“Round Robinson”: 2015 Defensive End Rankings (1-15) (Part 3 of 3)
Here it is. The cream of the crop. You already [should] know who’s #1. If you don’t win the race to J.J., there are still a fine number of options you can plug in on the outside. Check out the ranks to see what defensive ends you should be targeting come draft day:
1. J.J. Watt, HOU – You don’t need the numbers to know that J.J. Watt is far and away the #1 DE and the #1 defensive player in IDP leagues. In fact, the comparison that you need to make when determining Watt’s draft day price isn’t even found on the same side of the ball. Like Watt, Rob Gronkowski laps the competition at his position to the point he is worth of first round consideration. Most IDP formats would balk at the idea of taking a defender that high, but Watt has earned the accolade. If all the sacks, passes defensed and turnovers weren’t enough, Watt also gets to do his best Gronk impression by lining up at TE and contributing a few bonus TDs in the red zone. If you want a statistical advantage every week at DE, serious thought must be given to drafting Watt with your first selection.
2. Robert Quinn, STL – Quinn’s 2014 really was a tale of two seasons. His first six weeks were a complete disappointment as his stat line consisted of just 16 tackles and 1.0 sack. But if you had the patience to hang on to him, Quinn rewarded you with a dominant second half of the fantasy season. In weeks 8-14, Quinn posted four games of at least 20 points (per MLFF scoring) and tallied 9.5 sacks and five forced fumbles. I tend to believe this Quinn is closer to the real thing than what we saw at the beginning of last year. The overall dominance of the Rams up front will do nothing but enhance Quinn’s potential and allow him to at least threaten Watt’s stranglehold on the position.
3. Everson Griffen, MIN – If there’s anyone who should be championing the work of Mike Zimmer after his first season at the helm in Minnesota, it’s Griffen. He had his coming out party in 2014 with 58 tackles and 12.0 sacks. At 27 years old, is there really any reason to believe he can’t do it again? I certainly can’t find one, and with Ndamukong Suh now residing in Miami, I don’t think it’s a stretch to call Griffen the best defensive lineman in the division.
4. Mario Williams, BUF – If there’s one team who could challenge St. Louis for the whole “best defensive front four in all of football” crown, it has to be the Buffalo Bills. Rex Ryan inherits a dominant group that is spearheaded on the outside by Mario Williams. The marriage between the Bills and Williams has been a perfect fit as Williams has notched 38.0 sacks in three seasons. Perhaps age starts coming into play considering Super Mario is now 30, but I wouldn’t bet on any kind of sharp decline. Expect 12+ sacks again with a couple monster weeks to boot.
5. Chandler Jones, NE – A midseason hip injury really derailed a promising campaign for the third year pro. Jones had just posted a sack in consecutive games when he was lost for a month and a half. He finished the year with 43 tackles and 6.0 sacks, but owners wanted and expected more. After being cleared for full participation at Patriots’ training camp last week, I’m buying in again on Jones emerging as a household name and an elite force at the end spot. If Jones can stay healthy, this should be the first in a string of double-digit sack seasons as Jones asserts himself the new leader on the defensive line in the post-Wilfork era.
6. Calais Campbell, ARI – While he may not post the elite sack totals of others on the list, Campbell is the prototypical do-everything DE who’s finally getting his due from fans and the league alike. Last season was Campbell’s fifth straight with at least 58 tackles and his sixth straight with at least 6.0 sacks, and he managed both of those feats while missing a pair of games with a sprained MCL in his right knee. If your league continues to sleep on Campbell, have no worries in scooping him up as your DE1.
7. Cameron Wake, MIA – Was there anyone with a bigger smile on his face when Suh’s name hit the doted line for Miami than Cameron Wake? For someone as immensely talented as he is, he’ll no longer be the focal point of opposing offensive lines which is a scary proposition. Even at 33, I can’t imagine many OTs are looking forward to seeing Wake one-on-one coming of the edge. Although I think the days of 14.0 and 15.0 sack campaigns are over, I wouldn’t be shocked one bit to see Wake with 12.0 when the curtain closes on 2015.
8. Carlos Dunlap, CIN – Another do-it-all defensive end in the mold of Calais Campbell is the Bengals’ Carlos Dunlap. He’s yet to have a double-digit sack season, but that hasn’t stopped him from posting some impressive fantasy totals thanks to solid tackle and run stuff contributions. 2014 saw Dunlap set a career high with 66 tackles and 7.5 run stuffs. I believe the re-addition of Michael Johnson only stands to benefit the Bengals’ D and Dunlap in particular as Johnson will force opposing offenses to play the front four a bit more straight up. Dunlap should have another solid season during his sixth year in Cincinnati.
9. Olivier Vernon, MIA – My breakout pick for 2015 is right here. As much as I think Wake will benefit from the arrival of Suh, I believe it is the younger Vernon who stands to gain the most. Despite modest returns last year, we’ve already seen the potential Vernon brings to the table. Remember, this guy will be just 24 years old when the season kicks and won’t have any of the pressure to perform that Suh and Wake have. He will continue to improve and, this time next year, I wouldn’t be surprised if Vernon finds himself ranked in the top-5 among DEs.
10. Jerry Hughes, BUF – Kinda crazy to think that a player could definitively be the fourth best on his own defensive line, yet still rank this high on the positional rankings. With talent for days in upstate New York, Jerry Hughes finds himself in a very envious position and has taken advantage of it. Over the last two seasons, Hughes has 99 tackles and 20.0 sacks, finding a home with the Bills in the process. Teams can’t slide protections over to Hughes when the Williams brothers and Marcell Dareus are patrolling the line of scrimmage, so I expect to see another strong stat line from the former Horned Frog again.
11. Rob Ninkovich, NE – Chandler Jones’ running mate in New England, Ninkovich didn’t have quite the season I was expecting in 2014. Certainly the 8.0 sacks were nice, and not much of a surprise considering it was third straight season Ninkovich finished at 8.0. Unfortunately, the elite tackle numbers of 2013 fell off markedly. To be fair, Ninkovich still ended up with 62 tackles, but that’s a far cry from the 91 he accumulated the prior season. I think last year serves as a good baseline for projecting his 2015 numbers, making Ninkovich a suitable DE1 for those who choose to wait a little longer at the position.
12. Ezekiel Ansah, DET – I don’t know if there’s another player on this list I’m more intrigued by than Ziggy Ansah. His first two years in the league were very solid, totaling 56 tackles and 15.5 sacks. But now it’s undoubtedly his show up front as both Suh and Nick Fairley have moved on. Without Suh specifically, the question looms as to whether Ansah can continue to progress when protection schemes start focusing in on stopping him. I definitely see the physical talent and raw skills necessary to make that jump, and he could see his star emerge on the national level now that a couple very large shadows are no longer looming in Detroit.
13. Muhammed Wilkerson, NYJ – Despite Wilkerson’s final 2014 stat line not being as jaw-dropping as many would’ve hoped, the hype train was running at full speed with the addition of the Leonard Williams to an already stout front line. Alas, Wilkerson’s running mate, Sheldon Richardson, has a rap sheet that’s growing by the week and threatens to severely damage the potency of Gang Green’s imposing front. Wilkerson doesn’t need any help wreaking havoc on opposing offenses, but losing Richardson for some time (as is expected) caps the upside Wilkerson carries into 2015.
14. Cameron Jordan, NO – Cameron Jordan couldn’t follow up his impressive 2013 numbers as the apparent resurrection of the Saints’ defense turned out to be a mirage. Rob Ryan will have his hands full getting the Saints back up to par, especially without Jordan’s running buddy, Junior Galette. If I had to put my money on one side or the other, I’d bet that what you saw from Jordan in 2014 is what you’ll see going forward. His numbers are strong, but the lack of top-5 upside keeps Jordan in the high teens.
15. Fletcher Cox, PHI – As much as it pains me to ever hype up an Eagle, Fletcher Cox deserves every bit of it. There’s no more Trent Cole as the defense has been turned over to the young cats, giving Cox an opportunity to shine like he’s never seen before. It may be hard to get excited about a player who’s only had 12.5 sacks in three seasons at the NFL level, but Cox should make as massive a leap as any defensive lineman this side of Yazoo City. A sleeper play who won’t cost you nearly as much as the others on the list.
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