Before we get started there are just a few things to point out.
Firstly, as I say every year (and every year someone misses it), this could be
many things to many people, but there are a few things it’s definitely
not: It’s not a projection on the year, it’s not a draft position ranking, and it’s not a breakdown of the NFL draft.
is very much a ranking of where I see the trajectory of their NFL careers (or to put it another way, their dynasty values) going.
Each year it’s also never as complete as I would like. For example this year was more than 21 sides of A4 and that only covers the players here. We’re finally down to 14 right about now.
They already form one of the longest articles we put out each year (It was around eight web pages last year, if memory serves). As such, if I don’t like a player I won’t bother ranking him – sometimes I might make a small comment on it or him, but very often I won’t. It’s a space and time thing. If you’re really curious as to why a player is (or isn’t there) or as to why one player has been included over another, then just email me and I’ll let you know when I can!
As a small aside, this was a good year for picking up a lineman – either a tackle or an end. If you were looking at a linebacker or a corner, then you’re only drafting average players by-and-large. If that sounds unfair, then you really don’t want to know what I think of the safety class. Truly terrible overall.
Without further ado and for your personal gratification and edification, here are the 2011 Individual Defensive Player (IDP) dynasty rankings.
1.01 Nick Fairley
2.01 Jurrell Casey
2.02 Marvin Austin
2.03 Stephen Paea
2.04 Christian Ballard
3.01 Phil Taylor
3.02 Terrell McClain
3.02 Karl Klug
4.01 Jerrell Powe
4.02 Michael Jasper
4.03 Ian Williams
Nick Fairley, Detroit (Auburn)
Now I’ve never been particularly high on Fairley and perhaps that’s more than a little unfair on him. In fact for most of last year (despite his problems) I was actually higher on Marvin Austin despite the fact they both have some concerns. The difference for me is that Austin plays “nasty” and generally plays on full-speed every play. Fairley hadn’t really done anything that had made me take much notice outside of above average ability.
The only knocks I had on Fairley at the start of 2010 were his work ethic, and was he ever going to replicate the ability he’d flashed before his transfer?
As it happens, if he landed in probably any other landing spot than Detroit I might even have knocked him down a spot. Truth is with an ex-defensive guy like Jim Schwartz as a head coach and playing alongside such immense line talent like Kyle Vanden Bosch and Ndamokung Suh, you’ve got to like his chances at changing that perception.
Fairley was a good player coming into Auburn as a junior college transfer but came with little experience or top collegiate production and struggled early. The fact that College Hall of Famer Tracy Rocker was on hand to help teach Fairley and – more importantly – that he was able to take that information onboard and produce augurs well for his fortunes in the league.
So the question is can he take another step up or was that his ceiling? It doesn’t take many games to see him blowing up a few plays to see which way that could go. The types of plays that they run in Detroit will have him moved around and attacking from a lot of different angles (stunts) which plays to his strengths as a gap-shooting tackle.
It was a great line to watch last year and with this addition it figures to be an amazing feature of Detroit’s play moving forwards as a franchise.
Jurrell Casey, Tennessee (USC)
Mike Munchak knows a thing or two about defensive linemen, as does Jim Washburn and Jim Schwartz. In fact, Tennessee might be known for a few things – music, Jim Beam and volunteers. You may as well add defensive lineman to that list if they keep continuing to churn them out on an almost production line basis.
Casey figures to fill the gap Jason Jones will be leaving behind as he moves to defensive end from tackle this year (and a great sleeper by the way). He’ll have to earn his starting spot, but Casey, like Jones, has a game built on penetration through speed and burst rather than through bulk or size. As such I think his pass rush (unlike one or two guys taken before him) is better than advertised. That’s not to say size isn’t an asset on either side of the line as it is, only that some players don’t need it to get the job done. Casey is an example of this.
The good thing about him is despite problems around the college program he still managed to produce, even when players around him were drafted. He never posted elite numbers, but he was the anchor that held that line together and posted decent numbers and flashed pro-skill levels.
Like Fairley in Detroit, Casey has gone to a team that appreciates his skill set and he’s landed in one of the best places in the league to learn his craft.
Marvin Austin, New York Giants (North Carolina)
Austin isn’t without his problems, but his upside is far too strong to ignore. The Giants have produced a pretty scary defensive line going back to the start of Michael Strahan’s career. Love or loathe him there is no denying that he was emblematic of that Giants defense, a line that has continued to impress.
With Barry Cofield gone and some histrionics from Osi Umenyiora (though with Jason Pierre-Paul and Matthias Kiwanuka under contract this will get resolved in favor of the Giants – one way or another), the line is slightly different in appearance this year. Linval Joseph is odds-on to replace Cofield and little (if any) disruption will be noticed. Austin figures to split play time in rest/rotation for either Chris Canty or Joseph and will end up alongside Joseph if all goes to plan in the Big Apple.
Austin was one of a number of players embroiled in the North Carolina college scandal, but the only one kicked off the team. That was a damn shame as he’d managed to build on previous numbers and looked set to dominate.
He doesn’t possess the power that Fairley has (but there’s not all that much in it), but he has a better footwork and acceleration which can take him beyond the line of scrimmage and into the backfield. Big knock on him is he struggles with double teams.
Why rank him 2.02 then? Purely because he never got a chance to spend that final year in college learning any skills to combat double teams when the scandal occurred. To a guy with his size and speed it’s certainly coachable. Put him on a line alongside players like Justin Tuck, Pierre-Paul and Linval Joseph and I’m not even sure it matters if he can play doubled-up or not.
Stephen Paea, Chicago (Oregon State)
Far and away the best true run-stuffing defensive tackle in the class in my opinion. That’s not damning with faint praise just a point that he’ll produce steady numbers as he lacks the ability to grab as many sacks as you’d like.
Paea has a couple of things going for him that make him a standout in this year’s class. Firstly, he can play in any defensive scheme you’d want to throw out there – whether that’s a 3-4 nose or end, or absolutely anywhere along a 4-3 line. Secondly, he’s a physical, mauling run-stuffing behemoth.
On the flipside, do I like his pass rush? No, I don’t. It’s fair-to-middling at best. If he had that level of penetration and disengagement skills coupled with his run-stuffing and plugging ability then he’d be the 2011 version of Ndamokung Suh. He’s not that.
He slid in the draft because of a couple of flags – a meniscal injury and his size. He’s considered undersized for his position. Again, that’s another bizarre indicator of how obsessed the NFL is with measurables which is even crazier when you look at the extremes between which defensive tackles and nose tackles can play at.
Really liked the pick by Chicago as it was a need and they filled it with a great pick. If they can get him involved early then they should also be able to reap the benefits of another year or two out of Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs.
Christian Ballard, Minnesota (Iowa)
Ballard is a bit of a funny one. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if he ends up as a defensive end at some point in his career. Or a linebacker. Or a strong safety. And therein lies both his greatest asset and biggest problem.
For the foreseeable future the need is too great inside the Minnesota line to imagine that a position change might happen anytime soon. He is, however, one of very few players I think that could pull it off should that change. It’s not like the Vikings have left them short of options at either position, and another position change would be Ballard’s fourth in almost as many years. In the pros, that’ll kill you.
So let’s get a couple of things clear. Firstly, I don’t blame him for his lack of polish on game tape (he’ll line up too far over one player or another, he doesn’t tackle with his lower body enough, etc.). Secondly, I hope the Vikings stick with him – they have alternatives, but Ballard’s ceiling eclipses any of the others if they can polish up his raw ability.
Phil Taylor, Cleveland (Baylor)
Taylor will form the heart of Cleveland’s reversion back to the 4-3 alongside former Browns nose tackle Ahyta Rubin, and they will prove to be some stumbling block for many a rusher this year.
Taylor’s draft stock took quite a big hit on the back of multiple teams confirming that he had a foot condition that would cause his bones to fuse together over time and was irreversible even with surgery.
Now I wouldn’t deny that might very well be the case, but I do think it beggars belief that it will be any sort of impediment to a young guy in his early 20s and weighing as much as he has for as long as he has in the immediate future. Ask me again in eight or 10 years’ time, but until then I don’t see much point in worrying about it and to their credit, neither did the Browns.
I’ve seen him play a couple of times and he’s a massive “fire hydrant” (shortish, squat and pretty immovable) of a player that will happily engage and occupy double teams all day and all night long. It’s a great pick for the Browns, but sadly it’s one for me that will be one of those picks that will bear more fruit in real life than it does in terms of IDP fantasy football production. I think the Browns’ gameplan is basically to utilize Rubin and Taylor to create gaps for the linebackers to exploit, and why not? It’s a great plan that plays to their strengths.
Terrell McClain, Carolina (South Florida)
McClain fills a glaring need for Carolina. I just find it really hard to be enthused about McClain. He doesn’t do anything wrong. He just doesn’t do too much spectacularly well either. He is the definitive “middle-of-the-road” defensive tackle.
He was a decent pick. He has decent ability. He’s OK at stopping the run, less OK at rushing the passer. No character flags as such, and no glaring deficiencies in his game.
The upside here is he (and likely Sione Fua, the other rookie defensive tackle the Panthers picked up) will start, and given the quarterback issues in Carolina could see plenty of game time.
He has good footwork and his floor is higher than most, whilst his ceiling is lower than some. A solid pick.
Karl Klug, Tennessee (Iowa)
The third Hawkeye on this IDP list is arguably the most intriguing.
Like Christian Ballard, Klug has the ability to play at defensive end at a later date and may yet end up making the transition further on down-the-line in his career.
The main reason he’s intriguing is his size. He’s quite simply not what you’d expect a DL to be (6’3″ is fine, 275lbs is mighty lean though). Consequently he’s devilishly quick, which would be good in and of itself as it’s the only way to compensate for his lack of bulk, but he also has a phenomenal set of hands and the skills to go with them.
Klug has a ridiculously polished set of moves to get inside and penetrate to the next level at college. That sort of skill set will stand him in good stead in the pro’s as he’s ahead of almost everyone of his peers in this department. Arguably the best in this year’s class.
I just hope he get’s moved to end. Inside will be fine for a little while as he cuts his teeth in the NFL, but on the End is where he really aught to end up. Phenomenal rush moves and good speed make it so. As a DT? He’ll be alright for a while, but not sure if he would ever be so for a sustained period.