There is nothing quite like Wild Card Weekend of the NFL playoffs, eh? Where upstart teams have the chance to knock off a favorite…wait…that didn’t really happen. Well, I suppose the Vikings nearly did that but alas…wide left. Very wide left.
Teams rise to the occasion and play their best game of the season…hmm…didn’t really see much of that. Nope. We saw teams and players fall apart (I am looking at you Brian Hoyer and the Houston Texans).
So as we wait for what should be an exciting Divisional round of the playoffs Old Uncle Waldo has decided to turn his sights on the 2016 fantasy season once again. This week we will be looking at my ‘Crazy Early’ Top-20 Individual Defensive Players (IDP) heading into next season.
A couple of quick notes as we move forward. I rank these players as I would have them heading into my fantasy drafts. That is why you will notice quite a few defensive ends, who didn’t score nearly as many points as some linebackers, in the rankings. Anyone who has read my stuff or listened to me and Gary Davenport on the Fantasy Football Feeding Frenzy podcast (Thursday nights from 7-8 EST), knows how we feel about defensive ends in todays IDP world.
The position is lean as far as top players to select and grabbing one early is a very sound idea. So you will see these are the DEs that I feel deserve to go in the first two rounds of IDP drafts in 2016.
Since it is still only January and I live in Michigan, I will reserve the right to dismiss these rankings in August as merely a symptom of “Cabin Fever.” Hey. Old Uncle Waldo is nothing if not shifty.
Without further ado…
1) J.J. Watt, DE, HOUSTON: Watt led the league in sacks last season and should be good to go after undergoing offseason groin injury. The disparity between Watt and the next highest defensive lineman is huge and he deserves to go number one overall again.
2) Luke Kuechly,LB, CAROLINA: If Kuechly doesn’t miss three games last season he’s the top scoring LB. Kuechly simply does it all at an elite level. Over his four seasons in the league, Kuechly averages over 145 total stops per year and has totaled 11 interceptions as well as seven sacks.
3) Lavonte David, LB, TAMPA BAY: After a bit of a slow start, David got on track and finished the 2015 season with over 145 total tackles for the third time in his career. It remains to be seen who the new defensive coordinator will be for the Buccaneers but Davis will continue to produce elite numbers regardless.
4) Navorro Bowman, LB, SAN FRANCISCO: Bowman bounced back from missing the entire 2014 season with an excellent 2015 campaign as he played over 1,100 snaps. He put up over 115 solo tackles and 155 overall stops while forcing a fumble and racking up 2 ½ sacks. At only 28 this season and likely playing on another bed 49ers team, Bowman should post top-five numbers again in 2016.
5) Jamie Collins, LB, NEW ENGLAND: Despite the mystery illness that sidelined Collins for a time, the Pats linebacker had another outstanding season. Collins is a big-play machine having put up 9 1/2 sacks, nine forced fumbles, three interceptions, three fumble recoveries and a defensive touchdown in the past two years. This ranking could be one that climbs before 2016 kicks off.
6) Telvin Smith, LB, JACKSONVILLE: Despite missing two games last season, Smith still posted top-10 LB numbers as he finished with 99 solo tackles. Smith is the future at linebacker for the Jaguars and brings big-play potential having put up 4 ½ sacks along with two interceptions and three forced fumbles in his first 30 games. We love the kid moving forward on a Gus Bradley coached team.
7) Ziggy Ansah, DE, DETROIT: Forget those fears folks had that he would regress with Ndamukong Suh no longer there to take up double teams, as we love the career arc that Ansah has going on. From 2014-2015 his sack total jumped from 7 ½ to 14 ½ while also putting up at least 35 solo tackles in each of the seasons. Ansah also brings big-play potential outside of sacks as he forced three fumbles last season and has eight in his first three years.
8) Fletcher Cox, DE, PHILADELPHIA: Cox finally put it all together in 2015 rolling up great tackle numbers while increasing his sacks total by 5 ½. In the past two seasons, Cox has over 95 solo tackles and has also put up excellent big-play totals. Over that time, he has produced 13 ½ sacks along with four forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and has scored once. There will be a new coaching staff in place but that will not limit Cox as he continues his ascension up the DL rankings in the IDP realm.
9) Malcolm Smith, LB, OAKLAND: The former Super Bowl MVP finally got his chance to start in Oakland and responded with a very nice season. As an every down player last year, Smith was solid against both the run and the pass. He just missed triple-digit solo tackles and put up nice big-play totals with four sacks as well as three forced fumbles and an interception. Look for even better numbers in 2016 for Smith.
10) C.J. Mosley, LB, BALTIMORE: In a lost season for the Ravens, Mosley continues to be a silver lining moving forward. While he saw a dip in his tackle numbers, Mosley remained solid against the pass defending six passes and racking up four sacks. At only 24 years old, Mosley is going to anchor the Baltimore defense for years to come. He should see his tackle numbers spike again as Daryl Smith will be 34 years old in 2016 and is bound to see a bit of slippage. Grab Mosley early and thank me later.