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The defensive line position offers a variety of options to consider when looking for late-round value to bolster an Individual Defensive Player (IDP) fantasy squad. First and foremost, it is again vital to have a firm grasp of the league scoring format and then formulate a draft strategy accordingly. Sack production is invariably going to be rewarded with higher points in nearly every league, but also knowing what the actual point totals are for solo tackles and assists can help to move certain players into a position of value fantasy wise.
Many leagues also will break down the defensive line into the defensive end and defensive tackle designations, and a certain number of each are required in starting lineups. There will be a spattering of both defensive ends and tackles examined here and for the purposes of this article; the positions will be collapsed into one list. So keep that in mind when considering the names and how they can fit into your league’s format.
Muhammad Wilkerson , DE, New York Jets: Wilkerson was a first-round draft selection by the Jets in 2011 (30th overall) and had a very nice rookie season. He was on the field for nearly 60 percent of the defensive snaps and accounted for 48 total tackles, forced a fumble and had three sacks. Reports are that he is fully recovered from a June car accident and is a full participant in training camp. Standing 6-foot-4, and weighing in at 315 pounds, Wilkerson is a physical beast that creates a mismatch along the defensive front. He has the size and physical strength to stand his ground, set the edge and offer run support while possessing surprising speed for a man his size. He is able to get past offensive linemen with a nice burst and has the opportunity to absolutely surpass the three-sack total he put up last season. If rookie Quinton Coples can fulfill on his potential and Aaron Maybin can continue his career resurgence, Wilkerson will benefit from the attention they warrant from opposing lineman as well. The New York coaching staff is talking about keeping him on the field for 80 percent of the snaps in 2012. That equals a nice jump in fantasy production. His current ranking fluctuates between the late 40s to as low as the 70s among defensive linemen, and he will outperform those rankings easily.
Nick Fairley , DT, Detroit: While Fairley has not been in the league very long, his name has been in the news so much that it seems like he’s been around awhile. Unfortunately, the headlines have had less to do with football and more to do with some questionable lifestyle decisions on Fairley’s behalf. Fairley has been arrested for both a DUI and marijuana possession since the end of the 2011 season. Not quite what the Lions were looking for from their No. 12 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. A foot injury suffered by Fairley in training camp last season hampered him throughout his rookie campaign and he was a minimal contributor to the Lions and fantasy owners. He appeared in only 10 games and put up a paltry 15 total tackles and a single sack. However, anyone who watched the Week 13 game against the New Orleans Saints can see exactly why the Lions front office was overjoyed when Fairley fell into their laps. He was a dominant force that night, constantly providing inside pressure on Drew Brees, racking up two solo stops, an assisted tackle and a sack. Fairley did all this damage in the first quarter before another setback with his foot caused him to leave the game. It represents the good and bad he represents - he has what it takes to succeed but can’t seem to stay on the field. The severity of the discipline that Fairley receives will sour many owners on drafting him, and the savvy fantasy owner can swoop in late and get a possible low end DL2 if the kid can keep his head on straight.
Desmond Bryant , DE, Oakland: Bryant is an interesting fantasy prospect heading into 2012 as he had a surprisingly effective 2011 season for the Raiders. After totaling just 43 total tackles and two sacks in his first two seasons in Oakland, Bryant posted 35 tackles and five sacks last season. In fact, he amassed his five sacks from Week 10-17 after failing to register one in the season’s first nine weeks. The Raiders rewarded his fine play down the stretch by re-signing him this offseason to a one-year, $1.927 million contract. Standing 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds, Bryant has the versatility to play either end or tackle, and that will serve him well under the new regime in Oakland. Head Coach Dennis Allen wants to keep offenses guessing as to what alignment the Riders will primarily line up in and has been installing an array of defensive fronts. Bryant has the size and strength to set up strong in run support and a long frame, adequate burst and the girth to give offensive lineman trouble off the edge. Although the Raiders are downplaying it, Richard Seymour has missed four consecutive practices in training camp and Bryant may get his chance for more snaps sooner rather than later. Opportunity, a versatile skill set and the fact that he is playing for a new deal make Bryant a sneaky good, late-round fantasy defensive line option for 2012.
Jurrell Casey , DT, Tennessee: The Titans selected Casey in the third round of the 2011 draft (77th overall) and he put together a very nice season, racking up 50 total tackles, 2.5 sacks and forced a fumble. He proved formidable against the run, able to occupy multiple offensive linemen, stringing the play along the line and allowing teammates to make the tackles. He is a solid 6-foot-1 and 300 pounds, has a surprising quickness off the snap and will enter his sophomore season entrenched as a starting defensive tackle in Tennessee. He needs to improve his sack totals to really be an option in fantasy circles, and an entire offseason working with the coaching staff will go a long way to helping Casey become a more effective pass rusher. The addition of Kamerion Wimbley along the Titans defensive line, as well as the continuing emergence of Derrick Morgan as a pass rushing threat, will benefit Casey on passing downs. In 2010, his final season at USC, Casey amassed 4.5 sacks, and with the Titans improving their outside pass rushing options for 2012, he has an excellent chance be able to surpass that number this season. Casey is an example of a player that will be more valuable in leagues that require defensive tackles but does hold some cache as an emerging fantasy talent in general formats as well. He is a DL4 fantasy option, who can be drafted late as depth or a bye week fill-in with the potential to cover any injuries to higher drafted defensive linemen as an every week play.
Cameron Jordan , DE, New Orleans: Jordan started 15 games for the Saints in his rookie season and gained valuable experience that will serve him well heading into 2012. With the suspension to veteran Will Smith, Jordan will be called upon to hold down the left defensive end position for the Saints and will have the opportunity to rack up some fine tackle numbers. He had 18 solo tackles in the 2011 regular season and an impressive six solo tackles in the Saints’ loss to San Francisco in the playoffs. Jordan takes excellent angles to the ball carrier, uses his hands effectively to get off blocks and is a technically sound player when defending the run. However, the Saints need to generate more pressure on the quarterback than they did last season. New Orleans had a total of 33 sacks and only 14 from the defensive end position. Jordan did not register his single sack until Week 17 against Carolina and must improve his pass rushing skills entering his second season. The Saints selected Akiem Hicks, who had success in the CFL as a pass rushing defensive end, in the third round of April’s draft, and have moved former strong side linebacker Martez Wilson to defensive end in an attempt to generate more pressure on the quarterback. Jordan has yet to record a sack in two preseason games and he may end up being kicked inside on passing downs if he fails to provide the pass rush that the Saints are looking for. Bottom line is that he will be on the field a lot, especially while holding down Will Smith’s position along the line early in 2012, and that will translate into fantasy scoring opportunities. He can be selected late in fantasy drafts as depth, and then monitor his situation on passing downs as the season progresses.
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