Assessing the IDP Dynasty Landscape: Defensive-Ends
When it comes to this time of the season you are either still in with a shout of winning your fantasy championship and focused on achieving that goal, or taking stock of your season and what went wrong. In dynasty leagues part of the latter task will be assessing the talent you have available both on your roster and the waiver wire. Depending how deep your league is there might be some 2013 gems still waiting to be snapped up and if you are out of contention there is no harm in being prepared and grabbing these guys for the tail-end of your squad. Not only should owners be looking at securing potential breakout players for next season, but they should be re-evaluating the players they had invested in over the previous seasons as things change fast in the NFL and player’s values change quickly. All that being said, lets run through some of the players having seen some significant alteration in their values heading in next season.
Top of the Tree
It doesn’t take an expert to point out that J.J. Watt has established himself firmly into the upper echelons of the DE ranks and will now be a strong contender to be the #1 IDP selection in many leagues next year, although probably less so in tackle-heavy scoring systems. The prevailing advice from our PFF’s IDP brain trust not to reach for Jason Pierre-Paul was also proved true as the 2011 clear #1 has not been at the same standout elite level this season. JPP remains in my opinion the #1 D-End to target as he has a higher sack upside in my opinion than Watt (despite his 17.5 on the year vs JPP’s 6.5), but you are quibbling over 1A and 1B options. Both players are just 23 years old and look to be set for long, successful NFL careers. The tier below those two in redraft leagues is filled by Cameron Wake (30), Jared Allen (31), Mario Williams (27) and arguably Julius Peppers (32). Trent Cole (30) can no longer be classified in that bracket after this year’s performance. The point remains that this band of players are all pushing into the final years of their careers other than Super Mario, so the players to target in for longer term dynasty purposes are not from this tier of players.
Dynasty DE Targets
It has been a messy year from a fantasy perspective at D-End. A lot of pre-season rankings have been shredded and the perceived elite options have not lived up to expectations. Partly that can be blamed on the underwhelming sack totals from the highly-ranked pass-rushers for the Eagles and Giants, but as noted above the next few years will see a changing of the guard so to speak when it comes to the top defensive end targets. Thankfully we have numerous players under-26 that are showing some serious talent and if you haven’t already rostered one of these guys it would be worth trying to package one into any offseason trades you can pull off. In keeper leagues they are all borderline keeper’s to all but the savviest IDP owners so keep an eye on them in your 2013 drafts. Two of the biggest standouts this season, but with much less media attention than they deserve are Michael Johnson (25) and Greg Hardy (24). Neither has hit double-digit sacks yet this year but both could do so before the end of the year. Both are on pace to exceed 50 total tackles (Hardy already has) and the only knock on their fantasy output is they should really be forcing more fumbles when making that many plays. We identified Hardy as a great buy-low in the offseason using PFF’s data on QB hits and hurries so to see him start converting these is re-assuring and bodes well for a repeat study in the upcoming offseason.
A couple of players who fall into the boom-or-bust scoring category, but certainly flash more than enough pass-rushing potential are Carlos Dunlap (23) and Robert Quinn (22). The knock on Dunlap has been his inability to get on the field enough, but having played 72.4% of snaps since Week 10 and racking up 5.5 sacks and three forced fumbles on the season, his play-making potential is self-evident. Quinn has been a starter for the Rams all year following the release of James Hall before the season and he has 9.5 sacks and only one forced fumble. However his 25 total tackles expose him to being vulnerable to some poor points returns (as does Dunlap’s 30 TT) and both players will either need to start moving into 13+ sack territory or bump their tackle totals to 40+ to truly be DL1 options. The great thing for their fantasy owners is that with both being so young they have plenty of time to be coached up and add that extra dimension to their game. Owners of Dunlap and Quinn should be well aware of their potential, although the inconsistencies may have frustrated them. Both are players I’d like on my roster and would be top 12 dynasty DEs in my opinion.
Some more names to consider include a pair of 23 year olds who have a few years under their belts now; Derrick Morgan and Jabaal Sheard. Morgan was considered an elite prospect when drafted 16th overall by the Titans in 2010 and unfortunately suffered a torn ACL that put him on IR after just four games of his rookie season. He did not return as a starter until Week 8 of in 2011 and it is only really this year that we are starting to see the abilities that got him selected so highly. Although Morgan only has five sacks on the season he is our 6th best graded 4-3 DE (+16.5) and his 18 QB hits is only bettered by Cam Wake who has 22, so having seen the success had by Hardy a year on, Morgan is a very appealing player, especially as he will record over 50 total tackles this year. Sheard is the opposite to Morgan, having been sensational in his rookie season, 2012 has been a disaster. 8.5 sacks and five forced fumbles as a rookie supplemented his 55 total tackles and made him a borderline DE1 in redraft formats, let alone dynasty, but he has failed to deliver this year. Sheard has only posted four sacks and registered zero force fumbles (and only has four QB hits) showing he really had taken a step backwards. It was interesting to hear him come out and say the pre-season injury to DT Phil Taylor changed the way he played and how his opponents schemed for him, and his sentiment bears out in his production too. Taylor returned to the Browns D in Week 9, and since then Sheard has recorded three of his four sacks. A very good match-up this week against the Redskins should be another opportunity to start putting himself back on track and will allay his owners fears that he was a one-season wonder. Both Morgan and Sheard are players who don’t jump out as must-keep IDP assets for your dynasty roster, so like Johnson and Hardy they are the kind of players I’d try and sneak into any trade I was making. When negotiating try and add them in as “that little bit extra” you need to get the deal done…
A couple more names for you to keep a very close eye on is Chandler Jones (22) and Brandon Graham (24). Unless you are already a Jones owner I would be very surprised if you’ll be able to get him on your roster. Before he suffered him injury that held him out two weeks he had been threatening DE1 status due to a combination of stout play against the run (36 total tackles) and play-making ability (five sacks, three forced fumbles). The Patriots defensive system has produced double-digit sack totals for far less talented players such as Mark Anderson and Andre Carter (2011) and Tully Banta-Cain (2009) so Jones’ upside moving forwards is high. Graham has exploded onto the fantasy scene in the second half of the season. I’m proud to say it is a trend that we had noticed and highlighted on our weekly Google Hangout, The Nickel (you can watch us via the PFF Fantasy YouTube channel or listen via the PFF Fantasy podcast), and anyone who has been listening should have stashed him several weeks back. His four sacks, a forced fumble and 14 total tackles in the past three weeks have probably brought him to the attention of every other keen-eyed IDP owner too now, but if not he is a must-add player. Graham will be the starter in 2013 at RE opposite Trent Cole and few pass-rusher can boast the levels of pressure he is recording so far this year. Of all the stats and data I have seen as a PFF Fantasy analyst, few if any have wowed me as much as Graham’s astonishing 22.6% pressure frequency. That means he is recording a sack, hit or hurry on the quarterback on more than 1-in-5 pass-rushing plays. To put that in context for you J.J. Watt’s pressure frequency this season is 11.9%. Jason Pierre-Paul last season recorded 9.8%. Even situational pass-rushing superstar Carlos Dunlap in 2011 could only manage 16.2%, so just how Graham is achieving 22.6% staggers belief. He is only 24, is a very talented former round 1 pick who has cut his teeth behind the previously productive pairing of Trent Cole and Jason Babin. Having seen how players like Mario Williams and Chris Long needed a few years to refine their skillset to the pro-game perhaps Graham was having the same issues? Heading into 2012 Graham is my idea of a HUGE upside DE2 and depending what we see out of him in these final few weeks he might just earn himself a dynasty DE1 ranking.
Falling and Failing
The first and most obvious name on this list has to sadly be Trent Cole (30). I’ve been a huge advocate of Cole due to his duel-purpose scoring from both tackles and sacks, but he has been utterly disappointing for owners this year, to the extent he has almost certainly been cut in all redraft leagues and is probably battling for roster security in dynasty and keeper leagues too. Five total tackles, a sack and fumble recovery on Thursday night against the Bengals will have helped no-one as I can’t believe anyone would still be starting him, but it will have made owners potentially reconsider dropping him. My advice to Cole owners would be to watch his stat lines very closely over these next three weeks; if he can post a couple more sacks and 12+ total tackles he is worth keeping in the belief 2012 was an anomaly. I am sure he will divide opinion in the 2013 rankings, but I will probably find a place for him in the DE2 band.
Another player who was long regarded as a top-5 DE is Justin Tuck (29) but has not been able to produce the points he once did. 12 sacks and 48 total tackles two years ago was followed up by an injury plagued season and just 6 sacks and 27 total tackles. A late season and playoff resurgence convinced many, myself included, that Tuck would be back to his DE1 self this year, but it has been another year of middling production. Just 3 sacks and 27 total tackles have seen Tuck riding the bench in most fantasy leagues and he has fallen to the extent where he is now likely to find himself outside even DE2 status.
I mentioned Julius Peppers (32) earlier in the piece, but he is another player once considered a DE1 lock who must be revaluated. Although he has not slipped as far as Cole and Tuck (7 sacks, 29 total tackles) the concern has been the drop in his playing time. In 2010, his first as a Bear’s player, he was on the field for 88.7% of snaps. In 2011 that fell to 82.3% and so far this season he has only played 72.9%. This reduction means fewer opportunities and lower production, moving him to borderline DE1/2 rankings in redraft formats, so at 32 years of age his dynasty value has fallen firmly into DE2 territory.
Make sure you check in next week as I take a look at the dynasty landscape at linebacker where plenty is changing due to the addition of a stellar rookie class and the 49ers willingness to take both Willis and Bowman off the field in certain situations…
For more discussion of IDP and dynasty values check out:
For an in depth look at the IDP landscape, snap counts and weekly match-ups from IDP Editors Jeff Ratcliffe and Ross Miles, check out our free-to-watch weekly show, The Nickel