For the extremists out there who go four or even five deep at defensive end in your league, mazel tov. These rankings are for you. All the depth and potential matchup plays you need are at your fingertips. Granted, many of these DEs won’t even reach the five-sack plateau in 2015. But there’s a gem or two among the following twenty just waiting to be overturned. Read on and decide who you’ll hitch your wagon to late in your IDP draft:
31. Chris Clemons, JAX – After a disappointing 2013, it was a fresh start for Clemons as he followed Gus Bradley across the country to join the upstart Jags. The pulse of the front seven, Clemons notched 8.0 sacks with 36 total tackles. Pressure like that should warrant a higher ranking, but two things are working against Clemons and the Jaguars this year. First, father time is calling on Clemons, who will turn 34 this season. Second, and most disappointing, is that he won’t get the opportunity to pair with 3rd overall pick Dante Fowler, Jr. to form a dynamic pass rushing duo. Yet again, opposing defenses will hone in on stopping Clemons on his way to the QB.
32. Willie Young, CHI – Amazing what happens when you get your shot. While Clemons went cross-country for his revival, Young only had to travel a down the highway to Chicago to find his moment in the sun. His first season as a Bear resulted in 10.0 sacks in 15 games, but ended with a torn Achilles tendon in his left foot. Whether or not Young is ready for training camp is a big deal as he transitions to his new OLB alignment in the Bears’ 3-4 scheme. He’ll need that time to come up to speed, otherwise this defensive switch could damage his numbers more than anyone.
33. Jacquies Smith, TB – No, i didn’t sneak a hockey player from the Lightning on the list. After being cut just one game into 2014 by the Bills, Smith found a home in Tampa and rewarded the Bucs’ faith with 6.5 sacks, all in the final eight games of the season after he was inserted as a starter. Michael Johnson is out in Tampa as a result and now expectations are high as Smith will get a full offseason in the Bucs’ system. Yet another Mizzou Tiger who can bring the heat on opposing QBs, Smith has the potential to become one of the biggest Pro Bowl surprises in 2015.
34. Vinny Curry, PHI – One of the more pleasant surprises last year, Vinny Curry finished second on the Eagles with 9.0 sacks. It’s even more amazing when you consider that Curry didn’t even play a third of Philly’s defensive snaps, making him one of the most efficient pass rushers in the entire NFL. Heading into a contract year and almost assuredly a nice payday, he’ll be as motivated as ever to prove last year was no fluke. But with the glut of pass rushers on the depth chart, Curry will have to be another hallmark of pass rushing efficiency to duplicate those 2014 numbers. I’m not sure he can pull that off, but he makes for an interesting dynasty add as his future could be much brighter should he fly the coop after this season.
35. Cliff Avril, SEA – Despite the team success Seattle savored, Avril saw his personal statistics take a dip last season. For the first time since 2009, Avril failed to record at least 8.0 sacks. The bigger surprise is that the dropoff occurred with him on the field for 73% of snaps compared to 53% in 2013. In this case, maybe less is more. So perhaps it’s not a bad thing that the addition of second-round pick Frank Clark could cut into Avril’s snap count. If you feel a bounce back coming, Avril will be a value at this spot, but I’m not sold.
36. Justin Tuck, OAK – I’m not sure, at age 31, you could realistically expect any more than what Tuck gave you last year. Although his sack numbers fell from 11.0 in 2013 to 5.0 last year, Tuck added a pair of forced fumbles and a rare interception. His importance as a veteran presence to this Raiders’ defense is much more valuable than his fantasy output, especially with the emergence of Khalil Mack. Tuck is solid and reliable with a limited ceiling, the perfect backup for those averse to the late lottery ticket.
37. Kony Ealy, CAR – All the talk of Greg Hardy relocating to Dallas has overshadowed the fact that there’s a big opportunity waiting back in Charlotte. Whoever can nab that starting position across from Charles Johnson could put up very good numbers, and my guess is that last year’s second round pick, Kony Ealy, will win that competition. Out of the new DE U (AKA Missouri), I thought the Panthers got a steal when he fell in last year’s draft, and he’ll make the loss of Hardy much more palatable as he continues to progress early in his career.
38. Malik Jackson, DEN – You know about Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware harassing quarterbacks, but I bet the name Malik Jackson is fairly unfamiliar as a result. Another player looking to cash in after their final season on a rookie contract, Jackson will find a home in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 alignment and be able to focus on his DE role. His 9.0 sacks the last two season doesn’t leap off the board, but Jackson did finish second among Broncos’ frontline players with 42 tackles. Get familiar with the Broncos defense as guys like Jackson make this one of the best units in the NFL.
39. Jason Hatcher, WAS – Take a look at those career sack totals over Hatcher’s nine seasons. To steal a line, one of these things is not like the others. The Redskins bought into Hatcher’s 11.0 sack outburst of 2013 and rewarded him with a four-year, $27 million deal. Last year was chock full of injury concerns, not surprising for a man who just turned 33 years old. If you’re expecting a bounce back, you won’t have my backing. I think we have to admit that 2013 was an outlier and realize that Hatcher is nothing more than a 5-7 sack DE if things work out. If you value him as such, odds are you won’t land him on draft day as someone else will ante up for his services. My advice: let ’em.
40. Kendell Reyes, SD – We’ve been waiting on the Kendall Reyes breakout for a couple years now, but still no dice. Hard to discredit his 2014 season considering he was dealing with the loss of his father. What you can discredit is that single sack Reyes recorded. Instead, focus on the fact he was second on the team in pressures and QB hits. A return to that 5.0 sack plateau he was at his first two years seems likely. This may even be the year Reyes finally becomes the star many have been projecting.
41. Desmond Bryant, CLE – The other “Dez” Bryant, this one might not be as inflammatory, but he did put up solid numbers in Cleveland last year. A combined 50 tackles and 5.0 sacks were both career highs and Bryant should enjoy his new running mate along the frontline, Danny Shelton, swallowing up blockers. Will it allow Bryant to push the ceiling on his career even higher? Eh, perhaps, but even a repeat of last year will be respectable.
42. Brian Robison, MIN – I love his name (for obvious reason) but there wasn’t much more to love about Robison last year. He posted his lowest sack and tackle totals since 2010 and has been dealing with a pectoral injury for much of the offseason. AS much as the Vikings would love to see a return to form from Robison, they’ve got a couple backup plans in Scott Crichton and LSU rookie Danielle Hunter waiting in the wings. It’ll be put up or shut up time in Minnesota for Robison in 2015.
43. Randy Gregory, DAL – I’ve said it once and I’m going to say it again. Randy Gregory will go down as the best pure pass rushing rookie in 2015 (now that Dante Fowler, Jr. is out of commission). The Cowboys got a steal and have a plan to make sure Gregory keeps his head on straight. With all that talent, Gregory really shouldn’t find himself buried this far down. But that’s exactly what he is here, and exactly what he is on the Dallas depth chart. The reduction in suspension for Greg Hardy means Gregory will become a situational pass rusher as early as Week 5 instead of in mid-November. The lack of snaps hurts the overall production, but he will be dynamic at times for the Cowboys.
44. Allen Bailey, KC – It was a very solid year in KC for Allen Bailey as he set a new career high with 5.0 sacks and 41 tackles. He even tossed in an added bonus of six run stuffs in 2014. There are a few big names in front of him who get all the headlines (and the cash), but Bailey is set for another solid campaign in 2015 with potential for more if injuries take their toll on the Chiefs’ D.
45. Jared Crick, HOU – This might come as a shock, but there is another DE in Houston who warrants at least a little attention. He’s nothing spectacular, but 56 tackles, 3.5 sacks and six passes defensed make for a very solid season line. He’s coming into his own now in his fourth season, and could stand to benefit if Jadaveon Clowney returns and is anything resembling the hype that surrounded him this time last year. If nothing else, there really shouldn’t be a better job than the end opposite that J.J. Watt guy.
46. Kendall Langford, IND – Langford escapes the logjam of defensive lineman in St. Louis and makes his way to one of the AFC favorites in Indianapolis. Despite recording just one sack and 25 tackles last year, Langford should have plenty of opportunities to rejuvenate his stat pack with Rick Jean Francois out of the picture. And considering the points a plenty Andrew Luck and this offense will be putting on the board, expect near career high levels in sacks from Langford.
47. William Gholston, TB – Another young Buc who will be expected to bear down on opposing QBs is William Gholston. A former 4th-round pick, Gholston will feed off of Gerald McCoy and Jacquies Smith while looking for an uptick in production. I’m predicting a career high in sacks (which isn’t hard when the most you’ve had in a season is 2.0). Gholston also provides added value against the run and should be in line for another decent number of run stuffs.
48. Cedric Thornton, PHI – It’s rare that a guy with 3.0 career sacks in four years makes the list, but Cedric Thornton is proof there’s more than one way to skin a cat. While he won’t rack up big sack numbers, Thornton is an established run stuffer who’s totaled 111 tackles over the past two seasons. Not too shabby for a defensive lineman. In addition, his run stuff and TFL totals make him that much more attractive. Play the matchups with Thornton any time he comes up against a run heavy team and you’re guaranteed a decent point total.
49. Kroy Biermann, ATL – Typically when you lead your team in a major category, it’s a sign of a tremendous individual season. Kroy Biermann’s Falcon-pacing 4.5 sacks is not an example. It’s why Atlanta decided to use the 8th overall pick on Clemson pass rush specialist Vic Beasley and it’s why Biermann is at the tail end of these ranks. In fact, the only reason Biermann cracked the top 50 at all is my well-documented distrust of Beasley’s pro potential. Whereas many think Biermann is just a one-year stopgap, I think he’ll provide valuable snaps for a defense desperate for pressure. Pick your spots with Biermann, especially if Beasley struggles out of the gate.
50. Arik Armstead, SF – Because, let’s face it. Who’s even left on the 49ers roster? I kid (sorta), but I do think this Armstead kid out of Oregon is a physical specimen who has the potential to do great things for new head coach Jim Tomsula. Unfortunately, those great things might not come Year 1. This is as much a dynasty play as anything. As Armstead learns the game, I see him transitioning from a run stopper to a much more versatile and consistent performer. He’ll have at least some talent around to learn from, but this is a play for the future that I wanted to sneak in.
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Major League Fantasy Sports Radio: Join Ej Garr and Corey D Roberts on Sunday July 25th from 7-9pm EST for this week’s episode of Major League Fantasy Sports Radio sponsored by The Sports Palooza Radio Network. Call in at 646-915-8596. This week we will discuss some pitchers that may be laying around on the wire in some leagues, or undervalued that could make for a nice addition down the stretch.