an opportunity right out of the blocks and could reward patient owners with 6.0+ sacks.
45) Dion Jordan (MIA) – Jordan decided to cap off an extremely underwhelming rookie campaign by receiving a four game suspension for using a banned substance. To say he has squandered the past 12 months of his professional career might be putting it mildly. In his defense, Jordan was recovering from shoulder surgery last year and never really got up to speed mentally or physically. He looks to be in much better condition this season and someone will probably take a flier on Jordan to prove he was worthy of the third pick in the draft in week 6 when he’s eligible to return.
46) Corey Wootton (MIN) – Another rotation player looking to make good on past potential, Wootton joins division rival Minnesota after four seasons with the Bears. In 2012, Wootton had 7.0 sacks and 2 forced fumbles, but those numbers took a dip last season (just 3.0 sacks and 1 forced fumble) as he dealt with a hip injury through much of the season. He’s another player who will put up good numbers in limited playing time and could become a force if injuries to Griffen or Robison open the door.
47) Kendall Reyes (SD) - After not delivering on the breakout expectations of some last season, Reyes has another shot at it in 2014. 10.5 sacks in his first two seasons in nothing to sneeze at, but this could be a make-or-break year for him in San Diego. Word is around Chargers camp that they could be in the market for a replacement should Reyes not improve drastically over last season. One thing’s for sure: motivation shouldn’t be an issue.
48) Desmond Bryant (CLE) – Even though he missed four games due to a heart condition, Bryant still led the Browns in QB pressures last year. He recorded all 3.5 sacks in the first three games of the season, giving the league a glimpse of why Cleveland signed him to such a lucrative contract. He’s a risk/reward play simply because of the medical issues he has to deal with, but you can do much worse at this point of the draft.
49) Stephon Tuitt (PIT) – In an effort to revamp their defense and infuse some youth into the procedings, Pittsburgh nabbed Tuitt in the second round of the draft. After recording 19.5 sacks over his final two seasons at Notre Dame, the athletic big man looks to bring that pass rush ability to a team in need of sack artists. As with most this far down, playing time will be an issue, but an issue that Tuitt can do a lot to quell with his play early in his rookie year.
50) Derek Wolfe (DEN) – After suffering a spinal injury that caused him to miss five games in 2013, Wolfe is back and appears to be ready to go. Wolfe has recorded 10.0 sacks and 56 tackles in 26 career games for the Broncos and figures prominently in their plans going forward. He’ll have to revert to his 2012 form to fend off Malik Jackson for playing time, and if he can do that then Wolfe could be a sneaky source of solid numbers.
51) Datone Jones (GB) – A less than impressive rookie season has Jones hungry to prove he’s worthy of the first round pick the Packers spent to net him. The expectation is that he will make a big jump from the 263 snaps he played last year now that he comes into a season fully healthy. An ankle injury suffered in camp really slowed Jones down and helped hold him to just 3.5 sacks. The Packers have a history of slow starting D-linemen developing later on, and Jones hopes to be the next in line.
52) Mathias Kiwanuka (NYG) – A quick glance at Kiwanuka’s 2013 numbers (41 tackles, 6 sacks) and you might think he had a pretty good season for the G-Men. Pro Football Focus would have you believe differently as he received a -31.2 rating from PFF, second worst among all 4-3 DEs (only Daniel Te’o-Nesheim of TB was worse). It could be time to wave goodbye to Kiwanuka as a rosterable DE or maybe you might be able to squeeze one more year of serviceable numbers.
53) Jonathan Massaquoi (ATL) – The arrow is trending up for Massaquoi after he registered 4.0 sacks and 46 tackles in his second season with Atlanta. The Falcons have put a lot of faith into Massaquoi and his ability to get after the QB. They’ve now moved him to an outside rush backer in Mike Nolan’s 3-4 in the hopes that he takes the mantle as Atlanta’s premier pass rusher.
54) Jeremy Mincey (DAL) – The third Cowboy on this half of the list, Mincey was brought in to help make up for the loss of DeMarcus Ware and add some much needed depth along the Dallas front line. He’ll start the season in a reserve role and a major cog in the defensive line rotation. Mincey has shown flashes in the past, including an 8.0 sack campaign for the Jags in 2011. If Selvie or Lawrence struggle or succumb to injury, Mincey will be itching to step in to a larger share of the snap count.
55) Kony Ealy (CAR) – Sometimes, landing on a good defense can hinder a player’s fantasy potential. That’s the story with Ealy as he was scooped up by the Panthers with a late second round pick in this past May’s draft. For all the talent Ealy showed at Missouri (9.5 sacks, 14.5 TFL, 3 forced fumbles in his final season), playing time could be sparse as both Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson man the edges for Carolina. Bigger years should come further down the road, but Ealy will show flashes this year of why he was such a draft day steal.
56) Jerry Hughes (BUF) – It’s probably surprising to see a DE with 10.0 sacks last year this low on the list, but not everyone can benefit from a scheme change. Hughes was better served as a 3-4 rush backer than he will be as a 4-3 DE this season. A lot of Hughes’ volatility comes from just how often he will be on the field. When he is, offenses will be more focused on Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, and Marcell Dareus, so Hughes has one of the better situations going.
57) Willie Young (CHI) – Young won’t do anything spectacular as a member of the revamped Bears defense, but he is a good young run stuffer on a team desperate to fix their porous run defense. Young had 47 tackles. 3.0 sacks and 15 hurries for Detroit last season. He’ll be more of a rotational player as Jared Allen and LaMarr Houston take most of the reps. However, Chicago showed their faith in Young’s talent by releasing long time Bear Israel Idonije during the offseason.
58) Demarcus Lawrence (DAL) – UPDATED JUL 30, 2014: A fractured foot will sideline Lawrence for 8-12 weeks, meaning he’ll miss a month of the season minimum. Once he is back, he’ll be far enough behind the learning curve that it could be midseason before we see what he can really do.
The Cowboys’ second round pick this offseason, Demarcus Lawrence has some big shoes to fill. With the original DeMarcus being released, Jason Hatcher heading to their archrival, and Anthony Spencer coming off microfracture surgery, Lawrence is being counted on to supply much of the heat on opposing QBs, something he showed a knack for while at Boise State (20.0 sacks in two seasons). Obviously, expecting Lawrence to replace Ware’s level of production is asinine, but the Cowboys invested a lot to trade up and get him so he’ll get plenty of chances to shine.
59) Jason Babin (FA) – He might be 34 years old, but Babin showed he still has the ability to make plays as evidenced by his 40 tackles, 7.5 sacks and 5.5 run stuffs last year in Jacksonville. The Jaguars decided to retool their defensive line this offseason, meaning Babin was no longer in their plans. He was released and while many teams have batted his name around, Babin still remains unsigned as of today. Should he find a roster, he’s proven that there’s still something left in the tank.
60) Robert Ayers (NYG) – Ayers has a career high 5.5 sacks last year in Denver and spun that plus his Super Bowl appearance into a new contract with the Giants. As you can tell, the Giants have more than a few options on their defensive line, but each of them have upside should they get the inside track on snaps. Ayers’ versatility is one of his biggest positives and he’ll be in the mix for the spot across JPP and all the benefits that brings with it.
Major League Fantasy Football Radio: This Sunday the 20th of July from 11:30am-12:30pm EST we will have two guests; Jeff Nelson and Chase Jacobs. We will be discussing the Linebacker position as well as Quaterbacks. You can listen live by using the link above or call in at (646) 915-8596 Remember to look for the podcast if you cant make it live on I-Tunes or Google Play stores. Search for Sports Palooza
Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio: This Monday the 21st of July from 12:30pm-1:30pm EST we will have two guests; Phil Weiss and Joe Iannone. Phil is a Chief Financial Analyst, Made many TV & Radio appearances, has been playing fantasy baseball for 20+ years, and has also been coaching travel baseball teams ages 15-19 for 11 years. Our topics will be sabermetrics and common sense along with some player analysis with Joe. Use the link above or call in at (646) 915-8596. Remember to look for the podcast if you cant make it live on I-Tunes or Google Play stores. Search for Sports Palooza.