Trend Checker- Defensive Line
Free Agency has come and gone. The NFL Draft is in the rear view mirror. Teams are already on the field working towards the season and as a fantasy football owner, so are you. This three-part IDP series will analyze NFL defensive trends to help you plan for your 2014 fantasy football drafts. In the NFL success begins up front. So we’ll start there too.
Scheme. It’s one of the buzz words heard often whether you’re listening to strictly NFL analysts or fantasy football experts. But scheme is a buzz (saw) word with teeth.
Offensive schemes are obviously very important when identifying potential production in fantasy football. But let’s be honest, for savvy fantasy football owners identifying value on offense due to scheme isn’t too difficult.
Plus, offensive coaches gameplan to get their best players the football. That translates into touches, targets and ultimately fantasy points. Good offensive football players compile positive fantasy football statistics. It’s that simple.
On defense this concept isn’t so clear. Players that grade out as some of the best in the league often won’t be winning you fantasy football titles. A cornerback who’s so good he isn’t targeted doesn’t make tackles. An interior defensive lineman may get double teamed every play, helping his NFL franchise but not your fantasy football squad.
Defensive schemes often determine fantasy football production more than player talent. Is that fair? Maybe not, but if you want to dominate the competition in computer football you have to be aware of the intricacies that lead to player production. Recently, players like J.J. Watt have transcended traditional player roles to produce monster seasons. Therefore it’s important to look at how the league is changing each year, which trends are coming or going and how individual player may benefit or be hurt by their respective scheme.
When the NFL season kicks off in less than 100 days nearly half the league will be running 3-4 defenses, exactly half if you classify Atlanta as such. Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New Orleans made the switch last year. Tennessee will join them this year. Atlanta has transformed it’s personnel to more of a 3-4 look.
Of course, defenses don’t just line up and play the same way every play. And every defensive coach will call their system “multiple” if given the chance. This is somehow both true and false at the same time. Still, classifying teams is still important for two reasons.
First, 3-4 teams have enormous defensive ends that have to take on multiple blockers often. Not ideal for fantasy football scoring. These ends are many times near or over the 300-pound mark. A big difference from last year’s number one defensive lineman Robert Quinn who is closer to 260. The larger ends simply aren’t as quick as a player like Quinn and are faced with more resistance when trying to get to the quarterback.
Secondly, teams classified as 3-4 defenses end up with their best pure pass rusher listed as a linebacker despite his usage. In May’s draft we saw Jadeveon Clowney go to Houston. He’ll be a linebacker in your fantasy league even though he’ll be rushing the passer much more often than any other role.
So what does this mean for IDP fantasy football?
4-3 defensive ends have more value
Supply and Demand. There aren’t as many 4-3 ends to go around. In the past you could usually wait on defensive players at every position until others started selecting them. At defensive end it’s not so simple anymore. You really need to make sure you can grab at least one top 4-3 pass rushing end.
3-4 ends who tackle and disrupt are a premium
J.J. Watt is the poster child for 3-4 ends that score fantasy points but there are other long, athletic 3-4 ends that are redefining the position for fantasy leagues as well. Last season Calais Campbell and Muhammad Wilkerson were also in the top 7. I expect to see more of these types of players in the future. They’re long enough and strong enough to hold up against the run playing the five technique combined with enough quickness to finish off the pass rush with sacks.
Use 3-4 tackle machines off the waiver wire to plug holes
Teams need more space eating run stuffers. Don’t be afraid to play an end with low sack potential if he’s a guy that gets a handful of tackles each week. There’s a ton of these guys available on even the deepest league’s waiver wire during the season.
4-3 defensive tackles are scoring more
Five of the top 20 defensive linemen last season were tackles. Half the league is still playing a 4-3 and those teams want at least one tackle who is extremely athletic and can get to the quarterback. Aaron Donald is the rookie to watch that could be just that in 2014.
Adjusting to the no huddle
Across the league more offenses are going no huddle and defenses must adjust. Teams need players with more versatility on both sides of the ball. As you prep for your draft make sure to identify defensive linemen who can play lots of snaps and aren’t strictly a situational player. Situational pass rushers may post more sacks but can leave you hanging on their down weeks.
Know your IDP scoring
The scoring in your league will determine the variability between players with high sack totals but low tackle numbers and vice versa. Apply your scoring with these defensive line trends to select the right balance of players for your fantasy football team.
Nate Hodges is a lead writer for PFF Fantasy and radio host for Tennessee Sports Radio (Saturdays at noon eastern). Listen at TNsportsradio.com. His work can also be found at TopTierFootball.com. You can follow him on Twitter – @NateNFL