“Round Robinson”: 2015 Defensive Tackle Rankings (1-10)
We continue the rankings bonanza here at Major League Fantasy Sports with the cream of the crop at defensive tackle. Not only will all of these behemoths be owned in leagues that use a DT roster spot, but many of the following names are draftable in leagues that go with a straight DL classification. There’s no debating who the top three names at the position are, but the order is up for debate. Despite switching uniforms in the offseason, there’s no question in my mind who remains the biggest fish in the DT pool:
1. Ndamukong Suh (MIA) – No matter what your format or IDP scoring model is, Ndamukong Suh gives you absolutely elite numbers. Need a tackle-heavy, run stuffer? In 2014, Suh recorded 53 total tackles and ranked 11th in run stuffs at D-tackle (according to Pro Football Focus). Prefer a little inside QB pressure? No problem. The former Cornhusker turned in his third season with at least 8.0 sacks last year while being ranked PFF’s #7 pass rushing DT. Now he takes his versatile talents to South Beach, and I really don’t expect much of a change in his off-the-charts production. Surrounded by the likes of Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon on the defensive line, Suh will still find plenty of opportunities to terrorize opposing interior lineup and QBs. He has the highest floor of anyone at the position, provided his hot-headed ways don’t result in any time away from the gridiron.
2. Aaron Donald (STL) – But Suh does not have the highest ceiling in my eyes. That honor goes to the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald. How the Rams stole Donald at #13 in last year’s NFL Draft, I’ll never know. St. Louis added yet another piece to its menacing defense, a defense that can make an argument to top the D/ST ranks. Donald ramped up his production in the second half, including a stretch of five consecutive games with a sack. He finished his rookie campaign with 9.0 sacks, 10.5 run stuffs and 48 total tackles. Should Donald carry over that success to the entirety of 2015, he’ll easily leap to the top of this list in 2016.
3. Gerald McCoy (TB) – With the lack of team success in Tampa the last couple seasons, it’s easy to forget that Gerald McCoy is still one of the most dominant defensive lineman in all of football. So dominant, in fact, that McCoy graded out as the top pass rushing D-tackle in the NFL last season. He’s racked up 18 sacks in 29 games over the past two years to go with 31 QB hurries (per Fantrax). Those whose IDP leagues trump pass rushing prowess over all else should seriously consider making McCoy the first defensive tackle selected as the 27-year-old is smack dab in the middle of his prime.
4. Sen’Derrick Marks (JAX) – Once you get past the triumvirate at the top of these ranks, the next tier is wide open for debate. It may surprise you to see a player returning from a torn ACL just six months ago ranked this generously, but the transformation Marks has made since swapping Nashville for Jacksonville has been tremendous. After totaling just 7.0 sacks in his first five seasons, Marks exploded for a career high 8.5 in 2015 as well as a career high 44 tackles. Much of the credit has to go to Gus Bradley in his mission to turn Jacksonville into Seattle East. No one has benefited more than Marks, and should he be ready for Week 1 as signs are indicating, he’ll be a steal that you’ll probably be able to nab after a few of the following names are already off the board.
5. Corey Liuget (SD) – Most IDP services I’ve seen have Liuget listed as a defensive end, which I think is the correct designation for him in the Chargers’ 3-4 alignment. Since Major League Fantasy Football’s host service, Fantrax, lists Liuget as a DT, I’ll include him here as well as the DE rankings that I’ll start unveiling next week. If you managed to snag Liuget as a DT in your league last year as I did, kudos. He finished 2015 #2 overall on MLFF’s defensive tackle leaderboard behind only Suh. Anytime you can get DE production out of a DT spot, you run with it. The Chargers certainly believe Liuget can take his game to the next level and are paying him like a top level defender (5 years – $50 million). While Liuget has to prove he’s worth the investment, those sneaking him in at DT already know the profit is pretty crisp even at his current levels.
6. Marcell Dareus (BUF) – There was only one DT-eligible player who posted double digit sacks last year: Marcell Dareus. Common sense tells you that alone should warrant Dareus a higher spot on this list, and for those of you in leagues that heavily reward sacks, he does. For as dominant as Dareus’ sack numbers have become, his big plays against the run are few and far between, at least as far as fantasy goes. His nine run stuffs over his four-year career aren’t as many as Suh, Donald or Marks posted in 2014 alone. Dareus is the poster boy for the deficiencies of IDP scoring as his on-the-field production isn’t reflected in his fantasy point totals. Remember that come draft day.
7. Kyle Williams (BUF) – I bought heavy stock in Kyle Williams this time last year. Coming off a season in which he tallied 68 tackles, 10.5 sacks and 7 run stuffs, I expected much of the same as a part of the best front four in the game (sorry, St. Louis). Sure enough, the Bills still brought plenty of heat last year (just ask Aaron Rodgers among others). But Williams saw his numbers cut nearly in half in all major categories in 2014, yet still finished as the #15 DT in MLFF. This should give you some indication of the what Williams is still capable of, and considering he comes into this year as healthy as he’s ever been, I wouldn’t shut the door on a return to elite status.
8. Johnathan Hankins (NYG) – If there was a breakout performance award at defensive tackle in 2014, in unquestionable goes to the Giants’ Johnathan Hankins. A relative unknown drafted in the second round the year prior, Hankins exploded last year to the tune of 51 tackles and 7.0 sacks. For a defense that bordered on dreadful most of the year, he was one of very few bright spots. Expections have now risen for Hankins as he attempts to join the elite tier of DTs. The up-in-the-air status of Jason Pierre-Paul doesn’t help his outlook, but if Hankins can make strides against the run, it should make up for added attention he faces when rushing the passer.
9. Geno Atkins (CIN) – It wasn’t long ago that Atkins was unchallenged at the top of the DT heap. We’re just three seasons removed from his ridiculous 12.5-sack campaign, but it’s clear that Atkins hasn’t yet fully recovered from his ACL injury of 2013. While he did show steady improvement throughout last year, it’s clear that we may never see the utter dominance from Atkins that we once knew. But even Atkins at 75% or 80% is still a force in the middle and can produce some serviceable numbers. He might not have the same upside as in years past, but Atkins still provides a few glimpses of his old self every now and then, enough to keep IDP enthusiasts intrigued.
10. Sheldon Richardson (NYJ) – I don’t think I need to go into the exploits of Richardson to remind you just how dominant he’s become. If the Bills are my choice for the best four-man front in the NFL, the Jets are their three-man doppelganger, and Richardson is a big reason why. Unfortunately, Richardson chose to dabble in some extracurriculars that the NFL isn’t too keen on, meaning he’ll spend the first four games on the sidelines. Still, I think Richardson is not only draftable, but a DT1, as his injection into your starting lineup in Week 5 will give your defense a nice boost if you have the roster spot to hold him.
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