Continuing our examination of the top defensive linemen, this post will focus on the other component of the DL: the defensive ends. For all intents and purposes, this is likely the position where you will net most of your sacks, a moderate amount of total tackles, somewhere between safety and defensive tackle numbers, and get a handful of stuffs and passes defensed. This position is easier to predict and is deeper than defensive tackle, but it’s not as deep as linebacker. Some names will be must grabs, some will be consolatory prizes for missing out on the truly elite. No matter the league size, or settings, unless your league doesn’t count sacks, you should make sure you grab one of the top names at the position, or your defensive line could be in trouble. These rankings are tailored for Major League Fantasy Football, but could also be used in any type of league.
Tier 1: A Cut above the rest
1.a.) J.J. Watt – There are no words to describe how ridiculous J.J. “Swatt” was last season, other than INSANE. He had 72 defensive stops, including 20.5 sacks, 23 stuffs, and 16 passes defensed. What type of stat line is that? A line that will claim top defensive fantasy honors every season. If you are afforded the opportunity to grab him in the 4th round, do so, as he won’t last much longer than that. He should be the 1st defensive player off any draft board. He won’t repeat his insane numbers from last season, but 20+ sacks, a healthy dose of PDs and SFs, as well as 75 TTs should still be in the cards.
1.b.) Jason Pierre-Paul – Don’t read too much into last year’s down season. JPP is still an elite source of sacks, and will challenge Watt for most sacks this season. As long as he avoids not being in game shape condition to start the season, JPP should post 75 TTs, 17.5 sacks, and 9 SFs in an attempt to put last year’s down season (by his standards) in his rear view mirror. Easily a top 3 DE, but at the same time, he’s no J.J. Watt.
Tier 2: Elite
2.) Charles Johnson – Either Johnson is turning into a forced fumble machine with Greg Hardy opposite him, or last season was a fluke. Fortunately for us fantasy owners, the former is the more likely scenario. He likely won’t repeat his 7 forced fumbles from last season, but 4 forced fumbles to go with 12 sacks should land him upon the elite DEs. Just be aware, there will be 1-2 weeks where he goes dry.
3.) Calais Campbell – He likely won’t get you more than 7-7.5 sacks, but a DE who consistently will net you 60-70 total tackles, and throw in 15 combined stuffs and passes defensed shouldn’t slip outside the top 7 DEs taken.
4.) Jared Allen – Allen is the exact opposite of Campbell. He’ll net you borderline elite sack totals, but leave you desiring more tackles. He may be getting up there in age, but he’s still a lock to net you 50 total tackles, 14 sacks, 3 forced and recovered fumbles a piece, and wreak havoc upon opposing offensive lines. Solid DE1, albeit limited upside at age 31. If he truly is an even-off odd-on season player, then 2013 could be big for him and fantasy owners alike.
5.) Elvis Dumervil – The Ravens defensive clearing house will equate to a plethora of tackle and sack opportunities for Dumervil. In Baltimore’s 3-4 scheme, I’d be willing to bet Dumervil eclipses the 15 sack plateau while also netting 60 tackles, 5 forced fumbles, and 1 fumble recovery. Draft with confidence.
6.) Cameron Wake – Given his prior even-odd history, this may be an aggressive ranking, but he is no pushover, and should be booked for 45 total tackles, 14 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. Won’t get name recognition, but should in fantasy circles.
7.) Mario Williams – The Mario of old might be bad, which is bad news for opposing teams, but good news for fantasy owners. In Buffalo, with the QB situation unsettled, the Bills defense will be on the field a ton, leading to more sack opportunities for Williams and Co. The Bills will turn the big man loose, meaning Williams should have no problem posting 45 total tackles, 12.5 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles to go with 2 recovered fumbles.
Tier 3: Tremendous upside/über consistent
8.) Cameron Jordan – The scariest thing about Jordan is he is only 24. A break out season could be in line, given the Saints want to move to more of a 3-4 scheme, leading to a stat line of 70 total tackles, 10 sacks, two forced and recovered fumbles apiece, and a few passes defensed and stuffs thrown in.
9.) Greg Hardy – The other half of the DE duo in Carolina is just as good as the other. Hardy, who gets less name recognition, could be viewed as a sleeper coming into the season, as many fantasy owners will concentrate on securing Johnson over Hardy. Don’t be the fool who forgets about Hardy on draft day, as he could steal some stats from Johnson and post 55 total tackles, 12.5 sacks, and toss in 3 forced fumbles. I’d be more than happy with him as a high end DE2, or low DE1.
10.) Michael Bennett – Looking at his past, it’s hard to trust him. He could be an enigmatic DE, but in the defensive front of Seattle, he could be in for his best statistical season. May not lead your team in sacks, but would be a nice boost to your sack total with the opportunity to stuff the run. 15 stuffs, 9.5 sacks, and 50 total tackles could be within reach this season.
11.) Michael Johnson – I might be high on him here, but if you’re doubting his explosiveness, you’re possibly lost. Put the word payday over any player’s head and it’s amazing what happens: they perform better than they ever have. As long as Johnson repeats or exceeds last season’s totals, he’ll earn a hefty check and many a happy fantasy owners. Seeing as this is a money year, I’ll bet he goes 50 total tackles, 12.5 sacks, and 1 forced and recovered fumble apiece.
12.) Chandler Jones – Jones is the type of raw, athletic defensive end who could be a top 5 DE force year in year out. I took a flier on the late rounds on him last season in one draft, and he was very helpful the first 8 weeks, until he injured his ankle. Seeing that the ankle is recovered, Jones should easily be higher than this ranking by season’s end, as it’s hard not to envision 50 total tackles, 6 passes defensed, 5 stuffs, 8 sacks, and 4 forced fumbles. He is a sleeper, but not for long. Grab him while you can.
13.) Julius Peppers – The retirement of Brian Urlacher could be just the thing Peppers needs to put in one last hurrah statistical season before heading to Cooperstown. The Bears will rely on him, Lance Briggs, and newly drafted Jon Bostic to anchor the Bears D-Line. While Peppers won’t lead the bunch in tackles, he should have no problem leading the line in sacks, and post a respectable 43 tackles, 12.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 4 fumble recoveries, and a handful of passes defensed and stuffs. Enjoy the production from your high end DE2.
14.) Rob Ninkovich – He is the most consistent defensive player on the Patriots, and is a lock to provide a healthy tackle total, sack total, and forced fumble clip while mentoring in the young players. He is no Mike Vrabel (nobody can be), but 56 total tackles, 7.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 2 recovered fumbles, and 7 stuffs would look great on any fantasy team. He has a tendency to gravitate towards my fantasy squads. I wonder why…
15.) Carlos Dunlap – He has vast upside, but his tendency to disappear any given week and the fact that Johnson is in a contract year could hurt his production. If he becomes more consistent, taps further into his potential, and is able to beat Johnson off his side of the edge, Dunlap could post 45 tackles, 9 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, and 8 stuffs. He may not reach those numbers this season, but it could only be a matter of time before he becomes a fantasy force. Draft him as your DE2 and see if he realizes some of his potential.
16.) Lamarr Houston – Keep an eye on his position going into the season. If the Raiders use him at tackle, then his pass rushing stats will suffer. If he stays at end, he could post 12 stuffs, 2 fumble recoveries, 3 forced fumble, 5.5 sacks, and 50 total tackles. In other words, while he won’t win you any one area, he’ll help out all across the board. Quality, not quantity, is sometimes the better route in fantasy.
Tier 4: Starter worthy with upside, and bounce back candidates
17. Derrick Morgan – Stash his name away. Despite mediocre statistics to date in his first 3 seasons, he began putting it together towards the end of last season. On a weak Tennessee defensive line, Morgan should be in line to post his best statistical season to date. Chalk him up for a 7.5 sack, 8 passes defensed, 6 stuffs season, with a total tackle clip of 55.
18.) Brandon Graham – Likely the biggest boom or bust name on the list, I’m kinda bullish on him because of the scheme he’s in and because the Eagles defense is quickly aging. Assuming he takes a more aggressive first step off the line, and he trims his weight down a tad, he could post 7 sacks, 45 tackles, 3 forced fumbles, 2 recovered fumbles, and 6 stuffs. Intriguing upside, worth a gamble after the top names are gone.
19.) Chris Clemons – If he is ready to go opening day, or early in the season after an ACL injury suffered in January, he will return to his typical 11 sack, 3 forced fumble with 1 recovered fumble, 45 total tackle self. Just monitor his recovery from the ACL injury.
20.) Jeremy Mincey – Sooner or later someone on the Jaguars defensive line has to step out of the herd and quit being a doormat for opposing running backs, and the best bet to separate himself is Mincey. He flashed potential back in 2011, and this could be the season he starts to rediscover his game in a new Jaguars defensive scheme. Draft him as your DE2, but make sure you have a top DE or two to help cover his rust in the early going. Conservatively, he should go 47 tackles, 6 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 7 stuffs and passes defensed apiece, respectively.
21. Osi Umenyiora – Apparently ESPN hates all things DEs in Atlanta, as they seem not to like Osi in Atlanta, and undervalued Abraham while he was a Falcon. Don’t fall into that trap, as Osi has a prime opportunity to prove why he was once one of the most feared DEs in football. Not a great bet to contribute more than a flash in the pan for passes defensed and stuffs, Osi could provide valuable stats in sacks and forced fumbles, and rack up the sacks. If he finds some elixir juice, Osi could make the Giants sorry they let him go, while posting 9 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, and 40 total tackles.
22.) Demarcus Ware – Converting Ware to D-End means one thing: more sack opportunities. If history is telling, then the move to end should only afford Ware more shots at the QB, equating to a ridiculous 17.5 sack, but only 35 tackle season for Ware. Depending how smoothly the transition to outside linebacker to defensive end goes, Ware could easily end up inside the top 12.
23.) Jason Babin – Babin is a sack specialist, which is good and bad news for fantasy owners. The good news is sacks usually count more points than tackles, the bad news is it’s hard to know when the sacks will come. Given the state of the Jaguars, Babin should be penciled in for 7.5 sacks, 35 total tackles, and 3 forced fumbles, but may not contribute in other areas. Serviceable in the right match ups and during bye weeks.
24.) Jabaal Sheard – Sheard is probably the easiest player to project on this list, but the upside is still there for more at age 24. Sheard will be a rock on the revamped, improving Browns’ defensive line, and post 55 total tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 4 passes defensed, and 4 stuffs.
25.) Everson Griffen – Griffen will replace Brian Robison opposite Jared Allen by week 3, and the skill set in Griffen is much better than Robison’s. Griffen looks quicker off the line, has a nose for the football, and can hit the quarterback at a higher clip. Provided he takes over Robison’s job early in the season or heading into week 1, Griffen could make Robison a player of the past and provide better all-around fantasy numbers. In a part-time role last season, Griffen posted 26 total tackles and 8 sacks, and in an expanded role, Griffen could post 10 sacks, 40 total tackles, and throw in a few passes defensed, stuffs, and 3 forced and recovered fumbles apiece.
26.) Sam Acho – Playing opposite Calais Campbell has its perks, and for Acho the perks will come in the form of sacks. He will be vastly overshadowed and outproduced by his teammate counterpart, but while quarterbacks are busy running away from Campbell, they’ll run right into Acho’s lap. 43 total tackles and 7 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles should be in store this season for the young Cardinals defensive end.
27.) Justin Tuck – At this point, Tuck could be the steal of the draft as he’ll go way lower than his history says he should. With Osi out of New York, and full health, Tuck will continue his role of sneaking in the backdoor and plastering the quarterback while opposing teams focus on JPP. A return to 50 total tackles, 10 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 4 recovered fumbles, 6 stuffs could easily be in the cards for Tuck this season, providing fantasy owners with a draft day steal.
28.) Robert Quinn – Given his pedigree and lofty expectations when he came into the league in 2011, he’s been a disappointment, but as long as he continues to improve his game, and repeats his 10.5 sack season from last year he could emerge as the Rams top defensive end.The tackles may lack, however, but his continued emergence, and 11 sacks, 2 forced fumbles should soften his lack of tackles.
29.) Cliff Avril – The Seahawks’ defensive line is so loaded that someone has to be left out, right? Maybe not. After averaging 10 sacks per season his last 3 seasons in Detroit, he comes to the Seahawks, and could continue to be a 10 sack guy. Monitor the health of Chris Clemons, as his health will likely be directly and negatively correlated with Avril’s playing time. If Clemons misses significant time, Avril will continue his 10 sack, 38 tackle, 3 forced fumbles days. If Clemons is healthy, Avril’s stats revert some to a mere 6 sack, 27 total tackles, 1 forced fumble days. Who knows, maybe Seattle churns out three stars at defensive end.
30.) Chris Long – If you need sacks late, look no further, but don’t expect much more from him. He’ll get you 12 sacks and 1 forced fumble, but not much more.
31.) Trent Cole – Good news, bad news. Bad news: His days of being a top 10 defensive end are gone. Good news: Last season was an aberration and a return to 10 sacks, 5 stuffs, and a middling 40 tackles should follow his abysmal 2012 season (3 sacks, career low since entering league in 2005).
Tier 5: Keep an eye on, but some could end up on the waiver wire
32.) Brian Robison – I fully expect him to lose his starting gig early in the season to Griffen, but even in a backup role, Robison could post 6 sacks, 27 total tackles, and 5 passes defensed. Nothing more, nothing less.
33.) Ezekiel Ansah – Being heralded as the Lions opening day right defensive end, Ansah immediately becomes a double digit sack, given his athleticism and ability to play quick. The Lions have a hole at defensive end, and Ansah looks to be the answer. Expect the highs and lows associated with rookies, while enjoying a 10.5 sack, 3 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery season.
34.) Quinton Coples – For all my hate of Rex Ryan, he is a defensive genius, and could turn Coples into a fantasy starter. After disappointing much of last season, he showed flashes of potential in the last 4 games with 3.5 sacks. He’ll look to build upon that momentum this season, and should be viewed as a sleeper for sacks. He won’t start the season as your starter, but you could do worse than to draft him in the last few rounds, and start him in situational and bye weeks to start the season.
35.) Björn Werner – The Colts are a lock to churn out one starter worthy DE a season, and rookie Werner will be it this season, and likely going forward. The reviews of him are raving, so feel free to jump on the German bandwagon, as he will likely rack up the sacks. What else he racks up remains to be seen, but if his final season at FSU is any indicator, he could rack up 10.5 sacks, 45 tackles, 2 recovered fumbles, and swat a few passes down at the line of scrimmage. Enjoy the potential vast rewards associated with him. Note: Werner is also slated to see time at outside linebacker (OLB).
36.) Bruce Irvin – Remember when we discussed three possible fantasy starters at DE from Seattle? Well, you may want to make it four, because Irvin can flat out hit. He’ll start the season suspended four games for PED use, but when he returns he will just resume his hard hitting, QB sacking ways. Seattle has stated he’ll play some time at outside linebacker as well, which may only pad his sack totals. Either way, expect 11 sacks, 36 total tackles, 2 forced and fumble recoveries each, and few passes defensed and stuffs.
37.) Will Smith – No! Not the actor Will Smith, but the Saints defensive end Will Smith. Smith keeps chugging along at age 32, and should crank out another 6 sack, 45 total tackle season, while stripping one fall free for a forced fumble. Steady as she goes folks. You have to understand I’m a Falcons fan, so I’m allowed to take jabs at Saints players.
38.) Anthony Spencer – Slated to open the season as DE, Spencer is a sleeper. Posting 95 total tackles and 11 sacks last season from outside linebacker, Spencer could see an uptick in shots at the QB. A DE in college, the more snaps he sees at end this season, the better off he’ll be. Spencer should have no problem posting 12.5 sacks, 40 tackles, and 8 stuffs, with a forced fumble an extra for drafting him.
39.) Da’Quan Bowers – …annnd the waiting game for him to tap into his potential continues. Bowers, any day, we fantasy owners, as well as the Bucs are waiting. Given the the Bucs improved front seven, Bowers could start to tap into his potential, but temper expectations to 30 total tackles, 5 sacks,and 3 stuffs. Take a flier on him very late, but be advised he may be waiver wire material by season’s end.
40.) Malliciah Goodman – This ranking is based upon the assumption that Goodman beats out the underwhelming Kroy Biermann and Cliff Matthews. Other than having arms that look like vines wrapping around a tree, Goodman is extremely raw, and has great range. The only question is whether or not he can translate his skills to the NFL. It may take a few seasons to reach his potential, but beating out the two incumbents to start opposite Umenyiora should be easy. Conservatively, accounting for him being a rookie, expect 5 sacks, 4 passes defensed, and 3 stuffs to complement 2 combined forced and recovered fumbles.