The 2020 NFL Draft has come and gone. It was an odd affair hosted from Roger Goodell’s basement that contained a number of puzzling picks and moments — chief among them whatever the heck was going on at Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel’s house in the first round.
You be you, Vrabel family.
But while it was the selection of LSU quarterback Joe Burrow first overall by the Cincinnati Bengals that garnered the most headlines in Round 1, the defense had its day as well. Beginning with edge rusher Chase Young, who was drafted second overall by Washington, fully half of the Top 10 picks hailed from the defensive side of the ball, whether it was edge rushers like Young, talented and versatile linebackers like Isaiah Simmons or young cover men like Jeffrey Okudah and C.J. Henderson.
Now that the draft is in the books, it’s fantasy football’s turn. Soon Individual Defensive Player (IDP) managers in dynasty formats will begin conducting their rookie drafts for 2020. And the first step in getting ready for those drafts is examining how the top defensive players’ landing spots affect their fantasy value.
Before we get down to it, a couple of notes. The first is that these rankings are based on Fantasy Sharks Default IDP Scoring, which is a balanced scoring system. If your league’s scoring is more tackle-heavy or big play-heavy, it’s going to impact the rankings.
The second note is this — while these rankings are technically for dynasty IDP leagues, the difference between these and redraft rookie rankings. There’s just too much that can change (coaching, scheme, personnel) from year-to-year on defense for fantasy managers to look too far down the road with any real measure of accuracy.
Now let’s get after it, with the Top 10 rookie defensive linemen, linebackers and defensive backs in 2020 — as well as the Top 25 rookie IDPs overall.
All told, it was a good year along the defensive front in IDP leagues — the majority of “tweener” edge-rushers landed on teams where they should be afforded positional eligibility as a defensive lineman.
And Chase Young. My goodness Chase freaking Young.
The wild card in that respect is LSU’s K’Lavon Chaisson, who was drafted 20th overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Chaisson’s a wildly athletic prospect with all kinds of upside, but with Josh Allen and Yannick Ngakoue ahead of him on the depth chart, the early tea leavers lean toward his playing SAM (strongside) linebacker in the early going.
If Ngakoue gets traded (or leaves the team as expected in 2021) that could change though, and if he has eligibility as a defensive end in your IDP league he’d slot third on this list behind only Young and Yetur Gross-Matos.
1. Chase Young, DE, Washington
For the third time in five years, Ohio State produced an edge rusher who begins his NFL career with legit DL1 upside. Young isn’t as technically proficient as the Bosa Brothers (Joey and Nick) were coming out of college, but his athleticism and bend off the edge is better — than both.
2. Yetur Gross-Matos, DE, Carolina
Gross-Matos may never be a 15-sack guy in the NFL, but he’s an excellent edge-setter whose ability to stuff the run should appeal to IDP managers. He could be a high-floor DL2 in relatively short order given Carolina’s unimpressive depth chart at his position.
3. A.J. Epenesa, DE, Buffalo Bills
Pro Football Focus thinks the Bills got a steal with Epenesa, calling him a first-round talent with “incredible hands, power and technique.” The biggest hindrance for the 6-foot-5, 275-pounder’s IDP value in the early-going could be carving out a consistent enough snap count. But the talent’s there.
4. Derrick Brown, DT, Carolina
Brown is a 6-foot-5, 326-pound mountain of a tackle who will play right away after the Panthers drafted him seventh overall. The big question in fantasy is whether he’ll be able to produce statistically at a level that matches his impact on the field.
5. Javon Kinlaw, DT, San Francisco 49ers
After trading DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts, the 49ers used the pick obtained in that deal to draft his replacement. Kinlaw has all kind of disruptive ability, but durability is a concern and the 49ers have the most crowded defensive line in the league.
6. Julian Okwara, DE, Detroit Lions
Okwara’s landing spot was great — the Lions need help on the edge as badly as any team in the league. But his senior season at Notre Dame was something of a disappointment and his run defense in college was suspect. He could be a high-variance fantasy option.
7. Bradlee Anae, DE, Dallas Cowboys
Anae’s far from a household name, but he was a big part of Utah’s success in 2019, pacing the team with 13 sacks. There’s opportunity to be had in Dallas opposite Demarcus Lawrence after Robert Quinn left the team in free agency if Anae impresses in camp — assuming there is a camp.
8. Darrell Taylor, DE, Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks are another team that desperately needs all the pass-rushers they can get. But while Taylor’s a powerful player with plenty of potential, he also projects as a guy who is going to need to develop in order to become more consistent in the pros.
9. Curtis Weaver, DE, Miami Dolphins
Projected by many as a Day 2 pick, Weaver fell all the way to the fifth round before the Dolphins finally pulled the trigger. The upside to that fall for IDP owners is that Weaver landed with a team whose depth chart at defensive end isn’t especially imposing.
10. Marlon Davidson, DT, Atlanta Falcons
At 6-foot-3 and 303 pounds, Davidson will most likely slot at tackle opposite Grady Jarrett in Atlanta. From an IDP perspective, it likely would have been better had he been drafted by a 3-4 defensive base team that slotted him at end and then kicked him inside in sub-packages.