Under-Valued Defensive Ends
Identifying under-valued players is a key part of any draft strategy, but in IDP leagues it can be even more so as the player pool has been expanded with the inclusion of individual defensive players.
By keying in on a handful of under-rated IDP prospects, a smart fantasy owner can free himself up to be more aggressive in pursuing those flashier names on offense in the early rounds of their draft, and often build scary-looking rosters with high-powered offensive scoring that can contend for a championship. With that being said, let’s take a closer look at how to find potential sleepers at the defensive end position.
The first step I use when looking for under-valued defensive ends is to rule out any players that had 10 sacks or more the previous year. I want to identify players that have hope to improve upon their scoring, and players with lower sack totals certainly fit this criteria.
Secondly, I want to find players who, despite their low sack output, flashed their ability to disrupt the quarterback. As PFF’s game analysts record the number of hits and hurries generated by players, these will be some of our key metrics when analyzing whether a player has the potential to improve. I use a player’s Quarterback Pressure Frequency (QBP), which is their total sacks, hits and hurries, divided by pass rushing snaps, to highlight consistently disruptive players.
Thirdly, players with an increased opportunity should feature on any sleeper list. This can be a rookie being handed a larger role on the defense in their second season, a third-down specialist given more playing time, or a backup promoted into a starting role because of a starter’s departure. So in summary, my criteria for finding sleeper defensive ends is:
- Fewer than 10 sacks the previous season
- Players with a high QBP (sacks, hits and hurries / pass rush snaps)
- Increased opportunity (more snaps!)
Using the above formula, the following players are some of my favorite sleeper defensive ends heading into 2014.
Brian Robison and Everson Griffen – Minnesota Vikings
The departure of Jared Allen from Minnesota in the offseason to Chicago has opened up some opportunities for his former teammates to fill his shoes. Robison in particular has been a player who has lurked on the edges of fantasy relevance for several seasons now, having yet to reach double-digit sacks in a single season, but having recorded more than eight sacks in each of the last three years.
His 13.6% QBP last season ranked eighth for defensive ends playing over 200 pass rush snaps, mainly due to his 63 hurries (led all 4-3 ends), which leads him to rank highly on this list as he checks all the boxes on the checklist. The jury might be out on whether Robison was benefiting somewhat from playing alongside one of the league’s premier pass-rushers in Allen, and at age 31 his ability to turn hurries into sacks could be questioned, but conversely he has the profile to score as a solid DE3 with DE2 upside, while being regularly drafted outside the top 30 defensive ends.
His younger teammate, Griffen, is generating more buzz in fantasy circles, and in two recent IDP-only mock drafts run by @PDWonderland, he was drafted as highly as the 6th and 7th rounds. I’m not convinced that Griffen will retain such lofty value come your own fantasy draft, but astute fantasy owners are picking up on Griffin’s increased playing time and the potential he has flashed to date.
Recording 13.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and a pick-6 in the past two years as a situational player suggests there is more to come now that he’s a projected starter, while a 12.2% QBP last season prompts me to believe Griffen has the motor to be a consistent performer who can contribute to a fantasy roster.
Jason Babin – Jacksonville Jaguars
Babin’s inclusion on this list surprised me as much as it probably has done you upon reading his name, but he has proven DE1 scoring potential, has become somewhat of a forgotten man in the media black hole that is Jacksonville, and will have increased opportunity in 2014 via the addition of Chris Clemons to the Jaguars front four.
Between 2010 and 2011, Babin record 30.5 sacks in a two-season spell for Tennessee and Philadelphia, with 98 total tackles thrown in for good measure, which is top 10 scoring in any IDP format. Although we’re four years down the line and Babin is now a 33-year-old veteran, his 7.5 sacks last season were backed up by 17 quarterback hits (and a 13.1% QBP) while getting zero help from his teammates suggests there is still some gas in the tank yet. The addition of the ultra-consistent Clemons (33.5 sacks between 2010-2012) means teams won’t be able to key in on Babin, and it will give him the chance to turn some of those hits into sacks.
Going undrafted in eight of the nine completed @PDWonderland IDP mock drafts to date, I’d be shocked if Babin wasn’t pushing to DE2/3 status this season, which makes him an excellent bench fodder and bye-week replacement target who can be picked up for next to nothing in the later rounds of drafts.
Dion Jordan – Miami Dolphins
Jordan was a highly touted rookie last season who failed to deliver on the hype, and now fantasy owners lacking patience will be looking to move on from him. I’m not convinced that is a sensible move as the learning curve for defensive ends is steep, and there have been numerous cases in recent years where it has taken a player a few seasons to get up to speed in the pro game (Mario Williams, Robert Quinn), and Jordan’s offseason shoulder injury didn’t help him either. I’m expecting Jordan to be given a bigger role this season and it’s good to read that he has been reporting early for workouts before even the voluntary sessions.
Recording just two sacks in his rookie campaign fell way short of expectations, but a closer examination of the numbers shows he had a further four hits and 18 hurries, leading to an 11.9% QBP which is much more respectable. With his athleticism and speed, and potential for refinement and improvement of his pass rush repertoire, there is every chance that Jordan can become a fantasy-relevant player in the near future.
Undrafted in five of the nine @PDWonderland IDP mocks, but drafted once in the 8th round shows that the IDP community is somewhat split on Jordan’s value. I’m of the mind that with his physical attributes and upside, he makes for a highly appealing 3rd or 4th defensive end on my roster.
Cliff Avril – Seattle Seahawks
One of the several offseason signings for Seattle that contributed to their Super Bowl run last season, Avril should benefit in 2014 from the departure of the earlier mentioned Chris Clemons to Jacksonville. With Clemons gone, Avril will see more playing time, and add in that he’s in a contract year after only getting a two-year deal in 2013 free agency (having turned down a $30 million contract from the Lions in 2012), he’s a player with something to prove.
Avril has only achieved double-digit sacks once in his career, but his eight last season came in a rotational role in which he only played 339 pass rushing snaps. Add in his additional 10 hits and 27 hurries and his 13.6% QBP puts him up with the league’s elite when it comes to regularly disrupting opposing quarterbacks. It certainly helps playing for a defense that boasts the league’s best secondary, forcing quarterbacks to hold onto the ball for that extra split-second, but as fantasy owners all we care about is the points scored, not the circumstances they were achieved.
In the nine mock drafts run so far, Avril has been undrafted twice, Mr. Irrelevant once and the earliest he has been drafted was round 14, valuing him as a mid to late DE3 at best. He’s higher than that on my board and should easily be good enough to provide DE2 value in multiple weeks.
Ross Miles is a Lead Writer for Pro Football Focus Fantasy. Follow him on Twitter – @PFF_RossMiles
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