IDP Free Agent Preview: Interior Defensive Linemen
After looking at both the edge rushers and linebackers available in free agency, the IDP Free Agent Preview now moves on to the interior defensive linemen. These could be any defensive linemen from 3-4 teams or defensive tackles on 4-3 teams. The players listed below will only affect you if you are in leagues that differentiate between defensive ends and defensive tackles, as most 4-3 pass rushers will score more fantasy points then these players. Also, while some 3-4 defensive ends can score as many points as 4-3 defensive ends, this year’s group of free agents doesn’t include any of those players. These players will only impact your league if they are classified as a defensive tackle.
As usual, we can expect fantasy production if a player stays with their team, so here we’ll speculate how they might do with a new team. If a player is leaving a 4-3 team, here you can also see who might replace the free agent.
1. Arthur Jones (BLT)
The former 2010 fifth-round pick worked his way into being a starter at 3-4 defensive end for the Ravens by excelling against the run. He ranked in the top 10 in both Run Stop Percentage as well as Pass Rushing Productivity for all 3-4 defensive ends. Because the Ravens had some depth on the defensive line, Jones was only in for 55.3% of snaps. If a team pays the money needed to get him out of Baltimore, they will likely use him on a higher percentage of snaps. His fantasy points per snap was the best of everyone in this group in 2013. At defensive end he was a mid DE4 last year. Had he been classified as a defensive tackle last year he would have been a mid DT2, and with more snaps he could easily move to the mid-DT1 range for 2014.
2. Linval Joseph (NYG)
Joseph is second on this list because he is a very good defender against the run while also being an adequate pass rusher. He had a combined 41 solo and assist tackles in the run game alone, which was tied for sixth best among all defensive tackles. He was limited in his pass rushes as the Giants like having three defensive ends on pass downs at times. He was also limited because Cullen Jenkins was on the roster and he specializes in pass rushing. Similar to Jones, he should see an increased amount of playing time due to his ability and ideally less as far as roster competition. He has just shown a little less than Jones in terms of ability these past two years.
The Giants are a little thin at the position currently as Mike Patterson and Shaun Rogers are also free agents. The only defensive tackles currently on the roster are Cullen Jenkins, Johnathan Hankins and Markus Kuhn. Hankins saw 195 snaps after being drafted in the second round of the 2013 draft. However, he looked excellent against the run, so he will very likely see more playing time in his sophomore year. The Giants kept five defensive tackles on the roster last year, so expect them to acquire at least one, if not two, defensive tackles who will end up making the roster.
3. Randy Starks (MIA)
Similar to Jones and Joseph, Starks is a well-rounded player. He had a PFF rating of +15.3 against the run and +13.0 against the pass. This helped lead him to be a high DT2 in 2013. He had more tackles than the players ranked above him, but he also was in for significantly more snaps. The Dolphins kept him in for 742 snaps which was the 15th-most for all defensive and nose tackles. Starks has played in 156 NFL games and he very well could begin to decline soon. He is a safe bet to remain a DT2 as long as he goes to a 4-3 team rather than a 3-4.
In 2013 we basically saw a three-man rotation out of the Dolphins with Jared Odrick, Paul Soliai and Starks. Soliai is also a free agent, which currently leaves the Dolphins thin at the position. Outside of Odrick, only Isaako Aaitui and A.J. Francis are on the roster. It’s possible one of Soliai or Starks could be back, but it’s unlikely both will. This is good news for Jared Odrick, who was a low DT1 last year. He played on 75% of the 2013 snaps, and that could potentially increase with less depth at the position.
4. Tony McDaniel (SEA)
The Seahawks signed McDaniel to a one-year contract and basically used him as a run defender. He excelled in that role with a Run Stop Percentage of 11.9%, which was third-best for all defensive tackles. This helped lead him to be a high DT3 last year. Unfortunately some leagues still considered him a defensive end even though he only lined up as a defensive end on 40 of his 622 snaps. He did so just three times in his last 10 games. He should remain a tackling machine in the run game, but the problem is his pass rushing is a little subpar. In his last 12 games he was held to no sacks, no hits and eight hurries. Part of that was due to few opportunities, but on a per-play basis he was below average. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him getting off the field on third downs wherever he plays. This limits his potential to a low DT2 at best.
The Seahawks also have Clinton McDonald as a free agent, so there will be some decisions to make at the position. It wouldn’t be entirely surprising to watch both players leave. At one defensive tackle spot is Brandon Mebane, who is very much deserving of more snaps. The Seahawks spent a third-round pick on Jordan Hill and a fifth-round pick on Jesse Williams in 2013. They played a combined 65 snaps last year. If the Seahawks can re-sign Michael Bennett, who moves inside on passing downs, then re-signing McDaniel and/or McDonald becomes a luxury.
5. Pat Sims (OAK)
Sims was a high DT2 last year, so it might be surprising so many people were above him on the list. Some of his value is from his number of snaps, as the Raiders used him in 62.8% of snaps. Late in the season the Raiders were using him in as many as 98.1% of snaps in a game. He also had an incredible game against the Chargers in Week 16. 28.8% of his fantasy points on the season all came from that single game. Prior to Week 15, Sims was a low DT3. I wouldn’t expect quite so many snaps in the future, and it’s unlikely he sees a game similar to the one he had against the Chargers. Still, he is decent at both stopping the run and pass rushing. He could be a high DT2 if late last season was a sign of things to come. He could also be as low as a DT4 if he plays like he did early in 2013 or earlier in his career.
The Raiders also have Vance Walker and Daniel Muir as free agents at defensive tackle. This leaves them with a projected starting lineup of Stacy McGee and Ricky Lumpkin, with Torell Troup and David Carter on the bench. It’s possible that the Raiders have four brand new defensive linemen starting next year compared to last year or the current projections for this year.
6. Tyson Jackson (KC)
In five years, Jackson has never lived up to being the third overall pick in the 2009 draft. The reason is because he has not been successful rushing the passer. He had 12 pressures on 266 pass rushes. While he managed a career high four sacks in 2013, that will likely regress to the mean for how many pressures he had. On the bright side he was very good against the run. His 8.1 Run Stop Percentage was tenth best for 3-4 defensive ends. Typically a lot of run stops also means a lot of tackles, and for a third straight year he had more than 30. Due to the Chiefs having Dontari Poe, Mike Devito and Allen Bailey on the roster, Jackson only played in 45% of snaps. If a team gives Jackson more of an opportunity and moves him to a 4-3 defensive tackle, he could be in the low DT2 range.
7. Earl Mitchell (HST)
This is a very interesting player because Mitchell has played nose tackle for the Texans. He had a slow start to the season with just three solo tackles in the first five games. However, from Week 6 to 16, Mitchell was a low DT2. He ended up playing in just 52.2% of snaps, but in a 4-3 front those snaps could increase. Some of his value was in his pass rushing where his Pass Rushing Productivity of 6.2 was fourth best for 3-4 nose tackles. Three of his best four games came in the last four weeks of the season. He is a bit of a wild card, but he is at least a name to keep an eye on.
8. Clinton McDonald (SEA)
In 2013 the Seahawks used McDonald almost exclusively in passing situations. His Pass Rushing Productivity of 8.9 was the seventh best among all defensive tackles. The problem is he played in only 55% of snaps, and that is unlikely to increase. He doesn’t have much of a track record as a run defender. Wherever he goes, he will likely be used as a situational pass rusher. If you’re in a league where sacks are much more important than tackles, then McDonald is worth considering. Without it, McDonald doesn’t have much potential to improve on his 2013.
9. Corey Peters (ATL)
It took a few years, but in 2013 Peters finally started living up to some of his expectations. He played better than he ever has against the run and it helped his fantasy value. He ended up as a mid-range DT2. The problem is he is unlikely to match that production. He had a sack on one in every three pressures he had, which is very high and will regress to the mean. He has never shown to be a great pass rusher. Either in Atlanta or with a new team, Peters could be used just on run downs, which would limit his snaps. Best case scenario is Peters still gets to play in two of every three snaps and get more sacks than he should. It’s much more likely he falls to the DT3 category or worse.
The Falcons also have Jonathan Babineaux and Peria Jerry as free agents. Babineaux was a very good fantasy defensive tackle last year, but his value was almost completely in his high percentage of snaps. If those decrease in the future then his fantasy value plummets. The Falcons’ only defensive tackles on the roster are 2012 seventh-round pick Travian Robertson and Adam Replogle, who spent his rookie year on the Falcons’ practice squad.
10. Jason Hatcher (DAL)
Last year Hatcher was one of the best fantasy defensive tackles in the league. The problem is all signs point to his fantasy decline. From Week 8 to Week 16, Hatcher was only a low DT2/high DT3. From Week 1-8 he had a Pass Rushing Productivity of 9.8, but from Week 9-17 it was only 6.9. He played in 71% of snaps because the Cowboys had no depth at defensive tackle. With the Cowboys’ cap situation it would be difficult for them to retain Hatcher. He is best suited as a situational pass rusher. In that case he would lose roughly 15% of his snaps and therefore lose more of his value. Most players on this list are at or near their peak. Hatcher will be 32 by the start of next year and might begin his decline. That should put him around a DT3 for next year.
The Cowboys currently have Nick Hayden and Frank Kearse as their starting defensive tackles for next year. They have the worst cap situation in the league at the moment, so the draft might be their only way to upgrade. If they draft a defensive tackle early, they should see a lot of playing time.
Other free agents to keep an eye on: Peria Jerry (ATL), Jonathan Babineaux (ATL), B.J. Raji (GB), Antonio Smith (HST), Ricardo Mathews (IND), Paul Soliai (MIA), Kevin Williams (MIN), Ziggy Hood (PIT), Vance Walker (OAK), Cam Thomas (SD)