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Breaking Down The Top 10 Defensive Ends

With the kickoff of the NFL season less than 50 days away it is time to kick things into high gear. Fantasy drafts will be upon us before we know it and having a solid grasp of our rankings is becoming vital.

We continue to break down the top-10 ranked players at Individual Defensive Players (IDP) positions with a look at the defensive end position. Perhaps no other position has had as many changes from my initial rankings back in April as the ‘big uglies’ along the defensive line.

Gone from the top 10 are Jason Pierre-Paul (missing digits from a fireworks accident) and Greg Hardy (four game suspension). That opened the door for a couple of players to jump into the rankings.

That being said, there is a real lack of quality fantasy performers due to the leagues proliferation of 3-4 defensive schemes. My suggestion is to get high quality 4-3 defensive ends as quickly as possible in IDP Drafts as the position dries up quickly.

Let’s get to it!

1) J.J. Watt, HOUSTON TEXANS, previous rank-1: It’s all J.J. all the time for IDP purposes in 2015. I stated back in April that he is far and away the top overall draft selection in all IDP formats and that still stands.

For anyone that has just gotten up from a three-year hibernation, I will support the above statement with a few statistics. Over the past three seasons, Watt has amassed 52 ½ sacks while forcing 12 fumbles as well as picking off one pass (which he returned for a touchdown) and recovering 11 fumbles.

Any questions? Didn’t think so.

2) Robert Quinn, ST. LOUIS RAMS, previous rank-2: After an otherworldly performance in 2013 that saw him post 19 sacks along with 50 total tackles and seven forced fumbles, Quinn was in the conversation to challenge for the top DL ranking.

Needless to say that when he started the 2014 campaign without a sack in the first five games, his fantasy owners were cursing him up and down in four languages. In fact, through five weeks Quinn was sitting outside the top 100 in scoring for DL.

Quinn wasn’t playing all that badly and had actually been credited with six quarterback hurries as well as six hits through the first five games. It seemed to just be a matter of time before the pressure paid off and that did in fact happen.

From weeks 7-17 Quinn would rally to rack 34 total tackles with 10 ½ sacks and five forced fumbles. He would finish the season number three in scoring in nearly all formats.

It’s that Robert Quinn that holds fast to the number two ranking that he held back in April. The athletic, disruptive force that utilizes a background in wrestling to maul offensive linemen on his way to amassing an impressive 40 sacks in the last three seasons.

Along with his proclivity for sacks, Quinn also produces other big-play numbers and has forced 12 fumbles in the last two seasons.

The return of Chris Long, who played only six games last season, as another pass rushing threat along the Rams defensive line and the interior presence of DT Aaron Donald point towards Quinn being primed for another big year.

3) Chandler Jones, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS, previous rank-4: Much was expected from Jones last season as he was coming off a 2013 campaign that saw him post 79 total stops with 11 ½ sacks and a forced fumble.

Unfortunately, he suffered a hip injury that would force him to miss six games and play hobbled through many more. Despite laboring through the season and missing those games, Jones still managed to finish with 43 total tackles along with six sacks and two forced fumbles while playing merely 577 defensive snaps.

A healthy Jones is a lynchpin in the Patriots defense and despite reports he underwent a surgical procedure (the team has not revealed what was actually operated on) this offseason, he is expected to be ready for training camp.

Jones has the athleticism and versatility to be utilized in multiple roles for the defense but is best suited to get after the quarterback.

With the losses the Patriots suffered to their secondary, getting pressure on the quarterback will be vital in containing opponents passing game. Jones was asked to rush the passer on approximately 56% of his snaps and is likely to see an uptick in that number in 2015. His solid tackle numbers will remain intact and reaching double-digit sacks is easily within his reach.

4) Calais Campbell, ARIZONA CARDINALS, previous rank-5: At a position bereft of depth, there is nothing better than a consistently solid producer and that is exactly what Campbell is. In three of the past four seasons he has finished among the top 10 defensive linemen.

Despite playing through a MCL sprain as well as a sports hernia issue (Campbell underwent surgery following the Pro Bowl and is expected to be ready for training camp) last season, Campbell was still able to post 58 total tackles with seven sacks as well as a forced fumble and his first career interception in 14 games.

Standing a mammoth 6’8” and weighing in at 285 pounds, Campbell plays with the speed and agility of a smaller man while possessing the strength to overpower offensive linemen. This combination allows him to excel in all facets of the game. Over the last five years Campbell has averaged 62 total tackles and seven sacks per season. He has also been extremely durable over his seven years in the league missing only 6 of a possible 112 regular season games.

Getting back to that consistency thing I mentioned earlier, since 2009, Campbell has averaged over 865 snaps per season and is still only 29 years old.

There is little help along the Cardinals defensive front to draw attention away from Calais and yet he still manages to produce at a high level year in and year out. Look for that to continue in 2015.

5) Everson Griffen, MINNESOTA VIKINGS, previous rank-10: For the first four seasons of his career, Griffen was a reserve playing behind Jared Allen and Brian Robison. He was so buried on the depth chart early in his career that in his first two seasons he saw the field for a total of 350 snaps.

In 2012 and 2013, Griffen was finally given the chance to contribute on a more consistent basis playing 623 and 717 snaps, respectively. He responded by posting 13 ½ sacks over those two seasons.

Last year, the Vikings signed Griffen to a hefty new contract and made him the starting right defensive end replacing the departed Allen. He responded by putting up 56 total tackles with 12 sacks and a forced fumble on his way to a top-5 fantasy finish.

With defensive-minded head coach Mike Zimmer at the helm, Griffen remains in the perfect position for another strong fantasy season in 2015. He showed solid tackling prowess to play the run and post strong tackle numbers (his 39 solo tackles were tied for 11th among defensive linemen). Griffen also has the speed and power off the edge to surpass double-digit sacks again. He is an ascending fantasy talent with nice upside at a position that lacks depth and should be drafted early in all IDP formats.

About Wally Spurlin

Wally Spurlin is a Fantasy Football Staff Writer at Fantasy Sharks and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writer Association (FSWA). Spurlin’s work has appeared in print publications, including the FSWA award winning 2014 USA Today Fantasy Football magazine as well as the 2015 edition. Wally is also a weekly co-host on the Fantasy Football Feeding Frenzy pod cast on Fantasy Sharks Radio at Blog Talk Radio.Follow him on Twitter @WaltonSpurlin